C. S. Lewis in the Dock

I once had a waking nightmare where I thought for a few minutes about the possibility that the Westboro Baptist Church really were, as they claim to be, the only true disciples of Jesus Christ on the Earth.  You know the Westboro Baptist Church.  They are the ones who go to the funeral of a fallen American soldier and tell the family that he is burning in hell because he died for a reprobate nation.  They are the ones who go to gay pride parades and hold up a sign saying, “God hates fags”.  Let us not deceive ourselves, there are verses in the Bible that can be made to support their interpretation.  It is, in fact,  because these verses and their unloving interpretation have been the greatest stumbling block of my Christian life that I write this blog.  If the members of the Westboro Baptist Church congregation are correct, then I do not want to live in “Heaven” and there is no hope in this life.

I thought about this nightmare the other day when I came across a series of YouTube videos critical of the “heretic and false teacher” C.S. Lewis.  Curious as to what they would say, I watched for a few hours.  As I watched, I became increasingly dismayed.  I thought the videos would be laughable hatchet jobs that grossly distorted his teachings, but I found that some of their criticisms were valid.  How do I square my respect for C.S. Lewis with my disagreements with him on issues like the authority of Scripture?

All Things to All Men

As I thought about this question, I came to the realization that the Christians who criticize Lewis don’t understand what he was doing.  To a believer who comes from a Christian background, it is difficult to imagine what it is like to grow up without the Bible and have it presented to you as an adult.  Many of the truths of the New Testament are easily recognized and accepted, but many other teachings of the Bible seem alien, wrong and amoral.  When a person comes to Christ as an adult and is faced with the challenge of sharing his or her faith with others from a similar background, they emphasize the teachings that make sense and de-emphasize the teachings that do not make sense.  (I just finished writing a long post entitled “Death of a Pacifist“, for example, wherein I outlined my struggle to accept certain passages in the Old Testament that depict Jesus Christ as a vengeful judge who slaughters entire armies with a sword.)

Now this might seem like spiritual cowardice to a Christian who has never met someone who did not grow up reading the Bible, but there is a very strong Biblical justification for this approach found in the teachings of the Apostle Paul:

To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  (1 Corinthians 9:20-22)

What did Paul mean by these words? Did he mean, “with the fornicators I fornicated that I might save fornicators”?  Of course not!  What he means is that he reaches people through the truths that they already know.  We see this when he preached the “unknown God” to those who he met at Mars hill in Acts 17.  You reach out to those who do not know Christ by appealing to them through the truths they already know and accept.

C.S. Lewis came to Christ as a member of the faculty at Oxford.  If he was to be intellectually honest, he could not have said that he believed that the Bible contained no errors or no mythological elements.  Even if he had instantaneously become a fundamentalist who believed that the Bible contained no errors and that the world was only 6000 years old, he would have been laughed out of Oxford by his peers and been completely ineffective.  Instead of being intellectually dishonest, Lewis used his understanding of mythology, of philosophy, of logic and reason and his significant communication skills to share the gospel message with those around him as best he knew how. In the process, he made Christianity intellectually respectable and was used to bring many people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Is it so hard to believe that God saved this man knowing who he was and what he believed and used him to reach others who had a similar background and upbringing?  Can you not give glory to God when you see that he can use a flawed man with an incomplete knowledge of truth for the glory of Jesus Christ?  Given the basic unfairness of the other arguments that were made in these videos, I would guess not.

Lewis and Mythology

One of the criticisms made in the video concerned something that Lewis evidently said while visiting a temple to the Greek God Apollo.  According to the video, Lewis wrote in a letter that it was difficult to keep from offering up a prayer to Apollo as he visited the temple at Daphne.  This statement was coupled with something that he had written in one of his books to the effect that Christ came as the fulfillment of the Old Testament and the Pagan religions to suggest that Lewis was an intentional deceiver who attempted to disguise Pagan religious practices as Christianity and lure gullible Christians into worshipping demons.

