[This post is part of a series entitled C.S. Lewis for Heretics.]
I introduced this series by noting that, as a liberal Protestant and then as a member of the Church Alumni Association, I never had occasion to read or think much about C.S. Lewis. Whereas many people who shared my kind of religious formation did read Lewis, I happened not to. By the time I left my conservative evangelical college and enrolled in a liberal United Methodist seminary, I figured Lewis was too orthodox in his theology and too Tory in his politics to have anything to say to me. As time passed, it seemed that the only people I know who took Lewis seriously were literal-Bible conservatives. This only reinforced my determination to ignore one of the bestselling Christian writers of all time.
My strong sense is that most people who are not fundamentalists or evangelicals have the same reaction. Conservative and liberal Christians have different sets of respected scholars, devotional writers, and celebrity pastors. Lewis's works of popular theology certainly appealed to a broader cross-section of the English-speaking Christian world 50 years ago. Today, I suspect you will almost always find Lewis on a bookshelf that includes Philip Yancey, James Dobson, Tim LaHaye, Charles Stanley, and Max Lucado. On the other hand, I doubt you would find Lewis on a bookshelf that includes Paul Tillich, Jack Spong, Bill Coffin, Phyllis Tickle, and Marcus Borg.
Given the elite-driven polarization in Christian institutions like colleges, seminaries, and publishing houses, it seems likely that today's religious people embrace or ignore C.S. Lewis based on a predictable set of variables. Those who hold what have become orthodox theological positions see Lewis as their eloquent defender and champion, while theological liberals see him as just another literal-Bible apologist. Thus, if you take the Bible literally, you probably love Lewis. If you take the Bible seriously, you're probably ambivalent or hostile.
I suspect this may be a mistake. Just as conservatives need to see that Lewis was a more complex figure than his fans realize and would not be impressed by the anti-intellectual impulses that have become mainstream (at least vast swaths of American Christianity), liberals need to know that Lewis was a more serious thinker than, say, Francis Schaeffer, D. James Kennedy, or even Billy Graham.
Throughout this series, I want to think a bit about what those of us who are not literal-Bible conservatives might take from C.S. Lewis's very keen intellect and prolific pen. I'm reading Alister McGrath's new biography right now. It's sympathetic without being hagiographical. In my next post, I'll discuss some biographical details and impressions of Lewis's education and his work at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Then I'll move on to Lewis's popular theological writings and his challenges to modernist approaches to science and philosophy.
Incidentally, the answer to my question "Is C.S. Lewis just for conservatives?" may be an emphatic yes. Even so, I'm determined to give him the consideration I think his work and legacy deserves.
Unfortunately, I'm quite busy with work and other writing projects at the moment. This series may extend past Christmas into the new year. But I will post updates via Twitter.
C.S. Lewis for Heretics
Part 1 -- Rationale
Part 2 -- Is Lewis Just for Conservatives?
Part 3 -- Biographical Discussion
Part 4 -- Mere Christianity
Part 5 -- Lewis and Scientism
Part 6 -- Lewis for the Rest of US