Shocking Beliefs of C.S. Lewis

“The Christian life is a life characterized by true and spontaneous creativity. Consequently, a disciple is subject to the same charge that was leveled against Jesus Christ, namely, the charge of inconsistency. But Jesus Christ was always consistent in His relationship to God, and a Christian must be consistent in his relationship to the life of the Son of God in him, not consistent to strict, unyielding doctrines. People pour themselves into their own doctrines, and God has to blast them out of their preconceived ideas before they can become devoted to Jesus Christ.”

~ Oswald Chambers

A well-known Christian author whom I greatly respect encouraged me to begin a series on the shocking beliefs of some of the great Christians who have impacted church history.

Every follower of Jesus is a rough draft. Over time, the great Editor – the Holy Spirit – shapes our lives and views. But until we see the Lord and “know even as we are known,” we’re are in process.

This is also true for those Christians who have gone before us.

Therefore, one of the mistakes that we must guard against is to dismiss a person’s entire contribution because they may hold (or have held) to ideas that we find hard to stomach.

Speaking personally, if I demanded that a person’s views on every subject under the sun be identical to mine as a condition to be helped by them, then if I had met myself 20 years ago, I’d have to disfellowship myself!

The truth is, my views on some topics have changed over the years.

And so have yours.

Point: we are all in process. None of us gets everything right all the time. That stands true for every Christian who has ever breathed oxygen.

So my purpose in highlighting some of “the shocking beliefs” of those upon whose shoulders we all stand is not to burn these folks in effigy. Nor is it to dismiss their positive contribution to church history.

Rather, it’s to demonstrate that even though they may have held to views that would raise the eyebrows of most evangelicals today, that doesn’t overturn nor negate the valuable ideas they contributed to the body of Christ.

Unfortunately, many evangelicals are quick to discount — and even damn — their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ over alleged doctrinal trespasses, even if those same brothers and sisters hold to the historical orthodox creeds (Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed, etc.). Such discounting and damning can always be avoided and it serves no one on the Kingdom side of the aisle.

When diversity within orthodoxy is encountered, grace should be extended. Just as we would want grace extended to us, seeing that none of us sees perfectly (Matthew 7:12).

The words of Paul of Tarsus contain thunder and lightning for us all, “Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete . . .” (1 Corinthians 13:9, NLT).

That said, the first post to kick off this series will feature the shocking beliefs of C.S. Lewis.


With the popularity of his Chronicles of Narnia (selling over 10 million copies), Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters (both considered classics among evangelicals), Clive Staple Lewis is regarded by many to be a “saint of evangelicalism.”

According TIME magazine, Lewis was “one of the most influential spokesmen for Christianity in the English-speaking world.”

The esteemed Reformed Anglican J.I. Packer called Lewis “our patron saint.” Christianity Today wrote that he “has come to be the Aquinas, the Augustine, and the Aesop of contemporary Evangelicalism” as well as “the 20th century’s greatest Christian apologist.”

Lewis was an avowed atheist who converted to Christianity and quickly became renowned as a “defender of the faith” and an “Evangelical icon.”

Interestingly, he died the same day that John F. Kennedy did (November 22, 1963).

Strikingly, both Lewis and Kennedy were called “Jack” by their friends.

Nonetheless, despite his amazing contribution to the Christian faith, here are six shocking beliefs held by Lewis.

PLEASE READ THIS BEFORE PROCEEDING: These beliefs aren’t shocking to me necessarily, as I’ve read a good bit of C.S. Lewis as well as the Eastern Fathers, Anglican and Catholic scholars, and the like. But they will be shocking to many evangelicals, especially those who have claimed Lewis to be an icon of evangelicalism. They will not be shocking to most non-evangelicals. I’ve also deliberately not mentioned any of Lewis’ “shocking” actions as this series is focused on beliefs. This is part one of a series. You can read subsequent installments at the bottom of this article. But please keep in mind the point of this post – and this series – which is stated above.

1. Lewis believed in the concept of purgatory.

He discusses this in his book, Letters to Malcolm. In A Grief Observed, Lewis talked about his deceased wife, Joy, connecting her to purgatorial sufferings and cleansings.

Lewis believed that salvation is by grace, but to his mind, it produces total transformation and requires human reception.

