Saturday, July 6, 2013

C.S. Lewis: Should Christians Embrace His Theology?

"You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!"
 James 2:19

While navigating through Facebook one day, I came upon a recent post by Mike Gendron of Proclaiming the Gospel.  As usual, the comments ranged from complete agreement with Mike to vitriolic outrage from the Catholics he witnesses to, but one of his "friends" provided a link in a comment on Mike's post to add support to the topic being discussed and Mike's analysis of C.S. Lewis.  It's a long read, but if you believe that Lewis was a evangelical Christian who defended the truth of the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it should be read in its entirety, merely because after reading it, you may change your mind.  

However, before we delve into the theology of C.S. Lewis, let me remind you that I am not claiming to have divine knowledge about whether or not he was saved.   Nor am I "judging" the man, as so many, I'm sure, will accuse me (I do sincerely wish that professing Christians would study that particular passage in order to exegete it properly).   I will leave Lewis' salvation to God, as we all should.

C.S. Lewis began his writing career creating fantasy stories for children, yet ended it by defining his faith, his world view, and his interpretation of Scripture.  My first real notice of C.S. Lewis came after reading the first book of his "Narnia" series because of the appeal they had to Christians.  Regardless of the fact that the seven book series written between 1939 and 1951 were intended for children, and that over 100 million copies in over 47 languages have been sold, my critique of the first book caused me to not want to continue with the other six, and forced me to place them on the immaturely and mundane written back shelf to collect dust.  It must be noted, however, that Lewis initially did not have the intention of making the books allegorical, but preferred to term their Christian similarities as "supposition."  In a letter he wrote in 1958, in which he responded to the allegorical question, Lewis maintains that the books weren't allegory:
"If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity in the same way in which Giant Despair [a character in The Pilgrim's Progress] represents despair, he would be an allegorical figure.  In reality however he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, 'What might Christ become like, if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?'  This is not allegory at all."

Besides finding no enjoyment in reading the Narnia books, I also view them as a spiritual deception.  Like many fictional stories that borrow from Scripture, there is often a departure from the Truth and embellishments are inserted to keep the reader hooked - including the line and sinker.  Whether intentionally or not, C.S. Lewis drew his story line from Scripture, and also from Greek, Turkish, and Roman mythology.  Because of the pagan themes that run throughout the books, he has been accused by many Christian leaders of promoting "soft-sell paganism and occultism".  He had a fascination with medieval cosmology, astrology, and Celtic pagan tales, and most of his fictional writings reflect aspects from each culture.

Many will disagree with me, especially after Hollywood decided to capitalize on the "Chronicle" series and people flooded the theaters to engage themselves in the fantasy.  Although as a child I always loved good fantasy and fairy tales, I found the movies to be a waste of my money and time.  Following the release of the movies, Lewis made it back to the top of the renowned author throne and his books began a new cycle on the Best Seller list, where they once again were being touted by the church as a metaphor of Jesus Christ and His Gospel.  I'm still waiting for someone to provide me with Biblical evidence of this claim, other than drawing from a title given to our LORD, "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" (Hosea 5:14, Rev 5:5) and comparing the death and "resurrection" of the lion, "Aslan," to Christ and His atonement.  I consider that argument to be a fanciful twist of the Truth, and a way for professing Christians to minimize our Savior's redeeming act.

Mature Christians would have no problem rightly dividing the man Jesus Christ from the image of a Lion.  But the books and movies were aimed at children, and for children, the reality of the humanity and divine nature of Jesus Christ which they should be taught is muddied with unrestrained fancy, throwing the King of kings and LORD of lords into the same category as Superman, Sponge Bob Square Pants, or Harry Potter.  In other words, without proper guidance and instruction, when a small child who has overheard the comparison of the Narnia fantasy with Jesus Christ and is asked to describe Him, he will immediately draw from his own experience: that of sitting in a dark theater, his eyes glued to a massive screen with popcorn in his lap, and the image of children traveling through a mirror to bounce between alternate universes where they meet a huge talking lion who saves mankind.

It wasn't until later in his life that C.S. Lewis became a "convert" to Christianity.  Setting aside his fictional writing and fascination with the occult and fantasy, this is the C.S. Lewis we should examine.  Born an Irishman in 1898 and baptized at birth in the Church of Ireland (Anglican Communion), he quickly rejected Christianity in his adolescence and declared himself to be an atheist.  But at the age of 32, Lewis returned to the Anglican Communion and much of his writing reflected his renewed faith.  It has been said that the faith he re-embraced faltered upon the death of his wife from cancer in 1960.  From "A Grief Observed," and written under a pseudonym in order not to be recognized, Lewis lashed out in anger at God:
Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolation of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand. The conclusion is not "So there's no God, after all" but "So this is what God is really like, the Cosmic Sadist. The spiteful imbecile?"
Although Lewis' grief, anger, and distrust of God was vehemently expressed, it is commonly viewed that his faith was later restored.  Three years following his wife's death, C.S. Lewis died on the same day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  Because of this sensational headline and also the death of Aldous Huxley, Lewis' death was barely noticed.

