America Discovers Lewis at the Wade Center

Last night I spoke at the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College. Topic: my book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis: His Profound Impact. The Wheaton campus was quite active last night, what with a Michael W. Smith concert and approximately six other events. Parking was at a premium, I was told, which made some of my audience a little late in arriving. Overall, though, there were about forty very interested people who wanted to know more about one of their favorite authors—that would be Lewis, of course, not me.

I offered a short history of how my interest in Lewis began and how I felt the Lord was guiding me into a niche in Lewis studies that had not yet been fully explored—his relationships with Americans and how Americans have received his writings.

From Chad Walsh (who wrote the first book on Lewis and became his close friend), to Joy Davidman Gresham (Lewis’s American wife), to Walter Hooper (the American who served briefly as Lewis’s helper/secretary and then became the executor of the Lewis literary estate), to Clyde Kilby (the Wheaton professor who had the vision to begin collecting not only all of Lewis’s papers and writings, but then extended that collection to six other famous British authors), it was a joy to share their stories.

Yet those are the ones people are most likely to know about anyway, so I was able to broaden the field of knowledge about other, lesser-known Lewis acquaintances and/or regular correspondents, and how his interaction with them provided spiritual guidance over many years.

Finally, I shared some (not as much as I wanted because I was running out of time) of the responses I got from a survey I sent out during the research for the book. How did you first come into contact with Lewis’s writings? Which ones have impacted you the most? What personal testimonies can you share? Those were some of the questions I asked in that survey, and the responses ranged from very interesting to poignant. I was not surprised that Lewis has truly made a “profound impact.”

I always love being at the Wade Center. Today and tomorrow I will do more research. My new interest in is Dorothy Sayers (one of those famous British authors that the Wade collected information on), her relationship with Lewis and how her Christian writings have had their respective impact.

Many thanks to David and Crystal Downing, the new co-directors of the Wade, for having me come to speak. They are Lewis scholars, and have been for many more years than I. Their appreciation of my first foray into Lewis scholarship has been an encouragement to me personally.

On Sunday, I’ll be speaking at a local church, one where I’ve spoken before. I’ve been asked to provide a solid overview of why Lewis has been one of the Lord’s most effective spokesmen. It will be a joy to do so.

On Monday, it will be back to my students, whom I love, and all that grading, with which I don’t have quite the same loving relationship. God’s calling isn’t all glory, you know.

Lewis Conference Nuggets

The C. S. Lewis conference I attended last week, sponsored by the C. S. Lewis Institute (CSLI) and held at Wheaton College’s Marion E. Wade Center, was a thoughtful, challenging event. The theme was how to communicate the Gospel with guidance from the writings of Lewis that show how he did it.

I hadn’t been back to the Wade Center since 2014, when I first investigated whether anyone had written extensively on Lewis’s contacts with Americans and why America was more receptive to his works than his native Britain. I did come up with a book about that, as many of you know (I’ll come back to that later in this post).

Since 2014, the Center has added this very nice auditorium, which now allows conferences such as this one to be held at the very place where all of Lewis’s (and the six other British authors highlighted there) papers and books by and about him are housed.

As I noted in a post last week, in the middle of the conference, the main speaker was Dr. Jerry Root of Wheaton College. I offered in my previous post some of the key points he made in his first two sessions. Four sessions followed those.

What I’d like to do is pull out what I consider to be some of the “nuggets” he gave us in those final sessions. I’ll bullet-point them.

  • Christians need to be clear in the words they speak, sound in the reasoning they use, and convincing in the way they communicate the truth.
  • If you’re not awkward in some places in life, you’re probably not growing. God uses those awkward times to move us forward.
  • Neither is there real growth in spiritual understanding without employing the imagination.
  • Using stories is a method of communicating truth that is as old as language itself. Christians should never shy away from using imagination to tell the Gospel story.
  • Reality is always iconoclastic, meaning we need to regularly examine whether we are setting up false idols in our life. If we discover any, they need to be torn down.
  • We need God Himself, not our idea of God. We have to continually check to see if we have replaced the real God with a phony version in our minds.
  • When dealing with people who claim to be atheists, we need to show them that since they can’t know everything, they can’t really be so certain of their atheism.
  • When dealing with people who say they are agnostic, we should help them see that it is inconsistent to say one is dogmatic about one’s agnosticism—you can’t be dogmatic about things you are unsure of.
  • There is a type of agnostic who is of the hopeful variety: “I don’t know, but I would like to know”—we should reach out to them.
  • Evil isn’t the opposite of good; rather, it’s a perversion of good.

My time there was well spent, not only in those excellent sessions, but also with respect to the new friends I made and contacts with others who are serious about their personal spiritual growth. Some of us who are authors were even given a time to autograph our books.

I also was able to take advantage of free time to do more research in the Reading Room. Lately, my interest has been directed to connecting the dots between Lewis and Dorothy Sayers, another writer whose personal papers and books are a Wade feature.

