How Much Do You Really Know About C.S. Lewis?
In light of the incredible popularity of the writings, videos and quotations of C.S. Lewis among evangelicals (and especially new Calvinists), I thought it helpful to get a more accurate portrait of Lewis than what those promoting him have been giving. The following article of research on Lewis is by David Cloud. Link is at bottom of article. – JT
The late British author C.S. (Clive Staples) Lewis (1898-1963), who was known as Jack, is extremely popular with evangelicals today. Most Christian bookstores feature the writings of Lewis without a word of warning.
A Christianity Today reader’s poll in 1998 rated Lewis the most influential evangelical writer. The December 2005 edition of Christianity Today features C.S. Lewis on the cover and almost every article is devoted to the man, including the effusive cover story entitled, “C.S. Lewis Superstar.” In an article commemorating the 100th anniversary of Lewis’s birth, J.I. Packer called him “our patron saint” and said that Lewis ”has come to be the Aquinas, the Augustine, and the Aesop of contemporary Evangelicalism” (“Still Surprised by Lewis,” Christianity Today, Sept. 7, 1998).
Though Lewis died in 1963, sales of his books had risen to two million a year by 1977 and have increased 125% since 2001.
In its April 23, 2001, issue, Christianity Today again praised C.S. Lewis in an article titled “Myth Matters.” Lewis, called “the 20th century’s greatest Christian apologist,” wrote several mythical works, such as The Chronicles of Narnia, which Christianity Today recommends in the most glowing terms, claiming that “Christ came not to put an end to myth but to take all that is most essential in the myth up into himself and make it real.” I don’t know what to say to this except that it is complete nonsense. In his Chronicles, Lewis depicts Jesus Christ as a lion named Aslan who is slain on a stone table. Christianity Today says, “In Aslan, Christ is made tangible, knowable, real.” As if we can know Jesus Christ best through a fable that is vaguely and inaccurately based on biblical themes and intermingled with paganism.
WAS C.S. LEWIS A STRONG BIBLE BELIEVER?
Was C.S. Lewis a strong Bible believer? By no means, as even Christianity Today admits. “Clive Staples Lewis was anything but a classic evangelical, socially or theologically. He smoked cigarettes and a pipe, and he regularly visited pubs to drink beer with friends. Though he shared basic Christian beliefs with evangelicals, he didn’t subscribe to biblical inerrancy or penal substitution. He believed in purgatory and baptismal regeneration” (“C.S. Lewis Superstar,” Christianity Today, Dec. 2005).
Lewis believed in prayers for the dead. In Letters to Malcolm, he wrote, “Of course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter men. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden” (p. 109). He believed in purgatory. In Letters to Malcolm, he wrote” “I believe in Purgatory. … The right view returns magnificently in Newman’s Dream. There if I remember rightly, the saved soul, at the very foot of the throne, begs to be taken away and cleansed. It cannot bear for a moment longer ‘with its darkness to affront that light’. … Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they?” (pp. 110-111). Lewis confessed his sins regularly to a priest and was given the Catholic sacrament of last rites on July 16, 1963 (Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper, C.S. Lewis: A Biography, 1974, pp. 198, 301). Lewis denied the total depravity of man and the substitutionary blood atonement of Christ. He believed in theistic evolution and rejected the Bible as the infallible Word of God. He taught that hell is a state of mind: “And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind–is, in the end, Hell” (Lewis, The Great Divorce, p. 65). D. Martin Lloyd-Jones warned that C.S. Lewis had a defective view of salvation and was an opponent of the substitutionary and penal view of the atonement (Christianity Today, Dec. 20, 1963). In a letter to the editor of Christianity Today, Feb. 28, 1964, Dr. W. Wesley Shrader, First Baptist Church, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, warned that “C.S. Lewis … would never embrace the (literal-infallible) view of the Bible” (F.B.F. News Bulletin, Fundamental Baptist Fellowship, March 4, 1984).
