Clive Staples Lewis was a celebrated Anglo-Irish novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, lay theologian and Christian apologist whose impact and influence lives on.

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“Simply Lewis”: A response

April 21st, 2007 | Skip to comments

Recently, N. T. Wright published a reflection, “Simply Lewis,” on C. S. Lewis’s apologetics in Touchstone Magazine. I was asked by the editor of Touchstone to author a response to appear in a future issue. After you read Wright’s essay, consider my response below.

On N. T. Wright’s “Simply Lewis”

Despite his estimable gifts as a theologian—and we owe him plenty for his stalwart and vigorous defense of the resurrection of Our Lord in this post-post-post modern world—Tom Wright is no C. S. Lewis.

And there is no shame in that. Because no one is. Nor ever could (or should) one hope to be, as Alan Jacobs eloquently argued in his 1994 First Things article, “The Second Coming of C. S. Lewis.” Wright himself confesses that he knows he is not. That’s hardly the issue.

And yet, Wright implicitly invites the comparison by citing his own efforts to produce a “Mere Christianity-like” work for our times, presumably one that doesn’t “leak” or have “shaky foundations.” To this reader, his Simply Christian exhibits some of the same flaws Wright attributes to Lewis (shocking omissions and notable anachronisms), but minus the verbal charm for which Jack is rightly famous. The key here is “to this reader”; what may not remedy a doubt in me may work perfectly for someone else. I would be joyful to hear of the dozens or hundreds brought to faith by Wright’s endeavor.

But I don’t mean to be mean, only factual, in saying that I doubt readers sixty years from now will be downloading (or whatever the next innovation of publishing awaits) Wright’s text for its ongoing insight into Christianity. But Lewis? The odds are, despite friend Chad Walsh’s own dour prediction in the 1970s that interest in Lewis has probably peaked, that Jack’s readership has only just begun.

Lewis continues to cast a long shadow for 21st-Century apologists, creating, if I may say it, a veritable shadowlands for those who would feign to translate the faith in this generation more effectively than he. It is no mean feat to try to out-Jack Jack, though many have tried, all in the name of rehabilitating his work on behalf of an incredulous audience allegedly grown beyond the reach of his faulty trichotomies, dated metaphors, and childish fantasies.

There seems to be a whole genre dedicated to the praise-and-final-burial of Lewis, just this side of smug, to which Wright now has contributed, whose theme is basically, “Why Lewis Won’t Do.” Millions of readers, increasing every year, on every continent where Amazon.com can ship, disagree. This moves one to paraphrase what Jack said about Plato, “always better to read Lewis than a ‘translation’ of him.”

We have never met anyone like Lewis—few have. Perhaps we can be forgiven for holding on to a good thing when we see it. He exemplifies for his readers a valorous man whose fidelity to truth, openness to the supernatural, and commitment to communicating their faith fearlessly commends him again and again to new generations of readers who did not have to leave London because of the air raids, or their churches because of the Jesus Seminar.

Lewis is read, and will continue to be read, for reasons Wright perhaps cannot even see, given the blinders of the professional theologian and the pressures of the bishopric. Lewis’s “leaky building” is “bigger on the inside than it is on the outside,” at once a classroom, a shelter, a boot camp, and a chapel, —and whatever its perceived flaws, it is so much more inviting and compelling when juxtaposed with the more structurally sound edifices recommended by our theological betters, standing here, we don’t mind getting a little wet.


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