A new film, The Most Reluctant Convert, tells the story of the journey from atheism to Christian faith taken by one of the greatest Christian communicators of the 20th century.
CS Lewis was an Oxford scholar, specialist in medieval literature, author of the Chronicles of Narnia and books defending the Christian faith.
An elderly Lewis, thinking back on his life, is brilliantly embodied in Max McLean’s film. The script is drawn almost entirely from the writer’s own work.
As a young man in the 1920s, Lewis was a staunch atheist. But one book he came across – George MacDonald’s Phantastes – revealed something different, appealing, charming – something he would learn to call “holy.”
His atheism was based on the ridiculousness as he saw it of imagining that a universe full of suffering and loss could be “the work of an omnipotent and benevolent God” – the evidence pointed the other way. No God, surely – just random, impersonal matter.
But Lewis’ Christian colleagues have pointed out that if our minds are “just random arrangements of atoms in skulls,” then all our thoughts are random and we can’t trust them.
Over time, Lewis admitted that “there had to be something more, higher and higher” and became a “reluctant convert” to the belief that there was Spirit as well as matter in the universe. But it wasn’t personal, Lewis insisted.
Yet he kept hearing about Jesus. An atheist friend told him that “the evidence for the historicity of the gospels is surprisingly good”. Mythology, he continued, is full of stories of dying gods – which Lewis loved. “Looks like it really happened once.”
Eventually, CS Lewis acknowledged that it really happened once – that God was personal and came among us in Jesus.
Each of us walks towards God and Christ in our own way, and some public intellectuals today have taken a similar journey towards faith.
While no one rejects the Christian faith until they have examined it, after the questions, after the thirst for an elusive Joy that drew Lewis forward.
As he turned the pages of Phantastes, he found hints of joy, summoning him into the light.
And as I watched the film, a sweetness and a kindness touched me, a holiness, a murmur of hope of the Joy that does not let go of us.