Lewis lived for 30 years with Janie Moore, a woman 25 years his senior to whom he was not married. The relationship with the married woman began when Lewis was still a student at Oxford. Moore was separated from her husband. Lewis confessed to his brother Arthur that he was in love with Mrs. Moore, the mother of one of his friends who was killed in World War I. The relationship was definitely sexual in nature. See Alan Jacobs, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis, pp. 82, 94. At age 58, Lewis married Joy Gresham, an American woman who pursued a relationship with Lewis even while she was still married to another man. According to two of Lewis’s friends, Gresham’s husband divorced her on the grounds of desertion (Roger Lancelyn Green & Walter Hooper, Light on C.S. Lewis), though he, in turn, married Joy’s cousin.
In the book A Severe Mercy by Sheldon VanAuken, a personal letter is reproduced on page 191 in which Lewis suggests to VanAuken that upon his next visit to England that the two of them “must have some good, long talks together and perhaps we shall both get high.” We have no way to know exactly what this means, but we do know that Lewis drank beer, wine, and whiskey on a daily basis.
Lewis never gave up his unholy fascination with paganism. On a visit to Greece with his wife in 1960, Lewis made the following strange, unbiblical statement:
“I had some ado to prevent Joy (and myself) from lapsing into paganism in Attica! AT DAPHNI IT WAS HARD NOT TO PRAY TO APOLLO THE HEALER. BUT SOMEHOW ONE DIDN’T FEEL IT WOULD HAVE BEEN VERY WRONG–WOULD HAVE ONLY BEEN ADDRESSING CHRIST SUB SPECIE APOLLONIUS” (C.S. Lewis to Chad Walsh, May 23, 1960, cited from George Sayer, Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis, 1994, p. 378).
What a blasphemous statement! Christ is not worshipped under the image of pagan gods. And we must remember that this was written at the end of Lewis’ life, and long after his “conversion” to Christ.
Lewis claimed that followers of pagan religions can be saved without personal faith in Jesus Christ: “But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. … There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand. There are people in other religions who 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. For example a Buddhist of good will may be led to concentrate more and more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believed) the Buddhist teaching on certain points. Many of the good Pagans long before Christ’s birth may have been in this position” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, HarperSanFrancisco edition, 2001, pp. 64, 208, 209).
Lewis believed that Jonah and Job were not historical books. In his article “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism,” Lewis said: “… Jonah, a tale with as few even pretended historical attachments as Job, grotesque in incident and surely not without a distinct, though of course edifying, vein of typically Jewish humor” (“Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism,” Christian Reflections, edited by Walter Hooper, Eerdmans).
LEWIS NEVER GAVE A CLEAR BIBLICAL TESTIMONY OF THE NEW BIRTH AND SAID THAT FAITH IN THE BLOOD OF CHRIST IS UNNECESSARY
C.S. Lewis went to some length to describe his views of salvation in Mere Christianity and in his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy. In neither book did he give a clear biblical testimony of the new birth.
As for faith in the blood of Christ, Lewis said that it is not an essential part of Christianity. He taught that it does not matter how one defines the atonement, and he himself did not believe in the substitutionary blood atonement. In Mere Christianity he made the following statement:
“You can say that Christ died for our sins. You may say that the Father has forgiven us because Christ has done for us what we ought to have done. You may say that we are washed in the blood of the Lamb. You may say that Christ has defeated death. They are all true. IF ANY OF THEM DO NOT APPEAL TO YOU, LEAVE IT ALONE AND GET ON WITH THE FORMULA THAT DOES. And, whatever you do, do not start quarrelling with other people because they use a different formula from years” (Mere Christianity, HarperSanFrancisco edition, 2001, p. 182).
This is rank heresy. Lewis wrongly claimed that it does not matter if a person believes that he is washed in Christ’s blood, that this is a mere “formula” that can be accepted or rejected at one’s pleasure. He said that it is just as well to believe that “the Father has forgiven us because Christ has done for us what we ought to have done.” That is a bloodless salvation through Christ’s life rather than through His Cross, which, according to the Bible is no salvation at all. The “blood” is mentioned more than 90 times in the New Testament, and that is no accident. “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb. 9:22). If Jesus had lived a perfect life in our place and died a bloodless death in our place, we would not be saved.
Lewis said, “The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. … Any theories we build up as to how Christ’s death did all of this are, in my view, quite secondary…” (Mere Christianity, HarperSanFrancisco edition, 2001, pp. 54, 55, 56).
