Two Disagreements with C. S. Lewis

I took in C. S. Lewis with my mother’s milk (and Francis Schaeffer with my father’s lectures). I am glad I did. But even Lewis makes mistakes. Here are two of them.

Still Awesome.
(Picture from here)

1. Disbelief in the authority of Scripture. Lewis believes that some things (admittedly few) included in Scripture by its authors are incorrect. Disagreeing with Scripture is not a good idea. I have never actually read him disagreeing with anything in Scripture, so it seems the effects of this mistake are relatively minimal. But a friend I trust told me that it happens in Lewis’ commentary on the Psalms, which I happen not to have read.

2. Rejecting the substitutionary atonement. The “atonement” is what Jesus did on the Cross to reconcile sinners to God. There are several views of the atonement, and I happen to think that more than one view can be correct (on which I’d suggest reading chapter 6 of Michael Wittmer’s Don’t Stop Believing). But I think the basic meaning of the atonement is the idea that Jesus on the Cross received the full punishment for our sins. In the background of this view is the Old Testament idea of the transferrence of guilt to a sacrificial lamb or a scapegoat. This is called the “substitutionary atonement” view because Jesus is our substitute.

Lewis affirms at least two good views of the atonement, that Jesus paid our debts on the Cross and that the Cross and the Resurrection conquered Satan and freed creation from his power. Unfortunately, Lewis also rejects the idea of the substitutionary atonement.

This is one reason why, as I said in an earlier post, N. T. Wright’s Simply Christian and John Stott’s Basic Christianity are such helpful companions to Mere Christianity. They handle these issues better than Lewis. Stott is especially clear on the substitutionary atonement in light of the Old Testament.

I’ll say more about Lewis and the atonement later.

P. S. I should have used the term “penal substitutionary atonement” above rather than just “substitutionary atonement.” –MB, 4-10-12

(More articles at