By John Bowen
Published: February 2006
John Bowen teaches evangelism at Wycliffe College in Toronto, and is a member of St. John the Evangelist in Hamilton.
Many churches, particularly in the USA, regarded the release of the movie version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on December 9 as a wonderful evangelistic opportunity. I thought it was a wonderful movie, but was it evangelistic? I suppose it depends what you mean by evangelism, and what C.S.Lewis thought he was doing in his Narnia stories. Lewis is clear about both.
First, it is helpful to know something of his background. He was born in 1898, and grew up as an Anglican in Northern Ireland. He was alternately bored and terrified by church, and by the age of thirteen declared himself an atheist, which he remained for fifteen years. During those years, however, he had what he later came to recognise as spiritual experiences, flashes of what he called "joy" which spoke to him of something beyond present material experience (hence the title of his autobiography, Surprised by Joy ). These experiences came to him through the beauty of nature and through ancient mythology, particularly Norse mythology.
For years, he made no connection between his experiences of joy and Christianity. Indeed, his head told him there was no God and that life was meaningless, and the cry of his heart that "joy" still mattered went unheeded. Then, at Oxford, he made friends with Christians who were thoughtful academics and delightful people, and he began to get worried.
One of those friends was J.R.R.Tolkien. When Lewis argued (as others have done since, most recently Tom Harpur), that Christianity was just another of the world's great mythologies, Tolkien offered a different point-of-view. He said (in effect) that of course these mythologies are universal, because they contain glimpses of God's truth, but that the point of mythology is to prepare our imaginations for their fulfillment in Christ. As Lewis wrote later:
"The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens - at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences."
Once he had acknowledged that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, he started going to church again, and began to explore and write about his newfound faith. From that time on, he published on average one book per year till his death in 1963, every one demonstrating a deep integration of his faith with his learning and his life.
So what did Lewis think about evangelism? Certainly he was ambivalent in his attitude to conventional evangelism. In an interview with Decision , the magazine of the Billy Graham organisation, he said, "There are many different ways of bringing people into His Kingdom, even some ways that I specially dislike." Among other things, he clearly disliked evangelical jargon. When Sherwood Eliot Wirt (the editor) asked him: "Would you say that the aim of Christian writing, including your own writing, is to bring about an encounter of the reader with Jesus Christ?" Lewis replied: "That is not my language, yet it is the purpose I have in mind."
At the same time, Lewis had a high view of evangelism itself. He wrote: "The glory of God, and, as our only means to glorying him, the salvation of human souls, is the real business of life." And for him, this was not merely a theory. He wrote in a letter in 1949:
I have two lists of names in my prayers, those for whose conversion I pray, and those for whose conversion I give thanks. The little trickle of transferences from List A to List B is a great comfort....
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