Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A fair-handed caution on C. S. Lewis

Anyone who knows me much knows I love C. S. Lewis. I read a Narnia book as a very young pagan, and read some of Mere Christianity shortly before my conversion. Lewis' now-popularized Lord/Liar/Lunatic argument was very troubling to me as a young cultist, and the Holy Spirit used that towards my conversion to Christ.

I've read Narnia to my kids, quoted Lewis in many connections in my sermons, writings, here and at Pyro. His Screwtape Letters have done me a lot of good (particularly Letter 8).

Lewis is wonderfully articulate. When he says something well, it can't be topped. You can just quote, nod, marvel, and wish you had half his eloquence.

But I've never had any illusions about the fact that Lewis was doctrinally problematic at best. He has to be read with a lot of discernment. Lewis was wobbly or just plain wrong on some very important issues (inspiration of the Bible and atonement being two of them).

Views of Lewis have ranged from nutty rejection as a witch (seriously) to unquestioning acceptance and citation as a theological authority. Which he's not.

All that to say this: Gary E. Gilley has written about the best brief and even-handed assessment of Lewis I've ever seen (h-t Old Truth). I commend it to you.


drew@jonah said...

I love Gary Gilley. His treatment of Lewis was not only educational, but shows that we need need need to be discerning.

runninbill said...

What I don't understand is if someone else (say Clark Pinnock) said the same things Lewis said, then many would not only protest his unorthodoxy but question his salvation. Lewis seems to get a pass most of the time (??Lloyd Jones may have not done so.) I think one reason Lewis has become more popular since the 60s is a characteristic of modern evangelicalism: the desire to claim anybody that gives the movement "intellectual respectability."


Kay said...

Lewis was an able apologist for Christian Theism. He had an astounding ability to use the English language with precision and wit.
He wasn't an occultist plant, but neither was he JC Ryle. He was just an above-averagely clever member of the CofE. No more or less sinister than Bishop John Sentamu
He probably gets more of a pass because a lot of his questionable thinking cropped up in his fiction, which is perhaps a bit more like thinking aloud than his straight apologetics.
Most Christians I know would reject his line of thinking about Emeth in The Last Battle, for example. But then, the CofE don't get called woolly anglicans for nothing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, Dan. I remember when I practically worshiped Lewis. But once I became reformed, I suddenly didn't have much use for him. It's funny: I used to fantasize about sitting and gleaning from him, and now I fantasize about arguing with him. I still like some of his stuff, but it's amazing how quickly disillusionment overthrows certain notions.

Anonymous said...

P.S. I like the blog's new look.

Lance Roberts said...

I like Lewis a lot, and am glad to see an article showing his weaknesses without taking quotes out of context, as I've seen others do.

Haveing said that, I think the blog author is off on Sacramentalism.

Highland Host said...

Lewis was an Anglo-catholic. In one of his essays (I forget which, I read it at university once in the chapel library) he refers to kneeling before 'the blessed sacrament'. Which is completely in line with Anglo-catholic piety.

Of course the creed of the Church of England actually condemns such behaviour(article 25), "The sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them."

However C.S. Lewis was never an evangelical. Clark Pinnock was once Reformed, Lewis never was.
Part of the question is 'which way was he going?' So Martin Luther held some beliefs that we would find troubling today, but he was headed out of Rome, and out of heresy. Same with Pinnock and Lewis, which way were they going theologically?

C.S. Lewis wasn't a theologian. His involvement with Anglocatholicism led to a tendency to accept what 'the church' said uncritically. This was a huge mistake, as high church Anglicanism only exists by falsely swearing to believe confessions that men do NOT believe.
They are not 'true' to historic Anglicanism, but false to it.

But then the Church of England as a whole is false to its heritage too.

FX Turk said...

Dan --

I just wanted to prove that I do come to your blog every blue moon or so, and that we could say all of this about you -- except, of course, the part about writing classic children;s books, the part about being uncritically Angilcan, the part about being headed in the wrong direction, adn the part about being doctrinally problematic.

So in one sense, you're better than C.S. Lewis even if you haven't written those kids books, but you still have time -- maybe you could wind up being way better than C.S. Lewis.

DJP said...

To the question of Pinnock vs. Lewis, I was going to answer similarly. Pinnock is an apostate. We know he knows better. But as to Lewis, on the other hand, I do not know whether anyone ever took the time to try to explain the Bible to Lewis.

So I think because of Lewis' eloquent and persuasive insistence on the deity and Lordship of Christ, and the fundamental truth and authority of the Bible, as over against atheism and so many modernistic trends, he is given a "pass" from most. But it merits a caution, I think.

Frank, thanks for you annual visit, and for all the unmerited graciousness. I'd settle for having reason to feel I'd given some propotional justification for existing, before I die. Of which the odds go down yearly.

Tim said...

Indeed, Gilley's essay is far more reasonable and evenhanded than Mary Van Nattan's!

Anonymous said...

It would be hard to be less reasonable and evenhanded.

Anonymous said...

I too love CS Lewis. I recently reread some of his work with the intent of evaluating his worldview. I was surprised at the amount of doctrinal error I found. I still love him, but I am much more discerning about his theology.

Anyway, I wanted to let you know that I linked to this post in my blog.

Blessings to you ~