Thus he felt that transformation can even occur after death, and some Christians need to be cleansed in order to be fit for heaven and enjoy it. For Lewis, purgatory is for total sanctification (rather than for retribution). From this viewpoint, Lewis saw purgatory as a work of grace.

2. Lewis believed in praying for the dead.

Springing out of his belief in purgatorial cleansing was his belief (and practice) of praying for the dead. He discusses this in Letters to Malcolm.

3. Lewis believed that it was possible that those who in hell might journey toward grace after death.

For Lewis, salvation is not dependent on God’s will, but the will of the damned. In The Problem of Pain, he wrote, “I believe that if a million chances were likely to do good, they would be given.”

He frequently stated that hell is locked from the inside and insisted that hell is self-chosen. Consequently, for Lewis, there is a possibility that one day some of the damned may choose to be restored. For this reason, some have speculated that Lewis was a universalist.

4. Lewis believed that it’s a mistake to think that Christians should all be teetotalers (those who abstain from alcohol).

According to Lewis, “Mohammedanism, not Christianity, is the teetotal religion.” This is a direct quote from Mere Christianity. In contrast, many evangelicals today believe that all Christians should abstain from alcohol.

5. Lewis believed the Catholic Mass was a valid portrayal of the Lord’s Supper (Communion).

Lewis felt that the Roman Catholic view of the bread and wine is just as valid as the Protestant evangelical view. (The Catholic view regards the bread and wine to be the actual body and blood of Jesus while the evangelical view – generally speaking – regards the bread and wine to be symbolic.) He discusses this in Letters to Malcolm.

6. Lewis believed that the Book of Job wasn’t historical and the Bible contained errors.

Again, this will only be shocking to some evangelicals. You can find Lewis discussing this in his Reflections on the Psalms.

7. Lewis didn’t seem to believe that all parts of the Bible were “the Word of God.”

In his Reflections of the Psalms, Lewis made this interesting comment.

[Christians] “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.

8. Lewis believed that the creation account in Genesis may have been derived from pagan sources.

In his Reflections of the Psalms, he wrote,

“I have therefore no difficulty in accepting, say, the view of those scholars who tell us that the account of Creation in Genesis is derived from earlier Semitic stories which were Pagan and mythical.

9. Lewis believed that perfection in sexual holiness should be sought after, but it may not be attainable.

In Mere Christianity, he wrote,

“We may indeed be sure that perfect chastity—like perfect charity—will not be attained by any merely human efforts. We must ask for God’s help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again.”

“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.” – See more at:
“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.” – See more at:

For more about Lewis’ views and especially his extraordinary life, I highly recommend Alister McGrath’s illuminating biography, C.S. Lewis, a Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet.

This book is regarded to be the best biography of Lewis in print. And it’s a shocker in some ways.

A few highlights:

* Lewis gave away all his royalties for his Christian books to those in need. This rendered him poor during his lifetime.

* Lewis had a near photographic memory.

* While brilliant, he was awkward and clumsy. He never learned to drive an automobile or type on a typewriter.

* He was intentional to craft hand-written responses to everyone who wrote to him.

* He fought in World War I, engaging in “trench warfare,” but he rarely talked about it.

* Later in his life, he felt that his intellectual powers for defending the gospel had worn thin and he believed he was a failure as an apologist because he couldn’t persuade his closest friends and loved ones to accept the gospel.

* In his Problem of Pain, Lewis argued brilliantly and with unassailable logic about God’s goodness and the problem of evil in the world. But when his wife passed away, he felt that his earlier arguments about evil and pain were no longer adequate. His upgraded thinking on the subject appears in his later work, A Grief Observed.

There’s much more, but I’ll leave it to you to get McGrath’s book and find out. :-)

Point: Lewis was a hero to scores of evangelicals and others. But he believed many things that countless Christians today would hold to be surprising at best and shocking at worst. Therefore, as I said at the front, let’s be more tolerant and gracious toward our fellow brethren with whom we disagree theologically.

Now I have a question for you.

WARNING: The Blog Manager who moderates comments is a C.S. Lewis fan. Therefore, if anyone wields accusations like “C.S. Lewis is the mouthpiece of Satan” and other such sentiments, our beloved Blog Manager says he won’t approve the comment.

