C.S. Lewis As A Public Theologian

C.S. Lewis As A Public Theologian

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C.S. Lewis as a Public Theologian Pentecostal Appreciation, Evaluation, and Challenge

Mark J. Cartledge

Regent University, Virginia Beach, Virginia



C.S. Lewis’s books are as popular as ever. Within Christianity this popularity is, in part, fueled by the American Evangelical admiration for him and the interest in maintaining his role in shaping the minds of the next generation of university students. Academi- cally, Lewis studies have never been healthier and now philosophers and theologians are among those studying Lewis for their own benefit alongside historians and lit- erary scholars. In this context, the paucity of pentecostal engagement with Lewis is noticeable. This article aims to explore the ways in which pentecostal theologians have engaged with C.S. Lewis, and it does so by placing the discussion in the context of pub- lic theology. It asks the question as to whether it is appropriate to consider Lewis as a public theologian and, if so, what that means in terms of a pentecostal appraisal of his legacy.


C.S. Lewis – public theology – Pentecostal – Evangelical – apologetics


On the whole, pentecostal and charismatic Christians have not joined the evangelical interest in and, some might suggest, the hagiography of C.S. Lewis.1

1 He is often referred to as the Patron Saint of American Evangelicalism; see, for example: Philip

Ryken, “Lewis as the Patron Saint of American Evangelicalism,” in C.S. Lewis and the Church:

Essays in Honour of Walter Hooper, ed. Brendan Wolfe (London:t&tClark, 2011), 174–185.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2016 | doi: 10.1163/15700747-03804001


c.s. lewis as a public theologian


Without doubt he was a remarkable man and a Christian scholar. During his lifetime, and even more so after his death, his writings made him a person of huge public interest. Although he claimed not to be a theologian, many have suggested that he was a rather good one, and from a popular media perspective he commanded attention in ways that church leaders were unable to match. He was a “lay” person of the Church of England and his real interests were classics, literature, and philosophy. However, he was able to translate Christian ideas and communicate them in an accessible and memorable fashion. But in what sense might we call Lewis a “public theologian”? Inevitably, it all depends on what we mean by “public theology” and the role of a “theologian” in relation to the concept of the “public,” so let me clarify some terminology at the outset.

The term public theology was first used by Martin E. Marty, and others have picked it up and developed it in different ways.2In the context of the Christian ethics E. Harold Breitenberg defines public theology in the following manner:

Expressed in terms of the Christian tradition, public theology intends to provide theologically informed interpretations of and guidance for indi- viduals, faith communities, and the institutions and interactions of civil society, in ways that are understandable, assessable, and possibly con- vincing to those inside the church and those outside as well. Public the- ologians thus seek to communicate, by means that are intelligible and assayable to all, how Christian beliefs and practices bear, both descrip- tively and prescriptively, on public life and the common good, and in so doing possibly persuade and move to action both Christians and non- Christians.3

Thus theological discourse is taken out of the church context and is used in the service of broader society by means of a process of translation that invites renewed interpretation and action. For Elaine Graham and Stephen Lowe there is a commitment to citizenship and the life of the church expressed in individual and corporate discipleship.4 For them, this twin commitment of citizenship and discipleship is expressed in three types of public theology. The first type addresses issues associated with public policy from a faith perspective

2 Martin E. Marty, “Two Kinds of Two Kinds of Civil Religion,” in American Civil Religion, ed.

Russell E. Richey and Donald G. Jones (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), 139–157. 3 E. Harold Breitenberg Jr., “To Tell the Truth: Will the Real Public Theology Please Stand Up?”

Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics23, no. 2 (2003): 55–96, quote taken from p. 66. 4 Elaine Graham and Stephen Lowe, What Makes a Good City? Public Theology and the Urban

Church(London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 2009).

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and invites some kind of interjection based on an ethical argument.The second type supports individual Christians in their discipleship and invites them to exercise their faithfulness to the gospel in their daily working lives. The third type aims to provide information and resources from a Christian perspective that encourages politicians to express their faith in the political sphere.5There is, I would suggest, a fourth type, namely, that an individual represents the Christian faith in the public sphere, such that he or she is widely recognized as able to translate Christian thought in such a manner as to be understood, appreciated, and able to inform so-called “public opinion” in wider society. This kind of theologian is also a public intellectual, able to express his or her faith commitment in ways that are both distinctly Christian and culturally relevant. Very often these individuals are in some degree of conflict with the culture around them, and it is for these reasons that it is worth assessing their contribution. I would like to suggest that C.S. Lewis might have been one such public theologian, even though he did not regard himself as a theologian at all.6 He was one of the most influential Christian thinkers of the twentieth century among the general public and church audiences.

In order to assess his contribution as a public theologian, I shall (1) give a very brief historical sketch of his life, (2) describe his work in the “public sphere,” (3) consider pentecostal appreciation of his work, (4) offer some evaluative comments before (5) suggesting the challenge that a consideration of Lewis raises for Christian life and witness today.

C.S. Lewis: A Brief Historical Sketch

Clive Staples Lewis was born on November 29, 1898 in Belfast, Ireland (now Northern Ireland).7His parents, Albert and Florence, were well-educated peo- ple and he had a brother called Warren, whom he referred to as Warnie. At an early age, Lewis announced that he wanted to be called “Jack,” and so his fam- ily duly called him “Jack.” He died on November 22, 1963, which was the same

5 Ibid., 4–6.

6 Lewis was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity from the University of St. Andrews in

1946 for his integration of theological reflection and poetic imagination. See the discussion of

this topic by Alister E. McGrath,The Intellectual World of C.S. Lewis(Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell,

2014), 163–183.

