By Frank Viola —
People pour themselves into their own doctrines, and God has to blast them out of their preconceived ideas before they can become devoted to Jesus Christ. ~ Oswald Chambers
With the popularity of his Chronicles of Narnia (selling millions), Mere Christianity, and The Screwtape Letters (both considered classics among evangelicals), Clive Staples Lewis is regarded by many to be a saint of evangelicalism.1
Christianity Today even called him “our patron saint.”2
According to Time magazine, Lewis was “one of the most influential spokesmen for Christianity in the English-speaking world.”3
According to J. I. Packer, Lewis was “a Christ-centered, great-tradition mainstream Christian whose stature a generation after his death seems greater than anyone ever thought while he was alive, and whose Christian writings are now seen as having classic status.”4
Because evangelical Christians, as a whole, regard Lewis to be the greatest apologist (defender) of the Christian faith in modern history, these beliefs of his will surprise (and perhaps even shock) many evangelicals because they are regarded to be unbiblical by evangelical standards.
1) Lewis believed in praying for the dead.
Here’s a quote:
Of course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden.13
2) Lewis believed in purgatory.
Springing out of his belief of praying for the dead was his belief in purgatorial cleansing. According to Roman Catholic dogma, purgatory is the final purification of the elect after death.14
In A Grief Observed, Lewis talked about his deceased wife, Joy, connecting her to suffering and cleansing in purgatory. Lewis believed in salvation by grace, but he thought complete transformation was dependent upon one’s choice. Thus he felt that transformation can even occur after death, and some Christians need to be cleansed in order to be fit for heaven and enjoy it.
For Lewis, purgatory was designed to create complete sanctification, not retribution or punishment. So Lewis saw purgatory as a work of grace.
Here are some revealing quotes from Lewis:
To pray [for the dead] presupposes that progress and difficulty are still possible. In fact, you are bringing in something like Purgatory. Well, I suppose that I am. Though even in Heaven some perpetual increase of beatitude, reached by a continually more ecstatic self-surrender, without the possibility of failure but not perhaps without its own ardours and exertions—for delight also has its severities and steep ascents, as lovers know—might be supposed. But I won’t press, or guess, that side for the moment. I believe in Purgatory.15
3) Lewis believed that it was possible for some unbelievers to find salvation after they have left this world.
While Lewis didn’t subscribe to universalism or ultimate reconciliation, he did believe that salvation after death was a possibility for some.
His view was that some people may seek and find Christ without knowing Him by name. However, he was very clear that this was not “salvation by sincerity” or “goodness” but rather a Spirit-driven desire for God.16
For Lewis, Christianity is not the only revelation of God’s way, but it is the complete and perfect revelation. Lewis, therefore, didn’t hold to the idea that all roads lead equally to God. In addition, Lewis believed that time may not work the same way after death as it does in life. Thus all those who lived before Christ and after might be subject to the grace of repentance.17
Interestingly, Lewis’s distant mentor, George MacDonald, believed in ultimate reconciliation (meaning, hell will be empty because God will win everyone to Himself in the end). Lewis’s regard for MacDonald was incomparable.
He said of MacDonald, “I dare not say that he is never in error; but to speak plainly I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself.”18
That’s quite a statement to make about someone you don’t fully agree with doctrinally. And it’s a perfect example of what it means to “regrace.”
The above is a short excerpt from ReGrace with the endnotes removed. There’s much more on Lewis and his views in the book.
To order the book, go to ReGrace: What the Shocking Beliefs of the Great Christians Can Teach Us Today.
1) Some of the so-called shocking beliefs that I cover in ReGrace are beliefs that I myself agree with. Others I find abhorrent.
Consequently, just because a shocking belief is listed doesn’t reveal how I personally feel about it.
It simply means that many evangelical Christians will find the belief to be shocking (at worst) or peculiar (at best).
Therefore, to those of you who are inclined to finish this book and proudly throw your chest out saying, “Good grief, I wasn’t shocked by any of those beliefs!” remember three things:
You missed the point of the book; each person I feature had people who believed they were heretics during their day; and every one of them still have people raking them over the coals because of their viewpoints.
2) While I disagree with a number of beliefs that each person I feature held, I have respect for each of them. In fact, I cannot tie the laces of their shoes.
Each individual was remarkable in his own right. I realize this means that people who don’t like Calvin, Lewis, Wesley, Augustine, and so forth will be turned off by that statement.
And some may misuse this book as a frontal attack on each person it covers, completely missing the boat on those chapters and the intent of this volume.
Finally, remember, the point of this book is NOT to highlight what our spiritual forefathers believed. It’s simply that they all had imperfect views. For that reason, let’s have more grace and civility whenever we disagree with each other over theology and politics.
The book explains practically how to disagree – even strongly – in a Christlike manner without getting down in the mud and engaging in fleshly, carnal behavior over a diverging viewpoint held by a fellow Christian.
For if the “heroes” of the faith didn’t possess immaculate perception, than the same is true for every child of God today – including you.
Here is the Back Cover Description:
The church is tired of seeing Christians act ungraciously toward one another when they
disagree. Social media has added to the carnage. Christians routinely block each other on Facebook because of doctrinal disagreements. The world watches the blood-letting, and the Christian witness is tarnished.
But what if every Christian discovered that their favorite teacher in church history had blind spots and held to some false–and even shocking–views?
Bestselling author Frank Viola argues that this simple awareness will soften Christians when they interact with each other in the face of theological disagreements.
In ReGrace, he uncovers some of the shocking beliefs held by faith giants like C.S. Lewis, Luther, Calvin, Moody, Spurgeon, Wesley, Graham, and Augustine–not to downgrade or dismiss them, but to show that even “the greats” in church history didn’t get everything right.
Knowing that the heroes of our faith sometimes got it wrong will empower us to treat our fellow Christians with grace rather than disdain whenever we disagree over theology.