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C.S. Lewis is to Christians What…

C.S. Lewis, famous dead man

C.S. Lewis is to Christians what McDonalds is to American children. C.S. Lewis is to Christians what beer pong is to college students. C.S. Lewis is to Christians what Dave Ramsey is to those who suck with money.

I first heard of C.S. Lewis in 6th grade. Lori, the girl who sat behind me and I had a crush on, read theย Chronicles of Narnia. Every day during our free time she ignored me so she could read these books. I was trying to impress this girl with my witty humor and dashing 6th grade looks and these silly books were getting in the way.

From there, I never heard him referred to until college. He was never referred to in an English or literature class.ย As a freshmen at Moody Bible Institute I got exposed to the cult of Lewis. My roommate had the full set of weathered and dog-eared Narnia books. He claimed he re-read them every year. In classes, people referenced him in nearly every speech and practice sermon. I took a literature class where a professor read from a Lewis book with a quivering voice before reverently closing the book and clearing her throat. I heard story after story from people who had profound experiences with Mere Christianity or the Screwtape Letters.

On and on it went. Through college it just seemed to get more intense. After college the child-like fascination I saw as a student mushroomed into something more bizarre as I stepped into church leadership.

Here’s what I’ve learned from being in the church 18 years…

  • American Christians have a love affair with C.S. Lewis.
  • We quote him like he’s a 4th member of the trinity. Lewis is that authoritative in most Christian circles.
  • A C.S. Lewis quote book might as well be the 67 book of the Bible in most preachers hands. Not sure how to move a point? Quote Lewis!
  • I’d be willing to bet that on any given Sunday in America there are more references to C.S. Lewis in sermons than there are references to the Old Testament. Do a study… my money is on Lewis.

As you can tell, I’m a little tired of Clives. (OK, a lot) I’m happy for those who have had profound experiences through his words. It is really cool to me that his books have meaning to so many people.ย I’m not a hater. I don’t hate Lewis. I’ve read Lewis’ stuff. (How do you think I graduated from Moody?) I just don’t revere his work as magical. I think he’s OK, but mediocre compared to authors of his era.

But lets keep Lewis in perspective. He is not God. His words are not to be more revered than Scripture. His words shouldn’t be quoted as if they are Scripture. I think he’d probably be ashamed of how highly he is revered in some Christian circles. Let’s call it what it is… idolatry.

A dose of reality for fans

C.S. Lewis is not the great literary genius Christians claim him to be. Comparing him to his contemporaries reveals it. Is he of greater literary significance than any of these?

I could go on. I went through some lists of the top authors/books of the 20th century… you won’t find Lewis in any top 20 list. Random House doesn’t even have a Lewis book in the top 100 of either their editors or readers selections.

But the point is simple: There’s a lot of hero worship of C.S. Lewis going on.

Knock it off.

By Adam McLane

Adam McLane is a partner at The Youth Cartel, co-author of A Parent's Guide to Understanding Social Media, blogger of 10+ years, and a fan of all things San Diego State University Aztecs.

35 replies on “C.S. Lewis is to Christians What…”

Wow.
Interesting for me to read given that
A: I’m a Lewis fan. Not a fanboy, just a fan.
B: I haven’t heard Lewis quoted in a sermon in my Episcopal church in a very long time.

I read Lewis for his theology not as literature so I’m not sure that comparing him to popular novelists is entirely fair. He is a solid writer without being flashy. I find his work much more about ideas than characters or plot. At the same time I do recommend him to folks as a challenging way to approach familiar subjects while remaining solidly mainstream.

Now if you want to rant about someone I am sick unto death of hearing about let’s talk Rick Warren. I’m not at all convinced that Warren’s writing will have nearly the shelf life that Lewis’s has.

And you do know that he (Lewis) loathed the name Clive right? He went by “Jack” during his life.

Peace
Jay

Dude. You ARE a hater. Get over it.
What is the point of quoting someone unless enough people know who that person is? What is the point of quoting some obscure writer to whom no one can relate? If you’re tired of him then quote someone else but wasting your time judging everybody else for their inspirational choices is stupid.
Sincerely,
Angelica

I sympathize with you Adam, really. Anytime one author (like Phillip Yancy, NT Wright, etc.) gets national or multi-national attention we tend to lift them up to the evangelical form of saint-hood. But that doesn’t and shouldn’t detract from the true depth and power of their work.

Lewis had received strong attention because his writing skills were so diverse. He can write fantasy, or doctrine, or whatever genre you’d call the Screwtape Letters (extreme analogy, maybe?). And in each of those separate genres he captures his audience. The authors you listed above had a much broader audience, which gives them an edge, but they are also primarily narrative writers, either fiction or non-fiction. So that puts Lewis in a totally different class.

