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C.S. Lewis: The Heart Behind Mere Christianity

Original Air Date 07/14/2014

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C.S. Lewis' stepson, Douglas Gresham, and writer Paul McCusker discuss the historical origins and generational impact of the Mere Christianity radio lecture series, which later became a classic Christian book.

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Episode Transcript


(Sound of Air Raid Siren)

John Fuller: Imagine you're in Londonduring World War II and air raid sirens are blaring in the distance. The BBC is broadcasting on a nearby radio and you hear the voice of C.S. Lewis.


C.S. Lewis: You may ask why is God landing in this enemy-occupied world in disguise and starting a sort of secret society to undermine the devil? Why isn't he landing en force, invading it? Well, Christians think He's going to land in force. We don't know when, but we can guess why He's delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely.

End of Excerpt

John: Quiet hope in the midst of the chaos and the turmoil of war. I'm John Fuller and this is "Focus on the Family." Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and Jim, I can't help but think how C.S. Lewis's words ring true even today.

Jim Daly: John, C.S. Lewis is one of my all-time favorite authors. He's so profound, yet so relatable and that was his charm. He drew people in and then held them captive, as you read the very words that he wrote. He could express lofty, sometimes incomprehensible topics in a down-to-earth kind of manner, where every person can understand what he was saying. And that's why his works have stood the test of time.

And frankly, that's why Narnia, one of his most beloved stories, is a children's favorite around the world. That's why we wanted to share this program, one of our favorites here at Focus today to help celebrate our 40th anniversary and to take you back. It happened on March 26th, 1977 when Dr. Dobson started a weekly broadcast called "Focus on the Family." And it aired on just a handful of radio stations in the country.

John: And eventually [it] became a daily broadcast and as such, we're heard on over 2,000 radio outlets across North America now. And God has given us an estimated weekly audience of over 6 million people.

Jim: Now we're in awe of what the Lord has done over the years, over 40 years to be exact and we're grateful to you, our listeners, who continue to support the ministry and touch marriages and parents in the name of Christ each and every day. And many of you responded to this wonderful program featuring Doug Gresham, the stepson of C.S. Lewis. And it hit our top 100 broadcasts of all time.

We spoke with Paul McCusker, who at the time was on the staff here at Focus. He's now doing other things, but you might know Paul's name from Adventures in Odyssey. He was one of the executive producers of that program. Paul's been integral in our relationship with the C.S. Lewis estate and specifically, his stepson, Douglas Gresham. They both joined us to launch our Radio Theatre release of C.S. Lewis at War. And as you're gonna hear, it's the story behind Lewis's fundamental apologetics book, Mere Christianity, which is my favorite outside of the Bible and how that book came about in C.S. Lewis's heart. It's an intriguing and very interesting story that I think you're gonna find fascinating.

John: And let me just say that we've got details about C.S. Lewis at War, that Radio Theatre CD set or download at

Jim: John, let's get to it, man. I'm excited to share this conversation with folks.

John: Well, we'll jump in as you asked Douglas Gresham a question about his stepfather, C.S. Lewis and the parenting tactics that (Laughter) Jack, as he was called by his friends, employed in the home.

Jim: I snuck it in there.


Jim:I've gotta start right here, Doug, being the son of C.S. Lewis, did he ever give you a spanking? (Laughter)

Douglas Gresham: You know, it was never necessary.

Jim: Oh (Laughter). Because you were a good child?

Douglas: No, not at all. (Laughter) I never got caught. (Laughter) No, the point was for me, the worst punishment I could possibly run into was disappointing Jack, letting him down.

Jim: You felt that.

Douglas: Absolutely. I mean, if I thought I'd let Jack down, I would be so heartbroken about it.

Jim: What in his presence created that in a child? How old were you?

Douglas: Well, it started, I suppose, when I was about 10 and went on right through until I was 18 and he died.

Jim: So, you had that much respect as a 10-year-old for him.

Douglas: He became a friend. You see, when I first went to England, I came from America. I was born up in Upstate New York, first eight, nearly eight years.

Jim: I could tell by your accent.