Upon his professed conversion, Lewis authored a number of Christian apologetics. (For a complete list of his books, including anthologies written after his death, click here.) His book, "Mere Christianity," was placed third in Christianity Today's list of most influential evangelical books since 1945.  The book is more of a testimony of Lewis' journey from atheism to belief, than a tome full of godly wisdom.  Although Lewis believed that God's moral law and man's inability to keep it must first be understood and acknowledged before Christ's atonement can be embraced, it's his philosophical pondering and insistence that much of the Bible is from the imaginations of men that brings into question his world view and understanding of the Gospel.  Regardless of his desire to write fictional fantasy stories for children, it is his understanding of the Word of God that begs, by us,  a second look.

As mentioned, the following are excerpts from an article by The Trinity Foundation, entitled "Did C.S. Lewis Go to Heaven?" that was shared on Mike Gendron's post.   I have broken them down to give you a clearer understanding of Lewis' position(s).  They should be viewed using the only reliable source available to us, the Bible, and given careful examination and compared against the Word of God.   They include just a few glaring errors that Lewis embraced and wrote about in his four books on apologetics, which are described as "encyclopedic," and letters written by him while conversing with other theologians, and they reinforced within me why I have always felt a little distrust of C.S. Lewis.

1.  The Psalms were characterized by Lewis as “fatal confusion,” “devilish,” “diabolical,” “contemptible,” petty,"  "vulgar," full of "contradiction," and written with "naivety," and "error."

2.  Lewis rejected the doctrine of Scriptural inerrancy, claiming that the Bible is not the Word of God, that all Christian literature is "inspired," and that in order to be led to Christ (who, according to Lewis, is the "real" Word of God, which John rightly ascribes to Jesus, yet is misconstrued by Lewis), one must read it in the "right spirit."  According to Lewis, the Bible "does not speak for itself, but only through its interpreters."   He went on to say, “Somehow, when we least expect it but truly need it for our 'spiritual life,' we will know whether a particular passage is rightly translated or is myth (but of course myth specially chosen by God from among countless myths to carry a spiritual truth) or history.... But we must not use the Bible (our fathers too often did) as a sort of Encyclopedia out of which texts...can be taken for use as weapons."

3.  Regarding the Book of John, Lewis wrote: “Either this [John’s Gospel] is reportage – though it may no doubt contain errors – pretty close up to the facts; nearly as close as Boswell. Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic, narrative.”  In other words, the Apostle John, who was an eye witness of Jesus' teaching, miracles, and atonement, used creative license in writing his account of Jesus Christ and made many "errors" in his narration.

4.  Lewis overtly avoided the doctrine of justification by faith alone in all four of his massive books, only mentioning it in one sentence in a radio interview, yet never addressing his position to clarify it.

5.  Lewis believed that “Humanity is already ‘saved’ in principle..."  This particular section is enough to make you see his gross errors, including his belief that what Christ did for us we should have done for ourselves.

6.  Lewis called salvation a "good infection""Jesus does it 'in us and for us.'   If we get 'close enough' to him, whatever that means, we catch the 'new life,' as one catches an infection."  He also asserted that we can accept or reject any or all of the truths regarding salvation, depending upon what "appeals" to us, thereby falling into the trap of subjectivism and relativism.  He further asserts that we should not quarrel with another who holds a different theological "formula" for salvation.

7.  Lewis insists that one must employ the heresy of mysticism and pass through the "dark night of the soul" before he is converted.

8.  Lewis called God's sovereignty in choosing who does and does not go to Heaven "frightfully unfair," and by contradicting Christ's own words that only those who know the Son will be saved (John 3:14-18), he rejects that Christian faith is the only way to salvation.  Lewis insisted that there are others in other belief systems that are "being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it."   In other words, the Holy Spirit's work in the heart is kept secret from the pagan recipient of God's grace, making it unnecessary for the recipient to acknowledge his depravity and need for repentance while the work is being done, and free to continue to worship false gods.  (If someone can provide me with a better explanation of Lewis' thoughts here, feel free to do so!)  Furthermore, he goes on to state, "I think that every prayer which is sincerely made even to a false god or to a very imperfectly conceived true God, is accepted by the true God and that Christ saves many who do not think they know Him."

9.  Lewis believed that even Jesus Christ erred, particularly regarding Mark 13:32, whereby he stated that it is "certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible."  Continuing on this heresy, he wrote, “The one exhibition of error and the one confession of ignorance [Mark 13:32] grow side by side. That they stood thus in the mouth of Jesus himself, and were not merely placed thus by the reporter, we surely need not doubt.... The facts, then, are these: that Jesus professed himself (in some sense) ignorant, and within a moment showed that he really was so.”

