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Why Do We Love C.S. Lewis and Hate Rob Bell?

Here at the Credo House in Edmond Oklahoma, Tim Kimberley (@pastortimk) and I are teaching a series on the top theologians of church history on Tuesday nights. I have insisted that C.S. Lewis be part of the mix due to his abiding theological influence on so many people today. Though he is called a “lay” theologian by many, in my mind, he is nothing less than a theological giant due to his contributions to apologetics at the academic and popular levels. (After all, apologetics is a subset of theology and C.S. Lewis, though a professor of literature, did teach philosophy for two years at Oxford!) We taught to a packed house with people sitting on the floor. Why? Because they all love C.S. Lewis. When asked how many had read C.S. Lewis, just about every hand in Credo went up. He is an evangelical hero who, theologically speaking, may not make the cut of evangelicalism today. Truthfully, I don’t think he ever liked the label himself. But he is loved by evangelicals nonetheless. In fact, he is loved across denominational and traditional lines. Christianity Today named Lewis’ Mere Christianity as the most influential book of the 20th century. Another evangelical magazine, Christian History, named him among the top ten most influential Christians of the 20th century. Whether you are an emerger or an evangelical, Baptist or Presbyterian, a cessationist or continuationist, a Calvinist or an Arminian (not that all of these are mutually exclusive), C.S. Lewis is not only kosher, but staple. In fact, even Pope John Paul II said that Lewis’ The Four Loves was one of his favorite books!

However, C.S. Lewis was not without “issues” that cause many to scratch their heads. Practically, he liked to smoke a pipe and cigarettes, and frequently enjoyed a beer at his bi-weekly “Inklings” meetings (and you know how bent out of shape people can get over those things!). Theologically, there is some stuff people try to sweep under the rug as well. In fact, though I say C.S. Lewis is loved by all, I do remember walking into church one day years ago. They were giving away a bunch of the “overstock” books from the library. I saw a church elder throwing away a lot of books as well. They were all C.S. Lewis! When I inquired about his odd blasphemous actions, he said that C.S. Lewis was a heretic because he did not believe in inerrancy. While this is something of an extreme example, I think it is important to realize that not everyone likes C.S. Lewis. Almost everyone, but not all. Why? Because he had some “non-evangelical” leanings. Besides not believing in inerrancy, he also believed in the theory of evolution, denied substitutionary atonement in favor of a “ransom to Satan,” bordered on a Pelagian idea of human freedom, seemed to advocate baptismal regeneration, and regularly prayed for the dead. To top it all off, he held out hope for the destiny of the unevangelized, believing that Christ might save them outside of direct knowledge of him (inclusivism). With all of these foibles, I seriously doubt any evangelical church would take a second look at his resume were he to apply for a pastorate at their church today. In fact, this list alone would be enough for many to call him a heretic. However, we still love him. We still read him. We still defend him. We still hand out his books by the dozens to friends and family who are struggling with their faith. This man who had his Christianity affirmed by Dr. Bob Jones but questioned by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is beloved by just about everyone, making him off-limits for serious criticism. Why?

Consider another man: Rob Bell. From what I have read and seen, he seems to have far fewer theological problems than C.S. Lewis. In fact, on paper, he is probably more evangelical than C.S. Lewis. He might even make it through the interview process at most evangelical churches. He, like Lewis, has written many works about the Christian faith. His latest book, Love Wins, is a runaway bestseller. However, evangelicals don’t like Rob Bell. He is not beloved. His writings are not handed out like tracts, except for in niche groups. He does not have broad Christian appeal. In fact, he may be the most hated Christian author alive (at least in some circles). Why? Well, on the tip of your tongue is this: because he believes in universalism (the idea that all will be saved). Well, maybe not “believes,” but he does hold out hope for such. Rob Bell supporters often appeal to C.S. Lewis, stating that he believed similar stuff as Rob Bell (in as far as holding out hope for unbelievers relates to inclusivism). In fact, Rob Bell seems to love and be inspired by C.S. Lewis in his thoughts and ideas.

Here comes the question I got Tuesday night a the Credo House “Coffee and Theology” study: “So why do we love C.S. Lewis but hate Rob Bell?”

This is the great question I hope to answer briefly.

