Lewis, Narnia and Christianity from scratch
Copyright © 2005 Walt Disney Pictures
By Gregg Tubbs
C.S. Lewis, author of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the other Chronicles of Narnia books, is widely considered one of the most influential Christian thinkers of the 20th century. This is not due to the depth of his theology, the fervor of his witness or the prominence of his position, but because of his remarkable ability to reach the skeptics and the “un-churched,” and help them develop an understanding and acceptance of Christianity’s basic beliefs, beginning at square one—essentially, helping them start their faith journey from scratch.
Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963), called "Jack" by his friends, was a professor at Oxford University, England and an author many books, including science fiction and fantasy novels for children and adults. Most importantly, he was a writer of Christian apologetics, providing a systematic defense of Christianity for the uninitiated or skeptics. In the 1930s and 40s Lewis’ apologetic writings and radio talks became so popular that Time magazine dubbed him the "apostle to the skeptics."
For Lewis, who had been a skeptic himself, convincing skeptics and educating the unchurched likely came naturally. He accepted Christ at the age of 33—quite famously, after hours of theological discussion with fellow author J.R.R. Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings) and other friends. In typical, matter-of-fact language, he later said of the event, “I gave in, and admitted that God was God.” This simple assessment may have been a foreshadowing of the approach he would take in all his Christian writing—avoiding denominational differences and focusing on those things that he felt were the essentials of Christianity, things that all Christians believe in and draw strength from.
His World War II radio broadcasts were compiled into one volume and published as Mere Christianity, an apologetic classic that remains influential and is still worthwhile reading today. But for many, his greatest achievement would be a slim children’s fantasy, published with little fanfare in 1950, with the curious title of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Since then, generations of children (and a good many adults) have been enchanted by this tale of a group of children and their journey through a mysterious wardrobe into a magical land called Narnia. As untold readers have been thrilled, amused, amazed and moved to tears, they also received a deftly disguised Sunday school lesson. This stealth sermon was Lewis’ way of sneaking the Gospel past what he called “the watchful dragons” that guard children’s minds against anything too “churchy.”
Central to the story—and all the books in the series that followed—is the character of Aslan, the regal, compassionate lion who was the rightful king of the land of Narnia. His battle with the evil White Witch, who has overtaken Narnia’s rule and plunged it into perpetual winter, culminates in his sacrificial death and physical resurrection. Not only does this fictional world of Narnia represent a dramatic and engaging fantasy, but it also contains powerful Christian imagery, depicting Aslan himself a compelling Christ figure.
Lewis himself insisted that the Narnia books were not really allegory, meaning they did not contain one-to-one representations of every character and event in the Gospels. Instead, he referred to their Christian elements as "suppositional," or a re-imagining of the story of Jesus. In a letter, he wrote: “In reality, however, he (Aslan) is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, 'What might Christ become like, if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours? 3
|"What might Christ become like, if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?"|
Lewis’ answer to this “supposal” in the creation of the character of Aslan—the noble and sinless king who sacrifices himself to save a sinful traitor—has undoubtedly inspired many to look beyond the symbols and begin to explore the story of Christ. With the highly anticipated release of the film version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, more people than ever before will receive Lewis’ masterful Sunday school lesson. And many of them will be hungry for their next lesson. They will have many questions, such as: “How could the White Witch so easily enslave the people of Narnia?” “Why would a King die for a common traitor?” “How could the King’s sacrifice defeat sin and death?”
This will be a call to action for churches, clergy and all believers to be ready to respond, as Lewis did, with an explanation of what we as Christians believe. It will be an opportunity for us all to be Christian apologists, to don the mantle of “defender of the faith,” and to be there for searchers and new believers who are starting from scratch.
Gregg Tubbs is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Md.
This review was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of The United Methodist Church.
 Simpsons Contemporary Quotations (Barteby.com)
 Into the Wardrobe—A C.S. Lewis site
 Agape Press