Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Open Season on C.S. Lewis

It's open season on C.S. Lewis. Feel free to post a question here about Lewis and I'll try to answer it.

My specific areas of Lewis expertise are primarily in the realm of philosophy with an emphasis on ethics, but I'm game for any Lewis questions including, but not limited to, his life, his thought, his literature, criticisms, quandaries, Narnia - you name it.

Do you think he was too Catholic? Too Protestant? Too soft on an issue? What about his inclusivism? His view of the Bible? His ideas about miracles? His arguments for the existence of God? How long was he married? Why did he leave Oxford University? Does something about Lewis bug you? Puzzle you? You get the idea. Ask away.


Adel Thalos said...

During my seminary years, we used the book by Doctors Lewis and Demarest called Integrative Theology (3 volumes then, 1 now) (the course was taught by Dr. Demarest). In the book Lewis was characterized as holding a moderately liberal view on soteriology and was considered an inclusivist. Do you believe that is correct? If so, what do you think is the source of this?
Thank you.
Adel Thalos

Robert Velarde said...

Great question, Adel. I also studied with Dr. Gordon Lewis, but ancient philosophy not systematic theology (I do, however, have Integrative Theology in my library).

Yes, some tend to characterize Lewis as a broad or "liberal" inclusivist, in some respects with good reason, but in others not so much. It's important to note the distinction that Lewis was no pluralist or universalist. For instance, he believed in the reality of hell, the need for repentance, and in God's final judgment.

But there's no escaping the fact that Lewis was indeed an inclusivist, meaning that in certain cases he believed it possible that some could be saved without a direct witness from a Christian or even while being dedicated followers of another religion.

I'd hesitate to consider Lewis's views of salvation, inclusivistic though they are, as liberal. Lewis allowed for the possibility of inclusivism, but believed that Christ is the only way of salvation, albeit granting that it could come in perhaps unexpected ways.

The source for perspectives on the inclusivism of Lewis is varied, ranging from popular works such as Mere Christianity, to his personal letters, to his fiction. Much has been made, for instance, of a character named Emeth ("truth" in Hebrew) who enters Aslan's country (heaven) in The Last Battle even though Emeth was devoted to a false god, Tash, within a false religious system.

I have written about Emeth in my book The Heart of Narnia, chapter 8, pp. 153-155. However, Emeth is a unique case. He was not dead, for one. He had the direct witness of Aslan himself, for another. And, when all is said and done, Emeth is only one Calormen - a great empire - who is allowed to enter Aslan's country without having previously served Aslan. Looked at from this perspective, using Emeth as an argument for liberal or broad inclusivism in Lewis is actually incorrect.

A couple of more direct sources of Lewis's inclusivism include Mere Christianity, Book II, Chapter 5, The Practical Conclusion, where he writes, in part, "But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ ..." This is one reason why particularists/exclusivists quoting John 14:6 to an inclusivist may not make much of an impact, incidentally. More details of inclusivism and Lewis may be found in Book IV, Chapter 10, "Nice People or New Men," which I won't take the time to quote here, as it is somewhat lengthy.

In a letter dated November 8, 1952, Lewis wrote, "Christ saves many who do not think they know Him," elaborating a bit more on his inclusivism in this letter. His use of the word "many" may be a reason he is considered by some as a broad or liberal inclusivist.

By the way, a recent book on the topic which unfortunately fails to address the inclusivism of Lewis is Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism, which I'm currently reviewing for Christian Research Journal.

Finally, it's important to note that in Mere Christianity, Lewis placed the attention away from the "what about the heathen?" question and redirected it to the individual, essentially saying, "Well, you know about Christ and the Gospel, so who do you say that he is?"

david said...

I have heard it asserted that Lewis' moral argument as presented in Mere Christianity has been thoroughly refuted by John Beversluis in his book C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion.

It is on my "to read" list, but there are about 20 books in front of it, so just curious if you had read it?

Its part of my process of taking the "Debunking Christianity Challenge" (http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2007/11/take-debunking-christianity-challenge.html)
presented to all Christians who read that blog.

Robert Velarde said...

Thanks for the question, David. "Thoroughly refuted" strikes me as quite an overstatement, though I've only read portions of the book by Beversluis. His criticisms are often of the straw man variety. For examples of the poor arguments offered by Beversluis see, for instance, two chapters in the recent book C.S. Lewis as Philosopher: "Aut Deus Aut Malus Homo" (either God or a bad man) by David Horner and "Is Divine Iconoclast as Bad as Cosmic Sadist? Lewis versus Beversluis" by David Baggett.