First of all, no one hates Rob Bell (or at least, no one should). But, speaking for myself, I am very comfortable handing out C.S. Lewis books by the dozens, while I don’t keep a stock of Bell’s books on hand. There is not a book that Lewis wrote that I don’t encourage people to read and grow from. Even A Grief Observed, where Lewis attempts to retain his faith in God while questioning everything in the middle of a crucible of doubt and pain, is one of my favorite books to give to people who are hurting. But I doubt I would ever recommend one of Bell’s works to establish someone in the faith. In fact, I might only recommend them for people to see “the other side.” Let me put it this way (and I must be very careful here): While I fully embrace and endorse the ministry of C.S. Lewis, I do not endorse or embrace the ministry of Rob Bell.

You see, while C.S. Lewis has a great deal of theological foibles, his ministry is defined by a defense of the essence of the Gospel. The essence of who Christ is and what he did are ardently upheld by Lewis, saturating every page of his books. His purpose was clear: to make a compelling case the reality of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. All other things set aside, this is what you leave with every time you read Lewis. The problematic areas are peripheral, not central. One has to look hard to find the departures from traditional Protestant Christianity. They are not the subjects of his works and do not form the titles of his books.

However, with Rob Bell, the essence of who Christ is and what he did seems to be secondary. One has to look for those things as they weed through his defenses of non-traditional Christianity. Whereas Lewis’ ultimate purpose is to define and defend “mere” Christianity, Bell’s “mere” Christianity is but a footnote to a redefined Christianity. Bell’s focus is to challenge, question, change, reform, and emerge from traditions that bind us. Traditional apologetics, orthodoxy, and foundations are brought into question from beginning to end. Christ’s reality, deity, exclusivity, and the hope of the Gospel proclaimed receive an occasional footnote (if at all) from Bell.

Another way to put this is to say that in the ministry of C.S. Lewis, the central truths of the Christian faith are the chorus of his songs, with the occasional problem in the stanzas. However, with Bell, the chorus of his song is filled with challenges to traditional Christianity and if you listen really closely to the stanza, you might get an occasional line of orthodoxy.

Now, let me be straight. I have no problem with challenging traditions. I have no problem with questions, doubts, and reforms. I think we all need this. It is the essence of what we call semper reformanda (at least in a modified form). However, when your ministry is characterized and defined by this type of emerging reform and unsettled skepticism of traditional Christianity, you have stepped over the line and lost yourself and your right to have godly influence. As the old saying goes, “think out loud, but don’t think out loud from a platform.” Just because you are unsettled and questioning your faith does not mean you need to unsettle others.

And it is not just Rob Bell that is at issue. There are dozens of popular writers, pastors, bloggers, and authors who are singing the same chorus. They give lip service to the essence of Christianity, but from their platform it is only peppered in here and there. I think this is the core problem with what is/was known as the “emerging church.” It is not that we are against rethinking, reimagining, reforming, or any other “re,” it is that this became the central focus of the movement. Christ, the cross, sin, righteousness, and all other elements that create the essence of who we are became the subjects of challenges – mere lines in the song. This is why I distinguish between, say, Brian Mclaren and Dan Kimball.  Both men, early on, were considered part of the “emerging church.” However, though he challenges some ideas here and there, Dan Kimball (like C.S. Lewis) is committed to the essence of the historic Christian faith. Truth, doctrine, love, and righteousness are found in everything he writes and says. They are the chorus. With Mclaren, on the other hand, traditional Christian beliefs and practices form more of (what seems to be) an embarrassing afterthought that he proclaims only under duress.

This is why I don’t like comparing C.S. Lewis to Rob Bell. There is no comparison. Neither is it fair to team Rob Bell up with many of the great saints of the past, such as the Cappidocians or Origen (as is often done). Yes, they all have problems, but the question is, Do these problems define the essence of their ministry and passion? With Rob Bell (and many like him), they do. With most of the other historic figures that some try to put on Bell’s team, they don’t.

What can Bell do about this? I seriously doubt he is looking for advice from me, but here is what I would do if I were his campaign manager. I would tell him to take his cue from Lewis. Focus most of your works on defending the foundational issues of historic Christian truth. Those things that have been believed “always, everywhere, and by all.” Whether it is the existence of God, the exclusivity of Christ, the inspiration of Scripture, or the sinfulness of man, these are all good points that give street cred. If you are going to claim the legacy of Origen, the Cappidocians, or Lewis, embrace the essence of their ministry, not the periphery of their thought. And, just to be fair, if Lewis would have moved his foibles from his back pocket to his front pocket, he would not be accepted much either.

