by N. T. Wright
Author of the new book, After You Believe
My mother once asked me, in my teens, which historical figure I would like to have met. Unhesitatingly I said, ‘C. S. Lewis’. He didn’t count as ‘historical’, I was told; only recently dead, he was in any case younger than my grandparents. But to me he was already a powerful formative influence. Once you started reading Lewis it was hard to stop – whether it was the Narnia books, Screwtape, his literary essays, or his still important works on theology and ethics.
Lewis would have been the first to declare his own imperfections. Certainly I don’t agree with everything he said (on the historical Jesus, for example). But his clarity of mind, his breadth of reading (and photographic memory), his deep, thought-out faith, and his lucid, luminous prose, make him a mentor for all who write about Christian faith for the ‘ordinary person’. When I’m on the spot in a discussion, I often go back to a passage of Lewis, even though I usually can’t recall which book it comes from. The memorable phrase, the pithy example . . .
One such passage has been a guiding principle for me all my adult life. Candidates for Christian ministry, Lewis said, should have to translate a passage of heavyweight theology into ordinary vernacular English. If you can’t do that, he said, either you don’t understand it or you don’t believe it. I have spent my life trying to rise to that challenge.
Early on in my writing career, my godfather, a thoughtful Archdeacon, said to me that we needed apologists to do for tomorrow’s world what Lewis did for yesterday’s. I used to agree with him without realising he was trying to tell me something about myself. Only gradually have I dared to imagine I might attempt that task. Lacking several of Lewis’s gifts, I limp along behind him, grateful for his courage, clarity and commitment, hoping to follow as best I can.