Is C. S. Lewis A Hero Of The Faith?

I saw the defense in a Tweet yesterday but don’t know what sparked the rebuttal — C. S. Lewis was not a universalist.

Just a few days earlier I’d had a conversation with a group of writers and the question came up about why C. S. Lewis is so revered by evangelicals. Narnia, despite the presence of a very notable witch, is on most “must read” lists for children of evangelical Christians.

And there are other issues — the presence of Greek gods in Narnia, the suggestion that there might be a “holding place” after death in The Great Divorce, and the idea that a sincere believer in a false god might actually go to heaven in The Last Battle.

Are evangelical Christians blinded by C. S. Lewis’s reputation as a great Christian writer? Are we too stupid to notice suggestions of doctrine that might clash with evangelical positions? Or is there something more?

I admit, I was puzzled, and during the discussion listened to the other ideas (Lewis’s theology was informed by his years of atheism which gave him the freedom to break from traditional Anglican positions) and offered one of my own (Tolkien’s Catholicism had an effect on him) without any conviction that these explained the things he has been accused of believing — universalism and purgatory being the most apparent — or the reason evangelicals seem to ignore these.

As I’ve thought about this subject, two factors have presented themselves. One is that Lewis wrote considerably more than fiction. He has books and essays of apologetics spelling out his beliefs. A story that contains something akin to purgatory, then, must not be taken as Lewis’s statement of belief on the subject unless he’s written something in his non-fiction that would support that claim.

In the same way, when Lewis writes in The Last Battle of a sincere believer in a false god entering into the Narnia further in and further up, we would expect to find non-fiction works supporting a less than evangelical view of salvation, if in fact, this was a reflection of his actual belief and not simply “suppositional” fiction.

At this point, I’m wondering if Lewis isn’t known as much for his non-fiction as for The Chronicles of Narnia.

But there is a second possibility, one I touched on this past summer in “Christian Heroes Or Christian Celebrities?” The fact is, we live in a time in which people want to hang with the famous, as if we gain credibility by association. In other words, some people might say, “Ah, yes, I’m a fan of C. S. Lewis” and mean, I’m erudite and knowledgeable of all things Christian.

We jump on bandwagons and nothing gives us more pleasure than to jump on the bandwagon of someone who is famous and who is a Christian — never mind their theology!

Is C. S. Lewis a hero of the faith? Maybe, just maybe, we should read his work and decide for ourselves how his positions stack up with Scripture.

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18 Comments

  1. Yes’m. I’ve read quite a bit of his non-fiction. Heavy weight stuff, hard to think through sometimes.

  2. I don’t know. I wouldn’t be so ready to brand some of his theology heretical from fictional narratives. To really discern we’d need to look at any definitive statements, like “I believe” xyz. Do we have many of those?

    One thing I can recall was from one of his letters to children, I think. He said he wasn’t sure to what degree he should regard scripture — how literal, and what level of absolute should we take some statements? It was really less of a statement, though, than working out his beliefs through constructive questioning. We all have those.

  3. I love Lewis. And I think he is a hero of the faith. When I was first saved I read am awful lot of Lewis books. I did come across things I disagreed with—things you mentioned and then some. But that doesn’t make him less of a hero. What he did explain, he explained so well, in pictures that were so vivid and memorable, that you can’t read him without learning and growing and weeping and laughing and loving God more.

    He was a fallible man, not Jesus. Of course his works are flawed. But if I could half as close as he did with as much clarity and fun and love as he had, I’d consider my life a great success.

  4. I think you’re on a roll with unveiling how contemporary evangelicals unwittingly revere and draw spiritual nourishment from folks whose breadth of convictions colors waaaay outside of evangelical dogmatic lines. I think doing Thomas Merton or Richard Foster would be way too easy – after all, entire online heresy-hunting cottage industries have sprang up around these two – but perhaps you could do one next on the misplaced evangelical solidarity with Dietrich Bonhoeffer?