131 Responses to “Why Do We Love C.S. Lewis and Hate Rob Bell?”

  1. Slightly OT, but the problem with the emerging crowd is that they seem to reject the core narrative found in Scripture because of it’s out of step with modernist sensibilities and would like to replace it with something else; however, instead of stating this openly they choose to deconstruct the traditional Christian narrative through a series of pointed questions. Of course, if you try to replace the core narrative of Christianity with something else then you have, in effect, left Christianity even if you still carry around its sacred writings out of habit. I would say that Bell should not be criticized for holding unorthodox views (some of which I obviously share) but for participating in this sort of deconstructionist critique.

  2. Anyway, the short answer to CMP’s question is that “we” love Lewis and hate Bell because we don’t read either and instead take our cues from our part of the evangelical subculture.

    Sadly, most Christians would be just as shocked by their own Bibles as they would by Lewis if they read either. To wit, one of the saddest deconversion stories I found on the internet is that of a girl in college who discovered Rom 9 and decided she couldn’t worship Yahweh anymore.

  3. CMP:

    I have always thought of this myself, and now I have some answers. Thanks, Michael.

  4. I think also for many today: C.S. Lewis is a fall back figure / poster boy – when engaging with Atheists.

    In many ways Lewis is Barthinian or should Barth be considered Lewisian? Both held a high view of Christ to be central to life and faith.

  5. I think your main point (the centrality of Christ) is the key ingredient to the argument for Lewis and against Bell, but I have another, maybe simpler explanation. Many of us were subjected to Lewis at incredibly young ages by our parents through his children’s books. Personally, Lewis was endorsed whole-heartedly by my mother when I was eight years old. He was a family friend before he was a theologian. We accept a lot of strange quirks from family friends that would be moral failings in people we met on the street.

  6. CMP,

    Fascinating discussion.

  7. I think the major issue is that C.S. Lewis wasn’t a pastor and therefore could be considered part of the laity who wrote some great things but also some not so great things. Bell’s influence as an “evangelical pastor” is a bit different. If our pastor taught what Bell teaches we would have him removed. In that sense I think Bell’s influence extends further than Lewis (in my opinion) since as a pastor he is speaking for the faith. Lewis wrote about the faith but didn’t speak for it.

  8. Well thought out Michael…luv it!

  9. C.S. Lewis was part of a distinct Christian tradition, the Church of England, though he wrote about “mere” Christianity. If he reflected that tradition imperfectly, let’s remember he came from Atheism. He described himself as an “ordinary layman” or the Church of England.

    What he did extraordinarily well is to understand that tradition, understand Christianity in general, and communicate clearly explaining in such a way that made difficult or obscure concepts crystal clear. And he was able to draw clear, logical distinctions between things and show where the logic of some arguments is flawed and fautly.

    What you find in much theological writing today, including and perhaps especially the emerging crowd, though I don’t know Bell’s work directly, is pretty much the opposite. Instead of using language to clarify, they use it to obscure and often to make the lesser argument appear the greater, to make something sound as if it is the same as something else, or equivalent, or interchangeable, when important, even crucial differences exist.

    Also Bell comes from a tradition too, American evangelical (Wheaton College, etc.), but he does not present that tradition. He explodes it.

    Imperfect as both may be, Lewis is positive, Bell negative.

  10. Excellent post Michael. Really well done.

  11. SORRY! Who says “we” like C.S. Lewis. As a Fundamentalist Baptist C.S.Lewis was not a genuine Christian. He was a Heretic. Bell is an impostor and not a genuine Christian either. These men do not represent Biblical Christianity but a counterfeit type. Honestly who would follow either of these two men.

    http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/Wolves/cs_lewis-heretic.htm

  12. I often ask my christian friends a very simple question – “what about God?”

  13. As Dr John MacArthur has well stated, there is no problem with Rob Bell unless someone thinks he is a true believer.

  14. This might be a good place for me to mention an article I wrote a few years back covering and ETS paper on the question of CS Lewis going to heaven (The presenter concluded that Lewis did not make it).

    http://www.fellowtravelerblog.com/2005/11/15/ets-archives-did-cs-lewis-go-to-heaven/

    I’m not sure that we “love” Lewis because his heresies were more of a footnote than the main text. I think we love him because we basically only read Narnia and Mere Christianity (the occasional evangelical will crack open the problem of pain and put it down permanently after a couple pages), and so we don’t really know that much about him. But I think Lewis was also a nice winsome guy. He was reasonable and he was cool bc he smoked a pipe. He was a Christian a lot “like us” but different enough that he was intriguing. And since he lived on the other side of the Atlantic at a time when travel was not as easy, he could be supported. Bob Jones apparently visited him once and came back saying “The man smokes and drinks, but he’s a Christian.”

