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ChurchWatch

Join Craig von Buseck weekdays as he shares his perspective on the major trends and news affecting the Body of Christ today.

C.S. Lewis on 'The Screwtape Letters' and Man in Space

Editor's note: In a recent column, Dan Wooding of Assist News Service tells the story of how his friend, Dr. Sherwood Eliot Wirt, founding editor of Billy Graham's Decision magazine, was able to conduct what is believed to be the final interview with C.S. Lewis shortly before his death.

In a story carried by Assist News Service, Dr. Wirt wrote, "The hour and a half I spent with Mr. Clive Staples Lewis in his quarters at Magdalene College, Cambridge University, will remain a treasured memory. I found Professor Lewis in his modest establishment, surrounded by the historic atmosphere of the old university city, engaged in the quiet daily stint of teaching medieval classic literature. It was hard to realize that this unassuming man is probably the outstanding Christian literary figure of our age."

I thought you would enjoy segments from this final, and insightful, interview with the great C. S. Lewis. 


C.S. LewisDr. Wirt began his historic interview by saying, "Professor Lewis, your writings have an unusual quality not often found in discussions of Christian themes. You write as though you enjoyed it."

C.S. Lewis replied, "If I didn't enjoy writing I wouldn't continue to do it. Of all my books, there was only one I did not take pleasure in writing." 

Wirt asked him which one was that and he surprisingly replied, "The Screwtape Letters."

Lewis went on explain: "They were dry and gritty going. At the time, I was thinking of objections to the Christian life, and decided to put them into the form, 'That's what the devil would say.' But making goods 'bad' and bads 'good' gets to be fatiguing."

At the time of his article, Dr. Wirt wrote, "'The Screwtape Letters,' Mr. Lewis' most popular and widely read work, has gone into some 27 printings. It consists of a series of letters written by on official of 'his Satanic Majesty's Lowerarchy' to his nephew, who is a junior demon on earth. The letters seek to advise the nephew in ways to corrupt the faith of a human being who becomes a Christian."

Wirt then asked how he would suggest a young Christian writer went about developing a style, to which Lewis replied, "The way for a person to develop a style is (a) to know exactly what he wants to say, and (b) to be sure he is saying exactly that. The reader, we must remember, does not start by knowing what we mean.

"If our words are ambiguous, our meaning will escape him. I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate open to the left or the right the readers will most certainly go into it."

Wirt then asked, "Do you believe that the Holy Spirit can speak to the world through Christian writers today?"

Lewis replied, "I prefer to make no judgment concerning a writer's direct 'illumination' by the Holy Spirit. I have no way of knowing whether what is written is from heaven or not. I do believe that God is the Father of lights -- natural lights as well as spiritual lights (James 1:17). That is, God is not interested only in Christian writers as such. He is concerned with all kinds of writing. In the same way a sacred calling is not limited to ecclesiastical functions. The man who is weeding a field of turnips is also serving God."

Wirt continued the interview by saying, "An American writer, Mr. Dewey Beegle, has stated that in his opinion the Isaac Watts hymn, 'When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,' is more inspired by God than is the 'Song of Solomon' in the Old Testament." He then asked Lewis, "What would be your view?"

Lewis said: "The great saints and mystics of the church have felt just the opposite about it. They have found tremendous spiritual truth in the 'Song of Solomon.' There is a difference of levels here. The question of the canon is involved. Also we must remember that what is meat for a grown person might be unsuited to the palate of a child."

Wirt then posed the question: "How would you evaluate modern literary trends as exemplified by such writers as Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Beckett and Jean-Paul Sartre?"

Lewis admitted: "I have read very little in this field. I am not a contemporary scholar. I am not even a scholar of the past, but I am a lover of the past."

Wirt then asked: "Do you believe that the use of filth and obscenity is necessary in order to establish a realistic atmosphere in contemporary literature?"

Lewis responded firmly: "I do not. I treat this development as a symptom, a sign of a culture that has lost its faith. Moral collapse follows upon spiritual collapse. I look upon the immediate future with great apprehension."

In his next question, Sherwood Wirt asked C.S. Lewis: "Do you feel, then, that modern culture is being de-Christianized?"

Lewis replied: "I cannot speak to the political aspects of the question, but I have some definite views about the de-Christianizing of the church. I believe that there are many accommodating preachers, and too many practitioners in the church who are not believers. Jesus Christ did not say, 'Go into all the world and tell the world that it is quite right.' The Gospel is something completely different. In fact, it is directly opposed to the world.

"The case against Christianity that is made out in the world is quite strong. Every war, every shipwreck, every cancer case, every calamity, contributes to making a prima facie case against Christianity. It is not easy to be a believer in the face of this surface evidence. It calls for a strong faith in Jesus Christ."

