Book Review: If I Had Lunch With C.S. Lewis

If I Had Lunch With C.S. Lewis: Exploring the Ideas of C.S. Lewis on the Meaning of Life, by Alister McGrath

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]

There is a paragraph on page vi of the preface that gives a good reason as to why I appreciated and could easily relate to this book. Given the enduring popularity of C.S. Lewis’ work, I imagine it would be a reason why many others can relate to Lewis’ life and work so well: “Although Lewis is best known as a writer, we must never forget that his life was complex, difficult, and occasionally tragic. His mother died of cancer before Lewis was ten years old. He fought on the battlefields of France during the First World War and was seriously wounded in combat. He married late in life, only to suffer tragedy as his wife slowly lost her long fight against cancer. Lewis is a rare example of someone who had to think about life’s great questions because they were forced on him by his own experiences. Lewis is no armchair philosopher. His ideas were formed in the heat of suffering and despair.”

This particular book is a wonderful introduction to viewing C.S. Lewis as a conversationalist rather than merely as a writer, and it is structured rather thoughtfully like an eight-week term, each of the eight essays dealing with a different subject of interest to those who want to get to know C.S. Lewis better through his life and especially through his sermons and writings. The essays themselves deal with a variety of concerns within the life and work of its subject, looking at such areas as: the meaning of life, friendship, the importance of stories, Aslan and the Christian life, the art of apologetics, eduction, the problem of pain, and hope and heaven. There are two appendices that are of value for any reader of this novel, the first one dealing with books to read for those who want to find out more about Lewis’ life and writings, and the second a short biographical essay on Lewis. This book is by no means an exhaustive look at its subject, but it does its task superbly in inspiring its readers to examine Lewis’ work in greater detail for themselves.

Although this book is mostly celebratory about C.S. Lewis, it does not hesitate to deal with the full complexity of his life, in areas that those who only know him from Mere Christianity or the Narnia series would not be likely to know. Beyond C.S. Lewis’ youthful atheism, which is likely to be known by many, there are some aspects of his life that are clearly messy. Besides his youthful interest in sadomasochism, there was a lot of youthful lying about money, family alcoholism, and an affair between Lewis and a married woman during his 20’s. Make no mistake, Lewis was no plaster saint isolated from the sins and problems of this world. When he spoke about the darkness of human existence, it was no mere philosophizing from an isolated ivory tower, but it was truth based on painful personal experience. The deaths of Lewis’ mother and his wife, from what was originally what could politely be termed a green card marriage, were emotionally searing events that led Lewis to pour out his sorrow and anguish in ragged and deep ways. Like Lewis’ enduring popular fiction, Lewis’ A Grief Observed shows that Lewis was more than a cerebral and intellectual Oxbridge don, but was a man full of passion as well.

This is an immensely accomplished work by a Christian apologist as well as a notable scholar on Lewis (who has written a recent biography on the man). It is short, running only some 240 small pages, but what it lacks in massive heft it makes up for in its humane touch and its serious dealing with the thinking of Lewis on a variety of subjects. Although I have read many of Lewis’ works (and even write a fair bit about him as well [1]), there are still some works of his I have not read that this book talks about in detail, such as his 1941 sermon “The Weight of Glory,” his books Surprised By Joy, A Grief Observed, The Four Loves, and The Abolition Of Man, as well as his work on literature. Any time a book like this makes you want to read still more books, it has done its job, and this book, judged by that standard, is a stellar success, the next best thing to a lunch conversation in an Oxford pub with C.S. Lewis. Not only that, but it is a book that reminds us that C.S. Lewis was a man who, like many of us, needed a great deal of encouragement and support to be the success he was, and if that was true of him, it ought not to be a matter of shame or embarrassment for any of the rest of us either.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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