Lewis: His Intellectual & Emotional Impact

In the survey I conducted in 2014 about how C. S. Lewis’s writings have impacted Americans, I saw how that impact was both intellectual and emotional, and how God used both to help people find Him.

On the intellectual side was this comment:

When I was an arrogant college student who believed only weak and/or stupid people believed in Christ, Lewis showed me beyond question that faith could make sense even to an intellectual. He awakened my spiritual imagination with his fiction and persuaded my reason with his nonfiction.

Another provided a more in-depth scrutiny of how Lewis dealt with the intellect:

Lewis’s works exemplify what I consider a Holy Spirit baptized intellect. Knowledge on holy fire. His ability to frame the issues in a succinct way and then address them with such extremely critical thinking skills provides a wonderful exemplar for Christians all over the world on how to not only be people of faith, but also engage our intellect (verbal and writing skills) to provide a “defense for the hope that is within us.”

His work, Mere Christianity, remains one of my favorite recommendations for intellectual unbelievers who are serious about weighing through claims of Christian faith. I believe many will either embrace Christ for the first time or reinforce their beliefs in Him through its reading.

Beyond the purely intellectual appeal, Lewis and his writings also have impacted the emotions and encouraged Christians in their various struggles. One woman was willing to share her personal struggles and how staying in touch with Lewis made a huge difference in her life:

When I walked away from my Christian faith during my twenties and early thirties, Lewis was one of the few Christian authors I still trusted and could stand to read. I was grieving, angry, and depressed, and when I reread The Chronicles of Narnia, the hope that shone through them was almost painful. Emotionally, it was as though a frozen and numb part of me began to regain feeling.

Some years later, a passage from The Screwtape Letters was instrumental in helping me realize that I’d been angry at the church when, in fact, the church had been my truest friends and best support through very dark days.

For those who completed this survey, there is no doubt that Lewis remains a source of spiritual strength and intellectual rigor for many American Christians. He has kept many from losing their faith while in college; his books continue to sell briskly more than half a century after he penned his last one; he has inspired children with his Narnia tales and introduced them to Christ in the form of a beloved lion; societies are springing up throughout the land devoted to the study of Lewis; and major Hollywood movies have attempted to put his vision and message into the mainstream of American entertainment. C. S. Lewis appears to be in America to stay.

C. S. Lewis: Impact on Americans (Part 2)

C. S. Lewis 8Last Saturday, I began sharing some of the results of the survey I conducted in tandem with the Wade Center on how Americans have been influenced by C. S. Lewis. As I noted, I asked a number of questions, the first of which was how they were introduced to Lewis. My second question was a natural follow-up to the first:

Which of his writings have had the greatest impact on your thinking and/or spiritual development?

In all, twenty of Lewis’s writings, counting both books and essays, were mentioned in this category. Respondents were allowed to mention as many books as they wished, since it can be difficult to pick just one that is a favorite.

That number—twenty—would have been expanded if I had treated all Narnia and Space Trilogy books (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength) separately, but I chose to handle them as a unity, particularly because they were so often mentioned as a group. The “race,” so to speak, to find Lewis’s most popular book was a close one.

Mere Christianity 2Mere Christianity came out on top with thirty-nine separate mentions, The Chronicles of Narnia were a close second with thirty-five, and the Space Trilogy received thirty-two votes. Whenever a respondent mentioned one of the Narnia books separately, the surprise is that The Last Battle, not The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, received more votes. For the Space Trilogy, Perelandra squeaked by That Hideous Strength by one vote, twelve to eleven.

Fourth in popularity was The Screwtape Letters with twenty-three tallies, followed by The Great Divorce, which earned nineteen. Another possibly unexpected result is that Lewis’s novel Till We Have Faces came in sixth, with thirteen respondents claiming it as one of their favorites. That would have pleased Lewis considerably since, in his lifetime, it was not as well received as he hoped it would be; he often mentions in his letters that it was his favorite, yet his biggest failure. That assessment, over time, has proven to be wrong.

The Problem of Pain and perhaps Lewis’s most famous sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” took the next two places. After that, there are a number of works clustered together in a tie vote—Miracles, The Abolition of Man, The Four Loves, and A Grief Observed.

What can be said about these results? Apparently, the apologetics presented in Mere Christianity continue to attract people. They are drawn to Lewis’s logical reasoning and his reasonable explanations for the truth of the Christian faith.