Note, too, that Mere Christianity is based on short live radio talks given by C.S. Lewis on the BBC. This means that he tried to condense his talks as best he could for a popular audience. As Lewis himself explained, "I've only got 15 minutes for each talk. That doesn't give you time to make many subtle distinctions. You've got to go at it rather like a bull in a china shop or you won't get through" (C.S. Lewis: Companion & Guide, p. 307).

As a result, his relevant section in Mere Christianity, Book I: Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe, is more an outline than a rigorous philosophical treatise of any kind. With that said, in my assessment Lewis provides a fine presentation of a form of the moral argument for the existence of God.

Norman Geisler summarizes Lewis's argument from morality as follows:

"1. There must be an objective, universal law, or else no ethical judgments make sense ... Nothing could be called evil or wrong, and there would be no reason to keep promises or treaties.
2. This moral law does not originate with us. In fact, we are bound by it.
3. The source of this law is more like mind than matter, and it cannot be part of the universe any more than an architect is part of the building he designs.
4. Therefore, there exists a Moral Law Giver who is the ultimate source and standard of all right and wrong." (Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, s.v. "Lewis, C.S.")

For something of an updated presentation of Lewis's argument from morality see, "A Moral Argument" by Paul Copan in To Everyone an Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview.

Lastly, as far as the "Debunking Christianity Challenge" is concerned, I would hasten to add that moral arguments are but one variety of arguments for the existence of God. As you probably know, there are numerous other arguments in favor of the existence of God, as well as multiple lines of evidences and reasoning in support of Christianity. That is why the existence of God does not stand or fall with the supposed refutation of one form of an argument for God.

Speaking as a former atheist, I'm quite familiar with various approaches they take to the moral argument and to Lewis. See, for instance, my book Conversations with C.S. Lewis, which features a series of fictional discussions between Lewis and a contemporary atheist, particularly chapter 7 wherein the moral argument is addressed.

david said...

Excellent information, thank you very much!

Adel Thalos said...

Thank you very much Robert. Your answer was thorough and helpful.

Just one follow-up question.

What do you believe was the source of Lewis' inclusivism? Was his theology influenced by other inclusivists or was this for him a compromise between exclusivism and pluralism.

Robert Velarde said...

Glad you found the information useful.

To my knowledge Lewis was not influenced by specific inclusivists. But Lewis at least in part based his inclusivism on his interpretation of Matthew 25:31-46.

In the letter I quoted above, Lewis also wrote, "In the parable of the Sheep & Goats ... those who are saved do not seem to know that they have served Christ." I disagree with this interpretation as being supportive of inclusivism.

Karla said...

Have you done any research about Lewis' footnote in Miracles regarding his assertion that the Old Testament events may not be entirely historical as the New Testament? I think that he must have known better than what that footnote seems to be indicating.

Karla said...

I enjoyed Paul Copan's chapter in To Everyone an Answer. I haven't yet read the whole book, but I recently read that chapter.

Robert Velarde said...

Good question, Karla. I wouldn't call it "research" per se, but I have pondered Lewis's views on the Old Testament. He comes across as what one might term neo-orthodox in this regard. While I don't find myself in full agreement with his perspective, I admit that I do find it quite clever.

For those who are unfamiliar with what we are discussing, refer to a footnote in chapter XV of Miracles by C.S. Lewis, published in 1947. In a note Lewis writes, in part, "A consideration of the Old Testament miracles is beyond the scope of this book and would require many kinds of knowledge which I do not possess." He then notes that the position he holds at the time of the writing may indeed be "tentative," going on to add that in his assessment some Old Testament accounts are mythological, but "chosen mythology."

For the 1960 reissue of Miracles, Lewis did revise chapter III of the book as a result of arguments presented by philosopher G.E.M. Anscombe, but Lewis did not revise chapter XV or his note about the Old Testament. Lewis died in 1963 so if he had changed his views on the Old Testament he would have had an opportunity to change the book in 1960, but he did not.

Also see his book Reflections on the Psalms, published in 1958, for more insights on his views of the Old Testament. In short, Lewis did not adhere to inerrancy. However, he did believe in Christ as a historical figure who did indeed perform miracles, the greatest being his resurrection. In Christ, myth became fact according to Lewis in that the mythologies of the world prepared the world for the real, historical Jesus.