Douglas: Absolutely. (Laughter) Actually, my accent is like my Christianity. It's totally nondenominational. (Laughter) But I met Jack under the illusion as a little tiny boy, that in England, everybody carried swords and rode round on horseback, wearing armor, you know, the sort of thing. You'd read the Narnia Chronicles, all those that had been published by then, the stories of King Arthur's knights, from RogerLancelyn Greenand Robin Hood and all that stuff. And I was going to meet the man who was on speaking terms with High King Peter of Narnia and the great lion, Aslan. He had to be wearing silver armor and carrying a jeweled-encrusted sword for sure.

Jim: Absolutely.

Douglas: And he wasn't. He was a stooped, balding professorial-looking gentleman in the shabbiest clothes I'd ever seen hanging on a human being, with long nicotine-stained fingers and teeth. And this is the guy, you know, was the attitude initially. But his huge ebullient personality, his great joviality, his sense of fun--

Jim: Hm.

Douglas: --and delight in meeting me and then rampaging around the wood behind the kilns and all of that sort of thing, expecting fauns to pop out from behind trees and so forth, very soon I'd lost an illusion. And you cannot be disillusioned unlessyou start with illusions. I lost an illusion and gained a friend and I valued that friendship. And the idea, even at that age, after knowing him for a matter of weeks, that I might disappoint him in some way--

Jim: Hm.

Douglas: --would be awful. And it got worse as I grew to know him better and grew to love him as a stepfather later.

Jim: When you look back on those years, because so many families are in that position today where it's a blended family, for him as a stepfather to be engaged with you, to imagine with you,to have fun with you, that means the world to a child, to be noticed by an adult.

Douglas: Absolutely, but I think a stepfather's a very hard role to get right. And Jack never tried to encroach on my father's position in my life.

Jim: When you think about those years, you were with him as a family with your mom for four years. And then she passed away. You were only 14.

Douglas: Yeah. It was tough.

Jim: And then you're here with your stepfather.

Douglas: Yeah, well, we grew very close in the months after my mother's death and continued to be very close right till Jack died. And I think the main reason why we became so close was the fact that my mother had died.

Jim: You went through that together.

Douglas: We went throughit together. I mean, I leaned on him and he leaned on me and of course, I got the far better part of the bargain. But Jack had no one to turn to in his grief and I had no one to turn to in my grief, except fondly enough for me, Fred Paxford, the gardener was a huge, strong pillar, as well at that time.

Jim: The gardener?

Douglas: Yeah, as he was for Jack, too. And so, the three of us actually in a sense, Fred not so much, because he was in the role of a servant, but Jack and I bonded very closely in those years, first in the months, but then in the years after mother's death.

Jim: Hm., I mean, those are profound life-shaping moments and you look at your career with the ABC, Australian Broadcasting Corporation and everything that you accomplished in radio, I'm sure that you can credit Jack with some of that development, if not a lot of that development within you.

Douglas: Oh, certainly, certainly. I am the person I am today very largely because Jack was the person he was back them.

Jim: Hm.

Douglas: And I freely admit that. But looking back and of course, at the time I wasn't a Christian in the sense that I'd submitted to Christ, 'cause I hadn't. I believe in God and I believed in Jesus. I'd met Him in the church yard in a very dramatic way. But looking at what had happened in my life, first my mother and father blew up and divorced and I came to England, an odd country and the other end of the world. I got used to it eventually, of course. And then my mother was stricken with terminal cancer. I had to watch her die for four years.

Jim: Hm.

Douglas: A year and a half after that, my father committed suicide in America. And a year and a half after that, Jack died. So, I came to the conclusion that whoever was running my life, supposedly God, was making a pretty bad mess of it and there was pretty good evidence for it.

Jim: Hm.

Douglas: So, I decided not to give my life over to that character. I was gonna run it myself. And of course, anyone who makes that decision is actually worshipping [himself] and therefore, has a fool for a deity.

Jim: Ah.

Douglas: It just took me a rather long time to figure that out and eventually commit my life to Christ. But all of that, everything that happened back then was training for what I do today.

Jim: In fact, Jack at 15, made a decision to become an atheist and stayed in that place for 15 years, till he was about 30. In fact, he later described it as being very angry with God for not existing.

