By Chad Owen Brand

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

Lewis’ parents taught him the proper faith and religious life of an Englishman, but troubles awaited the young man.  His mother died when he was a boy, after which his father sent him to boarding schools.  Though early on he tried to be a good Christian, he came to resent religion and developed instead a fascination with myth and fantasy literature.  His great concerns were with whether Christianity was unique and how it could solve (or not solve) the problem of evil.  When he entered Oxford in 1917, Lewis was a convinced agnostic.  He had sought through logic to debunk religion in general and Christianity in particular.  Yet his favorite authors—Dante, MacDonald, Herbert, Plato, Milton, and Virgil—were all people who held some sort of religious understanding of the world.  In reading George MacDonald, and through personal acquaintance with J.R.R. Tolkien and Owen Barfield, Lewis eventually abandoned his nontheistic view of the world.  In 1929 he threw in the towel, conceding that “God was God,” and he knelt and prayed—perhaps the “most reluctant convert in all England.”

Aurelius Augustine (354-430)

Augustine was born at a time when Christianity was just beginning to become a dominant faith in the Roman Empire.  Though his mother was a strong Christian, she did not have him baptized as an infant.  By age 15, Augustine had abandoned the faith of his childhood and had adopted the cult known as Manicheeism as his own.  His biggest problem with Christianity was its failure to deal adequately with the problem of evil.  If God is all-powerful and all good, how can evil exist—and exist so prevalently and powerfully in the world?  The Manichees taught that two spirit beings exist, the one good and the other evil.  They believed this explains how one can find a mixture of both good and evil in the world.  For a decade or so, the young Augustine, eventually a professor of rhetoric at several Roman universities, believed this to be a better solution.  But eventually the young intellectual cam to realize that this “solution” was unsatisfactory.  Augustine despaired and began reading skeptical philosophers, such as Cicero and Porphyry, who taught that everything is a matter of doubt.  Perhaps there is no solution, he thought.  Yet here, at the end of hope, Augustine was transformed.  He heard the preaching of the famous Ambrose and began reading Scripture.  Ambrose’s apologetics helped Augustine understand that the Bible really does present the solution to the problem of evil.  Though his intellect was satisfied, his heart, filled with sin and with no answer to the problem of sin, was still empty.  One day Augustine read Paul’s words in Romans 13:14: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no plans to satisfy the fleshly desires.”  The key to life lay not in trying to live the moral life but in putting on Christ, who satisfies both the intellectual and existential dilemmas humans face.  Augustine’s writings went on to lay the foundation for the political and intellectual developments of the next 1,500 years in the Western church.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-)

Solzhenitsyn was born into the new Russian Revolutionary system.  In 1945 he was arrested for writing disparaging comments about Stalin in his letters and was sentenced to a “mild” eight years in the Soviet Gulags (labor camps).  Upon his release, he was exiled to the desert in Kazakhstan and then in 1974 was exiled to the West.  During this period, Solzhenitsyn became an orthodox Christian.  He came to recognize that only Christianity provides both a realistic understanding of the human condition of sin and the one solution to the human condition that makes any sense.  His works on the Soviet Gulags and on Russian history have become classics that have given the West a clear picture of life in the repressive Soviet system.

Francis Schaeffer (1912-84)

Schaeffer grew up in a liberal Protestant home.  As a teenager, he began to read the Bible and was surprised to find that it contained answers to life’s greatest problems.  He gave his life to Christ and, contrary to his family’s wishes, determined to enter Christian ministry.  In 1948, he and his wife, Edith, moved to Switzerland.  There they gave their lives to talking to and witnessing to young people, mostly disaffected youth from America and Western Europe. Schaeffer was never afraid to confront modernity and postmodernity on their own grounds. His writings demonstrate a dialogue with the key intellectual and cultural developments of the last two centuries.  If there is one important thing to be learned from Schaeffer, it is that a person can face the best (and worst) that the nontheistic world can offer and still have confidence that God is there and that He is not silent.

J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

Bach entered the world as one of the most gifted musicians of all time.  The sheer amount of work he turned out is almost unbelievable, amounting to nearly a thousand compositions, many of which have since been lost.  He set the Christian faith to music in a way that no one before or since has done.  He read the Bible faithfully and sought to give accurate presentations of its truths not only in lyrics but in musical composition as well.  Bach also demonstrated that one could serve God by producing music that was not specifically Christian in orientation, such as his Brandenburg Concerti, but which, by their very structure, still demonstrate a conviction that God has made a well-ordered universe.  Bach’s commitment to Christ can be seen in his telling his students that unless they committed their talents to Jesus they would never become great musicians.

Lewis Wallace (1827-1905)

Wallace was a Union general during the Civil War.  Later he sat on the court-martial that dealt with the Lincoln assassination conspirators, and then became governor of the territory of New Mexico.  His life began to change when he had an extensive conversation with the well-known infidel scholar Robert Ingersoll.  In the conversation he was unable to refute Ingersoll’s arguments.  So he set himself to learn everything he could about the life, setting, and historical context of Jesus Christ.  Wallace was not overawed by the reputation of Ingersoll, but he believed that investigation of the facts of the gospel message could lead one to the truth about Jesus.  Wallace’s investigations led to his writing the novel Ben-Hur.  In the novel a Jewish man named Judah Ben-Hur encounters Jesus and hears him say, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  Later Ben-Hur returns to Rome and gives all his wealth to promote the Christian faith.

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