C.S. Lewis: “Mere Christianity” or Mere Inclusivism?

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone recommend “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis. For the longest time, I heard not one complaint or critique. I attributed this to the unifying spirit the book was written in, meant to be a basic explanation of Christian belief, not getting specific enough about particular doctrines to ruffle feathers over denominational divides.

There was a lot I appreciated in this book. The way Lewis uses analogies to make deep doctrinal realities plain to the everyday Christian was great. However, the book is little more than a long string of analogies with no clear references to Scripture that support them. That lack of biblical citation throughout the entirety of the book kept me on guard. Call me crazy, but I prefer to shape my beliefs about God on the Bible, not man’s ideas.

As I neared the end of the book, I was shocked by what I found. He flippantly throws out one of the most controversial doctrines I’ve ever come across in mainline Christianity.

“There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it. For example, a Buddhist of good will may be led to concentrate more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believed) the Buddhist teaching on certain other points. Many of the good Pagans long before Christ’s birth may have been in this position.” – C.S. Lewis

He claims you can be saved apart from knowing Christ and without rejecting your present god. I get that people from other religions come to saving knowledge of God in mysterious ways, but this is taking that concept many steps further, advocating “inclusivism,” which is heresy.

While I wholeheartedly reject his belief, I have two additional concerns. Like I mentioned previously, this doctrine of inclusivism is casually thrown out and only discussed in a few paragraphs. You would think he would try to defend his unorthodox view with more text, perhaps even a chapter.

Not only that, but why put this doctrine in a book titled, “Mere Christianity,” as though this is something all Christians agree upon? On the contrary, it is deeply controversial and widely rejected.

Lewis’s position of inclusivism is an imaginative take on Romans 1. The problem is his conclusion disregards other teachings on the exclusivity of Christ. For example, in John 14:6 Jesus said no one comes to God except through Him because He is the way, the truth, and the life.

“Inclusivism is the view that people can be saved by Christ’s work without knowing about him or trusting in him, but simply by sincerely following the religion that they know. Inclusivists often talk about ‘many different ways to God’ even if they emphasize that they personally believe in Christ.” – Wayne Grudem, “Bible Doctrines”

In Romans 10:13-17, perhaps one of the most essential passages in dismantling inclusivism, Paul writes,

“For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

Lewis also conveys his belief of inclusivism in his fictional work “The Last Battle,” which is the final installment of “The Chronicles of Narnia” series. The character Emeth, who faithfully served a demon called Tash all his life is welcomed into heaven because Aslan counts his intentions as pure.

Aslan says, “Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.” I suppose the KJV-esque language is meant to make this more palatable to Christians? The Scripture is clear that you cannot serve God by serving demons.

1 Corinthians 10:20-22, “No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?”

Furthermore, Lewis says this view is likely what happened to many “good Pagans” before Christ. The phrase “good Pagans” shouldn’t even exist as it’s entirely inconsistent with biblical teaching on the nature of man. We know from Scripture (Romans 3:10-12, 23; Isaiah 53:6) that there’s no such thing as a good person, and certainly not a good pagan.

In the Old Testament, there are multiple instances of pagan nations being offered mercy through faith and repentance, but who ultimately reject God and remain under wrath (Exodus 22:20, Nahum). Pagans who rejected the Hebrew God were judged, not given a free pass for good intentions.

Those who were saved from God’s wrath were saved in the same way we are today: by faith in God, and in their case, the coming Messiah (Hebrews 11:13). We are on the other side of Jesus, but we have the same faith.

All this to say, we should be cautious about who we listen to – any teacher, theologian, writer, etc. cannot be trusted as a final authority for truth. The standard for truth is the Bible and no other. It is the infallible, inerrant Word of God.

I say all this not to be divisive, but to exhort you to take every doctrine to Scripture and test it against what God’s Word clearly says, “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Ephesians 4:14).”

One thought on “C.S. Lewis: “Mere Christianity” or Mere Inclusivism?

  1. I have read several books by Lewis and appreciated them, but I also appreciate your critique in regard to what he wrote about those who follow other religions. He also believed that some people still have a chance to repent after death, which is dangerous. I agree that we need to test everything by Scripture.

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