The C. S. Lewis Reader's Encyclopedia

By Jeffrey D. Schultz and John G. West, eds.
Grand Rapids : Zondervan (1998). 464 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
13.1 (Spring 2002) : 140-141

 It is generally an honor to an exceptional life or significant contributions that an individual will earn an entry in an encyclopedia or reference work. Few earn enough respect to have a whole encyclopedia devoted to them. C. S. Lewis (1898- 1963), however, is certainly worthy of such an endeavor, his written works in the areas of literary criticism, fiction, theology, and ethics constitute one of the most diverse and penetrating bodies of work of the twentieth century.

This work is eminently readable and the format is clear. There is an excellent “Brief Biography” (9-65) written by John Bremer. The appendices include additional resources on Lewis, a timeline of his life, a listing of his article titles and a listing of the contributors. The articles themselves cover everything about Lewis, including his works, associates, friends, and thoughts on various literary, theological, and ethical issues. The volumes are well illustrated and there are several useful charts. Among those is a chart listing his famous radio addresses on “Mere Christianity” on the BBC during World War II.

Interest in Lewis, although always at a high level, has been seemingly reenergized in recent years. His most popular works, The Chronicles of Narnia (1948- 54), The Screwtape Letters (1941), Mere Christianity (1941), Miracles (1947), among others, have remained in print since their original publications. The recent success of the Harry Potter book series and movie as well as the beginning of the theatrical release of J. R. R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy, has brought renewed interest in Lewis. Those who are working through the issues regarding the place of such fiction in the Christian life will be well served by referencing this work and Lewis’ thoughts on these matters.

Perhaps the most important article to read in this work is that on “Theology.” Here Lewis is aptly described by the author:

C. S. Lewis was not a professional theologian, nor was he a ‘lay theologian’ as some have claimed. He wrote no books of theology nor has he left us a system of theological thought. His religious works such as The Problem of Pain, Miracles, and Mere Christianity were intended to evangelize and to instruct in the basics of the common faith (orthodoxy) held by all Christians (399).

Lewis is almost impossible to classify theologically. His beliefs on matters such as eternal punishment, purgatory, inspiration, and even the singularity of Christ and the gospel in terms of saving faith were certainly not conservative. His theological conclusions were driven more by Platonic philosophy and the church fathers than by an examination of the text. He remains popular in conservative circles mainly on the strength of two works, Mere Christianity and Miracles. However, Lewis is also a popular source of quotable material for universalists and proponents of Openness Theology.

For those who are interested in Lewis, this work serves as a great introduction to his writing and thoughts. The biography alone is worth the price of the work. This volume is highly recommended.