7 This biographical summary is based on Robert MacSwain, “Introduction,” in The Cambridge

CompaniontoC.S.Lewis, ed. Robert MacSwain and MichaelWard (Cambridge,uk: Cambridge

University Press, 2010), 1–12: 4–7.

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c.s. lewis as a public theologian


day that U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. His mother died just before his tenth birthday, and this event had a huge impact on him, as did his estranged relationship with his father. He was sent away to boarding school just after her death, and this was followed by another boarding school (Malvern College, 1913–1914), both of which he hated. After leaving Malvern he was pri- vately tutored by a former headmaster, William Kirkpatrick, who was a friend of his father. This was one of the most exhilarating educational experiences of his life and he flourished. He entered University College, Oxford in 1917, but almost immediately joined the British army, serving as a second lieutenant in the Third Somerset Light Infantry, and arrived on the front line of World Wari on his nineteenth birthday. On April 15, 1918 in the Battle of Arras, he was seri- ously injured by an artillery shell and spent the rest of the war recovering from his injuries in hospital. In January 1919 he returned to Oxford to continue his education.

At Oxford, Lewis completed three First Class degrees: Classical Honour Moderations (1920), Literae Humaniores (1922), and English (1923). This was a stunning achievement and demonstrated Lewis’s academic brilliance. These degrees required a high level of competence in Greek, Latin, philosophy, and history, as well as in English language and literature. He never studied theology formally, however, which is why he never regarded himself as a theologian. He first taught philosophy at University College, Oxford, for one year (as sabbatical cover) and then he was elected to a fellowship in English at Magdalen College, Oxford. Although he was extremely competent at philosophy, his greatest inter- est was in literature. He worked at Oxford for almost thirty years before moving to Cambridge in 1955, becoming the first holder of the Chair in Medieval and Renaissance English, where he remained until he retired.

From a Church of Ireland background as a child, he became a commit- ted atheist in 1911 after reflection and much thought. After meeting Christian friends at Oxford, however, most notably J.R. Tolkien, his beliefs began to alter and he became a theist in 1929. It was not until September 1931, after a long conversation with Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, that Lewis finally accepted what he regarded as the truth of Christianity and was converted. His faith was nur- tured by daily morning prayer in the College chapel and Sunday worship in his local parish church, Holy Trinity, Headington Quarry, located just outside of Oxford.

Lewis was a product of upper-middle-class Anglo-Irish culture of the Edwar- dian era (private education and Oxford University). He regarded himself as an ordinary layman of the Church of England, and, while this may have been true at one level, it was far from true at another level. He also considered himself somewhere in the middle of the Church of England ecclesiastical traditions,

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not especially high or low. In other words, he was neither Anglo-Catholic nor Evangelical. He considered himself committed to “mere” Christianity, that is, basic orthodox Christianity. In other words, he was a kind of “middle of the road” Anglican, which was and is still a very common position in the Church of England, but which does not locate a person in a precise manner. It is a broad, general position within the Church of England and contains considerable the- ological breadth under the rubric of “orthodoxy.”

C.S. Lewis as a Public Theologian

It has been argued that Lewis was a “public intellectual.” He was able to com- bine expert scholarship with journalistic communication skills, which meant that his ideas entered and influenced the public domain.8 Lewis understood the nature and conventions of this “public sphere,” influenced as it was by Enlightenment thought. He used these conventions expertly in order to trans- late the Christian message into popular idiom, which meant that it was both understood and to some extent received. He assumed that there was such a thing as “the law of human nature” and that experience of life was universal across different times and places;9it was a kind of essentialism associated with western culture of the period. It provided a set of common assumptions upon which to base a rationally acceptable argument. In this context, he employed three main rhetorical strategies: (1) the adoption of a “neutral” analytic posture, thus assuming the position of “rational man”; (2) the mobilization of wisdom from the western tradition, as a kind of “high tradition” from which to make universal claims; and (3) the usage of transcendent characters in his fictional

8 Samuel Joeckel, The C.S. Lewis Phenomenon: Christianity and the Public Sphere (Macon, ga:

Mercer University Press, 2013), 2.

9 Lewis used a Chinese term, the Tao, meaning “the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss

that was before the Creator Himself. It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road. It is the Way in

which the universe goes on, theWay in which things everlastingly emerge, stilly and tranquilly

into space and time. It is also the Way which every man should tread in imitation of that

cosmic and supercosmic progression, conforming all activities to that great exemplar,” inThe

Abolition of Man, inThe Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics(NewYork: HarperCollins, 2002

[orig. 1944]), 189–738 (701). He also saw this principle associated with natural law as operating

across many different cultures around the world and including the values of beneficence,

duties of parents, elders and ancestors, duties of children and posterity, the laws of justice,

of good faith and veracity, mercy, and magnanimity (see the Appendix: “Illustrations of the

Tao,” 731–738). Today these characteristics sound like a form of cultural essentialism often

associated with modernism.

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c.s. lewis as a public theologian


work as representatives of universal truth (such as Aslan and Mother Kirk). These strategies combined to give his work persuasive force at the time that he communicated them.10 As a public intellectual, Lewis is associated with a particular position that is controversial or contested, in this case Christianity and its viability. Lewis worked at a time when Christianity was under attack in the academy and had been severely questioned in broader British society. He became a spokesperson for it to the ordinary person and a key translator of Christianity into the vernacular of his day; and some of these exercises in translation continue to have resonance and significance today.

