One of literature’s primary functions is to generate interest in potentially controversial ideas by presenting them in an aesthetically interesting and imaginative manner.
Most Evangelicals would agree that few twentieth century writers was as successful in getting the reading public to consider the relevance of religious ideas to the complexities of modern life as C.S. Lewis. Yet it may come as a surprise, many of his most vociferous critics happen to be fellow Christians.
Writing in response to a recent Christianity Today article examining Lewis’ use of the literary approach in presenting Christian truth to the modern mind, David Cloud of the Fundamental Baptist Information Service elucidates why Christians adhering to more strident varieties of Fundamentalism ought to avoid this acclaimed author’s brand of apologetics.
To Cloud’s benefit, he does point out areas in which Lewis thought may have veered from Biblical standards. Cloud sites as evidence a number of sources detailing where Lewis questioned traditional orthodox understandings of doctrines such as the bodily resurrection of believers, the inerrancy of the Scriptures, and the existence of Hell as a physical place rather than simply a state of mind.
Christians ought to be cautioned where the writings of Lewis stray from the narrow path. However, that does not mean there is not insight to be gained from Lewis or that his collected works should be consigned to the garbage to prevent weak minds from falling prey to their questionable aspects.
Particularly annoying to Cloud’s brand of Fundamentalism is Lewis’ use and defense of myth as a tool whereby skeptical minds might be introduced to the truth.
Of The Chronicles of Narnia and Christianity Today’s endorsement of the series, David Cloud writes, “I don’t know what to say to this except that it is complete nonsense. In his Chronicles, Lewis depicts Jesus Christ as a lion named Aslan who is slain on a stone table. Christianity Today says, ‘In Aslan, Christ is made tangible, knowable, real.’ As if we can know Jesus Christ best through a fable that is vaguely based on Biblical themes.”
Such a conclusion fails to understand the reasons why and with what techniques C.S. Lewis wrote. For even though the Bible is the most detailed and forthright account attesting to the truth of Christ, many hardened hearts are not always open to such an outright presentation of the facts. Some minds may need to take a more circuitous route.
Lewis did not initially embark to compose an outright Christian allegory, and neither did his associate J.R.R. Tolkien in the Lord of the Rings saga for that matter. Rather these scholars endeavored to craft tales utilizing the classic motifs with which they had considerable expertise as professors of historical literature. Lewis was himself inspired to write The Chronicles of Narnia from the image of a faun, a half human/half goat creature from classical mythology. Tolkien wanted to establish a fantasy world for the language of elves.
Lewis stated in a BBC interview when asked if his Space Trilogy had been written for evangelistic purposes, “…everyone thinks that. They are quite wrong. I’ve never started from a message or a moral, have you. The story itself should force its moral upon you. You find out what the moral is by writing the story.”
It is only natural then that authors with an abiding respect for the truth will end up addressing eternal realities and principles. Romans 2: 14-15 says, “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts…(NIV).”
This means that all truth — despite man’s intentions to distort it for his own diabolical purposes — is ultimately God’s truth. Not all ancient myths revel in Bacchanalian debauchery. For example, some explore the dangers of humans possessing a godlike pride called “hubris”. The skilled apologist can use these chunks of truth adrift upon the seas of falsehood as a lifeline to those drowning in a deluge of deception.
This is not unlike what the Apostle Paul did in Acts 17 when he addressed the philosophers gathered on the Areopagus.
Paul did not begin outright by berating them for their pagan belief. In verses 22 and 23 he extols, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious. For while I was passing and examining your objects of worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘To an Unknown God’. What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. (NASB).”
From this point, Paul goes on to explain how the message of Jesus Christ fulfilled and surpassed the best in Greek thought. Therefore, those who have a problem with C.S. Lewis’ use of literature may also have a problem with the technique employed by the Apostle Paul.
While these rigorous Fundamentalists are to be commended for their eagerness to expound the plain Gospel message, many of them — especially a number of the preachers — fail in realizing that a fully-orbed expression of Christian thought requires more than preaching. It requires the translation of these eternal verities into other artistic and literary forms that prepare the heart and mind for a more direct assault upon fallen sensibilities.
By composing a narrative utilizing universal archetypes, Lewis hoped that his saga of these British children encountering a mystical lion in an enchanted land would spark readers into realizing they could have their own encounter with another cosmic cat, namely the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Jesus Christ.
Certain Fundamentalists have done their share of criticism. When are these preachers going to start producing stories of their own or encourage members of their congregations to contribute their talents in forms other than that which goes into the collection plate? At least C.S. Lewis attempted to make an effort in this regard.
David Cloud writes, “…a Christian is what he hears and reads … it should come as no surprise … they are seeking to continue the legacy of C.S. Lewis … it should come as no surprise … if we find them working towards a common mission with the enemies of the gospel. The young Christian should be very careful what he reads.”
In the days before most Christians yielded their paradoctrinal thinking to the control of their pastors or stopped thinking about these cultural issues outside the immediate confines of the church all together, individuals would employ a kind of intellectual selectivity known as discernment. This meant they were capable of sifting through the good and bad ideas in a given work on their own without a critical clergyman standing over their shoulder chastising them for daring to make a literary selection with ecclesiastical consultation.
Lewis may have propagated questionable ideas in the course of his life’s work. But so do a number of Fundamentalists for that matter as some believe one is not really saved unless introduced to Jesus through the King James version of the Bible, that being innocently infatuated with a member of the opposite sex is the moral equivalent of promiscuity or prostitution, and that women ought never get their hair cut or wear trousers.
Unfortunately, faulty ideas are often a symptom of living in a fallen world. But so long as we put our faith in what Lewis referred to as “mere Christianity”, one day those of us who do so will have the blessed opportunity of having our thoughts put straight in the presence of none other than the Creator Himself.
by Frederick Meekins