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 the 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. 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. 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?
- Earnest Hemingway (1899-1961)
- F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)
- John Steinbeck (1902-1968)
- Richard Wright (1908-1960)
- J.D. Salinger (1919-2010)
- James Joyce (1882-1941)
- Jack London (1876-1916)
- George Orwell (1903-1950)
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.