Thursday, July 2, 2015

One Glaring Weakness of Narnia

On November 22, 1963 three culture-shaping men died: President John F. Kennedy, Aldous Huxley, and C. S. Lewis. Most would have assumed that fifty years after their deaths, of these leading figures of the 20th Century, President Kennedy would have the most lasting influence. Yet it is Lewis whose respect and influence has grown while the others continue to fade. Few know who Huxley is anymore and the Democratic party has largely left Jack Kennedy behind.

This is encouraging to say the least. I do not agree with everything Lewis wrote, but when Lewis was right, he said it better than anyone in history. As such, his writings remain relevant and have proven prophetic.

Among his most influential and beloved writings is without a doubt his Narnia Chronicles. These seven books ought to be read by every child. Like other great works of literature, one can enter into the fantastic world of Narnia and leave having discovered something they missed before. This is part of what makes Lewis so riveting. Whether he is writing fiction or non-fiction, poetry or prose, Lewis has an ability to enlighten every time he is read.

With the continued rise of Lewis's popularity, many scholarly and popular books and articles have been written on him. One subject that fascinates me regards Lewis's view of the atonement. Admitting up front that Lewis considered himself a "mere theologian" that only wanted to emphasize "mere Christianity," that does not mean he did not address other, deeper theological doctrines (the debate over Lewis's view on Calvinism, for example, is a fascinating one).

Others have discussed Lewis's view of atonement (see links below). Any serious discussion must consider the Narnia Chronicles. In the most popular book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the White Witch releases Edmund Pevensie upon the execution of the Aslan. Admittedly, this is an oversimplification, but on the surface, the narrative strikes one of the Ransom Theory of the Atonement whereby Christ death pays a ransom to Satan.

This theory is predominately seen in pentecostal circles where Satan is seen behind every bush and every book not available on TBN. It is a theory fraught with problems. For one, God owes Satan nothing. Satan will receive nothing from God except judgment, war, and a crushed head.

There is clear evidence Lewis rejected penal substitution. In Mere Christianity, he wrote:
Now before I became a Christian I was under the impression that the first thing Christians had to believe was one particular theory as to what the point of this dying was. According to that theory God wanted to punish men for having deserted and joined the Great Rebel, but Christ volunteered to be punished instead, and so God let us off. Now I admit that even this theory does not seem quite so immoral and silly as it used to; but that is not the point I want to make. What I came to see later on was that neither this theory nor an other is Christianity. The central belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter: A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work. (57-58)
A strong paragraph in light of the book's title and purpose. He more forcefully added later:
The one most people have heard is the one I mentioned before–the one about our being let off because Christ had volunteered to bear a punishment instead of us. Now on the face of it that is a very silly theory. If God was prepared to let us off, why on earth did He not do so? And what possible point could there be in punishing an innocent person? None at all that I can see, if you are thinking of punishment in the police-court sense. On the the other hand, if you think of a debt, there is plenty of point in a person who has some assets paying it on behalf of someone who has not. (59)
With that said, however, let us return to the stone table and its meaning. One thought continues to cross my mind that makes Narnia a difficult source for understanding Lewis's theology: there is no Trinity in Narnia.*

The reason Aslan seems to pay a ransom to the White Witch is because there is no one else to pay the ransom to. Narnia's most glaring weakness is its lack of Trinity. It should be stated clearly that Lewis does not deny classic trinitarian theology as Mere Christianity and other writings make clear. Nevertheless, being that Lewis refused to portray the Father and the Spirit (for reasons I am sensitive to), the Narnian world suffers.

The lack of divine Trinity means there was a time when Aslan was not. From the time he breathed his last to the time the mice broke the ropes and Aslan was resurrected, Aslan - Narnia's creator - ceased to exist. This is problematic to say the least.

This is not to say we should avoid the Narnia books as rank heresy. However, for theologians in general and students of Lewis in particular, it is important not to treat Narnia has theological treatise. It has its weaknesses and it fails to adequately summarize Lewis's theology.

* This is technically not true. There is a hint of a Trinity in The Horse and His Boy.

Touchstone - Mere Atonement
Kevin DeYoung - Cautions for Mere Christianity

For more:
Correcting the Record on a Common Lewis Misquote and Why it Matters
He Was Not a Tamed Arminian
Was Lewis a Calvinist?: A Brief Look at Perelandra
Was Lewis a Calvinist?: Doug Wilson Says Yes
"A Mixture of Fool and Knave": CS Lewis on Theological Liberalism 
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