Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wonderments-- Strange Situations in the Modern Church

Some questions continually perplex me about the modern church.

There is as much warfare going on today as when the Church in the early 1900s broke up into liberalism and conservatism, turning many of the major denominations into shrinking mausoleums. Yet it seems like the vast majority of today’s leadership in evangelical and Reformed churches is blind to or unconcerned with some of the basic issues radically shaping our culture, Christian adults, and especially our children.

It's vitally important that the leadership in evangelical and Reformed circles face the spiritual situation and repent of the compromising spirit that has prevailed. If the leadership approves, the people follow.


1. Why is it that every church we encounter has some strong connection with or promotion of the works of C. S. Lewis? We've run into this phenomenon in numerous churches, new and old, contemporary and traditional, Reform and liberal, in a wide variety of denominations across the United States, not to mention in seminaries and Bible schools.

2. Hardly any evangelical Christian nowadays seems to question the benefit of indulging in mythological/fantasy thinking. Why? Fifty or sixty years ago, this type of thinking would have been anathema to most biblical churches.

3. Why are so many children raised in Christian families given, or are read to from, The Lord of the Rings and The Narnia Stories without any precautions or preparation for the very vivid paganism and occultism in them?

4. Why are Christian schools and universities promoting these works? Even very conservative schools.

5. While there are parts in Lewis's work that are totally pagan, such as the Great Dance that features Bacchus, Silenus, and other grossly pagan characters, there is never a word of warning to children, or adults, that there might be something wrong--and even dangerous--going on here. There seems to be an assumption that pagan mythology is totally harmless to modern children. Some Christians even argue that Harry Potter is harmless and actually beneficial for teaching Christian doctrine to children.

6. Why have I seen no concern about the lengthy passage in Lewis's book, Surprised by Joy, which many people have read, where he defends pedophilia? I quote: "If those of us who have known a school like Wyvern [which he attended as a youth] dare to speak the truth, we would have to say that pederasty, however great and evil in itself, was in that time and place the only foothold and cranny left for certain good things" (p. 105).

7. Why do Christians seem to overlook Lewis's promotion of Bacchus, Silenus and bacchanalian feasts? Bacchus was the mythological god of drunkenness and orgies. Berit Kjos has written an excellent in-depth article about this called "Narnia - Part 4 - A book review of Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis 'Awakening Narnia with Bacchanalian Feasts" (May 11, 2008). See also "Blending Truth and Myth" by Berit Kjos (the other 3 parts of the series).

8. There is a strong connection between embracing Lewis's works and a lot of modern cultural thinking by Christians who want to embrace the culture, such as psychology, literature, cinematography, the emergent church movement, etc. Lewis was an artistic and literary intellectual. Why are evangelicals so enamored of this type of lifestyle? What makes many of them blind to the bad aspects of these cultural phenomena?

9. Why is it so widely assumed that C. S. Lewis was such a wonderful Christian when he actually promoted paganism? It's never questioned. (Or, if it is questioned, it's rationalized away: See It's kind of like, if C. S. Lewis does it, it can't be wrong. And even if he does it in excess, it still can't be wrong.

10. Why do some staunch Calvinists view G. K. Chesterton as a wise man? He had nothing but contempt for Calvinists and thought of Reformed life and theology as a perversion of a "healthy medieval" (i.e., Roman Catholic) way of life.

Why do so few seem to be noticing--or caring about--these issues?

Partial Answers

Anglicanism. There is a tremendous influence coming through Anglicanism, especially through the Inklings and through such well-known, highly respected Anglican intellectuals as:

  • Os Guinness, a founder of the Veritas Forum, which features a combination of biblical and anti-biblical teachers, united only by their respect for academia;
  • John Stott, probably the major figure leading the worldwide ecumenical movement that is trying to combine all sorts of contrary theological viewpoints in a syncretistic manner;
  • J. I. Packer, a man known for endorsing almost anything, who combines a strange mixture of solid biblical theology with an openness to very weird, anti-biblical teachings and lifestyles;
  • James Huston, founder of Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. and of the C. S. Lewis Institute, as well as a major promoter of the spiritual formation / contemplative prayer movement;
  • Chuck Colson (who claims his conversion came after reading Mere Christianity). Many of Colson's teachings are laced with Lewis's influence and modeled after Lewis's apologetics and ecumenicalism, which attempts to dismiss the importance of the Reformation and blur its lines with Roman Catholicism. Some of Colson's associates also manifest these qualities.
  • Nancy Pearcey is one of those associates. (See earlier blog entry on Colson and Pearcey.)