Give credit where it’s due.

I’m giving credit where its due. Lewis doesn’t belong in a conversation with any of them. Should I list 20th century theologians and ask you to put him in a list of that as well? ๐Ÿ™‚

As someone not born into Evangelical culture… just know that this love of Lewis is bizarre.

Ah… I forgot the other 2 big draws. He began as an agnostic, or even close to an atheist. This is always an extremely fascinating story that Christians resonate with.

Second, he was extremely pastoral and alot of his letters to colleagues and students were extremely transformative, not only for the recipient, but also for many many people who read them in later generations.

Sure, compare him to Barth, or Bohnhoeffer, or Tillich, and he seems out of place as well. The point is, he belongs in his own category. He’s not purely a theologian, nor purely a children’s writer, nor purely a sci-fi writer, nor purely a pastor. He’s a hybrid and nevertheless expressed truth and power in just about anything he wrote. That’s worthy of credit.

But, in the end, I do still agree with your point: Hero worship of Lewis exists and is bad. That’s true.

I like CSLewis, but I’ve rarely heard him mentioned in sermons, rarely heard him mentioned in classes and I attended a conservative Christian college. I like many of his works because they make me think, and there are a few ideas that I’ve stuck to because i like the imagery they provide.

Personally I love the imagery he gives of our world being a dim echo of what eternity will be, (reference Puddleglum from the Silver Chair), and that what we love here is just a taste of how wonderful it will be to spend eternity with Christ.

That being said, he’s not a 4th member of the trinity, and honestly I’ve never heard him revered like you have. I have been hearing such things about Piper, Spong, Chan, and Maxwell.

geez. crazy overstatements, dude. clearly, the girl in 6th grade wounded your little boy heart, and you’ve pinned it all on clive. let ‘er go, adam.

Adam since you are not reading “Mere Christianity” and “The Problem of Pain”, I would recommend reading “Wild at Heart”. This book talks a lot about healing your past wounds and rescuing your beauty.

Adam–
I was literally laughing so hard at this post. You nailed it. To be honest, I was always scared to say something against CS Lewis regime because I knew I would get trampled by the CS Lewis Nazis.

Great churched Christians go nuts over this guy. I just don’t get it.

Don’t get me wrong, CS Lewis has done a great job articulating the faith in ways people can relate to, but still…….
My favorite band of CS Lewis followers are the guys and gals at Biola. There is even a CS Lewis college, which will be steeped in the classics. I think the college will be on the East coast somewhere.

Yeah, an interesting sidenote about the CS Lewis College and my Moody education. (Which I’m sure I just got banned from.) The new school will be on the grounds of the former Northfield School started by D.L. Moody. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northfield_Mount_Hermon_School

Before he died, Moody helped start two schools. One in his hometown of Northfield, MA and one in Chicago. (MBI started by Emma Dryer as a way to educate women to teach the Bible… something my alma mater seems to have forgotten.)

Adam:

Your thoughts remind me of a C.S. Lewis quote I came across: “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “All right, then, have it your way.”

See you in 10 days ๐Ÿ™‚

C.S. Lewis is the Thomas Kincaid or Stephanie Meyers of Christian writers.

Great mass appeal, but not one of the best in his field.

That being said, A Grief Observed and The Great Divorce or two of my most read books on my office shelves.

But his other stuff…meh. Never made it all the way through Mere Christianity or The Screwtape Letters. But I’ve read all the Chronicles and his sci-fi books. He comes up with good ideas for stories but just doesn’t have the talent to right good fiction beyond a grade school level.

I really do like C.S. Lewis, but more for his books that are “off the radar,” like Abolition of Man and The Great Divorce (and also “Till We Have Faces”). Though I really like C.S. Lewis, I have the same problems with the mass popularity, but more for the fact that what has happened is all of this attention has really watered down his radical ideas that would really blow people out of the water and make them label him a heretic if they really thought about it. But they gloss right over that stuff, and that’s what upsets me.

It’s funny, because I’ve never thought of C.S. Lewis as a giant for his literary works, but more for his groundbreaking ability to articulate some very subversive ideas in ways that disarmed people’s natural defensive reactions. Sadly, that is probably what has contributed to the above mentioned glossing over of his paradigm-shifting ideas without even thinking about them.

I think you’re spot on with this. We cling to every one of his books because he is one of the few “great” Christian authors who was decidedly…well, Christian. In reality, he doesn’t belong on any lists of great literary figures at all unless it’s one about people who approached Christian theology and philosophy in new and enlightening ways. Unfortunately, his adeptness in describing the great romance between God and humanity is rarely able to be captured through a simple quote.