    The problem with Rob Bell may just be that he’s too young and he has not learned the art of being pastoral. I know that might sound ironic because he is so clearly driven by the questions people are asking and a desire to provide comforting answers. But he provides those pastoral answers in such a way as to alienate those who disagree (the famous person who mentioned Gandhi being in hell, didn’t get a pastoral treatment). This makes us not trust him. He seems to bend over backwards to provide comforting answers for a certain class of people but those outside that class are dismissed. Unlike CS Lewis, he does not give the vibe of someone who has done his homework, has wrestled with the issues and has come up with the best answer. The fact that he plays marking games with important spiritual questions is also another similar problem.

    You could also have mentioned John Stott, who believed in annihilation (probably not so different than Bell, actually). But he was careful, humble and biblical in his approach so instead of dismissing him, everyone kind of shrugged their shoulders and said, “Ok John, if that’s how you fell about it…”

    Lesson to be learned (and this cuts in good and bad ways): evangelicals often bluster about doctrinal purity, when the real issue is different. Ex. I was talking about “Bell’s hell” with some people who had heard about “an evangelical pastor who denies hell” and they were shocked. But when the understood that it was “the nooma videos guy” their attitude suddenly changed. Suddenly they weren’t so shocked; they thought that maybe it wasn’t as bad as it sounded; they gave him the benefit of the doubt. I bet that’s a common dynamic. But Bell’s videos are not appreciated enough for them to influence the majority of Evangelicals.

  15. We love CS Lewis because he did a lot of apologetics. Bell not so much.

    Lewis’ writings bear fruit among non-believers. For example, I have a relative who was a non-believer, and he credits Lewis as having a big role in convincing him of the Christian faith. Lewis gets a lot of rope because of examples like that. We’d rather a person become a believer and perhaps disagree with us on certain doctrines, than for that person to not become a believer at all.

    On the flip side, Bell doesn’t do apologetics, and he’s pretty much just read by folks who are already believers. At least that’s my impression. So he bears little fruit as far as convincing non-believers in the merits of Christianity. And at the same time he drawing people (who are already believers) away from doctrines which are important. So he’s viewed as a threat.

  16. It’s always interesting to read the Evangelical take on people like Rob Bell or Brian McLaren. For me, if people like that did not exist, I would be unable to be a Christian. I have never been able to subscribe to Evangelical Christianity, nor do I want to. C.S. Lewis was a great discovery for me years ago because he was like a breath of fresh air in a “traditional” faith that didn’t provide answers to questions I was asking, nor support for those questions.

    Since, I have graduated to greater “heresy” even than Rob Bell, and I find my faith and my life and my thinking all enriched as a result. It is still worthwhile to read what other people believe, people for whom Evangelicalism holds answers and support they need, but if the greatest “problems” allowed by Christianity were C.S. Lewis’ “problems”, I would not be able to be Christian.

  17. Indeed whatever C.S. (Jackes) Lewis was, he was really no strict evangelical, even as an Anglican. He also believed in some kind of “purgatory”. Note his great friendship with Austin Farrer, who was his personal confessor. Of course Farrer was a Anglo-Catholic, but Rowan Williams called Farrer the greatest English or British theologian in the 20th century! I rarely agree with Rowan, but truly Austin Farrer was a great Christian thinker-theolog!

  18. Duane – Thanks for the comment about MacArthur. I saw this interview and could not believe MacArthur actually said what he did. I believe his comments represent much of what is wrong with Evangelicalism today. MacArthur, though he may not realize it, has redefined what it means to be a Christian. Not only does one need to believe in the sacrifice of Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, but it seems that one must also believe in a long list of doctrinal positions. Perhaps only MacArthur’s brand of believers are truly Christian. This is kind of sad.

    Michael – Your article is well done. I have a few disagreements with what you say toward the end with regard to historical Christianity but your main point is great. Though we may need to be careful in defining Bell’s ministry by just his books, I agree with you that this portion of his ministry does spend too much time in the fringe. I remember reading Velvet Elvis, liking much of what I read, but begging Bell to define what it meant to be saved – he never did.