Joeckel states:

As long as Christianity remains embattled in the public sphere; as long as those passionately committed to various religious, intellectual, and cultural issues self-organize into irreconcilable camps designated as con- servative and liberal; and as long as his books remain in print, Lewis will continue to generate controversy, for his place has already been secured on the public stage.11

The volume of material and interest that the Lewis industry has created sug- gests that these comments continue to have some validity. Rosner’s list of pub- lic intellectuals collected data for 546 people between 1995 and 2000.12 Lewis comes out 132nd for scholarship, 31st for media, and second for web hits. This means that he has become one of the most influential intellectuals of the last century and his influence continues to this day. So, how did he become so influ- ential? The answer is fairly simple, at least in part. During World Wariithe use of paper was severely restricted, which meant that newspapers declined in pro- duction. At the same time, sales of radio sets increased dramatically because of the thirst for news from the war front. This greater access to radio gave the bbc an opportunity to develop its range of programs and become an impor- tant shaper of popular culture. So, when Lewis accepted the invitation to give some radio talks, he stepped into this new media reality and the effect was that a radio star was born.13It was estimated inTimemagazine in 1947 that his talks had reached 600,000 people. With the subsequent publication of the talks in

10 11 12 13

Joeckel,The C.S. Lewis Phenomenon, 21–22.

Ibid., 30.

Ibid., 30–31.

See the account by Justin Phillips,C.S. Lewis in a Time of War: The World WariiBroadcasts That Riveted a Nation and Became the ClassicMere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2002).

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books and their reception and coverage in the popular media, his reputation was sealed. He became incredibly popular in America among Evangelicals in particular, and even though he was not really an Evangelical his body of knowl- edge continues to be held in high esteem by this constituency.14 He should probably be classified as sui generis rather than as an advocate of any identi- fiable church party.

Richard John Neuhaus argues that Lewis’s approach to the public sphere was through a kind of virtue ethics, namely, that the kind of people we are is the most important thing and the cultivation of virtue is, in fact, the best if not the only way to improve the world. It is a kind of trickle-down theory of influence.15 As noted already, he assumed that his experience of the world was aligned with common human experience and that through the particularity of experience we discover the common or universal.16

Lewis also communicated during a time when there was considerably more agreement as to what constituted a valid rational argument than perhaps exists today.17I would suggest that his mode of rationality could be regarded as mod- ernist and perhaps lacks the persuasive power that it once held, at least in more postmodern academic circles.18 He was able to draw from a deep well of classical learning and this informed his understanding of reason, but it is the contention of this study that he was also deeply influenced by modernity


15 16 17 18

Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, mi: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994), 218; also note the attempt to classify Lewis by means of David Bebbington’s four characteristics of Evangelicalism (conversionism, activism, Biblicism, and crucicen- trism)—see D.W. Bebbington,Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Routledge, 2002, orig. 1989, 2–17)—by Christopher W. Mitchell, “Lewis and Historical Evangelicalism,” in C.S. Lewis and the Church: Essays in Honour of Walter Hooper, ed. Brendan Wolfe (London: t & t Clark, 2011), 154–173; and the idea that Amer- ican Evangelicals have given him patron saint status because he gives them intellectual credibility; see Philip Ryken, “Lewis as the Patron Saint of American Evangelicalism,” in C.S. Lewis and the Church, 174–185: 176.

Richard John Neuhaus, “C.S. Lewis in the Public Square,”First Things88 (1998), 30–35. Ibid., 31.

Ibid., 32.

See the discussion on this point by John Bowden, “C.S. Lewis: Premodern, Postmodern and Modern,” in which he states, “Certainly Mere Christianity can be interpreted as modernist in the popular sense that it seeks to argue people into belief from a linear, rationalistic way … [Lewis’s goal is to argue that] An objective non-perspectival faith-free considera- tion of ‘the fact’ is possible, and faith is a secondary step based on that rational consid- eration.” http://institute.wycliffecollege.ca/2004/04/cslewis-premodern-postmodern-and -modern/ (accessed June 18, 2016).

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at its height, in which he was located socially, culturally, and intellectually. At times he critiqued aspects of it, especially its “chronological snobbery” (the uncritical privileging of the contemporary intellectual climate and the assump- tion that other times and places are necessarily out of date), shallow or thin reasoning, and materialism.19 But in other respects it was the environment in which he existed and certain assumptions appear modernistic to a contem- porary reader: for example, the universal power and importance of human reason, the elevation of the mind as a concept (although modified by the use of the imagination), the disconnection of mind and emotion, and anthropocen- tric individualism often conceived mechanistically.20 Where his contribution would still be appreciated is in the power of story or narrative, even if the idea of Christianity as a “true myth” is problematic because of the connotations surrounding the category of myth.21When this narrative power is also aligned with reasoning skills such that they are interdependent, then the true impact of Lewis’ approach can still be seen.

It is worth considering Lewis’s most influential set of radio talks as an illus- tration of his approach to apologetics, which began in January 1942 as “What Christians Believe.”22 In these five talks he discussed, first, “The Rival Concep- tions of God,” arguing that as a Christian, as opposed to the atheist he used to be, he can accept hints of truth in other religious traditions. His move from atheism to Christianity was partly based on his ability to think, and he traces this human characteristic to a greater intelligence behind the created order. The second talk, entitled “The Invasion,” addressed the complexity and odd- ness of reality, suggesting that Christianity offers an unusual set of answers to these complex questions. The problem of evil is conceived in terms of a rebellious enemy occupation rather than simplistic dualistic terms (good ver- sus evil), which no doubt resonated with his war-time listeners. The third talk,

19 20



McGrath,The Intellectual World of C.S. Lewis, 42–43, 134–135.

