C.S. Lewis was one of the most influential Christian apologists of the twentieth century, and he remains influential today. His famous apologetic work Mere Christianity, which was adapted from a series of BBC radio talks made between 1942 and 1944, has sold millions of copies and been translated into numerous languages. Lewis quotations find themselves regularly in sermons across America in churches of nearly every denomination, but ironically, many of Lewis’s views differ sharply from mainstream American Evangelicalism.
For example, Lewis believed the Bible to be a mixture of fiction and nonfiction, and he believed the discerning follower of Christ could differentiate between the two. He warned against the worship of the Bible, stating “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.”
Lewis believed in progressive revelation and felt the Pentateuch and other portions of the Old Testament contained a great deal of legend and myth; however, he was confident that the legend and myth pointed dimly to the truth and could teach important lessons just like the historical accounts.
In Is Theology Poetry? he wrote:
The Christian story is about a historical personage, whose execution can be dated pretty accurately, under a named roman magistrate, and with whom the society that he founded is in a continuous relation down to the present day. It is not the difference between falsehood and truth. It is the difference between a real event on the one hand and dim dreams or premonitions of that same event on the other [he is talking of pagan religions]. It is like watching something come gradually into focus; first it hangs in the clouds of myth and ritual, vast and vague, then it condenses, grows hard and in a sense small, as a historical event in first century Palestine. This gradual focussing goes on even inside the Christian tradition itself. The earliest stratum of the Old Testament contains many truths in a form which I take to be legendary, or even mythical — hanging in the clouds, but gradually the truth condenses, becomes more and more historical. From things like Noah’s ark or the sun standing still upon Ajalon, you come down to the court memoirs of King David. Finally you reach the new Testament and history reigns supreme, and the Truth is incarnate.
Lewis also believed that because of Jesus death on the cross, any person—past, present, or future—could live forever with God after death if they lived lives faithfully obedient to what they believed to be true. He believed God places a moral compass (conscience) within every person and upon their death judges them according to how well their deeds aligned with their God-given moral compass. He felt that salvation had more to do with faithful living than correct beliefs.
In The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis’s children’s fantasy, Aslan, who represented Christ in the realm of Narnia, judges both the living and the dead following the defeat of the final enemies and the end of the Narnian world in The Last Battle. At that judgment, Emeth, a young Calormene officer who had lived a life devoted to Tash and fought against Aslan and his followers believing them to be enemies of the true God, is approached by Aslan:
Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him. 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.’ Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, ‘Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?’ The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, ‘It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites—I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child?’ I said, ‘Lord, though knowest how much I understand.’ But I said also (for the truth constrained me), ‘Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.’ ‘Beloved,’ said the Glorious One, ‘unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what the truly seek.’
Then he breathed upon me and took away the trembling from my limbs and caused me to stand upon my feet. And after that, he said not much, but that we should meet again, and I must go further up and further in. Then he turned him about in a storm and flurry of gold and was gone suddenly.
And since then, O Kings and Ladies, I have been wandering to find him and my happiness is so great that it even weakens me like a wound. And this is the marvel of marvels, that he called me Beloved, me who am but as a dog—”
I love reading C.S. Lewis and many of his works have had quite a profound impact on my life. And while I disagree with some of his beliefs, I suspect he was closer to the truth in many areas than many (or most) in the church today.