C.S. Lewis on Authentic Discipleship - page 1

From the Spring 2011 issue of Knowing & Doing


C.S. Lewis on Authentic Discipleship

by Christopher W. Mitchell, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow, C.S. Lewis Institute
Director, Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

Walter Hooper has on several occasions stated that C.S. Lewis was the most thoroughly converted person he had ever met. If I were to put what Hooper was saying into biblical language, it would go something like this: “From the time Lewis came to faith in Jesus Christ to the day he died, he desired, worked, and struggled, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing, to bring all of his life captive to Christ.” An evangelical would simply have said that Lewis was a model disciple of Christ. I agree with both assertions. I also believe Lewis understood the nature and purpose of Christian discipleship better than most and communicated as clearly as anyone in the English speaking world.1

Because my primary aim is to demonstrate the enormous significance of what Lewis has to teach us about Christian discipleship, it is important that I make clear at the outset that Lewis did in fact struggle all his life to embody what he knew to be true of a disciple of Christ. Two examples will suffice. The first comes from a letter Lewis wrote on June 21, 1950, to his friend and former student, George Sayer. Lewis was fifty-one years old. Much of his most important and celebrated work defending and explicating the faith had been published. He was, one might say, mature and well established in his faith. But on this day he penned the following: “My Dear George, I shall be completely alone at the Kilns… from Aug 11 to Aug 19th and am like to fall into a whoreson melancholy. Can you come and spend all or any of this time with me?”2 Now this is a rather amazing and illuminating statement. Surprising in that a somewhat reserved Lewis should unburden himself in this way to a friend and illuminating inasmuch as it demonstrates that even at this period in his life, he was still wrestling with personal demons, still struggling to keep his way pure. It is also illuminating in that it demonstrates the depth of his commitment to following Christ.

The second example is found in the last sermon Lewis preached. He delivered it on January 29, 1956, and it was titled “A Slip of the Tongue.” Once again, it is worth noting that Lewis is now fifty-seven years old; once again we might be tempted to safely assume that while he is far from perfect, he surely has all the big issues well in hand. “A Slip of the Tongue,” however, gives us reason to pause. He begins the sermon recounting how, during his morning devotions, he misread the collect for the fourth Sunday after Trinity. Instead of praying “that I might so pass through things temporal that I finally lost not the things eternal,” he prayed, “so to pass through things eternal that I finally lost not the things temporal.”3 Now we might view this as quite innocent. Lewis did not. For what it alerted him to was that, after all this time, his oldest nemesis to discipleship was still alive and well; namely, his desire for limited liabilities, manifested in that persistent voice in his head that told him to be “careful, to keep his head, not to go too far, not to burn my boats.” Lest the sinister nature be missed, he goes on to make perfectly clear the meaning of these precautions.
I come into the presence of God with a great fear lest anything should happen to me within that presence which will prove too intolerably inconvenient when I have come out again into “ordinary” life. I don’t want to be carried away into any resolution which I shall afterwards regret. For I know I shall be feeling quite different after breakfast; I don’t want anything to happen to me at the altar which will run up too big a bill to pay then.4

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