C.S. Lewis (1898–1963) - page 5

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From the Summer 2006 issue of Knowing & Doing:  


C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)
Author, Christian Apologist, Oxford Don

by Lyle Dorsett
Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism, Beeson Divinity School

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  Joy was sixteen years Lewis’s junior, but that did not prevent a happy marriage. A savage case of cancer, however, cut short their life together. After several years of reprieve from an earlier and nearly fatal bout with cancer, Joy Lewis passed away in Oxford on July 13, 1960.
  Joy’s entry into Jack’s life brought much happiness. As he wrote to one friend soon after their marriage, “It’s funny having at 59 the sort of happiness most men have in their twenties... ‘Thou has kept the good wine till now’.” Joy brought C.S. Lewis love, companionship, and two stepsons, complete with all of the delights and problems that naturally come in such circumstances. Furthermore, Mrs. Lewis brought insights, ideas, and a new angle of vision. Raised in a Jewish home, and having written a book on the Ten Commandments, Smoke on the Mountain, she encouraged him to renew his writing of apologetics, in particular Reflections on the Psalms. Her influence on what Jack considered his best book, Till We Have Faces, was so profound that he told one close friend she was actually his co-author.

Critics Emerge

  C.S. Lewis’s marriage to Joy Davidman did not enhance his reputation in Great Britain. Long assumed to be a confirmed bachelor, the esteemed professor not only married late in life, he married an American who was at once Jewish, divorced, and personally rather abrasive. In brief, the marriage did not set well with most of Mr. Lewis’s friends and acquaintances. The critics notwithstanding, Jack’s faithful brother Warren—who lived at The Kilns with Jack before, during, and after the years with Joy—supported him, as did a few other close friends.
  C.S. Lewis was hurt by the disapproval of his old friends and colleagues, but it was by no means a new experience for him. Although he enjoyed the conviviality of weekly get-togethers with fellow Inklings (intellectuals and writers who met regularly to exchange ideas and share in good conversation), and the prodigious successes of his books, Lewis was frequently under attack for his decidedly Christian lifestyle. Close friends, among them Owen Barfield and J.R.R. Tolkien, openly disapproved of Lewis’s evangelistic speaking and writing. And if the opprobrium of fellow believers was unpleasant, it was mild compared with the attacks from colleagues and strangers who did not share the Oxford author’s faith.
  It is common knowledge that Lewis’s “Christian” books caused so much disapproval that he was more than once passed over for a professorship at Oxford, with the honors going to men of lesser reputation. It was Magdalene College at Cambridge University that finally honored Lewis with a chair in 1955 and thereby recognized his original and important contributions to English literary history and criticism.
  Along with Lewis’s international reputation, evergrowing royalties, and thousands of fans throughout the English-speaking world, came increasing alienation. Did Lewis take comfort in his Lord’s warning in the Sermon on the Mount that his disciples would indeed be insulted and persecuted? We do not know.
  Lewis died at The Kilns on November 22, 1963. He is buried beside his brother, who lived ten more years, in the cemetery of Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry, Oxford. His letters and books, and the lives these writings touch, are his legacy. 

Lyle W. Dorsett was named the Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism at Beeson Divinity School in 2005. He teaches courses in evangelism and church history. The founding pastor of Church of the Great Shepherd in Wheaton, Illinois, Lyle now volunteers as part of the ministry team under the leadership of John Richardson, who serves as rector of St. Peter’s, an Anglican Mission in America congregation in Birmingham. He is the author of eighteen books, among them several Christian biographies and three works on C.S. Lewis. His most recent book is Seeking the Secret Place: The Spiritual Formation of C.S. Lewis. Lyle is married to Mary Hayes Dorsett, a deacon in AMIA and founder and general director of Christ for Children International (CFCI) in Fresnillo, Zac., Mexico. The Dorsetts have two children and four grandchildren.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE:  Knowing & Doing is published by C.S. Lewis Institute; 8001 Braddock Road, Suite 301; Springfield, VA 22151. Portions of the publication may be reproduced for noncommercial, local church or ministry use without prior permission. Electronic copies of the PDF files may be duplicated and transmitted via e-mail for personal and church use. Articles may not be modified without prior written permission of the Institute. For questions, contact the Institute: 703.914.5602 or email us.
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