Words to Live By
C.S. Lewis Edited by Paul F. Ford
An evaluation of the words of C.S. Lewis [Part 1] By: Charisse Graves
This book initially stood out because of the eye-catching cover that depicted Eve’s delicate hands, seductively offering the forbidden fruit. In fact, this cover appeared almost identical to the cover of Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer. The excerpts from C.S. Lewis writings seemed like a good way to sample his various flavors of expression and thereby gain a well rounded view of his thoughts and ideologies. Admittedly, there was surprise and intrigue at what began to unfold. We are freed from the anchor of truth (The Bible) and transported to Purgatory, (although clearly not due to Total Depravity) then we arrive at the door of Ecumenism, which naturally opens to the wide path of Universalism, ultimately landing in a sea of confusion. My hope is not to disparage Mr. Lewis, but to demonstrate, in light of Scripture, the potential hazards his writings could pose to the Truth of our glorious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
C. S. Lewis is a beloved writer and apologist in the Christian community. He is probably one of, if not the most frequently quoted authors in Evangelical circles. But, he is unique in that he is equally appealing to Roman Catholics. For this reason his thoughts and opinions carry tremendous sway in all of “Christendom”. Therefore, let’s earnestly pray, “if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5. We can then, honestly determine what thoughts and ideas Mr. Lewis was trying to convey.
The book of Acts provides a wonderful example for evaluating teachings.
“Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” Acts 17:11
The authority of Scripture is central to understanding one of the major differences the Reformers had with the Roman Catholic Church. Let’s examine what Mr. Lewis thinks about biblical authority by reading an excerpt from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis Volume III:
“It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him. When it becomes really necessary (i.e., for our spiritual life, not for controversy or curiosity) to know whether a particular passage is rightly translated or is Myth (but of course Myth specially chosen by God from among countless Myths to carry a spiritual truth) or history, we shall no doubt be guided to the right answer. But we must not use the Bible (our fathers too often did) as a sort of Encyclopedia out of which texts (isolated from their context and not read without attention to the whole nature & purport of the books in which they occur) can be taken for use as weapons…” Page 11
Now, this passage does contain information that would be considered true, but at the same time is peppered with fallacy. Yes, Christ Himself is the true word of God, but not to the exclusion of the Bible, rather to the fulfillment of it.
“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14
What is truth?
“Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” John 17:17
The New Geneva Study Bible is an excellent source for solid biblical insight. It states:
“The Christian principle of biblical authority means that God is the author of the Bible, and has given it to direct the belief and behavior of His people. Our ideas about God and our conduct should be measured, tested, and where necessary corrected and enlarged, by reference to the Bible…Roman Catholics accept the Bible as God-given truth, but insist that it is incomplete without the official interpretation of the church as it is led by the Spirit… Historic Protestantism accepts the Scripture as the only written revelation of God, It is inspired, or “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16), distinguishing it from all other words. As a result, the Scriptures are infallible, and true in all that they affirm. They are sufficient, containing everything that is necessary to know for salvation and eternal life. They are clear, so that a person without special preparation can understand what God requires without the intervention of an official interpreter.” Page 1922 [emphasis mine]
Mr. Lewis in his statement is putting forth a less than high view of Scripture. He is implying that God’s holy revealed Word does not carry the same authority as Christ. How could we possibly begin to know or understand Christ without sacred Scriptures? Therefore, this is illogical reasoning and must be discarded. He is also implying by saying, “read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him” this need for intervention in interpreting Scripture is again more in line with the Roman Catholic view of biblical authority than the evangelical Protestant.
Mr. Lewis then inserts that he believes parts of the Bible are “Myths”. Where did he derive this assumption from? What parts are Myths? What parts are true? How can we make that determination if the absolute truth of the Bible has been subverted? The Bible specifically warns us about myths;
“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” 2 Timothy 4:1-4
“To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, not to pay attention to myths… 1 Timothy 1:4
“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” 2 Peter 1:16
Due to the seriousness of the above Scriptures we should tremble at the thought of likening God’s Holy infallible Word to a mere myth.
Now, to be fair to Mr. Lewis, I would wholeheartedly agree with his assessment that too often we do take verses out of context and misapply them or misrepresent them due to our error in proper exegesis (rightly dividing the word). And while he is correct in saying that the mishandled word can be wielded to harm (Satan’s temptation of Christ, Matthew chapter 4) it is also used appropriately by Jesus in that same text to refute Satan’s misuse of Scripture.
“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” Matthew 4:10
Our weapon in spiritual battles is the word of God.
“And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:17
Not long before his death, Mr. Lewis penned Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer:
“I believe in Purgatory.
Mind you, the Reformers had good reasons for throwing doubt on “the Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory” as that Romish doctrine had then become. I don’t mean merely the commercial scandal. If you turn from Dante’s Purgatorio to the sixteenth century you will be appalled by the degradation. In Thomas More’s Supplication of Souls Purgatory is simply temporary Hell. In it the souls are tormented by devils, whose presence is “more horrible and grievous to us than is the pain itself.” Worse still, Fisher, in his Sermon on Psalm VI, says the tortures are so intense that the spirit who suffers them cannot, for pain, “remember God as he ought to do.” In fact, the very etymology of the word purgatory has dropped out of sight. Its pains do not bring us nearer to God, but make us forget Him. It is a place not of purification but purely of retributive punishment.
The right view returns magnificently in Newman’s Dream. There, if I remember it rightly, the saved soul, at the very foot of the throne, begs to be taken away and cleansed. It cannot bear for a moment longer “With its darkness to affront that light.” Religion has reclaimed Purgatory.
Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, “It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and none will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you, Enter into the joy”? Should we not reply, “With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.” “It may hurt, you know” – “Even so, sir.”
