“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.”
-C.S Lewis, Mere Christianity, 209.
We continue our series, “Five For Clive,” with a look at one of the eyebrow-raising assertions made by C.S Lewis. Lewis said many wonderful things in his general writings, essays, and fiction, things which remain potent and penetrating. But still, there are other things that, if seriously ingested, would cause considerable spiritual acid reflux and may induce vomiting. A good summary of these eyebrow raisers that are found in Mere Christianity can be read about here. In our little corner of the web, though, I just want to focus on one of these points: Lewis’ Inclusivism.
Christian Inclusivism is not Christian Universalism. Christian Universalism states that everyone will be “saved” regardless of their beliefs, while Christian Inclusivism maintains that Christ’s saving work is, in fact, the only work which saves, but that people (though not all) may be saved through that work without having heard of Christ Himself. To my knowledge, Lewis’ Inclusivism is never fully developed in any of his works; he never set out a long, systematic approach to defend some of the comments he made in various portions of his work, and he never attempted to defend his remarks concerning Inclusivism using the Scriptures. Still, we’ll take a look at three places in the Lewis corpus (though there are certainly more) where this Inclusivism shines out like a black eye.
Perhaps the first place any of us would come across this view would be towards the end of Lewis’ classic, Mere Christianity. After bouncing joyfully along through page after page of goodness and nuance, Lewis springs this little quote (referenced above) on us 20 pages or so from the end. Like a spiritual grenade, barely examined and barely defended but lobbed into our brains, Lewis tells us that there are elements of Christian truth embedded in the various religions of the world, and so a man may be in the family of God by following them: “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 (thought he might still he believed) the Buddhist teaching on certain points,” (209). Indeed, these 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,” (208). Huh?
Or we may stumble across an interesting character towards the end of the Narnia series. Perhaps we read them in chronological order, and again, nearing the end of our seven-part journey, in the second to last chapter of The Last Battle, when Aslan has carried his people into a new Narnia, we stumble across Emeth, a follower of Lewis’ mythological, pagan god, Tash (the expressed enemy of Aslan). Emeth has actually made it in to Aslan’s New Heavens and New Earth, though he tells our heroes that “the name of Aslan was hateful to me,” (162). How did he make it in? Well, Emeth describes an encounter with Aslan he had after being found in the new land: “But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of Thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me…Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him, for I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it now, and it is I who reward him,” (165). Here we find Lewis’ principle again: even pagan religions contain grains of goodness and truth, and, when pursued for their own sake, these grains may lead people to follow Christ and be saved through Him without knowing it. Umm, what?
Perhaps you love apologetics, and you’re aching to use your big, spiritual muscles to defend the faith. So, you’re reading Lewis’ essay, Christian Apologetics, and surprise! You reach the third paragraph from the end of the essay and come across this little piece: “Of course it should be pointed out that, though all salvation is through Jesus, we need not conclude that He cannot save those who have not explicitly accepted Him in this life…in Christ whatever is true in all religions is consummated and perfected,” (Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces, 158). If, instead of lighting up his pipe, Lewis replaced a couple of those times with a perusal of the book of Romans, he would find that his points concerning the nature of pagan religion and the need for people to hear the gospel are explicitly answered by the Apostle Paul.
First, what about the grains and nuggets of truth contained in other religions? In Romans 1, Paul tells us that men everywhere actively “suppress the truth” (1:18), and as a result of this suppression, God has given them up in “the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (1:24), to “dishonorable passions” (1:26), and to “a debased mind” (1:28). There may be grains of truth in other religions, but the fact that they are divorced from the Source of Goodness, the One True God, means that those grains and nuggets are actually active, rebellious pursuits. You cannot have true goodness without the Good One. You cannot have true justice without the Just One. If we attempt goodness without Him, we are simply saying, “I would like goodness without You.” If we pursue justice without Him, we are simply saying, “I would like justice without You.” Not only are these grains of truth actual suppressions of The Truth, the people who practice such religion, God says, are actively suppressing their inherent knowledge of God. It seems that we are born not with any ability to follow the bread trail to God. In fact, our bread trails only lead to more and more darkness as we cower and hide from what we know to be true: God’s existence.
Second, is man able to saved apart from hearing the Gospel? Paul doesn’t think so, and neither does God. Lewis’ statement that we should, “not conclude that He cannot save those who have not explicitly accepted Him in this life,” is beside the point: God can do anything He wants, but He has decreed and purposed His salvation through very specific means. And once He has decreed things a certain way, He “sticks to His guns.” Paul tells us this in 10:14-15. He says, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” Salvation is had only by calling on the name of the Lord. Calling on the Lord can only be done if we believe in Him. Belief in Him presupposes that we have heard about Him. And hearing about Him means that someone told us about Him. Christianity engages both mind and heart, knowledge and faith. If there is no knowledge, there can be no faith. No one can be saved unless He hears the message of Jesus; this much is clear from Paul’s logic. Emeths don’t stumble into the kingdom of God.
Clive, Clive, Clive. Christian Inclusivism cheapens missions and the Great Commission. If Inclusivism is ingested, there is no real need to obey Jesus’ commands (maybe we should just to make sure), and certainly the urgency of the commission is depleted. The whole structure of Inclusivism rests on a notion of “free will” (something Lewis strongly held to), that man has not been utterly corrupted to the point where he has no capacity to desire or to come to God on his own. The Scriptures do not speak of man in this way (Ephesians 2:1, Romans 1, 3:23, John 8:34, Colossians 2) and give us a picture of natural man that is dark and nasty. Only this doctrine of man’s total depravity (it’s really the only Biblical option) does justice to God’s glory in the person of Christ. Because man has absolutely no right to claim salvation as his own, only God can be praised. So, as our second post for Lewis comes to a close, it really is helpful for us all to reflect on the necessity of preaching and evangelism/disciple making, our natural state as humans, and the glory of God as the ultimate end for the human race. How will we make efforts to make disciples? How will we make God’s glory the end and ultimate aim for the rest of the day?