Alister McGrath,C.S. Lewis—A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2013), 203, 211. For Lewis’s own language on humanity and mechanistic imagery, see Mere Christianity, in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: HarperCollins, 2002 [orig. 1952]), 1–177: “God made us: invented us as a man invents a machine” (49); “In reality, moral rules are directions for running the human machine. Every moral rule is there to prevent a breakdown, or a strain, or a friction, in the running of that machine” (65); and “Christianity is the total plan for the human machine” (76). McGrath, The Intellectual Word of C.S. Lewis, 59–73, explains how Lewis understood the complexities of the language of myth and how he used it despite these complexities because through its use he was able to combine both reason and imagination. Philips, C.S. Lewis in a Time of War, 142; these talks were published as part of Mere Christianity.

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“The Shocking Alternative,” was broadcast on February 1, 1942 and was consid- ered his best to date. He managed to communicate the Christian message in what was considered a jargon-free style.23He argued that free will has allowed evil to be possible through the selfishness of creatures. Happiness pursued out- side of God will never ultimately lead to peace. This talk used the now famous trilemma regarding the person of Jesus Christ, given the evidence: either he was the Son of God, or mad, or (something worse) the Devil.24 In the fourth talk, “The Perfect Penitent,” he discussed the coming, life, and death of Christ in relation to the power and penalty of sin, including its debt price (using ransom theory). The work of Christ invites repentance as an act of surrender whereby the person realizes that she or he is in a predicament (hole) they cannot escape by themselves. The fifth and final talk, “The Practical Conclusion,” broadcast in February 1942, rounds off the set of talks by discussing three means of grace: baptism, belief, and Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper. Jesus provides the authority by which we need to believe and there is a choice to be made now. These talks appeared in Mere Christianity as Book ii and fulfilled the bbc’s vision of making the Christian message accessible to the British public in a time of war.25They were a huge success for both thebbcand Lewis himself, judging by the correspondence that Lewis received after the program was completed.

Pentecostal Appreciation

On the whole, as noted above, pentecostal and charismatic Christians have not engaged with C.S. Lewis and his contribution to theology and Christianity as extensively as they might have done, especially given the serious industry that has preoccupied Evangelicals. There have been three exceptions to this trend. First, Tony Richie published two articles on Lewis from a distinctly pentecostal




Ibid., 147; also see a discussion of the reception of these talks as they were received as part of the text of Mere Christianity, in George A. Marsden, C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: A Biography(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016).

Philips, C.S. Lewis in a Time of War, 148. This trilemma is discussed by Alister E. McGrath, C.S. Lewis—A Life, 226–228, and considered to be problematic because it presupposes an existing Christian framework of thought that might not make a lot of sense to someone outside the Christian thought world. The argument rests on the assumption that Jesus is not wrong about his claims, which, to someone outside of Christianity, is not self-evidently the case.

Philips,C.S. Lewis in a Time of War, 153.

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perspective addressing the subjects of glossolalia and spiritual experience;26 second, Oliver McMahan offered a reflection on a Grief Observed in the light of pneumatology; and third, William K. Kay proposed a pentecostal reading of Lewis. I shall take these contributions in turn as well as providing a short evaluation of Lewis myself, in the light of this discussion and other secondary sources.

In his first article, Richie describes how Lewis explained the interface between the divine and the human by means of the work of the Holy Spirit as a form of “transposition,” that is, the adaptation from a higher to a lower medium.27The higher experience of the Holy Spirit is expressed in and through the lower medium of the glossolalia. It is similar to the art of drawing a pic- ture (lower medium) of the real world (higher medium) in order to express the richer reality.28 In other words, it is a means of understanding and giving expression to the idea of the supernatural in and through the natural. In gen- eral, Lewis does not deal with pneumatology in a sustained fashion, but it has been suggested that he often discussed the Holy Spirit indirectly.29 The work of the Spirit was placed within a trinitarian framework, and this provided the context for the discussion of spirituality and religious experience. When this is aligned to transposition, it is suggested that tongues speech has a sacramental quality, a means of grace via speech that has transformative power on both the speaker and the hearer. Given the context of this article and Lewis’s interest in the translation of the Christian message, it could be asked, to what extent did Lewis think of his own work as a kind of transposition? In other words, did he function in a similar manner by translating the great western tradition of learn-



28 29

Tony Richie has also written a more general article for a more broadly Evangelical audi- ence on the theology of religions drawing from Lewis; see “Hints from Heaven: Can C.S. Lewis Help Evangelicals Hear God in Other Religions?”Evangelical Review of Theol- ogy 32, no. 1 (2008): 38–55. Given the fact that this article does not offer a “pentecostal” perspective, I simply note it as interesting and useful but focus on his other contributions for the purpose of this paper.

Tony Richie, “Transposition and Tongues: Pentecostalizing an Important Insight of C.S. Lewis,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 13, no. 1 (2004), 117–137. See the original dis- cussion by C.S. Lewis, “Transposition,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: HarperCollins, 2001 [orig. 1949]), 91–115. McGrath,The IntellectualWorld of C.S. Lewis, defines transposition as “restating ideas in a different genre” (172).

Richie, “Transposition and Tongues,” 120.

Ibid., 123; Richie also notes the discussion by Leanne Payne, Real Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Works of C.S. Lewis (Westchester, il: Cornerstone, 1979) and Will Vaus, Mere Theology:AGuidetotheThoughtof C.S.Lewis(Downers Grove,il: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 91.

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ing, of which he was a master, into the discourse of common humanity? If so, what was the role of the Holy Spirit in this endeavor, and does it function in a mediatory sense?

