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.

CS-Lewis-free-will

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.

21 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

    https://books.google.com/books?id=BCc6Aq5JaJoC&pg=PA354&lpg=PA354&dq=cs+lewis+letter+to+Mrs.+Emily+McLay+August+3rd,+1953&source=bl&ots=bHBe86D2hn&sig=ACfU3U3bj1bJC6n9J0IbuU3sR1i3STm04g&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwizq6KLud7iAhVMb60KHbO_CsMQ6AEwAnoECAcQAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false

  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.

    .

  9. Dr, Flowers is correct, I would say not to many but hardly any, maybe other than John Piper would quote C.S. Lewis as he leaned very much in the Roman Catholic sense of his understanding of Scripture and was a mystic like A. W. Tozer.

    Taken from “Sharper Iron”

    We know Lewis denied the The Substitutionary Atonement of Christ.

    In Mere Christianity Lewis was clear that he rejected the substitutionary atonement:

    “Now before I became a Christian I was under the impression that the first thing Christians had to believe was one particular theory as to what the point of this dying [Christ’s] was. According to that theory God wanted to punish men for having deserted and joined the Great Rebel, but Christ volunteered to be punished instead, and so God let us off. Now I admit that even this theory does not seem to me quite so immoral and so silly as it used to…. Theories about Christ’s death are not Christianity: they are explanations about how it works.11” C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1969),pp. 57-58

    “While Lewis reframes this doctrine to make it sound a bit ridiculous he is nevertheless clear that he is not a fan of what is considered one of the fundamentals of the faith. That Christ died in our place, taking upon Himself our sin and satisfying the righteous wrath of God is not an “immoral” or “silly” theory—it is the very heart of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).”

    “Justification & Sacramentalism
    J. I. Packer lamented that Lewis never mentioned “justification by faith when speaking of the forgiveness of sins, and his apparent hospitality to baptismal regeneration.”12 In Mere Christianity Lewis wrote,

    “There are three things that spread the Christ-life to us: baptism, belief, and…the Lord’s supper…. And perhaps that explains one or two things. It explains why this new life is spread not only by purely mental acts like belief, but by bodily acts like baptism and Holy Communion…. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us.13 Lewis, Mere Christianity,pp. 62, 65.”

    My Words Kevin
    To think that C.S Lewis is somewhat of go to in defeating Calvinism when he has an apparent belief in “baptismal regeneration” is shocking to the uttermost. We know this is heresy. I do hope that those who read this will not attack me but only see that I am giving the facts and truths about Lewis as has been done on here many times when it comes to Augustine or Calvin. And remember it is not Calvin or Augustine we are talking about. So I hope there is no SPIRITUAL GAS LIGHTING in trying to go to these two and that we just focus on C.S. Lewis here at the time. I will read all comments but will not respond. This is for my edification to see how one reacts to an individual that has been “a go to ” to defeat another doctrine when this individual has some serious orthodox falsehoods himself.

    “Lewis obviously had a faulty, sacramental view of justification which only naturally leads to the next problem.”

    “Eternal Security
    Lewis believed that a Christian could lose his salvation: “There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians…. A Christian can lose the Christ-life which has been put into him, and he has to make efforts to keep it.”14 Lewis, Mere Christianity page 64

    My Words Kevin
    His last words are really eye-opening and speak volumes as to whom C.S. Lewis believed was the Saviour. It was the “efforts of the professing believer, he can lose his Christ-Life, so with his LFW he must make efforts to keep it”

    My Words or bible quotation Kevin
    Jude: Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ:

    There are those who are “called” but all are called by the gospel right. But no one can doubt there is a distinguished call made between those externally called by the gospel and those who are drawn through the instrumentality of the GOSPEL CALL by the Spirit of God and become known as THE CALLED OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.

    Romans 1:6-7 – 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;

    7 To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints:

    Quotation of C.S. Lews Screwtape Letters denying the keeping power and Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ:

    “The mission of Screwtape was to bring a young man who has just become a Christian back to the devil’s fold. “I note with grave displeasure,” the demon Screwtape admonishes his apprentice demon Wormwood, “that your patient has become a Christian…. There is no need to despair; hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a brief sojourn in the Enemy’s camp and are now with us.”15 C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: Macmillan, 1961), p. 11”

    My words Kevin
    These next to quotes by C.S. Lewis are so shocking I would quite “quoting I would recommend quit quoting C.S. Lewis altogether

    “Inclusivism
    Lewis was an inclusivist believing that some moral non-Christians would be saved: “Though all salvation is through Jesus, we need not conclude that He cannot save those who have not explicitly accepted Him in this life.”16 In the Last Battle, the final volume in the Narnia series, Aslan (the Christ figure) accepts the service of a follower of the god Tash: “Son, thou art welcome,” Aslan says to this individual. Emeth (the Tash-server) protests, “I am no son of Thine but a servant of Tash.” But Aslan insists, “All the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. 17 C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle (New York: Collier Books, 1951), p. 156.

