My friend, Charisse Graves, wrote a very eye-opening book evaluation of Words to Live By: A Guide for the Merely Christian by C.S. Lewis and edited by Paul F. Ford.
This book is 336 pages long in hardcover and was published by HarperOne in the spring of 2007 (ISBN: 0061209120).
Many folks, blessed folks, sincere and god-fearing folk, have read and quoted C.S. Lewis; but is he really the Christian that we think him to be? I, like many, read The Chronicles of Narnia to my children, and enjoyed speaking in different voices for the different characters, watching my children giggle and smile at the stories; nevertheless, when I read Mere Christianity, I was bit disturbed by some of the things that Mr. Lewis suggested. After some research here and there over the years, there are some books and essays that Lewis wrote that left me thinking that, not only could it be possible that he was not the born-again Christian that many believed him to be, but he may also be little more than a humanist using recognizable Christian terms. If this is so, some of his writings may be peppered with enough landmines to catch the Christian unawares in an unsuspecting walk. Charisse Graves has a concern that the latter may be exactly what is happening.
Someone may object and suggest that Ms. Graves is taking the statements of the late Mr. Lewis out of context. That is an interesting, yet powerless, argument. The book Charisse Graves has evaluated is a collection of statements. If the statements with this collection are provided for spiritual meditation, then the statements are provided by the publisher and the editor to stand upon their own merit as maxims to live by; therefore, a critical analysis of each statement should be made as to whether it stands upon or departs from God’s Holy Word.
Is the essence the writings of C.S. Lewis truly, Biblically Christian; or is there more to Lewis than meets the eye? Be discerning and check his writings with scripture so that you can decide for yourself.
Part One of her review can be found here, at Lighting the Way.
I have been given permission to print the entirety of Part Two below:
Words to Live By
C.S. Lewis Edited by Paul F. Ford
An evaluation of the words of C.S. Lewis [Part 2] By: Charisse Graves
Part 1 of my evaluation focused on Mr. Lewis’s low view of (objective truth) God’s revealed word through the Bible and how the subversion of the authority of Scripture leads into great error. Mr. Lewis’s poor theology is a result of not understanding or using Scripture. The consequence of his errant ideas results in breaking down walls of primary doctrines leading to Ecumenicism. This article is primarily addressing a major philosophy that shaped Mr. Lewis’s world and life view, which is subjective spirituality. This is in direct opposition to objective truth, which would be a reliance on the Bible as “the only infallible rule of faith and practice”, according to the Reformers. This piece is from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III:
How right you are when you say “Christianity is a terrible thing for a lifelong atheist to have to face”! In people like us – adult converts in the 20th century – I take this feeling to be a good symptom… Now about reading.
For a good (“popular”) defence of our position against modern waffle, to fall back on, I know nothing better than G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man. Harder reading, but very protective, is Edwyn Bevan’s Symbolism & Belief. Charles Williams’ He Came Down from Heaven doesn’t suit everyone, but try it.
For meditative and devotional reading (a little bit at a time, more like sucking a lozenge than eating a slice of bread) I suggest the Intimation of Christ (astringent) and Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations (joyous). Also my selection from MacDonald, Geo. MacDonald: an Anthology. I can’t read Kierkegaard myself, but some people find him helpful.
For Christian morals I suggest my wife’s (Joy Davidman) Smoke on the Mountain, Gore’s The Sermon on the Mount and (perhaps) his Philosophy of the Good Life. And possibly (but with a grain of salt, for his is too puritanical) Wm. Law’s Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. I know the v. title make me shudder, but we have both got a lot of shuddering to get through before we’re done!
You’ll want a mouth-wash for the imagination. I’m told that Mauriac’s novels (all excellently translated, if your French is rusty) are good, tho’ very severe. Dorothy Sayers’ Man Born to be King (those broadcast plays) certainly is. So, to me, but not to everyone, are Charles Williams’ fantastic novels. Pilgrim’s Progress, if you ignore some straw-splitting dialogues in Calvinist theology and concentrate on the story, is first class.
St. Augustine’s Confessions will give you the record of an earlier adult convert, with many v. great devotional passages intermixed.
So you read poetry? George Herbert at his best is extremely nutritious.