In his second article, Richie addresses the question of religious experience more broadly.30He describes how Lewis agreed with Rudolf Otto that religious experience is essentially a mysterious encounter, a numinosum, and that this encounter with the numinous provides the essence of all religious experience, which is characterized by a sense of awe in the presence of God. It is this tran- scendent feature of the Godhead that gives rise to “wondrous silence.”31“Lewis uses a sunbeam shining over a crack in a dark tool shed to illustrate that expe- rience is a legitimate and significant way of knowing. When he stands looking at the sunbeam he sees only its own properties, mostly floating dust particles, but when he steps into the light and looks along the sunbeam he observes objects illuminated by it, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree out- side, and farther away the sun itself.”32 For Lewis, knowledge comes by both experience and thinking, by looking both at and along the sunbeam. Personal experience, therefore, cannot be ignored. For a full faith to emerge, however, it must also be aligned to processes of thinking and argumentation, which draws on these numinous experiences and integrates them intellectually. It is not only Scripture but also the great intellectual tradition of classical literature that allows Lewis to see experiences of awe as intrinsic to human nature, which is also linked to the concept of joy and its desire. Richie aims to show how this understanding of religious experience informs pentecostal theology in terms of the objective reality of the divine-human interaction, the integration of the intellect in the processing of experience and the use of Scripture, as well as the longing and experience of joy as an eschatological reality. However, Richie does take issue with Lewis on his approach to emotions. Lewis saw them as secondary, as a kind of product, and Richie, quite understandably from a pen- tecostal perspective, sees them as inseparable from the religious experience, and I would concur. Lewis’s attitude on this matter is, as noted above, an indi- cation of his modernist framework of thought, with the privileging of reason and the mind over emotion.

McMahan offers a critique of Pentecostalism in its lack of public witness to suffering through the lens of Lewis’s A Grief Observed.33In a volume dedicated


31 32 33

Tony Richie, “Awe-Full Encounters: A Pentecostal Conversation with C.S. Lewis Concern- ing Spiritual Experience,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology14, no. 1 (2005), 99–122. Ibid., 103.


Oliver Mahan, “Grief Observed: Surprised by the Suffering of the Spirit,” in Passover,

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to the pentecostal scholar R. Hollis Gause, McMahan compares Gause’s own experiences of grief to Lewis’s bereavement after the loss of his wife, Joy David- man. The earlier rather detached sentiments expressed inThe Problem of Pain published in 1940 were now reflected upon in a very personal manner.34 The personal experience of grief changes the way in which we understand it and write about it. For Gause, this meant understanding the work of the Holy Spirit in and through pain as a signpost, pointing to the new heaven and the new earth, even as our own bodies are transformed through the reality of death into resurrection life. This honest testimony of personal loss and pain, as well as the work of the Holy Spirit within it, is juxtaposed with the paucity of testimony in the early pentecostal literature, for example, the Azusa Street publication The Apostolic Faith (1906 to 1908). The focus of the publication was on the exciting events of the revival: conversions, Spirit baptisms, glossolalia, healings, and miracles. There was virtually no account of social ministry with the poor or accounts of the unhealed. McMahan laments this silence: “Unfortunately, we have inherited and perpetuated the public witness of Azusa—a parade of power with little penance or pain.”35 There is no desire to enter into others’ sufferings and to weep with those who mourn. Instead, romanticism and tri- umphalism predominate while pain and suffering are ignored. Lewis is used in this critical piece toward Pentecostalism to offer a different voice that perhaps challenges and rebukes a form of Christianity that ignores the cross of Christ and the work of the suffering Spirit in the lives of Christians today.

Kay, in his work on Lewis, addresses the role of the Holy Spirit and healing in his imaginative writings, especially his children’s novels. He also comments on his theological method and, importantly for our purposes, his role as a public intellectual in the debates of his day.36Kay also draws attention to the role that reason plays in the work of Lewis:

Reason, then, has to come from somewhere outside of the interlocking system that composes the natural order, and it comes from another realm


35 36

Pentecost & Parousia: Studies in Celebration of the Life and Ministry of R. Hollis Gause, ed. Steven J. Land, Rickie Moore, and John Christopher Thomas (Blandford Forum, uk: Deo Publishing, 2010), 296–314. See A Grief Observed, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: HarperOne, 2002 [orig. 1961]), 647–688.

The Problem of Pain, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: HarperOne, 2002 [orig. 1940]), 543–646.

Mahan, “Grief Observed,” 306.

William K. Kay, “C.S. Lewis: A Pentecostal Reading,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 23 (2014): 129–140.

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that is beyond and which is the realm of Supernature that, by a further series of steps, is linked to theism and then to the God of the Bible. Reason is the great gift of God to the human race by which we can gain understanding of the world into which we have been placed. It is a gift that is more than what might emerge through lengthy evolutionary interactions with our environment or practical inferences about likely patterns of events. Reason delivers us truths thatmust be true. It enables us to seeaandcmust be equal to each other because they are both equal tob, as we grasp this for alla’s andc’s.37

As miracles are events introduced by the supernatural realm into the natural, so spiritual gifts are supernatural ones that have become at home in the natural order. And people are endowed with the breath of the Holy Spirit (John 20:22) exemplified through fictional transcendent figures such as Aslan.38Theological ideas worked out using the power of reason and in continuity with biblical texts are subsequently expressed via the imaginative categories of fictional narrative and analogy.39 It is through these narratives that Lewis addressed trends in society and the contemporary culture of his day, as seen, for example, in his book The Pilgrim’s Regress, which charts the encounters of a pilgrim with Marxists, Fascists, Humanists, and Freudians.40 Lewis also critiqued the teaching of literature in schools via a book entitled The Abolition of Man,41 existentialist reading of biblical texts, and argued for anti-vivisection when vivisection was assumed to be uncontroversial. He also critiqued utilitarian ethics at a time when it was popular and was linked to certain experiments on humans conducted by Nazi scientists, and he critiqued the humanitarian theory of punishment in favor of more traditional retributive justice.42

In summary, it can be said that pentecostal appreciations deal with either religious experience (Richie) or a common human experience, in this case grief (McMahan), or offer a general appreciation that touches on the work of the Holy Spirit, theological method, and the miraculous (Kay). As just noted,

37 38 39 40



Ibid., 132.

