- Eugene Peterson
Today, the 42nd anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy, also marks the 42nd anniversary of the passing of C.S. Lewis, the greatest and most influential Christian writer of the 20th century.
As last year, I reprint below a slightly editied version of my original tribute to Jack from the blog's first year:
I guess it's easy to overlook Lewis in this time. He wasn't a man who enjoyed the spotlight anyway, and he probably would think it just fine that the day of his passing be obscured by the Death of Camelot. But I say that the legacy Lewis left us is far greater than that of JFK.
Lewis was a poet, novelist, essayist, literary critic, professor, and 'amateur' theologian-philosopher. His fiction manages to capture the mythic grandeur and eloquence he so loved as a child and the attention-grabbing wonder every lover of good stories covets. His non-fiction sparkled with an easy-going style. Lewis's illustrative method was remarkable. He was able to take difficult and complex concepts and somehow explain them in ways that made sense. He always favored simplicity even when discussing 'big things.' He never used a big word when a small one would have worked just as well.
C.S. Lewis's influence on modern Christianity is unmatched to this day. No other Christian has come close to rivaling his place at the summit of Christian literature. No other Christian has come close to influencing Christian thought in the 20th and 21st centuries more than he. That is why I believe Lewis has been the single most influential Christian of the 20th century. No one ' not even Billy Graham ' has left such a indelible mark on Christian culture. Graham may win the souls, but Lewis builds them up. You might not be able to get an atheist to read Graham's How to be Born Again, but I bet you could get him to read Lewis's The Abolition of Man. And he'd be better off for it.
It might be hyperbole, but the Thinklings may not have ever started were it not for Lewis. When Bird and I met in high school gym class, we had little in common at first but our faith and an interest in Lewis. Most of my fondest early Thinkling moments involve Lewis. Before the Thinklings were the Thinklings, Bird and I used to go over to another friend's house to shoot hoops, shoot pool, and shoot the breeze. Theological debates were the order of the day. And many a theological debate or discussion was settled with 'Well, what does Lewis say about it?'
I recall visiting Bird in college at Baylor one time. I remember it clear as day even though it was night, but Bird and I sat out by his apartment complex's pool, smoked stogies, and discussed C.S. Lewis. I remember a bunch of bats flying overhead.
When I met Bill 'Jewel' Roberts in the mid-90s on that fateful bus trip back from summer camp, we were both delighted to discover a mutual affection for Lewis.
Again, it may be exaggeration, but other than our faith, Lewis may be the one common 'link' between us.
I myself have a poor 'reading memory.' But for some reason, I seem to recall much of the C.S. Lewis I've read. His way with words sticks in my brain like no other writer. I have an odd ability to recall certain Lewis quotes and phrases, and he's really the only author for whom I can do this.
It was my father's dust-eaten copy of Mere Christianity that inspired my love of theological pursuit and passion for doctrine. It was the Chronicles of Narnia and the Space Trilogy that inspired by particular approach to writing fiction. Today, I am doing my darndest to emulate Lewis's approach to literature ' namely, literary merit with latent Christianity.
Indeed, were Lewis writing his fiction today, he might not even make it on to the shelves of Christian bookstores. Not enough explicit 'Jesus'-ness. Yet no Christian fiction has baptized childhood imaginations for future embrace of the Gospel more than Lewis's (except perhaps Tolkien's).
Lewis has been my influence and my inspiration. He's been my teacher and my comforter.
Professor Lewis, if you can hear me, I am a better Christian because of you. When I get where you are, I'd love to shake your hand and share a pint.