Was C.S. Lewis a Calvinist?

Listen to the Podcast: CS Lewis debating John Piper over Calvinism

In the most recent “Ask Pastor John” podcast with Dr. John Piper he answers the question, “What Arminians have influenced you the most.”  He was gracious in his reply but he did erroneously allude to the belief that CS Lewis was not to be included among the list of Arminians who have had influence on him because of a recent presentation at one of his conferences that apparently attempted to prove CS Lewis was Calvinistic.


I almost fell out of my chair…literally.

Those of you who know my story are aware that reading CS Lewis (along with AW Tozer) is what helped to lead me to reexamine my interpretative methods and eventually recant Calvinism.  I have read every word of CS Lewis, some of them multiple times.  I have a theological “man crush” (look it up, its a real thing) on this guy, and while I may be uncertain about some scholars stance on this issue I have absolutely no doubt about CS Lewis.

I’ll be brief here because it will not take long to prove my point.  Here are a few quotes from CS Lewis that may help shed some light on this:

“God has made it a rule for Himself that He won’t alter people’s character by force. He can and will alter them – but only if the people will let Him. In that way He has really and truly limited His power.  Sometimes we wonder why He has done so, or even wish that He hadn’t. But apparently He thinks it worth doing. He would rather have a world of  free beings, with all its risks, than a world of people who did right like machines because they couldn’t do anything else. The more we succeed in imagining what a world of perfect automatic beings would be like, the more, I think, we shall see His wisdom.” – CS Lewis, The Trouble with X

And from the Screwtape letters…

“You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be.” -CS Lewis

Lewis also says this in “The Problem of Pain.”

“If God’s moral judgement differs from ours so that our ‘black’ may be His ‘white’, we can mean nothing by calling Him good; for to say ‘God is good’, while asserting that His goodness is wholly other than ours, is really only to say ‘God is we know not what’. And an utterly unknown quality in God cannot give us moral grounds for loving or obeying Him. If He is not (in our sense) ‘good’ we shall obey, if at all, only through fear — and should be equally ready to obey an omnipotent Fiend. The doctrine of Total Depravity — when the consequence is drawn that, since we are totally depraved, our idea of God is worth simply nothing — may thus turn Christianity into a form of devil-worship.”

Enough said…

And, NO there is no evidence that CS Lewis later recanted these views, in case someone is wondering.

John-piper-bloodlines-trailer-380x200Piper also suggests that “Arminians” are more philosophical and less exegetical in their approach to interpretation.  This is simply untrue and Dr. Piper never provides any support to back up this accusation.  I discuss some of these issues more in-depth in THIS PODCAST: “Influenced by the “enemy?”.


Listen to the Podcast: CS Lewis debating John Piper over Calvinism

Dr. Roger Olson, a notable Arminian scholar, also rebuts Piper’s statements HERE.

19 thoughts on “Was C.S. Lewis a Calvinist?

  1. Indeed, in light of such specific and clear quotes from Lewis, why would brother John Piper try to insinuate Lewis was a Calvinist? Granted I didn’t hear the lecture John heard but unless CS Lewis repudiated these earlier quotes, such a claim is unfounded and even ludicrous.

    1. Because quotes taken from one time in a person’s life only show their theology at that specific time. Other quotes can show that theology has changed. I wouldn’t say Lewis became a Calvinist but he became Calvinistic. He certainly abandoned his full Arminian stance that he took earlier in his Christian walk. You cannot prove anything by taking a few quotes from a person who’s theology spanned decades.

      1. Manley,

        Can you provide quotes or links that indicate this “change” in Lewis’ views? In my experience, people tend to read their view into quotes (as is often the case with scripture).

        Knowing how much even J. Arminius himself sounded like an adherent to Calvinistic doctrines makes me skeptical of these types of assertions about other likeminded scholars. IMHO, modern day Calvinists are so accustomed to “Arminians” sounding shallow theologically that when they come across one who isn’t they mistaken them for one of their own.

