culture life Theology

Why I Quote C.S. Lewis So Much

I don’t have to do any research to know that C.S. Lewis is the most quoted person in my own writing. It’s not close. In a given span of 5 blogs or essays, I would estimate that at least 1-2 will at some point cite Lewis in some way (whether paragraph quote or a simple turn of phrase). This isn’t due to myopic thinking about Lewis or an especially narrow corpus of reading (at least, I hope it’s not due to that!). In fact, I probably haven’t read a Lewis work from beginning to end in a couple years, and I haven’t spent extensive time in any of his work for a while. My tendency to bring Lewis into my writing is, I think, owing to three things:

  1. Lewis possessed a gift so rare and so valuable that I feel an almost moral obligation to attend to it as often as is seasonable. He had the gift of substantive brevity. Lewis did not take 400 words to explain what he could explain in 50. By much of today’s literary standards for serious Christian thinkers, that fact alone would have told publishers and seminaries that Lewis simply wasn’t a deep thinker. Had Lewis been an American evangelical writing in the 21st century, he would have been aggressively marketed as a touchy feely YouTube pastor whose work was a refuge from theology. What a tragedy that would have been!

    But no. Lewis was not superficial, nor is he a viable “alternative” to hard thinking. Rather, Lewis combined his philosophical, literary, and theological insight with an almost lyrical attentiveness to clarity. This is an example I hope always to follow. My immovable belief is that ideas can be communicated truthfully and forcefully, briefly and simply. Not everyone agrees with me, including people I respect. But the fruit of Lewis’s work in my own life drives me always toward this conviction, and I pray never to relocate from the intersection of serious and simple.

  2. Lewis spilt wisdom over an astonishing number of topics. He’s not equally reliable on every one (his systematic theology, for example, is too anecdotal), but it’s still worth pausing to register some degree of amazement at the breadth of his own intellectual output. I believe one reason for his apparent omni-competence was his literary education. Lewis was not trained to be a professional inkling. He was trained to read. He wasn’t trained to be a professional writer. He was trained to read. The difference is crucial. What was poured into Lewis were books, books, books, books, and what flowed out of him was a humane insight that ran like a silver thread through all the books Lewis imbibed.
  3. The biggest reason I quote Lewis so much in my writing is that he saw through the pretentious claims of modernity. He simply rejected, flat-out, that the 20th century was an unprecedented, unique, utterly incomprehensible time. For Lewis, the arc of history was merely an optical illusion. To my mind, of all Lewis’s gifts, this is the one we need most urgently right now. Every single square inch of modern culture screams that it’s never been like this before. Every single corner of Western life throbs with the exhilarating lie that right now is so much better than back then, that we are as far removed from the ignorance that came before us as the East is from the West. The best artillery the church’s Enemy can roll out in our time is the idea that our world as it exists right now is nothing we’ve seen before. It’s this mentality that I consciously point my own writing and my own thinking against, with all my might. To that end, Lewis has helped me enormously, and will continue, I think, to do so.

By Samuel D. James

Believer, husband, father, acquisitions editor, writer.