Sunday, November 18, 2007

In Defense of C. S. Lewis

This piece was written in response to an attack against Lewis published in the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School/Trinity Graduate School student newspaper, the Scrawl. The attack was written by a first year divinity student named Aaron Adams. The piece in question basically implied that Lewis's Christianity was suspect because he did not embrace evangelical views on a number of subjects and that evangelicals should rethink their relationship to Lewis, which appeared to be a thinly veiled way of saying they should reject his writings. I was deeply disturbed by the spirit of the article, feeling that it exemplifies a certain attitude and mindset that seem to be prominent and even growing among a certain segment of the evangelical population in our times. I wrote this response immediately after reading the article. A few days later, I cleaned it up some and submitted it to the Scrawl. It was published in the following issue under the title "Mr. Adams and C. S. Lewis."

Mr. Adams and C. S. Lewis

Dear Editor,

Having just read Aaron Adams article concerning C.S. Lewis, I find myself deeply troubled. On the one hand, I do not particularly feel that Lewis needs to be defended. I think that the fruit of Lewis’s life and work testifies to both the genuineness of his faith in Christ and to the overall positive impact he has had on behalf of the Christian faith. Scores of people have become Christians because of the writings of Lewis. Scores more have had their faith strengthened or have remained Christians at all, including, by his own admission, Mr. Adams himself. Indeed, I find it strange that Mr. Adams could share how Lewis’s writing helped him through a difficult time spiritually, yet still find the temerity to all but pronounce Lewis anathema simply because he holds some views which Mr. Adams finds erroneous. This seems to me a very ungrateful and uncharitable attitude, and this is what I find most deeply troubling about his article.

Mr. Adams implies that the more “biblical” he has become, the less he has come to love Lewis. He all but directly states that Lewis was not a Christian. He seems to think that being “biblical” means giving intellectual assent to a particular list of doctrines based on the particular understanding of scripture which he happens to hold. Lewis, by contrast, though he may not have affirmed the correct evangelical view on every subject, was an avid Bible reader who sought to submit his life to the authority of scripture and to practice what it taught. This is evident to anyone who knows anything about Lewis’s personal life. Lewis’s writings also embody the biblical values of charity, humility, and graciousness towards those he disagrees with.

Mr. Adams claims that those of us who truly care about being “biblical” should “rethink” our relationship to Lewis, by which he pretty much seems to mean rejecting Lewis altogether. Again, I find this a strange perspective for someone who was helped through a difficult time in his personal Christian walk by the writings of Lewis. Isn’t it possible that, like all of us, Lewis was a flawed vessel whom the Lord chose to do His work and to positively impact the lives of many? Is it necessary to agree with everything a person thought and wrote in order to find spiritual value in their life and work? I do not agree with Lewis’s every view on every subject, but nonetheless I find great value and edification in his writings.

One can only hope that, in the future, those who disagree with the theological positions taken by Mr. Adams will treat him with more charity, humility and understanding than he has extended to C. S. Lewis. I am thankful that both the Bible and the kingdom of God are bigger than the narrow confines of Mr. Adams understanding of them.

Gordon Hackman,
MA CAC, 2004


jraescott said...

Hi Gordy, I concur, in my admittedly unknowledgeable perspective. Reminds me of a conversation I had back around '98 with my friend Josh. Funny how we were in a completely different level theologically speaking than you are and yet how similar the theme was. I was just returning to (or coming to, never sure which) Christianity and Josh was I guess mostly agnostic and easy-goingly open-minded. He had just written a graduate paper on the Great Divorce, which book I had recently read and so I was eager to read his paper and I did. And there had been something bothering me about the Great Divorce when I read it but I couldn't identify it. Well Josh's paper noted a bit of misogyny or at least a bit of unfair stereotyping and that struck me as right, it was what had been needling me. Then in a conversation later Josh was basically writing off ANYTHING C.S. Lewis said b/c of the sexist bent he'd seen in that writing. But I was flabbergasted; that made NO sense to me at all. I saw many truths in that book (and his others). His writing had helped me understand a little more about Christianity. Josh made the analogy of a compass that was ever so slightly skewed but if you followed the imaginary line to where the compass pointed you would find yourself WAY off of north, not only slightly. Sure, I agreed, that's why Lewis isn't Jesus. That's why NO one writer/person is followed to the exclusion of all others. It seemed so basic, so foundational as to confuse me - thinking I was missing something in his argument. But you find truths in many writers and you find out that the average of their "compasses", lo and behold, all are scattered around and point to north. At least that's what I think. I know my thinking is simplistic, but that's where I am at right now, just like many others. Nice I happened in at your blog on the day of the post :-) I've not been by in a while. Cheers!

