C.S. Lewis Interview: Brandon Smith

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).

Brandon SmithBrandon D. Smith serves in leadership at Criswell College and edits the Criswell Theological Review. He is also Executive Director of Gospel-Centered Discipleship and recently edited the discipleship book, Make Mature Multiply: Becoming Fully-Formed Disciples of Jesus.

Brandon considers himself a wannabe Lewis scholar after doing extensive graduate school research on Lewis’s works and theology. He said he probably set some sort of record for reading 19 Lewis books in one semester.

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

Brandon Smith: I read Mere Christianity in a junior college Introduction to Bible course about eight years ago. It was the first time I’d heard of or read him, and I was a young Christian with a lot of unharnessed zeal.

I was probably the only Christian in the class, but I remember an ardent atheist student openly struggling with his beliefs. Lewis was wrecking his worldview and his false views of Christianity.

I was highly amused by the atheist student’s struggles, and I remember thinking (sinfully, I think), “I like this Lewis guy.”

WD: 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 is The Great Divorce for two reasons. First, the literary imagery is stunning and he has an uncanny ability to pinpoint the way sin manifests itself in our thoughts and actions.

Second, I love the fact that he wrote it as a response to a William Blake poem, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which had gained traction in many circles. While a timeless writer, he was never writing without his immediate context and audience in mind.

To me, The World’s Last Night: And Other Essays is one of his most potent works, and I’ve never seen it quoted or discussed, aside from the essay “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” which was included in some editions of The Screwtape Letters.

It is a collection of some of his later works and represents Lewisian thought long after some of his most famous works.

I’ve never really enjoyed the Narnia books as much as I’ve wanted to. It might be because I expected so much by the time I got around to reading it. But I still plan to read it with my kids!

WD: Here are 50 of my favorite, what is your favorite Lewis quote?

“There is but one good: that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to him and bad when it turns from him.” — The Great Divorce

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

First, evangelicals love a guy who sounds like us. We are skilled at adopting non-evangelicals and making them our own (Augustine and Bonhoeffer, to name a few).

While an Anglican and not your typical modern evangelical, Lewis was staunchly committed to evangelism and conversion, which are two things evangelicals of all stripes care about.

Second, we love a simple way to encapsulate a heady idea. Evangelical sermons often hinge upon not just biblical texts, but illustration and application.

Evangelicals have learned to think and read that way, as well. Lewis is easy to quote and mostly easy to read, making him a go-to guy for preachers and parishioners.

He is an all-time great at reducing the seemingly irreducible to something that most anyone can read and understand.

Third, he was a world-class storyteller. And evangelicals love a good story. There are few writers as brilliant and intricate as Lewis who can help your imagination soar and convict your heart in the same sentence like Lewis.

He was sometimes ribbed by his friends for being an Oxford professor who wrote children’s stories, but his pan-generational connectability is primarily what has made him a lasting author.

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

Lewis was writing on theology while claiming that he wasn’t a theologian, and it showed at times. Some perceive him as a professional theologian when in reality, he was a brilliant wordsmith, adept cultural critic, and piercing apologist.

There are times in Mere Christianity, for example, where he is wishy-washy on Christ’s atonement and dabbles rather blatantly with inclusivism (this is a common critique and worth continuing to repeat).

There are other times where his allegorical abilities are so creative that he misses the theological point altogether —which is my biggest frustration with large parts of The Space Trilogy.

I would say, however, that Lewis wrote Christian literature for over two decades and his theology evolves. If you take him at face value (i.e., as an English professor with an apologetic bent whose theology developed over time), then you’ll be able to understand some of his errors and hope for later improvement.

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

Not all allegory is bad allegory.

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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.