Commentary

C.S. Lewis’s Journey Out of Atheism

By Eric Metaxas | May 5, 2016 | 11:33am EDT
C.S. Lewis (AP Photo/Corbis Bettman)

Here’s some good news for all of us C. S. Lewis fans: There’s a new play by Max McLean about Lewis’s journey to faith.

Those of us who love and look up to the great apologist C. S. Lewis as an example of what a Christian should be sometimes tend to forget how miraculous it is that he became a Christian at all. As a young man, Lewis’s path was taking him in quite a different direction. In fact, as Max McLean of Fellowship for the Performing Arts told us in a new interview at BreakPoint.org, “One could see him fitting into the more contemporary New Atheist camp,” in the mold of Christopher Hitchens.

Lewis as a prototype of the New Atheist? The idea boggles the mind! But it’s worth remembering just how close he came to that possibility. And Max McLean’s latest one-man play, “The Most Reluctant Convert,” brings the idea home to us in fresh new ways.

“C. S. Lewis On Stage: The Most Reluctant Convert,” which just had its world premiere in Washington, D.C., is based on Lewis’s writings, including “Surprised by Joy,” “The Problem of Pain,” “The Weight of Glory,” and some of Lewis’s letters.

Now I should say, I saw a preview of the show and it is spectacular. In the show, Lewis traces his spiritual journey for us, from an unthinking, unreflective childhood faith, through the materialistic atheism of his young adulthood, and back again to faith. The pain and brevity of life, brought close to home for him by his mother’s death, pulled him away from God. One line in particular sums up his atheistic views nicely: “I did not believe God existed, but I was angry with God for not existing.”

But even in that stage of Lewis’s life, signposts were all around him, pointing the way back. The show does a great job of highlighting some of these signposts, and demonstrating the intriguing fact that even many of Lewis’s favorite anti-religious people, books, and ideas ended up actually drawing him to faith in God.

For instance, there was the atheist tutor who taught him to think logically and to debate fiercely—habits that would eventually lead him to the idea that God must exist. The books he loved and the people he met, even his fellow atheists, kept him on this trajectory. Lewis’s story really is a shining example of how God can use anything and anyone when He pursues a soul.

And it might, and actually should give us some hope for today’s crop of New Atheists! Like that group, Lewis fought his battles on intellectual ground, but his story shows us that, contrary to popular belief, atheism doesn’t have to win such battles.

Max McLean, as you may remember, is no stranger to Lewis and his spiritual ideas. Just a few years ago he created and starred in the well-loved stage adaptation of “The Screwtape Letters.” But now, playing C. S. Lewis himself has given Max a chance to explore important facets of the great writer’s thinking and personality. He enjoys stepping into the role of the man who loved “ruthless dialectic” and was a tireless fighter in defense of truth. And his show gives us the background to better understand that personality and those ideas, for the strengthening of our own faith and convictions.

“The Most Reluctant Convert” plays in Washington until May 8. After that, it goes to San Francisco and then Los Angeles, and there are hopes for an eventual New York run. Meanwhile, Max’s group, the Fellowship for Performing Arts, will soon premiere a second show in D.C.: “Martin Luther on Trial.”

We will have a write-up of that on BreakPoint.org, so check for that in a couple of weeks. If Max and FPA can do for Martin Luther what they’ve done for C. S. Lewis, we’re all in for yet another great treat from this stellar group of Christian artists.

Eric Metaxas is the bestselling author of “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy.” He is the radio host of “The Eric Metaxas Show” and the co-host of “BreakPoint.”

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by BreakPoint.

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