This argument betrays an ignorance of who Lewis was.  Lewis was a mythologist who studied and loved mythology of all kinds.  When he read pagan mythology, he saw the yearnings of human beings for something better than what we have in this world.  Apollo was the Greek God of Healing and enlightenment and he represented the human yearning for a world without the ravages of disease and violence.  When pagans who worshipped Apollo heard the gospel message, they came to Christ in droves because they believed that Christ was the realization of the divine healing and peace for which they had long yearned.  This is what Lewis meant when he talked about Christ coming to fulfill pagan religions.  Christ came to give human beings “life and life more abundantly” and it is this life for which the worshippers of Apollo had longed without knowing it.

Used by Pagans and Witches

Another criticism that was made was that many “pagans” and “witches” have the Chronicles of Narnia or the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien as “required reading” before you are allowed to join a coven.  The argument was then made that if pagans have the writings of C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien as required reading, then they must be demonic.

I don’t know where the people who made this video get their information on the practices of pagans and witches, but it seems to me like this is merely an effective marketing tactic.  If you were trying to get people to believe in pagan ideas, then you would naturally take popular and respected writings and distort them into supporting your views.  If I was going to try and get someone to believe in UFOs, for example, I might target people who were fans of Star Trek and use that as an introduction to a belief in alien abductions.  If Satan can distort the words of the Bible to tempt Jesus Christ, then how much more can the writings of C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien be distorted into a usage at which they would be horrified?

A Fool for Christ

Another argument that was made was that Christians were eager to embrace Lewis because they were eager for intellectual respectability.  Pursuing worldly acceptance caused these Christians to abandon the Bible and true Christian faith.  These “Christians” are not really “Christians” because they don’t want to be “fools for Christ”.

When I heard this argument, I wanted to break out laughing.  I was reminded of the old Steve Martin bit on Saturday night live.  “Well excuuuuuuuuuuuuse ME!  I want to believe in a faith that makes sense and is not completely ridiculous.  I want to be all things to all men and appeal to those in the world with reason.  I want to love the Lord with all my mind and make sense of the Bible in terms of what I know and experience of the world around me.  Is this so bad?”

To understand why I don’t believe that interpreting the Bible in this way is legitimate, let us consider a couple of wacky evangelists.  One decides that he is going to be a “fool for Christ” and he dodges cars in the middle of a busy freeway at rush hour while holding a sign that says, “Repent for the end of the world is at hand.”  Another one decides that he is going to teach a vital saying of Christ and he stands on the street corner preaching the vital truth that Jesus had temporary wings when he spoke in Jerusalem:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.  (Luke 13:34)

Now both of these wacky evangelists will get a lot of people calling them “fools”, but does this mean that they are racking up treasure in Heaven?  I don’t think so.  I think being a fool for Christ does not mean doing things that are ridiculous, but having other people believe that you are a fool because you believe in the necessity and power of the cross of Jesus Christ.  As far as I am concerned, just being a fool is not at all profitable, but to each his own.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  (1 Corinthians 1:18)

The Ministry of Tearing Down Other Christians

As I go through the internet, I find a number of Christians who seem to believe that they have the ministry of “standing for the truth” by tearing down other Christians.  While I will respect a person like Jacob Prasch who rebukes error in addition to reaching out to those who do not believe, I cannot respect a Christian who, safe and secure in their armchair, quarterbacks other Christians as to how to witness to those who are lost.  To these Christians I would offer some simple advice.  Take your view of the Bible out to the world and see how long you last and how effective you are before you criticize those of us who try to make sense of the Bible before we share it with others.  Beware the temptation to hate and despise those to whom you are preaching for their wicked rejection of your understanding, however, lest you become like the members of Westboro Baptist Church.

