For the last ten weeks, we have looked at nine different genres by C.S. Lewis: non-fiction, radio, letter-writing fiction, fiction, essay, children’s fiction, autobiography, adult novel, and journal. We have shown that, through 20 years of writing, Lewis maintained his main point about pain: a loving God uses pain to grow human beings and help them become who they truly are. Lewis did not change this main point; rather, he changed his genres. This shows his uncanny ability to write in many different genres. This also shows his extraordinary ability to make a strong point in different genres. We must not forget that in all his communication Lewis wrote as a missionary seeking to help people get closer to Christ.
What has been revealed in this study is a model for communication: taking a few key points and repeating them in different ways, in different genres. We could have looked at other points in other themes of Lewis, such as time, the will, pride, or heaven and hell. It is well known that Lewis did not advocate “denominational” positions on these issues, staying within a central “mere Christianity.” It is less recognized that Lewis had a communication method of keeping the same key points on each theme then repeating these points again and again in different genres. Lewis did not change his key points; he changed his genres.
The model, simply put, is having strong points on key topics and repeating those points again and again in different ways, all as a means of evangelism and helping people get closer to Christ. Many of his key themes made it into each one of his books. Lewis did not change his key points on these themes. Indeed, he did not see the need for the points to change – they were biblically and philosophically sound and responded to the deepest human longings. Lewis did not want to change the unchanging truths of Christianity; he wanted to translate those truths to modern people, as a missionary. He saw himself as a converted Pagan living among apostate Puritans. Lewis used his communication model and combined it with his creative writing gift. Lewis used many analogies and much wit. He kept his books relatively short. C.S. Lewis was a great communicator, and we can learn from his communication model and strategy about how to effectively do evangelism in our generation. The model that we have found in Lewis’s writings is a powerful communication model, and Lewis was successful in using this model to help his generation, and future generations, understand and get closer to God.
Two further points must be made about this communication model. First, one does not have to agree with the specific points Lewis made to apply his model. Let us briefly evaluate Lewis’s points about pain. We can start by saying that his points are biblical. God’s love includes punishment (Hebrews 12:6), and pain often grows us as human beings (James 1:2-4), and we are invited to cry out to the Lord in our pain (Psalm 22). However, his points do not allow pain that comes outside of God’s will (Jeremiah 7:21), pain that comes about because of human sin (Genesis 4:6-8) or because of the fallen nature of the world (Genesis 3:16-17; John 9:2-3). We allow that these points are contested in theology as a whole. Further, when Jesus encountered people in pain, He did not start by teaching that their pain was part of God’s loving plan to grow them as human beings; He healed them (Matthew 14:14) and bore their sorrows (Isaiah 53:4). Our contention is that modern people need to hear that God loves them, is with them, and can heal their pain. This is the first message. The second message, once they have grown in their faith, is about their seeing more of their own faults and how God uses pain to grow human beings. The selfishness and injustice of the world will hurt us as they hurt Christ; God is with us and gives us the power of the resurrection; we are overcomers who come to realize our own selfishness has perpetuated the problem of injustice; by God’s grace we seek to overcome our selfishness and become truly human – united with God.
The order of the messages is especially important because, as Lewis could see 60 years ago, modern people have no conception of personal guilt. Lewis was convinced that evangelists needed to give the unwelcome diagnosis before the good news of the remedy. Lewis used creative writing, both in fiction and non-fiction, to awaken the sense of personal morality in his readers. Most communicators, though, are not as gifted as Lewis, and so Christianity has been packaged as an unwelcome diagnosis of sin to modern hearers. 50 years of this approach has shown that it is not working. I suggest starting from a different point – the healing ministry of Christ – and leading people from there to follow Jesus to the cross and resurrection. The great thing about Lewis’s communication model is that it can be used by different communicators who have different points they want to communicate.
Second, this communication model can be used by people with different levels of communication skill. Not everyone is as gifted in communication as C.S. Lewis was! But all Christians are called to communicate the message of Christ (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). To apply this model, a communicator starts by identifying the biblical points that most resonate with him or her. These points need to be written down because we often are not clear enough about what we are trying to communicate. Next, a communicator must discover the genres or mediums in which he or she enjoys communicating. Communication, we can learn from Lewis, should always be enjoyable. Having an eternal message is not an excuse for a muddled mess. Finally, the communicator plans the communication – creatively weaving together the medium and the message in a way that draws people closer to Christ.
Personally, I am trying to grow more and more as a communicator. I want my communication to be biblical and enjoyable, touching the deepest longings of the human heart and helping people get closer to Christ. I also want my communication to be creative and have elements of delight for people to enjoy. I still have a long way to go, but I am growing. Next week, I will end this writing series with a short story that I wrote.