Douglas: (Chuckling) Yes.

Jim: I mean, that is clever right there.

Douglas: Kind of illogical (Laughter) logic about that.

Jim: But there [are] a lot of people that feel that way. There's something in their heart where they connect with God, but they don't believe perhaps that He's really there. It's well-said actually.

Douglas: It is. Another facet I've run into in my own life amongst other people is people who actually do, as you say, feel in their heart that God exists. They just don't like Him very much, which is more or less where I was.

Jim: And how did God get ahold of you then? How did He say, listen, even though you had these difficulties,because Doug, it's true. We get bitter and we get frustrated and angry with God and we turn our back on Him. How did He reach out to your shoulder and pull you back toward Him?

Douglas: The result of my own conceit and arrogance and pride firmly enough. I suppose it's the natural result of arrogance, conceit and pride. I went through my life trying to be a good guy, trying to do the right thing. And at one time I was in a situation where I was trying to help a young girl through a very dangerous situation. And because I was so arrogant, I thought I could figure out the best way of doing this myself.

And of course, it all went wrong and it turned to a semi-sexual relationship which should never have happened. A lot of couple got hurt, including me. And it forced me to take a really good long inward look at myself and I didn't like what I found there. I realized all of a sudden, what a beastly creature I really was inside and how stupid I was being. And I looked around for someone to help me and there was only one person, Jesus Christ. So, I gave my life to Him to handle. And since then, everything's been great. (Chuckling)

Jim: How old were you when that happened?

Douglas: I was 45.

Jim: Forty-five.

Douglas: Uh-hm.

Jim: You know, there's that Scripture, it's one of my favorite Scriptures because I believe it's the heart of God and that is, He's close to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit.

Douglas: He sure did in my case.

Jim: It's almost like a prerequisite that the human spirit, when you go through difficulty, it's as if you're ready. You're prepared then. You're reaching for God and He can do His work when you're broken.

Douglas: Absolutely, it certainly happened in my case.

Jim: Our guests today are Paul McCusker and Douglas Gresham, talking about life with Doug's stepfather, C.S. Lewis. And of course, Focus on the Family's latest Radio Theatre project, C.S. Lewis at War. This is an 8-CD set and itincludes a dramatic reading of the complete unabridged book, Mere Christianity, written by C.S. Lewis. Just go online to and donate today. And let me say thanks in advance.

Let's talk about Mere Christianity, kind of the theme of why we're here. Give us the background on how your stepfather, C.S. Lewis, fell into that responsibility to create Mere Christianity.

Douglas: Well, it was never intended in the first place, I don't think by anybody as a book. What happened was, that during the second World War, as I'm sure you know, there were many young men about to go off to battle and particularly in the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain and so forth. And someone came up with the bright idea that there should be a lecturer going around who could really explain these things and talking to the airmen and the pilots on our air stations throughout England and they selected Jack to do this job.

So, he would get in a train and spent most of the early part of those days in trains at night, bitterly cold usually, traveling from RAF station to RAF station, back to home, out to the RAF stations, talking to young men who were going out to die, to give them some form of hope that, that was not final, some understanding of God Himself and how their potential death that evening was not the end of them, things like that.

Jim: Hm.

Douglas: And this came to the notice of the people of the BBC in London. And the bosses there decided that this would be a great chap to do some lectures to raise the morale of the entire nation on radio. So, they had asked Jack if he would do it. And he did for quite a long time go up to the BBC in London under the bombs. Sit in a studio and address the nation. Very few of those, if any of them were ever recorded. In those days you didn't do that.

Jim: Amazing.

Douglas: But Jack would sit there with something he'd written during the week and he'd go up there and deliver it on the radio. An extraordinary thing was that Jack's talent was such that people from all walks of life--farm laborers, fishermen, bricklayers, academics would stop what they were doing all over England when C.S. Lewis came on the radio and listened.

And later, when the scripts were sort of all ready and finished with, somebody suggested that this would make a great book to publish. And the first one I think was called Broadcast Talks. It was only a tiny, thin little book, but later he put them all together in three volumes they were raised I think, three or four and later altogether in the one book of Mere Christianity. But they started as balm for a bleeding nation, how to build from there.

