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Volume 13, Issue 5: Presbyterion

Was C.S. Lewis Reformed?

Douglas Wilson

The answer to the question posed by the title is, of course, not exactly. At the same time, and in a different sense, the answer is yes, of course. And this means that while there is substantive agreement, there is a clear difference between how some of the modern Reformed articulate the truth on certain issues and how Lewis did. And I want to suggest, in saying this, that many modern Reformed pastors, in some key areas, have something to learn about all this from Lewis.

First, C.S. Lewis did believe in predestination, and he did so without weaseling off the central point. He refused to set one truth against another. He asserted this: "Of course reality must be self-consistent; but till (if ever) we can see the consistency it is better to hold two inconsistent views than to ignore one side of the evidence . . . It is plain from Scripture that, in whatever sense the Pauline doctrine is true, it is not true in any sense which excludes its (apparent) opposite."1 It is important here to note how Lewis named the doctrine of predestination under discussion—the "Pauline doctrine." And he assumed it was true in some sense which would make people think it might exclude its apparent opposite—the genuine freedom of men and women. But of course, because God cannot lie, no truths contradict at the ultimate level. God is sovereign and the creature is free.
As his magnum opus on English literature made clear, C.S. Lewis understood this as the basic reason for the exuberance of the early Reformation. "From this buoyant humility, this farewell to the self with all its good resolutions, anxiety, scruples, and motive scratchings, all the Protestant doctrines originally sprang. For it must be clearly understood that they were at first doctrines not of terrror but of joy and hope: indeed, more than hope, fruition, for as Tyndale says, the converted man is already tasting eternal life. The doctrine of predestination, says the Seventeenth Article, is `full of sweet, pleasant and unspeakable comfort to godly persons.' . . . Relief and buoyancy are the characteristic notes."2 Lewis' thoroughgoing sympathy with this is hard to miss.
Lewis does not deny genuine human freedom (just as the Westminister Confession does not), but he steadfastly refused to place either the doctrine of sovereignty or the doctrine of genuine freedom on the Procrustean bed of the other one. This refusal looks like compromise to the hyper-Calvinists of this world, and it seems inconsistent to the cold rationalism of Arminianism. But it is nevertheless the Reformed confessional position. As Ransom discovered on Perelandra, freedom and necessity are the same thing. One of Lewis' favorite theologians was the Elizabethan Anglican, Richard Hooker, who was a to-the-hilt Protestant on the doctrines of grace. The Thirty-nine Articles, cited by Lewis above, are a wonderful statement of Reformation faith, and Lewis was a conservative churchman who understood the orginal context of those articles—which is more than can be said about many of those who subscribe to them today. He understood the efficacy of grace, the sovereignty of grace, the graciousness of grace. When Jill wanted to come to the water, she mentioned that she had called to Aslan. But Aslan said she would not have called him unless she had been called by him.
Now, what does it matter? This is not written so that we might have a fight with Anglo-Catholics and modern evangelicals over the body of Moses. This is said so that our TRs, the "truly reformed" among us, might be encouraged to learn something they really need to learn. C.S. Lewis has a lot to teach hard-line five pointers—but abandoning the five points is not the lesson. Someone once made a wonderful point about Lewis: he made righteousness readable. In the same way, he made the doctrines of predestination and justification wash over a sinner with sweet relief. He did not do this with our wretched "seeker friendly" way of dumbing everything down in a condescending way. He did not confound intelligence with unintelligibility, and he did not confuse intelligibility with baby talk. He presupposed the intelligence of the reader, and wrote to it.
This is not to endorse every single thing C.S. Lewis may have written. I recently reread his Reflections on the Psalms, in the course of which book he says some appalling things. But the funny thing was that he was a gracious and edifying writer, even when he is busy arguing some of his errors. I prefer Uriah drunk to David sober, and have received more of a blessing from some of Lewis' worst books (including Reflections) than I have from turgid Reformed stuff, orthodox from stem to stern. And the reason goes back to what was said above. The truths Lewis presents are readable, understandable, and altogether lovely, even when he is wrong. He loved the truths he presented, and was a man of such giftedness that he made what he loved lovely.
And in this, many pastors in the orthodox Reformed tradition need to learn this particular lesson. More beauty in wordsmithing does not lessen the amount of truth that words carry, but rather increases it drastically. The beautiful words Naphtali speaks do not displace content-bearing words. A pearl necklace on a beautiful woman is not extraneous.
A man who is called to the use of words, as ministers are, and who ignores the aesthetic aspect of them in order to concentrate on "truth," is actually at war with the truth. Instead of a pearl necklace he gives the beautiful woman a dog collar—and then pretends he did it because he loves and respects the woman!
Love your faith as Lewis did, and dress her beautifully.

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