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Wednesday, 20 November 2013

C S Lewis

In the clamour to eulogise C S Lewis, on the 50th anniversary of his death, it is worthwhile remembering what this man believed, or more to the point what he didn't believe. 

1. C S Lewis did not believe in the inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures. ". . . all Holy Scripture is in some sense – though not all parts of it in the same sense – the word of God." (Reflections on the Psalms). In a letter he wrote to Clyde Kilby, on 7th May 1959, he argued, "If every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Lights, then all true and edifying writings, whether in Scripture or not, must in some sense be inspired." 

One sympathetic Lewis scholar concluded that: "Lewis does not confine his religious views to the Bible but recognizes God’s revelation in literary masterpieces, in other religions, in ancient world myths, and through human reason and intuition. Christianity is true...not just because the Bible says so but because God chooses to reveal himself through many different ways, yet supremely through Christ," (Is C S Lewis in heaven? by John W Robbins).

2. C S Lewis did not believe in a literal six-day creation. "The earliest stratum of the Old Testament contains many truths in a form which I take to be legendary, or even mythical . . . things like Noah’s Ark or the sun standing still upon Ajalon." Taken from "C. S. Lewis’s Theology: Somewhere between Ransom and Reepicheep" by James Townsend. Elsewhere he wrote "The first chapters of Genesis, no doubt, give the story in the form of a folktale . . "

3. C S Lewis was a theistic evolutionist. He had no difficulty in believing in theistic evolution. Lewis called man: "the highest of the animals." He also acknowledged: "If by saying that man rose from brutality you mean simply that man is physically descended from animals, I have no objection." Elsewhere he said: "What difficulties I have about evolution are not religious . . . .".

4. C S Lewis' view of Christ’s divinity was flawed. He believed that Christ was ignorant of many things and made mistakes. In speaking about Philippians 2:7 he stated: "I certainly think that Christ, in the flesh, was not omniscient — if only because a human brain could not, presumably be the vehicle of omniscient consciousness . . ." In another comment, upon John 3:13, Lewis claimed "Christ’s divine nature never left [heaven] and never returned to it." (C. S. Lewis’s Theology . . . )

5. C S Lewis did not believe in the substitutionary death of Christ. In "The Allegory of Love," Lewis referred to a poem whose "theology turns on a crudely substitutional view of the Atonement.” In "Mere Christianity", Lewis indicated that he did not accept the substitutionary view of atonement. (C. S. Lewis’s Theology . . . )

6. C S Lewis did not believe in justification by faith alone. It has been stated about C S Lewis: "If the mark of a reborn evangelical is a devotion to the Epistles of Paul and, in particular, to the doctrine of Justification by Faith, then there can have been few Christian converts less evangelical than Lewis." A Methodist minister who reviewed "Mere Christianity" claimed that the book "does not really mention . . . the central Christian doctrine of Justification by Faith." 

7. C S Lewis believed in salvation for those who died without the knowledge of Christ. Lewis expected that some non-Christians would be saved. "Though all salvation is through Jesus, we need not conclude that He cannot save those who have not explicitly accepted Him in this life." On a radio broadcast he announced: "We do know that no [one] can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him." 
On the issue of Christianity in relation to other world religions Lewis said: "I couldn’t believe that 999 religions were completely false and the remaining one true." He also stated: "We are not pronouncing all other religions to be totally false, but rather saying that in Christ whatever is true in all religions is consummated and perfected." Kathryn Lindskoog wrote: "Lewis expressed hope that many true seekers like Akhenaton and Plato, who never had a chance to find Christ in this life, will find Him in the next one." (C. S. Lewis’s Theology . . . ) 

8. C S Lewis regularly confessed his sins to a priest. Some years after 'conversion' he made auricular confession to an Anglican priest. He wrote, on 24th October 1940, that "the decision was the hardest I have ever made…." From that time on he made regular confession to a priest. (C. S. Lewis’s Theol- ogy . . . ) 

9. C S Lewis believed in praying for the dead. He "emphatically believed in praying for the dead." He prayed for his wife after she died. He thought that John Henry Newman had the right idea, that saved souls before God’s throne would ask to be thoroughly cleansed. Consequently, this necessitated a purgatory, though not as in a medieval doctrine of torture. In this way there would exist "Purgatory (for souls already saved) or . . . Limbo (for souls already lost)." Lewis likened purgatory to sitting in a dentist’s chair, saying: "I’d rather be cleaned first." (C. S. Lewis’s Theology . . . ) 

Hardly someone whom any Bible believer would want to remember with honour!

