Reading C.S. Lewis (carefully)

Posted by on Mar 22, 2011

In some recent blog debates, some people have defended unorthodox theology, seeking support from C.S. Lewis. “Lewis believed some questionable things and people don’t reject him,” they reason.

It has caused me to reflect on why I like Lewis so much, even when I think he occassionally misses the mark.

I read C.S. Lewis for at least three reasons. The obvious one is that Lewis, like no one else, helps me understand things in ways I hadn’t before. Second, I find him to be a sheer delight to read. It is rare that I read Lewis without at least one chuckle along the way. But my favorite reason is that Lewis trains my mind to think in ways I would not otherwise think. It’s not just that he teaches me how to understand topics about which he has written. He helps me see patterns, principles, and insights about a host of topics of which he never wrote.

Lewis was spared the world of blogs, text messaging, twitter, and the like. I can only imagine what Screwtape would have said about these modern wonders! But his insights about chronological snobbery or the priority of old books or the importance of keeping second things second shed light on social networking techniques and many other mainstays of the twenty-first century.

He’s not just a tour guide pointing out sights to see. Lewis gives me lenses through which to see.

The author of Mere Christianity taught me how to evaluate arguments against the faith, even ones he never addressed. The preacher of The Weight of Glory enables me to see joy in the midst of disappointments – even post 9/11 varieties. The educator who penned The Abolition of Man changes the way I read The Chronicle of Higher Education. And the dreamer who invented Narnia helps me rejoice in a world that, at times, feels like it’s “always winter and never Christmas.”

But he’s not perfect. And so, Lewis also trains me, ironically, to not accept everything any individual human writer offers. On some points, Lewis was just plain wrong – no matter how eloquently he worded it. For example, he suggests the possibility of salvation through other faiths – a position soundly rejected by evangelicals for many decades, even centuries. He sometimes relied on logic more than Scripture and that got him into theological trouble. So…his writings are not inerrant. I know only one book that meets that criteria. I read that book more than I read Lewis. He would approve. It’s an old book.

1 Comment

  1. AT
    April 7, 2011

    Well said (written, expressed, whatever the proper verb may be). Now, while Love Wins seems a rather silly effort, let me challenge this re Lewis:

    “For example, he suggests the possibility of salvation through other faiths…”

    Does he? Are we talking about The Last Battle here? Or does Lewis clearly make the case in one of his non-fiction works (I’ve read about half of those, but none that I recall making such a case)? In The Last Battle, yes, there’s a follower of Tash, one of the main characters, who receives salvation. But would we say that he is “saved through his other faith”? I don’t think we would. I think we’d say he is saved despite his other faith.

    In other words, if we apply this Narnian example to the real world we live in, it would be to imagine God choosing to allow a Muslim to enter into Heaven, despite that Muslim never accepting Christ’s payment for his sin. It wouldn’t be “through” Islam that the Muslim came to gain salvation, but *despite* Islam that God chose that Muslim.

    Conceptually, how is that any different than the answer we all give to the question about “the pygmy in Africa who never hears the Gospel”. Despite that pygmy’s animism (or whatever), God is just and loving and – in His own wisdom and for His own reasons (for which He certainly doesn’t owe us any account) – may choose to save that pygmy.

    Isn’t it the same thing?

    [This doesn’t change the reality, and orthodox teaching, that Christ is THE way that God made. The only way that He made.]

    What I’m saying is that I think, at least in TLB, Lewis speculated and wondered. And he speculated and wondered about God choosing individuals despite their lack of belief. And orthodox Christianity has allowed for the idea that God may choose individuals despite their lack of belief.

    Now, everything above assumes that we aren’t conflating Reformed/Calvinist theology with the whole of orthodox theology (which far too many “evangelicals” do). But that’s another matter…

    Reply

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