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Refuting Universalism Slanders Of C.S. Lewis, Part 1

Some Christians are just nutty, and nuttiness does not revoke salvation. But many carefully discerning Christians have been deceived into believing they should fear C.S. Lewis because he supposedly held heretical belief in universalism.
| Feb 3, 2011 | No comments | Series:

Can we just nuke this? Can we finally and fully blast it to shreds? Or will there always be pieces of the monster that somehow repair themselves and lurch back to life, groaning, and head to the internet and post things like “C.S. Lewis was a heretic; hide your children!”?

I had thought to write about something else instead: that some evangelicals, with good intentions, seem to over-use Lewis, and forget that we do have other scholars, even if they’re not as creative or popular.

But then this issue came up, and for the time being, I’ve swung right back to the other side.

Sure, I still think evangelicals often over-venerate Lewis, quoting him, writing even more books about him and his works, and making yet another Life of Lewis visual documentary.

Actual quote from one Christian-conspiracy-theory website: “Pan, the pagan sex god (…) is deceitfully renamed to ‘Tumnus’ in the (‘Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’) movie.” (I’d rather not link to that site because it could corrupt you, but I need to show it directly for a good cause, so that you will know how bad it is.)

Yet then along come other Christians who react in the opposite extreme. Perhaps they are so used to being in a minority-party status and reacting instead of acting, that they instinctively detest anything popular, suspect it of doctrinal compromise, and pass along conspiracy lies.

If this were only said by fringe types, bless ‘em, who roam Christendom and also say things like “rock music is hypnotic and the Devil’s tool” or “all Greek gods are actually demons” without Biblical proof, I could live with that. Some Christians are just nutty, and nuttiness does not revoke salvation. Surely God is waiting to surprise all of us countless times, in the New Earth.

But many carefully discerning Christians also have been deceived into believing that they should fear Lewis because he supposedly held heretical belief in universalism.

Wretched mistake

Recently, Wretched Radio lapsed into this. They’re an overall fantastic resource for Biblical truth and graciously refuting false teachers, and they recently posted an audio clip from the program in which host Todd Friel read from Kevin DeYoung’s Jan. 28 column Cautions for Mere Christianity. That was a good column; I pointed others to it myself. But Friel took it further, saying he’d call people to be even warier of Lewis’ work.

Worse, the audio clip was titled “C.S. Lewis the heretic.”

Later Friel wrote to say he would not have used the term heretic; it was accidentally used by a staffer. We can’t interview Lewis to know for sure, Friel noted.

Still the damage was done. Commentators bemoaned (mostly rightfully) all the heretics who get around, the false teachings, etc. — and so may, without hearing of other bypassed truths, miss out on some of the best writing ever used to honor God.

Mere Lewis-anity

Yes, Lewis had some issues. Don’t all Christians? Yet his were prevalent in his time and culture:

  1. In Mere Christianity he was far too fuzzy on why Jesus died. As DeYoung noted, Lewis allowed for other theories about how His death brought God’s forgiveness, including the notion that God has already forgiven people, somehow, and Christ died to show it.
  2. In The Problem of Pain Lewis, like many genuine Christians (including theologian B.B. Warfield in the past and theologian Wayne Grudem in the present) made up evolution-inclusive myths for God’s creation and man’s rebellion. Scripture-ignore fail.
  3. Elsewhere Lewis had plenty of respect for pagan myths, which causes understandable angst among many Christians. This is actually among his lesser errors, if it’s an error at all, and requires careful discernment and reasoning about how even pagan stories can contain truth and whose hopes are fulfilled in Christ. (Where does sin originate? Does the Devil “own” all stories that ignore God? Should we avoid even knowing their details, as if they’re corrupted — and as if even the prophet Daniel would have been horribly corrupted by knowing Babylonian myths and magic practices in Daniel 1?)

But Lewis was not a universalist. He blatantly denied believing this throughout his works. Those who claim otherwise need to check to make sure they’re absolutely right in their reading. If not, they are guilty of spreading slander about a Christian, and dishonoring the God of truth.

One of Lewis’ strongest statements against the notion that someone could, after death, escape Hell, comes from his The Problem of Pain. Though problematic elsewhere, he’s right-on here:

The Divine labour to redeem the world cannot be certain of succeeding as regards every individual soul. Some will not be redeemed. There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay it my power. But it has the full support of Scripture, and, specially, of Our Lord’s own words; it has always been held by Christendom; and it has the support of reason. If a game is played, it must be possible to lose it. […] I would pay any price to be able to say truthfully “All will be saved.” But my reason retorts, “Without their will, or with it”? […]

I said glibly a moment ago that I would pay “any price” to remove this doctrine. I lied. I could not pay one-thousandth part of the price that God has already paid to remove the fact.

[… Some Hell critics say] death ought not to be final, that there ought to be a second chance. I believe that if a million chances were likely to do good, they would be given. But a master often knows, when boys and parents do not, that it is really useless to send a boy in for a certain examination again. Finality must come some time, and it does not require a very robust faith to believe that omniscience knows when.