So to the both of you who found this post on the Web somewhere and are starting to march toward the comments box with pitch forks, blow torches, and blunt objects in order to delegitimize, castigate, or marginalize Lewis beyond repair, your remark will vanish into the electricity after he hits the DELETE key.

In addition, the Blog Manager says that those of you who repeat what’s already stated in the blue note at the top — that some will not find this list to be shocking or surprising (especially non-evangelicals), he will not approve the comment. He wants to keep the comments thread uncluttered to focus on this singular question. What Lewis book, idea, or quote has helped you the most in your spiritual journey?

For me, there are two. And I mention them both in my free audio message Epic Jesus: The Christ You Never Knew.

Other Posts in the Series – The Rest will Appear in the Upcoming “Shocking Beliefs” Book

Shocking Beliefs of John Calvin

Shocking Beliefs of Jonathan Edwards

Shocking Beliefs of John Wesley

Shocking Beliefs of D.L. Moody

Shocking Beliefs of Augustine

Shocking Beliefs of Martin Luther



A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis

Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by C.S. Lewis

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister McGrath

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About Frank Viola

Frank Viola is a best-selling author, A-list blogger, speaker, and consultant to authors and writers. His mission is to help serious followers of Jesus know their Lord more deeply so they can experience real transformation and make a lasting impact. See his About page for more information.

  • Steve MacLean

    Several years ago I started compiling a document of “quotable quotes” from the many books that I have read. On the basis of the number of quotes from the books of CS Lewis (and if I really had to choose!) the most influential have been Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters. Consider the following gems from the latter: “The earliest Christians were not so much like a man who mistakes the shell for the kernel as like a man carrying a nut which he hasn’t yet cracked. The moment it cracked, he knows which part to throw away. Till then he holds on to the nut: not because he is a fool but because he isn’t.” Or the following on Professor D.M.S Watson’s defence: ‘Evolution itself,’ he wrote, is accepted by zoologists not because it has been observed to occur or … can be proved by logically coherent evidence to be true, but because the only alternative, special creation, is clearly incredible.’ And then there is the following from Mere Christianity: “fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.” Or this on love and marriage: “Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go. But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense – love as distinct from ‘being in love’ – is not merely a feeling. ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of love is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.” And I could go on, but you get the idea.

  • laverl09

    It is an established fact that in the General Conference addresses of the LDS Church, C.S. Lewis is the most quoted non-Mormon author. His ability to phrase the basics of the Gospel in innovative phraseology touches the very heart and soul.

  • Acintyabedhabedhadasa

    C.S. Lewis was the Jack Chick of his day.

  • Jerry Lynch

    Mere Christianity came at just the right time for me, then deeply into Zen and the Tao. It helped reveal a link in those disciplines back to my early faith. My favorite quote of his is, “The more God takes us over, the more our true selves we become.” I wonder how many Christians would find that “shocking”?

  • Cody

    Lewis helped me discover the path away from Evangelical Protestantism which eventually led me to the Holy Orthodox Church, even though he himself was Anglican! But he was Orthodox at heart and I am eternally grateful for his influence. Not one of the views mentioned is really that controversial from an Orthodox perspective.

  • Timothy Hawk

    Definitely “Pilgrims Regress” followed by “The Four Loves.” Amazing man, amazing thoughts.

  • BT

    At the end of the Narnia tales, Lewis opens to door to view universalism in an entirely new light for me. That was very worthwhile and prepared me for conversations I would have much later on in life.

    Edit to add: Yes, I am probably using the term universalism in an incorrect way. What’s the correct term for viewing the idea that a non-Christian still may find salvation by believing and acting in accordance with Christian ideas but not ascribing the name of Jesus to them due to either ignorance or misinformation? It’s not exactly universalism, but it’s not entirely unrelated.

  • Dr_Jackson

    Oh, how I recall being shocked by these beliefs of Lewis years ago! I think that shock and my continuing love for Lewis played some part in my eventual migration to the Orthodox Church. But to answer the question, the two works of his which I consider most helpful in helping me to understand sin and repentance are “That Hideous Strength” and “The Great Divorce.” On the other hand, the single passage which has stuck with me more than anything else is Puddleglum’s speech in the witch’s underground kingdom in “The Silver Chair”–that speech which allowed the small group of adventurers to shake off the witch’s illusion and recall their aim and their first love, and which I have found a great encouragement during times of doubt and great sadness.

