The dissonant legacy of C.S Lewis among evangelicals

I just finished reading another biography of C.S. Lewis. (The Narnian by Alan Jacobs. Definitely recommended.)

It again strikes me how, despite being a huge hero to American Evangelicals (myself included), “Jack” would be severely unwelcome in most of our churches – at least in any formal capacity. He’s not nearly Reformed enough for the capital ‘R’ Reformed. It would probably be more accurate to say he’s not nearly Puritan enough for the American Reformed. He was married to a divorcee and spent many of his years living with his chronically drunk brother, all while putting away quite a bit of beer and tobacco himself. These are all highly suspicious circumstances that would have immediately gotten him disqualified from even leading a casual bible study in any of the Pentecostal or Baptist church’s I’ve been a part of. Despite his mastery of Latin and Greek and his encyclopedic, nay, LIBRAIC knowledge of Western literature, he often seems to have not read (or cared) about the “right” books to have any street cred with proper theologians either. Where are the records of his long grapplings with Calvin, Anselm, or even Augustine? Apparently he was too busy writing science fiction for that.

Lewis was in a unique position to be an especially ecumenical Christian. As an essentially secular scholar, and never a priest, or pastor, (or “worship leader/church planter” for that matter), he didn’t have a dog in the fight when it came to denominational distinctives. Though he had his reasons (discouraging to Tolkien) for not joining Rome, the idea that Catholicism was not a legitimate form of Christianity would have been utterly ridiculous to him. From this position, he could think and write for a wide audience without fear of being defrocked like George MacDonald, one of his favorite authors of the past. Any one in this position today (e.g. pastor-turned-conference-speaker Rob Bell or soon Mark Driscoll, or author-blogger-wut? Donald Miller or Rachel Held Evans), are denounced from many corners as being illegitimate due to their lack of oversight, flock, or formal ecclesiastically-vested authority. But Lewis is really in exactly the same boat as them. Perhaps he did get flack like this during his lifetime, but it seems all water under the bridge now.

My respect for Lewis has really only ever grown with everything I’ve ever read of his or read about him. Still, I do suspect that had he not kicked the bucket a 64 and lived until 84, he most certainly would have “gone off the deep end” on some key theological topic. Maybe he would have veered toward universalism like Madeline L’Engle. Who knows, but I’m sure he would have said or written something embarrassing to all of us fanboys (and girls) a half-century later. As it is, he quit while he was still at the top of his game, which probably serves to sweeten our memories.