    Thanks for a great post.

  19. If there had been ODM websites in the 1940s Lewis might not have been so popular.

    I find it interesting that the different attitudes are based not on what each individual believes, but what he emphasizes. I guess that’s an important point when talking about influence, but not regarding salvation, regardless of whatever accusations MacArthur might deliver on any given day.

    The only Bell I’ve read is Velvet Elvis and it didn’t particularly rock my world, but I still don’t understand the hostility that so many aim at him.

  20. Very good highlighting of the differences between the two. I’d also add that Lewis’ writing is very systematic and engaging. Bell’s writing seems comparatively fluffy; always more insinuation than argument.

  21. CMP’s advice to Bell to “embrace the foundational issues of historic Christian truth” will not satisfy many people who are anxious in their view that any article of their faith once disturbed will collapse the whole. However, it is just that point concerning what is central that has kept me focused and susceptible to the Holy Spirit when answers to my questions are delayed. Quoting Paul: “And I… did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech and wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and him crucified.” I Cor. 2: 1-2 (ESV)

    If Lewis were not fully reconciled to Evangelicalism he certainly was to the Gospel. Though I have great respect for most Wheaton alumni I think one may reasonably doubt that a man who can’t pass his finals there has no hope in Christ. This is not meant to overlook Bell (I know nothing about him), but it is simply to say that a kind of theological pedantry tends to create rather than tear down barriers to faith. In my view Lewis avoided that error.

  22. Why do we love Augustine and not Pelagius? Augustine has his bad theology too!

    Why do we love Calvin and not Servetus? Calvin was not perfect in his exegesis!

    Why do we love the Gospel Coalition and not the Elephant Room? Ahem!

  23. “This is why I don’t like the comparison of C.S. Lewis with Rob Bell. Their is no comparison.”

    It should be “There is no comparison.”

  24. I once read a criticism of one of Bell’s books that said “you should not be reading Rob Bell, you should be reading John Piper!”. Which I found odd as Rob Bell (in the same book) recommended reading “everything John Piper has written”. The point is – if we approached learning about relationship with a complex, hidden and mysterious God in a corporate/’conversational’ way (instead of focusing on what one philosopher calls ‘conceptual idolatry’) we may actually find common ground, greater learning and real fellowship.

  25. In your article you say that Lewis, “denied substitutionary atonement in favor of a “ransom to Satan” view, bordered on a Pelagian idea of human freedom, seemed to advocate baptismal regeneration, ” and then you go on to say that “his ministry is defined by a defense of the essence of the Gospel” and “The problematic areas are peripheral, not central.” That seems contradictory. It seems to me that the things he denied are the essence of the gospel and central not peripheral

  26. I appreciate the writings of Lewis and Bell because they say the same things I am thinking, or ask the same questions I am asking. It is their transparency and honesty at the risk of offending what is “true” or the “right answer” that draws me in. When I read “A Grief Observed,” with Lewis’ description of God behind a locked door, this cold, foreboding silence from Heaven was exactly the experience I had with God. Likewise, in “Love Wins,” Bell asks questions he has asked as well as questions others have asked him. It is an invitation and a conversation many of us want to have. That struck a deep resonance with me.

    It was the Christian outcry against Bell that chased away the many of us who really would like to talk about these things. If the outrage against Bell is representative of the body of Christ, then those of us with questions will never truly be invited in. Brothers should never turn on brothers and certainly not in public. The rest of us are watching you and deciding whether this is a family we could consider being a part of. Consider that perhaps Bell, like Lewis, has a ministry to those on the edge, who with a little coaxing might step forward, if his brothers and sisters would support what he is doing.

  27. Hmmm

    Well, Lewis grew out of a more mainline, intellectual and European Christian context (Anglican), and he was probably a bit more conservative than many of his contemporaries in the modern, mainline, European world. Evangelicals tend to like people like this, because they seem to be a solid witness within the liberal, troublesome, watered down, and unfaithful modern church. To evangelicals it appears that Lewis is moving towards them in thinking and doctrine. Same with Boenhoffer, Barth, Ratzinger, Chesterton, etc. None of these guys would have cared.