Jim: That is profound, given the fact that here he was, speaking on Christian themes and that people stopped to listen. That says a lot about the power and the gift of his communication. Paul McCusker, you've been on staff at Focus for a long time. You've written 150 Odyssey scripts. You've done Narnia. You've done so many wonderful things here creatively. What caught your attention with this aspect of C.S. Lewis's story? Why Mere Christianity?

Paul McCusker: Well, it's funny. It kinda goes back to a conversation that Dave Arnold, executive producer of Radio Theatre and I had with Doug in London. And Doug sort of prompted it. He had said, "Well, you've done Chronicles of Narnia and you've done Screwtape Letters. So, you really should be thinking about Mere Christianity. And my thought was, wait a minute; we're dramatists. (Laughter) How do you dramatize Mere Christianity? What do you do?

So, we went back and I looked at the story behind the scenes and that's what caught my attention, because there were two stories at play. One was the BBC. With the outbreak of war, the BBC suddenly found itself in a remarkable position. It became in many ways, the voice of the nation. There was no television. It was a main source of information, of entertainment and things like that.

And so, you had in the religious department there, two men who were visionaries. They said radio is going to be critical to the nation in this time of crisis. And our nation is a secular nation. How do we reach them for Christ in a meaningful way? What do we do? How do we use this tool to do that?

So, internally they began to work through, how do we do it? What do we do? And they began to experiment with different ideas. Meanwhile, over in C.S. Lewis's life, he was being prepared, as Doug mentioned by and sort of groomed. He was already a lecturer and he was popular and he was doing a lot of things, but you get a sense behind the scenes that God was preparing him for the BBC to approach and ask him to do these broadcasts. So, he had written The Problem of Pain. He had started Screwtape Letters. He'd been very busy and it came to the attention of the BBC folks and so, they contacted him, as Doug said.

Well, I was fascinated because we had two things at play. One was what was going on at the BBC with the question of how do we reach this culture for Christ in a meaningful way? And at the same time, C.S. Lewis is being groomed. And they converge. So, you have this question that is then answered by C.S. Lewis himself through his expertise, through his articulation, his insights, everything that he brought to those broadcasts were exactly what was needed in a nation that was being bombed, that was demoralized and they're struggling at a time when many people didn't even know what the faith was. And so, C.S. Lewis steps forward and says, "Well, let me guide you through that."

Jim: Hm.

Paul: And let's talk about how that works for you and why it's meaningful to you now.

Jim: In fact, I think it'd be great just to play a clip of the dramatization, because I think it gets the point across and expresses the quality in which you've done this.

Paul: And what we have is just a clip from one of the scenes where we have Jack, C.S. Lewis with the Inklings, which is a group of his friends, writers, academics, who came together a couple times a week just to talk about whatever they were going to talk about. The group included J.R.R. Tolkien, who I think in the clip is called "Tollers." That's what they sometimes called him. And they're talking about the outbreak of war and the scene is very true to Jack, having been through World War I, he was wounded in World War I and having seen the disillusionment and the wayward thinking that happened with that generation after World War I, he was highly attuned to it as war was happening with England. And so, this is them talking a little bit about the outbreak of war and what that could do to people's thinking.

Jim: Where are they actually meeting?

Paul: Well, the scene is in actually a pub in Oxford, 'cause they were all living and working either academically or in other fields in Oxford. This was Jack with his friends. The pub was the Eagle and Child, which they called "The Bird and the Baby." And they met a couple times a week. And they basically would talk about anything. So, in this scene, they are talking about the war, the outbreak of war and what that may actually do to the culture.

Jim: Let's play the clip.


Charles Williams: Yes, yes, but the concern I suppose is that rationing could lead to social unrest, which leads to movements like Fascism and Communism.

Jack Lewis: Uh-hm.

Charles Williams: A student thrust a pamphlet into my hands about a local meeting. To my surprise, it was a student I know to be a Christian.

Jack Lewis: Oh, that's worrying. God save us from the penetration of Fascism or Communism into Christianity.