11 comments:

Andrew Stewart said...

If I had written under this blog post, “What a fitting tribute to C.S. Lewis, that wonderful Christian writer,” you might think I hadn’t read what you had written. Your post makes me suspect the same applies to you and the writings of Lewis.

I am aware that, like all of us, Lewis was not without his faults. Lewis, as a “high” Churchman, believed some things that you and I would find objectionable (e.g. points 8 and 9). You missed out his occasional advocacy of natural theology, perhaps easy to overlook as it often also rears its ugly head in much Reformed theology (and either is openly welcomed or allowed to stay, unnoticed).

However, one doesn’t even have to read a lot of Lewis to see that some of these points are inaccurately expressed and misleading (e.g. 5 and 6). That’s evident even in James Townsend’s article (from which you seem to have obtained most of your information), which records examples of Lewis proclaiming salvation by faith alone. (It also might be worth pointing out that the quotations you use to back up your first item apply more to inspiration than to inerrancy.)

Aside from a few references to “myth” and “truth in world religions”, none of what you list here plays a major or central role in Lewis’ work. None of it explains why I and many other Bible-believing, born again Christians admire him.

The scattered statements about “myth” etc., which do come closer to the heart of Lewis’ writing and theology, require much fuller explanation than the rather crude way in which they are framed here (as do points 5, 6 and 7, for example).

Several of the aspects of Lewis to which you object could apply to the Church Fathers. As with Lewis, we may search in vain for the frequent use of phrases like “penal substitution” or “justification by faith alone” in Irenaeus, Tertullian or Athanasius (which is not to say the concepts were rejected); and Justin Martyr, recognising that Plato’s central ideas were ripped off from Moses, and that Christ is the Logos who gives meaning to the universe, devoted his life to presenting Christianity as the goal of all searches for knowledge. With this in mind, he was able to say that Christ was “partially known” by Socrates, and that human philosophy and mythology must necessarily contain echoes of the truth of the gospel (garbled and perverted, of course).

It would be unwise to say Irenaeus or Justin were not true Christians because their emphases differed from ours. It would be unfair to accuse Justin of heresy before taking the time to listen intently to what he was saying ... then we would see how what he was saying was taken from Scripture.

Moreover, the name of B.B. Warfield might be relevant to points 2 and 3; the question of Christological statements (point 4) is not as straightforward as you suggest here: Luther and Calvin had different understandings of the relation between the divine and human natures of Christ (and there are statements in Calvin that are similar to those you object to in point 4); John Wesley and Richard Baxter did not share the understanding of justification that the Reformers had (point 6); and so on.

It would be foolish to reject these men wholesale on these and various other flawed beliefs they may have held to; yet why have you done this with Lewis?

Florin Motiu said...

Purgatory
“When you die, and if «prison visiting» is allowed, come down and look me up in Purgatory” (letter of C.S. Lewis to a Catholic nun, sister Penelope, in A.N. WILSON – C.S. Lewis. A Biography, HarperCollins, 1991, pg. 295).

Mere Christianity
“In later years, when Lewis showed Mere Christianity to four clergymen, of four different denominations, for their criticism, he received hostile comments from two of the four. One of these two, inevitably, was his old pupil and sparring partner Alan Griffiths (by then a Roman Catholic monk, Dom Bede Griffiths), who claimed that Lewis undervalued the doctrine of the Atonement. Perhaps more fundamental was the criticism he received from a Methodist minister that the book does not really mention, let alone do justice to, the central Christian doctrine of Justification by Faith”. (A.N. WILSON – C.S. Lewis. A Biography, pg. 137).