  • Daniel Richard Asperheim

    And I also recommend for reading Dr Michael Ward’s “Planet Narnia” or his easier-to-read version, “Narnia Code”. Not only do you learn more about The Chronicles of Narnia–and about Lewis himself–but also about life itself. For me, “Planet Narnia” has virtually put the magic back into my life and has made me re-think the significance of the mundane. I believe Dr Ward, who is a leading Lewis scholar, made a genuine discovery.

  • Jack Swager

    While I find C.S. Lewis fascinating, he doesn’t have deep insight into the Word of God. Since he thought the Bible contains errors he seems to miss the fact that it’s the Holy Spirit that gives illumination to scripture. Most certainly contributed to a better understanding of Faith in Jesus.

  • John Gale

    Frank, you always give rich food for thought. My favorite Lewis book is Surprised By Joy. “The odd thing was that before God closed in on me, I was in fact offered
    what now appears a moment of wholly free choice.” Spoke to my heart as a teenager; now brings tears to my eyes as a senior citizen! “The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation”. Blows my mind! Blessings

  • Aaron Acton

    Mere Christianity greatly influenced my original decision for Christ. Test everything – keep the good.

  • AbbessBrown

    Although I have read the vast majority of his works, I am almost daily reminded of some instance or another from the seven Chronicles of Narnia — which I have read more than 20 times. Especially the undragoning of Eustace and Aslan’s challenge for Lucy to follow, even if the others don’t see. Truly, as we get older, we are better able to see these seven books for the gems they are.

    But, as I have gotten older, his comment in a letter to his friend, Sheldon Vanauken (which became the title of his deep book, A Severe Mercy, that I read in November of 1979), concerning the death of Sheldon’s wife, Davey, resonates: You have been granted a severe mercy: as severe as death; as merciful as love. Life is full of what I have come to recognize as “severe mercies”…and I am grateful to Jack for giving me that language (along with so much other language for things I felt but could not put into words).

  • bdlaacmm

    I’m pretty sure that over the years I’ve read most everything I’ve ever come across by C.S. Lewis. But more than anything else, I love his three science fiction novels: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. I’ve actually lost count of the number of times I’ve read these, and I’m certain I will go through them again at least one more time. (For those who have yet to experience them, they form one continuous narrative and are best read in the order they were written.)

    The first two contain some of the most beautiful prose ever written about other worlds and the wonder of traveling to them, all the while tackling some pretty deep stuff about the fall of man and the nature of sin (and obedience). The third is a terribly relevant story about many of the dangers modern society presents to humanity. Despite its being somewhat dated, its fundamental theme is as current as the latest news. That Hideous Strength is probably my favorite Lewis work of all.

  • Lois

    The CS Lewis idea that has influenced me the most seems it must have come from his admiration of George MacDonald. To think of grace after death would have been heretical to myself years ago. GM is mistakenly called a universalist because of that, which is not true. All must come through Jesus, which is not universalism. I did not realize until this article that CS Lewis also believed that. Interesting! Thank you!

  • L. Bajus

    Well! At this point in my journey a portion from Lewis’s “The Horse and His Boy” speaks most deeply to me… (I know – not very sophisticated!)

    Shasta is finally meeting Aslan. He realizes that Aslan was the Lion that injured Aravis. Shasta asks Aslan why. It is Aslan’s response that dropped into my heart:
    “Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own”

    I remember that when the lives of people cross and things are confusing and muddled and hard to understand. I remember that I need not figure out another’s story, but rather trust the One who is writing…

  • Bob McGaw

    Frank, although I love Lewis’ body of work, I’m still steeped in your work and now getting into NT Wright’s work (thanks to you). Now I’ll definitely have to pick up McGrath’s new work. As a former pastor, now in exile, I’m more prepared to help point people to God’s eternal purpose.

    Between blogs, books and podcasts, it’s hard to keep up.


  • Frank Viola

    Yes, many evangelicals in America still believe in total abstinence of alcohol and some Bible teachers teach it.

    Do you plan on answering the question in the post?

  • Adam Shields

    Maybe I am not a mainstream Evangelical anymore, but are there many that still suggest that drinking alcohol is sinful? It is extremely hard to reconcile an Evangelical understanding of scripture and a requirement for the complete abstinence of alcohol.