After that, they appreciate his ability to bring the faith alive in the imagination through his novels—Narnia and the Space Trilogy—and also by imaginative approaches to conveying Christian beliefs—The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce. Those are the top five.

If I had been asked the question, it would have been difficult for me to provide a listing in order of my “favorites.” Why? They are all my favorites to some degree, although emotionally, I’m naturally most drawn to The Great Divorce and That Hideous Strength, as well as some very poignant paragraphs in “The Weight of Glory.”

I think I have to come to the same conclusion as one of the respondents who said that his favorite Lewis book happens to be whichever one he is reading at the moment.

Next Saturday, I’ll share information on how active those respondents are in organizations dedicated to promoting Lewis and his works.

The Lewis Survey: Results

20140804_184024Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve been concentrating a lot lately on C. S. Lewis and that I hope to write a book about his influence on Americans. The survey I conducted with the help of the Wade Center at Wheaton College is now complete. In all, eighty-seven Americans responded to that survey, giving me some indication of just why they consider Lewis important to their lives.

I’ve finished analyzing the data, have written a complete report on the data, and will be submitting it to the Wade Center in hopes that it will be published in their journal in the near future. What did I discover? I’ll take the opportunity today to give you an overview, along with some poignant testimonies.

Chronicles of NarniaFirst, I found out that many of the respondents first learned about Lewis as a child, reading The Chronicles of Narnia series. Quite often, it was the parents who served as the instruments of God to ensure their children received this blessing. For those who didn’t have that opportunity as children, quite a few had friends who recommended they read Lewis for personal benefit. I was also surprised how many just happened upon Lewis by “chance” in a bookstore, and started their journey with him in that way.

Mere ChristianityFor those who didn’t begin with Narnia, the two books they picked up on at the outset were usually The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity. When I asked which of Lewis’s works have had the greatest impact on their thinking and/or their lives overall, Mere Christianity took first place, followed by Narnia, and then the Space Trilogy series (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength). Rounding out the top five were The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce.

ShadowlandsThe survey also shed light on the interesting fact that many of these respondents were involved, one way or another, with either some type of C. S. Lewis society or a Facebook page focusing on him. They were also opinionated on the attempts to put Lewis before the public eye in movies, whether the Shadowlands film with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger or the three Narnia episodes. While most applauded the attempts, there were many critical comments on how loosely, at times, they followed Lewis’s original writing. In the case of Shadowlands, it was obvious that most felt the movie either downplayed or misrepresented Lewis’s Christianity and didn’t really capture his character.

The survey ended with an invitation for respondents to say anything else they felt was significant about their C. S. Lewis experience. Here are a few of the best comments I received. Often, respondents wrote of their college days:

When I was an arrogant college student who believed only weak and/or stupid people believed in Christ, Lewis showed me beyond question that faith could make sense even to an intellectual. He awakened my spiritual imagination with his fiction and persuaded my reason with his nonfiction. He also gave me a grounding in traditional Christianity that facilitated my later conversion to Orthodoxy.

In one case, Lewis was the conduit who brought a woman back to faith:

When I walked away from my Christian faith during my twenties and early thirties, Lewis was one of the few Christian authors I still trusted and could stand to read. I was grieving, angry, and depressed, and when I reread The Chronicles of Narnia, the hope that shone through them was almost painful. Emotionally, it was as though a frozen and numb part of me began to regain feeling. Some years later, a passage from The Screwtape Letters was instrumental in helping me realize that I’d been angry at the church when, in fact, the church had been my truest friends and best support through very dark days.

I also appreciated the comment that did the best job of summarizing why Lewis is so influential even today:

C. S. Lewis manages to express in many unique and wonderful ways ideas about Christianity that are difficult to describe. Narnia tells of a lion whom you fear, but is good—we should fear God, but love God. Screwtape shows how devious and unrelenting (even in the face of conversion of the subject) Satan can be in the temptations of a person/Christian. In Mere Christianity, Surprised by Joy, “The Weight of Glory,” etc., Lewis expresses truths about Christianity in practical and meaningful ways that are easy to understand and remember. I love the variety of his writings.

Those are simply highlights. If this is published at some point, I’ll let you know, so you can read the entire analysis. And of course, if my book dream comes true, I’ll be more than happy to let you know about that.