Gordon Hackman said...


thanks for stopping by and leaving a thoughtful and perceptive comment. I don't think your thinking is simplistic at all. Simple is not the same thing as simplistic. I think it's a simple truth that no one gets it 100% right and that we can usually learn something truthful and useful from any intelligent and thoughtful person. I think that it's always a temptation to start looking at everything with an ideological bent and to dismiss those who don't adhere to or line up completely with our chosen views on things. One of the real shames about this sort of thing is that people who become like this not only cut themselves off from everyone who doesn't agree with them 100%, but they also never develop real skills of discernment because they never learn how to carefully and thoughtfully interact with the views of others. They simply know what they think is right and true and believe that everyone who doesn't line up is wrong and that's that.

One thing that is interesting about your experience with your friend, is that it shows how this ideological mindset can inhabit people from very different perspectives be they liberal or conservative, left or right, etc.

I actually remember you talking to me about your friend when he was writing his paper. I believe, at the time, I told you that I felt that he was reading into Lewis things that weren't there. Now I'm less sure. I must say that I trust your perception and believe that you might be attuned to certain negative stereotypes in Lewis's writings that I would not even be aware of. The point of the conversation we are having here, of course, is that even if those things are true, it still doesn't negate everything Lewis ever said.

My favorite thing you wrote here though, was the statement "Lewis isn't Jesus." This is simple but profound and in some ways sums up in a single phrase the spirit of my whole article. I will carry that statement with me from now on, and, of course, you can insert the name of anyone you admire in the place of Lewis in that phrase.


jraescott said...

Actually, I think I should read the book again. It's been a decade... Holy cow, a *decade*. Oh me.

thekid said...

Well written bro! And I really enjoyed the exchange between you and Jessi here. Perspectives like the one Mr. Adams seems to have held in his writing are so unfortunate. I find it frustrating and here you've articulated so clearly just what I find so frustrated about such things. Jessi and you have rightly pointed out that there is only one Jesus. When folks point us in his direction that's great but let's not get the signs mixed up with the actual destination.

I hope you'll start to post your thoughts a bit more often. Thanks for stopping in over at my blog too.


Dew of Hermon said...

I came across your blog doing a search for Malcolm Muggeridge on Christmas ! This led me to a piece that you wrote several years ago in which you quote M M "that sex is materialisms mysticism". I also like your stout defense of my favourite Christian apologist C.S. Lews

Gordon Hackman said...


Thanks for stopping by and leaving an encouraging word. Glad you were benefited by things I wrote here. It's good to know that some of the older things posted here still get read once in a while.


Judah said...

Wow, zing on Adams--"I am thankful...bigger than the narrow confines of Mr. Adams understanding of them."

I agree wholeheartedly. On thing that comes to mind is wondering whether or not we should be equally considerate of Mr. Adams' views as we wish he would be with Lewis'.

I think you are more than charitable to Adams, don't get me wrong. It just made me think of the relativistic nature of all our views. I had to step back and pretend that Adam's was right and I was wrong. I didn't read his article, so it didn't really work (=

Gordon Hackman said...


I agree that Mr. Adams deserves, like every human being, to be treated with consideration and respect, which, I confess, is sometimes hard to keep in perspective when someone says things you find offensive and wrongheaded. I actually cleaned up the original piece I wrote before submitting it because I felt it was too snippy in its tone towards Mr. Adams. I also agree that we should be considerate of Mr. Adams views generally speaking and of his right to hold such views.

I am simply unable, however, to respect either his attitude towards or his views on C. S. Lewis, because I think that they are not only completely wrong, but also uncharitable. That was the point of my "zing on Adams" as you put it. He himself does not practice consideration or charity towards Lewis, and with that I simply can't comport in any way.

One of the things this minor clash between Mr. Adams and me highlights is the difference in emphasis between conservative and postconservative evangelicalism that I've been reading about and that we talked about earlier. Adams is the conservative and I the postconservative. Adams seem to lean towards the notion that being a Christian is mostly a matter of adhering to correct interpretations of scripture and holding precisely to the right doctrines on an intellectual level. I, on the other hand, think that being a Christian has much more to do with having a real experience of and relationship with Jesus Christ and with seeking to live in obedience to scripture. Of course, I also think that correct doctrine is important. I just don't believe that every doctrinal issue is perfectly cut and dried, nor do I think that giving intellectual assent to correct doctrine to be the essential defining mark of a true Christian. Therefore, I think that someone like Lewis might have been off on some things, but the overall trajectory of his life and of his writings was one which displayed the mark of Christ. Hope that's clear enough.