Drinking parties
“…the termly dinner he gave for them [the students]. He called it «English binge». It was a dinner held at his own expense in a private room at Magdalen, and it was a symptom of his great generosity. But it was also a throwback to a form of behaviour which, however natural it might have seemed to officer cadets in the First World War, was excruciatingly embarrassing to succeeding generations of Magdalen men. The idea of the evening was primarily to get drunk, and this was a matter about which Lewis was exuberantly insistent. The conversation had to be what he called «bawdry». «Nothing above the belly or below the knee tonight!» he exclaimed on one of these evenings, savouring the rowdy songs and bawdy rhymes which resulted”. (A.N. WILSON – C.S. Lewis. A Biography, pg. 131) At least from 1931 he did this, in 1945 he still was doing it, says Wilson (pg. 206).


Visits from the dead
He believed his wife will come to visit him after death:
“If you can – if it is allowed – come to me when I am on my death bed”.
“Allowed!”, she said. “Heaven would have a job to hold me; and as for Hell, I’d break it into bits”. (C.S. Lewis – A Grief Observed, Faber & Faber, London, 1978, pg. 59).

Rev Brian McClung said...

Andrew

I have read a little more on C S Lewis than you give me credit for. I would suggest that you might need to read a little more discerningly on the subject. Any one whose writings are lauded by Romanists and even Mormons is suspect.

Here are some examples:
It is largely due to Lewis, an Anglican, that I converted to the Catholic Church... The Relevance and Challenge of C.S. Lewis by Mark Brumley, President of Roman Catholic Ignatius Press

Lewis has been credited (or blamed) in recent years with setting numerous people on the road to Rome. Such Catholic converts have included many of the serious scholars and disciples of Lewis, some of whom knew him before he died... R.A. Benthall, Professor of Literature, Ave Maria College, Michigan

Certainly the path he had taken to ‘mere Christianity’ was very largely the Roman road along which guides such as Chesterton and Tolkien, and Patmore and Dante and Newman had led him. J. Pearce, C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church

As you would probably know Patmore and Dante were Roman Catholic writers. Newman was an Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism and subsequently became a Cardinal.

After more than two decades in the [RC] Church, I have met or learned of scores of far more illustrious Catholic converts who likewise list Lewis on their spiritual resumes. M. Brumley, The Relevance and Challenge of C.S. Lewis,

The religious magazine popular in north America, 'Christianity Today', had this to say of Lewis: He is widely quoted from tried-and-true defenders of Mormon orthodoxy. It just shows the extraordinary acceptability and the usefulness of C.S. Lewis because, of course, most of what he says is perfectly acceptable to Mormons.

It's not hard to discern the calibre of C S Lewis' theology or usefulness when these endorsements of him and his teachings are abroad! It is little wonder the professing Church of Jesus Christ is in the state it is if C S Lewis is its writer of choice!

Brian McClung

Andrew Stewart said...

Here is my comment from 2 January 2014 resubmitted:

“What does Rome think of him?” is a problematic criterion for evaluating a writer’s worth. Given the Church of Rome’s high regard for St Augustine (who deeply influences its theology), should we strike him off our list of useful writers? Should we be wary of Calvin (who equally adored this great bishop) for not being more discerning in his admiration of Augustine? Should Calvinistic theology itself be abandoned, given how massively indebted to Augustine’s thinking it is?

To claim that this criterion doesn’t apply to pre-Reformation writers might qualify as a case of chronological snobbery and just serves to demonstrate how limited it is to use Roman Catholics’ reception of a writer as a gauge of his worth. But let’s take the example of Bunyan’s 17th century classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, which non-Christian literary critics and Roman Catholics hold in high esteem as beneficial for readers of all persuasions or none. Does its popularity in these circles highlight to us that it’s fundamentally unsound?

Negative assessments of Lewis based on Mormons’ appropriation of him are even more ludicrous! (The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings Charles Wesley’s hymns!) Since Mormons misrepresent the central doctrines of the Christian faith, it should come as no surprise that they also misrepresent the work of Lewis (who had little or no association with the LDS). They generally tend to think his view of deification closely aligns with theirs. Yet in reality Lewis’s explanation is in line with the Patristic understanding (which corresponds to the Reformed/Puritan doctrine of “adoption”) of which the Mormon doctrine is a blasphemous distortion. Otherwise Mormons have a fondness for Lewis’s comments on such subjects as temptation, family life and morality, and I doubt that you yourself would disagree with many of these.

