C. S. Lewis, the Self-Described “Most Reluctant Convert”

This Wednesday, November 3, for one night only, the movie “The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C. S. Lewis” will be in cinemas nationwide.

It’s based on the on-stage production done by Max McLean (who plays the adult Lewis in the movie), which is absolutely excellent. You can watch “C.S. Lewis On Stage—The Most Reluctant Convert” here. Max is a faithful believer and the familiar voice of several audio Bibles.

In late May 1988, when our daughters were seven and nine, Nanci and I and the girls spent ten days in England. We visited Oxford, where I used some photos from one of the six Lewis biographies that I’d read (showing the view from his window of some stationery objects) to trace down Lewis’s office and rooms behind Magdalen College. It was in this room where he came to a belief in theism, then on Addison’s Walk outside the building, by Deer Park (which he saw through his back window), Lewis came to Christ. In this same room in years to come he wrote most of his books, including The Chronicles of Narnia.

Lewis says in Surprised by Joy:

You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.

He referred here to his conversion to theism. It was on Addison’s Walk where Lewis underwent his second conversion, this one not merely to theism but to Christ Himself. He had a long walk with two friends, one of whom was J. R. R. Tolkien (it was Lewis who beseeched the procrastinating perfectionist Tolkien to finish and publish Lord of the Rings and Tolkien once said that if not for Lewis he likely never would have).

Lewis wrote in Surprised by Joy of a trip riding in the sidecar of a motorcycle driven by his brother Warren, on a trip to the Whipsnade Zoo:

When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought nor in great emotion. “Emotional” is perhaps the last word we can apply to some of the most important events. It was more like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.

However, Lewis tied his conversion to Christ directly back to that talk with Dyson and Tolkien on Addison’s Walk.  A few days after his trip to the zoo with Warren, Lewis closed out a letter to Arthur Greeves with this news: “I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ—in Christianity. I will try to explain this another time. My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it.”

Lewis’s mentorship and impact on my own life, and indirectly on my ministry has been profound, and I’m grateful to God for him. My Heaven book is full of him, and Heaven for Kids overflows with Narnia. Screwtape Letters inspired Lord Foulgrin’s Letters. It also inflenced The Ishbane Conspiracywhich I wrote with my daughters thirteen years after we lurked outside Lewis’s rooms at Magdalen. Mere Christianity plays a pivotal role in my novels Deadline and Deception. In Edge of Eternity, Nick Seagrave’s pilgrimage, into a world where the spiritual realm is visible, was Lewis-inspired. In my novel Dominion, Lewis serves as a guide to a character in Heaven. Another character, yet on earth, reads the The Chronicles of Narnia to his children. (In 2013, the year of the 50th anniversary of his death, I did a plenary session on Lewis and Heaven and Hell at a Desiring God conference.)

Nanci and I retraced Lewis’s steps beside his friends on Addison’s Walk. Negotiating the falling leaves, on a brisk wet afternoon, was haunting and unforgettable. What happened in Lewis’s life there was a stone thrown in a pond. Its ripples have extended deep into my life and millions of others. I’m forever grateful that our God of grace called that reluctant convert into His Kingdom.

Addison's Walk

Also coming out this month: “Sabina: Tortured for Christ, The Nazi Years” will be in theaters November 8-10. It’s the story of Richard Wurmbrand’s wife, and Richard as well. After many years in Romanian prisons, he went on to be the founder of Voice of the Martyrs. I will never forget reading his first book, Tortured for Christ, as a young believer. It marked me. It still does.

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries