So, first I will start by clarifying my relationship with the philosophy, theology, and writing of C. S. Lewis. He is, by far, my favorite modern author. I understand that’s a very cliché thing for a christian to say these days. Due to the mainstreamed, commercial film interpretations of The Chronicles of Narnia, I honestly believe that Lewis has really been given a sour deal. People don’t say “Lewis the Philosopher” or “Lewis the Theologian” or even “Lewis the Scholar”. Lewis has become a mere storyteller in the eyes of the public. Now don’t get me wrong, I have a great appreciation for storyteller and the talent that allows them to weave together a tale that holds the interests of those who hear it. However, there is – I believe most would agree with me – a significant difference between a storyteller and a philosopher. Lewis did not set out to write a simple collection of fantasy novels. His world was in the midst of turmoil. During his lifetime he saw two devastating wars that ravaged the entire continent of Europe. New and terrifying philosophies were sprouting up that directly challenged the reality of God. Adolf Hitler was far more than a man. He is a mindset. It is terrifying to read the things that Hitler said and place them side by side with the philosophies of many modern Atheists. It is an old, tired-out message. They all speak of a master race and human waste and eliminating the species that slows progress. These are topics that demanded the attention of Clive Staples Lewis. This is why Lewis could not just be a storyteller. The world needed another christian philosopher.
Ever since The Chronicles of Narnia was captured on film, even as early as the 80’s, Lewis has been displayed by the smallest side of his creative spectrum: as a children’s writer. That is how I was introduced to Lewis. I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe after being introduced to the most recent Hollywood rendition of the work. Don’t get me wrong, the movie was a train wreck and makes an absolute travesty of what Lewis originally intended for the book, but that is a topic for another day. Either way, I quickly read my way through the entire Narnia collection and was intrigued with his writing style. Well, I could only be so intrigued at the age I was then. Still, I knew that Lewis had a far bigger intention in these writings than most would care to admit.
Now that we have gotten that long introduction out of the way, we can take a look at the ongoing trial of C. S. Lewis. There are three common groups of people who would say they “read” Lewis. There are those who watch the Narnia movies and then decide to read the book afterwords, who honestly have no clue that it is a seven book series and just assume there are three books. I am not taking a place in the “book better than movie” judgmental argument; these are just simple facts. Second up, there are those who are avid readers of Lewis and have read the majority of his works. Thirdly, and more common than you may think, there are those who have read all seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia and have come to the conclusion that C. S. Lewis was an universalist.
So, lets break down universalism a little bit. Universalism, as basically as I can put it, means that there are multiple roads to paradise. An example would be to say that a buddhist, a muslim, and a christian can all reach heaven because they were good people and they followed their beliefs so purely that it counted as service to one true god, since Satan could not expect a pure form of worship. Proof of this belief comes from Lewis’s book The Last Battle where a Calormen (pagan) is allowed to enter into Aslan’s country because his worship of his pagan god was so pure that it was counted as service unto Aslan. The actual passage from the book is much more clear, but as you could understand, it does send out some alarming themes. Now people take this passage and make claims that Lewis was an universalist. This just isn’t true.
Whether or not C. S. Lewis was dabbling in the thought of universalism when he wrote The Last Battle, it was still early on or about midway through his christian walk. People make a huge mistake by saying that The Chronicles of Narnia is Lewis’s defined theology. In actuality, the Narnia series is an allegorical theology. He uses the form of storytelling to weave a scriptural-like book. If You want the theology of Lewis, than read the books he wrote near the end of his life that clearly spell out his beliefs. The book that most defends Lewis against this trial is The Great Divorce. Written near the end of his life, this book is very similar, in style, to Dante’s Divine Comedy. It tracks the journey of Lewis the pilgrim through the valley of Heaven. Lewis clearly defines his views on salvation in this work.
“And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say ‘We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven’, and the Lost, ‘We were always in Hell.’ And both will speak truly” (C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce).
“We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre: rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork you must make a decision” (C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce).
“I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on” (C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce).
So, is C. S. Lewis an universalist? I dare say no. Books such as The Great Divorce, Mere Christianity, The Abolition of Man, and The Screwtape Letters clearly define his philosophy and theology. I would encourage to acquire, read, and study each one of these works. Discover who the true Lewis was. I think you will discover that our friend, Clive Staples Lewis had an incredible amount of theological wisdom to offer us. So, if you wanted to completely follow my advice than you should go find a nice quiet pub somewhere, smoke a cob pipe, and read The Great Divorce through twice.