  5. How strange. It oddly sliced up my first comment, which is apparently awaiting moderation. No problem; let me take out the direct link & see if it posts now. I said:

    For once, Becky, we are in complete agreement: There is no reason for evangelicals (conservative ones anyway) to revere CS Lewis like they do. I frankly don’t understand why y’all put up with him. Like his inspiration, George MacDonald, Lewis believed in hell-as-purgatory (restorative, not punitive, justice) and the ultimate redemption of all in Christ. If you’d like a non-fiction example of him clearly stating this belief, see his Letters of Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer.

    With that said – and alas, here’s where you and I perennially disagree – I love Lewis & think he was a faithful Christian, even if not a good evangelical in the most modern definition. I believe that Lewis, like myself, respected the Lordship and redemption accomplished uniquely by Christ, but interpreted the character of God through the revelation of Jesus, and not by any other standard. Like me, he held an incarnational view of the inspiration of Scripture – fully divine, but also fully human. Therefore, he saw it as a Christ-exalting, God-honoring thing to wrestle with the shibboleths and sacred cows of encrusted Christian dogma, and draw from Scripture the way Christians have always been encouraged to do – by interpreting it, binding and loosing our understandings with a reverence for Father, love for Son, and sense of Spirit in our hearts.

  6. Oops. That’s Letters TO Malcolm – not ‘of.’

  7. C. S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors, and I have read him extensively – fiction and nonfiction. On salvation and purgatory, he’s not exactly kosher. I’ll add another area of concern: biblical inerrancy.

    It’s only fair to say that Lewis held none of these views in their worst form. Take universalism. He did think that people who did not believe in Christ could be saved through Christ. But he was not a universalist. In “The Problem of Pain” he spent a whole chapter arguing that hell exists as an eternal and terrible punishment, and God is still just and loving.

    I read some things in Lewis’ work I dislike. But I have also read the rest. The man brilliantly defended Christianity. I have never heard a better argument for the existence of the moral law, a better explanation of the doctrine of the Trinity, or a finer distinction between “Nice People and New Men”. And then the spirit of the books – C. S. Lewis wrote with an unusual humility and gentleness. And you just knew he revered God.

  8. I think you ended your post well: go back to God’s Word. What does God say? That’s the final line. I know I have written about things only to go back later and realize I was wrong. That’s being human and working out my faith.

  9. I think Lewis would recoil at the suggestion that he is a “Hero of the Faith,” insisting instead that he is merely a “sinner saved by grace.” I think evangelical Christians are drawn to him, as other commenters have noted, because of his clear, commonsense articulation of the fundamentals of the faith as a Christian apologist, besides the fact that the Narnia stories provide a vibrant reflection of all the things we love about Jesus, via the character of Aslan.

    He’d probably find the concerns about his orthodoxy amusing, and invite us all to a pleasant evening of discussion and debate over a few pints at the Bird and Baby.

  10. Fred, from what I can tell, Lewis and Tolkien had many a theological discussion, so I’m sure neither famed author would shy away from any of us questioning their beliefs. (Wouldn’t it have been fun to sit in on a meeting or two? ;-) )

    I also suspect that none of the other people we consider “Heroes of the Faith” would count themselves so. In that regard, C. S. Lewis is no different.

    I like what Sally, Morgan, and Jay said. Lewis was a man and we can guarantee, therefore, that he didn’t get every iota right.

    The more a person speaks, the more chance there is to catch him saying something he shouldn’t. In the case of a writer — and yes, I’m prone to work out what I believe in my writing, so I understand what Morgan is saying — the wrong stuff can be dredged up years later, perhaps long after the author has changed his opinions, or departed from this world and can no longer pass on what he now knows.

    But this discussion only reinforces my view that we need to look at Scripture, not at a man’s idea of what might be true. Thus, C. S. Lewis can be helpful if we take time to work through the weighty issues, as Sam suggested, because he gives reasoned arguments to support the things Shannon mentioned — moral law, the trinity, the existence of hell, God as loving and just. However, he should not become a replacement for the Bible.

