Friday, August 12, 2016

CS Lewis, 'A Trojan horse for bad theology?'

There are certain Christian celebrities one becomes aware of who seem untouchable in their status as adored and beloved. These particular celebrities are held in such high regard that it's not often that people actually study their theology to see if they are approved. One of these is Clive Staples Lewis (C. S. Lewis).

Early in my walk, on the basis of nearly universal acclaim and heartily positive recommendations, never mind being quoted from the pulpit, I bought and consumed his books.

Over time I've read the Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, Mere Christianity, and Miracles; and some essays such as The Weight of Glory. I didn't like any of them. Well, maybe Screwtape was amusing and accurate in the way the demon Screwtape taught his protege nephew demon to harass a Christian, but overall I was either bored by or confused by his works.

I don't think it was that I lacked the intellect to understand what Lewis was teaching. I did all right in school. I didn't think it was that Lewis lacked the skill to make his point, Screwtape showed me that. Lewis had tremendous authorial skill, nuance, and delicacy to bring his meaning to the fore. So what was it? It couldn't be his theology...could it?

It could.

The verse in 2 Timothy 3:7 refers to some silly women who are being held up as a negative example of those who learn but do not understand. But we can hold up their example for men as well. The verse says,

Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Barnes Notes explains this issue well.
And never able to come to the knowledge of the truth - They may learn many things, but the true nature of religion they do not learn. There are many such persons in the world, who, whatever attention they may pay to religion, never understand its nature. Many obtain much speculative acquaintance with the "doctrines" of Christianity, but never become savingly acquainted with the system; many study the constitution and government of the church, but remain strangers to practical piety; many become familiar with the various philosophical theories of religion, but never become truly acquainted with what religion is; and many embrace visionary theories, who never show that they are influenced by the spirit of the gospel. Nothing is more common than for persons to be very busy and active in religion, and even to "learn" many things about it, who still remain strangers to the saving power of the gospel.
In my opinion, that is Lewis, who has learned much but never got to the core of the true nature of the religion. Even his beloved Narnia chronicles have extremely problematic theology.

The Bible warns us that the antichrist and lesser false teachers use language to flatter and puff up their hearers and themselves. And it warns that there will be those taken in by flatteries and high-minded philosophies. I know I am one of those who is at risk for being attracted to how a teacher uses language and promotes his teachings in unique and skillful ways. I just love language. CS Lewis no doubt was a great user of language and his high-minded philosophies sound and look good- at first.

But let's delve.
CS Lewis - his style dupes many Christians...his style is a Trojan horse for bad theology. ~ Mike Abendroth

In this podcast series, Pastor Mike Abendroth discusses the problem of Christians who accept at face value the things that seem like they are from God, because their style is so attractive. Abendroth explains the importance of thinking, and shows that though Lewis has a skillful way with words, and has said many wonderful, truthful things, the theology behind his words is at odds with the Bible in many cases. For example:

Good: "A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word 'darkness' on the walls of his cell." Source: The Problem of Pain.

Good: "If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world." Source: "Mere Christianity"

Bad: "If by saying that man rose from brutality you mean simply that man is physically descended from animals, I have no objection." Source: The Problem of Pain.

Bad: Concerning the doctrine of "total depravity," Lewis wrote: "I disbelieve that doctrine." Source: The Problem of Pain.

Abendroth advises caution when reading Lewis and also advises that if you are going to mention him to others, do so with qualifications. Abendroth said he does not quote Lewis from the pulpit, because he does not want his flock reading Lewis. Abendroth continues the discussion of CS Lewis' theology in podcast Part 2, which is linked below.

In the essay from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) written by Aaron Cline Hanbury, the author focuses on Lewis' theology and the statements regarding the errant portions made by Martyn Lloyd-Jones shortly after Lewis' death in 1963, and continues examining the reservations current evangelicals have of Lewis today. For example,
Kevin DeYoung, blogger, author and senior pastor of University Reformed Church in Lansing, Mich., sees “two significant problems” with Mere Christianity. These problems he lists are the doctrine of the atonement and inclusivism, according to DeYoung’s 2011 post on his website.
Concerning inclusivism, DeYoung cites a passage from Lewis’ most popular non-fiction work where Lewis asserts that “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.”
DeYoung says that Lewis fails to understand the work of the Holy Spirit in a biblical way.

In this blog post by Mike Duran, former pastor and currently an author, the question is asked, How “Christian” was C.S. Lewis… and Why is He an Evangelical Hero? Duran writes,