I’m going back in October. I’ve been invited to share about my book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis: His Profound Impact. This time I’ll be the one standing at the lectern in the Bakke Auditorium. The goal is to expound on the rationale for the book, what I found in my research, and how it has been received thus far in what I might call “Lewis World.”

For those who might be interested, the date for that presentation is Thursday, October 18, at 7:00 p.m. I hope to see some of you there, especially those within driving distance of Wheaton.

I thank God for the opportunity to attend last week’s conference, and I’m humbled and gratified that I will get to speak this coming October. His grace is more than abundant. We should never question His love for us and His desire to help us become more like Him.

Back at the Wade Center: Focusing on God’s Love

It’s nice to be back at the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College for a C. S. Lewis conference this week. Because of that, I didn’t intend to write any blogs for the week, but the instruction has been so invigorating that I would like to share a little bit of what we’re receiving here.

It’s been four years since I came here to investigate Lewis’s connection to Americans, an investigation that led to my book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis: His Profound Impact. Since then, the Center has added an auditorium where it can more easily make presentations. Those presentations thus far this week have been both thoughtful and moving.

Dr. Jerry Root, a superb Lewis scholar and engaging teacher, has been the primary speaker. I heard him at a C. S. Lewis Foundation conference a few years ago and was duly impressed then. I’m doubly impressed now.

The focus has been on being an authentic Christian who can speak to the world about Truth. All too often, we come across as inauthentic; that type of person pushes people away from the very truths we are trying to communicate.

The challenge is to continue to examine ourselves before God. Dr. Root commented, “If you don’t examine your life, others will do it for you.”

How very accurate.

We need to cultivate virtue in our lives, a virtue that consists of four characteristics:

  • Courage: endurance; fortitude; staying power
  • Temperance: the ability to resist immediate pleasure for long-term gain
  • Justice: fairness; law-abiding; having a bedrock of honesty in one’s life
  • Wisdom: being careful about the decisions we make

Interestingly, Dr. Root said he disagrees with Lewis’s position in Mere Christianity where he calls pride the worst of all sins. Instead, he offers the following thought: pride emanates from fear (of not being accepted, etc.); fear comes from not loving God perfectly. Therefore, not loving God is the primary sin. As I John 4:18 tells us,

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.

I grasp what he’s saying about that. I’ll have to consider it more fully.

How do we discover God’s love? By obeying Him. As we do so, His love is revealed. So one doesn’t wait to “feel” God’s love; rather, one does what He says and insight into His love will follow.

Another concept he presented that should help us understand just how much God loves is this: if God made it, He sustains it, so that means He loves it. God made us, He sustains us, therefore we can be assured He loves us.

Coming back to that first point about authenticity, here is the challenge: If we don’t come to the place where God is enough for us (we don’t want or need anything else but Him), we will never communicate with authenticity because we won’t be truly authentic.

I want authenticity to permeate my life. I deeply appreciate what I’m receiving here this week.

While I’m here, I’m doing more research into the connection between Lewis and Dorothy Sayers. It’s nice to be back at my “old station” in the Wade Reading Room.

I just keep thinking, “Thank you, Lord, for this opportunity.”

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.

C. S. Lewis: Impact on Americans (Part 1)

On a visit to Wheaton College’s Marion E. Wade Center in August 2014, I read through the results from two surveys (conducted in 1986 and 1996, respectively) on how C. S. Lewis had impacted the lives of Americans. Since nearly two decades had passed since anyone had tried to document such testimonies, I thought the time might be right to do so again.


Consequently, in concert with the Wade Center, which posted a notice on its website and on its Facebook page, I collected a new round of personal reflections from Americans on how Lewis’s writings had affected their Christian worldview. Whereas the earlier surveys asked only for letters or e-mails with an open-ended request for testimonies, I decided to ask some more specific questions:

• When and how were you introduced to C. S. Lewis?
• Which of his writings have had the greatest impact on your thinking and/or spiritual development?
• Are you now, or have you ever been, involved with a C. S. Lewis society/organization or with some other activity connected with Lewis? Please explain.
• Have you viewed any of the Shadowlands productions? If so, what is your opinion of them?
• Have you viewed any of the Narnia productions, whether the ones created for television or the three Narnia films? If so, what is your opinion of them?

Then, at the end of the survey, I also gave an opportunity to add anything else about Lewis and his influence that the responders wanted to share. In all, the survey received eighty-seven responses, some quite detailed. I’ve attempted to analyze those responses.

When and How Were You Introduced to C. S. Lewis?
The responses to this question seemed to fall into four categories, with some overlap, of course. Most were introduced to Lewis’s works either on the recommendation of someone, through their family, in a class and/or lecture, or—more surprisingly perhaps than the other three—just by “chance” in a bookstore or library.

