The Collected Sermons of William H. Willimon

Willimon, William H.

Westminster John Knox, 2010

pp. 261 - 262

Willimon is struck by how nonautobiographical C. S. Lewis’ autobiography (Surprised by Joy) really is. There is nothing in it to account for his conversion—which seems to come out of the blue. He says he was “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England . . .brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape.” Nothing in the earlier part of his autobiography points toward this. Lewis wanted to indicate that, at least in his own case, his new self was not owed to earlier influences, let along to his own attempts to build himself up. His new self was God’s gift, pure and simple. (“The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and his compulsion is our liberation.”) After God’s compulsion, Lewis is a theist. Beyond theism, his conversion to Christianity, specifically, is even less moored in earlier events or in spiritual work on his part. Here’s Willimon: “he rode in a sidecar to Whipsnade Zoo on a sunny morning in September of 1931. This has always struck me as the most ridiculous of situations for a religious conversion—stodgy C. S. Lewis, bobbing along in a motorcycle sidecar on his way to a second-rate zoo. At least St. Paul was on a road somewhere going to do important business. Yet of [the crucial] moment Lewis wrote, ‘When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. . . .’

In modernity the self becomes an exclusively human construct, something we fabricate through our astute decisions and adventurous choices. ‘I choose, therefore I am.’ Lewis illustrates a very different conception of the self; the self as surprising gift of a creative God. . . Theologian Robert Jenson says you can tell the difference between a true, living God, and a false, dead god. A fake, noninterventionist god will never surprise you.”