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.