How to Engage Culture like C.S. Lewis

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C.S. Lewis was a professor at Oxford and Cambridge during the middle of the 20th century. During his early years, he fought in World War I and was wounded in battle. After returning from war, he became a professor at Oxford University. During his initial years as a professor, he was an agnostic, but he later converted to Christ after extensive conversations with his friend J.R.R. Tolkien.

His conversion was dramatic, in the sense that his Christianity affected everything he did. After becoming a believer, he met regularly with Tolkien and other writers to talk about Christianity and literature.

C.S. Lewis by "Genvessel" [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

A statue of C. S. Lewis in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Lewis’ conversion was transformative in a way that extended beyond his personal spiritual life and into his career as a writer. He wrote more than 30 books, including science fiction (The Space Trilogy), mythology (Till We Have Faces), children’s fiction (The Chronicles of Narnia), theology (Mere Christianity), and literary studies (The Discarded Image). Because Lewis’ conversion transformed his worldview, everything he wrote from that point on was affected by his faith.

Lewis wrote,

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. [1]

In some of the books, such as Mere Christianity, Lewis was arguing straightforwardly for his readers to trust in Christ. In other books, such as Till We Have Faces, he led his reader toward Christian faith in a more implicit manner, by telling a myth that helps the reader see the beauty of Christianity. In other books, such as his scholarly works including Allegory of Love or The Discarded Image, the Christian influence was even more subtle.

As Lewis scholar Michael Travers has noted, Lewis viewed evangelism as the main purpose of a Christian’s life. [2] Lewis’ literary career can be viewed as an extended exercise in evangelism. Not only in his explicitly theological books, but also in his literature, Lewis wanted to translate Christianity into popular language for ordinary people who were not theologians. In his fiction texts, he tried to create in his readers a longing for God, and to help them “see” the gospel in concrete form. He called this type of writing praeparatione evangelica, or “preparation for the gospel.”

So for Lewis, “evangelism” is something that Christians do with their whole lives, not only through interpersonal encounters, but in the work they undertake and the shape of their professional lives.

For Lewis, ‘evangelism’ is something that Christians do with their whole lives.

We can learn many things about Christianity and culture from Lewis’ life and writings. Three significant lessons stand out:

  1. Allow Christ to impact all your life.
    Lewis exercised his Christianity in both the professional and popular realms. As scholar and professor, Lewis witnessed to Christ in the scholarly realm by shaping his professional writings and teaching in light of the gospel, but he also witnessed to Christ in the popular realm by writing books that promoted Christ to ordinary people.
  2. Be creative.
    Lewis recognized the power of fiction to convey truth via his readers’ imaginations. Instead of limiting himself to arguments made by logical syllogisms, he often made his arguments through stories and analogies.
  3. Communicate clearly.
    Lewis expended great effort to communicate Christianity in compelling language, to know how to use words and sentences in the most effective manner for the sake of the gospel.

In what ways do Lewis’ insights on cultural engagement challenge you in your everyday activities?

This post is a modified excerpt of Dr. Ashford’s new book, Every Square InchLearn More>>

Image Credit

[1] C. S. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry?” in The Weight of Glory (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001), 140.

[2] Michael Travers, “We Are Made for Heaven: An Introduction to C. S. Lewis” (paper presented at the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith & Culture, Wake Forest, NC, October 22, 2010).

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Bruce Ashford

Bruce Riley Ashford is the author or co-author of six books, including 'The Gospel of Our King' (Baker, 2019), 'Letters to an American Christian' (B&H, 2018), 'One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics' (B&H, 2015), and 'Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians' (Lexham, 2015).

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