C.S. Lewis and the Call to Create

by Jordan Raynor

The following post was first published on YouVersion by Jordan Raynor, author of the national bestselling book for faith driven entrepreneurs, Called to Create: A Biblical Invitation to Create, Innovate, and Risk.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1

“No philosophical theory which I have yet come across is a radical improvement on the words of Genesis, that 'In the beginning God made Heaven and Earth.'” - C.S. Lewis

As Genesis 1 shows us, the first thing God revealed about Himself in Scripture is not that He is loving, holy, omnipotent, gracious, or just. No, the first thing God showed us is that He is creative! For the first six days, God revealed His creative spirit by speaking stars, animals, and oceans into existence. Then, on the sixth day, He created man “in His own image” and called Adam to create, thus reflecting God’s image to the world.

To call a human being “creative” is redundant. We are all made in the image of the Creator God. But as Romans 12 makes clear, each of us has “different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” Some of us have clearly been granted more creative talents than others. Perhaps no Christian in the 20th Century provides a better example of this than C.S. Lewis, the acclaimed scholar, theologian, and author of masterpieces such as Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, and of course, The Chronicles of Narnia.

Growing up in Ireland, Lewis appeared to be most comfortable when buried in a novel. But not only did Lewis consume literature; at a very early age, Lewis had begun writing and illustrating his own stories. Lewis obviously had a passion for writing, and it didn’t take long for others to validate his giftedness at the craft. At the young age of 26, Lewis was elected a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at the prestigious Magdalen College in Oxford.

By the time Lewis committed his life to Jesus Christ at the age of 32, he was already on the path to a successful career as an academic and writer. While Lewis’s newfound Christian faith didn’t cause him to abandon his work as an author, his conversion clearly caused him to reimagine his work as service to God and others. As Lewis once wrote in a letter, “The question is not whether we should bring God into our work or not. We certainly should and must. The question is whether we should simply (a.) Bring Him in in the dedication of our work to Him, in the integrity, diligence, and humility with which we do it or also (b.) Make His professed and explicit service our job.”

Lewis’s faith didn’t change his work. It changed his relation to his work. Lewis allowed the lordship of Jesus Christ to impact his motivations for creating, what he created, and how he created.

Why C.S. Lewis Created

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

“One of the dangers of having a lot of money is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give, and so fail to realize your need for God. If everything seems to come simply by signing checks, you may forget that you are at every moment totally dependent on God.” - C.S. Lewis

Do our motivations for creating matter to God? Proverbs 16:2 tells us that, “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord.”

The world tells us that the purpose of work is to accumulate fame and fortune for ourselves. The meta-narrative of work today is that it is the primary means by which we make a name for ourselves in this life and prove to the world that we are important, valuable, and worthy.

For the Christian, the work of Jesus Christ should be the ultimate measure of value of our life, not the relative fame and fortune we accumulate through our work. C.S. Lewis appears to have understood this truth deeply. Even at the height of his success as an author, Lewis never appeared to clamor for the spotlight, and he lived a relatively modest lifestyle. After Lewis’s death in 1963, people came out of the woodwork to share how incredibly generous Lewis was with his wealth. As Lewis’s stepson, Douglas Gresham, put it in his excellent book, Lenten Lands, “No tramp or beggar would be turned away empty-handed by [Lewis]. Although convinced of his own poverty, he would gladly give to anyone who asked."

Ever since Adam and Eve bit into the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden, we have been trying to cover up our sin nature, not with fig leafs, but with our accomplishments. We think that if we become a millionaire, sign a record deal, get 100,000 Instagram followers, or write a classic novel like The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, then we’ll be able to mask our human condition. Essentially, we use our work as a means of saving ourselves.

But as Christians, we know that the work of salvation is complete and that brings an entirely different motivation to our work! Because Jesus said, “It is finished,” we no longer have to use our work as a means of saving ourselves. Like Lewis, the gospel frees us to create for the pure joy of creating, not seeking fortune or fame, but the fame of the One who has called us to create.

“Aslan came bounding in”

“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:16-17

“But then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it...once He was there He pulled the whole story together.” - C.S. Lewis

Today, C.S. Lewis is regarded as one of the 20th Century’s most influential Christian theologians. But this is only because, after his conversion to Christianity, Lewis allowed his faith in Jesus Christ to impact everything he did, including the products he chose to create.

Through works such as Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, and The Four Loves, Lewis used words to paint pictures of who God is and who He is not. The best example of this is found in The Chronicles of Narnia, the children’s fiction series which centers on the character of Aslan, the Christ-like lion who creates Narnia and redeems it through His sacrificial death.

Perhaps contrary to popular belief, Lewis, like most culture-creators, did not lock himself in a room until he came up with an idea for a series of books that would reveal the redemptive character of God. As Lewis once explained, “Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument, then collected information about child psychology and decided what age group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out 'allegories' to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way. All my seven Narnian books began with seeing pictures in my head. [The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe] began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my mind since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: ‘Let's try to make a story about it.’ At first I had very little idea how the story would go. But then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it...once He was there He pulled the whole story together.”

Like Lewis, our product ideas will likely not come from brainstorming sessions where we focus intensely on how we can create a product that reveals God’s character. But as we begin to create, and we “let the Word of Christ dwell in [us] richly,” (Colossians 3:16) we will undoubtedly see how we can use our creations to reveal the character of our Creator. If our work is to feel like a calling, we, like Lewis, must be willing to allow the True Aslan to come “bounding into” every aspect of our lives, including our work.

Lewis, Tolkien, and “The Inklings”

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

“What I owe to [the Inklings] is incalculable. Is there any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a good fire?” - C.S. Lewis

As we’ve seen modeled in the life of C.S. Lewis, re-imagining our work as a calling from God changes our motivations for creating and the products we choose to create. As we’ll see in this last devotional in our study of the life of Lewis, following God’s call to create also changes how we create.

The Bible offers a tremendous amount of insight into how we as Christians should work: We should work with excellence, integrity, diligence, and graciousness. But what’s often overlooked is the need to create in community with other believers. For those of us who choose to follow the call to create, we must surround ourselves with fellow Christian creators who can help “renew our minds” (Romans 12:2) with eternal perspective as we create.

Again, C.S. Lewis provides a model for what this looks like. During the 1930s and 1940s, Oxford was home to some of the world’s greatest Christian minds, including Charles Williams, Hugo Dyson, Owen Barfield, and most famously, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and his brother Warnie Lewis. This group of friends, known simply as “the Inklings,” shared a love of the Lord and literature, each of them following God’s call to create through their writings. But they did not create in isolation. For nearly two decades, the group met on a near-weekly basis to read aloud their latest writings, get feedback from the other members of the group, drink a pint of beer at The Eagle and Child Pub, and help renew each other’s minds with regards to their Christian faith.

Without constant communion with other believers to refresh their eternal perspectives, Tolkien may have never completed The Lord of the Rings and Lewis may have never finished The Chronicles of Narnia. Like these creators before us, we need regular communion with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to renew our minds and refresh the lenses through which we view the world as we create.

If our work is to feel like a vocation—a true calling on our lives—we must be willing to follow the example of C.S. Lewis and re-imagine our work as service to God and others. When we do, we will find the lordship of the True Aslan, Jesus Christ, changing our motivations for creating, the products we choose to create, and how we go about creating them, in community with others following the call to create.

additional Faith Driven Entrepreneur blog posts by Jordan Raynor:
Sabbath as a sermon for the ambitious
Every Christian ins a Full-Time Missionary
God, The First Entrepreneur
Gospel Driven Ambition

Special thanks to Joel Filipe on Unsplash for the banner photo.