This is unscriptural teaching. God has revealed exactly what Christ did and what the atonement means. It is not a matter of theorizing or believing one “formula” over against another. The Bible says our salvation is a matter of a propitiation, a ransom, whereby our sins were washed away by Christ’s bloody death, which was offered as a payment to satisfy God’s holy Law.
Lewis never mentions the doctrine of propitiation, but propitiation was a necessary part of our salvation and the propitiation was made by blood. “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” (Rom. 3:25). Propitiation means satisfaction; covering; the fulfillment of a demand. It refers to God’s estimation of Christ’s sacrifice. God is fully satisfied by what Jesus Christ did on the Cross. The penalty for His broken law by man’s sin has been fully satisfied (Rom. 3:24-25; 1 Jn. 2:2; Heb. 2:17; Isa. 5:11). The Greek word translated “propitiation” in Rom. 3:25 is also translated “mercy seat” in Heb. 9:5. The mercy seat perfectly covered the law which was contained in the Ark (Ex. 25:17, 21). This symbolizes propitiation–Christ covering the demands of God’s law. That it is the blood of Christ which satisfied this demand and put away our sins was depicted on the Day of Atonement when blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat by the high priest (Lev. 16:11-17).
Through Christ’s blood we have eternal redemption. “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Heb. 9:12).
Through Christ’s blood we can enter into the presence of God. “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19).
This is not a theory or a formula. It is the Word of God, and if one does not like it or believe it, he cannot be saved.
In Mere Christianity, Lewis claims that the Christ-life is spread to men through baptism, belief, and the Lord’s Supper. This is a false gospel of faith plus works. He says, “There are three things that spread the Christ-life to us: baptism, belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names–Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper. … I am not saying anything about which of these things is the most essential. My Methodist friend would like me to say more about belief and less (in proportion) about the other two. But I am not going into that” (Mere Christianity, p. 61). [Note that he includes the Catholic Mass in his list of the various names by which holy communion are known, failing to acknowledge to his readers that the Mass is an entirely different thing than the simple Lord’s Supper of the New Testament.]
It is not a Methodist we should listen to but the Bible itself, and the Bible says that salvation is by the grace of Christ alone through faith in Christ alone without works, that works are important but they follow after salvation and are the product of salvation rather than the means of it. The difference between saying that salvation is by faith without works and that works follow and saying that salvation is by faith with works or faith plus works is the difference between a true gospel and a false one. “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:3-4). “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10).
I have read several of C.S. Lewis’s books and dozens of his articles and several biographies about him, and I have never seen a clear teaching on the new birth or a clear biblical testimony that he was born again. This should be cause for the deepest concern.
WHY IS LEWIS SO POPULAR WITH EVANGELICALS TODAY?
In light of his lack of clear scriptural salvation testimony, his heresies, his worldliness, and the massive pagan influences in his work, why are evangelicals today so enamored with C.S. Lewis? I believe the following are some of the chief reasons:
FIRST, NEW EVANGELICALS LOVE C.S. LEWIS BECAUSE THEY ARE CHARACTERIZED BY A PRIDE OF INTELLECT AND LEWIS WAS DEFINITELY AN INTELLECTUAL. He had almost a photographic memory and had a triple first at Oxford in Philosophy, Classics, and English. He was one of the greatest experts of that day in English literature and occupied the first Chair in Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University. Since New Evangelicals almost worship intellectualism (a spirit that the late David Otis Fuller called “scholarolatry”), it is no surprise that they would look upon the famous intellectual C.S. Lewis as a patron saint.
SECOND, NEW EVANGELICALS LOVE C.S. LEWIS BECAUSE OF HIS ECUMENICAL THINKING AND HIS REFUSAL TO PRACTICE SEPARATION. This has been admitted by Christianity Today. “Lewis’s … concentration on the main doctrines of the church coincided with evangelicals’ concern to avoid ecclesiastical separatism” (Christianity Today, Oct. 25, 1993). CT therefore admits that C.S. Lewis is popular to Evangelicals today because, like them, he despised biblical separation.