I don’t mention the Bible because I take that for granted. A modern translation is for most purposes far more useful than the Authorised Version. As regards my own books, you might (or might not) care for Transposition, The Great Divorce, or The Four Loves. Page 18&19 [Emphasis mine]
There are again points of agreement with Mr. Lewis’s recommended reading list. John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is an exceptional Christian classic. Although, one could contend the Reformed (Biblical) Theology is the reason why it has endured the test of time. Also, St. Augustine’s Confessions are certainly edifying. Mr. Lewis’s statement, “A modern translation is for most purposes far more useful than the Authorised Version.” Again, underscores his low view of Scripture. But, the most interesting discovery was that almost all of Mr. Lewis’s favorite authors have one thing in common; Mysticism.
We will begin with the devout Catholic mystic (who had a severe distaste for John Calvin) G.K. Chesterton. Mr. Chesterton’s embrace of mysticism and abhorrence of Reformed Theology are brought to light in Chapter 2 of his book Orthodoxy:
“Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in the earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also… It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand.” [Emphasis mine]
(Orthodoxy chapter. 2)
“One great English poet went mad, Cowper. And he was definitely driven mad by logic, by the ugly and alien logic of predestination. Poetry was not the disease, but the medicine; poetry partly kept him in health. He could sometimes forget the red and thirsty hell to which his hideous necessitarianism dragged him among the wide waters and the white lilies of the Ouse. He was damned by John Calvin; he was almost saved by John Gilpin.” [Emphasis mine]
Mr. Chesterton did make a very enlightening statement; “The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand.”[Emphasis mine] What Mr. Chesterton is expressing is akin to Gnosticism, which has been around since the first Church came into being. The New Geneva Study Bible elaborates under “True Knowledge of God”:
“In 1 Tim. 6:20-21 Paul warns Timothy against “what is falsely called knowledge – by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith.” Paul’s attack is against religious tendencies that developed into Gnosticism in the second century A.D. Teachers of such ideas told believers to see their Christian commitment as only a first step along the road to “knowledge” (gnosis in Greek), and urged them to take more steps along that road. These teachers viewed the material order as worthless and considered the body to be a prison for the soul. Their answer to human spiritual need was illumination, that is, to attain a certain “knowledge” reserved for the few. They denied that sin was part of the problem, and the “knowledge” they offered made use of celestial passwords and discipline of mysticism and detachment.” Page 1167 [Emphasis mine]
To clarify what “mysticism” is we will use a simple analogy of our mind being a computer. God created us with a naturally designed firewall to protect our computer (mind). The problem is if we induce an alpha brain state or state of meditation,[i] by emptying our mind through Mantra’s or Yoga (Hinduism), Zen Meditation(Buddhism), Transcendental Meditation (New Age), Lectio Divina or The Silence and/or Solitude of Contemplative prayer, or any other means by which you bypass your cognitive awareness you have effectively removed your firewall. Now you have opened yourself up directly to the spiritual realm which God specifically forbids (Lev. 19:31, Deut. 18:9-14). (Caveat: There is an article; Should We Really Call It a ‘Quiet’ Time? By Dr. David Powlison of CCEF, that gives clear insight on this subject. Dr. Powlison is correct when he states, “Or what about the repetition of mantras, even using Bible words as incantation, attempting to bypass consciousness, seeking to induce a trance state or mystical experience? The Bible never teaches or models prayer either as inner silence or as mantra, That’s important to notice. The Bible NEVER teaches or models either wordless or mantric prayer.) [bold emphasis mine][ii]
Mysticism is nothing more than repackaged and recycled spiritism/Gnosticism made palatable for the next generation.
Evelyn Underhill (b.1875-d.1941) was a contemporary, colleague and friend of writer Charles Williams (b.1886-d.1945), as was Mr. Lewis. Interestingly, many of Mr. Lewis’s favorite authors; Thomas Traherne, George Herbert, George MacDonald, G.K. Chesterton along with Evelyn Underhill all appear together in, The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse Published 1917.[iii]
Word of caution: Please do not read anything written by Ms. Underhill until you “Put on the whole armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” Ephesians 6:11 and earnestly pray for wisdom and discernment (James 1:5).
