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Lewis’s letters addressed personal concerns, theological issues, questions about his books, and all kinds of everyday-life issues. One example of his ability to combine the personal with practical spiritual advice can be seen in Sheldon Vanauken’s book A Severe Mercy. Vanauken shares the powerful impact C.S. Lewis’s writings, friendship, and letters had in leading him and his wife, Davy, to faith in Jesus Christ. Upon learning of Sheldon’s conversion via letter, Lewis wrote warmly, “My prayers are answered.” Then Lewis goes on to instruct the young believer, “There will be a counter attack on you, you know, so don’t be alarmed when it comes. The enemy will not see you vanish into God’s company without an effort to reclaim you. Be busy learning to pray.”11 This type of friendly kindness seasoned with clear instruction exemplified Lewis’s letters.
He also brings his own personal likes and dislikes into the letters, much as any friend would do when speaking at the conversational level. In one letter to Mary, an American lady, he writes, “...everyone writes to me at Easter, so that what ought to be a bright spot in the year threatens to become for me a very dark one. Will you, please, always avoid ‘holiday’ periods in writing to me?”12
Noting some of the different sorts of correspondents, Lewis states, “An anonymous postcard tells me that I ought to be flogged at the cart’s tail for professing to believe in the Virgin Birth . . . An unknown American writes to ask me whether Elijah’s fiery chariot was really a Flying Saucer. I encounter Theosophists, British Israelites, Spiritualists, Pantheists.”13
As Lewis dealt with such a variety of people and questions on a daily basis through the mail, he was able to develop his craft of writing letters to both entertain and engage recipients on important issues in a very down-to-earth style. This characteristic led to the book that launched his international fame, The Screwtape Letters. While sitting through a dull sermon one day, an idea struck him of writing a book that “would consist of letters from an elderly retired devil to a young devil who has just started work on his first ‘patient.’”14 Lewis’s daily discipline of correspondence provided the framework on which to shape a piece of fiction that could capture people’s imagination and clarify the issue of spiritual warfare. These fictitious letters provided readers a window into their own thoughts that helped them better understand their personal struggle with the world, the flesh, and the devil. By reading the enemy’s playbook, the follower of Christ was better equipped to put on the armor of God and access the power of the Holy Spirit in their daily lives. A year after its publication in Great Britain, it was published in the United States and was immediately acclaimed in Christian circles. Soon the number of letters from America increased exponentially. These American fans would not only send him letters, but also care packages containing hams, canned goods, paper, and other luxuries in short supply both during and following World War II.
Over the years Lewis would write works of apologetics, poetry, fantasy, science fiction, and sermons. His last published book, a sequel to The Screwtape Letters, was a set of fictional letters written to a “friend” titled Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. This work, published posthumously, brought to a close the earthly letter-writing career of C.S. Lewis. Like his other letters, whether written to real people or fictional characters, they have continued to inspire and instruct people in their spiritual lives.
Recently, at the C.S. Lewis Institute, a young lawyer interviewing to be accepted into the Fellows program mentioned that her dad had been the most influential person, discipling her since she’d gone to college. I asked how her dad had fulfilled that role, especially once she’d left home. For the past ten years or so, from her first week of college up to the present day, he had faithfully written a weekly letter to her. He had kept her informed of life at home, given her fatherly words of advice, and had always told her how much he loved and cherished her as his daughter. Only recently had she started replying to his letters and perhaps stopped taking them for granted. She said that when her friends learn of her dad’s weekly letters, they seem envious of her relationship with her dad and his clear expression of love through letter writing.
In our modern world of text messages, tweets, and Facebook posts, perhaps Lewis has something to teach us about the importance of taking time to craft thoughtful letters to those whom God has placed in our lives. How would our work world change if we viewed each e-mail as coming from another immortal? How could our letters, e-mails, tweets, or texts point others toward the kingdom of light if we were more intentional about our use of the written word? Or imagine what could happen if even once a week, we were to sit down at our desks, take out pen and paper, and write one letter of encouragement to a friend or family member? Perhaps we still have something to learn from the one who signed most of his letters, “Yours, C.S. Lewis.”
1. C.S. Lewis, C.S. Lewis: Letters to Children, ed. Lyle Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead (New York: Macmillan, 1985), 53.
2. C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Vol.3 (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), 1954.
3. C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (London: Fontana, 1959), 117.
4. C.S. Lewis, “Christian Apologetics,” in God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 101.
5. Brenton Dickieson, “A Statistical Look at C.S. Lewis’ Letter Writing,” A Pilgrim in Narnia blog, posted May 23, 2013, http://apilgriminnarnia.com/2013/05/23/statistical-letter-writing/.
6. Douglas H. Gresham, Lenten Lands: My Childhood with Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis (New York: HarperCollins, 1988), 44.
7. Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 3, 1474.
8. Alan Jacobs, The Narnian (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), 225.
9. C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” in The Weight of Glory (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 15.
10. C.S. Lewis, Letters to an American Lady, ed. Clyde Kilby (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 7.
11. Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1977), 101–102.
12. Lewis, Letters to an American Lady, 29.
13. C.S. Lewis, Undeceptions: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1971), 209.
14. C.S. Lewis, “Letter to Warren Lewis,” in The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Vol. 2, ed. Walter Hooper (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004), 426.
Joel S. Woodruff, Ed.D. Vice President of Discipleship & Outreach has worked in education, “tent-making,” nonprofit administration, and pastoral ministry in Alaska, Israel, Hungary, France, and Virginia. He served as a Dean and professor at European Bible Institute, and worked for Oakwood Services International before coming to CSLI. He has a B.A from Wheaton College, M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University.