Countless conversations that delve deeply into theology that I have been involved in will inevitably have someone bring Lewis into the picture, with a quote from one of his essays, or more commonly a reference to one of his novels, be it the space trilogy, or the Narnia series, or The Screwtape Letters.
He has affected the way modern, Protestant, Christians think and express themselves so deeply that most don't even realize the debt that they owe him.
Most interesting to me is the way that Lewis' stories have resonated with Christians and, sometimes, seem to carry a general authority in their portrayals. Conversations about hell will have someone quoting The Last Battle or The Great Divorce. Discussions about temptation or spiritual warfare will have someone referring to Screwtape and Wormwood.
Lewis' work has become so absorbed that there is no self-consciousness in even mentioning it within the context of theology and practical church matters. No one seems concerned with the fact that these concepts come from fictitious fantasy novels.
My point is not demote the stories' importance....but to turn that observation to something else.
Lewis' work successfully captures the imagination because he has taken our sacred stories and made them bigger . He has expanded ideas about God, mankind and salvation and sewn them into other dimensions and worlds. He has left the door open for a future that might indeed be perplexing to us; worlds with sentient, alien life, worlds with talking beasts, and dimensions of a reality just outside of our senses.
Whether those worlds do, or even could, exist is irrelevant. What is relevant is that he provides a way for us to imagine how it might be, or could be...and that speaks to people in powerful ways.
Jeff Dunn, over at internetmonk.com, has a post up about his disappointment with the newly released Voyage of the Dawn Treader. His disappointment is almost completely tied into his assessment that the theology of the book was somehow lost in translation in the making of the film. In a strange way his severe reaction highlights the weight given to Lewis' work, because although most book-lovers are frequently dissatisfied with movie renderings, few are so upset at the loss of meaning that he attributes to the rendering. He even goes on to discuss how a portrayal from the book has changed his life, or given him hope.
This jogged my memory of another post at internetmonk in July in which a father recounts reading a passage of Lewis to his children, barely able to keep from breaking down at the emotional impact it had on him after he had received bad news about his daughter's health. His post so closely identifies Jesus with Aslan, that I found it startling.
Part of my former evangelical self read his post disapprovingly. The more liberal part of me recognized that what this man was doing was what all people in all times do...they use the stories that convey deep meaning to their lives...stories that may, or may not, be literally true, factual stories.
This is a strange mixture of things. In circles in which people feel the necessity to defend the literalness of the biblical stories, there are also people who are incredibly touched by a modern fictitious story which they know is not true, but which has been equated as a valid representation of the sacred story.
This is how cultures incorporate and systematize their symbols, through the broad acceptance and reliance on particular distillations that speak to a particular group.
In my fanciful moments, I wonder if 500 years from now,--after more authors have continued to study and read Lewis and write books about him, and his influence continues to grow within Christianity--Lewis' work and symbols will be so ubiquitous that Jesus will be represent as a lion with a full mane.
And...I wonder what future generations would think of such a development.