A few days ago I read Mason Slater’s excellent short article in Heretic Press titled “Clive: Real Thoughts on a Real Apologist” (starts on p. 10) where he asks why (conservative?) evangelicals have made a saint of a man who did not see Scripture as inerrant, who affirmed theistic evolution, and whose “hell is locked from the inside” eschatology seems closer to Rob Bell than Al Mohler. This has been something that has baffled me for some time. I am a fan of Lewis. He was influential on my thinking when I was wrestling with the claims of Christianity and even where I find his solutions unsatisfactory (e.g. his “Lord, Liar, or Lunatic” argument ignores the possibility that Jesus was misquoted or that his words morphed to mean more than he intended) they are still better than many of the answers I heard from my elders. Lewis provides intellectually satisfying solutions to many of my doubts.
That being said, I’m not comfortable with the word “inerrant”, I don’t have a problem with theistic evolution, and while I don’t see universalism as an option I confess that I am prone toward inclusivist soteriologies. So while I am an evangelical I don’t think I am the type that is at odds with a great deal of Lewis’ more controversial beliefs.
Now there are areas of Lewis’ thought with which I sympathetically disagree like his views on war, so I’m not saying one must agree with everything Lewis affirmed to honor him, but it is the particular elements of his thought wherein he departs from conservative evangelical orthodoxy that make me wonder why Lewis is a saint while Rob Bell or Brian McLaren are heretics.
If you consider yourself to be on the conservative side of evangelicalism (e.g. you affirm inerrancy, deny evolution, and think any form of universalism or even inclusivism is heresy or at least dangerous heterodoxy), yet you think highly of Lewis, why? What is it about Lewis that you can accept even if he disagrees with doctrines you hold near and dear? Also, do you find yourself being able to accept Lewis even though you disagree with areas of his thought yet unable to fellowship with your contemporaries that disagree with you over similar issues? Or do you dislike Lewis’ overall agenda because of these things? If you consider yourself more of a progressive evangelical or something else, and a fan of Lewis, do you have conservative friends who like Lewis but not you? What reasons do they give if any?
In other words, the “big question” that I’m asking is why Lewis is beloved when he affirmed so many ideas considered very taboo in the same segments of evangelicalism that honor him?
I would consider myself a conservative evangelical and would even consider Lewis to have been a literary mentor to me as I began exploring my faith a decade ago. I think above all else I appreciate Lewis’ ability to explain powerful truths in a way that a simple man can understand. I am by no means an intellectual man by nature. It takes a lot of work for me to understand certain things. Lewis had the gift to break things down to a level that I could get it. I think I can accept Lewis as a thinker, despite certain doctrinal differences, because there are some things he says which draw me closer to Jesus. Selfish? Yes. But that’s why I accept it.
I have not found myself unable to fellowship with contemporaries who differ on certain doctrines. I get how a person believes that wrong theology is dangerous and why apparent heresy is damaging, but I have found a lot of peace knowing that Christ’s death must be sufficient, even for them, even for me, were I mistaken in a way that I was unaware of. That’s why I can appreciate some of what Rob Bell says as well. I own the first dozen Nooma’s he put out. I use them to talk with people who don’t know Jesus. Why? Because he has this uncanny ability to draw to simple understanding some huge ideas. I don’t agree with everything he says, but his DVDs are in my box and some of his books on my shelf. I don’t expect that they’ll be leaving anytime soon.
I do have even more conservative evangelical friends who have questioned why I have that stuff on my shelf. Those are always fun conversations. But the origin of conversation always seem to come from the corner of “I want to show you how they’re wrong and bad theologians and we must be right” rather than “They detract from a gospel-centerd understanding of life and who Jesus was, is, and will be and how great He is.” I’d be down for the latter conversation rather than the former.
At the end of the day, it comes down to Jesus for me. Can Jesus save us from bad theology? Yes. Can Jesus save us from worship of theology? Yes. Am I so sure of myself that I know when I’m in one camp or the other? Sometimes. But my faith is in Christ alone who saves me by grace alone. That gives me hope to keep believing, keep moving forward, and keep learning.