Charles Wrenn: You don't think it'll come to that, do you?

Jack Lewis: If the war gets worse, as I'm sure it will, then mark my words, you will see both a Leftist and a Rightist pseudo theology emerge.

J.R.R. Tolkien: It's to be expected. People grab for some semblance of hope. They grab for some semblance of faith, even a counterfeit version.

Jack Lewis: Tell me, Tollers, how are they to know it's a counterfeit unless they're educated about the truth?

J.R.R. Tolkien: You've answered your own question. They must be educated.

End of Clip

Jim: Boy, when you hear that in the context of this day, some 70 years after this scene played out there--

Paul: Hm.

Jim: --it's as applicable today as it was then, isn't it Doug?

Douglas: Absolutely, even more so I'd say. One of the results of the second World War and the fact that we won, if you want to put it like that, is a slide away from Christianity, a slide back into barbarism in a very different way from that which the Nazi's intended. The society we have now after the second World War, started to throw away all the great concepts of the 19th century, concepts like duty, honor, chivalry, courtesy.

All of those things are so valuable as a cement that holds society together, they were outmoded. They were out of date. We fought the second World War. We don't need any of that stuff anymore. As a result of losing those things, personal responsibility, personal commitment, they've all gone. As a result of losing them, our society is imploding around us. We see it every day in the streets.

Jim: Do you have hope that this timeless message of your stepfather, C.S. Lewis, can penetrate the heart of the culture today and make an impact as it did back then?

Douglas: Absolutely, I think we can see it happening.

Jim: Tell us how.

Douglas: Well, because of the sales of Mere Christianity, the book to start with.

Jim: Hm.

Douglas: And secondly, the number of people who e-mail me and others saying, "I've just read this amazing book. It's done so much for me. It's changed my life." I mean, even famous people that we wouldn't normally associate with it, Chuck Colson, for example, was in jail. Someone sent him ina copy of Mere Christianity. It changed his life and that change has changed the lives of probably thousands of prisoners in the prison system right across the United States--

Jim: Hm.

Douglas: --because of the ministry he founded when he turned to Christ. I do think this book, through the power of the Holy Spirit inspiring Jack to write it and how he wrote it, to change society. And I think it's happening around us. We just don't necessarily see the results quite so plainly as we see the results of the evil influences on us.

Jim: Hm.

Douglas: And you don't read Mere Christianity and go out and commit a crime. (Laughter)

Jim: Right. Let's hope not.

Douglas: Well, exactly. (Laughter)

Jim: Yeah and you know, again, I think that's one of the great values of your stepfather's work, the ability to communicate like that. There [are] very few books that achieve that kind of timeless label.

Douglas: Uh-hm.

Jim: Certainly the Scriptures do, but very few works written by man's hands qualify to be timeless.

Paul: Well, that's the thing about C.S. Lewis, is, it works on two levels. There is C.S. Lewis. You read his writings and you react to them. You're persuaded by them or you're impressed by them. And one of the things with the drama that I was hoping we could catch is the inspirational aspect of it. And that is, C.S. Lewis inspires us. So, he's not only working on one level that informs us and helps us to defend our faith and helps us to persuade people about that, but he inspires us. The big question is, so, who rises up now? Not to be another C.S. Lewis, but to be God's man or woman in this time, as Jack was in his time.

And that's what I got from so much of the story behind Mere Christianity, was he saw what was needed and he rose to the occasion to do it. He kept this refrain that comes up in his letters and in his conversations about doing your duty. It was painful for him at times, I mean, at great personal sacrifice academically, his career, at home. There were a lot of things he took on out of his dedication to God, even though there were a lot of times when he really didn't want to do them. In fact he would've been very happy to stay at home and read books and have conversations with his friends.

Jim: Well, he risked. He put it at risk.

Paul: He put it at risk. He went out and did the job. And that's what I find inspiring, not only on the level where he writes and he speaks, but on the level that he did it.

Jim: Let me put this question to both of you and we have to end here. When you look at the production, and what you hope will be achieved through it, a revisiting of Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis at War, what would you like to see as the outcome of the effort with Focus on the Family, Doug?

