In the late Spring of 1940, the European
Alliance Powers were losing the Second World War. The Soviet Union
and Germany had cemented their alliance. Poland had fallen to Nazi
troops. Finland had ceded control over its resources to Germany and
the shore of Lake Lagoda to the Soviets. Denmark and Norway had
surrendered; and France, overrun by axis troops, was on the verge
of collapse. Arguably the most successful "battle" in the credit
column on the Allies' ledger was Dunkirk - which
really amounted to a successful retreat of more than 300,000 troops
from certain defeat.
Thanks to Dunkirk, and Hitler's
inscrutable pause that made it possible, over a quarter million
trained fighters lived to fight another day. But where would they
fight? What territory was left to defend? Only Britain. And Britain
Winston Churchill rarely used the radio. His
obstinacy for old fashioned things put him in a constantly
precarious relationship with Britain's new, but powerful BBC. But
on the 18th of June, in an effort to state the case realistically
to the British people, Churchill took to the airwaves. He gave one
of the most remembered speeches of all time, calling on his people
and their allies to fight and resist with such vehemence that
generations to come would speak of it as "their finest hour."
Virtually everyone learns or remembers that
line. But what may often be lost in the shuffle is the opening of
that monumental communication. Churchill begins by
What General Weygand called the Battle
of France is over. The Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon
this battle depends the survival of Christian
And yet, was it a Christian civilization
that was listening to their wireless sets that warm afternoon in
James Welch was the Director of Religious
Broadcasting at the BBC during the War years. He figured that "two
thirds of the BBC listeners were leading their lives without any
reference to God." (Phillips p. 39) Church attendance was down.
Hope and faith seemed commodities in short supply.
It was the BBC, and more spcifically the men
and women involved in its religious programming, that germinated
the notion that for the Battle of Britain to be won, the Battle for
the hearts and minds of the lapsed or nominally Christian men and
women would have to be waged. And by a series of odd coincidences,
fateful meetings and partings, and genuine desires to meet people
wherever they may be, it turned out that the most valiant warrior
of the defense of Christianity would come to be an obscure Oxford
don by the name of Clive Staples Lewis.
Justin Phillips is the official historian of
today's BBC. This position allowed him new and unique access to
source material never before available to Lewis' many biograghers.
By crafting together Lewis' own writings (particularly letters to
friends) and the copies of the letters written to Lewis by his
contacts at the BBC the whole story of Lewis' radio talks in
war-torn Britain comes not just into the light, but into life as
Phillip's own writing is a prose that Lewis
himself would be proud of; concise, full of imagery, and deeply
engaging. The book will appeal not just to anglophiles, radio
buffs, and World War II junkies, but to anyone who likes an
And if you happen to be one of the millions
of people who love and admire Lewis' work, you are in for a real
Phillips book, it must be said, presupposes
some knowledge of Lewis and his work. But with the Oxford don
selling, even today, an estimated two million volumes a year, the
work supposition is unlikely to be an imposition. Those with any
knowledge at all of Lewis will find great value in the revelation
of the wartime environment in which Lewis' Apologetics come to
In total Lewis did four series of talks for
the BBC. These are later collected into his hugely important
compilation, Mere Christianity. Phillips'
book reveals how deeply the BBC wanted it to be more - wanted Lewis
to become the kind of "radio star" that was first coming into being
in those formative years.
Readers with deeper knowledge of Lewis will
not be surprised that Lewis strongly rejected that notion of
personal notoriety; though it will charm such readers to see the
letters in which Lewis directs that his paychecks for the talks be
directed to clergy widows and other souls in need.
Still, isn't it just like another Dunkirk for Lewis himself?
He may have retreated from the celebrity that the BBC was offering
and had in mind. But he wasn't done fighting.
Today, nearly 120 years after Lewis' birth
in Northern Ireland, his unique defense of the Christian faith,
communicated across his vast range of literary styles, still claims
as captured or killed in tremendous numbers, apostasies, doubts,
and fears. Lewis' victories continue to be reported in churches all
over the world by grateful readers of the faith's now most modern
C.S. Lewis in a Time of War
is available for purchase on Amazon.com. Click here
to see the page on Amazon.