It’s ironic. C.S. Lewis is lauded by evangelicals as a bastion of spiritual knowledge and wit — a most revered thinker of the Christian faith. Yet if he were alive today, the same folks worshipping his innovating writings would viciously brand him a heretic and false teacher.
That’s not all. There’d be smarmy thinkpieces churned out like butter slandering his name. Prominent evangelical leaders would take up pitchforks and rally their troops, unanimously denouncing his beliefs. They’d label his works a virulent threat to the Gospel, an evil catalyst that’ll send you backsliding on the slippery slope into apostasy. He’d be relegated to Sunday sermon fodder that’d fuel their raging persecution complex.
Why, you ask?
Because C.S. Lewis believed:
· Purgatory was real
· There was no literal Adam and Eve
· People from other religions can be saved
· The Bible holds errors and is not inerrant
· Evolutionary theories of creation are valid
· Books other than the Bible can be inspired
· Certain passages in the Old Testament were mythical
· A literal view of Satan isn’t necessary to be a Christian
· Hell was symbolic or a mental state of existence — not an actual fiery place of torture
· There are multiple perspectives on Christ’s atonement, the “correct one” is irrelevant
Fascinating, isn’t it? Evangelical Christians are co-opting his legacy wholesale, contradictorily claiming he held insider status with their niche subculture… when he believed all of this.
Take my conservative, Pentecostal alma mater for example. They had a whole college course on C.S. Lewis. There were even chapel electives on Fridays dedicated to discussing his various works. The dude is hailed as a patron saint of old when he wouldn’t even be allowed ordination in their denomination today.
And if he tried?
His job application would be immediately overlooked.
His credentials would be instantaneously revoked.
The hypocrisy is jarring.
But you know what’s even worse?
Right now, people are being excommunicated from their faith communities for holding the same, exact, beliefs that C.S. Lewis held… and more.
Right now, Christian leaders are being unjustly fired and facing serious consequences for permitting too much theological diversity that deviates from conventional evangelical norms. (If not, they are in hiding; living a daily lie to all who walk through their church or classroom doors.)
Right now, Christians are being rejected from their families, shunned from their social circles, and lambasted by individuals they once deemed cherished friends… all because they found themselves led by Holy Spirit to embrace different beliefs.
Some of the most well-known leaders who have faced widespread, public backlash include names like Jen Hatmaker, Rob Bell, and Toni Campolo. But even beyond them, the everyday stories I have heard from people all over the world online and in-person — stories that never get publicized — are simply innumerable.
The unfortunate fact is this: Shifting your beliefs from the conventional evangelical thought-paradigm always comes with a cost. And for many, that cost is steep.
Many who stay in the faith are maligned as siblings in Christ, all because they committed the most inexcusable spiritual crime of… thinking differently.
Many take hits to their income. Lose their jobs. Their ability to provide for their families. Hell, even contact with their families altogether. They lose their faith communities, their lifelong support systems, their mental health. Some… even lose their lives.
Because in evangelicalism, holding the harmful status quo up to scrutiny is a punishable offense.
Questioning long-held concepts that bear rotten fruit is akin to a spiritual felony.
Listening to the Holy Spirit who “leads into all truth” comes with a debilitating social price.
Following Jesus is only encouraged if it’s done Their Way, on Their Terms. “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship!” they proclaim. But only if your “relationship” looks exactly like theirs. Once you’re in unpopular ideological territory? Forget it. That’s now considered apostasy. Your authentic connection with God is now deemed demonic. And for many, being open about it is a serious liability to their livelihood. (Unless you’re some cool, dead white guy like C.S. Lewis whose words they can cherry-pick posthumously).
It’s outrageous. Such a gatekeeping mentality fosters an environment where honesty runs in low supply, as speaking authentically about all things God and humanity comes with an invisible list of mandatory stipulations and conditions and social standards and “well, we can maybe entertain this idea — but we dare not ever think about it enough to change our mind!”
The brave souls who do change? They get mercilessly kicked to the curb.
But it is not Godly to normalize cutting off members of your own Body, especially if it is true that “if one member suffers, then all the members suffer with it.” It is not reminiscent of Jesus to lacerate the legs of your universalist kin. Your errancy-embracing comrades. Your mainline and Catholic and Orthodox compadres. It is not “Christlike” to maul the arms of your feminist friends, maim the hands of your LGBTQ+ family and allies, mutilate the feet of your preterist pals. And it is definitely not “holy” for white evangelicals to mangle the fingers of immigrant orphans held in cages and Black widows whose partners were murdered by police.
What evangelicalism does is forcefully fasten a faith of “every tribe, tongue, and nation” into a homogenous sea of clones… then slap a shiny Theology sticker on it. They are planting themselves above reproof under the guise of Correct Doctrine; then positioning themselves as eyes saying to the hands “I have no need of you.”
And it’s time. It’s time for those who are complicit to be suddenly jolted awake on the road to Damascus and hear in their hearts “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? I am Jesus, who you are persecuting.”
When you are cruelly gatekeeping your own appendages and ever-so-pridefully claiming a monopoly on the Holy Spirit, it needs to end. When you arrogantly brand yourself an arbiter of the global Banquet table and sanctimoniously define yourself as a spiritual authority of judgment, it needs to stop.
When your in-crowd is systematically taking it upon themselves the divine duty of separating the sheep from the goats — especially when they themselves forego “feeding the hungry” or “welcoming the stranger” — then the universalization of their dogmas are their new Golden Calf; their sustained power over the Body is the new Baal.
Their own flesh is suffering for it.
But the good news is that the “Bride” is bigger.
The Beloved is larger.
The cloud of witnesses is wider.
The communion of saints is greater.
And in the Mother’s house, there are many rooms.
C.S. Lewis knew this. In Christendom, where there are as many denominations and groups as there are rooms, he mentioned how it’s important to “be kind to those who have chosen different doors.” But if your room thrives on power and oppression dressed up with what he calls “paint and paneling” — well, then it might be high time for you to head back into the hallway.