Next week: did C.S. Lewis use Emeth, a noble but pagan Calormene in the last Chronicles of Narnia story, The Last Battle, to suggest that all people would be saved in the end?

E. Stephen Burnett is coauthor of a nonfiction book about parenting and popular culture (title TBA), to release spring 2020 from New Growth Press. He also explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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Kaci Hill
Member

Okay, post-related comment pending, but I clicked that image to look at the site it came from…and, oh my….those people have nasty minds…

Bethany J.
Guest
Bethany J.

Hurray! This is such a good topic for a series. I’m looking forward to reading more in the next installment.

I remember reading “Mere Christianity” years ago and LOVING it, and then hearing our pastor say (more recently) that it was not all theologically correct and there were some issues he took with it, while he still appreciated the book as a whole and Lewis as an author. I felt a little embarrassed for having not seen the issues myself, but obviously I’m not as discerning as our senior pastor, and I’m not a very thorough reader. 🙂 I’ve been wanting to re-read it again more carefully, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. What you said about his fuzziness on why Jesus died must be one of the things my pastor was talking about.

Derek
Guest
Derek

CS Lewis’ “fuzziness” on why Christ died is not fuzziness at all but rather an open disdain for penal substitutionary atonement as the only way of interpreting His death. I hear that Lewis opts more for “The Perfect Penitent” atonement theory. Not all Christians buy into the strict modern version of penal substitution because of how it portrays God. It emphasizes God’s wrath at the expense of His grief; and makes God angry in a way scripture warns us is fleshly and immature.

I’m sure Todd Friel would call him a heretic for that, and the rest of the theological thought-police (read: DeYoung) but CS Lewis wasn’t a fuzzy thinker. He meant to write what he did, and he meant to leave penal substitution out, because he and many other Biblical Christians see it as dishonoring what is revealed about God in the whole of scripture. As for the “accusation” that Lewis believed God has already forgiven us before Christ died…well…we are told of His “great love with which he loved us WHILE we were yet dead in trespasses” (Eph. 2:4) And John 3:16 says God’s love was His MOTIVE for sending His Son in the first place…again, before Christ died. So maybe God’s “wrath” has more to do with His great love, and His grief in seeing His creation choose self-destruction…rather than “You broke my rules..I hate you.”

As for evolution, yes, Lewis and many other Christians believe it is compatible w/ Genesis. Tolkien obviously did. I guess philosophically, they figured it was God’s way of giving His creation its own “realness” – in the creation story…the earth brings forth plants, animals, etc. So that isn’t “scripture ignore fail” – look closer at Gen. 1, God is calling His creation to collaborate with Him as He creates. The seas bring forth and the earth brings forth…and God’s command. However much “time” that took is open to interpretation. I’m an Augustinian when I read Genesis, not a Frielian – so I see evolution as being compatible w/ Genesis. But I’m sure Friel would call me names on his show and question my salvation. That’s okay…I’m not sure about his either.

At the very least, Lewis was an inclusivist – not a universalist. He obviously believed (gasp!) that the Holy Spirit could work even in cultures where either Christ hadn’t been preached, or had been misrepresented by bad examples of Christianity. The Spirit can draw people close to Christ even using a human religion as a starting point…(kind of like he did with Judiasm in the gospels).

I’m surprised it took this long for the Christian thought-police to catch on. Of course they won’t like Lewis. But What you label his “errors” I don’t accept as such. I would love to see your reasoning on why these are errors, rather than a list that assumes we will all agree with you without explanation. I think Lewis was right on all of those points. And I would warn against calling him “fuzzy” anywhere in his thinking. He isn’t, and he usually has good reasons for saying what he says.

Timothy Stone
Member

Derek, Sir, I agree with you in some areas, though I am closer to Stephen on many more, I’ll admit. Regardless, if we truly believe that the Lord, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, became man, and died for our sins, will forevermore be man now and on the New Earth, and the rest of the fundamentals about salvation, then we are brothers and sisters in the faith. Please stop being so rude. I know Stephen can be abrasive himself sometimes, but he is a caring brother, and has been kind to you, even in disagreement. Please be kind yourself. God bless you, my brother.

Derek
Guest
Derek

Thank you for blessing me. May God bless you too.

Esther
Guest
Esther

Weel, now…isn’t this interesting? And here I thought it was the crusty, compassionless Calvinists who are always cold, rude and loveless in their presentation of the Gospel.

Derek; I have one suggestion and one question for you.

Suggestion: if your theology as stated above is something you believe to be correct, then you have thoroughly failed to convince me by the simple fact that you do not act as if you believe God’s love is the highest motivator of the universe. I suggest you go and immerse yourself in that theology even more so that your life will begin to match what you preach.

Question: What, exactly and precisely, is your intention here? I can think of a few possibilities…

1) You have a deep desire to make sure that the truth about God is known so that others might have the opportunity to understand and love and follow Him as you do. If so: see above—you pretty much need to apologize and start over.

2) You have real questions about theology which you hope to gain knowledge concerning by engaging other views in robust but godly discussion. Your theology was challenged by Stephen’s post and you discerned a place where your questions might be honestly engaged. If so: great. The conversation definitely ought to continue, and I’m sure Stephen will be glad to carry on the discussion: just call off your dogs. No need to slander anyone. Simply present your scriptural case.

