One of the final steps in C.S. Lewis’s conversion was for him to accept the truth that Christians can truly be united or “Bound Together” with Christ.
In his excellent new biography of C.S. Lewis, Alister McGrath does more than any other author to help us understand how C.S. Lewis came to faith in Christ. McGrath takes us a step forward in scholarship about Lewis by more accurately dating key events in Lewis’s life. McGrath goes so far as to point out where Lewis himself was wrong about some of the dates. You will have to read the book yourself to see if McGrath persuades you of his chronology. He convinced me.
In any case, McGrath shows that by 1931 C.S. Lewis was close to becoming a believer. Lewis had determined he was no longer an atheist. But he still had not given his life to Christ. Through interaction with Lewis’s letters, McGrath summarizes why Lewis still had reservations about becoming a Christian.
Lewis explained that his difficulty had been that he could not see “how the life and death of Someone Else (whoever he was) 2000 years ago could help us here and now.” An inability to make sense of this had been holding Lewis back “for the last year or so.” He could admit that Christ might provide us with a good example, but that was about as far as it went. Lewis realised that the New Testament took a very different view, using terms such as propitiation or sacrifice to refer to the true meaning of this event. But these expressions, Lewis declared, seemed to him to be “either silly or shocking.”
In the end, it was an evening with J.R.R. Tolkien that God used to tip the balance and for Lewis to finally put his trust in Christ. Lewis soon confessed faith in Christ and was united together with Him.
But how was it that Lewis accepted that Christ can help us here and now? Lewis gives his answer in The Problem of Pain published 9 years after Lewis’s conversion in 1940. Lewis explained how Scripture helped him come to understand that we are not so individual as we think.
Everyone will have noticed how the Old Testament seems at times to ignore our conception of the individual. When God promises Jacob that ‘He will go down with him into Egypt and will also surely bring him up again’, this is fulfilled either by the burial of Jacob’s body in Palestine or by the exodus of Jacob’s descendants from Egypt. It is quite right to connect this notion with the social structure of early communities in which the individual is constantly overlooked in favour of the tribe or family: but we ought to express this connection by two propositions of equal importance – – firstly that their social experience blinded the ancients to some truths we perceive, and secondly that it made them sensible of some truths to which we are blind. Legal fiction, adoption, and transference or imputation of merit and guilt, could never have played the part they did in theology if they had always be felt to be so artificial as we now feel them to be.
. . . the separateness – – which we discern between individuals, is balanced, in absolute reality, by some kind of ‘interanimation’ of which we have no conception at all. It may be that the acts and sufferings of great archetypal individuals such as Adam and Christ are ours, not by legal fiction, metaphor, or casuality, but in some much deeper fashion. There is no question, of course, of individuals melting down into a kind of spiritual continuum such as Pantheistic systems believe in; that is excluded by the whole tenor of our faith. But there may be a tension between individuality and some other principle. C.S. Lewis, emphasis added (page 83).
Lewis accepted that we are not isolated individuals. Rather, we are “bound together.” In my book, Bound Together, I call this, “the principle of the rope“: that is, we are not islands unto ourselves. The ultimate negative example of the principle of the rope is the doctrine of original sin. When Adam and Eve rebelled against God, their sin was imputed to all their descendents. And all inherited a corrupt nature from them. But the ultimate positive example of the principle of the rope is union in Christ. Those who believe in Christ are united together with Him as branches to a vine or bricks to a building.
As for McGrath’s biography of Lewis, in my mind it is now the best single resource on the life of C.S. Lewis. McGrath’s book and Alan Jacob’s wonderful book, The Narnian, are now the first two books to read on C.S. Lewis.
But first read C.S. Lewis himself!