  2. C.S. Lewis was not a theologian. I love “Mere Christianity” as a philosophical argument for faith, but when I give it to people I always remind them that he is not a theologian. To look to him as a place to gain theological understanding is a mistake.

    1. Spurgeon wasn’t a “theologian” either, yet few Calvinists would hesitate to quote him in support of their soteriology. What makes a man a theologian? Education? Agreement with your theology? If what a person says is true to the text (to the best of your discernment) then it’s theological regardless of the credentials of the one who said it.

  3. Lewis is neither, and his conclusions fall on both sides not because he is confused, but because he thinks that it is mostly a non-issue.

    According to Lewis God exists beyond space and time. This is a fact that neither Calvinists nor Arminians will dispute and neither would I. Lewis poses the argument then that if God created time then time has no effect outside of our existence, and the two views are based on time, therefore they are meaningless in the big picture.

  4. Leighton, God also used C.S. Lewis to help me in my journey out of Calvinism. I appreciate this post as well as your entire blog. You have been important in helping me understand Romans, esp. the corporate view of election. And I have a crush on C.S. Lewis too. 🙂 Blessings.

  5. Leighton, if you have a theological man crush on C S Lewis, I think it’s only right that you should let him introduce you to his theological father, George MacDonald, who would no doubt be as protective as any father over who his son is dating 🙂

  6. I find these discussions useless and divisive. Who cares if he was a Calvinist or Armenian? Only those of you who love to split hairs and consider it a good use of time. In the New Testament, the evidence of our Christianity is our love for one another, not our ability to defend or explicate Scripture.

      1. Lewis flat out denied “Total Depravity”, therefore denying Calvin and his teaching. It would be an insult to Lewis’ intelligence to say he didn’t know what he was denying. He was no closet Calvinist. To say “he was a Calvinist and didn’t know it” is completely disrespectful to his legacy. Lewis knew what he believed and it wasn’t Calvinism. George Macdonald, the Master according to Lewis who influenced everything he wrote (his words, not mine) was the farthest thing from Calvin. For those not familiar, a similar disconnect would be like John Piper calling Pope Benedict “The Master”. The problem is Lewis is too likable and can lead people away from Calvin. What’s someone like Piper supposed to do? It’s all part of the larger “re-branding” of Calvinism. They changed the name, softened the teachings, made it more nice and appealing, added charisms, good speakers, nice websites, and the word “Biblical” to everything. It’s new paint and caulk on an old house with a faulty foundation. See through it and seek truth.

  7. He says in a letter to Emily McLay dated August 3rd, 1953. “I find the best plan is to take the Calvinist view of my own virtues and other people’s vices: and the other view of my own vices and other people’s virtues.”

    While I’d consider myself an Armenian, this is just something to consider


  8. THANK YOU for this post!

    At the end of the day, IF God is the one puppeteering us around, HE is the one responsible for sin, as we have no ability to decide between the two. On the other hand, If GOD is responsible for original sin, He can hardly condemn humanity to eternal damnation without being THE MOST UNJUST JUDGE of ALL ALL TIME.

    Let’s go back to the Garden of Eden. Did NOT God say, “You may eat from all the trees of the garden but ONE. (The tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil). On the day you eat thereof, you will die.” Now, IF God were to direct Eve to the very tree He told her NOT to eat from, how could A&E be held morally responsible for a choice they did NOT make, but God made for them, IN CONTRADICTION to what HE told them (DON’T eat from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil) . This makes God not only a liar but a hypocrite on top of it.

    Have you read Dave Hunt’s “What Love Is This?” My hardcover copy looks like a coloring book, with the highlighters .

    Mr. Piper doesn’t believe in free will, then whatever wrong he does is GOD’S doing. How can he lay claim to God’s HOLINESS while saying that God decides what we will do? The woman who sleeps around, gets pregnant and has an abortion. The man who beats his wife. The businessman who defrauds his client, The guys who plowed planes into the WTC. If there is NO free will, God didn’t just KNOW such things would occur, he DECIDED they would.


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