I like C.S. Lewis a lot. He wasn’t a Catholic, but he was a convert to Anglicanism, and more importantly, he was an incredible writer. I read The Chronicles of Narnia first, but when I entered adulthood, I discovered his apologetics works. I love them so much that I have reviewed most of them here at Austin CNM!
It was with great interest, then, that I read C.S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian, by Gregory S. Cootsona. Rather than being a simple biography, this reads like a biographical bibliography, taking us through Lewis’s life by way of various existential and spiritual crises. Lewis’s life was far from easy and his theological journey far from straight. Despite having read so much of his writing already, I found much to enjoy in this detailed, insightful, and well-organized presentation.
Cootsona organizes Lewis’s life story in a loosely chronological order, focusing more on the “crisis” points mentioned in the title. Using events from Lewis’s history and quotations from his writing, Cootsona leads us down the road from atheism to belief and from belief to Christianity, and then he delves into the “crises of human life.” The human crises are all elements of the problem of pain, from the title of Lewis’s first apologetics book. In a way, this organization mirrors the crises that many of us face.
For many nonbelievers or atheists, the first crisis is why we should believe in a God at all. Why not simply believe only in the things we can see and reason from our minds? Honestly, Cootsona and Lewis provide the best response I have ever seen. If nature and science are the source of all knowledge, what reason do we have for believing that? Why should we trust scientific reasoning if we don’t have a basis for trusting reason? Lewis writes:
If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sounds of the wind in the trees.
Having settled himself in the belief of a power beyond human reasoning and a purpose to human existence, Lewis turned to establishing a justification for the natural moral law. Cootsona connects this with Lewis’s experience attending boarding schools. Lewis and his brother were sent away after their mother’s death. They suffered terribly in those schools, which may have led Lewis to create his universe in the Chronicles of Narnia. There, children explore a profoundly moral universe with little adult intervention or influence.
Cootsona’s summary of Lewis’s Christian apologetics forms the second part of the book. I won’t rehash what you ought to read for yourself in Mere Christianity, but I will note that I found aspects of Cootsona’s summary that dovetailed beautifully with Catholic theology and some parts (such as his belief in sola Scriptura) divergent from Catholicism.
Finally, Cootsona addresses three aspects of the problem of pain; namely, feeling/emotion, suffering, and death. As he writes, Lewis focuses less on the question of why we suffer, instead considering how we respond to the reality of suffering. For Lewis, we must respond with hope in a future of heaven and everlasting joy. If we believe that heaven is real, it is open to us, and it is the fulfillment of all joy, we can suffer through whatever comes in this life.
C.S. Lewis does not have the reputation for weighty, thick theology that someone like G.K. Chesterton or St. Thomas Aquinas does, but his writing is apologetics. It’s meant to take large topics and wrestle them down to our puny human level. I’m a formalist, but even I admit that every writer leaves a bit of his heart in his words. Cootsona does an excellent job of connecting Lewis’s life to his works and offering us a guide to managing our own spiritual crises by following Lewis through his.
I received a free copy of C.S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian from Westminster John Knox Press in exchange for my honest review. Many thanks for their generosity!