Beyond Narnia — C.S. Lewis was a theological guide

I like to read. I suppose this is why I enjoy being a history major so much. At the start of college, when I discovered that I could make a productive four years out of reading and writing (with a few math courses slipped in at community college over the summer), I could not have been happier. In fact, even when I am finished with my course work for the day, if I am not seeing friends or out jogging or playing tennis, I am probably reading. It certainly has its perks: I hardly ever get bored.

For my recreational reading, one of my favorite authors to read is C.S. Lewis, and the purpose of this column is to encourage other people to read him as well. I began reading Lewis in high school, although I probably took a different route than most people. It would have been normal to start with the Chronicles of Narnia as a child, but sadly I was never introduced to these wonderful stories until much later.

I do not remember the first thing I read by Lewis, but I believe it was one of his theological nonfiction works, and “The Screwtape Letters” soon after. Reading Lewis really opened up a new world to me. At the time I was experiencing a deepening religious conversion, but had I never made a serious study of theology, I would not have known where to begin. Lewis, however, had an ability to make theology intensely interesting.

One would think that studying theology would be tedious, but with Lewis it was never so. To take one example, he wrote “Mere Christianity,” a general introduction to Christianity, for a radio audience.

It is written in a conversational instead of an academic manner. It is more a friendly Englishman talking to you about his beliefs than an old Oxford scholar delivering a lecture.

The “Screwtape Letters” are also remarkable. In them, we read the letters sent from a fictional older devil to his nephew, a fledgling tempter, giving advice on how to lead humans to sin. They are at once thought-provoking, profound and hilarious.

Perhaps someday I will read a dense theological treatise by Saint Thomas Aquinas on angels and demons, but I think for now “The Screwtape Letters” is good enough.

His other fiction is also noteworthy. Many, many people have read the Chronicles of Narnia as children, but I would heartily recommend rereading them again today. By doing so, we gain a deeper understanding of many Christian doctrines such as sin and grace, providence and free will, and heaven and hell.

Truly, the description of heaven at the end of “The Last Battle” is among the most imaginative, intriguing and beautiful that I have ever read. It is worth buying if only for that.

I hope my cursory introduction to some of Lewis’ more notable books will encourage some of you to read something by him. I think in our college especially we have a great need to do so.

To my knowledge, few if any classes offer a sound overview of orthodox Christian theology. Even if some do, I imagine that many people would not have the time to take them. But reading through a few of Lewis’ books will certainly fill this intellectual void.

Certainly all Christians should read him in order to get a basic understanding of their beliefs. He was an Anglican, but I know he is a favorite of both Catholics and Protestants. His works explain the primary doctrines of Christianity clearly and well; all Christians will find them useful.

For more contested issues, we will have to search elsewhere and come to our own conclusions, but in the meantime by reading Lewis we would be doing a great service to Christian unity by focusing, as Pope John XXIII so often said, on what unites us rather than on what divides us.

I also would invite people of other faiths and even those with no faith to read Lewis. Even if someone does not believe in Christianity, he or she might still

want to know something about it. Since Lewis avoids complicated doctrinal disputes, his writing is the perfect place to start.

And also, if someone has considered becoming a Christian but never looked into it, why not start now?

I would especially recommend him to those who are attracted to Christianity but find it hard to become Christian because of intellectual difficulties, since Lewis can explain complicated and troubling doctrines better than most.

I know, for instance, that many people would like to believe but cannot understand why a good God would allow so much evil to exist in the word. Lewis wrote a whole book on the subject, called “The Problem of Pain,” and I would recommend it to anyone who struggles with this issue.

Really, if this or any similar thing keeps a person from God, I am sure he will find it addressed by Lewis somewhere in his writings. Lewis lived through two world wars and the sexual revolution, and he did not live in the clouds. All of his writings are current and helpful to the people of our age.

Lewis really does have a universal appeal and anyone can read him with profit. So, the next time you have some free time and are looking for a book to read, I warmly recommend something written by him.

Whether you like nonfiction or fiction, the logic of theological and philosophical explanations, or the wonder and imagination of children’s stories, Lewis is the writer for you.

For many years he has informed and inspired me, and he continues to do so to this day. I know that anyone who begins to read him will have a similar experience.