I occasionally encounter things in Lewis’s work to which I object strongly. To pick up on an example I mentioned before, the natural theology he propounds in the opening book of Mere Christianity is regrettable (although I daresay you might consider Lewis’s arguments in these early chapters to be biblically valid), yet I can’t help but admire the persuasive skill he displays and the explanatory power of his illustrations. The fact is that Lewis’s abilities as a writer are so remarkable that it is little wonder there are many from varying backgrounds who regard him so highly – from ministerial colleagues within your own denomination to self-styled liberal, feminist agnostic Sarah Zettell.

Certain Roman Catholic admirers of Lewis claim his Ulster Protestantism, with its distrust of popery, was deep and abiding. Lewis was not silent about Rome’s errors, highlighting Mariolatry, papalism and transubstantiation as “utterly foreign to the New Testament”. But if it’s vigorous, sustained critique of Rome you’re after, you may look elsewhere. In the same way, Richard Baxter’s not the man to read if you want the Reformation understanding of justification by faith alone, nor is B.B. Warfield if you want a defence of a young earth created in six literal 24-hour days.

If, on the other hand, you read Lewis to see Christ presented reverently, vividly and warmly, to be encouraged into a deeper knowledge of Christ and greater obedience to Him, then Lewis does this beautifully – even and perhaps especially in his works of fiction. Perhaps this is why Lewis so effectively gets under the skin of atheists like Philip Pullman – who despises him – and why it was Lewis in particular that Pullman was gunning for with his His Dark Materials trilogy.

Rev Brian McClung said...

Andrew

I will let someone else answer you this time on C S Lewis' Romanising tendencies.

Here is a link to an article written by Mrs Jill Saunders, wife of Dr Larry Saunders, minister in Toronto FPC. It is found on the website of the converted Roman Catholic priest Richard Bennett.

The article is entitled "A Bridge to Rome" - www.bereanbeacon.org/articles/sponsored-articles/cs-lewis-a-bridge-to-rome.html

Brian McClung

Andrew Stewart said...

Thanks for posting my comment. I'm familiar with the article for which you provided a link. Of course I don't view it as an adequate response to my challenges and questions, and I don't see it as a fair assessment of Lewis overall.

It is odd though somewhat amusing when Christians who dislike and attack Lewis, who cannot conceive of reading him for any enjoyment or benefit, assume they know more and are better equipped to pass judgment on him than his admirers who read him often. (I can't be the only person who likes to read and learn more about a writer whose work I enjoy.)

It is also troubling when the same Christians see many of their brothers and sisters reading and enjoying Lewis and assume this *must* be because they're ignorant, lack discernment, are Romanist sympathisers, or whatever -- but it *can't* be because we enjoy how much he makes of Christ, or how our hearts warm to Christ when we read Lewis write about Him in such powerful ways. I detect arrogance in such an attitude, an unwillingness to learn from others, a propensity to fear, condemnation and suspicion, a lack of grace, a poor understanding of the vital truth of simul iustus et peccator, an inability to cope with subtlety and nuance, and a lack of appreciation for the beauty and freshness of the gospel of Christ.

Rev Brian McClung said...

Andrew

Evidently we think very differently. Someone may indeed enjoy, as you say, the subtlety and nuance of a writer, but when that writer denies a litany of fundamental doctrines of the gospel, as cited in this Blog post, and the link I supplied, then any presentation of the gospel he may make is seriously flawed and compromised.

There may be plenty of sugar mixed into the drink, but if there is poison in the cup then to drink is fatal! After all the Scriptures warns us: a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.

C S Lewis' writings are well leavened with the poisonous falsehoods of unbelief.

Brian McClung

Andrew Stewart said...

When the Scriptures warn about a little leaven leavening the whole lump, these do not refer to bodies of work but to communities of persons. In Gal 5:9 -- drawing from the LORD Jesus Christ's teaching in Mt 16 / Mk 8 -- the warning is against an influential group in Galatia who are spreading the message of trust in the Law rather than in Christ alone. In 1 Cor 5:6ff. Paul's concern is for the exercise of discipline against those in the Church family who persist in immorality and who must be expelled from the gathered community.

