If Protestants had patron saints, C. S. Lewis would be the patron saint of campus ministers. He worked on the college campuses of Oxford and Cambridge for most of his adult life dealing with students. He wrote apologetics, delightfully articulating the Christian worldview, that were read by college students rebelling against ignorant Christianity. In short, he’s awesome, and you should probably read him.
If you’re looking for a place to start, here are the 3 Best Entry Points.
1. Mere Christianity
This is his magnum opus (a pretentious way to say “masterpiece”). He might not have considered it that, but looking back over his work, it is. This is Lewis at his finest. Metaphors zip through the book like bees through a field of sunflowers. And his metaphors are way better than mine. Mere Christianity was originally a radio broadcast set during World War 2, so you’ll catch some references to bombings and war throughout it. Lewis never wrote about Christianity in the abstract—he always forced his faith to engage the world he saw around him.
If you’ve started this book before and had problems, try this. Mere Christianity is divided internally into four books, but try starting with book 4, then book 3, then go back and pick up books 1 and 2. Book 4 often has the most appeal for Christians, while Books 1 and 2 are usually considered the toughest. You might find the whole experience a little more enjoyable this way.
2. The Screwtape Letters
Now this is an incredible book. It’s the first Lewis book I read (and also my favorite!). Here’s the story. An elder devil, Screwtape, is writing a series of letters to his nephew, Wormwood, on how to tempt humans. Wormwood is fresh out of the tempting academy and still getting his feet wet tempting humans.
Since it’s a series of letters between two devils, all of Screwtape’s advice needs to be reversed. When he says “Our Father Below” he means Satan. When he speaks about “the Enemy” he means God. At one point Screwtape tells Wormwood that if a human can’t feel God, then tempt him to believe he never felt God at all. The real advice for Christians here is that even if you don’t feel God currently, you’ve encountered him before. You have to do little work like this as you read the book, but after a chapter or two it becomes pretty natural. Here’s an easy way to read the book: there’s 31 chapters and each chapter is about 5 pages each. Pick one of those months with 31 days and read a chapter a day. Easy. And worth it.
3. The Great Divorce
This is the final book of the Lewis Holy Trinity and the easiest to read (because it’s the shortest). If you’ve got two hours, you can sit down and read this book.
If you’ve ever wondered how people could choose hell even when they’re offered heaven, this is the book for you. It’s psychological theology. Lewis deals with the little choices we make everyday and shows us how choices to snub our parents or control our friendships are choices that spring from the darkest pits of hell. Each time I read this book, I’m amazed by how much I still identify with the “hellish” characters who have been offered a vacation to heaven.
One of my favorite parts of the book is the sudden realization that heaven is more real than anything we’ve ever experienced. The air rushes louder, the sun shines brighter, even the blades of grass are stronger—so much so that the visitors there seem ghostly and transparent in comparison to the presence of heaven.
The Great Divorce is a perfect blend of Lewis’ penetrating insight into our souls and his ability to imaginatively communicate the goodness of God. Reading this book is convicting, but it’s full of hope for something better. It’s almost like sitting through a surgery where the doctor is cutting you open to operate, but all the while describing how you’ll be able to function and thrive once the tear is repaired. So go on and let this book (or, more accurately, God through this book) open your heart up for some surgery.