Clive Staples Lewis is the most important apologists of the twentieth century. His influence even extends well into the twenty-first century. Among evangelicals, his writings are read and quoted as much today as when he he wrote them some seventy years ago. C. S. Lewis, however, did not enter the twentieth century as a Christian or even a theist. He was in fact an outspoken practicing atheist. His journey from atheist to theist, to follower of Jesus is one of the most powerful testimony’s of God’s amazing and relentless grace. This journey is what professor and Lewis scholar Harry Lee Poe discusses in his new book The Making of C. S. Lewis: From Atheist to Apologist (Crossway, 2021).
The Making of C. S. Lewis is Poe’s second volume in a forthcoming biographical trilogy on Lewis. His first volume Becoming C. S. Lewis (Crossway, 2019) sketches Lewis’ life from childhood until after WWI. This first volume was an important edition to Lewis scholarship, in that it focused on Lewis’ early life and formation. Most previous biographies skim over his early life and got straight to the “good stuff” concerning the events around his conversion and focus on his time as an apologist, etc. However, it is important to understand the experiences that shaped the man Lewis would become. If you have not already, I would encourage you to read the first volume in the series, as it sets the stage for the second volume.
The second volume covers the period of Lewis’ life from the time he returned to Oxford after serving in WWI until just after WWII in 1945. During that period Lewis went from being a student at Oxford to being on faculty as a fellow. More important, however, during that same period Lewis went from being an ardent atheist to being one of the most prominent public champions for the Christian faith. His atheism began as a youth still in his father’s house. It was nurtured as a pupil under the tutelage of W. T. Kirkpatrick, who prepared him for entry into Oxford. His ardent adherence began to wain, however, as he became friends with J. R. R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson as a fellow. The three of them, among others, spent many an hour discussing literature and faith. This group of like minded writers would eventually become The Inklings. However, early into their friendship, they encouraged, Lewis as he went from atheist to theist, to believer.
Once he became a Christian, Lewis started writing on the subject of theology and apologetics. He became famous for his wartime radio talks that would be published as Mere Christianity after the war. During this same period he wrote fiction from a Christian perspective, but not explicitly and not as an evangelistic effort. This fiction was his sci-fi trilogy Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. He also wrote some of his more famous books such as The Screwtape Letters and The Problem of Pain. His writings during this time were widely popular both in the UK and America. Other writings such as The Chronicles of Narnia would not be written until after the war.
One of the most important aspects of the book is Lewis’ relationships. Poe does an excellent job of describing several relationships in detail and how they helped shape Lewis. His most complicated relationship was the one with Ms. Jane Moore, mother of his fallen comrade Paddy Moore. He and Paddy had a pact to take care of the other person’s family in the event of their death. After WWI, Lewis started living with Ms. Moore and her daughter Maureen. The complicated aspect of the relationship was that Moore and Lewis developed a very close mother/son like relationship. However, Ms. Moore was still married, yet estranged from her husband. There have been some scholars who try to show that Lewis and Moore had a sexual relationship. Poe, however argues while it was possible, it would have been unlikely especially as time went on. Their relationship changed dramatically after Lewis’ conversion. Yet, he kept his promise to Paddy and took care of her until her death.
Another important relationship in Lewis’ life was with his brother Warnie. They had been estranged once they both moved out the house. Yet, as they got older they grew closer and even lived together until C. S. Lewis’ death. They both converted to Christianity around the same time and developed a bond that extended beyond familial bonds. Lewis’ other important relationships were with the group of writers known as The Inklings which included Tolkien, Hugo Dyson, and Charles Williams. He was closer to each of these at differing periods. Most famously, his relationship with Tolkien cooled after WWII. Yet, he was still an important part of Lewis’ life and spiritual development.
The Making of C. S. Lewis is an important edition to Lewis scholarship. Harry Lee Poe does an excellent job of chronicling Lewis’ journey from atheist to Christian. He thoroughly describes the events and relationships that helped guide Lewis along the way. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the life and legacy of C. S. Lewis. It would also be an excellent resource to guide someone on the same journey as Lewis was from skeptic to disciple. Lewis’ testimony is one of intrigue and it highlights God’s relentless love as he called one man to follow Him.
Editor’s Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.