The Head and Heart Behind Narnia

The Romantic Rationalistedited by John Piper and David Mathis:  A Book Review

Even though he died over fifty years ago;

Even though he was an atheist during his early adult life;

Even though, as a confirmed Anglican churchman, he never jumped onto the evangelical bandwagon, C.S. Lewis’s popularity as an author is greater today than at any time during his life.  John Piper attributes this to his “utter commitment to both the life of the mind and the life of the heart,” and has compiled a comprehensive tribute to and analysis of Lewis’s contribution to the shaping of the evangelical mindset.  Because he has partnered with four other Lewis scholars, each chapter of the book brings a fresh perspective on the life, theology and writing of “the patron saint of evangelicalism.”

Philip Ryken on Inerrancy:  If anyone ever has a beef against Lewis, it’s probably related to his doctrine of Scripture (unless they won’t read him at all because he smoked and drank alcohol).  Ryken is clear on Lewis’s most important theological shortcoming:  he “placed the inspiration of Scripture on a continuum with other forms of literary inspiration, thus downplaying to some degree the uniqueness of the Bible.”  Add to this the fact that he “believed there were contradictions and probably errors in the Bible,”  and that he “doubted or denied that certain parts of the Bible were historical,” and you have to wonder how C.S. Lewis has gained his rock star status among conservative evangelicals.   Oddly enough, Lewis came into criticism from liberals of his day because he was committed to the veracity of the accounts of miracles in the Bible, specifically the resurrection of Jesus Christ.    While I acknowledge the fact of his suborthodox stand on Scripture, Lewis’s story of Aslan’s charge to Jill Pole to remember the signs, to repeat them morning and night, to get them word-perfect so she would have them ready when needed is always my go-to story when I need a strong illustration of the importance of Scripture in the Christian life.  Clearly, Lewis had a high view of Scripture and lived a better theology than he knew when it comes to the importance of biblical truth for discipleship.

Douglas Wilson on Soteriology:  The question in this chapter is:  Was Lewis “reformed” in his understanding of God and salvation?  Wilson comes down on a solid “probably” here, but, of more importance is his exploration of Lewis’s magnificent portrayal of the undragoning of Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, as well as his analysis of the masterful storytelling by which Lewis created a world where we see Truth more clearly for the unfamiliarity of the setting.  Sarah Arthur has said many things well, and this is one:  “When the front door of reason is locked and double-bolted against the gospel, . . . the back door of the imagination often stands wide open.”  This is Lewis’s shining contribution to the conversation on salvation, and the fact that he did not claim to be a theologian at all seems to make the question of whether or not he was “reformed” a case of measuring a mile in ounces.

Kevin Vanhoozer on Imagination:  Laying the foundation of C.S. Lewis’s awakening to the truth of Christ through the baptism of his imagination, largely from the influence of George MacDonald’s writing, Vanhoozer makes a fascinating case for the role of imagination in discipleship and theology.  As a disciple, Lewis was, in the words of one biographer, “the most thoroughly converted person he ever met.”  As a theologian, he was a committed amateur who loved the map that theology provided for being “taken into the life of God.”   He put reason (“the organ of truth”) and imagination (“the organ of meaning”) in their most useful relationship to one another through his use of story.  His body of writing promoted a Biblical imagination, which, in Vanhoozer’s words, “sees reality as it truly is.”

Randy Alcorn on Heaven:  Better than Alcorn’s examination of the end of all things in the Revelation and his enlightening clarification of the term “new earth”; even better than his references to the Chronicles of Narnia — which paint the most compelling picture of the afterlife that I have ever read — is Randy’s own story of finding C.S. Lewis and thereby finding Christ.  The account of his hunger for truth and its satiation is (for me) the most important part of this collection of essays.

John Piper on the Use of Creation:  “[God] likes matter.  He invented it.”  Beginning with this Lewis-truth, Piper urges his readers to join C.S. Lewis in enjoying all the good and enjoyable things that God has made and to do so with thanksgiving.  When we do, it becomes an act of worship, for God has given to us Himself in all of creation.  This is not Pantheism, nor is it true that a shriveled and ascetic approach to all that is good in this world is a higher holiness.  The wisdom of C.S. Lewis is that Aslan (who is good, but certainly not safe) has given all the delights of His creation so that, by enjoying them, our eyes would turn to the Giver and our hearts would long to go “further up and further in” that we might know Him better.

For my review of another recommended biography of C.S. Lewis, click here:

3 thoughts on “The Head and Heart Behind Narnia”

  1. I love this phrase so much: Lewis “lived a better theology than he knew when it comes to the importance of biblical truth for discipleship.”

    I love everything I’ve read by Lewis, but I have to admit that I found the scene in The Last Battle quite troubling when everyone was entering heaven and discovering that even though they all used different names for Aslan, worshipped in completely different ways, and even had idols as I recall, that they were all roads to the same place. We battle a similar lie here in Malaysia every day, and that part of The Chronicles of Narnia has always really bothered me. I’m curious as to whether this was addressed in this book or in other places of Lewis’ own writing.

    Thanks so much for sharing this at Booknificent Thursday this week on! I loved it!


    1. I can’t recall the name of the book, but John Piper has written a short thing about CS Lewis, that puts right out on the table the fact that his theology is not orthodox on some points, and this would be one of them. He gets so many things right, however, that I try not to become obsessed with the things he misses.


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