Wednesday, May 31, 2017

C. S. Lewis' View of the Bible

Abingdon Press, 2002
The following post was published on the now defunct two years ago on this date. It is an expansion version of a post I made here nearly 10 years ago. I reproduce it here for posterity.

C.S. Lewis on Scripture

It is not every day that a young graduate student gets a recommendation from Owen Barfield (a personal friend of C S Lewis), and Clyde S. Kilby (recognized authority on C S Lewis). But this is what happened to Michael J. Christensen in 1979. The book, C. S. Lewis on Scripture, came about as a result of a research project during Christensen's Senior year at Point Loma College. His professors encouraged him to seek publication, and Barfield and Kilby provided the Foreword and Introduction. (Christensen has now written a total of at least nine published books, as well as numerous articles and contributions to reference books and other volumes.)

C S Lewis, the famous Christian apologist and author of the Chronicles of Narnia series, is difficult to classify. He often admitted that he was not a Theologian, but a "translator—one turning Christian doctrine ... into the vernacular." [God in the Dock, cited by Christensen, p. 23-34.]
Conservative theologians have classified him as liberal, liberal theologians have classified his as conservative. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Perhaps anyone who has read his books have disagreed with him on more than one occasion. But this is perhaps how it should be. God has apparently chosen to use imperfect human beings to show himself to the world. It is only natural that imperfect people will disagree. God's intention seems to be that we should learn to learn from each other rather than using our differences as an excuse to build walls between us.

Lewis spoke about the mythical nature of the Bible. By this he did not mean that the Bible was untrue, or full of "fairy tales," but that it has a certain quality that is found in pagan mythology. He believed that God used mythology to reveal himself to the pagan world before Christ. As Christensen explains:

All the pagan myths were merely premonitions of "Nature's Original," as Lewis calls Christ. When the Word became flesh, when God became man in Jesus Christ, the process of myth was actualized and revelation was complete. Pagan myths, motifs, and rituals were noble yet inadequate vehicles of divine revelation—distorted reflections of the real thing. ... "Myth became Fact," ... God's progressive revelation, which appeared only faintly in the great myths, had culminated in historic fact. [p.75-76]

Realizing that the modern conception of "myth" is far from what Lewis meant, Christensen suggests the term "literary inspiration" for Lewis's view of the way the Bible is inspired. "The Bible is to be approached as inspired literature. Its literary element—images, symbols, myths and metaphors—are actual embodiments of spiritual reality, vehicles of divine revelation." This does not mean that the significance of a passage should be dismissed. As Lewis wrote:

Some people when they say that a thing is meant "metaphorically" conclude from this that it is hardly meant at all. They rightly think that Christ spoke metaphorically when he told us to carry the cross: they wrongly conclude that carrying the cross means nothing more than leading a respectable life and subscribing moderately to charities. They reasonably think hell "fire" is a metaphor—and unwisely conclude that it means nothing more serious than remorse. They say the story of the Fall in Genesis is not literal; and then go on to say ... that it was really a fall upwards—which is like saying that because "My heart is broken" contains a metaphor, it therefore means "I feel very cheerful." This mode of interpretation I regard, frankly, as nonsense. [Miracles, cited by Christensen, p. 77-78]

Liberals often claim that the Bible is not the Word of God in itself, but becomes the Word of God when God speaks to the individual through it. This subjective approach Lewis apparently rejected. The Bible should be accepted at "face value" just as any other piece of literature.

Some Conservatives, on the other hand, ignore the fact that the Bible is literature, and should be read as such. The vast majority of scripture is in Story form. God did not dictate to us a systematic theology textbook, but truth conveyed through narrative and poetry. There are exceptions, such as the Epistles and the Laws given to Israel. These direct statements help us to keep us from coming to the wrong conclusions about what is being taught in the narrative passages. But the narratives connect the doctrinal teachings to our life and emotions, giving flesh to the dry bones of Theology.

C. S. Lewis on Scripture was reprinted in paperback by Abingdon Press in 2002, and can be found in secondary markets such as eBay and Amazon Marketplace.