Wednesday, June 15, 2011

C.S. Lewis, Evolution, and Atonement


Peter Barnes
There would be a strong case for the assertion that C.S. Lewis (1898–1963) has been the most celebrated Christian apologist of the second half of the twentieth century. Even into the twenty-first century Lewis’s popularity shows no sign of diminishing. His war-time radio broadcasts, which aired in 1942–1944, were published in book form as Mere Christianity, which has proved enormously influential. His other books have also found themselves onto the bookshelves of many Christians, notably The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters, Miracles, The Four Loves, The Abolition of Man, and Letters to Malcolm, as well as the seven Chronicles of Narnia and his science fiction trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength). Even The Pilgrim’s Regress, which Lewis later came to regret somewhat, is applauded by J. I. Packer as ‘the freshest and liveliest of all his books’, and the one that Packer has reread more often than any other.1 For logic, beauty of expression, command of the English language, honesty, earthy wit, and imagination, few writers can equal Lewis—or come near him.

C.S. Lewis as theologian
Theologically, Lewis described himself as an Anglican who was ‘not especially “high,” nor especially “low,” nor especially anything else.’ He is often regarded as suspect in his views, especially regarding the doctrines of revelation and the atonement. Certainly, Lewis retained some liberal elements in his thinking. For example, he was open on the possibility of persons of other religions belonging to Christ without knowing it. Regarding revelation, he declared in an interview conducted in 1944 that ‘The Old Testament contains fabulous elements.’ He considered that the accounts of Jonah and of Noah were ‘fabulous’, whereas the court history of King David was probably as reliable as the court history of King Louis XIV. ‘Then, in the New Testament the thing really happens.’ It is the sort of view that rightly needs to be criticized by evangelical believers. Lewis held quite a high view of Scripture, but it remained somewhat vague and elusive in places. Not long before his death, he commented that as Christians ‘we still believe (as I do) that all Holy Scripture is in some sense—though not all parts of it in the same sense—the Word of God.’
Regarding the atonement, Lewis was equally as vague and disappointing. He declared that what matters is that it works, not how it works: ‘The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work.’

Read it all here.

Related reading: C.S.Lewis on Women Priests; C.S. Lewis and the Road to Orthodoxy


Alice C. Linsley said...

I believe that Lewis is correct -"all Holy Scripture is in some sense — though not all parts of it in the same sense — the Word of God."

It is difficult to see how the biblical accounts of political in-fighting in ancient Palestine speak of the God who has been fully revealing in His Son Jesus Christ. These portions are of historical import but not descriptive of God and His plan of salvation.

Anonymous said...

Difficult to say what the author's point was - other than that Lewis wisely avoided inserting his foot in his mouth. As he knew very little about evolutionary theory by his own admission, what difference could his opinion make in any case?

Alice C. Linsley said...

Keep in mind that this article appeared as a Creationist website.

Probably my favorite C.S. Lewis quote is this: "Reality, in fact, is always something you couldn't have guessed. That's one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It's a religion you couldn't have guessed." --The Case for Christianity

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, Lewis' comments about the Atonement are quite close to the approach taken by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) in a talk I heard him give at St. Vladimir's Seminary in which he presented five "models" of the Atonement from Scripture with the goal of demonstrating they reveal aspects of a Mystery too great for us to capsulize in one, tidy, formula.

I suspect that it is precisely Lewis' preference for looking at the height and depth and breadth of the Mystery of Salvation, rather than the "how it works" that inspires his continuing appeal to (Eastern) Orthodox Christians.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

This message of yours adds very little to CSL's take on Evolution. In 1944, probably, he was still an Evolutionist. We need not presume he reamined so up to the end of his life. We need not presume the contrary either.

Have you read his "Burial of a Great Myth"?

He knew sufficient about myth memes to know one when he saw one, just as he knew sufficient about mythologic legends to say "not here" when confronted with the gospel.

Anyway, his view that the Old Testament contains fabulous elements is in part a hang-over from his non-Christian period and in part his discipleship under a too modern Anglican clergyman: Charles Gore.

I have dealt with the supposed fabulosity of Jonah here:

Jonah and Mieszko