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

Feb 3, 2011

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

E. Stephen Burnett explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor of Lorehaven magazine (debuting autumn 2017). He also writes for Christianity Today, Christ and Pop Culture, and Speculative Faith. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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25 comments on "Refuting Universalism Slanders Of C.S. Lewis, Part 1"

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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.
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… Read more »
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… Read more »
Timothy Stone
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… Read more »

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