I just stumbled across your blog and this post, having never read it before, so sorry if I’m posting out of turn (I don’t really know proper “blog commenting etiquette”). But I had to just say that reading this post sort of hurt my feelings. I mean, not like I’m going to cry myself to sleep tonight or hire a therapist or question the deepness or validity of my faith or anything, but your post made me sad. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t raised in Christian culture at all, so I have absolutely no appreciation for what you’re talking about in terms of Christian hero-worship. Couple that with the fact that I made it to Christ by first reading Lewis, and I sort of feel like you’re telling me that my first highschool love turned out to be a Catholic priest–like you’re saying that someone magical for me was never intended for that magical love I believe he taught me. Yeah, strange analogy. But I guess I’m saying that telling people to “knock it off” is a little harsh and unnecessary. I eventually got to read Tillich and Barth and Kathryn Tanner because Lewis made Christianity undeniably logical to me. I don’t read him anymore, but he was my “first love.” I don’t see what good it does to slam someone/thing that means a lot to so many people–even if you don’t have that experience yourself. For example, I don’t really appreciate the Left Behind series (because I’m a good PresbyterianUSA and don’t really back this “rapture” stuff in that way). But I’m not going to slam it on the sole grounds that I think the theology leaves something to be desired–that series means a lot to a lot of people, and I’m not going to try and take away it’s thrill without offering people something better (in my opinion) to hold on to. So, all I’m saying is, maybe take it easy on ol’ Jack and anyone else you want to slam in the future. You never know who’s reading your stuff and then closing down the computer by feeling slammed right along with him.

Hey Adam, great post! With you, I see the bizarre nature of Christians treatment of Lewis. When the conference book table is 1 part Bibles, 1 part Lewis, and 1 part everything else, we see a picture of CS’s popularity among Evangelical circles.

Your opening analogies certainly caught my attention and I can see what you mean by the first two “C.S. Lewis is to Christians what McDonalds is to American children. C.S. Lewis is to Christians what beer pong is to college students.” It seems that you are describing the many peculiar relations that Christians have to Lewis. I get that American kids love eating, insatiably desire, and can be addicted to fast food. I also get that college kids can’t get enough of peer pong. It could also be said that each of these people groups are the primary consumers of their respective activity. I.e. College kids are the primary players of beer pong.

The third analogy has me puzzled. “C.S. Lewis is to Christians what Dave Ramsey is to those who suck with money.” The pattern at this point would indicate that you mean “People who suck with money are the primary consumers of the Dave Ramsey show.”

I beg to differ. If this is what you mean, then it follows that Dave Ramsey lends itself to people who suck with money.

A more appropriate paradigm would be to say that “C.S. Lewis is to Christians what Dave Ramsey is to those who want to win with money.”

The key difference here is that people who want to win with money become addicted (enjoy listening to, have an insatiable desire for) to Dave Ramsey.

That’s my long way of saying: Great post dude! I’m glad someone is seeing it like it is and saying something. Just reconsider your wording of the third comparision.

Jordan

No… people who get hooked on Dave Ramsey do so because they suck with their money. Sorry if that doesn’t work for you. But why would someone who is good with their money even know Dave Ramsey’s name?

The “win with money” is merely a marketing slogan. It’s what Seth Godin calls a marketing lie. Its true for you because you want it to be true. In fact, the winner of your money is Dave Ramsey!

I’ve got nothing against Dave Ramsey… heck, making a budget, sticking to it, and taking control of your finances is great. And his methods have helped a bunch of people get in control, which is great. (Apparently you are one of them, high five) But Ramsey doesn’t say a single thing that others have said for years! And if we had all paid attention to our math teacher back in school we wouldn’t need him. It’s the common sense style that makes him popular.

I’ll give him one thing… his fans are ravenous! He’s got the same type of fans as Rush Limbaugh and Apple.

…Or…CS Lewis is to Christianity what YS is to youth ministry…

Thinking you are on track re. those who are enamored with Lewis (who would have been among the first to have said the cultish following of some is just weird); but I think his writing is better than many, if not most, of his peers.

Good post.

Funny thing is I constantly notice people who quote/revere the more “popular” CS Lewis books also quite loudly bash theologies/beliefs he espouses in his lesser known works…and those who adhere to them today.

I’m really surprised he’s so wildly liked in Evangelical circles…he sure wouldn’t be if he were alive today.

Adam-
I agree with you that DR’s message is just the same common sense we all know is true (ie: eating out costs more than preparing food at home), albeit in a fancy shiny marketing wrapper.

I’m realizing now that what I was trying to say earlier is that DR appeals to both people who suck with money (me) and want to use money rightly (me now after I woke up to my financial mess a year ago).

