By Randy Willis
My favorite novelist, Lewis Wallace, was inspired to write his second novel by an agnostic – having conceived the novel in 1880 after sitting on a train, listening to Colonel Robert Ingersoll for two hours.
Wallace wrote that Ingersoll poured out “a medley of argument, eloquence, wit, satire, audacity, irreverence, poetry, brilliant antitheses, and pungent excoriation of believers in God, Christ, and Heaven, the like of which I had never heard.”
Until then, Wallace had been indifferent to the claims of Jesus.
He wrote, “Yet here was I now moved as never before, and by what? The most outright denials of all human knowledge of God, Christ, Heaven… Was the Colonel right? What had I on which to answer yes or no? He had made me ashamed of my ignorance: and then–here is the unexpected of the affair–as I walked on in the cool darkness, I was aroused for the first time in my life to the importance of religion… I thought of the manuscript in my desk. Its closing scene was the child Christ in the cave by Bethlehem: why not go on with the story down to the crucifixion? That would make a book, and compel me to study everything of pertinency; after which, possibly, I would be possessed of opinions of real value.”
Wallace subtitled the book, “a tale of the Christ.”
He later wrote, “It only remains to say that I did as resolved, with results — first, the book “Ben Hur,” and second, a conviction amounting to absolute belief in God and the Divinity of Christ.”
Randy Willis is the founder of Operation Warm Heart (vimeo.com/41195752 and https://youtu.be/o-zCvzH2kdU) which feeds and clothes the homeless, and is a member of the Board of Directors of Our Mission Possible (ourmp.org) in Austin, Texas, with the goal of empowering at-risk teens to discover their greatness.
He is a member of the board of trustees of the Joseph Willis Institute at Louisiana College.
Born in Oakdale, Louisiana, he lived in nearby Barber Creek, between Forest Hill and Longleaf, as a boy. He now resides in the Texas hill country.
A graduate of Angleton High School in Angleton, Texas, he went on to earn his bachelor’s degree from Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, where he also undertook graduate studies.
He is the father of three sons and has four grandchildren; and, all of his books are dedicated to them by name.
Randy Willis is a fourth great-grandson of Joseph Willis, and his foremost historian.