Sometimes, Conversion is Slow

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien

In January of 1974, I became a follower of Christ. Unfortunately, it was lusty path that led me to Jesus. My girlfriend was pregnant and the weight of my sin and selfishness sat heavily on my spirit. Ken Frech, a brother twice, first in the Sigma Chi house at the University of Maryland, and then as a brother in Christ, led me to faith. And my life changed.

A year or two later I was taking a class on the Documentary Hypothesis and German Higher Criticism of the Bible at the University of Maryland. The Professor was Dr. Greenwood. Dr. Greenwood would enter the room two minutes before the class was to begin. He would place his brief case on a chair, take out a handkerchief and dust his chair and desk off of chalk dust. Next, he would take his briefcase place it in the far right corner of his desk, open it up, take out his notes, place one set of glasses in a glasses case, put another set of glasses on his nose, close his briefcase, take a brief breath, and begin his lecture.

It was his repeated pattern Monday, Wednesday, Friday, every time the class met. 

My own pattern was to read the textbooks and my Bible in such a way that I was always at least three weeks ahead of the class so that I could anticipate and research questions, answers and objections to the consistent attempts by Dr. Greenwood to undermine, any belief in the divine inspiration of Scripture.

One day, frustrated that Dr. Greenwood was refusing to call on me when I raised my hand, I went to see my British-born professor in his office to discuss the class. I was respectful but confrontational. In honorific ways, I inquired into what troubled me about his approach in the class. “Dr. Greenwood, it troubles me that you are teaching as fact a critical theory of the text (of the Bible) that has itself come under great criticism from many who once felt its outlines were indisputable. Not just Christians like myself, but to a growing number who once believed it, the evidence is coming in that the Documentary Hypothesis theory, just doesn’t stand up.”

Dr. Greenwood was not used to being questioned by 20 year-old upstarts but I did my best to stand my ground. At one point, I threw an illustration and the perspective of C.S. Lewis on the Documentary Hypothesis into the conversation. 

It was then that Dr. Greenwood surprised me. He sat back in his chair and said,

“You know, I once had a class with C.S. Lewis. Now there was a man who you might say was born again.”

I’ve never forgotten that day. I didn’t make much headway with Dr. Greenwood. One “success” in the class was that my classmates recognized that Dr. Greenwood was avoiding my legitimate questions and even the attempt to answer them. That made him lose status with them and with it, the ability to undermine their faith in the Bible. It also caused some of them to seek me out and ask questions themselves. And I suppose that was a victory of sorts.

All of that is back story to this brief excerpt from an article a THE GOSPEL COALITION website. The article came out on Friday of last week with this title, “85 Years Ago Today: J.R.R. Tolkien Convinces C.S. Lewis that Christ is the True Myth.” The article goes on to recount the critical conversation between Lewis and Tolkien that was one of the final steps in the two-decades-plus process of C.S. Lewis’s conversion from atheism, to agnosticism, to theism, to Christ.

Conversion to Christianity

On September 28, 1931—just nine days after Lewis’s conversation with Tolkien on Christ being the true myth—Lewis took the final step in embracing the divinity of Christ while riding in his older brother’s motorcycle sidecar on the way to the newly opened Whipsnade Park Zoo in Bedfordshire. He recounts:

I know very well when, but not how, the final step was taken.
I was driven to Whipsnade one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did.
Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought.

“85 Years Ago Today: J. R. R. Tolkien Convinces
C. S. Lewis That Christ Is the True Myth”
by Justin Taylor, September 20, 2019 at the Gospel Coalition

It took the death of his father. It took over two decades of reading, reflection, conversations, laughter at what believers believed, laughter and even repulsion at Christianity itself, and in the end, a final bow of his spirit to the truth of the gospel and the beauty of Christ.

Saints, don’t lose heart and hope in your prayers and efforts to win your family and friends to Christ. Sometimes, conversion takes a long time. Trust God and hold on to the truth of His word.

Note:   There is a great video associated with the original article by Justin Taylor. You can read and watch the video at this LINK.


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