Cornerstone

“[C.S. Lewis] considered himself the most reluctant convert to Christianity ever. But once he was convinced, he set about figuring out how to live in light of what he now knew to be true...”

From the beginnings of the church those who followed Jesus ​testified ​to their faith by telling the story of their own conversion. “Testimony” was an important part of verifying a true change of heart. People’s stories were also a good check on what the elements of authentic belief should be. Believers shared how coming to faith in Jesus as their Savior changed everything—both in their lives and within their hearts.

Many of us can affirm that the observation of a converted person we know well, or the story of someone who sounds credible, was compelling in our coming to faith, and is a boost in our willingness to continue and grow as followers of Jesus.

There are testimonies available in almost all forms of media and of course, in person. Every month, the back pages of “Christianity Today” magazine present the story of someone who found their way to faith, as told in their own words. There’s an abundance of books by Christian authors who tell of their awakening to faith.

I read as many of these as I can. I’m not looking for comparison necessarily, but for encouragement, for joy. These stories affirm in my soul that my powerful God is working, and that His work is individual, carefully integrated into each person’s life, and real.

I have to admit that there are only a few of those stories I find inspiring enough to return to repeatedly. Right now I’m reading (again) two stories about the conversion of one person: C. S. Lewis.

“Surprised by Joy” is Lewis’ own account of his growing up through a broken family and an educational system seemingly designed to crush the spirit in any child. It concludes with his coming to faith in the years of his college training and serving as a soldier in the First World War.

Unlike his famous “Narnia Chronicles,” this book is ​not​ an easy read, but as a statement of the birth of his faith it is compelling. His writing style frequently seems aimed at obfuscating rather than revealing. And for me, the British/Irish education system as he experiences it is grim and pointless. But as he approaches the perception of dawning faith, his clarity rises to the occasion, as it always does with him and great themes.

However, the ​last​ chapter is titled “The Beginning”, so be prepared to throw the book across the room (as I did the first time I read it) because he fails to tell you what comes next. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book if you haven’t read it (or if you started and quit before you got to the ​good​ part).

And ​after​ you’ve thrown it across the room, race to your nearest bookstore—or get online—and buy Alan Jacobs’ “The Narnian.”

Jacobs is also a talented writer, and his book is wonderfully clarifying where Lewis is obscure. Where Lewis merely hints, Jacobs reaches out to his other writings—letters, speeches, comments of friends and family—to fill in the blanks and mitigate the confusion. And he continues the story through Lewis’ later life until his death.

About midway through, chapter seven is titled “Definitely Believing In Christ”. Now you need to find a comfy chair in a quiet corner with a good light, make sure you’re well-rested or coffee’d up, and read carefully. There he explains clearly the path of Lewis' opening to the reality of the redeeming Savior.

Lewis’s story of coming to faith (essentially in mid-life) is an encouraging one. For one thing, it’s heartening when you are used to the idea that if you don’t “get it” when you’re young, or at least in your early twenties, you’re doomed—it’s too late for you, you’re too set in life to change.

More than that, chapter seven, and the rest of the book, convinces you that Christianity is not just consolation for the simple-minded. Lewis had to be argued into it, had to think it through with the greatest of difficulty and had to be absolutely sure it wasn’t just another of the great myths civilizations created to give people a reason to live. He considered himself the most reluctant convert to Christianity ever. But once he was convinced, he set about figuring out how to live in light of what he now knew to be true, and how to explain it to others. Hence the great body of his wonderful work, most of which is still in print today—including “The Chronicles of Narnia”, one of the great evangelistic tools for young minds.

I’m writing this as we rapidly approach Christmas, in that narrow corridor of time between the day we focus on thanking God and the day we celebrate His incarnation. It’s a month of struggling to digest mounds of roast turkey and pumpkin pie, buying too many presents, getting a tree up and decorated in your living room, sending cards to everyone you know, and throwing or attending parties...an intense season that is often exhausting, and for some, emotionally draining. I’m pretty sure you’re not going to have time to do much reading now.

But after the New Year, except for taxes and the Superbowl, things tend to slow down. Why not take ​that​ time to work on faith renewal, on bolstering and re-energizing your awareness of who you are before God. Consider the intellectual and spiritual boost of an intelligently-written testimony. Would you be willing to try for reading through not one​ book but ​two?​

I recommend to you this sequence: I suggest you first read Lewis’ book, “Surprised By Joy”. It’s not so easy, but, in fairness, he deserves to tell you his own story first, in his own words. Absorb the occasional puzzling statements. It gets better as it goes. Don’t let that last chapter bother you. Be nice to the book—no throwing!

Then, open Jacobs’ “The Narnian.” He’ll explain Lewis and explain the puzzling parts in the early chapters. They’ll start to make sense. Soon enough you’ll find yourself enlightened and enjoying ​both​ books.

At least I did.

And if you​ do​ read them, or even if you read just ​one, I’d love to know what ​you​ think about it: how it helped or didn’t, how it clarified ​your​ faith or didn’t. How it perhaps made ​your​ days before the Lord “merry and bright” with the wonder of God’s grace to you, and to me, and to C. S. Lewis.

Yeah. Let me know.

And...Happy New Year! May your faith grow in 2020.

Jim Leonard

Jim serves Cornerstone through pastoral care and by overseeing internal ministries and administration.

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