Shocking Beliefs of C.S. Lewis

Originally at:

by Frank Viola

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.

C.S. Lewis Rare Image

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 passed away (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.

Note that these beliefs 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.

Since I’m not writing this for scholars, I’m intentionally not documenting each statement with page numbers. But the source books are listed so you can verify them yourself if you’re skeptical.

1. Lewis believed in 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.

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.

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. :-)

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