More important than JFK

By Christopher Harper

Almost every American who was alive on November 22, 1963, knows where he and she was. That’s because JFK died that day.

But a far more influential man, Clive Staples Lewis, also died that day.

Better known as C.S. Lewis, or Jack to his friends and family, Lewis was one of the most important Christian apologists and fiction writers of the 20th century.

A recent motion picture, The Most Reluctant Convert, tells the story of Lewis’s evolution from atheist to great Christian writer. See https://www.cslewismovie.com/home/

The film doesn’t deal directly with his more famous works, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Letters, but follows Lewis’s path from nonbeliever to true believer. 

The Most Reluctant Convert is based on a successful stage play written by Max McLean. This filmed version features McLean as an elderly C.S. Lewis who walks viewers through key dramatized moments in his younger years.

The film uses Lewis’s own words to describe his path. As a young man, he explored the occult, including Nordic mythology. Eventually, he recognized how empty and destructive those choices were. Part of that realization occurred, he said, when he came to the aid of a tormented fellow war veteran who screamed that he was being hounded by devils and dragged into hell.

Lewis began his academic career as an undergraduate student at Oxford University. After a brief but dramatic stint in World War I, where he was wounded, he was elected a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, where he worked from 1925 to 1954. He later joined the faculty at Cambridge University, where he taught until he died in 1963,

At Oxford, he returned to Christianity, having been influenced by arguments with his Oxford colleague and friend J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of Lord of the Rings. Lewis resisted conversion as he described in Surprised by Joy:

You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen [College, Oxford], night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929, I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. 

Let me leave you with two other important quotations from Lewis:

We meet no ordinary people in our lives.

In a much-cited passage from Mere Christianity, Lewis challenged the view that Jesus was a great moral teacher but not God. 

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

The Most Reluctant Convert is an engaging and important film. See it if it’s still in a theater near you!