Schools and Ministries

Just about every major Christian college, seminary or graduate school, as well as many major Christian ministries, are drenched with Lewis. To mention a few: Wheaton College, Regent College in Vancouver, B.C., Fuller Theological Seminary, Westminster Seminary in California. Other groups include the Association of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE), The White Horse Inn, the Christian Research Institute (Walter Martin, founder) and especially Gretchen Passantino, the Spiritual Counterfeits Project, World Magazine, etc. All of these are connected with John Warwick Montgomery, who is probably the A, No. 1 living Lewis apologist. The original Bob Jones of the fundamentalist Bob Jones University was very enthusiastic about C.S. Lewis. And we heard from a student there that they are uncritically positive about his works and carry his books.

The hard thing is finding a Christian institution or ministry that isn’t in favor of Lewis. The fundamentalist Baptists seem to be the only major group I know of who aren’t enraptured with this image of Lewis. If you search the Internet, you will find just about only one or two apologetics ministries that don’t favor Lewis.


All of the above is intimately connected with what is called Neo-evangelicalism, a great sea-change in traditional evangelicalism that occurred around 1950, though the roots of the change existed before then. Neo-evangelicalism has so transformed the face of traditional evangelicalism that it’s hardly recognizable today.

Traditional evangelicals: Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Charles Spurgeon, and Dwight Moody.

Neo-evangelicals: Billy Graham, John Stott, J.I. Packer, John Warwick Montgomery, Robert Schuller

Heirs of neo-evangelicals (basically those with the market-driven church / emergent church philosophies): Brian MacLaren, Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, Rob Bell, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels.

Only two major figures among 20th century traditional evangelicals were critical of C. S. Lewis. Those were Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Dr. Cornelius Van Til.

In conclusion, there is still a lot of mystery about the enormous, uncritical acceptance of the works of C. S. Lewis and the other Inklings by Christians.

There’s no doubt that C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were world-class writers, but why should the content of their writings be so uncritically accepted when they have so much in them that should disturb a discerning Christian? Even secular people can see it, while many Christians are blind to it.


Why don’t you let me hear from you out there?

What do you think about these questions and issues?


Warren said...

Over the course of a 32+ year military career, I've been part of 17 churches and several denominations (pentecostal, C&MA, Plymouth Brethren (although billed as independent), Baptist, Evangelical Free, independent evangelical, Anglican (very evangelical), CRC, and Presbyterian (PCA) - I get around). Although I think your arguments have some validity (I have an undeniable fundamental streak in me), I also think they are punctuated with hyperbole. I have nowhere observed the excessive emphasis that you suggest is widespread. I read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings to my children when they were younger and I don't think they have any difficulty in differentiating mythology from true Christian doctrine (they are young adults now).

Is there anyone you trust?

I see a bunch of html text in this post too. Weird.

Linda said...

Dear Richard,
I very much appreciate this article and usually
agree with what you write. We are living in much
different times than when Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
preached. It is much, much darker. Men love darkness! My brother loves both Lewis and Chesterton....and we are not in much agreement
in the Gospel and spiritual things. The ecumenical
movement is very strong. I agree with your writings
and always look for your next article. Thanks for
this one. God bless you,

Unknown said...

I truly believe it's ignorance. There are other things that concern me deeply in the church, but why are some completely blind to it?...they don't know better...ingorance. I believe we need to be in prayer for the HS to open eyes and hearts to be able to understand the commands and warning for us as found in the Bible.

Unknown said...

I've always had an aversion to reading the Narnia series. That's why I have never read them and neither has my family. I just couldn't get past the fairy tale element and the element of mythology in the stories. My spirit seemed to rebel against reading his so-called message even though at that time I didn't know why.

Chaltab said...

Most people don't see anything wrong with CS Lewis writings because most people aren't afraid of dead religions. Bacchus and the other pagan deities are fictional characters. They can no more harm our children than Jason Vorhees or Lex Luthor.

Lori said...

As a new Christian, I thought reading the Narnia books to my young daughter would be a wonderful thing. However, the reference to the "deep magic" and the rationale for Aslan's sacrifice troubled me. Then we came to the Bacchanalian feast with all those pagan mythological creatures romping about in wild abandon. I was seriously disturbed. Later, when I read your writings on the Kjos's website, I understood. I too see a nearly universal acceptance - even a celebration - of Lewis among my Christian friends and aquaintances. Perhaps one reason is that they've been told by other Christians that he's a great Christian writer and thinker and that the non-Christian world admires him. There seems to be a kind of pride in the thought that "one of our own" is so admired by the world. In addition, the mythic world he creates is enchanting; evil is often cloaked in a very seductive beauty.

When my daughter was in her mid teens she became quite enamored of The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings. At first I thought it was all okay - then I became increasingly concerned by her immersion in Tolkien's world. (She doesn't do many things half-heartedly.)

Now in her early twenties, she has left all that behind and is delighting herself in the Lord. But I cannot in good conscience wink at the disturbing nature of these myths and pagan-inspired stories with an "All's well that ends well." Even if a child or young person knows that they're just fantasy, is it ever right to delight in something that God clearly says He abhors? The answer from Scripture is a clear "no."

Thank you so much for writing on this! You do a great service to the body of Christ.