    I think there’s too much “Well, he was a fine and famous Christian author, so whatever he says must be so.” And not with Lewis alone. Mike pointed out Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Until recently I had labored under the impression he wasn’t a Christian. But I’ve heard more and more mention of him as a man of deep faith. I tried to read some of his work once. I think it’s probably time for me to give it another go, with Scripture in hand to see how Bonhoeffer’s views (at the time of writing) match up.

    Becky

  11. Mike, I think Shannon gave a very good explanation why we evangelicals “put up with him.” :-D

    There’s a lot Christians can disagree about and still be Christians. The Bible doesn’t elucidate all spiritual matters to our satisfaction. I suspect that’s because we aren’t capable of understanding that which is transcendent. So we read Scripture and discuss and debate and reach our opinions but hold loosely that which isn’t clear (at least we should hold them loosely).

    I know that C. S. Lewis gave great answers to a lot of the questions people have today — about pain and suffering, about Christ’s deity, about the reality of miracles. That he didn’t write books supporting his ideas about purgatory or about people who hadn’t heard of Christ coming to God through Christ seems to indicate, as I see it, that these were ideas he was playing with but wasn’t convinced of.

    Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he was convinced and just didn’t have time to develop the ideas fully. Either way, I am free to read what he wrote and if it is not consistent with Scripture, I am free to say he was wrong.

    In other words, I can take what is helpful from what he said and leave the rest. I don’t have to give an “all or nothing,” “right or wrong,” “love him or hate him” reaction.

    There’s loads to love, and a few questionable issues. I’d hate to lose the good because I was afraid to look at the questionable, and I would hate to accept the questionable just because there’s loads of good.

    We believers need to stop listening to the opinions of men and make our judgments based on Scripture.

    So you see, Mike, we really don’t agree, do we. :-?

    Becky

  12. Perhaps we should be more inclined to say that C.S. Lewis is a hero of inspirational fiction writing, that endears us to his own love of the Savior, with all His Creative Genius! I just want to go further up and further in, don’t you?

  13. [...] Is CS Lewis A Hero Of The Faith? [...]

  14. I just read Prince Caspian. and it talks of Dr. Cornelius don’t magic in a good way. And of Baraccus and such in a good way. Also, it referenced the spirits of the trees and forest as gods and goddess. And admired there beauty and grace.

    I was confused never seeing C. S. Lewis in this light. The Christian allegory is so strong that people can’t see these elements much similar in Wicca (i.e. that there is good witchcraft and celebrating power of nature as a force).

    • I meant to say “Dr. Cornelius did magic in a good way” sorry

      • and another typo “and admired their beauty and grace” once again sorry.

        Also, Baraccus is a very evil force in mythology. Symbolizing the devil himself involved in drunkenness and orgies.

        it was so odd how in the middle of no where this just popped up in the story.

        Any child reading this would have been like, “what just happened, oh well” I myself was saying why would C. S. Lewis be putting this here of all places?

        I’m still confused. But I read some about C. S. Lewis and found he really loves mythology. Before he returned to the faith, he loved mythology, but rejected the Bible. He believed that mythology contained wisdom for the human. And this trust in mythology made him able to trust the Bible as a source of wisdom as well.

        i’m just rambling. i do it often. but I should check my grammar…

        • one more error it is “Bacchus” not Baraccus
          i am terribly sorry

        • No, Charles, I think you’ve pointed to the answer. C. S. Lewis came to see God’s story as the True Myth, one that redeemed all others. Consequently, he thought the Roman gods and Father Christmas and any other myth belonged in a story with God as the king (pictured by Aslan). When you read Lewis’s thoughts on story, it makes Narnia make a lot more sense. (And you never have to worry about typos around here. We all make them. ;-) )

          Becky


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