Saturday, July 28, 2007

Book Review: C S Lewis: Clarity and Confusion

C S Lewis: Clarity and Confusion: A Balanced Introduction to His WritingsC S Lewis is a paradoxical writer in Christianity. An Anglican who had some so-called liberal views about doctrines such as inspiration and salvation yet he is adored by evangelical Christians - even of the theologically fundamentalist persuasion. Andrew Wheeler’s book, C S Lewis: Clarity and Confusion: A Balanced Introduction to His Writings surveys Lewis’s books and identifies what he considers to be commendable and what he believes needs to be criticised. Wheeler begins with a sketch of C S Lewis’s life beginning with his birth in Belfast, through his days at university and in the military during the first World War, his conversion, and his ascendancy as a writer and broadcaster who had an impact around the globe. C S Lewis’s books are still very popular. The biographical survey is followed by a section identifying what Wheeler calls ’glimpses of grace’. This part of the book examines Lewis’s beliefs about sin, what it means to ’live in Christ’, God’s character and what it means to know God, and the future of the Christian. In Part 3, Wheeler turns to ’some areas of concern’. These include things like the historicity and factuality of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. Given the evangelical perspective that Wheeler writes from, the suggestion, by Lewis, that the Bible began as merely human writing does not sit well. Wheeler concludes that Lewis is ’much more reliable on the New Testament than on the Old.’ (p. 60) Wheeler goes so far as to say that Lewis’s ’book Reflections on the Psalms, though not without its good points, is not a particularly good book. In the hands of a young, inexperienced, or little taught Christian, it could do great harm.’ (p. 61) Lewis’s discussions of creation and evolution also set off warning bells for Wheeler. Lewis accepted evolution as a the scientific theory of origins, as many did in his day. For Wheeler, who is obviously a literalist when it comes to Genesis 1 and 2, this is completely unacceptable. Lewis was also quite accommodating of other religious traditions besides Christianity. Wheeler writes that Lewis’s belief that ’it was possible for followers of other religions to be saved’ is ’[a]nother serious error in Lewis’s thinking.’ (p. 79) Wheeler continues:
[C S Lewis] certainly did not believe that all of them would be saved; he knew very well that not all roads lead to God. He also knew that it is our duty to spread the gospel. Nevertheless, he did not think that only Christians go to heaven.. He wrote: ’We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him’ (Mere Christianity [1952], Book II, Chapter 5). The second half of that sentence contains a dangerous and troubling mistake.
Of course, Lewis’s isn’t/wasn’t the only Christian who believes this. But because Wheeler is coming from a very specific evangelical position, this belief of Lewis’s is problematic for Wheeler. There is much good in Wheeler’s analysis of Lewis’s writings. They provide a useful summary. But this particular example illustrates an important weakness in Wheeler’s critique. He is writing from a very narrow theological perspective without any indication of the breadth of Christian theological and doctrinal belief. Lewis’s clarity and confusion can be defined and discussed in various ways depending on which perspective one comes from. Despite this narrowness, the book is worth reading. It just means that even Wheeler’s evaluation of Lewis’s understandings also needs to be read critically. Related Links

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