I assume that the process of purification will normally involve suffering. Partly from tradition; partly because most real good that has been done me in this life has involved it. But I don’t think suffering is the purpose of the purgation. I can well believe that people neither much worse nor much better than I will suffer less than I or more. “No nonsense about merit.” The treatment given will be the one required, whether it hurts little or much.
My favourite image on this matter comes from the dentist’s chair. I hope that when the tooth of life is drawn and I am “coming around,” a voice will say, “Rinse your mouth out with this.” This will be Purgatory. The rinsing may take longer than I can now imagine. The taste of this may be more fiery and astringent than my present sensibility could endure. But More and Fisher shall not persuade me that it will be disgusting and unhallowed.” Page 240 – 242
The New Geneva Study Bible states under “Death and the Intermediate State”:
“At death the souls of believers are made perfect in holiness and enter into the worshipping life of heaven (Heb. 12:22-24). In a word, they are glorified. Some have not accepted this, but teach instead that there is a purgatorial discipline after death amounting to a further state of sanctification. In this purgatory the soul is prepared over a period of time, to be purified for the vision of God. This doctrine is not found in the Bible.” Page 1876 [emphasis mine]
Mr. Lewis is expressing a flawed view of sanctification, the atonement and understanding of a Just and Holy God. God cannot and will not accept us as we are without Christ’s reconciliation.
“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” 1 Timothy 2:5
We cannot stand before a “Just” and “Holy” God with foul breath and stains on our garments. That was the whole reason Christ had to die to pay the penalty for all our sins, so when we trust in Him for our salvation we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness.
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” Romans 4:7&8
“He made Him, who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21
The New Geneva Study Bible states under “The Atonement”:
“According to the New Testament, Christ’s blood was shed as a sacrifice (Rom. 3:25; 5:9; Eph. 1:7; Rev. 1:5). Christ redeemed His people by means of a ransom; His death was the price that freed us from guilt and from enslavement to sin (Rom. 3:24; Gal. 4:4, 5; Col. 1:14). In Christ’s death, God reconciled us to Himself, overcoming His own hostility that our sins provoked (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18, 19; Co. 1:20-22). The Cross propitiated God. That is to say, it quenched His wrath against us by expiating our sins, and so removing them from His sight (Rom. 3:35; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). The Cross had this effect because in His suffering Christ assumed our identity and endured the retributive judgment due to us, that is, “the curse of the law” (Gal. 3:13). He suffered as our substitute, with the damning record of our transgressions nailed by God to His cross as the list of crimes for which He died (Col. 2:14; cf. Matt. 27:37; Is. 53:4-6; Luke 22:37). Page 1772 [emphasis mine]
Purgatory is yet another teaching derived from Roman Catholicism through extra-biblical sources that is not found in the Bible, and makes it unclear if Mr. Lewis ever truly understood the simplicity and completed work of the Cross.
“When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgression, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13&14
“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.” 2 Corinthians 11:3&4
The following was an excerpt from The Problem of Pain:
“This chapter will have been misunderstood if anyone describes it as a reinstatement of the doctrine of Total Depravity. I disbelieve that doctrine, partly on the logical ground that if our depravity were total we should not know ourselves to be depraved, and partly because experience shows us much goodness in human nature.” Page 71
The first observation that should stand out in Mr. Lewis’s opinion is that it is just that, an opinion. He bases his assessment for the doctrine of Total Depravity on logic (human wisdom) and experience (subjective feelings). Why didn’t Mr. Lewis consult the Bible?
“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin , and so death spread to all men because all sinned-… So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.” Romans 5:12 & 18
The Bible teaches that we are spiritually dead.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins” Ephesians 2:1
What can a dead person do? That is correct, nothing.
“as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God;’” Romans 3:10&11
This next piece is taken from Mere Christianity:
“The world does not consist of 100 per cent Christians and 100 per cent non-Christians. There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name: some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christian though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand. There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it.” Page 47 – 48
According to God’s word if you are a true Christian then you cannot lose your salvation.
“The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, ‘How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe, the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.’” John 10:24-29
The last sentence in Mr. Lewis’s paragraph is declaring that people in other religions can belong to Christ without acknowledging Jesus Christ as their personal Savior for the forgiveness of their sins. Well, if this were true, then wouldn’t it follow that everyone could potentially be a Christians without knowing it? How would we know? How could we ever know our true spiritual state?
“If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.” 1 John 5:9-12
“let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead – by this name this man stands here before you in good health. He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” Act 4:10-12
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.’” John 14:6
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.’” John 11:25&26
In conclusion the fruits of Mr. Lewis’s writings could best be summed up by a Protestant Calvinist who converted to Roman Catholicism (also signed Evangelicals and Catholics Together document) named Peter Kreeft. In the article “He Doesn’t Have Ingrown Eyeballs Peter Kreeft on C.S. Lewis” from the Los Angeles Lay Catholic Mission, Oct. 2003 By Jedd Medefind:
“It’s always dangerous to try to outguess God, but I suspect [the reason Lewis never chose to become a Catholic] has something to do with reunion. After the best conference I ever attended, with two serious theologians [each] from the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Evangelical, and mainline Protestant churches staying all week and talking about their differences and agreements, in a frank and candid but irenic and listening way, everybody constantly and naturally referring to things C.S. Lewis wrote about this and that. Father Joe Fessio got up at the closing session and proposed that we issue a joint statement of agreement and say that what unites us all, despite our serious differences, is scripture, the first six ecumenical councils, and the collected words of C.S. Lewis. Everyone cheered.” [emphasis mine]
This would be my conclusion.
“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” I Corinthians 1: 17&18
Grace and Peace in Christ alone,