Sunday, September 28, 2008

Conversion on a Motorbike

On this day in 1931, at the age of 32, C.S. Lewis came to believe that "Jesus Christ is the Son of God." The conversion took place while Lewis rode in the sidecar of his brother Warren's motorcycle during a trip to Whipsnade Zoo.

Lewis described the experience as follows: "Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion. 'Emotional' is perhaps the last word we can apply to some of the most important events. It was more like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake" (Surprised by Joy, Chapter XV).

Lewis viewed conversion more as a process than a defining event. He wrote in Mere Christianity: "The world does not consists of 100 per cent. Christians and 100 per cent. non-Christians. There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name ... There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so" (Book IV, Chapter 10).

This ties into Lewis's view of ethics and his belief that each day our ethical choices -- small or great -- move us closer to God or further from Him on a sort of continuum.

Do such ideas have merit? In Christian Theology, Millard Erickson writes, "There are various opinions as to how salvation is related to time. It is variously thought of as a single occurrence at the beginning of the Christian life, a process continuing throughout the Christian life, or a future event" (2nd edition, pp. 902-903).

For a fictional discussion between C.S. Lewis and an atheist about conversion see my book Conversations with C.S. Lewis, "Chapter 6: Conversion on a Motorbike."

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