Love him or hate him, C S Lewis was arguably the foremost Christian apologist in the west during the twentieth century (‘apologetics’ seek to do several things: present the attractiveness of the Christian faith; demonstrate the reasonableness of Christianity; and clear up misconceptions and faulty understandings about Christianity. This task has been going on now for two millennia).

Although his style may seem a bit dated these days, his books have become spiritual classics for their incisive thinking and spiritual honesty. We have some good apologists at present, but Lewis was unique in bringing a classically-influenced imagination and creativity to his writing.


However, every vocation has its own snares. For clergy, the fact that we want to be available to people can easily shade into believing ourselves to be indispensable. Caring in prayer for a church and a parish can turn into obsessive anxiety about a thousand problems that we aren’t, after all, called to solve.

C S Lewis had his own snares. For anyone speaking or teaching about God, it can be all too easy to start thinking that our own way of thinking is the only way, that our so-called victories prove to us that we are right, our defeats mean that somebody has it in for us, and we start putting our faith in results, instead of in God alone.

These can be pretty subtle and you have to know yourself and your God. Lewis wrote a prayer about his own snares, which was only published after his death. It is very honest, and an encouragement to help restore a sense of spiritual reality.

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die

(poem found in Malcolm Guite’s article in the Church Times 15 April 2011)



  1. The thing that bothers me about Lewis is that the clergy all too often treat his imaginary world of The Screwtape Letters so seriously and even quote from it.

    I have met very many people possessed of the certainty of the ‘rightness’ of what they believe and this has always set alarm bells ringing in my head. I stay well away from anyone who preaches …and especially those who think they speak for god. I might just be spiritually poorer as a result of doing this, but I feel it’s a price worth paying. I REALLY can’t abide the sort that think it is incumbent of them to police other people’s faith and subject it to their own ‘health check.’

    I feel it is enough to find your own spiritual path and follow that prayerfully. I have little doubt that there are many who would gainsay this for scriptural or doctrinal reasons …but god alone knows the truth that is in my heart and I will happily be judged by him rather than a twit with a book.


    1. Why should the fact that some people find the Screwtape letters helpful to their spiritual lives, bother you more than someone who bases their thinking on Brother Lawrence, and is convinced of the rightness of what he believes?


      1. I don’t think of any one human being as possesing a monopoly of rightness …including Brother Lawrence. My pincipal concern was that the Screwtape Letters are often treated as literal examples of the operation of ‘evil.’

        Brother Lawrence has an essentially simple philosophy that is embellished upon and made more complex than is necessary …by those who comment on his beliefs. The same thing is done with Lewis but it starts out as a complex construct and was most likely never written in the hope of informing people’s spiritual lives.


      2. There’s no doubt that Lewis, as an apologist, wrote what he hoped would be helpful to people, and often in answer to the many thousands of letters he received which asked such questions.

        As for using Screwtape: it is the job of clergy to ‘teach the faith’ as well as to pastor. The only way that we would use Screwtape was if we were teaching about some of the subtleties of temptation. Screwtape might then make a useful illustration. But I think it depends on the social context of the church: we would be unlikely to use it here.


  2. Awww…… Funnily enough I was flicking through books by apologists as well as the anti-God people yesterday and am leafing through bits of C S Lewis “Mere Christianity” at the moment!


      1. CS Lewis, Aldous Huxley and JF Kennedy all died on the same day in case you’re interested….. on my 4th birthday as it happens…… There now! I recall it did put the dampers on the day at the time!


  3. Whether we have a faith, or a belief in what we do in our daily lives is the best, we can all become apologists in some form or another. It is not so long ago that I heard someone bewailing that they could not be ill or, have time off, because they were indispensable. Whether it was about obtaining the results, or misplaced cause, or both, could not be said, not without risking a mini war. These beliefs and behaviours are common causes of disputes.

    At some point, C.S.Lewis gained some insight into his actions. Did he do anything about it?


      1. I take it then, there was no record that you are aware of, of any changes in C.S.Lewis’ actions, pronouncements or writings, apart from the poem.


      2. I don’t have a sufficiently minute knowledge of his writings to be sure, among other considerations. I do know that we all become aware of these things in our lives, and the awareness sensitises us to them, and that we then try and act differently as a result – we interpret it as the Holy Spirit alerting us and working with us to live in a way more worthy of Christ’s love. It is clear from the poem that Lewis was no different. My assumption is that, having become aware of this as a temptation for him, he would then be more alert to any tendency he had to think that his cleverness could deliver him, and this would help him to keep a watch on his assumptions. As it is about his private knowledge of his own motives, and was plainly meant to be between him and God, I would not expect to know how well he succeeded in his desire. As I said, it is not for me to judge: I would not like people to judge me in similar circumstances, especially as nobody else ever has the full picture of who another human being is. I consider that’s between him and God, who we consider alone knows all there is to know about us.


      3. You have an interesting Christian perspective on ‘the awakening’. It suggests is is timeless, rather than of or from its time.

        I wonder how much Tolkein, may have taken from a similar viewpoint.


      4. When you talk about ‘the awakening’, are you referring to the revivals following Wesley et al? This is the only context in which I’ve heard it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s