    Even more clear, and more shocking, is this statement:

    There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand. There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it. For example, a Buddhist of good will may be led to concentrate more and more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believed) the Buddhist teaching on certain other points. Many of the good Pagans long before Christ’s birth may have been in this position.18 Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 176-177

    My words Kevin
    Lewis actually that there were people in “Doctrines of Demons” who were being led by God’s secret influence, Even a Buddhist. I know Dr Flowers uses Romans 1 and he is a Inclusivist. Romans 1 made it clear that that no one really believes there is no God because all of God’s creation declares God’s glory and Deity, Although Romans 1 makes it clear the unbeliever tries to push God out his/her thoughts to practice their ungodliness in unrighteousness upon whom the wrath of God is upon. The creation does not lead to further special revelation to be saved. We are saved one way only the Scripture tells us. To deny this is to deny the Word of God.

    Romans 10:12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. 13 For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” 14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?

    So yes as we know there are at least 6000 people groups today that have not heard the gospel that is the power of God unto Salvation and there is no other way or no other name under heaven by which a man can be saved and that is Jesus.

    So millions upon millions have died in their sins without ever hearing the gospel. Mere speculation that one can obtain further special saving gospel knowledge is irrational and a claim that is not supported by the Word of Truth and must be rejected as an argument of silence and going outside of the bounds of Biblical Soundness!!

    More of C.S. Lewis and his love for Roman Catholic Doctrine

    Miscellaneous
    True to his Anglican faith Lewis confirmed that he made confessions to a priest, believed in purgatory and prayed for the dead. Lewis expert Wayne Martindale writes,

    “Lewis believed in Purgatory, both because of tradition and because it appealed to his imagination…. His argument goes like this. We are all sinners. We die with a sin nature. The gap between the holiness of God and the sinfulness of the creature is so unimaginably wide and deep that a profound transformation must happen. And, borrowing from Dante’s view that the soul in Purgatory willingly and even joyfully undertakes the discipline of each step in learning to love properly… Lewis sees Purgatory not as something formed upon us as punishment, but willingly embraced for the good it will do us.19 Wayne Martindale, Beyond the Shadowlands ( Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005), p. 203

    Conclusion
    An article in Christianity Today admits, “Though he shared basic Christian beliefs with evangelicals, he didn’t subscribe to biblical inerrancy or penal substitution. He believed in purgatory and baptismal regeneration.”20 Bob Smietana, “C.S. Lewis Superstar,” Christianity Today (December 2005), p. 29.

    My words, Kevin
    Think about it, C.S. Lewis confessed his sins to a man, a catholic priest to receive forgiveness. It seems he never understood or rejected Christ, our Great High Priest whom we have forgiving grace daily and cleansing of sins through Christ Holy Blood. If one is honest this is serious and not something to just (say well we all make mistakes) No this is a High Doctrine of the Word of God, that speaks to the very issue of the Gospel and Salvation. Lewis did not believe Christ was sufficient to atone for his sins and bring about forgiveness that he went to another sinful man to obtain it. That is something not to just be flossed over. Then he believed in purgatory. We know he believed in man’s efforts to keep that man saved. But he also believed in Rome’s unblblical view of purgatory and one that I know even Mr. Wagner would agree with me. C.S. Lewis believed in BAPTISMAL REGENERATION. Many of the ECF believed in this so does this make it right. No we go to God’s word and we know that God alone through brings about regeneration and conversion. Even if you do not believe it that way you know Baptismal Regeneration is wrong. Be on Guard when reading Lewis and using him as a defense when he is ransacked with false teaching and that which could be called heretical.

    Those who read him must keep these things in mind, filter his teaching through the grid of Scripture and hold him to the same standards that we are to hold all others. Because Lewis was a man with an incredible ability to package his insights in thought-provoking ways does not mean that what he writes always aligns with God’s Word. He was a man who had keen analytical abilities and incredible writing gifts. But he was a man who rejected or minimized many of the most important truths given to us by God.

  10. “I think that every prayer which is sincerely made even to a false god or to a very imperfectly conceived true God, is accepted by the true God and that Christ saves many who do not think they know Him. (C. S. Lewis, Letters of C. S. Lewis, (New York, Harper and Row, 2001), p. 428.)

    Learning a lot about CS Lewis. Wonder what my next study of AW Tozer will result in?

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