His books have influenced more Christians than possibly any other author; his stories are classics, beloved by children and adults alike. There are foundations to his legacy, a movie about him, bumper stickers that quote him and his caricature can be found on t-shirts and coffee mugs. C.S. Lewis is the poster boy for "Christian thinkers," inspiration for vast numbers of Christian authors, an icon in the already crowded pantheon of religious heroes. 
But does he deserve the acclaim? Not only do some question the uncritical embrace of Lewis by American evangelicals, they question his Christian faith. 
Christianity Today columnist Bob Smietana, in an article entitled, C.S. Lewis Superstar, sums up the essence of the “Lewis resistance” :
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. How did someone with such a checkered pedigree come to be a theological Elvis Presley, adored by evangelicals?
You might be surprised to see that there is any concern over the theology and writings of CS Lewis at all, given the hoopla over Lewis' intellectual prowess and authorial skill on matters of Christianity. That is the point. The CS Lewis adoration was never present in Lewis' own life and was not even present for several decades after his death. Abendroth notes that there has to be a reason that Lewis started to become so unthinkingly popular in the 80s, 90s, and onward. He noted that in the 1998 Christianity Today poll Lewis was rated most influential evangelical writer, an acclaim Lewis never enjoyed in his living and writing days of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. In 2005 Lewis was on the cover of Christianity Today, with the accompanying headline "CS Lewis, Superstar." Abendroth surmised that the reason for the popularity is that Christians have of late become undiscerning and prefer style over substance rather than the mental work of study and discernment. He quoted Henry Ford, who said "Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it."

I think this excerpt from the SBTS piece on Lewis makes Abendroth's point of style over substance. The SBTS piece quoted how Pastor John Piper handles the problem of Lewis,

"Lewis is not a writer to which we should turn for growth in a careful biblical understanding of Christian doctrine,” Piper said. "There is almost no passage of Scripture on which I would turn to Lewis for exegetical illumination. … His value is not in his biblical exegesis. Lewis is not the kind of writer who provides substance for a pastor’s sermons."
And yet Piper, like DeYoung, sees value in Lewis’ work that transcends — but does not excuse — his theological shortcomings. For Piper, the value of Lewis is the way he brings together "the experience of joy and the defense of truth" in his writing. [emphasis mine]
In other words, CS Lewis' biblical substance isn't there, but the way he writes sure is a nice experience.

In my own opinion, after having read through the aforementioned Lewis books and having studied Lewis' theology, I ask the same question The Trinity Foundation asked, Did CS Lewis Go to Heaven?

Lewis accepted evolution for much of his life, taught and believed in the unbiblical doctrine of purgatory, denied sufficiency of scripture, denied inerrancy of scripture, misunderstood the work of the Holy Spirit, promoted open theism, denied the penal substitutionary atonement, and was muddy and unclear on a number of other doctrines. Can one even BE a Christian who denies and twists such foundational doctrines? Can one deny the very things that make one a Christian and yet still be called a Christian? Does Lewis get a pass simply because he was a good writer...but Benny Hinn is unmasked as a fake because he isn't?

The point Pastor Abendroth made was also that we need to think for ourselves. As he said, and I reiterate, I personally do not recommend C. S. Lewis, but I'm not advocating immediately throwing out all books written by Lewis that may be standing on your bookshelves. Think about these things and come to your own conclusions. There is no doubt CS Lewis was a scholar and a philosopher who made significant contributions to the world. It's up to you to decide how much of a contribution he made to Christianity.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sources and Further Reading/Listening

Essay, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary- CS Lewis: Elephant in the Room

Podcast, Bethlehem Bible Church/No Compromise Radio-
CS Lewis: Saint or Sinner? Part 1
CS Lewis: Saint or Sinner? Part 2

Essay, Mike Duran- How 'Christian' was CS Lewis & Why is he an Evangelical Hero?

Did CS Lewis Go to Heaven?




9 comments :

  1. If your reading Lewis as a standard of biblical theology then obviously there are flaws but I never get the sense that he is trying to rise to the point of preaching theology. From screw tape letters and mere Christianity and a personal favorite a grief observed. For me he paints the picture of your average christian who struggles with Concepts of God and Faith. He is for better or worse quite human.

    A grief observed spoke to me when my own mother died like many men when tragedy strikes the temptation to question faith and God and life is a very human experience. His struggles with faith gave me strength. They helped me feel more connected to Christ because instead of feeling shame at struggle I can witness a staggering intellect also struggle. I was able to renew my faith even as I dealt with the pain and loss of someone I loved. I have never looked to Lewis to interpret the bible for me and I don't think this author ever attempted for his work to be biblical theology. I think to try to do that is to take his works some place they never were intended. Perhaps you were expecting to much out of this author. It is not his thoughts on what God is what Christ is that draw me to him. It is very human approach to his faith combined with his power to convey meaning that makes CS Lewis still to this day one of my favorite authors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Michael,

      CS Lewis preached theology. If one has an opinion about God, you're a theologian. Theology means simply, the study of God. Lewis' books promoted Christian doctrines, taught Christian ideas, and studied the Christian God. Many of his books were defenses of Christian doctrines and of the faith. That's theology.

      What do we say about a theologian whose ideas about God are SO flawed as to be defective and promote a different religion altogether? We say he is a non-believer.

      I understand he is a favorite author, but his writing comes with errant theology and that is never good. There are better and more solid authors, who are just as human, one can read and be in better stead.

      Delete
  2. CS Lewis was most certainly a false teacher. I didn't even think he was a good writer, but that's subjective. But as far as his beliefs, if a person believed what he did about the Gospel, they'd be in hell. That tells me all I need to know about him. I avoid him, and I don't understand why anyone would appreciate him.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Amen Elizabeth and Anonymous 8-12-16 at 4:36 PM!