C.S. Lewis was, in fact, very ecumenical. The following is an overview of his ecumenical philosophy and his influence on present-day ecumenical movement:
“Lewis was firmly ecumenical, though he distanced himself from outright liberalism. In his preface to Mere Christianity, Lewis states that his aim is to present ‘an agreed, or common, or central or mere Christianity.’ So he aims to concentrate on the doctrines that he believes are common to all forms of Christianity–including Roman Catholicism. It is no surprise that he submitted parts of the book to four clergymen for criticism–an Anglican, a Methodist, a Presbyterian, and a Roman Catholic! He hopes that the book will make it clear why all Christians ‘ought to be reunited,’ but warns that it should not be seen as an alternative to the creeds of existing denominations. He likens the ‘mere Christianity’ that he describes in the book to a hall from which various rooms lead off. These rooms are the various Christian traditions. And just as when you enter a house you do not stay in the hall but enter a room, so when you become a Christian you should join a particular Christian tradition. Lewis believes that it is not too important which room you enter. It will be right for some to enter the door marked ‘Roman Catholicism’ as it will for others to enter other doors. Whichever room you enter, says Lewis, the important thing is that you be convinced that it is the right one for you. And, he says, ‘When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors.’
“Mention should also be made of Lewis’ views of the sacraments. The sacraments ‘spread the Christ life to us’ (Mere Christianity, book 2, chapter 5). In his Letters to Malcolm Lewis states that he does not want to ‘unsettle in the mind of any Christian, whatever his denomination, the concepts–for him traditional–by which he finds it profitable to represent to himself what is happening when he receives the bread and wine’ of the Lord’s Supper. What happens in the Lord’s Supper is a mystery, and so the Roman Catholic conception of the bread and wine becoming the actual body and blood of Christ might be just as valid as the Protestant view of the Lord’s Supper as a memorial (Letters to Malcolm, chapter 19). …
“This enigma of C.S. Lewis was no more than a slight bemusement to me until recently three things changed my bemusement into bewilderment.
“In March 1994 the Evangelicals and Catholics Together movement produced its first document. This was a programatic document entitled Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium. It was rightly said at the time that this document represented ‘a betrayal of the Reformation.’ I saw no connection between this and C.S. Lewis until a couple of years later when the symposium Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Working Towards a Common Mission was published. In his contribution to the book, Charles Colson–the Evangelical ‘prime mover’ behind ECT–tells us that C.S. Lewis was a major influence which led him to form the movement (Billy Graham was another!). In fact Colson says that Evangelicals and Catholics Together seeks to continue the legacy of C.S. Lewis by focusing on the core beliefs of all true Christians (Common Mission, p. 36). The enigma took on a more foreboding aspect.
“The enigma darkened further when just last year (after becoming connected to the Internet at the end of 1996) I discovered, quite by accident, that C.S. Lewis is just as popular amongst Roman Catholics as he is amongst Evangelicals. Perhaps I should have known this already, but it had never struck me before.
“The third shock came last autumn when I read that Christianity Today–reputed to be the leading evangelical magazine in the USA–had conducted a poll amongst its readers to discover whom they considered the most influential theological writers of the twentieth century. You will have already guessed that C.S. Lewis came out on top!
“After these three things it came as no surprise to me this year to find that C.S. Lewis has exerted a major influence on the Alpha course, and that it quotes or refers to him almost ad nauseum. Could not the Alpha course be renamed the ‘Mere Christianity’ course? …
“In conclusion, I offer the following reflection. If it is true to say that ‘you are what you eat,’ then it is also true to say that ‘a Christian is what he hears and reads’ since this is how he gets his spiritual food. Thus if Christians are brought up on a diet of C.S. Lewis, it should not surprise us to find they are seeking ‘to continue the legacy of C.S. Lewis.’ The apostle Paul said, ‘A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump’ (Gal. 5:9–the whole passage is relevant to the present context); thus IF EVANGELICALS READ AND APPLAUD SUCH BOOKS AS MERE CHRISTIANITY IT SHOULD COME AS NO SURPRISE IF WE FIND THEM ‘WORKING TOWARDS A COMMON MISSION’ WITH THE ENEMIES OF THE GOSPEL. THE YOUNG CHRISTIAN SHOULD BE VERY CAREFUL WHAT HE READS, AND THOSE IN POSITIONS OF AUTHORITY (PASTORS, TEACHERS, PARENTS) SHOULD BE VERY CAREFUL WHAT THEY RECOMMEND OTHERS TO READ” (Dr. Tony Baxter, “The Enigma of C.S. Lewis,” CRN Journal, Winter 1998, Christian Research Network, Colchester, United Kingdom, p. 30; Baxter works for the Protestant Truth Society as a Wycliffe Preacher).
