Still Surprised by Lewis
Why this nonevangelical Oxford don has become our patron saint.
September 7, 1998
Born 100 years ago come November, C. S. Lewis is today beloved of evangelicals. His books have brought provided beeline expression to our rabbit-trail thoughts, compelling language to our religious longings, and a vision of God to our impaired imaginations. In this essay, J. I. Packer explains why a man whose theology had decidedly unevangelical elements has come to be the Aquinas, the Augustine, and the Aesop of contemporary evangelicalism.
Yes, I was at Oxford in Lewis's day (I went up in 1944); but no, I never met him. He was regularly on show as the anchorman of the Socratic Club, which met weekly to discuss how science, philosophy, and current culture related to Christianity; but as a young believer, I was sure I needed Bible teaching rather than apologetics, so I passed the Socratic by. The nearest I ever got to Lewis was hearing him address the Oxford theologians' society on Richard Hooker, about whom he was writing at that time for his assigned volume of the Oxford History of English Literature, the "Oh-Hell" as for obvious reasons he liked to call it. He spoke with a resonant Anglicized accent (you would never have guessed he was Irish), and when he said something funny, which he did quite often, he paused like a stage comedian for the laugh. They said he was the best lecturer in Oxford, and I daresay they were right. But he was not really part of my world.
Yet I owe him much, and I gratefully acknowledge my debt.
First of all, in 1942-43, when I thought I was a Christian but did not yet know what a Christian was—and had spent a year verifying the old adage that if you open your mind wide enough much rubbish will be tipped into it—The Screwtape Letters and the three small books that became Mere Christianity ...
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