    I am not sure you can really say he believed in Transubstantiation (not that I think it is heretical, just that I don’t think you can really say he did.)

    The reality is that Lewis was a 20th century Anglican, not a 21st Century Evangelical from the US. Of course he didn’t believe all of the things we do now. In general, I trust Lewis to be more orthodox in his faith than the general Evangelical is. Because he actually studied Christian history and was familiar with the longer term traditions of the faith. While many Evangelicals really don’t have a good grasp of what other Christians believe (both now and historically.)

  • Derrell Wyshynski

    I too love Pilgrims Regress…!

  • Caleb

    One of CS Lewis’ books that I’ve really enjoyed and been helped by is Pilgrims Regress. It seems to be a lesser known book but the depths of his analogies in that book are amazing!

  • Frank Viola

    Thanks Tobie and to all who actually answered the question the post was asking. 😉

  • Tobie

    Nice article. My greatest Lewis book: First and Second Things. Chapter that influenced my understanding of life the most: First and Second Things. Chapter that revolutionised my reading habits the most: On the Reading of Old Books. Chapter that most helped me to understand that Christianity is to look in the light and not at the light: Meditation in a Toolshed. Most helpful quote: One converses better when one does not say “Let us converse”. Most disturbing book EVER read: The C S Lewis Hoax by Kathryn Lindskoog (Even though one of the main assertions in the book has been disproven, the rest of it is enough to make a grown person weep.)

  • Frank Viola

    You aren’t in touch with the majority of evangelicals in North America then.

    These things are VERY shocking to them, especially those who have venerated Lewis on the one hand but denounce anyone who disagrees with them on any subject on the other.

    It’s a reality check for such people to lighten up and re-examine how they access individuals.

    The point was made at the beginning of the post that most non-evangelicals will not find these points shocking at all.

    Interesting how you simply repeated that and didn’t answer the question that was being asked in the post. :-)

  • malcolmdfrench

    I’m not sure why any of these points should be “shocking” to anyone. Lewis was not a North American evangelical. He described himself as an ordinary member of the Church of England, neither particularly high nor particularly low. He didn’t even identify as evangelical in the sense that the word is used in the Church of England. Indeed, his views on purgatory tend towards the Anglo-Catholic, which isn’t surprising since his worshiping life was strongly influenced by the Catholic revival in the Church of England. Like most educated members of the Anglican Communion in the middle of the 20th century, he was not a biblical literalist.

    This is only “shocking” to those many North American evangelicals who have remade Lewis in their own image with little or no reference to the Lewis who actually existed.

  • Rich Stone

    Of all Lewis works, it has been “The Great Divorce” that has informed my journey the most. The perspective of all the human attitudes one holds, and how if they are not renounced, one cannot receive God’s free gift of salvation. How satan deceives us into holding on to a lie that appears or becomes more important than

    the true riches we are offered. Like “Screwtape”, “Divorce” provides insight into the strategy of counterfeit that the enemy deploys and how ridiculous it appears when viewed through the lens of the truth.

  • Susan

    Don’t know about that, because he married a divorced woman…..just saying… separated him from his great friend and a Catholic, JRR Tolkien. CS Lewis was brilliant, though….as Tolkien. Unique–both.

    Reason and Tradition did go with the pre-Vat. II Catholics, though, and Thomistic Theology and CS Lewis exhibited a lot of Reason (Natural Laws).

  • John Quirk

    If C.S. Lewis was alive today he would become Catholic.

  • Trev

    The Great Divorce. I am Catholic, and whilst not a perfect picture of the the Final Four Things as formulated by dogma, it greatly influenced my journey across the Tiber from a general Christianity.

  • Bob Romanelli

    Wonderful comment. In the light of Christ’s love, so much else fades into oblivion. In the light that streams from Calvary, all other problems are resolved. How do we know that God does not have different paths for different people. After all, Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. He is alive, not dead. Only dead things are static. Living things are dynamic. Maybe there are more perspectives than we imagine. God lives outside time and space. We are bound by time and space. All our ideas about doctrine are shackled to spacetime. We need to keep that fact in mind when we view the things of God. Rob Bell was attacked when he wrote Love Wins, but he may have been right about many things his critics did not want to think about because they thought they knew all the answers. I don’t think anyone knows all the answers. Even Jesus said that only His Father knew the day and the hour–let’s be humble enough to give God this much space to move around in when it comes to the Bible.

