Lewis and Conversion

As most of you probably know, C.S. Lewis grew up in Northern Ireland in a Christian family. They certainly attended church while Lewis was growing up. Lewis details in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, how the death of his mother from cancer had a dramatic impact on his own view of the world, and by the time he was preparing to enter college he had chosen to reject Christian faith and follow a path toward atheism.

One of the things I always love to do while I am in Oxford is to stroll along Addison’s Walk just outside of Magdalene College. The tree-lined path gives one a real sense of tranquility and peace. It was on this path that three Oxford professors – Lewis, Tolkien and Hugo Dyson – often walked and discussed matters of faith and beauty. Lewis actually identifies one long talk with Tolkien and Dyson on Addison’s Walk that brought him into faith – first into theism and then later into a complete conviction that Christ is the Son of God.

I grew up in a Christian home (Baptist) in the late 20th century. In contrast to Lewis, my parents (and my church) were products of American Evangelicalism. Our services were (and are) relatively free of liturgy, and the pastors emphasize belief and heart-commitment. We almost always had “invitations” to accept Jesus at the end of the service, and I accepted one such invitation to follow Christ more than 46 years ago.

In spite of that initial decision to follow Jesus as a very young child, there have been times in my life when I could best be described as giving intellectual assent to Christianity. In Lewis’ book Miracles, he described how many modern people reacted to God:

“An ‘impersonal God’ – well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness inside our own heads – better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power that we can tap-best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband – that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: Was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (‘Man’s search for God’!) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that!”

That is the real key to the gospel. It is one thing to say, “I believe in God” and quite another to actually allow God to know me and to mold my heart to follow him. I am very comfortable at times “knowing God” but much less comfortable allowing him to know me. In some context along Addison’s Walk, Lewis found God. For the rest of his life he sought to not only know God better but also to allow God into his heart. By sharing and writing his story, he continues to encourage many of us to continue on the path to discover a true relationship with God.

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