CS Lewis: You Don’t Know Jack

WWAD: What Would Aslan Do?

A new essay series at the BioLogos Forum by Intervarsity Christian Fellowship NC State staffer David Williams insists on a more complex understanding of CS Lewis’ theology.

This essay series arose in part as a response to a new collection of essays about Lewis and science. As we’ve noted, editor John G. West of the intelligent-design-friendly Discovery Institute presented a portrait of an evolution-skeptical Lewis in The Magician’s Twin.

Williams argues for a more nuanced understanding of Lewis’ work. Williams gives us a CS Lewis–“Jack” to his friends—that might not be comfortable to many of Lewis’ new best friends in the American evangelical community. As Williams writes,
“Lewis is no safer a lion than Aslan, and he will not go quietly into our tidy evangelical boxes. To be frank, American Evangelicalism’s infatuation with Lewis is in many respects somewhat odd. For here is a pathologically populist movement with a penchant for Big Tent Revivalism, an obsession with liturgical innovation, a deep-seated suspicion of ecclesiastical tradition, and a raw nerve about the doctrine of justification, falling head-over-heels for a tweed-jacketed, Anglo-Catholic Oxford don—a curmudgeonly liturgical traditionalist who was fuzzy on the atonement, a believer in purgatory, and, as we shall see, whose views on Scripture, Genesis, and evolution position him well outside of American Evangelicalism’s standard theological paradigms. All of that is to say that Lewis was not ‘just like us’—any of us—and if we would do him justice, we must be prepared to be surprised by Jack.”

In the first essay of the series, Williams notes that Lewis was not as hostile to modern methods of Biblical criticism as many American evangelicals might like. And the Bible, Lewis felt, must be understood as a human product. For those evangelicals who insist on the theological centrality of a young-earth interpretation of Scripture, Williams offers this warning: For Lewis, “Apart from the Incarnation, then, much of the Old Testament would be but ‘myth,’ ‘ritual,’ and ‘legend.’”

For an evangelical movement that has clung tenaciously to its nineteenth-century hostility to much of this sort of Biblical criticism, Williams’ Lewis presents some challenges. Just as other heroes from outside of the evangelical tradition might make things intellectually difficult for their evangelical fans, so a fuller portrait of Lewis’ intellectual world might generate some healthy confusion.

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  1. I’ve often thought this. I didn’t know his views on Creation, but Lewis’ is a Catholic. From my days in ACE, I learned that the scheme from Good People to Bad People goes like this (NB this is not an exhaustive list):

    Bible-believing Christians
    Liberal Christians
    Secular humanists

    • Wow, Democrats ABOVE pedophiles, I wouldn’t have thought so.
      But in all seriousness, the rapprochement between many conservative Protestants and conservative Catholics has truly been remarkable. Though some groups like your ACE school hold on to a ferocious anti-Catholicism, prominent leaders such as William F. Buckley and Phyllis Schlafly made Catholicism much more acceptable to many conservative Prots. Dan Williams in God’s Own Party argues that abortion politics sealed the deal. But even in the 1920s many Protestant fundamentalists embraced the anti-evolution writing of Catholics such as Alfred McCann.

      • I see this as a marriage of convenience. I admit, you’re more informed on this than I am, but I’d be interested to hear the private opinions of those protestants about whether Catholics are going to heaven.

      • I hear you. I think of a different, but related relationship between some conservative US Protestants and Israeli Jews. In some cases, Protestants with a strong dispensational premillennialist theology have been the staunchest advocates for firm alliance with Israel. Does that mean they really respect Judaism as a religion? Not really, but in that reading of Scripture the land of Judah needs to be ruled by the Jewish people in order to have Jesus come back.

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