Why Do We Love C.S. Lewis and Hate Rob Bell?

Here at the Credo House in Edmond, Oklahoma, Tim Kimberley (@pastortimk) and I are teaching a series on the top theologians of church history on Tuesday nights. I have insisted that C.S. Lewis be part of the mix due to his abiding theological influence on so many people today. Though he is called a “lay” theologian by many, in my mind, he is nothing less than a theological giant due to his contributions to apologetics at the academic and popular levels. (After all, apologetics is a subset of theology, and C.S. Lewis, though a professor of literature, did teach philosophy for two years at Oxford!). We taught to a packed house with people sitting on the floor. Why? Because they all love C.S. Lewis. When asked how many had read C.S. Lewis, just about every hand in Credo went up. He is an evangelical hero who, theologically speaking, may not make the cut of evangelicalism today. Truthfully, I don’t think he ever liked the label himself. But he is loved by evangelicals nonetheless. In fact, he is loved across denominational and traditional lines. Christianity Today named Lewis’ Mere Christianity as the most influential book of the 20th century. Another evangelical magazine, Christian History, named him among the top ten most influential Christians of the 20th century. Whether you are an emerger or an evangelical, Baptist or Presbyterian, a cessationist or continuationist, a Calvinist or an Arminian (not that all of these are mutually exclusive), C.S. Lewis is not only kosher, but also staple. In fact, even Pope John Paul II said that Lewis’ The Four Loves was one of his favorite books!

However, C.S. Lewis was not without “issues” that cause many to scratch their heads. Practically, he liked to smoke a pipe and cigarettes and frequently enjoyed a beer at his bi-weekly “Inklings” meetings (and you know how bent out of shape people can get over those things!). Theologically, there is some stuff people try to sweep under the rug as well. In fact, though I say C.S. Lewis is loved by all, I do remember walking into church one day years ago. They were giving away a bunch of the “overstock” books from the library. I saw a church elder throwing away a lot of books as well. They were all C.S. Lewis! When I inquired about his odd blasphemous actions, he said that C.S. Lewis was a heretic because he did not believe in inerrancy. While this is something of an extreme example, I think it is important to realize that not everyone likes C.S. Lewis. Almost everyone, but not all. Why? Because he had some “non-evangelical” leanings. Besides not believing in inerrancy, he also believed in the theory of evolution, denied substitutionary atonement in favor of a “ransom to Satan,” bordered on a Pelagian idea of human freedom, seemed to advocate baptismal regeneration, and regularly prayed for the dead. To top it all off, he held out hope for the destiny of the unevangelized, believing that Christ might save them outside of direct knowledge of him (inclusivism). With all of these foibles, I seriously doubt any evangelical church would take a second look at his resume were he to apply for a pastorate at their church today. In fact, this list alone would be enough for many to call him a heretic. However, we still love him. We still read him. We still defend him. We still hand out his books by the dozens to friends and family who are struggling with their faith. This man who had his Christianity affirmed by Dr. Bob Jones but questioned by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is beloved by just about everyone, making him off-limits for serious criticism. Why?

More from ChurchLeaders.com: Rob Bell’s Replacement Speaks Out on Bell and Hell

Consider another man: Rob Bell. From what I have read and seen, he seems to have far fewer theological problems than C.S. Lewis. In fact, on paper, he is probably more evangelical than C.S. Lewis. He might even make it through the interview process at most evangelical churches. He, like Lewis, has written many works about the Christian faith. His latest book, Love Wins, is a runaway bestseller. However, evangelicals don’t like Rob Bell. He is not beloved. His writings are not handed out like tracts, except for in niche groups. He does not have broad Christian appeal. In fact, he may be the most hated Christian author alive (at least in some circles). Why? Well, on the tip of your tongue is this: because he believes in universalism (the idea that all will be saved). Well, maybe not “believes,” but he does hold out hope for such. Rob Bell supporters often appeal to C.S. Lewis, stating that he believed similar stuff as Rob Bell (in as far as holding out hope for unbelievers relates to inclusivism). In fact, Rob Bell seems to love and be inspired by C.S. Lewis in his thoughts and ideas.

Here comes the question I got Tuesday night at the Credo House “Coffee and Theology” study: “So why do we love C.S. Lewis but hate Rob Bell?”

This is the great question I hope to answer briefly.

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C. Michael Patton
Michael received a bachelor of arts in biblical studies at University of Biblical Studies and Seminary in Bethany, OK. He received a master of theology degree in New Testament Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. Michael is the president of Credo House Ministries. He is also a speaker on Theology Unplugged, an Internet radio broadcast found at credohouse.org. He currently resides in Oklahoma with his wife and four kids.