  • Chad Jones

    Lewis has long been one of my heroes. I admire his tough-minded (yet tender-hearted) faith. I suppose the quote that’s moved me the most is from the end of Till We Have Faces:

    “I ended my first book with the words “no answer.” I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words. Long did I hate you, long did I fear you. I might–”

  • Greg

    I enjoyed that very much Frank. If the Wright brothers could be brought forward into the future and witness a jumbo jet or a fighter jet. The brilliance of CS Lewis in abundance of thought and all the wheat gleaned from his works. How many ideas get thrown around the writing tables of Seinfeld and Ray Romano? We, the viewer get all the good stuff condensed. Chaff? Ahh, theres always a bit of chaff mixed in with the good. God Bless

  • TorConstantino

    Great post – Frank very insightful. I’m a lifelong Lewis fan and I was surprised with #5 re: transubstantiation, I didn’t know that was his belief. As always, thanks for educating me!

  • Fran McHugh

    “Son,’he said,’ ye cannot in your present state understand eternity…That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why…the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven, : and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.”
    -The Great Divorce

  • Steve Deur

    Good post. I appreciated the posture of humility and view that each of us are a work in progress. My favorite quote: “Speaking personally, if I demanded that a person’s views on every subject under the sun be identical to mine as a condition to be helped by them, then if I had met myself 20 years ago, I’d have to disfellowship myself!” – Amen to me too! :)

  • DaveO

    It seems too strong to assert that these were Lewis’s beliefs. He was a philosophical man, always thinking and adapting to new insights and old discoveries. In a culture where “beliefs” separate and agitate, one must ask to what extent Lewis held these thoughts and prescribed them for others. Did he pray for the dead because he believed it would affect something of reality and he had an obligation to do so, or did the longing of his heart move him to lift those he
    loved or knew to the Lord even after their death? Lewis wrote his thoughts, but many of those things were just thoughts. I doubt that they were considered doctrine or truth as much as they were considered hopes and salves for his soul.

    Perhaps part of the evangelical struggle is the idea that any thoughts put in writing must be “beliefs” we would die (or kill) for. We expect that aberrant thoughts, ideas outside those considered acceptable, will be hidden or, perhaps, shared only with intimate friends. But previous generations and much of the academic community today understood that putting thoughts out promoted dialogue and understanding. Talking things through, even in writing, is part of the process rightly used to discover truth.

    As I have aged, I have developed many “suspicions.” These are not things I would defend to the death or even to the point of heated argument. I would not judge anyone for disagreeing with me on my suspicions. Nor would I call them beliefs—even if they were strong enough for me to act on them. I understand that they are a little outside of orthodoxy, but I also understand that my experience of faith grows and adapts as life changes. I have even found that some of those things I formerly held as beliefs may not have the firm foundation that I once
    thought. I don’t have to abandon them because of that, but I do have to categorize them differently. They are now theories, suspicions, or just thoughts.

    Great article and very well written. I especially appreciate the Chambers quote at
    the beginning. Thanks for sharing this and I look forward to others in the

  • Peyton Jones

    I read the McGrath book this year and it was amazing. My favorite book was the Space Trilogy. Three books I know, but they cover the same story, so cut me some slack. That book was the most insightful thing I’ve read on heaven. It’s hard to express, but I had an experience with God that I talk about in Leadership Journal a little bit, and I quote Lewis. He was injured in WW1 and although not much is known about his experience, I believe he may have had a near death experience. I say that only because of some of the hints he seems to have dropped in the space trilogy and elsewhere. He “knows” certain things that it would seem only people who have had the experience would really know. Anyways, I sound like a gnostic now, so I’ll shut up.

  • Alice0721

    Well, I was about to march in here with my pitchfork and blowtorch to defend my favorite Christian author. But, this was an insightful blog. Most of the things I already knew about Lewis, but there were a few I didn’t. I view other people’s interpretations of scripture kind of like going to the grocery store. If you find something you like, you buy it, but you don’t burn the store down or never go there again because it has something you don’t like in it. Pulling from diverse views is important for a few reason.

    First of all, they will make you examine your own beliefs on the matter more thoroughly. This can make you change your mind, or make you more confident in your beliefs, and either one can be a good outcome.