A relevant quote in Reflections on the Psalms is as follows: "I have been suspected of being what is called a Fundamentalist. That is because I never regard any narrative as unhistorical simply on the ground that it includes the miraculous. Some people find the miraculous so hard to believe that they cannot imagine any reason for my acceptance of it other than a prior belief that every sentence of the Old Testament has historical or scientific truth. But this I do not hold, any more than St. Jerome did when he said that Moses described Creation 'after the manner of a popular poet' (as we should say, mythically) or than Calvin did when he doubted whether the story of Job were history or fiction" (chapter IX: Scripture, p. 109).

For more on Lewis and his views of the Bible see Pleasures Forevermore: The Theology of C.S. Lewis by John Randolph Willis (Loyola, 1983, chapter 7) and C.S. Lewis on Scripture: His Thoughts on the Nature of Biblical Inspiration, the Role of Revelation, and the Question of Inerrancy by Michael J. Christensen (Word Books, 1979). The former is by a Roman Catholic and the latter by a Protestant.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Robert. I need your help. I'm DAN, from the Philippines. I'm a seminarian, AB Philo major student. Currently working for CS Lewis thesis. I want to ask clues on what quotes or what books contain CS Lewis philosophical (not theological or Biblical) arguments for the existence of God. What did he precisely say about "argument from desire". Thank you

I have a sample of my thesis proposal

(I omit some parts)

B. Statement of the Problem
In doing this study, the researcher will first prove the qualification of C. S. Lewis as a philosopher and not simply as an essayist or theologian. But the main problem of the study is about supplying the sources for the existence of God, and the most important of them is the reality of desires. Desires are understood as human realities. They are not merely subject to theological discussion, and that is why they can serve as point of reflection in philosophy, particularly theodicy. C. S. Lewis’ explication on human desires is simply called argument from desire.

C. Significance of the Study
The study is very timely and relevant to our contemporary notion of God. Moreover, the study focuses on God because God continues to be significant in the daily tenets of living. Imagery of God and religion remains to be superficial in our social structures.
Mere Christianity is the book considered as the synthesis of Lewis’ reflections of Christianity after his repudiation of atheism. It is the work that acclaimed him to be the “apostle to the skeptics.” It is here that he rebuts the mood of atheists and their view of the universe. Lewis’ foremost assertion is that:
“Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning.”
The significance of the study lies in the following statements. First, this study is aimed at a better understanding of God. Our knowledge of God is something that is customarily derived from scriptures and authority. Lewis’ notion of God will give us a simple glimpse of the divine through both active and passive human experiences.
Second, the study will draw a theodicean approach to some philosophers. Lewis’ conversion is accounted for his interest in the Hegelian absolute and in Berkeley’s notion of the spirit. Thus, principles on the Absolute can be developed from philosophers of modern times.
Third, this study may provide counter arguments against atheism. But atheism is broad, that in this study what will be taken into consideration is the atheism that is predominant during Lewis’ time. Atheism refutes the existence of God by attacking primarily the scriptural poses of Christianity. Lewis’ defense of God employs the reduccio ad absurdum on the part of his atheist opponents.
That is why the fourth point of importance for the study is that it asserts Lewis as a leading philosopher in the defense of God in the 20th century.


My main point: just provide Lewis' non-scriptural ontological proof. Is MERE CHRISTIANITY sufficient for my topic alone? Thanks

Robert Velarde said...

Daniel, thanks for the comments and questions. Lewis, being a classical apologist, often tried to make the case for God on the basis of knowledge we have beyond the Bible (that is, beyond special revelation and on the basis of general revelation). As such, he utilized, for example, forms of the moral argument; what has come to be called the argument from reason (see Victor Reppert's book on this: C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea), etc.

The concept of joy/longing/desire is spread throughout the writings of Lewis. See, for starters, his afterword to The Pilgrim's Regress, Surprised by Joy, and portions of Mere Christianity. For a thorough presentation and evaluation of the argument from desire, see Peter Kreeft's essay, "C.S. Lewis's Argument from Desire" in G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis: The Riddle of Joy.

On Lewis as a philosopher see C.S. Lewis as Philosopher, which I reviewed awhile back for Christian Research Journal.

With all this said, keep in mind that Lewis was not a professional philosopher or theologian in an academic sense. As such, there is really no systematic presentation of his ideas and, consequently, they appear in articles, works of fiction, works of non-fiction, etc.

Some guides that may be of help to you in your research include C.S. Lewis Companion and Guide, Mere Theology, and The C.S. Lewis Readers' Encyclopedia. Many other resources are listed in an appendix to my book Conversations with C.S. Lewis.