In April 1998, Mormon professor Robert Millet spoke at Wheaton College on the topic of C.S. Lewis. In a recent issue of Christianity Today, Millet, dean of Brigham Young University, is quoted as saying that C.S. Lewis “is so well received by Latter-day Saints [Mormons] because of his broad and inclusive vision of Christianity” (John W. Kennedy, “Southern Baptists Take Up the Mormon Challenge,” Christianity Today, June 15, 1998, p. 30).
THIRD, NEW EVANGELICALS LOVE C.S. LEWIS BECAUSE OF THEIR SHARED FASCINATION FOR OR AND SYMPATHY WITH ROME. Today’s evangelicals have given us “Evangelicals and Rome Together” and even those who do not go that far usually speak of Rome’s errors in soft, congenial terms rather than labeling it the blasphemous, antichrist institution that it is and that Protestants and Baptists of old plainly called it. As we have seen, C.S. Lewis considered the Roman Catholic Church one of the acceptable “rooms” in the house of Christianity and longed for unity between Protestantism and Romanism. Lewis believed in prayers to the dead and purgatory.
Some of Lewis’s closest friends were Roman Catholics. J.R. Tolkien of Lord of the Rings fame is one example. Tolkien and Lewis were very close and spent countless hours together. Lewis credited Tolkien with having a large role in his “conversion.” Lewis was also heavily influenced by the Roman Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton. When asked what Christian writers had helped him, Lewis remarked in 1963, six months before he died, “The contemporary book that has helped me the most is Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man” (God in the Dock, edited by Walter Hooper, 1970, p. 260).
Lewis carried on a warm correspondence in Latin with Catholic priest Don Giovanni Calabria of Italy over their shared “concern for the reunification of the Christian churches” (The Narnian, Alan Jacobs, pp. 249, 250). Calabria was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988.
In 1943, Lewis gave a talk on “Christian Apologetics” for a group of priests in Wales (The Narnian, p. 229).
From the 1940s to the end of his life, Lewis’s spiritual advisor was a Catholic priest named Walter Adams (The Narnian, p. 224). It was to this priest that Lewis confessed his sins.
Roman Catholics love C.S. Lewis as much as evangelicals. His books are typically found in Catholic bookstores. Michael Coren, a Roman Catholic, wrote a biography of Lewis entitled “C.S. Lewis: The Man Who Created Narnia.” The Catholic news agency Zenit asked Coren, “What do Catholics need to know about C.S. Lewis?” He replied: “They should know he wasn’t a Catholic, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have become one eventually. G. K. Chesterton became a Catholic in 1922 but had really been one for 20 years. … Lewis was born in Belfast, in sectarian Northern Ireland, so he was raised anti-Catholic like most Protestant children there. He was a man of his background but HIS VIEWS WERE VERY CATHOLIC: HE BELIEVED IN PURGATORY, BELIEVED IN THE SACRAMENTS, WENT TO CONFESSION” (“The Subtle Magic of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia: Michael Coren’s Perspective as the New Movie Looms,” Zenit, Dec. 7, 2005).
Peter Kreeft, a convert to Rome from the Dutch Reformed denomination, says C.S. Lewis was one of the “many strands of the rope that hauled me aboard the ark”:
“Even C. S. Lewis, the darling of Protestant Evangelicals, ‘smelled’ Catholic most of the time. … Lewis is the only author I ever have read whom I thought I could completely trust and completely understand. But he believed in Purgatory, the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and not Total Depravity. He was no Calvinist. In fact, he was a medieval” (“Hauled Aboard the Ark,” http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/hauled-aboard.htm).
Kreeft is right. Evangelicalism’s love affair with C.S. Lewis is evidence of its deep spiritual compromise and lack of sound doctrinal discernment.
“Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” (1 Cor. 5:6)
“Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.” (1 Cor. 15:33)
“Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” 12 Tim. 3:5)
“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” (Rom. 16:17)
– David Cloud, Wayoflife.org