3) You are a troll: i.e., a member of a tribe of internet entertainment junkies whose chief enjoyment of life consists of going around to different blogs and stirring up trouble. You have no interest in a real discussion, only in stirring up trouble and airing your own grievances. If so: get your own blog. Stephen nor any of us are obligated to keep allowing your posts to appear here or take time to answer them.

So now…my request (although I am presuming upon Stephen’s authority to make it, as this is HIS blog)—is that you do one of the following things: #1 State clearly your intention here, if different from what I’ve postulated above; OR admit to having the goal of #1 above and apologize, then change your tactics to continue the discussion; OR admit to #2 and call off your dogs and act like you believe what you preach; OR just move on and get your own blog. WordPress is great, so is Blogger. Send an invite.

Derek
Guest
Derek

Okay, I’ll leave.

Luther
Guest
Luther

God is love but how dd He manifest this love? By saving us. But from what? Death and Hell. But Hell is the final destination of sin and the objects of His wrath. So by saving us from Hell and demonstrating his love for us while we were yet sinners He saved us from His wrath.

How did He accomplish this? By ransoming us. From what? The world and the corrupt nature of our flesh. How? By becoming one of us. But you can only ransom kinsmen ( see kinsman redeemer ). So He ransomed those that were His, the elect, by paying the price they could not pay. What was this price? The price of sin and our transgressions.

What was Christ victorious over? death and hell. Death and hell are objects of or the destination of those apart from Him. So in effect He was victorious over the need for justice and the satisfaction of His holiness for those He loved.

Derek
Guest
Derek

Okay. I’m sure that all makes sense to you, and I’m glad it does. If God found satisfaction for his holiness, I’m glad for him. It must be great to be so satisfied. What a wonderful life he must have.

Timothy Stone
Member

Sir, believe it or not, I’m truly sorry that you are so angry and bitter. I don’t know how to explain what this means, but to say that God DOES love those who chooses to call to Himself. God is infinite, yes, but He is also finite in one respect, it is IMPOSSIBLE for Him to go beyond His nature. He must punish us for sin. To avoid this, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ to die for our sins.

In truth, forget fictional heroes, and make my brothers and sisters in the arms in Iraq and elsewhere small nothings compared to the utter heroism that God performed on Calvary for our sins.

I truly hope that you find the peace you need. Please turn to the Lord, and away from bitterness. I’ll pray for you, my brother. You see, if you do know the Lord, then you, along with me, Stephen, Esther, and all other Christians past, present, and future, we’re all brothers in the Lord. I am worried about you, brother. Please seek God. I’ll say a prayer for you. God bless.

Timothy Stone
Member

Uh, brothers and sisters. Sorry for the typo, Ester, lol. 😉

Derek
Guest
Derek

Thank you for the genuine concern, Timothy. I wish I could turn from this bitterness. But to what? To a God who just wants to punish me anyway? WHY would God WANT to avoid this? E. Stephen Burnett just proved from scripture that God’s love is not his deepest nature, so does he really want to avoid punishing us? Why? His honor is all he cares about, so there is no hope. He can obliterate me and keep his honor. What would be his deeper motivation to do otherwise? E. has already shown that God’s deepest motivation is his own honor, so there is no deeper motivation to avoid punishing me. I’m not playing word games, this leaves me in despair. There’s no amount of verbal gymnastics that can undo what E. just did.

Thanks for the prayer though.

Luther
Guest
Luther

God cannot love us if He has to somehow circumvent His own nature to do so. Anyone who has children knows that discipline is a fundamental aspect if love. This discipline from love is different from ( chastisement is what Hebrews calls it ) the wrath that is being stored up against the unrighteous and the justice that Must be meted out. It is neither unloving nor unjust to punish the wicked for their selfishness, for that is what sin boils down to-selfishness and pride.

It would be unloving for the Creator of the universe to NOT set things aright; to not care for His children and remedy the damage done to them and His creation in total by sin.

Remember what Jesus said….greater LOVE has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. OR, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whosever believed on him would not perish but have everlasting life.

That is love. To give yourself for the very ones that hate you. The ones that killed your prophets, would spit upon you, and eventually nail you to a roman cross. He was bruised because the Father ordained it but that only shows the extremity of his love.

The question that must be answered is this: are you a friend of Jesus? Have you repented of your sins and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ? The System will work itself out in the end….He will see to it.

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[…] Last week I started with reminders that Lewis clearly stated in his nonfiction that he believed in a final punishment in Hell for those who refuse to repent of their evils. That’s indisputable. Call him fuzzy on why Christ died on the cross or on the Bible’s inerrancy, but he wasn’t universalist. […]

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[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by FamilyFiction, Timothy Stone. Timothy Stone said: Speculative Faith: Refuting ‘universalism’ slanders of C.S. Lewis, part 1 http://t.co/wFOOkmv […]

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[…] on them! Still, I’d challenge such Christians to survey the contents of this series’ parts one and two, attacking the notion that Lewis was a heretic and/or accepted […]