    Bell on the other hand, is a solid evangelical who really just discovered mainline theology and praxis… so it appears that Bell is moving away from evangelicalism. Bell really didn’t say anything all that interesting or ground breaking, and actually he just held up a view that many evangelicals already hold to. Same with McLaren. The evangelical bugaboo against liberalism and the mainline, leads many evangelicals to be overly concerned with monitoring their own, and making sure that there isn’t any slippage of theology. Theology police. But, I didn’t vote for them.

    However, if the slippage is coming the other way, from liberal to conservative, it appears to evangelicals to be a good thing, never mind the actual theology or doctrine.

    It is all really quite sad, why evangelicals feel they have to judge, condemn, or condone everyone’s work, and not simply engage people’s ideas honestly and openly. Orthodox Christianity and faith in the King Jesus Christ, can stand on its own (and with the continued power of the HS), it does not need the evangelical thought police to enforce it, never mind the specific theological, historical, and doctrinal problems and inconsistencies that run the gamut of the American evangelical world.

  28. I will say this, all my friends who are evangelical pastors and theologians in the mainline denominations (mainly PCUSA) find this kind of stuff fascinatingly hilarious. Basically take a theological idea that has been around for over a thousand years or a wider theological perspective from the broader church (that we are all already aware of and have dealt with) and drop into evangelicalism (of the Baptist or Bible church kind) as if it is something completely new, and then watch the fisticuffs and fireworks.

  29. I really liked this article lots to thinnk about. After reading the comments, one thing stands out. Uniformity of belief… didn’t Christ actually dismiss this? So why does every church argue their exclusivity on the truth? That is a rhetorical question not one I expect an answer to here. I think Rob Bell brings up a good point, and I think that it’s God’s role to judge who goes to heaven and hell, and I believe that is done by the heart of someone. None of us Bell ( i don’t really care for his preaching nor his writing at all, too subjective), MacArthur (personally, I dislike what I have read of the man, too harsh-doesn’t mean I believe in there is no retribution or punishment either, again too subjective) not any single one of us is capable of judging nor defending any heart other than our own. I think that many of us argue right/wrong so we don’t have to be as careful in living our lives, which I think Christ slammed the Pharisees for over and over again, “it’s not the law itself it’s the spirit of the law” when Christ refers to their missing the point of mercy in the law. I think that is a point that needs to be remembered. We need to constantly reflect and question ourselves to stay as true to what is God’s will for us. I don’t think we will ever be able to stop until we have all met God face to face, then at that point everything will be evident to everyone, no one will be able to deny any truth about God nor His glory… PS I am not arguing for more individuality, only that in the end none of us will be able to hide completely behind a Lewis, MacArthur, Bell, Boyd, Warren, etc. But they will be responsible for their leadership. Sorry I think too much. Great food for thought in this article and well presented.

  30. Oops forgot to finish about Rob Bell’s good point, can’t you as God, want to save as many people as possible without ever compromising who you are? So who are we to judge who will or will not go to heaven… point to be made for comment number 15… who are we to be judging anyone else getting into heaven or hell? I certainly wouldn’t want to do that, but I most surely have done so when I think how can anyone do something so terrible. Some one once said this “I think when we get to heaven many of us will be surprised who will and who won’t be there.” That makes me sad, but it is the truth.

  31. Very well put. Before I read the article, while the page was loading and I just knew the title, the only thing that came to mind was this:

    Rob Bell has some good points. A few sentences here and there in his books that I agree with and appreciate.

    Lewis, on the other hand, has whole books that I agree with and once in a while a few sentences that I think, “Huh.”

    Basically- just what you said. The central focus of Lewis was something worth standing on.

    Blessings. Natasha

  32. As someone who essentially learned theology and apologetics from the collected works of C.S. Lewis, but who thinks Lewis’ own Teacher (George MacDonald) got something right that Lewis didn’t, and who arrived at Christian universalism as a result of learning to affirm trinitarian Christian theism more strongly and coherently (again largely thanks to Lewis)… {inhale} {g}

    …yes, Rob Bell can be very problematic. He is repeatedly unfair to his opponents in Love Wins, and unlike Lewis he tends to smack of post-rational mystery mongering. I am not familiar with his other work, although I have heard people swear by it; but I don’t altogether blame people for swearing at LW.