    Right on and AMEN!

    Rick
    Metro Atlanta
    Ps I ask for prayer due to an injury
    Thanks fellow saints...

    ReplyDelete
  4. I haven't read all of his works. I enjoyed the Space Trilogy and the Narnia books. I think he has good value in terms of thinking of issues. I suspect the problem is when people want the milk - digested food from someone else - instead of getting their theology directly from the Bible. I prefer the latter, so I enjoy seeing what Lewis or Koontz or others who have faulty views have to say. Some parts might be compelling ... others true. But we should never hold a human up as being divinely inspired ... and really Christians shouldn't have any "superstars" except Christ.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you very much for your courage in writing truth about the darling of evangelicalism. Another concern is the way he rarely mentions Jesus. That seems strange since everything we believe hinges on Christ's sacrifice for our sins. If you speak against Lewis, people will look at you like you have three heads (my personal experience) but it is necessary to look at the facts. Thank you for presenting a factual post that should put an end to anyone who is questioning.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you for this very urgent and important piece. I too finally came to the conclusion that C.S. Lewis had a wonderful way with words, but unfortunately he didn't translate BIBLICAL GOSPEL TRUTH by use of those scholarly writing skills. Oh, I wish I could take back all of his publications that I had given to so many to read those many year ago! If I had focused on God's infallible and inerrant Word, then I would have not been party to advancing false teachers via my then spiritual immaturity and ignorance. What a painful confession to reveal; but others must be warned...
    Kay Cude

    ReplyDelete
  7. This is slightly related - regarding CS Lewis's book series - The Chronicles of Narnia.

    When are fairly new Christians and as God was convicting me about what we were reading, I realized I had been letting my daughter read secular books that were very new age-y, gory and bizarre. I think the fact the books were about cats made me overlook it. But one day I opened it and read something really morbid and graphic and realized I'd never let her read such a thing if the characters were human...and so I had a talk with my daughter. I convinced her from the Word these things were not things God wants us to be reading (sorcery, contacting dead relatives, etc) and she agreed and made the big decision on her own to get rid of her favorite book series (she was only 11 so it was a big deal!).

    To replace them we bought the Chronicles of Narnia. I just assumed they were good - being so loved by Christians. She read them, enjoyed them, all was well (except one cuss word she brought to me that I blacked out...anyway...).

    So we decided to read them as a family. I became increasingly uncomfortable with the magic and mythology mixed in, but everyone was enjoying it so much I didn't really speak up. It was very hard to find any allegory after The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. I felt confused because I had naively assumed all the books were solidly allegorical about Biblical truths.

    We finally got to Prince Caspian and there was a very odd passage in there. It sounded vaguely familiar so I decided to google it after the kids went to bed and see what it meant.

    Basically, CS Lewis wrote in Bacchus (another name for the god Dionysus - the god of wine). There was a scene with a wild party, everyone sticky with grapes and fuzzy minded and playing a game but they weren't sure what it was (sounded a lot like what happened in Exodus 32) - and it mentioned Bacchus' "Wild Girls" - the party didn't say anything outright inappropriate, unless you count an actual chant of praise the his followers called out being in the text! but if you know the background, you'll know Dionysus's "Wild Girls" were involved in some heavy drinking and pagan orgies, among other vile pagan practices. I then scanned the rest of the book and even saw a few pages later that the "Wild Girls" met some school girl who wanted to join their club (she wasn't afraid of them and Aslan) so they (the Wild Girls) helped her remove some of her "unnecessary and uncomfortable clothing" and join the parade. That's weird in itself, but having looked up the history of Bacchus/Dionysus and his female followers, it more than disturbed me.

    I was actually mind blown how CS Lewis could put this "god" who people actually worshipped in such vile ways - partying chaotically with Aslan - who is meant to represent Christ!

    There is NO WAY Jesus would mix with a demon, let alone be at some wild, confusing party. And what bugged me most, is that assuming the false god is a demon - demons can't even repent. I can get behind a wicked man turning good and "helping" Aslan/Jesus...but a demon of old? Not so much.

    It made me sick. I shared it with my family and they were all in agreement it had to go. My daughter (now 12) then remembered a very odd thing about the last book, were apparently a character who served the bad guy (the devil) all his life was allowed into heaven...having NEVER repented on earth. She thought it was really weird but didn't say anything at the time. I apologized for letting her read it and admitted I was totally naïve!

    I don't understand how so many sound pastors (my old pastor as well as Paul Washer - to name 2) love that series. It confuses me.

    I'm thankful for your article. I'm glad to know I'm not alone in thinking something is fishy here.

    Blessings, Desiree

    ReplyDelete
  8. Amen Desiree! I too was uncomfortable with his writing and stopped reading the books with my kids. They had many questions themselves concerning the stories. One of my sons actually said"I thought you said this was a Christian author". Lesson learned. I had only read a few of his books and took his views fairly lightly until then. Never read another after that.

    ReplyDelete