C.S. Lewis the Truth-Seeker: How God Formed a Great Christian Apologist - page 3

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From the Winter 2013 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

C.S. Lewis the Truth-Seeker:
How God Formed a Great Christian Apologist

by Joel S. Woodruff, Ed.D.
Vice President of Discipleship and Outreach, C.S. Lewis Institute

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Philosophical Idealism

  Lewis was an outstanding student who attained a triple first at Oxford in classics, philosophy, and English. A triple first means that Lewis was at the top of his class in each of these subjects. His photographic memory, ability to write well, and gifting as a logician shot him to the head of the class.
  During his student days, as many in his generation were recovering from the horrors of war and were questioning the meaning of life, Lewis himself began to sense that his atheism just didn’t address his inner longings for something more. And so for a time he felt drawn to what he called philosophical idealism, as espoused by the British Hegelians and Henri Bergson. This worldview argued that the world we perceive through our senses is only appearance or curtain behind which the Absolute is hiding. In other words, Lewis was beginning to realize that there is more to this world than just “matter” and the material world we live in.


  The phase of philosophical idealism didn’t last long, as Lewis’s commitment to logic soon found the British Hegelian “Absolute” to be too vague and ambiguous. Now Lewis explored pantheistic religions such as Hinduism and the monistic world of Buddhism. He was intrigued by the idea that the “Absolute” rather than being vague was somehow immanent, within and around everything. Perhaps everything really was spiritual and matter was an illusion. This worldview seemed to touch his imagination and was more intellectually challenging. However, again, his logic forced him to realize that pantheism was unable to explain the physical and spiritual worlds in a way that seemed to bear any resemblance to reality. To totally abandon the obvious, the physical world, and claim that it is just an illusion went too far. What’s more, within pantheism there seemed to be no way to link goodness and truth. He would later write in his book Miracles, “The Pantheist’s God does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you.”4  
   Lewis knew both through logic and from exploring his heart within, that there must be another way to explain the world as we see it.


  Lewis eventually became a tutor and lecturer at Magdalen College, Oxford. He really enjoyed the lively discussions on philosophy, literature, and religion that took place among his colleagues, and Lewis developed some good friendships. Lewis soon realized that most of the people he gravitated to were Christians, such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Hugo Dyson, and Owen Barfield. They encouraged Lewis to consider the claims of Christianity.
   While Lewis on the one hand was approaching this quest from an intellectual perspective, he also began to sense that there was more to the human person than just the mind. In his later book The Screwtape Letters, Lewis writes, “Think of your man as a series of concentric circles, his will being the innermost, his intellect coming next, and finally his fantasy.”5 Another word for “fantasy” would be “imagination.” Lewis noted that throughout his life he was moved by particular writers as they painted a picture that enlivened his imagination and gave him a sense of joy or longing that was beyond his present experience of reality. In other words, there were things that his intellect or mind couldn’t fully grasp that he knew were still important.

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