This is how Ms. Underhill defined mysticism in her classic Mysticism: A Study in Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness:
“Meanwhile, those who use the term “Mysticism” are bound in sef-defence to explain what they mean by it. Broadly speaking, I understand it to be the expression of the innate tendency of the human spirit towards complete harmony with the transcendental order; whatever be the theological formula under which that order is understood. This tendency, in great mystics, gradually captures the whole field of consciousness; it dominates their life and in the experience called “mystic union,” attains its end. Whether that end be called the God of Christianity, the Word-soul of Pantheism, the Absolute of Philosophy, the desire to attain it and the movement towards it-so long as this is a genuine life process and not an intellectual speculation – is the proper subject of mysticism. I believe this movement to represent the true line of development of the highest form of human consciousness.” Page 6-7
Beloved, do you comprehend what she is saying? In Ms. Underhill’s flawed, Universal view of God, there is no need for Jesus Christ. Why bother with Jesus when we can just empty our minds and have a direct connect to the Absolute Power of the Universe? Therefore, you can belong to any “religion” it makes no difference; you just have to learn how to call the “one god fits all” hotline. She further illustrates this point in her study; citing yet another of Mr. Lewis’s recommendations, Thomas A. Kempis who penned The Imitation of Christ; as she writes:
“The jewels of mystical literature glow with this intimate and impassioned love of the Absolute; which transcends the dogmatic language in which it is clothed and becomes applicable to mystics of every race and creed. There is little difference in this between the extremes of Eastern and Western thought; between A Kempis the Christian and Jalalu ‘d Din the Moslem saint.” Page 65 [Emphasis mine]
Sadly, there is one fatal error Ms. Underhill certainly had a mystical union with a “god”, but it was clearly not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or biblical Christianity. How do we know this?
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the word.” 1 John 4:1-3
“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.” 2 Peter2:1
God carefully instructs us as to whom we should have unity within the Bible:
“Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate, says the Lord. ‘And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:14-18
Discerning Readers, Tim Challies, in his book review of The Sacred Romance made a remarkably salient point regarding mystics:
“Analysis- This book is full of error, especially when viewed from a Reformed viewpoint. It is indicative of the sorry state of the Christian world that such a book can gain so great a following. The authors misuse the Bible, equate experience with Scripture, and make God into something He is not. They are mystics, relying on their own thoughts more prominently than Scripture. They rely heavily on other mystics, mainly Catholic, such as C.S. Lewis, St. John of the Cross, G.K. Chesterton and Phillip Yancey.” [Emphasis mine][iv]
The Bible clearly teaches:
“’For My thoughts are not your thought, Nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord.” Isaiah 55:8
The Bible is the story of God’s people continually turning to their own way.
“Come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the Lord. For You have abandoned Your people, the house of Jacob, because they are filled with influences from the east and they are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they strike bargains with the children of foreigners. Their land has also been filled with silver and gold and there is no end to their treasure; Their land has also been filled with horses and there is no end to their chariots. Their land has also been filled with idols; That which their fingers have made.” Isaiah 2:5-8
This is an interesting observation made by Dr. Peter Jones while attending an Emergent Church conference in his article, 55: Evangelicalism Highjacked by Closet Theological Liberals:
“DE-PERSONALIZATION OF GOD
With all the emphasis on the earthly Jesus, on our human efforts to bring in the kingdom, and on “Human Flourishing,” God as personal savior is vague, even absent. God was referred to in a large plenary session as “God revealing ‘god self,’” thus successfully avoiding any gender-specific language for God but successfully depersonalizing Him. The absence is filled by seeking God’s “presence” through mysticism and so-called “spiritual disciplines,” so widespread in impersonal pagan spirituality.” [bold emphasis mine][v]
In “Words to Live By” an excerpt taken from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III:
“I believe that, in the present divided state of Christendom, those who are at the heart of each division are all closer to one another than those who are at the fringes. I wd. Even carry this beyond the borders of Christianity: how much more one has in common with a real Jew or Muslim than with a wretched liberalising, occidentalised specimen of the same categories. Let us by all means pray for one another: it is perhaps the only form of “work for re-union” which never does anything but good.” Page 28 [bold emphasis mine]
Mr. Lewis did sincerely desire unity and I believe he thought that the world would be a better place, if only, we could all connect with the Absolute god of the universe. The problem is the only way this goal can be accomplished is through Interspirituality, which by definition denies Christ alone. Therefore, this cannot be the God of the Bible.
“Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the Lord, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other.” Deut. 4:39
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” John 14:6
The Bible states:
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” Deuteronomy 29:29