Apparently there is a nasty rumor going around that C. S. Lewis is a universalist heretic. This isn’t true.
Is this the face of a heretic? Nay, ’tis the face of THE DEVIL HIMSELF! (Picture from here)
For starters, Lewis isn’t a universalist. He’s an inclusivist.
That should be enough to refute the charge that he’s a universalist heretic. But there’s more: Inclusivism isn’t a heresy.
There are four generic views that need distinguishing:
Exclusivism: This is the view that there is one way to be saved, Jesus Christ, and that only those who follow Christ in this life will be saved.
Inclusivism: This is the view that there is one way to be saved, Jesus Christ, but that some who do not follow Christ in this life will nonetheless be saved through Him.
Pluralism: This is the view that there are many ways to be saved.
Universalism: This is the view that all are saved.
There are, no doubt, different versions of each view and some hybrid views between the generic views. But these are the generic views it is most helpful to remember.
The best instance of Lewis’ inclusivism is the story of Emeth, the Calormene in The Last Battle who was accepted by Aslan (who represents Jesus) because his worship of the false god Tash was a true worship. (There is actually an interesting Wikipedia article on Emeth.) The opposites of Emeth were those characters who had a false worship of Aslan and were not accepted by him, such as Shift the ape.
There is also a beautiful description of inclusivism in That Hideous Strength: “This is the courtesy of Deep Heaven: that when you mean well, He always takes you to have meant better than you knew.”
Now this view may not be correct. But I don’t see any convincing reason to call it a heresy. Of course, this all depends on using the right definition of “heresy.” I’m not quite ready to attempt a precise definition of heresy, but I do want to say this: All heresies are theological errors, but not all theological errors are heresies. Heresies are not just theological mistakes, but impermissible ones. (I happen to think Dispensationalism, for example, is mistaken, but it’s definitely not a heresy. Arianism, on the other hand, definitely is a heresy.)
The nasty rumor about Lewis comes from an exclusivist perspective. Now inclusivism and exclusivism are not both right, so one of them is wrong. All the same, I don’t think we should call either view a heresy.
At any rate, if we do call inclusivism a heresy, we should give a very careful definition of heresy while we’re at it. If you think inclusivism is a heresy, I’d love to hear why! I’d also like to hear what definition of heresy you’re using.
But we have to look to the Bible to see which view is correct; I’d recommend a very careful reading of the first few chapters of Romans for a start. I also recommend chapter 8 of Michael Wittmer’s Don’t Stop Believing.
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)