10.  Lewis wrote that God sends "good dreams" in the form of mythology, which reveals his intention for writing the Narnia series.

The following is the author's conclusion to this article:
"Lewis taught and believed in purgatory (despite the fact that Article 22 of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England describes the doctrine of purgatory as 'repugnant to the Word of God'), said prayers for the dead, believed in the physical presence of Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine, a sacrament that he came to call 'Mass,' practiced and taught auricular confession, believed in baptismal salvation, and free will. As we have seen, he rejected the inerrancy of Scripture and justification by faith alone, as well as the doctrines of total depravity and the sovereignty of God.

"So we ask again: Did C. S. Lewis go to Heaven? And our answer must be: Not if he believed what he wrote in his books and letters."

For an even deeper look into the beliefs Lewis adhered to, I would encourage everyone to read the entire article, which touches on more of his un-Scriptural beliefs. 

I found it interesting, and a little bit comforting, that I may not be alone in my distrust of C.S. Lewis.  No one wants to cast aspersions on another, nor ever assume to know their eternal destination.  At this point and without speaking directly to the man, all of my discomfort over Lewis is conjecture, and I must leave it at that.  But in my attempt to give him the benefit of the doubt, I did some more online research looking for reliable sources with the same opinion as my own.  Pastor John MacArthur, in his recent article, "A Redeemed Soul," uses Lewis as an example of grossly misunderstanding sanctification and glorification, and perpetuating the myth of "purgatory":
Moreover, the holiness our sanctification produces could never be sufficient to fit us for heaven by itself.  In heaven we will be perfectly Christlike.  Sanctification is the earthly process of growth by which we press toward that goal; glorification is the instantaneous completion of it.  God graciously, summarily glorifies us and admits us into His pres­ence.  There is no waiting period, no soul sleep, and no purgatory.
           Misunderstanding on this point runs deep.  No less a scholar than C. S. Lewis  wrote:
"Our souls demand purgatory, don’t they?  Would it not break the heart if God said to us, 'It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy'?  Should we not reply, 'With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.'   'It may hurt, you know.' — 'Even so, sir.' (C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer [New York: Harcourt, 1964], 108–109.)
Lewis was no theologian.  He was prone—like too many Anglicans—to water down the clarity of biblical truth with Roman Catholic tradi­tion.  But this is surely one of his most glaring and baffling errors. It is as if he were totally oblivious to the biblical promise of glorification.

Nothing in Scripture even hints at the notion of pur­gatory, and nothing indicates that our glorification will in any way be drawn out or painful.  On the contrary, the moment a believer dies, his soul is instantly glorified and he enters God’s presence.  To depart this world is to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23).  And upon seeing Christ, we become like Him.  It is a graceful, peaceful, painless, instantaneous transition. Paul says that to be ab­sent from the body is to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).

C.S. Lewis was baffling, indeed.  The myriad quotes from Lewis that are seen and shared on Facebook and the web definitely give us the impression that his theology was sound and without error.  But when we take a deeper look into the mind of this man, there is no solid footing to be found; no place to rest and feel satisfied that his faith was genuine, that he understood the Gospel, and that he's at peace for eternity.  There are too many variables; too many, "Yes, but..."  Because he was considered a "religious skeptic" and actually given the title "The Apostle to the Skeptics," there's no wonder that many of us question him.  Therein lies my discomfort with and distrust of Lewis, along with that little voice in the back of my head uttering caution.

Are some Christians so bent on proving that Lewis was no different than all of us who occasionally express doubt, fear, or anger with God, or become briefly convinced of an error, that they only pick and choose the most positive from amongst his writings?  Or is there an underlying shadow of deception and confusion beneath what we perceive to be the man and what he believed, and an unwillingness for Christians to acknowledge it?

Other than his confession of faith in Jesus Christ, albeit "skeptical," and his fine-sounding quips and quotations that are so highly viewed, we must be content that the state of C.S. Lewis' soul remains known to only him and the God with whom he had such a tumultuous relationship.  However, we should never take a man's word at face value.  Rather, we should dig deeper to see if what he is saying is aligned with God's Word and whether or not it should be embraced by us, to ensure we are on God's solid ground and our hearts, minds, and souls are in the safety of His hands.

My conclusion?  I'm not sure, but I'm leaning heavily towards an answer to the title of this post, and that answer is, "No".  If C.S. Lewis' writings are any indication, his theology should not be embraced.  And as was stated at the conclusion of the above article, if Lewis truly held to the things he wrote in his books and letters to the day of his death, then the question of his salvation remains.

Eternity will tell. 

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