Movie about Jack’s conversion hits home

C.S. Lewis’ book “Mere Christianity” was a game changer for me. When I was an atheist, a student in my philosophy class at Georgia State gave me the book, which sat unread on my shelves for years, until something moved me to read it. Lewis’ proofs for God’s existence won me over, and started me on my grace-filled journey home.

Given my fondness for Lewis, who was called Jack, I was delighted to watch the movie “The Most Reluctant Convert” — available online — based largely on his autobiography, “Surprised by Joy.” The version of Jack as a young man is played by Nicholas Ralph and the older version by Max McLean.

The older Jack narrates the movie with flashbacks showing him in earlier days. The suffering and death of his mother in 1908 from cancer, when he was 9, the influence of his stern father and the shattering experience of serving in the war at 19 contributed to his atheism. Asked whether he was frightened during the war, he replied, “All the time, but I never sank so low as to pray.”

Jack and his friends at Oxford University were materialists, until one of them suddenly rejected the belief that the human mind was simply a “collection of atoms colliding in a skull.” Jack eventually rejected materialism, but still balked at believing in a personal God. Instead, he admitted something besides matter existed and called this “Spirit.”

In a life-changing moment, Jack bought a fantasy novel by George MacDonald, whom he’d never heard of, and was fascinated by it. G.K. Chesterton’s books also intrigued him, even though both authors were Christians. He later remarked, “A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.”

Jack soon discovered this “Spirit” was showing an “alarming tendency to become personal.” In fact, he “could feel the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet.” The movie shows Jack in 1929, alone in his room, trying to resist this personal God, but finally surrendering and praying to him.

We also witness a heated discussion about Christ between Jack, J.R.R. Tolkien and another friend. Over glasses of ale, Jack admitted Christ was a great moral teacher, but rejected his claim to be God. Both Jack’s friends, however, said that if Jesus’ claims weren’t true, we shouldn’t call him moral. After all, Christ said he had always existed, could forgive sins and would come again to judge the world. If he wasn’t being truthful, why call him moral?

The final step came on a sunny day in 1931, when Jack, 33, was being driven to the zoo by his brother in the sidecar of a motorcycle. When he set out, Jack didn’t believe Jesus Christ was the son of God, but when he reached the zoo, he did. “It was like a man who after a long sleep has become aware he is now awake.”

The movie, like C.S. Lewis’ life, moves logically along, with the exception of his surprising discovery of the MacDonald book. I can relate to this moment, since picking up Lewis’ book about Christianity that day long ago was a life changer for me. I believe many events in our lives that seem arbitrary are best explained by the presence of grace.

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