I am often amazed that interest in C.S. Lewis’ writing continues to flourish. What is it that gives him his staying power? My hunch is that there are at least four things that account for some of his lasting legacy.
First, Lewis sought to integrate faith in the midst of his explorations. As Anselm wrote, so Lewis embodied “faith seeking understanding.” Secure in the love of Christ, he was not afraid of challenges to his own present grasp of a matter. He sought to go deeper. He wrote, “If our religion is something objective then we must never avert our eyes from those elements in it which seem puzzling or repellent, for it is precisely in the puzzling and repellent that we discover what we do not yet know and need to know.” He wrote, “I want God, not my idea of God. I want my neighbor, not my idea of my neighbor. I want myself, not my idea of myself.” Lewis was aware of the capacity to self deceive. The love and forgiveness of Christ allows a person to approach all of life with honesty and security. Consequently, his writing lends courage and an example for all who are willing to follow the truth wherever it leads.
Second, Lewis wrote as if to get shoulder to shoulder with his readers and direct their attention to some object he believed merited attention. His descriptions are clear, imaginative and winsome. He was a master of depiction. All of his literary allusions, as his former student J. A. W. Bennett observed, did not merely decorate but elucidated the topics about which he chose to write. He knew if he awakened wonder in a topic his readers would become less dependent upon his descriptions and more interested in the thing itself. To their own enjoyment and lasting benefit they would explore these topics with growing, intrinsic motivation and their own personal development would flourish.
Third, Lewis frequently makes appeal to his readers to pay close attention to the deep longings of their hearts. He directs them to pursue the object of those deepest longings. Whether in his fiction or his more explicit Christian apologetic books, Lewis points his readers to God as the object of their deepest longing and therefore the One who alone can fulfill them utterly.
Fourth, as Lewis wrote about Mere Christianity, so too he wrote about Mere Humanity. He avoided most religious controversies and equally avoided most idiosyncrasies that surround quickly passing temporal disputes marked by the moment and forgotten in the next. He noted that the books most up to date, like fashions in clothes, are soonest out of date. He tended to focus on perennial matters that challenged men and women in all ages; that is, he was a writer for “mere humanity” and is, therefore, most always contemporary.
Much more could be said about Lewis’ lasting appeal and legacy but these four reasons go a long way towards explaining why 50 years after his death he is still read with delight.
Jerry Root (M.Div. ’78) is a visiting professor of theology at Biola. He is the author of C.S. Lewis and a Problem of Evil: An Investigation of a Pervasive Theme (2008) and co-editor of The Quotable C.S. Lewis (1994) and The Soul of C.S. Lewis (2010).