Also, how the heck do I turn off all these hovercards?! Hahaha. It is a very strange thing to be typing while your head is spinning around on my screen.
@Tony : Thank you for sharing! As I see it your respect for Lewis makes sense because you carry the same approach to your contemporaries. You realize that while you may disagree with Bell on some important issues this isn’t what determines our fellowship, but rather that we share Christ.
I really like what you had to say about Jesus saving us from our bad doctrine. One of the ironies of much of Protestant thought is that we speak of salvation by grace through faith and then send people with whom we disagree on various doctrines to hell or at least the outskirts of the Kingdom!
As far as the spinning hovercards it doesn’t happen on my computers so I’m not sure what to do!
Thanks for the shout-out, Brian. I like you way you are working out the implications in the questions you pose.
One thing I would add in retrospect is that, even though Lewis is historically rather recent, I think in part he gets a pass because we view him like other major historical figures in the faith. So while Luther may have wanted to axe James from the Bible, and some of the Fathers went in rather odd directions, they get a pass on all that because of the good they contributed.
That’s all well and good, appropriate even, but it does make me wonder why we are so hesitant to treat our contemporaries the same way.
@Mason: And I think that is the big question: If we can forgive and “fellowship” with those who have passed who we found to have done more good than evil in their contribution to Christianity, even when we think they did evil, then why does this not apply to those who are alive? I’m not saying there is a hard or fast rule for how to explain when someone should be shunned over a dangerous doctrine and when we should live in tension with one another, but I think Lewis is evidence that many conservative evangelicals have not thought through this yet.
By the way, great article!
There’s an important factor to remember in this discussion, and that is the trend, increasing over the past few years, in which the movement has been hijacked by a certain brand of evangelicalism which deems itself to be the arbiter of orthodoxy (ahem, the Reformed camp/Gospel Coalition/Minnesotans). Under their influence, all theological movements are forcibly and visibly judged by their standard of orthodoxy. By such a standard, Lewis falls short (never mind that he stands squarely and solidly within the broader, more historical tradition!). I see most, if not all, of the major criticism of Lewis today coming out of that camp.
In the remainder of evangelicalism, I think Lewis remains an intellectual, imaginative hero.
In fact, if I had to pinpoint the reason for Lewis’s success, I might observe that he uniquely bridged the gap between our intellectual and imaginative experiences–between the head and heart–in a way that was elegant, masterful, compelling, and attainable. We continue to read him because through him we find a way to bridge our own hearts and minds in our journey towards Christ. He strikes in his writings, we might say, on all the chords of our hearts. And that’s something that almost no living Christian can claim today, and few to none since Lewis’s death.
@Jeremy : Well said, I think you are absolutely correct that the criticisms that would be directed as Lewis are those from a particular group within evangelicalism. Of course, what is odd, is that they idolize him too!
Ummm….maybe because even some conservative evangelicals have the ability to realize that Christ—not dogma—should be the central point of focus? Maybe because you’re allowed to have conservative values and beliefs without condemning Christians who don’t? Maybe because God gives us the right to disagree as long as we are keeping eyes on Him? Maybe because any conservative Christ-follower with a mustard seed’s worth of faith should know that Lewis’s non-conservative beliefs don’t necessarily invalidate all of his statements about the nature of God? Maybe because liberal Christians don’t get to have the exclusive self-righteous claim as the only ones with the ability to focus Christ and not “religion”? I dunno, just a few answers to that question.
It seems odd the conservatives get criticized for rejecting non-conservative Christians, then they also get criticized when they don’t. Boy—damned if you do, damned if you don’t, eh?
Finalthread: You come across as a bit paranoid here and I’m not sure that you took the time to closely read the post. The context of my question is why someone like Lewis can be loved while still realizing “you’re allowed to have conservative values and beliefs without condemning Christians who don’t” yet other contemporaries with as far ranging views as Lewis (e.g. Rob Bell, Brian McLaren) are condemned outright. In other words, yes, you can have conservative values without condemning Christians who do not, but why is it that so many conservatives apply this to someone like Lewis but not their contemporaries.
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