In my previous posts on C.S. Lewis, I looked at his views of the Bible itself and Christianity in general. I focused on his religious tolerance in Part I; his beliefs of heaven, hell, purgatory, and prayer in Part II; and his views of the Lord's Supper, theistic evolution, and the immortality of animals in Part III. In this post, I will consider Lewis's positions on Christ's Atonement and the historicity of the Bible.
In Chapter 2 of C. S. Lewis on Scripture, Michael Christensen writes about Lewis's position on Christ's Atonement:
"Lewis gradually came to realize that theories about Christ's death were not as important as the fact of his death. Many theories have been advanced by Christians as to what the Atonement means (e.g., penal substitution, limited atonement, vicarious atonement, ransom to the Devil, satisfaction theory, moral influence theory), but theories are not to be confused with the reality itself. As Lewis says, "A man can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works." Any explanation of the Atonement is at best only a reasonable approximation. Doctrinal statements never quite square with the absolute reality. In this context Lewis offers his opinion on the subject. The meaning of Christ's death for Lewis is in its exemplary demonstration of divine repentance. Jesus died on the cross to show us how we are to die to our fallen natural selves," (p. 33).
However, the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith states that "The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience and sacrifice of Himself, which He through the eternal Spirit once offered up to God, has fully satisfied the justice of God, procured reconciliation, and purchased an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven for all those whom the Father has given unto Him," (Chap. 8, para. 5).
Lewis's unbiblical view of Christ's death as an "exemplary demonstration" has been labeled the example theory of Atonement. The Apostle Paul tells us that the Gospel which saves us from our sins is believing that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried and rose again according to the Scriptures, (1 Cor. 15:1-4). By faith a Christian believes what is revealed in the Word of God. Jesus Christ is more than just an example for Christians. His perfect sacrifice on the cross satisfied the wrath of God for the sins of the elect so that believers can put on the righteousness of Christ and inherit eternal life. There is nothing for fallen man to do in the salvation process. Mr. Lewis's view of atonement not only puts him outside of orthodox Christianity, but also marks him as a heretic. The sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ on the cross for the sins of His elect is an essential, core doctrine of Christianity; without it, you are not a Christian and need to be saved.
Finally, in Chapter 2 Mr. Christensen writes about Lewis's position on the historicity of the Bible:
"In Reflections on the Psalms Lewis frankly admits that he does not believe every sentence in the Old Testament contains historical or scientific truth...It makes little difference to Lewis whether the story of Ruth, for example, is historical or not. "I've no reason to suppose it is not," he says. Either way, the truth of the story is inspired and acts on us as the Word of God. Nor does he have any theological difficulty in accepting Genesis as "derived from earlier Semitic stories which were Pagan and mythical." But just because the creation story has mythic qualities does not mean it is untrue. Myth can be truer than historical fact," (pp. 34-35).
Jesus Himself tell us that "thy [God's] word is truth," (John 17:17). The Apostle Paul states that "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works," (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Therefore, the Old Testament books of Genesis and Ruth are true, historical narratives.
The Bible reveals God and declares His will (1689 LBCF Chap. 1, para. 1). The Old Testament includes types and shadows pointing to Jesus who is fully revealed in the New Testament. Ruth is a true story about a kinsman-redeemer, but it also gives us a glimpse of the ultimate Redeemer to come, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
When Christians allow the Old Testament to lose its veracity, then the door is opened to bad hermeneutics. Rather than preaching what the passage actually says, some pastors will allegorize the text and read themselves into it. For example, a pastor might identify himself with King David and look for the Goliaths in his life that need to be fought, such as financial problems, marital issues, or work challenges. This is not how the Old Testament should be exposited because King David actually existed and he actually fought and killed a Philistine named Goliath. King David is a type of Jesus who is the King of Kings (Rev. 19:16).
In addition, Christians know that the Old Testament books are true since Jesus refers to Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David as real people (this is not an exhaustive list). The Bible cannot be approached like other ancient books or myths due to the fact that Scripture itself claims supernatural origin (2 Peter 1:19-21); therefore, a true believer must treat it with fear and reverence because it is the very Word of God, (John 1:1-4).
The liberal mindset that Christ's atonement is really just an example for Christians to follow and that the Bible may or may not be true is not part of orthodox Christianity. Therefore, Bible-believing Christians should not read or revere the books of C.S. Lewis. I will conclude my review of Lewis's views of the Bible itself and Christianity in general in Part V of this series.
"For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you," (1 Peter 1:24-25).