About Robert V

Former atheist currently living in Toronto.
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3 Responses to C. S. Lewis in the Dock

  1. tulsacoc says:

    Reblogged this on Tulsa Showcase of Homes and commented:
    good article

  2. Dear Robert, I am blessed to hear that you are now a brother in Christ and once a former atheist. I admit, I stumbled upon your article, which I perceive to be very thoughtful and well intentioned with many valid counter points to the critics of C.S. Lewis, due to my own doubts and conceptions about the person of C.S. Lewis. I will admit, I have never personally read a complete work of C.S. Lewis, but I have both heard and read a wealth of information containing both good and bad regarding the apologetics approach he takes in reaching out to seekers and atheists contrasted with his theology as stated in his own writings. No doubt, his methods for reaching atheists and seekers through sparking their minds to question their own beliefs in favor of a theistic reference point has proven successful to those ends. Personally, I care not to entertain the question of whether or not C.S. Lewis was a regenerate Christian as that is only a matter that God has authority in determining.

    For me, the problem that I have is not his methods for reaching to his intended target audience as stated above, it’s the way in which his writings (which as you’ve admitted contain omissions and contradictions to plain Biblical scripture) have been both lauded and co-opted by today’s Evangelical ministers and theologians to serve a purpose that C.S. Lewis even admits was never his intention to serve. I’ve heard countless respected Evangelical minsters (many of whom I still respect to this day) recommend that certain writings, which they will even admit are not completely Biblically sound, such as “Screwtape Letters” and “Mere Christianity” as essential reading for Christians, with some of these ministers even going so far as to say that such books are essential for young Christians. To this day, I am stumped as to why any literary works that are either extra-Biblical or contra-Biblical would be considered “essential” reading among born-again, regenerated Christians, particularly young Christians.

    For reference, here are some quotes by both current and passed well-respected Christian Evangelical ministers that give me great concern when I think about how C.S. Lewis and his writings have gained a level of ubiquitous reverence, praise, and application that is beyond the scope and intention of the author himself:

    Dr. John Piper (direct quotes are borrowed from 2010 sermon entitled “Lessons from an Inconsolable Soul”):

    • “He makes room for at least some people to be saved through imperfect representations of Christ in other religions.”, what is today referred to as the heresy of Universalism and when directed toward heretical dominations within Christendom it is called Ecumenism. Examples of many incorrect views of Christ are pervasive within Mormanism, Roman Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism.
    • “He doesn’t treat the Reformation with respect, but thinks it could have been avoided, and calls aspects of it farcical.”
    • “He speaks of the atonement with reverence, but puts little significance on any of the explanations for how it actually saves sinners.”
    • “Lewis is not a writer to which we should turn for growth in a careful biblical understanding of Christian doctrine.”
    • “There is almost no passage of Scripture on which I would turn to Lewis for exegetical illumination. A few, but not many. He doesn’t deal with many.”
    • “If we follow him in the kinds of mistakes that he made (the ones listed above), it will hurt the church and dishonor Christ.”
    • “Lewis is not the kind of writer who provides substance for a pastor’s sermons. If a pastor treats Lewis as a resource for doctrinal substance, he will find his messages growing thin, interesting perhaps, but not with much rich biblical content.”
    • “I am sure that for many, for example, who have taken the road to Roman Catholicism away from evangelicalism, Lewis has played a part in that pilgrimage. He devoted his whole Christian life to defending and adorning what he called “mere Christianity”—“the Christian religion as understood ubique et ab omnibus [everywhere by everyone]. He rarely tried to distance himself from Roman Catholicism or any other part of Christendom. He rarely spoke about any debates within Christianity itself. There is a price to pay when you set yourself this kind of agenda. You will almost certainly omit things essential to the gospel. Not that you yourself do not believe those things, but since virtually all important doctrines have been disputed from within the church (not just from outside), the effort to omit what’s disputed runs the risk of omitting what’s essential. We all should be warned about this, because the disputes in the New Testament letters themselves are virtually all disputes within the church, not with those outside.”
    • “Therefore, Lewis set himself a lifelong task that no pastor should follow—namely, to adorn and defend only those truths that he thought all Christians always and everywhere have believed.”