Wirt then raised the case of preachers at that time such as Canon Bryan Green, a then well-known Church of England evangelical, and American evangelist, Billy Graham, and asked Lewis if he approved of them asking people to "come to a point of decision regarding the Christian life?"

Lewis said: "I had the pleasure of meeting Billy Graham once. We had dinner together during his visit to Cambridge University in 1955, while he was conducting a mission to students. I thought he was a very modest and a very sensible man, and I liked him very much indeed."

C.S. Lewis went on to say: "In a civilization like ours, I feel that everyone has to come to terms with the claims of Jesus Christ upon his life, or else be guilty of inattention or of evading the question. In the Soviet Union it is different. Many people living in Russia today have never had to consider the claims of Christ because they have never heard of those claims.

"In the same way we who live in English-speaking countries have never really been forced to consider the claims, let us say, of Hinduism. But in our Western civilization we are obligated both morally and intellectually to come to grips with Jesus Christ; if we refuse to do so we are guilty of being bad philosophers and bad thinkers."

Wirt then asked: "What is your view of the daily discipline of the Christian life - the need for taking time to be alone with God?"

Lewis said: "We have our New Testament regimental orders upon the subject. I would take it for granted that everyone who becomes a Christian would undertake this practice. It is enjoined upon us by our Lord; and since they are his commands, I believe in following them. It is always just possible that Jesus Christ meant what he said when he told us to seek the secret place and to close the door."

Wirt wrote in his article, "Because Professor Lewis has written so extensively, both in fiction and nonfiction, about space travel (see his trilogy, 'Out of the Silent Planet', 'Perelandra' and 'That Hideous Strength,') I was particularly interested in what he would have to say about the prospects for man's future."

So he asked Lewis: "What do you think is going to happen in the next few years of history?"

Lewis replied: "I have no way of knowing. My primary field is the past. I travel with my back to the engine, and that makes it difficult when you try to steer. The world might stop in ten minutes; meanwhile, we are to go on doing our duty. The great thing is to be found at one's post as a child of God, living each day as though it were our last, but planning as though our world might last a hundred years.

"We have, of course, the assurance of the New Testament regarding events to come. I find it difficult to keep from laughing when I find people worrying about future destruction of some kind or other. Didn't they know they were going to die anyway? Apparently not. My wife once asked a young woman friend whether she had ever thought of death, and she replied, 'By the time I reach that age science will have done something about it!'"
 
Wirt then asked Lewis: "Do you think there will be widespread travel in space?" to which the author replied: "I look forward with horror to contact with the other inhabited planets, if there are such. We would only transport to them all of our sin and our acquisitiveness, and establish a new colonialism. I can't bear to think of it."

"But if we on earth were to get right with God, of course, all would be changed. Once we find ourselves spiritually awakened, we can go to outer space and take the good things with us. That is quite a different matter."

See C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy: Perlandra; Out of the Silent Planet; That Hideous Strength

Read the complete Final Interview of C. S. Lewis, Part One

Part Two: Heaven, Earth and Outer Space

More on C.S. Lewis from CBN.com:

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Feature

Prince Caspian Feature

Watch my interviews with C.S. Lewis' stepson, Douglas Gresham:

Part One: www.cbn.com/media/player/index.aspx

Part Two: www.cbn.com/media/player/index.aspx

Find books by C.S. Lewis on ShopCBN:

The Screwtape Letters

Mere Christianity 

The Chronicles of Narnia

C.S. Lewis Signature Box Set

C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy:

Perlandra

Out of the Silent Planet

That Hideous Strength 


Note: The interview part of this article was taken from Decision magazine, September 1963; © 1963 Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Author's note: Dr. Sherwood Eliot Wirt, a former newspaperman who was founding editor of Decision magazine and the author of 42 books including "Billy: A Personal Look at Billy Graham," passed away in his sleep on Saturday, November 8, 2008, leaving behind his Canadian-born wife, Ruth. A long-time associate of Billy Graham, "Woody" (as his friends called him) was born in 1911 and served as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force, pastored several churches, and held Ph.D.'s in theology and psychology from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland (Class of '51).

Dr. Wirt ministered and traveled with Dr. Graham for nearly 40 years. As a friend, Dr. Wirt knew Mr. Graham intimately and not just as a public figure. I had the great pleasure of conducting many Christian writer's seminars with Dr. Wirt, often at Mike MacIntosh's "Festival of Life" outreaches, and also we went on some overseas reporting trips together, including one to Grenada in 1983 , shortly after U.S. troops had invaded the island t o oust a brief revolutionary government there.

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This article originally appeared on Assist News Service.

© ANS. Used with permission. Learn more at the Assist News Service website, www.assistnews.net.

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