I respect for DR alot and did not want people to think DR’s message is just for people who suck with money.

As to getting on a budget and taking personal responsibility…. (high five) indeed!

CS Lewis, pfft…. been there done that… Slept in his house, hung out every thursday night there and got my party on. Even got to play with the Lion/Aslan front door knocker… Jealous yet??

No serious, like I remember people coming to that house looking for a tour.. weird for my friend that lived there and they were like taking photos of everything..

I understand how people can get so worked up about the writer, like I can get a little crazy about middle earth sometimes…. but to idolize Tolkien?? nevar…

Sure enough CS Lewis wrote some books, but how different are they from today’s pop christian culture books.. the man read up about stuff and wrote about it.. (See Mere Christianity and The Four Loves) Sure enough he gave his opinion… but they were all based on his thoughts on the Bible, which is were we all should draw our inspiration from… Maybe if we actually stopped to read and understand it or even LIVE IT, we would actually realise that we are all equal… instead of turning Old Jack into St. Lewis…..

Adam,
This analysis seems to be on par with a pretty consistent critical tone you carry which is predominant in the emerging circles unfortunately.

In preaching, the source of our message should always come from our constant interaction with Scripture, which is becoming more rare by the day. So in that regard, sure Clive and every other Christian author have taken up too much space in the pulpit.

However, where CS hits the mark & YS falls short many times is that he proclaimed a God-centered gospel whereas you seem to move towards a man-centered needs driven gospel.

This is a great dilemma now as we are only truly changed by beholding God which is not typical of motivational talks and Starbucks communities. Doesn’t mean one still can’t enjoy a good cup of java.

Cheers!

Er, not sure about this sentence “This analysis seems to be on par with a pretty consistent critical tone you carry which is predominant in the emerging circles unfortunately.”

Can you please explain why you’d try to lump me into “emerging circles.” How exactly does not liking C.S. Lewis make a person “emerging.” Actually, the post is merely saying that we should place Scripture above secondary sources of inspiration for our “motivational talks.”

And I take great offense at any attempt to label my church/ministry/work as a “Starbuck community.” That’s a jab, and unlike others, I will glady defend my faith community when folks from afar who have never seen our work up close make accusations. If you’d like to start a conversation about my church, what I believe, or how I practice my faith, I’m always open.

Sorry if you were offended by my post. But I stand behind it… C.S. Lewis is not a member of the trinity. We need to place his works FAR below Scripture.

Cheers, back!

After re-reading my post from the middle of the night it did come across a bit harsh. Must have been the slice of pizza I ate. However, everyone needs to engage in message board banter every now and again.

I didn’t necessarily “lump” you into the emerging circles, I was merely pointing to you having similar tendencies within this blog post. I have no tiffs w/ you saying that there is way too much popular quotations, illustrations, and motivational material going on in preaching at the great neglect of presenting Scripture.

However, your responses to some of the posts leave that thought and try to engage us in polling where CS ranks in the great literary world. I’m not sure he would really care whether or not any of us thinks he was as great as an author as Hemingway or even a “popular” theologian. To me, and how he has affected my life, is that he wrote out of who God is and what God did in his life. To critique his literary style is missing the forest for the trees IMO.

And the only reason I brought up the emerging trend in the first place is because I’ve seen a tragic tendency to forsake revelation for relevance, especially in youth ministry.

Social justice, great psychology, and community will never build followers of Christ apart from prayer, devotion to Scripture, and connectedness to the local church.

In the end, I didn’t mean that your specific church or ministry is a typical “starbucks community”. As a matter of fact, I don’t even know what church you are at. I’ve just personally seen many young people hop on the Bono bandwagon and leave the real GameChanger behind.

Sorry, once again, as I never intended for anything to come across as a personal jab. Thanks for taking the time to always engage the conversation. Love seeing your thoughts.

Cheers!

Adam,

I think you paint the church with a broad brush. In my time @ moody and in ministry the only people I saw drinking the clive koolaid were the lit. types at moody. I honestly don’t recall having heard the name C.S. Lewis since leaving our alma mater. However I only read coloring books.

Awww Adam no wikey Mr Lewis… someone call the waaaaambulance.

The man was a faithful believer, a prolific author and tackled issues in an educated yet conversational way – what’s not to like? Is it that you don’t like him, or that you fear others love him too much?

Quoted in sermons more than the Old Testament? Really? Cuz Paul quoted a popular songwriter in his sermon (Acts 17:28), and quotes Epimenides in Titus 1:12, and Jude quotes from the apocraphal book of Enoch. So were the Apostles wrong to quote from sources other than the Law?

Be obedient to the Lord in what He has called you to do, and stop complaining about the success of another believer.

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