C.S. Lewis Interview: Alister McGrath

C.S. Lewis The Wardrobe Door

To celebrate 10 years of blogging here at The Wardrobe Door, I wanted to speak with some others who read, appreciate and study C.S. Lewis. Over the next few weeks, each day will feature an interview with one of these individuals (and maybe a few more).

Alister McGrathAlister McGrath‘s path to Christianity mirrors C.S. Lewis’ in many ways, as an academic atheist who came to Christ at Oxford. He holds three doctorates from the University of Oxford, a DPhil in Molecular Biophysics, a Doctor of Divinity in Theology and a Doctor of Letters in Intellectual History.

He currently holds the Andreas Idreos Professorship in Science and Religion in the Faculty of Theology and Religion at Oxford. He has written extensively on science and theology. As it relates to C.S. Lewis, McGrath is the author of The Intellectual World of C. S. Lewis, If I Had Lunch with C. S. Lewis: Exploring the Ideas of C. S. Lewis on the Meaning of Life, and the excellent biography C. S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet.

What do you remember about reading C.S. Lewis for the first time?

I first read C. S. Lewis in 1974, and still have the original copies of my first Lewis books — The Screwtape Letters and Reflections on the Psalms.

I realized very quickly that Lewis was a wise and very lucid writer, who was going to help me think more about my new-found Christian faith, and give me good answers to the questions that I was asking about faith.

While it may be next to impossible to answer, what is your favorite Lewis work, one you consider most overlooked, and one that you tend to enjoy less than others?

My favorite Lewis book is Mere Christianity, which I continue to treasure. Like many, I find its combination of a rational and imaginative commendation of Christianity to be both winsome and persuasive.

I greatly appreciate his first book, The Pilgrim’s Regress, which is overlooked by many because it makes considerable demands of its readers – but when you know what to look for, it repays close study.

And there are some books by Lewis which other people clearly enjoy, but which I don’t find quite as interesting or rewarding as they do — such as The Great Divorce.

What is your favorite Lewis quote?

My favorite Lewis quote is the concluding sentence of the lecture “Is theology poetry?”[included in The Weight of Glory]:

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.”

Why do you think he continues to maintain such influence in modern evangelicalism? 

For a start, Lewis helps evangelicals expand their strongly biblical faith, showing them how to use their imaginations to develop a richer vision of faith, which remains firmly anchored to the Bible.

But he also gives them a strong sense of the rationality of faith, helping them to realize that the Christian faith makes sense. They often don’t get this kind of reassurance from their pastors and preachers!

Like all of us, Lewis wasn’t perfect. Where do you find yourself disagreeing with him or his approach?

While I agree with Lewis on many things, I find that there are points in his writing where the passing of time has made him seem somewhat old-fashioned.

A good example is his attitude to women, which is rooted in his English cultural context of the 1930s and 1940s. We find these difficult to accept today, although Lewis may well have been ahead of his time in those days!

If you had to choose, what is the most invaluable lesson you learned from him?

Like Lewis, I was an atheist who discovered Christianity while at Oxford University. The lesson I learned from him was that my atheist past could be apologetically invaluable.

What I mean is this: Lewis realized that, in coming to faith, he had answered his own questions about faith from his atheist period – and so could speak to atheists about their concerns, and offer good replies.

That’s what I have found to be true, and I am grateful to Lewis for helping me appreciate this point.

6 Comments

About Author

Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.