Ibid., 134–135.

Ibid., 137.

C.S. Lewis,The Pilgrim’s Regress: Wade Annotated Edition, ed. and intro. David C. Downing (Grand Rapids,mi: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2014 [orig. 1933]), 94–97, 214.

The Abolition of Man, inThe Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics(New York: HarperOne, 2002 [orig. 1944]), 689–730.

C.S. Lewis, “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” The Twentieth Century: An Aus- tralian Quarterly Review3, no. 3 (1949): 5–12.

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Kay also addresses the way in which Lewis spoke to culture through his war- time radio broadcasts, his criticism of the teaching of literature in schools, and his contribution to the debate on the subject of vivisection, but these are mentioned without going into any great detail. So the pentecostal appreciation of Lewis as a public theologian has just begun, and more needs to be said if his work is truly to be quarried for the benefit of contemporary scholarship. Given this state of play, how might an evaluation of Lewis as a public theologian be made? I offer some preliminary evaluative comments.

Evaluative Comments

For the sake of scholarly engagement a number of weaknesses and strengths deserve to be mentioned in terms of Lewis’s work.

In terms of weaknesses, Lewis’s work is based upon certain assumptions, and while this is inevitable (we all work from certain assumptions and presupposi- tions), some of them appear to be less convincing now than perhaps they used to be. Three of them cluster in his approach to public debate and communica- tion, being inextricably linked to the project of modernity.43

First, he makes an assumption that human nature contains certain kinds of essential characteristics that cross time and place without any real variation.44 Theologically, this makes a lot of sense in terms of the doctrine of humanity (imago Dei) and the doctrine of the Fall (sin). And, to state the obvious, peo- ple are born, they live, and then they die (the two poles of life are experienced by all, even if the bit in the middle is very different). Nevertheless, the mean- ings attached to these experiences are extremely varied around the world and to homogenize them using a single and largely western framework is to dis- tort the meanings of other times and places. Even theological meanings have



Modernity can be characterized by industrial societies committed to progress and the pursuit of happiness. It is often associated with the rise of the nation state, functional rationality, structural pluralism, cultural pluralism, the supremacy of reason, and individ- ualism. See the discussion in Andrew Walker,Telling the Story: Gospel, Mission and Culture (London:spck, 1996), 103–137.

Of course, behind this assumption lies Lewis’s belief in natural law, which offers the basic maxims of a civil society and can be traced across different times and places. See The Abolition of Man and the discussion in term of politics by John G. West, Public Life in the Shadowlands: What C.S. Lewis Can Teach Us about Politics (Grand Rapids, mi: The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, 1998); also see Joeckel,The C.S. Lewis Phenomenon83–86, who traces the use of natural law by Lewis to Richard Hooker.

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been varied across different ecclesial traditions. Certain human experiences are indeed universal in the sense that they happen across time and place, but they are interpreted in particular ways that are rich and diverse.45 Theolog- ically, humanity is created imago Dei and, I would argue, this is a universal assumption, as is the nature of fallen humanity and its capacity for sin and evil. But the ways in which both the goodness and the fallenness of humanity are expressed are varied indeed, and this variation is culturally mediated in differ- ent ways. His understanding is expressed in what appears to be a homogenized view of human experience.46 This issue, however, raises an important one for pentecostal theology: how might we construct a theological anthropology that takes into account contemporary circumstances and the nature of global Chris- tianity while at the same time affirming certain theological continuities across time and place?

Second, his appropriation of high western culture is quite an achievement, but once again it supports a particular appropriation of thought that privi- leges a particular set of sources and understandings. The influence of Platonic thought on Lewis is just one example of how the western tradition both shapes and to some extent limits his (admittedly otherwise extremely deep) intellec- tual world. His understanding of other cultures is largely derived second-hand from literature and informed by his own very limited experience of travel. Admittedly, his extensive knowledge of classical and medieval literature gave him an immense appreciation of the intellectual history of the western world and ameliorates his modernism.47 Yet, this intellectual history is only one aspect of global history and could be usefully supplemented by different cul- tural perspectives. His limited opportunity for travel meant that he was not able to supplement his rich historical knowledge with first-hand experience of different cultures and how the church interacts with these different cul- tures and with what results. Again, this raises an important question in relation to a pentecostal theology of culture. Which cultural norms do we privilege in our thinking, and how are they challenged by the global nature of Pentecostal- ism?




My own experience of living in Nigeria for a time highlighted to me just how universal human events like birth and death can be treated so differently around the world, even among Christians, let alone other religious traditions.

A similar point about the homogenous culture that Lewis expresses is made by Wesley A. Kort,C.S. Lewis Then and Now(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 162. It has been suggested that for Lewis “culture” is the mediating factor between daily experience of things, events, and people on the one hand and stable beliefs and norms on the other hand. See Kort,C.S. Lewis Then and Now, 73–97.

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Third, his use of reason privileges certain kinds of assumptions as to what constitutes a rational argument.48In particular, his view that the most convinc- ing argument is, in fact, constructed from a position of neutrality, or aloofness, would now be queried by postmodern discourse and ideological criticism.49 While Lewis’s approach to rationality continues to have some appeal in cer- tain quarters, in others it appears unconvincing because it underplays its own particular social and historical location. It should be said, however, that Lewis produced a vast amount of work and his style of reasoning was inevitably var- ied, so a note of caution must be offered here. Nevertheless, in a talk given in 1940 he explained how he understood the process of reasoning to work, and it is worth considering what he said:

… Now any concrete train of reason involves three elements.

