Last week was the 50th anniversary of CS Lewis’ death—November 22, 1963.
I remember that day very well, but not because of Lewis; it was the day President Kennedy was shot. Though I was not acquainted with Lewis at that time, I think he has ultimately influenced me more than anyone except the gospel writers.
I did not mention Lewis’ anniversary on Friday because it was Kennedy’s day and I did not want Lewis to be buried by the attention given to Kennedy.
The Darling of Conservative Christians
Conservative Christians embrace Lewis because of his strong apologetic in favor of God and the Church. He provides down-to-earth ways to think about God, philosophy, and theology that appeal to everyone—from the uneducated to biblical scholars. His writing is comprehensible and easy to digest. But I often wonder why conservative Christians revere him, because in a number of ways he sabotages their world view.
Lewis’ Mere Christianity continues to sell strongly; both the paperback and kindle editions are in Amazon’s top 50 Christian books. It is also #21 and #25 in spirituality books of all kinds. However Mere Christianity is #1 and #2 in Christian personal growth, and Lewis has seven books in the top 20 of this category. It is also #1 and #2 in Christian apologetics, while Lewis has a total of eight books in the top 20.
I first read Lewis when Abolition of Man was required reading for Christian Ethics class at my evangelical college. A bit later I read the Chronicles of Narnia and was blown away! Since then, I have read essentially everything Lewis wrote. He opened a new world to me beyond my flat, colorless, fundamentalist cocoon.
Lewis the Dragon Slayer
Lewis expanded my thinking. Many evangelicals like Lewis because of his arguments for Christianity and his reasoned approach to biblical and theological issues.
On the other hand, I find that Lewis slays many of the dragons of evangelicalism. He introduced ideas, often without elaboration, that made me think beyond my preconceived notions. He opened my mind and set me on a journey that actually destroyed most of the conservative certainties I was taught and led me to new visions and possibilities.
I am not the only one so affected. As I read other progressive evangelicals I often detect Lewis’ influence on them. I wonder why conservative Christians have not commented more on this problem. Lewis gave tremendous impetus to progressive evangelical Christianity.
Let me share two examples.
What Happened to Hell?
CS Lewis wrote a book about heaven and hell called The Great Divorce. It is only a fantasy and not a description, as Lewis is careful to point out in the preface. In the book, heaven is more pleasant than the heaven I was taught to anticipate. It was a paradigm changer for me in thinking about heaven, but not nearly as much as it was for my thinking on hell.
Hell was one thing I knew very well. It was a place of torturous fire that would inflict unimaginable pain on the ungodly for eternity. Most of those who ever live will go there, millions upon millions are there already, and they will never escape. Hell is hot and eternity is a long, long time.
But Divorce painted a different picture of hell. Hell was a dull, shadowy place, and people were there by choice because they preferred it to the alternative of living in heaven.
The book is only a fantasy, but it made me think. I didn’t discard my views on hell right away, but I did question what the Bible actually said and began to study it with new perspective. What I discovered is that the real fantasy about hell was the one I was taught as a fundamentalist.
Narrow is the Road to Eternal Life
In a passage I cannot now locate, Lewis refers to Matthew chapter 7:
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.
But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Lewis comments that, whatever this passage means, it is not to be taken statistically.
In The Last Battle, the final book of the Chronicles of Narnia, Emeth the Calormene was devoted to the god Tash, and he hated Aslan. Then Emeth encountered Aslan and was prepared to die. He tells his story:
But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome.
But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of Thine but the servant of Tash.
He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me…no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him.
Wow! The possibilities this suggests!
Lewis and Progressive Evangelicalism
These are only two examples of the refreshing insights Lewis has brought to evangelicalism. I am so thankful to CS Lewis and his influence.
I invite your comments and observations below.
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