My good friend, Jamie, liked a Relevant Magazine article today titled C.S. Lewis’ 3 Most Controversial Beliefs. Both of us are a big fans of Lewis and it piqued my interest as much as Jamie’s, I’m sure. Some of the “controversies” noted would surely either convince his admirers that some of these claims are actually attributable to Lewis and are biblically acceptable or may shake the faith of Lewis’ more die-hard fans, such as myself, and wonder about the foundations of Lewis’ personal faith. Having read a lot first-hand from Lewis, and second-hand of the man, I nearly immediately recognized these claims were probably not what they were really claiming.
You see, the thing about really clever men and women, like Lewis, is that they’re clever enough to know when they’re beat, even when they are miserably unhappy such as on the amusing-for-us occasion of Lewis’ conversion. It is this trait of Lewis, and all truly clever men and women, that propels, or drags, an individual from one intellectual peak to the next. Such is the case with Lewis and these purported controversies.
The first thing we must remember is that Relevant Magazine is an institution of popular culture and, as such, is sometimes at a loss when an issue really requires depth and breadth of knowledge and experience. Should you dig a little deeper into the claimed controversies you will begin to see they’re not so black and white.
An Open View of Genesis
Lewis’ view on the creation account did a good deal of evolving over the course of his life. Even before he converted to Christianity, Lewis expressed skepticism about Darwin’s theories. Following his conversion, he addressed it often enough (although he declined to write the forward for an anti-evolution book.)…
Exactly what he believed at the time of his death is open to debate, but he certainly never considered a literal interpretation of Genesis to be a cornerstone of real salvation.
Here we see Relevant attempting to ascribe agreement between Lewis and Darwinistic thinking. One needs only google a little bit, such as a search on “c.s. lewis on evolution” to discover a serious read on the subject from Creation.com titled C.S. Lewis: creationist and anti-evolutionist.
Oxford University professor C.S. Lewis was one of the most important Christian apologists of the last century. Toward the end of his career, he concluded that the modern theory of evolutionary naturalism is “pure hallucination”. Lewis detailed the reasons for this conclusion in several of his later writings.
Notice the last thought concerning Lewis’ solidifying thoughts in his later years. It is this way with more people than you might imagine. For example, if you google for “augustine on evolution”, again, the third result is another good read from Answers In Genesis titled Augustine on the Days of Creation. Augustine is another example of a revered church father whom people presume to have believed in non-literal days of creation which they assume to be long periods of time in agreement with modern day naturalistic thought. If you read up on him, however, you see that his ideas changed over time and he actually ended up with a plain understanding of the days of creation.
I am, here, well aware that the two sources above are from creation organizations but they have a vested interest in being correct not simply in dialoging the issues of the day and comparing with church father’s for interests and clicks sake. More correctly, these are ‘biblical authority’ organizations not simply ‘creation organizations’. Their main purpose is to uphold the Word of God and understand and present how it is meant to be read with accuracy for the support of the church and the spiritual well-being of the faith of her members.
An Inclusive Gospel
The final book in The Chronicles of Narnia features a character named Emeth who had spent his life worshipping Tash (Narnia’s take on a false god) instead of Aslan (Narnia’s Christ figure). However, when Emeth finally meets Aslan, he is told that his service to Tash had really been worship of Aslan all along, on account of his purity of heart.
I remember reading this as a boy and having the exact same theological concerns. Did Lewis really think that? I would ask myself. I think it’s important to recall one of Lewis’ more memorable quips, “The Narnian books are not as much allegory as supposal. “Suppose there were a Narnian world and it, like ours, needed redemption. What kind of incarnation and Passion might Christ be supposed to undergo there?”” What a great word, “supposal.” Classic C.S. Lewis!
So, one has to ask if this was really something Lewis believed himself or if it were something that supposedly might be in his fantasy world of Narnia.
We must also remember Lewis is almost certainly here alluding to Romans 2:14:
Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.
He may be investigating and experimenting with those thoughts through his writing – not necessarily stating his beliefs which he clearly did elsewhere for other issues. Besides this one instance, there are more to be certain in the Narnia series themselves that could cause controversy if we so wanted. I seem to recall Lucy incanting magic spells? Perhaps C.S. Lewis believed in the occult! You can see how limited this path is for our inquiry.
A Not Totally Inerrant Bible
…so in Scripture, a mass of human legend, history, moral teaching, et cetera, are taken up and made the vehicle of God’s Word. Errors of minor fact are permitted to remain. (Was Our Lord Himself incapable, qua [as] Man, of such errors? Would it be a real human incarnation if He was?) One must remember of course that our modern and western attention to dates, numbers, et cetera, simply did not exist in the ancient world. No one was looking for that sort of truth.
I’m going to give this one to Relevant, on the one hand reluctantly and disappointingly while on the other hand pleased that this helps us take a look at the bigger picture here. I wouldn’t be surprised if, with a more thorough reading and understanding of Lewis personally, we were to find out he had very different thoughts than his writings sometime convey. He is after all one of our cleverer fellows and men are not so simple and transparent as we sometimes wish.
That said, however, it would actually be a disservice if all of these claims turned out to be quite false for no human being is perfect. So, let us take a look at the bigger picture: One of a popular culture magazine taking a (Christian) popular culture icon, C.S. Lewis, and generating controversy, tittering and general excitement over supposed theological quandaries in one of our most cherished philosophers and theologians of the modern era.
But for what purpose? So that we can somehow feel okay about uncritically thinking about subjects that really need our thinking caps on now more than ever like evolution, universalism, and biblical authority? If the aim was to promote critical thinking then it would be fantastic if Relevant put in the depth and breadth needed to encourage that in their readership. Sadly, it reads like typical internet tabloid click-bait: 3 Ways C.S. Lewis is Shockingly Irreverent!
Finally, let us remember that no one is or ever has been perfect in this life besides Jesus Christ. Don’t put your faith in the big names of Christian leaders. They will fall. I will fall. “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” (James 3:2) And that is not C.S. Lewis, Relevant Magazine, nor you, nor I ;)
Trust instead in Jesus and His Word given to us in the bible. That’s really what’s at stake here. We are experts at finding fault in others, myself included having just written such a piece as this, but our intentions and actions should always be clearly for supporting the truth and authority of scripture so that God is glorified and Christ’s salvation is preached throughout the world.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16