Firstly, there is the reception of facts to reason about. These facts are received either from our own senses, or from the report of other minds; that is, either experience or authority supplies us with our material. But each man’s experience is so limited that the second source is the more usual; of every hundred facts upon which to reason, ninety-nine depends on authority.

Secondly, there’s the direct, simple act of the mind perceiving self-evident truth, as when we see that if a and b are both equal to c, then they equal each other. This act I call intuition.

Thirdly, there is an art or skill of arranging the facts so as to yield a series of such intuitions which linked together produce a proof of the truth or falsehood of the proposition we are considering …50




McGrath,The Intellectual Word of C.S. Lewis, suggests that Lewis adopted different apolo- getic strategies of reason, alongside the imagery of longing/desire and imagination at different times in his career (132–134).

I do not wish to privilege postmodern rationality, which can amount to a different kind of hegemony. However, we cannot now escape the power question, even if it is directed toward postmodern ideology as well.

From a talk given to a pacifist group in Oxford in 1940, entitled “Why I Am Not a Pacifist,” cited by Stephen Logan, “C.S. Lewis and the Limits of Reason,” in C.S. Lewis & His Circle: Essays and Memoirs from the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society, ed. Roger White, Judith Wolfe, and Brendan N. Wolfe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 24–52, quote taken from p. 43.

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The modernist assumptions are clearly evident in his use of the concept of “facts” and their givenness via some kind of authority,51 individual reasoning (as opposed to communal reasoning), self-evident truth, and the idea of the proof of a proposition. However, Logan comments that an overintellectualized academic discourse leads to difficulty if it is assumed that intuitions can be produced by an argument. Reasoning errors, he suggests, can be corrected in terms of the first and the third elements but not the second. If intuition is lacking then it cannot be supplied.52 This may indeed be the case, but in the example cited it would appear as though we are also dealing with deductive logic, which can indeed be corrected (that is, had a = b not been assumed). Nevertheless, intuition could, at least theoretically, open the door to the role of the imagination, and this is where pentecostal instincts can connect with Lewis’ work. Furthermore, this discussion raises a question about pentecostal rationality, how it differs from Lewis’s, and how forms of rationality expressed by Pentecostals can be translated into vernacular forms. To my knowledge, there is no sustained and critical account of pentecostal rationality, let alone a pentecostal assessment of contemporary forms of rationality in the public domain and how the Christian faith may interact with them.

It has been noted above that Lewis does not have a developed pneumatol- ogy, and this may be blamed in part by his middle-of-the-road Anglicanism, which is shaped quite naturally by liturgical texts (the Church of England 1662 Bookof CommonPrayerconveys doctrinal authority and not just liturgical prac- tices). These texts tend to be trinitarian in shape, which is their strength, but their weakness is the lack of developed pneumatology because of the subordi- nation of pneumatology to Christology in the Reformed Catholic tradition of the Church of England.53The limited references to the person and the work of the Holy Spirit bolster this characteristic. Mitchell observes that Lewis himself regarded his evangelistic gifts as intellectual rather than emotional. His gifting lay in offering an “intellectual barrage,” after which the pneumatic preacher


52 53

Famously, Alasdair MacIntyre stated that: “Facts, like telescopes and wigs for gentlemen, were a seventeenth invention.” See hisWhich Justice? Whose Rationality? (London: Duck- worth, 1988), 357, cited by Trevor Hart,Faith Thinking: The Dynamics of Christian Theology (London:spck, 1995), 56.

Logan, “C.S. Lewis and the Limits of Reason,” 44.

I used to deliver a lecture at a Christian College on the subject of Anglican pneumatology. As I carefully analyzed the Church of England Prayer Books (1662, 1980, and 2000) in terms of pneumatology, I was surprised to find a significant lack of developed pneumatology in the early liturgies. Perhaps under the influence of the charismatic movement (?), this appeared to be addressed in the most recentCommon Worshiptexts published from 2000.

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could follow up by a more direct evangelistic appeal to the human heart.54 Clearly, he saw a role for the Holy Spirit in the preaching of the gospel, but he did not appear to understand his own more rationalistic discourse as Spirit- infused. The intellectual/emotional dichotomy appears to be operative once again. Similarly, Lewis was also suspicious of “religious enthusiasm” and sub- jectivism, which is something that Pentecostals tend to ignore, although noted by Richie above.55

Despite these weaknesses, I believe Lewis is a fascinating and important figure, not just because of his huge influence on American Evangelicalism but also because of his defense of Christianity.56 He managed, in the face of Enlightenment skepticism, to resist both liberalism and fundamentalism. In particular, he found ways of creatively portraying the relationship between the natural and the supernatural. As well as his work in Christian apologetics, he rehabilitated the category of the imagination to convey Christian ideas in an accessible fashion. His children’s novels have stood the test of time and continue to be hugely popular today.57 He never forgot the role that the imagination plays in the expression of the Christian faith, drawing upon his expertise in literature; for him it was the “true myth.”58 As already noted, he used Enlightenment rationality but also critiqued its thin versions that lacked any imagination (especially what he called “scientism”). This is because he believed that reason alone lacked existential force.59 Indeed, it has been suggested that it is poetry and narrative that best express his integration of reason and imagination.

Lewis was someone who learned how to communicate ideas in popular ways. Although he was an intellectual, he was against “intellectualism” (peo- ple involved in endless ratiocination) and saw the limitations of “discursive reasoning” as he became older.60This was quite a change of posture for some-

54 55 56


58 59 60

Mitchell, “Lewis and Historical Evangelicalism,” 163.

