My brother recently asked me about C. S. Lewis and his views on Scripture, specifically that he’d heard that Lewis didn’t believe in the Old Testament. Not having heard this particular charge before, I did a little looking around to see what I could fine (here, here, and here).To my surprise, I found that Lewis was not an inerrantist. He was comfortable saying that he didn’t think certain parts of the Bible were literal (I saw mention of the creation epic, Job, Esther, and Jonah). But even in saying that, he also wasn’t bothered to think the rest of the Bible was true. In his mind as a literary expert, if a story read like a myth or a fable, he assumed it was. And he was very unbothered by the idea. He still thought it was useful for us as Christians.
More, I also came across some little side comments he made about Paul’s meanderings and the pseudo-contradictions between the gospel accounts. Again, in all instances, he leaned heavily on the human element of authorship, focusing on the fallibility of the authors and their personal quirks or wrong recollections muddying the Scriptures for us.
To give my highly uninformed opinion, I would presume that this finds its source in how Lewis came to believe in the first place. It was through his own reasoning that he came to see that Christianity had to be true. And as such, he saw reason and rationality as the means by which truth could be assessed and respected. Basically, in his mind, it didn’t really matter if parts of the Bible rang true or not—truth was truth, rather or not the Bible got it exactly right.
All in all, that’s a bit foreign to our ears. But historically speaking, it’s not as odd as one might think. As Lewis points out in one of the sites I checked, Calvin questioned whether Job was a historical account or not. The fact is that our current stance on the inerrancy of Scripture is a relatively recent development in terms of the affirmation, “The Bible is without error in the original manuscripts in everything it claims to be true.” This was in response to the rise of liberalism, which took the rationalistic line of thought which was cousin to Lewis’s view and ran it off the Cliffs of Insanity: we can discount anything at all if our reason seems to make no sense of it! And in response to that, a need was felt to respond with an affirmation that the Bible can be trusted. And rightly so! In that affirmation, it was recognized that human reason is no good judge of what’s true and what’s not, because in our sinfulness, we can too easily reject truths that make us uncomfortable, even to the point of denying the resurrection or even the very existence of the Creator outright.
So, what do I think of Lewis’s view of Scripture? On the one hand, I’m not terribly bothered by it. Strict inerrant views were mainly beyond his time. And besides, the basic fundamentalist/inerrantist/Bible-thumper sometimes struggles mightily to understand the differences between hyperbole and poetry and prophecy (“the moon will turn to blood”) and we end up with messes like the Left Behind series. Even while believing in inerrancy, it’s not always easy to parse what’s literal and what’s not. But on the other hand, I really don’t think we can set our own reason as the main guide by which we assess the rightness or wrongness of the Scriptures. Lewis did it and wrote some darn good stuff because he never doubted the life, death, and resurrection of the God-man Jesus. But his view is pretty troublesome if you doubt that part. Because then you get the right to call into question anything else you want, including doctrines that are central to the faith.
But C. S. Lewis was just a man. And he wasn’t right about everything. I’ll still take the 95% of his incredibly insightful and Spirit-filled writing while putting up with the other 5% of squishy views.