    Secondly, it reminds us that if we disagree with some of the beliefs held by our church, it isn’t the end of the world. I see so many people leave Christianity because they disagree with an aspect of theology that others hold to be true, such as eternal torment, evolution, ect… What they don’t seem to realize is that there are others who disagree with the church on it and it is okay. It is important to not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  • Greg Carlet

    I read the Chronicles of Narnia as a kid, but that was the extent of my exposure to Lewis until more recent years.

    I had read many good Lewis quotes, but never read an entire book by him. I even owned a few of his books, but they sat on my shelf unopened for years.

    A few months ago, I decided to pick up Mere Christianity after finishing The Reason For God by Tim Keller. I’m glad I did. It was everything that people had said. It was thought-provoking and encouraging. I’m glad I spent the time reading it.

    I plan on reading Surprised by Joy next.

    Also, I came across The Romantic Rationalist recently as well. I plan on reading that sometime too.

  • stefanstackhouse

    In response to the question, I would have to say that it isn’t so much something specific that Lewis said, but rather his overall example: that it is possible to have an intellectual approach to Christianity, and to have the open-minded creativity to approach and faithfully think through difficult questions outside of the usual rigid language and categories that professional theologians have developed. In this respect, I guess one could say that Lewis is the “patron saint” for well-educated laymen.

    A further note, however: “Letters to Malcolm” was a relatively late work. Yes, Lewis’s thinking seems to have evolved, but I wouldn’t take it for granted that the evolution in the thinking of authors in their later stages always constitutes an improvement. It seems to be an unfortunate tendency that some authors do their best work earlier in their lives, and toward the end they move in a direction that is unfortunate. We clearly see this in the works of Francis Schaeffer, for example. During the prime of his career, during the L’Abri days between the Trilogy and “How Shall We Then Live”, Schaeffer was brilliant, and he was inspiring and instructing to Christians across the political spectrum. It was in his declining years that he took to writing right-wing polemics that were not nearly so edifying. In a different way, we see a somewhat similar phenomenon with Lewis, especially with “A Grief Observed” near the end of his life.

    A few specific comments with regard to Lewis’s apparently heterodox viewpoints:

    Most evangelical Christians don’t believe that we become perfect in our sanctification in this life. (I’m sorry to have to say this, but a good case could also be made that those who do think that they have been so perfected actually haven’t.) We do believe that we will have been perfected when we are with Christ for all eternity. Obviously, something must happen between the point where we die and the point where we are resurrected that results in our sanctification being completed and perfected. The Bible is not absolutely clear what this something is or how it works. The Roman Catholic teaching on purgatory is unscriptural in its elaborate detail, and I am not at all sure that Lewis was endorsing that in its totality. For Lewis to merely claim that some sort of transformation does occur is quite proper, however. It is just unfortunate that he used the word purgatory, and that may reflect some poor judgment due to his not actually having been trained in theology.

    As for praying for the dead and any sort of belief in a “second chance” after death, on the surface these are heterodox and I disagree with them. However, given the thrust of Lewis’s apologetic, I am thinking that he might have thought it so important to emphasize what seems, from our perspective (but not from God’s perspective: Lewis was too well-schooled in Augustine to be a died-in-the-wool Pelagian), to be totally up to us: our need to choose life with Christ rather than eternity apart from Him. Perhaps he thought it necessary to leave the door open rhetorically; whether or not he really believed that is the way it was is less clear.

    Jesus and his disciples drank a little wine with their meals, and Paul commended the practice to Timothy. This is what the Bible actually says, and that is what Lewis was defending. I do think that Lewis could have been a little more sensitive to the reasons why so many Christians felt that a complete break with alcohol was necessary. What apparently wan’t a problem for him was a problem for many others.

    Lewis took great pains to be a “mere Christian”, building bridges and maintaining friendships as much as he could between confessional lines. That in and of itself is not a bad thing. Lewis’s views on the Eucharist are actually a fairly accurate reflection of the rather muddled thinking of mainstream Anglicans of his day. They tended to be rather ambiguous about whether the bread and wine did or did not change, and to what extent it was or was not actually Jesus.

    Job is not a book of history, and should not be read as a historical narrative. Job is assumed to be a real person in James 5:11, but beyond that it is more of an open question as to what extent the book should be read literally.