    Having said that: the climactic final chapters of LW, which are the ground and aim of his whole book, are saturated with orthodox Christology and an evangelical call to repent and place trust in Christ alone for salvation from our sins. Does he lead out with controversial doctrinal challenges? Yes, and that understandably makes for problems, and leads people to overlook what he’s doing that they themselves would otherwise strongly agree with–a problem made worse by his occasional outright cheating. But it still isn’t fair or accurate to overlook those portions as though they are marginal. For Love Wins, those portions are topically and logically cardinal (even if late in the book).

    As an administrator at the Evangelical Universalist Forum, I wrote a book-length informal analysis of LW, where (for what it’s worth) I caught some flack for heavily critiquing Rob. Links to that text, as well as to a shorter more formal summary, can be found at a press release here:

    http://www.prweb.com/releases/2011/6/prweb8602934.htm

    For a related article on how close C. S. Lewis got to trinitarian Christian universalism (and some biography on how that helped lead me to it, too), click here:

    http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=1577

  33. Hate is such a strong word; so is love for that matter. And if I truly hate Rob Bell, then I need to look within myself. I happen to disagree with Rob Bell on a pretty large set of very important doctrinal issues. I also happen to disagree with Lewis on a number of doctrinal points.

    This is the problem with looking to the person and not to the Spirit of Truth. We “love” some and “hate” others because we see the man and perceive some to agree with our particular views where we perceive that others do not. We are called upon to examine their teachings (and our own views) in light of the Word of God and reject those that do not agree with that standard regardless of whether personal preference. A Rob Bell, even if in error, can be valuable in that he can help focus our attention on something that requires our careful study of scripture to understand what scripture teaches. The point is to focus on Scripture, not on the man.

  34. Michael, I think I got your point, but I’m a bit confused about the post. Do you prefer C.S.Lewis just because he talked less about the heresies that he believed or because Rob Bell believes in worse heresies? It seems to me that your advice to Rob Bell,

    “Focus most of your works on defending the foundational issues of historic Christian truth”,

    makes little sense, since it seems that he does not believe in many of the foundational truths. I think Kevin’s comment (number 15) is straight to the point. Lewis had bad doctrine, but Rob Bell is a threat. I wouldn’t recommend any of them. I totally agree with your last comment:

    “if Lewis would have moved his foibles from his back pocket to his front pocket, he would not be accepted much either”

    As someone said, most people like Lewis because of Narnia.

  35. Again, whatever C.S. Lewis was theologically? He was not a systematic thinker, but much more of a mystical and existential person. I enjoyed David Downing’s book, ‘Into the Region of Awe, Mysticism In C.S. Lewis’, (IVP, 2005). Leave it to an English professor to get closer to the real C.S. Lewis! See too his earlier Lewis book also, by Downing: ‘The Most Reluctant Convert’, (IVP, 2002). Simply brilliant books on the real Jack/C.S. Lewis!

  36. First of all,and up front thank you for the well thought out blog!

    Now on to my critiques:

    You say of Lewis, “One has to look hard to find the departures from traditional Protestant Christianity. They are not the subject of his works and do not form the title of his books.” But have you read “The Great Divorce” (Many of my evangelical friends skip that one for some reason)? To be frank “Love Wins” is basically a less provocative version of that title written in non-fiction (with a little bit of NT Wright, a sprinkle of Origin, and Rob Bell’s signature hipster writing style).

    While Lewis didn’t always focus centrally on questioning traditional christian doctrines (with the Great Divorce being one exception, and his openness about being influenced heavily by George Macdonald, a well known Uiniversalist, being another) he was writing to a Modern audience. In fact I would go as far as to say that Lewis is to the Modern Era what Luther and Calvin were to the Reformation Era.

    And along with that Bell and McLaren are to the Post-Modern Era the same . Where Lewis found it necessary in his setting to “defend God” post-modern thinkers feel that God is big enough to defend himself. In fact maybe we have spent too much time defending God and not the poor, oppressed, and marginalized (what did Jesus spend more time defending: doctrines about God or the oppressed?)

    I would put forth that post-modern thinkers view being transformed by Christ as more important than having all the right doctrines nailed down perfectly. And I see that as the direction the Emergent Church is taking. To me the Emergent Church is to Post-Modernism what the Reformation was to the enlightenment. (I strongly recommend reading “The Great Emergence” by Phyllis Tickle – there is a review and a link for it at my blog)

    Finally, I would strongly recommend reading “A Generous Orthodoxy” by Brian McLaren in which he shows how our Evangelical ‘traditional” beliefs only make up a small fraction of the traditions that have made up the life of the church, and that maybe a little Christ-like humility is in order on the part everyone (not just evangelicals).

