“All reality is iconoclastic.” When C.S. Lewis—or ‘Jack’ as his friends called him—penned that line in 1961, he was writing about God’s proclivity for repeatedly smashing our inevitably half-baked notions about Him. But much the same can be said for what reality does to our own cultural icons as well. And, if nothing else, Lewis himself has become a cultural icon for many American evangelicals, identified by many as the 20th century’s Christian intellectual par excellence.
With his compelling personal story of becoming England’s “most reluctant convert,” his towering intellect, and his inimitable eloquence, American evangelicals’ lionization of Lewis is certainly understandable. But when we attempt to lionize people we often ironically end up taming them, paring their claws so that our heroes and our preconceptions can safely cohabitate in our imaginations. But Lewis is no safer a lion than Aslan, and he will not go quietly into our tidy evangelical boxes. To be frank, American Evangelicalism’s infatuation with Lewis is in many respects somewhat odd. For here is a pathologically populist movement with a penchant for Big Tent Revivalism, an obsession with liturgical innovation, a deep-seated suspicion of ecclesiastical tradition, and a raw nerve about the doctrine of justification, falling head-over-heels for a tweed-jacketed, Anglo-Catholic Oxford don—a curmudgeonly liturgical traditionalist who was fuzzy on the atonement, a believer in purgatory, and, as we shall see, whose views on Scripture, Genesis, and evolution position him well outside of American Evangelicalism’s standard theological paradigms. All of that is to say that Lewis was not “just like us”—any of us—and if we would do him justice, we must be prepared to be surprised by Jack.