C. S. Lewis on Scripture: His Thoughts on the Nature of Biblical Inspiration, the Role of Revelation and the Question of Inerrancey by Michael J. Christensen (Abingdon Press, 1979)
When this book was written, there was a lot of fur flying in the Christian world over the nature of Biblical inspiration. Christensen's book is an attempt to ferret out what C. S. Lewis thought about the matter, though it's perfectly clear that if Lewis had still been alive during that time, he would have determinedly steered clear of the controversy. With the imprimatur of a forward by Owen Barfield and an introduction by Clyde S. Kilby, however, I suspect this book hits pretty close to the mark.
In any case, as far as I can tell from the Lewis books I've read, it seems a fair explanation. Moreover, I learned a lot here and respect Lewis's views even more—though I don't pretend to understand all the ins and outs of the philosophy and the literary criticism.
Many colleges, and sometimes even high schools, offer a course called "The Bible as Literature." I've never taken one, the very title sounding to me like a course in "what you can get out of the Bible if you don't actually believe a word of it." C. S. Lewis on Scripture makes me realize that such a course taught by Lewis would be a totally different experience altogether.
I won't attempt to summarize his ideas, nor even to summarize this summary of his ideas. But in a nutshell, Lewis believed that we cannot properly interpret Scripture without approaching it through both rational thought and imagination. Leave one out, and you miss the point. Thus he will not be put into a box when it comes to his views on the inspiration of the Bible. In short, to no surprise, he is very ... Anglican.
C. S. Lewis on Scripture is worth reading, though not as valuable as reading Lewis himself.
Partial Table of Contents
- IN WHAT WAY IS THE BIBLE INSPIRED?
Are there errors in the Bible?
What does the Bible say about itself?
Revelation: Personal Encounter or Propositional Truth?
Where does Lewis stand?
- LEWIS: LIBERAL OR CONSERVATIVE?
Religious tolerance: we are not to judge
Heaven and hell: the choice is ours
Purgatory: our souls demand it
The Eucharist: the very life and grace of God
Theistic Evolution: animal raised to higher life
Immortality of animals: a heaven for mosquitoes
Christ's Atonement: fact and theories
Is the Bible historically true?
Biblical criticism: friend or foe?
Modern theology: Christianity-and-water
Lewis: Liberal, Conservative, or Fascinating Mixture?
- LITERARY CRITICISM OF THE BIBLE
Good literature compels good reading
Good poetry is artistic imitation of reality
A "baptized imagination"—the key to ultimate reality
Human language falls short of the reality it seeks to describe
The human predicament
- MYTH, REVELATION AND SCRIPTURE
We see through a glass darkly
Myth converys the inexpressible
Wishful thinking or the truly real?
God's revelation assumes different forms
Scripture as inspired literature
- THE QUESTION OF INERRANCY
What did the early church believe?
What did the medieval church believe?
What did the reformers assert about Scripture?
What happened after the Reformation?
With the Age of Reason came the liberal position
Neoorthodoxy: return to orthodoxy or religious cop-out?
Evangelicalism: A house divided
- A TREASURE IN EARTHEN VESSELS How should the Bible be read?
The problem of authority: we are not content
Conclusion: a treasure chest of truth
APPENDIX A. TWO LETTERS FROM C. S. LEWIS
APPENDIX B. LEWIS: THE RATIONAL ROMANTIC
From the Preface
Most evangelicals believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. C. S. Lewis, who said "most of my books are evangelistic," did not. The Bible for him was human literature, divinely inspired and authoritative, but not verbally inspired or without error.
Should evangelicals simply dismiss Lewis as too "liberal" or "naive" because he failed to affirm a particular notion of inerrancy? Or, should they give him a fair hearing and withhold judgment until they have thoroughly considered his literary understanding of the nature of Scripture? In light of Lewis's firm evangelical commitment and acknowledged orthodoxy, I support the latter.
From Chapter 2: Lewis: Liberal or Conservative?
A self-confessed romantic converted to Christianity halfway through life, he is neither theologically liberal nor conservative; he defies classification.
From Chapter 4: Myth, Revelation and Scripture
The notion of progressive revelation suggests that God discloses himself to man in a way that is best suited to man's particular stage of religious development. For pagan culture, divine revelation took the form of mythology. For the Hebrew culture, God spoke through the Law and the prophets. Christianity is the grand culmination of progressive revelation and religious maturity in both cultures.
How are Christians to understand the obvious similarities between pagan myths and Christianity? Either pagan mythology is essentially demonic and functions as counterfeit revelation for the purpose of confusing mankind, or else it is the dim foreshadowing of God's supreme revelation in Christ. Lewis identifies with the latter view.
It can be concluded at this point that Scripture for Lewis functions as myth, as well as historic fact. It has most of the qualities of imaginative literature and all the characteristics of myth, requiring an imaginative embrace to perceive meaning.
Myth, it must be remembered, does not mean lie, error, illusion or misunderstood history. The term has little to do with fact or history but transcends both. Properly understood, myth is a medium of divine revelation bringing a level of understanding superseding that which can be known through facts and history. To regard a portion of Scripture as myth, far from being less than true, is to acknowledge a higher truth and a deeper reality than could otherwise be expressed.
From Chapter 6: A Treasure in Earthen Vessels
This divine message, Lewis would have us remember, is not confined to the medium of Scripture. God, the Source of all truth, in the process of "reconciling the world unto himself," has used many means to call his sheep back into the fold: He has inspired great myths and literature throughout history, created in us immortal longings, spoken to us through conscience and religious experience, and given us Holy Scripture to convey his message. And finally, he has revealed himself in human form, died, and risen again so that we might die and live with him.
Because of God's initiative in revelation, we possess a treasure chest of truth that is of eternal value. God's Word is the "treasure" revealed through "earthen vessels," as 2 Corinthians 4:7 implies: "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us." Let us not mistake the vessels for the treasure nor fail to find the treasure in the vessels.
From Appendix A: Two Letters from C. S. Lewis
[Quoting from a page of Lewis's notes] That the over-all operation of Scripture is to convey God's Word to the reader (he also needs his inspiration) who reads it in the right spirit, I fully believe. That it also gives true answers to all the questions (often religiously irrelevant) which he might ask, I don't. The very kind of truth we are often demanding was, in my opinion, not even envisaged by the ancients.
From Appendix B: Lewis: the Rational Romantic
As a rationalist, Lewis approached the message of the Bible as a truth to be believed. As a romantic, he approached the message of the Bible as a reality to be received. Lewis's literary view of inspiration encompassed both his rational faculty for understanding and his romantic intuition to find meaning.
Reason and imagination for Lewis are the complementary human faculties for knowing. In the realm of facts, empirical evidence, sense objects, particulars, and so on, truth is known through reason. But transcendent Reality—knowledge of universals in the eternal realm—if it is to be known at all, must be grasped by imagination.
Such is Lewis's rational-romantic synthesis of truth and meaning, reason and imagination. Reason alone cannot lead us to truth. But neither can truth be understood apart from reason. Both reason and imagination, seemingly at odds with one another, are necessary for truth to be meaningful.
The appendix ends with this poem, from Lewis's novel, Till We Have Faces.
Who make in me a concord of the depth and height?
Who make imagination's dim exploring touch
Ever report the same as intellectual sight?
Then could I truly say, and not deceive,
Then wholly say, that I BELIEVE.