    Dr. Martin-Lloyd Jones, (direct quotes taken from the 1959 sermon entitled “Diagnosing the Need for Revival”; available in audio form here: http://www.mljtrust.org/sermons/diagnosing-the-need/):

    • “Do you remember the vogue of CS Lewis? You don’t hear much about him now, but why all the excitement? Ah, here is a philosopher. And it indicates our pathetic faith and belief in these methods, which are nothing but apologetics. Exactly in the same way as in the beginning of the 18th century they were pinning their faith to Bishop Butler and his great Analogy of Religion and the Boyle lectures, and so on. These, they taught us, are the things that are going to do it, but they didn’t do it.” To provide context on the final sentence above, MLJ is providing examples of the kinds of efforts and endeavors ministers use to “deal with the present situation.” And for further context, the present situation MLJ is referring to is how many who are lost in the present age are heavily relying on science, logic, and reason, which then prompts many of today’s (remember this is back in 1959) Christian ministers to believe we have to “make the Christian faith acceptable to and commendable to the men and women of today.” If you listen further, MLJ debunks this latter notion and suggests that the way we should deal with the present situation is by being faithful to the scriptures first and foremost but also by following Jesus’ command to the disciples to pray while fasting to receive a renewed mind and power from the Holy Spirit which ultimately has the power to transcend the philosophical arguments of logic and reason.
    • “To this end books are written, lectures are delivered, and sermons are preached, in an attempt to produce and present the Christian faith in a philosophical manner to the modern man. And so you take the books which deal with the philosophy of religion…take the great works of past philosophers, the great Greek philosophers and others, and you say that Christianity fits into this…that it is rational and so on, and so you show the utter reasonableness of the Christian faith. That is apologetics, presenting itself in the form of philosophy.“
    • So if you put the above quotes into full context (and there’s many more compelling arguments than this that MLJ uses in his sermon which I would highly encourage you to listen to), it would suggest that apologetics and philosophical reasoning, although a valid tool in and of itself, is not sufficient on its own in dealing with the present situation of man.

    As you can probably take away from MLJ’s quotes above, he was very far ahead of the curve in regard to discerning the present state of both those who are lost and those who are in error in attempting to reach the lost. The erroneous applications of apologetics back in 1959 were very much in the minority of the Evangelical community, yet today such practices have become commonplace, and even to the extent that their principles have become part of the underpinnings of the Christian faith for those who follow such teachings.

    I am personally not against apologetics as a tool for ministry, but I only see it as one tool that should be used very carefully in light of scripture and with corresponding guidance from the Holy Spirit. In my view, apologetics by itself will only lead someone to an intellectual knowledge of Christ as the true and only Savior and the Son of God. I’ve personally tried using apologetics techniques in the past and quite frankly I’ve seen that it has substantial limitations, the most significant being that it reduces the conversation from the spiritual objective truth derived from the inerrancy of God’s Word to the intellectual realm of subjective reasoning. Perhaps the most concerning limitation is that apologetics, when used in isolation, will place the evangelist directly into Satan’s playing field (i.e., the realm of the mind), and if the present mind of the evangelist is not renewed and sword is not sharpened, apologetics will be not match to the unbeliever.

    The problem that I have with C.S. Lewis, and again I am relying greatly on others who have claimed to thoroughly have read his writings as I have not done, is that he even by his own admission is not taking full advantage of what God has given him access to as a proclaimed believing and regenerate Christian, namely the very scriptures that God has graciously preserved on our behalf as God’s inerrant and authoritative Word and the Holy Spirit through the renewing of our minds through fasting and prayer. It probably doesn’t help that C.S. Lewis himself does not accept the doctrine of the Inerrancy of the Scriptures, which would inevitably lead him and perhaps others to doubt the application and authority from those scriptures.