Joeckel,The C.S. Lewis Phenomenon, 86.

I think I must note another caveat here. Although Lewis saw himself as “orthodox,” and many Evangelicals treat him as one of their own, some of his ideas in Mere Christianity could be seen as problematic. For example, his Christology sounds monophysite (55) and his trinitarian theology appears not to appreciate fully the nature of divine personhood (132–134).

Some years ago, I read a number of the Harry Potter books to my daughter (aged 7–9 at the time), followed by the Chronicles of Narnia. Interestingly, she found J.K. Rowling to be much more accessible than Lewis in terms of style, plot, and characterization. See n. 21 above for the discussion of “true myth.”

McGrath,The Intellectual World of C.S. Lewis, 134–135.

Logan, “C.S. Lewis and the Limits of Reason,” 44, 47.

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one who could have been a professional philosopher and whose world was medieval literature in the context of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. He was a translator of the highest quality and was adept in the use of radio communication, subsequently edited into small books for the general public. This ability to communicate was also extended to newspaper and magazine articles, public lectures and talks, sermons, and letters. Thus he managed to combine sheer intellectual brilliance and profound theological understand- ing with popular communication skills.61He was deeply concerned to connect with his intended audience and translate his ideas into the vernacular.62 This task was not just about the meaning of words but also about the cultural trans- lation that was required.63This combination of skills was and is extremely rare among the most brilliant of academics. Ironically, Lewis might have been a research “impact star” at Oxford University today had he been able to show how his academic work and its translation via popular communication signifi- cantly influenced beliefs and values in society. Sadly, during his time at Oxford, his popular Christian writings were not always well received by his academic peers and were part of the reason why he did not obtain a full professorship (a so-called “Chair” in the British educational system).64It was Cambridge that provided this opportunity by creating a “Chair” in Medieval and Renaissance English and offering it to Lewis in 1954. He took up his new appointment on January 1, 1955 at the age of fifty-seven.65

Conclusion: The Challenge of His Legacy

Lewis’s legacy raises a number of challenges in terms of connecting the world of the intellect to society on behalf of the church and its mission. It could be asked: where is the C.S. Lewis of our day? Is there someone, like Lewis, who is academically brilliant as well as spiritually rooted in the Christian tradition with a clear understanding of the historic riches as well as a deep personal



63 64 65

Ibid., 26, citing the quotation: “Any fool can writelearned language. The vernacular is the real test. If you can’t turn your faith into it, then either you don’t understand it or you don’t believe it”; originally from C.S. Lewis, “VersionVernacular,”The Christian Century75 (1958), 1515.

See Terrence Roy Lindvall, “C.S. Lewis’ Theory of Communication” (PhD diss., University of Southern Carolina, 1980), 551–554, 560, 566.

McGrath,The Intellectual World of C.S. Lewis, 132.

Ibid., 243–244.

Ibid., 314.

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piety? Is there someone who has mastered a particular form of communication expertly, willing to take a stand, take the heat, speak truth, pushing the church to greater engagement rather than defensive withdrawal? Is there someone who is not driven by fear of intellectual pursuit, but by confidence in the gospel, the central message of the faith, willing to be misunderstood and despised by some while being venerated by others? (There appears to be a lot of both hostility and hagiography!) And more, where is the pentecostal version of C.S. Lewis, someone who is able to hold together the different strands in order to be both faithful and effective in their calling in order to shape distinctive Christian witness in our day?

Perhaps we might say that we do not need one person to be such a public intellectual; rather, we need the church to be the church publicly in every sphere of life. The church should play the role of the public intellectual. But even if this were the case, we would still need individuals to step up and step out, supported and encouraged by the wider Body of Christ.There is a call and a challenge here to desire an integration of the highest standards of scholarship, deep spirituality, mission-mindedness, and public engagement for the sake of the kingdom of God.

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  • Reply September 8, 2023


    thats funny right there Brett Dobbs Kyle Williams that C.S. LEWIS is a theologian like Philip Williams Have you read any C.S. LEWIS Link Hudson ?

    • Reply September 8, 2023


      Troy Day C.S. Lewis has some good stuff.

    • Reply September 8, 2023


      Brett Dobbs like what 🙂 bedtime stories for Philip Williams

    • Reply September 8, 2023


      Troy Day I owe my son’s faith to having bought him the Chronicles of Narnia, even when i was myself an atheist. Lewis was also a big help to me when I began my faith walk. Of course, I soon
      outgrew ‘Mere Christianity.’

    • Reply September 8, 2023


      Philip Williams how is this anything theological ?

    • Reply September 8, 2023


      Troy Day not a biblical word!

    • Reply September 8, 2023


      Brett Dobbs He also has some bad stuff bordering on universalism. He never claimed to be a theologian, but just an ordinary layman in the Church of England. See his inclusion of George MacDonald .

    • Reply September 8, 2023


      What do you all think about his views on purgatory and other soteriological issues?

    • Reply September 8, 2023


      John Mushenhouse I don’t know all of his work. Purgatory would be a no for me. What other soteriological issues did he have. I think I can recall him coming to the conclusion that he differed with Calvinism. That much I can agree with. As far as being against limited atonement. Although atonement for all doesn’t mean all get in. It just means that all have the opportunity. And it’s on them if they refuse the free gift of salvation.

    • Reply September 8, 2023


      Brett Dobbs the great divorce has purgatory. He credits the universalist MacDonald and has him in a book. I don’t remember as I have not read him since the early 70s.

    • Reply September 8, 2023


      John Mushenhouse I didn’t know that.

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