  37. Btw, we should add, that for Lewis so-called Christian Mysticism was about Christ and Transformation In Him! Anyone who has read Lewis’s stories knows that he saw a good and bad “mysticism”!

  38. And Billy Graham also takes the same stand as C.S. Lewis on “inclusivism”. We all have some beliefs or other that are not true because no one has a “lock” on the truth. Where do we draw the line? Personally, I have to draw the line at at least knowing that God sent His son as a redemption. It’s that act of God that must be accepted. Stories are coming out about Jesus appearing to Muslims in dreams and about angels being sent to dark tribes before any missionaries appear. God has His ways of making Jesus known. We have to trust His justice, not make up one of our own.

  39. but………..what about God – isn’t he the “dude” we’re all following…….or supposed to be……why all the attention on Jesus…what about God?

  40. No “emergents” for this Anglican! Its back to the ad fontes and Holy Scripture, and this is closer to the Reformation, and Luther & Calvin!

    And I would certainly disagree about Lewis and Hell. In his Screwtape Letters part of the bureaucracy of hell, is the ‘Intelligence Department’. “Altough hell dislikes knowledge, which it regards as hateful and mawkish, a certain amount is necessary to have effective power on earth to upset the Enemy’s plans. Devils assigned to human patients pass information back to the Department. Screwtape laments the inability of the Department to penetrate the purposes of the Enemy.” And Lewis, like Plato believed in the eternal nature of the soul. Humanity was made for eternity, with or without God. And of course Lewis saw this as a profound personal choice!

  41. I have read most of Lewis. The Great Divorce was really good and I agree with it quite a bit.

    Lewis, we must understand, was truly brilliant. As with so many brilliant thinkers it is nearly impossible to have them fit a mold. Their own brilliance causes some departures from the traditional norm and their natural confidence make them oblivious to their tenancy to not fit onto mold (not to mention how mad this makes others!)

    There is a difference between being smart enough to rebel against tradition and being rebellious enough to rebel. Lewis was the first. Most other are of the second. I look at Lewis much like I look at C.E. Moule in biblical studies. Both were brilliant. Both had their issues. I

  42. Sam,

    Jesus is God Incarnate, and still Incarnate at and on the Throne of God, though now certainly transfigured by Resurrection & Ascension! (1 Peter 3:22)

  43. I think you’re spot on! But, perhaps we should be a little more critical of Lewis. At least, we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to his theological innacuracies. I always try to make note of some of the exceptions I take with Lewis when I recommend him to someone.

  44. 2 points I want to raise –
    1. in response to a comment – I don’t think that holding a view of ransom to satan necessarily puts Lewis in the “heretic” category. There is certainly language in the NT to support this view, and I have even sung such in hardline evangelical songs – “Christ has paid my ransom”. The bible says we are all in bondage to the principalities and powers in this world. So I don’t think a ransom to satan is necessarily unbiblical.
    2. This is not as important, but judging Lewis for his practical foibles (e.g. smoking) is ridiculous for the reformed – Luther was just as bad in that regard if not worse, not to mention he sanctioned the massacre of huge numbers of people in the peasant uprising. If you’re an anglican you don’t fare any better since the founder of that particular sect only made it up to allow himself to divorce. I’m sure every Christian tradition has similar examples. No saint is perfect, anyhow.
    Great post, I really enjoyed it.
    Saskia

  45. Sorry couldn’t get edit to work.
    PS Don’t take that as an attack – the only church groups I have ever been part of have been either evangelical or anglican.
    Also I’m aware I’m making pretty broad brush strokes here – the point is not to make a big deal of smoking or drinking, all great Christian leaders are sinners too.

  46. Definitey. I can claim all his practical foibles as my own as well! Theologically mine are different tho

  47. I would not consider Anglicanism to be just a sect of the Henry the VIII. He was after all the King and Sovereign of England even when the Church was then under Rome. But indeed the Church of England under Henry, and Cromwell went toward the Reformation. But then too the whole later Tractarian and Oxford Movement, etc. Though certainly the CoE and much of the Anglican Communion has fallen into liberal and broad church ideas. Though Lewis himself of course stood against much of this in his time.

  48. Yes, I see your point. As I said, I was painting with a pretty broad brush (also “sect” was the wrong choice of word.”)

  49. If I wasn’t Presbyterian, I would probably be Anglican.

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