A Thinking Man’s Conversion

In Theaters Now: The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis

The light went out of the world for C.S. Lewis when at age nine he lost his mother to cancer. He officially adopted atheism at age fourteen when he consciously rejected the nominal Christianity of his upbringing and became a self-appointed debunker of all things Christian.

Being sent off to fight in World War I on his nineteenth birthday only further solidified his conclusion that the universe was a meaningless, dark, cold, empty void. Human life as he saw it was nothing but an inexplicable mix of crime, war, disease, and terror, “with just enough happiness to give us an agonized fear of losing it.” If you had asked him to believe it was all the work of an omnipotent, benevolent God:

I would have laughed and said the evidence points in the opposite direction. Either there’s no God behind the universe, a God indifferent to good and evil, or worse, an evil God.

So, how did this hard-boiled atheist scoffer become one of the twentieth century’s most beloved and respected Christian thinkers? For one thing, he kept thinking. But there’s more, and to hear the story, you really should see The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis.

Eddie Ray Martin and Nicholas Ralph play the boyhood and young adult Lewis while Max McLean plays a fiftyish-year-old Lewis recounting the story in Lewis’s own words, most of which are taken from his memoir Surprised by Joy. The film is beautifully shot in and around Oxford, England, home of the University of Oxford where Lewis taught English literature.

While Lewis himself lived a very private life, he was astonishingly candid about himself and his inner life in his writings. McClean as Lewis recounts Lewis’s confession of boyish lusting after a teacher, a fascination with the occult that might have ended in full-blown Satanism had a terrifying encounter not frightened him back to strict materialism, and one of Lewis’s deepest regrets – going through the motions of confirmation and first communion as an avowed unbeliever because he feared his father’s reaction if he didn’t. “Cowardice drove me to hypocrisy, and hypocrisy to blasphemy,” Lewis wrote in retrospect. He describes himself as “a cad,” “a snob,” and “as nonmoral as a human creature could be.” “Guilt was not a thing I knew.” Through it all, McLean performs brilliantly as the brutally honest Lewis, flaying open his heart and soul through words, while all the time maintaining the characteristic British reserve.

The film also explores Lewis’s friendships with J.R.R. Tolkien, Hugo Dyson, and Owen Barfield, each of whom was instrumental in one way or another along Lewis’s step-by-reluctant-step journey from atheism to belief in God (whom he called “Spirit”) and finally to Christianity at age thirty-two.

Although we think of Lewis as an intellect, and rightfully so, according to Lewis himself, his conversion really began in the imagination. The intellect followed – and begrudgingly, at that. It all adds up to a delightful and often humorous (in a British sort of way) journey for the mind and the imagination. Put it on your radar and check it out.

Early showings have done so well that more theaters have been added. Click here for theater and ticket info.

 is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

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