Chronicles of NarniaIt is no surprise that the family is the source for many individuals’ first exposure to Lewis, and that the Narnia books would be the vehicle. One respondent reported:

I think that my first introduction to C.S. Lewis was when I was in fourth or fifth grade. Since my mom is a teacher, we always had summer reading assignments that we had to complete. One of the required books she had me read was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Another respondent noted, rather amusingly, “My dad read the Chronicles of Narnia all aloud to me before I was three weeks old (literally), I read them all myself before I turned 7, and I have been a bit obsessed with them ever since.”

Mere Christianity 2Some had a Lewis book as part of a college course: Mere Christianity and The Abolition of Man were mentioned specifically. One man, who is now a professor of history at a Christian university, also was first drawn to Lewis while in college, but indirectly:

I was introduced to Lewis, his thinking, and his works when I was in college. I was a new Christian and was reading Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict. In that book, McDowell references Lewis’s ‘Lord, Liar, or Lunatic’ argument, and I was swept away by the clear, unassailable logic in that argument. So I got a copy of Mere Christianity and read it.

One respondent was captured by the Lewis mystique when he participated in a study on Lewis by his pastor. Another was part of a youth group where the leader conducted a study on Mere Christianity, and another finally decided to read Lewis simply because the pastor kept quoting The Screwtape Letters so often.

Other respondents began their C. S. Lewis adventure by coming across the Narnia series in a library or by some other chance encounter. Three picked up their first Lewis book by browsing in a bookstore. One of those purchased Surprised by Joy because it was shelved next to the book she had intended to buy.

The most likely “first” Lewis book for those who didn’t begin with Narnia was either Mere Christianity or The Screwtape Letters. Probably the most unusual response in this category was the man who discovered Narnia on the cusp of his wedding, and who then commented, “I first read the 7 Narnia stories while on my honeymoon (!)” The exclamation point is his.

I’ll share more of the results of this survey in my next Lewis post next Saturday.

C. S. Lewis Survey

C. S. Lewis 7Today’s post is going to be a little different. It’s not an analysis of politics or history or my own spiritual musings. But it is an invitation for you to be part of a research project I’m working on.

As regular readers of this blog know, I’m in a sabbatical year, doing research on a number of projects, one of which is a proposed book on C. S. Lewis. The goal of this book is to document, as much as possible, the influence, or impact, of Lewis on Americans. His books were well received in this country, even more so than in his native Britain.

20140804_184024The Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College is helping me collect testimonies from Americans on the influence Lewis has had on their thinking and their lives overall. Their help comes in the form of a survey posted on the Wade website and on its Facebook page.

The survey simply asks when and how you were introduced to Lewis’s works, which ones are your favorites and why, and any other details you would like to share about your experience reading and meditating on what Lewis has written.

So, if you are an American citizen and you have been impacted by Lewis, I invite you to go to the following link and post your comments. It would be an immeasurable aid to me as I amass my research and develop the book.

Here is the link:

When you go there, just scroll down a bit and you’ll see the announcement about the survey and where you can click to take it.

Walter HooperOne other bit of exciting news for me about this: Walter Hooper, who served as Lewis’s secretary for the last few months of Lewis’s life, and who has been the primary source for publishing most of Lewis’s works since his death in 1963, has just written to me to let me know he is very interested in this project and will be only too happy to answer questions I have for him as I go forward.

I am feeling blessed this day.

So, if you would like to add your thoughts, and possibly have them included in the finished book, please go to that link and help me out. Thanks.

Researching C. S. Lewis

Now that I’m on sabbatical, projects have seemingly sprung up out of nowhere to keep me busy. One that has been in the back of my mind for a while has now taken a prominent place in my active imagination. I’ve always wanted to write something about C. S. Lewis. While reading a recent biography of him, I grabbed hold of an idea that I hope will come to fruition. I would like to assess, as much as possible, the impact Lewis has made on America and Americans individually. For some reason, America embraced him and his writings far more eagerly than his home nation of Britain. Why was that? How much documentation is there of his influence on Americans?

I thought that might be worth investigating, so since I was at Wheaton College this past week, I made sure to carve out some time to visit the Wade Center, which is a fantastic repository of all things C. S. Lewis and other key British authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien and Dorothy Sayers. It’s really rather amazing that a small Christian college in America has all these treasures. Amazing . . . and a real blessing for researchers like me.

The Wade Center is not huge, but it is welcoming and very helpful to researchers. I was staying at a guest house on campus, and the Wade Center was just across the street, so this is what greeted me every time I left the guest house:


Where else, in America, can one go to see some original C. S. Lewis artifacts? For instance, here’s the desk he used both at Oxford and in his home later:


If you are wondering where he got the idea for children to walk into a wardrobe and then into a land called Narnia, perhaps you don’t need to look any further than this piece of furniture that belonged to him:


I even enjoyed viewing his teapot, tea cup, and pewter mug. How very British of him:


And there was the research room itself, a veritable sanctuary for those of us who love to immerse ourselves in musty manuscripts and really good books:


I found a place to call my own:


My time at the Wade was a time I could enter into another “world,” if only briefly. This was just the beginning stage of the research. Will a book result from this? Perhaps that’s where faith comes in.