Those of a certain age—and those who have seen the news reel—can still hear Walter Cronkite echoing in their heads: “President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time. 2 o'clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.”
That news shocked a nation and the world. It also eclipsed the news of the death of a giant of the Christian faith. C.S. Lewis died that same day, November 22, 1963.
What if this had not been the case? What if Walter Cronkite had reported on the life and death of C.S. Lewis in his famous, clipped, trained-to-talk-slowly, recognizable-anywhere voice? What if Cronkite had given C.S. Lewis the full “You Were There” treatment?
Oxford professor and noted author C.S. Lewis died today. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Lewis is as well known for his popular writings as he is for his academic work. Especially noteworthy are his seven-book series the Chronicles of Narnia and several works of Christian apologetics. The former are ostensibly written for children, but have a great following on college campuses and with adults generally. The latter take various approaches to defending Christianity against its attackers.
Lewis’s influence alone has been remarkable. But it has been part of larger influence. An influence that many have felt without being aware of its source. That source is a group that called itself the Inklings.
The Inklings was a loosely-knit literary discussion group that met at Oxford during the 30’s and 40’s. In addition to Lewis, the most notable members were J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams.
Williams wrote many novels with explicitly Christian themes such as War in Heaven and Descent into Hell. The novels have been very influential with other writers, although sometimes seen as rather dense or off-putting by the general public. Their descriptions of occult practices and characters may also be uncomfortable to some Christians.
Tolkien’s books on the other hand, suffer no such problems. His children’s book The Hobbit is immensely popular. And some people believe that his fantasy trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, is on the verge of overtaking Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia in popularity.
Combined, the works of Williams, Tolkien, and Lewis—whose death we mark today—have had an enormous influence. All indications are that the influence will continue for decades. These men have brought Christian themes into the marketplace of ideas in both old and new ways. From Lewis’s forthright apologetics to the fantasy novels of all three men, the battle between good and evil is now being forthrightly discussed on college campuses in the United Kingdom and the United States. The sometimes thinly-veiled Christian allegories are causing the current generation of students to reconsider the claims of Christianity. These men have painted anew the historic picture of Jesus, the central figure of Christianity. They do not shy away from the ideas of sin and mankind’s need for redemption. They do not hesitate to assert that redemption is available only through Jesus Christ. They boldly re-assert the view that Jesus Christ is both God and man.
Perhaps the most famous such statement is what has become known as Lewis’s trilemma, which he put forth in his book Mere Christianity. According to Lewis, because Jesus claimed to be God, He must be either a lunatic or a liar … or exactly who he claimed to be. Therefore, He cannot be just “a good teacher.” Lewis and the Inklings would force us to accept Jesus as the Redeemer or not at all.
Somehow, one cannot imagine a similar phenomenon arising on American shores. Somehow all of this—elite university professors writing children books and fantasy novels and calling the masses back to historic Christianity—seems so unimaginable to us. Yet somehow, all of this seems so quintessentially English.
And today, this man of enormous influence, C.S. Lewis, has presumably literally met his Maker.
And that’s the way it is, November 22, 1963.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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