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C.S. Lewis: Biography of C.S. Lewis

Christian Author, Apologist


C.S. Lewis
Clive Staples Lewis
Jack Lewis

1898: November 29, born in Belfast, Ireland
1913: discovers Norse mythology and decides that Christianity is an inferior mythology
1917: goes to France with the Somerset Light Infantry
1918: April 15, wounded by an exploding shell in the Battle of Arras
1919: takes first class degrees in classics, philosophy, and English
1925-1954: fellow of English language and literature at Magdalen College, Oxford
1926: meets J.R.R. Tolkien at a gathering of the English faculty at Merton College
1929: comes to believe in the existence of some sort of god
1931: converts to Christianity
1955: professor of medieval and renaissance literature at Magdalene College, Cambridge
1956: marries Joy Gresham
1960: wife Joy Gresham dies of cancer at the age of 45
1963: November 22, dies in Oxford, England

Anglican history and theology
English literature

Major Works:
The Pilgrim's Regress (1933)
The Allegory of Love (1936)
Out of the Silent Planet (1938)
The Problem of Pain (1940)
The Screwtape Letters (1942)
Mere Christianity (1942)
The Abolition of Man (1943)
Perelandra (1943)
That Hideous Strength (1945)
Miracles (1947)
The Narnia Chronicles (1951-56)
English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (1954)
Surprised by Joy (1955)
The Four Loves (1960)

C.S. Lewis was an author, a scholar of English literature and a famous Christian apologist. The son of a lawyer, Lewis grew up in Ireland at a time when northern Ireland was not torn by the bitter strife which would eventually come to characterize its religious situation. Early on he developed a love for reading and learning. He rejected Christianity at an early age, deciding that Christian myths were inferior to others in the world and that the Christian god, if it existed, must be a sadist.

After a year of study at University College in Oxford, C.S. Lewis volunteered for the trenches of France. At first Lewis enjoyed the close camaraderie of the army, but his idealistic beliefs would be shattered by the death and suffering he witnessed. World War I undermined the progressive ideals of many throughout Europe.

Upon his return he received top grades and was elected to an important teaching post at Magdalen College, also at Oxford. He remained at Oxford until 1955, when he accepted a teaching post at Cambridge. C.S. Lewis would later say that he was an atheist during his early years at Oxford, but began to move towards an evangelical flavor of Anglicanism due to his friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien.

His fame as an author came on two fronts. One was his fictional works, the most popular of which are the Chronicles of Narnia, seven books for young people which incorporate Christian themes and doctrines allegorically. The second front of his fame came from books openly written in defense of traditional Christianity. These include the popular The Screwtape Letters, a collection of letters of advice from a demon to his nephew, and the famous book Mere Christianity which began as a series of radio talks in 1941.

The sort of Christianity promoted by Lewis was unreservedly orthodox. He believed that too many church leaders had watered down traditional Christianity in order to accommodate it to the modern, scientific age. Instead practical tips and platitudes, Lewis emphasized orthodox Christian conceptions of sin, redemption, hell, atonement, resurrection, and miracles.

C.S. Lewis doesn't talk down to his audience (his audience of believers — he’s quite nasty to nonbelievers). Instead, he writes for the average person rather than for philosophers and theologians. He was himself a trained academic, but eschewed jargon and complicated arguments in favor a simplified, unadorned prose that was consciously designed to appeal to the average person.

Because of all this, Lewis’ works have become standard reading for Christians in the United States. It also helps that, although an Anglican, Lewis didn’t focus much on church doctrine. His emphasis on a basic sort of Christianity allowed his appeal to spread to adherents of many denominations.

He was quite open about his goal being to get people to accept Christianity without caring about what denomination they entered, but this is problematic. The name of his most famous apologetic work, Mere Christianity, is a misnomer: there is no such thing as “mere” Christianity. Every denomination has doctrines which it insists are vital but which others insist aren’t — or are even false.

One of the consequences of his simple style is that his arguments have extensive flaws in their logic and reasoning. His writings may serve as an introduction to Christian doctrines, but anyone who relies extensively upon them will be ill-served in any serious discussion about Christian theology or religious philosophy.

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