By Les Henson.
The second instalment of C. S. Lewis’ life considers his conversion from theism to Christianity and his contribution to the Christian faith after his conversion.
In 1929 C. S. Lewis surrendered to God, and so converted from atheism to theism. In doing so, he admitted that "God was God, and knelt and prayed." However, there was yet one more hurdle to overcome on the road to faith in Christ. It was the problem of the myths. On Saturday, September 19, 1931, on the evening he had a long talk with his friend and colleague J. R. R. Tolkien, whose response to Lewis' problem changed everything.
Tolkien explained to Lewis his view that Christ was the true myth. It was a myth in that it was a story that spoke to the imagination and helped one make sense of the world, but it was a true myth, grounded in the actual soil and reality of first-century Palestine. It was the myth that actually happened. Suddenly, Lewis understood that he didn't need to reject the truth and reality he uncovered in the pagan mythologies. Instead, he came to believe that pagan myths were not totally false, but at their best pointed to the truth of the story of Christ. It was shortly after this that Lewis truly believed in Christ. He records making a particular commitment to Christian faith while travelling to the zoo with his brother. Soon afterwards Lewis became a member of the Church of England. This disappointed Tolkien, who had hoped that he would join the Catholic Church.
When he had first attended church, after his conversion, he was repulsed by the hymns and the poor quality of the sermons. Yet, he later came to judge himself honoured by worshipping with men of genuine faith who came in old clothes and their work boots and who sang all the verses to all the hymns. In 1935, Lewis and his brother Warren bestowed a stained-glass window to their childhood church of St. Mark's, Dundela, Belfast in loving memory of their parents.
Soon after, Lewis began to move in a new direction. His earlier endeavours to become a poet were laid aside. He began to seriously reflect on his newfound faith taking his writing in a new direction. Two years after coming to faith he published, The Pilgrim's Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity. It was the first of a stream of books on Christian apologetics and discipleship over the next 30 years.
Also, Lewis took a leading role in a group of scholars, who called themselves "The Inklings," they remained together throughout the 1930s, meeting weekly to reflect upon their Christian faith in relation to the culture of scientific rationalism, which was common to the university. Using their writings, including Lewis's trilogy Out of the Silent Planet and Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings series, they used their literary and rhetorical skills to defend and propagate the faith they had adopted.
Lewis' became very popular in1940s in England when the director of religious programming at the BBC invited him to present some broadcast talks about faith during the Second World War. His five 15-minute broadcasts became so popular that the programme was continued and the episodes later became his best-selling book, Mere Christianity. From 1941, he spoke at his summer holiday weekends visiting R. A. F. stations to speak on his faith, invited by Maurice Edwards, the R. A. F.'s Chaplain in Chief. Also, during the same period, Lewis was invited to become first President of the Oxford Socratic Club in January 1942. He held the position until he moved to Cambridge University in 1954. During the 1940s, he also wrote The Screwtape Letters, in which a senior devil teaches a young apprentice devil how to distract and discourage believers from practising their faith. The Problem of Pain followed, which dealt with suffering. Lewis by the 1950s had become a household name and the most popular spokesman for Christianity in the English-speaking world.
Although Lewis was a bachelor for the majority of his life, his marriage to Helen Joy Davidman, a novelist and a poet from New York, was the happiest period of his life. They married in a civil ceremony on Christmas Eve 1956, in the knowledge that Davidman had bone cancer and did not have long to live. She had a three years period of remission together before finally, cancer claimed her life in 1960. The pain of this trucated love gave rise in 1961 to his book, A Grief Observed, in which Lewis wrestles with the issue of how to maintain one's faith in the wake of suffering and loss. On November 22, 1963, just one week before his 65th birthday, C.S. Lewis died. Yet he continues to influence people of faith through his many books, which are thankfully still being printed almost 60 years after his death.