    So in summary, I’m all in favor of reading the writings of C.S. Lewis (with many grains of salt), but I would strongly recommend against doing so for young Christians (who are presently still weak in their faith and doctrine) and only advise reading such material (after first having read it myself and not solely on the recommendation of a respected minister) to mature believers as a way to gain what may be valuable insights into apologetics and methods for reasoning with those who are lost. I would not use this to facilitate a Bible Study, small group, or devotions as is common practice in many churches today. Furthermore, I would only quote or mention C.S. Lewis, even if it’s intended to help paint light on the Gospel and Biblical truth, while simultaneously pointing out that C.S. Lewis has many flaws in his own confessed beliefs. Recommending to someone to read something that you have not read is irresponsible, but it is in my view even more irresponsible to recommend to someone for the purpose of edifying and building up their faith a book that you know is full of error and omissions of essential doctrine without first disclosing to the potential reader of those issues as not doing the latter would carry a strong potential to lead the potential reader astray from what is correct and true according to God’s Word. My understanding is that C.S. Lewis did little to provide direct caveats to doctrines that were controversial, which arguably was because his target audience were those who were either not aware of such controversy or had little knowledge or exposure to biblical doctrine to begin with; perhaps this could also be because part of C.S. Lewis’ aim was to foster Ecumenism and Universalism, and shedding light on controversial doctrines would conceivable derail that objective.

    Sincerely,
    David

    • Robert V says:

      David,

      Thank you for your comment. It is clear that you have given a great deal of prayerful thought to this subject and it is always a treat to deal with someone who treats these issues and the Scripture with such respect. Some comments with regard to what you have said.

      First of all with regard to the Reformation, I am not aware of any place in his writings where he regarded it as “farcical” and I doubt very much that he would ever have treated such important issues in this way. It is clear that he viewed conflicts between Christians as shameful and a result of sin, but this is not at all the same thing. He believed that the Catholic church had many saved believers because two men he admired very much (G. K. Chesterton and J.R.R. Tolkien) were Catholics. Because he believed these men were saved, he viewed Protestant Catholic disputes as issues that did not impact salvation.

      Now the idea of worshipping Mary by believing in the Immaculate conception is so nauseating to me that I strongly want to believe that anyone who believes such nonsense is not a Christian. On the other hand, I believe that Protestant theology is also poorly thought out to the point of blasphemy. (If you are interested in seeing where I think Protestant theology is awful, please see my posts on “Bad Theology Part 1” and the “The Nature of the Atonement”) Because I see glaring Christ dishonouring flaws in Protestant theology as well as Catholic theology, I am in a real pickle if I want to say Protestants are not saved but Catholics are saved or vice versa. Once you start saying that people who are wrong theologically are not saved, you end up being the only saved person on earth. This is not a Biblical attitude as we see in 1 Timothy 1:20 and 1 Corinthians 5 where Paul speaks of using discipline to correct believers with bad attitudes and wrong ideas.

      As to the objection to Christians being taught that the writings of C.S. Lewis are required reading, I can see your point. On the other hand, the Satanic world system has developed a set of tools that can strip young Christians of their peace of mind by asking very difficult questions. These attacks can make it impossible for a young Christian to love God with all their heart, soul and mind and can make it very easy for vulnerable Christians to fall into sin. People recommend the writings of C.S. Lewis in order to arm young Christians against these attacks and they do so with the best of intentions. I would argue ( and I think you would agree with me) that the best defence against such attacks is a correct understanding of the Scriptures and this is what has motivated my writing on this site. I very rarely refer to anything but the Scriptures and I always try to bring things back to the Word of God and His plan.

      I do have to warn you that some of what I have written (particularly with regard to evolution and the science regarding the age of the earth) is likely to offend you. This is because while I have come to believe that the Word of God is infallible and true, my esteem for the traditional interpretation of some passages is not as great. As I point out in “Bad Theology Part 1”, the interpretation of many Bible passages is coloured by a theology which was contaminated by the erroneous teachings of some of the early church fathers.

      I would love to discuss these issues in greater detail if you are interested, but that is all I can write on this subject for now.

      God Bless,

      robert van de water

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