Douglas: Well, to start with, the book itself is a book, [that] if you read it, you change. This drama, if you listen to it, you're gonna change.

Jim: Yeah and I would think this is also a resource that you can use for yourself, but also you can get a copy to give to a family member or a neighbor.

Douglas: Well done. Buy it by the dozen and hand it out. (Laughter)

Jim: Well, without a doubt. That's what happened to Mere Christianity.

Douglas: Exactly.

Jim: That's exactly what happened. I have one or two or three on my bookshelf. I hope the Lord blesses this in every way. Thank you, Doug so much for your partnership with the Lewis estate over the years.

Douglas: Well, that's my duty and my pleasure.

Jim: And you've been a great steward of it and we've been privileged honestly to be a partner with that great responsibility.

Douglas: And a very good one, I may say.

Paul: Hm.

Jim: Appreciate that and Paul, thank you for your creative intellect and the way that you approach things. Thank you for who you are and how God made you. I appreciate you.


John: Well, it's been so good to hear these stories, and I'm not sure about you, but as Doug described some of those scenesand moments from his life with C.S. Lewis, I kinda felt like I was right there with him.

Jim: Man, it's so fun to hear a firsthand account of those experiences and I feel the same way. So many people love C.S. Lewis and his writing and getting that inside perspective on his life from someone who was right there, his stepson, Doug Gresham, he really brought it home. And as we said at the top of the program, the response to this conversation last time was overwhelming, making it one of our top 100 broadcasts of all time and it's a perfect way for us to celebrate our 40 years of being on the air and helping families thrive.

Another way we're celebrating Focus on the Family's 40th anniversary is our four-day cruise to the Bahamas in November. It's gonna be November 13 through 17 and it is a great cruise, I'm tellin' you. It's gonna be so much fun and we've chartered the entire ship and so, it'll be all focus supporters and Focus friends on board. It's the Disney Dream, the top-rated family ship in the world. And you'll get to interact with John Fuller and me, as well as Dr. Del Tackett. He'll be bringing some insights of The Truth Project. Ray Vander Laan will be doing devotions based off of That the World May Know. Mercy Me will be the ... the ship's band. We're gonna have a great time and the biggest thing in my opinion is, we'll be taping live "Odyssey" episodes on the ship, as well. So, I think we have eight of the voice actors coming and kids can watch, along with their parents, how Adventures in Odyssey is recorded. It's gonna be great and actually, I know you're gonna love it.

John: And we'll have more details about our 40th anniversary cruise at While you're there, learn more about the Radio Theatre CD set or download of C.S. Lewis at War and donate generously to this ministry, as well. You can also call. Our number is 800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And when you give a gift today of any amount, we'll send a copy, a complimentary copy of C.S. Lewis at War to you. It's our way of saying thank you for joining our support team.

Now a few times on our program today we've mentioned that it's our 40th anniversary year and as we close, we're gonna reach back into the archives and what you're hearing now is kind of some vintage theme music that we used to close out our broadcasts with. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller and thanks for listening. Join us tomorrow, as we offer help for moms and dads who are struggling with a young adult prodigal.


Jason Jimenez: Most Millennials are stressed, but one of the reasons they're stressed, because they're seeking the approval of their parents. So, there's a longing still that many of them have that want to reunite with their mom and dad.

End of Excerpt

John: Join us next time, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.

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Paul McCusker

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Paul McCusker is the Peabody Award-winning writer and director of Focus On The Family Radio Theatre’s Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Freedom, along with the multiple award-winning audio dramatizations of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters and others. Paul is also a writer and director for the long-running children’s audio program Adventures in Odyssey, and serves as an author and consulting editor on The Imagination Station series. Paul has written novels and non-fiction for adults, and his plays and musicals have been performed in community theaters across the country, including the Dove Award nominee A Time for Christmas. Learn more about Paul at his website,


Douglas Gresham

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Douglas Howard Gresham is an American-born British/Australian actor, writer, broadcaster and film producer, resident of the island of Malta, and one of the two stepsons of C. S. Lewis. Douglas and his wife, Merrie, have three sons and two daughters.