The Theology of C. S. Lewis

The following is an excerpt from The Theology of C. S. Lewis
by Donald Williams

Click here to return to Dr. Williams’ About page.

Lewis, then, despite his many virtues as a Christian thinker and writer, has passages that encourage doctrinal perspectives that are biblically problematic, perspectives to which young Evangelicals in their growing accommodation to the spirit of the age are increasingly susceptible. This we must recognize. But before we can respond properly to what Lewis was doing, we had first better make sure that we understand it. On closer inspection, the support for these questionable doctrines is sometimes less clear than it seemed at first.

For example, in the introduction to The Great Divorce, Lewis says, “I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell; and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself.”[i] Are the passengers on the bus actually from Hell, then, or not? It’s hard to tell. Maybe Lewis was more concerned to portray the psychology of conversion in a setting that puts Hell or Heaven at stake and shows the contrast between them than he was to tell us whether or not an actual post-mortem conversion is possible. This possibility is supported by a comment Lewis made to one Edward T. Dell, who had written to ask about Lewis’s doctrine in 1949. In response, Lewis wrote, “I have no doctrine on such a purely speculative point. You must not confuse my romances with my theses. In the latter I state and argue a creed. In the former much is merely supposed for the sake of the story.”[ii]

This is an important distinction, and it does help a bit. A “supposal” suggested is not necessarily a doctrine defended, and we must not automatically erect the one into the other. Unfortunately, as we have seen, some of the questionable doctrine shows up not only suggested in “romances” but also stated in “theses,” in a book in which Lewis had set out to expound and defend “mere” Christianity. He did not always succeed in doing so.

If Lewis is not always a safe guide to doctrine, should we continue to give him the preeminent place he has had in our reading? Should we continue to recommend him at all? I would say yes, absolutely. Otherwise we should miss the wonders and glories I have already hinted at here, and many more besides.[iii] But we should be reminded that no extra-biblical writer—not even Luther or Calvin (and definitely not Donald Williams!)–should be read without the constant exercise of critical discernment rooted in Scripture as the plumb-line of truth. As great as he was, C. S. Lewis was no exception to this rule. Well, that is well and good for adults, who can be held responsible to read with discernment. But should we still give our children the Narnia books to read? No. Read them with your children instead! Thus you can make use of an unparalleled opportunity to cultivate their receptivity to all that is true, good, and beautiful while at the same time learning the biblical discernment you will be modeling for them.

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