Why Do We Love C.S. Lewis and Hate Rob Bell?

I think it is important to see that not everyone likes C.S. Lewis. Almost everyone, but not all. Why? Because he had some non-”evangelical” leanings. Besides not believing in inerrancy, he also believed in the theory of evolution, denied substitutionary atonement in favor of a “ransom to Satan” view, bordered on a Pelagian idea of human freedom, seemed to advocate baptismal regeneration, and regularly prayed for the dead.

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Wayne Wilson's picture

I suppose one could start with the fact that Lewis was a highly educated Atheist, and came a long way toward a genuinely held orthodox faith (especially considering his Roman Catholic and 20th century Anglican infleunces). Rob Bell was raised as a Fundamentalist, and moved away from orthodoxy. So in some ways it is a matter of direction, isn't it? One man, a great thinker, a dedicated unbeliever moving toward Christ; the other, a pedestrian mind, but a great manipulator, moving away from Hm and leading others away.

One never has the feeling Lewis delighted to pull down orthodoxy, even when his thinking led him elsewhere. He wasn't glib or trendy. He was simply trying to understand the faith from his limited perspective. I can respect that, even if I disagree with his positions on the items you mentioned.

And remember, Lewis did not claim to be a theologian ("I am only a layman, and don't know much"). He admitted he was often speculating, and, with all his speculation, he really did have an orthodox view of God's person. That comes out in his fiction and his essays...a deep repsect for God as the Creator, Redeemer and Judge. He is very careful that Aslan represent all the qualities of Christ. He understood the validity of God's wrath ("He's not a tame Lion") and hell, even if he asserted, with some wisdom I believe, that hell is locked from the inside. Bell knows better, and willfully rejects core tenets of the faith.

That's a short answer, and I'm leaving out what a great writer and thinker Lewis was, and how penetrating his insights on human nature and sin. Bell? I have never read or heard a deep thought from him in any way.

Susan R's picture


Maybe because Bell is a 'pastor', so we hold him to a higher standard. Bell seems rather dismissive and disdainful. Lewis wrote a much beloved fantasy story embraced by many of us as children. Lewis was thought-provoking without being combative.

I don't think the different lenses through which we view these two men are because of a disregard for sound doctrine or fairness, though.

JobK's picture

C.S. Lewis promoted the same "many paths to heaven" religious pluralism that evangelicals lambaste theological (and political) liberals over. I remember a number of conservative evangelicals leaping on Obama's religious pluralism as evidence that the fellow was no Christian and possibly a Muslim in disguise.

Lewis may not have claimed to be a theologian or pastor, but as his books are used in a lot of evangelical seminaries, his ideas are much more influential in molding future pastors and theologians than most actual pastors and theologians are. And as opposed to "moving towards orthodoxy" ... going from atheism to Mormonism counts as "moving towards orthodoxy." So does going from Hinduism or tribal animism to Judaism or Islam.

Bell knows better? So did Lewis. Lewis had access to the same Bible, the same orthodox Christian teachers (both in his time and of times past) as Bell does, yet Lewis rejected those to chose a form of Christianity that was acceptable to Roman Catholics, the Church of England, and British intellectuals. He embraced the world rather than separated from it, and the world embraced him in return as opposed to rejecting him. That's why you see mainstream big budget Hollywood making "Narnia" movies from his works that are almost indistinguishable from any "other" secular fantasy movies while they wouldn't touch the far superior "Pilgrim's Progress" with a 100 foot pole even if you guaranteed them "Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings" type profits.

Sorry, but it is impossible to reconcile the religious pluralism as conveyed in "Narnia", where Aslan tells Emeth that "true service" to the false god Tash (whose nature and religion was antithetical to Aslan in every way) was actually counted as service to him ... in other words the "good sincere intentions and deeds" done by worshipers of all false religions are credited as true religion in service to the true God, as "an orthodox view of God's person." It rejects everything that the Bible says about God being a jealous God. Also, Narnia's depiction of everyone following the civil laws of Narnia (created by Aslan) even if they did not consciously believe in or serve him was more in line with the church-state agenda of the Church of England and Roman Catholicism than anything that the Bible actually says. And the letters and essays of Lewis of which you speak include his butchery of 1 Timothy 4:10 that he used to justify his religious pluralism. Add to that the esoteric, mystical magical beliefs advocated by Lewis (and not just in the Narnia allegories, but present in his other more serious writings) and the idea that he was "moving towards orthodoxy" becomes more difficult to reconcile.

"A deep respect for God as the Creator, Redeemer and Judge" and "penetrating insights on human nature and sin"? Muslims, Jews, oneness Pentecostals, Mormons and Catholics have the same present in their false religions. The bottom line: "Bell knows better, and willfully rejects core tenets of the faith." Lewis did the same, and did so for the 30+ years of his life that he professed to be Christian. The only reason to prefer Lewis to Bell is bias.

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura

Wayne Wilson's picture

Brother Job,

I appreciate your thoughts, but it's not Lewis' fault that his books are used in seminaries. They weren't written to be.

And I would have to disagree with you that moving from Atheism toward Mormonism is moving toward orthodoxy. It's moving toward paganism. Paganism isn't a step to orthodoxy. Neither is going from animism to Isalm moving toward orthodoxy. Of course, I meant orthodox Christianity. Lewis 's theology affirmed the great ecumenical creeds of Christianity. That's what I meant by orthodoxy, and that his the direction he traveled and encouraged others to follow.

What you call Lewis' "many paths to heaven" thinking seems to me to be his effort to understand the narrow question of those who haven't heard the Gospel. Even strong Fundamentalists sometimes wonder if there might be some way for them in Christ. I can't find it in scripture myself, so I reject it, but I wouldn't exclude someone from heaven for thinking it might be so.

I believe that is the point of the Tash passage in the last Narnia book. And I would say that even in presenting that theory of salvation for the "sincere pagan" (a theory which I do not share), Aslan is presented as jealous in that very passage. I am not sure it's fair to say "It rejects everything that the Bible says about God being a jealous God."

Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the
earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and he said, "It is false."

There is a note at least of jealousy in that growl. Lewis took some pains to make sure no one understood his theory to mean that there is any other God but Christ.

Also, to be honest, I do find in Lewis penetrating insights, but I can't really say that about any Mormons, One-ness Pentecostals or Moslems. I find their stuff more like...well, more like Rob Bell...not in specifics, just in that I find nothing useful there.

Anyway, these are my thoughts. I may be wrong, but I am certainly not going to judge Lewis' eternal condition based on his weak areas of doctrine. It's okay if you want to condemn him, but don't be too surprised if you bump into him in Aslan's country.