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Billy Graham and C. S. Lewis

Billy Graham and C. S. Lewis

by William H. Benson

December 1, 2016

     Billy Graham was born November 7, 1918, just four days before Armistice Day that ended World War I’s carnage. Three weeks ago Billy marked his 98th birthday, alive but not so well.

     Clive Staples Lewis was born November 29, 1898, and died on November 22, 1963, the same day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. It is also coincidental that both C. S. Lewis and John F. Kennedy had the same nickname, Jack.

     Billy Graham and C. S. Lewis were the two most popular Christian authors of the twentieth century. Walk into any religious bookstore—if any remain open today—and you will find Billy Graham’s books on one shelf and C. S. Lewis’s on another, but there were differences between the two men.

     Lewis was an Englishman, a very-well read Oxford scholar, who had studied the Greek and Latin classics, philosophy, as well as English language and literature. He taught at Oxford’s Magdalen College for nearly thirty years, and he described himself as “a jovial man.”

     Lewis and his fellow scholar, J. R. R. Tolkein, loved to gather in Oxford’s pub, “The Eagle and the Child,” where they smoked their pipes, drank their pint, laughed, swapped stories, and read aloud their literary creations. Tolkien read The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Lewis read his own fantasy novels, The Chronicles of Narnia, that includes The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

     It was during those gatherings that Lewis laid aside his youthful rejection of religion, and accepted Christianity. His conversion was a quiet event, but it transformed his literary style. Thereafter, in addition to his fantasy novels, he wrote nonfiction books that defended and promoted Christianity: Mere Christianity, Screwtape Letters, The Problem of Pain, and Surprised by Joy. He became Christianity’s chief apologist, who wanted to present a reasonable case for Christianity.    

     On the other hand, Billy Graham was a Southerner, from Charlotte, North Carolina, a traveling evangelist, intense, focused, driven, friend to the Presidents. It is said that he preached Christianity to more people than any other person in human history.

     In his sermons, he insisted upon the absolute need for all men and women to experience conversion. In him there was no doubt and no hesitation on that, and his books dovetail into his Southern Baptist theology: Peace with God, Angels, How to Be Born Again, and World Aflame.

     Although Lewis was far more educated than Billy, but both men’s influence reached far.

     Whereas Lewis made people feel comfortable, with his avuncular and jovial manners, his deep learning, and his thought-provoking literary style, Billy Graham made people feel uncomfortable, because he told people what they must do.

     Billy was a friend to both Democrat and Republican Presidents, but only on rare occasions did he express a political position, either liberal or conservative. The most glaring of those few occasions was when he fell under President Richard Nixon’s bigoted attitude toward the media. Otherwise, Billy steered wide of political controversy.

     Lewis was more forthright, but not much. He saw danger when people mixed religion and politics. In a September 25, 2016 New York Times opinion column, the writer, Peter Wehner, said that Lewis observed that “Christians were tempted to abuse political power in ways that were bad for both Christianity and the state. He believed theocracy the worst form of government, and he detested the idea of a ‘Christian party.’”

     Wehner said further that Lewis perceived that “politics can distort and invert Christianity, turning a faith that at its core is about grace, reconciliation, and redemption into one that is characterized by bitterness, recriminations, and lack of charity.” Hence, Lewis was said to hold “contempt for politics and politicians, and that he steered clear of political controversy.”

     Both Billy and C. S. remained mute on current political issues, mainly because both men’s focus was upon religion. Wehner said that “Lewis saw public matters, and indeed all of life, through a theological lens.” The same is true of Billy Graham.

C. S. Lewis passed away a week short of his 65th birthday. His decades-long addiction to his pipe shortened his life, when he succumbed to renal failure. So far, Billy Graham has lived thirty-three years more than did C. S. Lewis. Their books are still in print.