If a volume or volumes of writing were in view then we should read nothing but infallible and inerrant Scripture. It would definitely be inadvisable to read the articles and comments on this website, given the seeming denials of gospel fundamentals that range from solus Christus (which is compromised in claims that God is revealed and known outside of Christ) to the commands to love one another and esteem each other as better than ourselves (compromised in the inordinately harsh and suspicious attitudes to fellow believers, which I've pointed out above and elsewhere).

(What leaven accounts for the inconsistencies evidenced in a befuddled theological outlook where a hard-line stance on biblical separation (together with hounding and condemnation of those who either don't hold to this or who don't follow it through with utmost invariability) goes hand in hand with admiration for Bishop J.C. Ryle, who remained within the same Church of England that housed both liberals and Anglo-Catholics?)

When I mentioned "an inability to cope with subtlety and nuance" it was in relation to the attitude that writes someone off entirely because of scattered incidental statements that do not constitute the heart of that person's theology. This can be done with anyone -- e.g. Richard Baxter who, if you're consistent, must be bad because of his problematic understanding of justification, and his concept of "mere Christianity" which was influential for Lewis.

I maintain that for a critique to bear impact it needs to show the weaknesses inherent in the core values and concerns of someone's thinking and practice. The aspects you have criticised are incidental and not central for Lewis, and are not the main reasons for his popularity. You seem unable to articulate or appreciate what those are for Lewis, and why they might be attractive to your brothers and sisters in Christ who love the same LORD you do. Instead you prefer to belittle and question other evangelical believers' theological understanding, their capacity for critical discernment, their spiritual maturity and the motivation behind their reading habits.

Until you are able to address these problems and speak from a perspective that is willing to praise the good as well as denounce the bad, your criticisms will spectacularly miss the mark and remain utterly ineffective.

Rev Brian McClung said...

Andrew

In saying a little leaven leaventh the whole lump I was just referring to the general principle. That is why I didn't quote any Scripture reference. My point still stands!

In taking one of your subtleties and nuances - was Lewis expressing a belief in the doctrine of substitutionary penal atonement when he depicts the Aslan surrendering himself to the witch Jadis, as a substitute for the life of Edmund Pevensie, in The Chronicles of Narnia?

Does the witch represent God here?

Brian McClung

Andrew Stewart said...

Leaven is used to speak of the kingdom of God too. If your point still stands, then the good aspects of Lewis's work should permeate the whole.

Or, given the seeming denials of gospel fundamentals that I mentioned above (and which you've chosen not to address), if your point still stands, does that mean your blog is sufficiently leavened for it to be denounced and avoided?

I'm not sure of the extent to which you intend to consider thoughtfully (and without prejudice) what Lewis is doing in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Aslan's death and resurrection have been much discussed over the years.

Two considerations will suffice here. Firstly, Lewis viewed the Narniad as a "supposal" with symbolic elements rather than an "allegory". In other words, not everything in the books represents or corresponds exactly to our world, but instead the books pose the question, "Let us suppose there was another world and the Son of God enacted a redemption in that world; what might that look like?"

Secondly, to use a distinction made by Samuel Alexander which intrigued Lewis, the primary intention with these books was to "Enjoy" rather than to "Contemplate" Christianity. The inner workings of Aslan's sacrificial death are not defined but only hinted at in the The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. As one writer points out, the children only know that the event is "grave, painful, and terribly significant, but they do not try to understand it".

Lewis's desire here is not dispassionately to dissect or to answer innumerable "how" questions about atonement. Instead the design is that the vicarious suffering of Christ might be known in a different sense -- *tasted*, experienced, in an evocative way, which it is that special property of stories to elicit.

Rev Brian McClung said...

Andrew

I take the leaven in Matt 13 to be a picture of false teaching spreading through that which professes to be the kingdom of God!

Just to be clear- Is that a yes or a no, with respect to Lewis and the doctrine of a substitutionary atonement?

Brian McClung