C.S. Lewis on Holy Scripture - page 1


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From the Spring 2014 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

C.S. Lewis on Holy Scripture

by Philip Graham Ryken, D.Phil.
Professor of Theology, President, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois

 

t the beginning of The Silver Chair, young Jill Pole finds herself in a wood at the top of a high mountain. She meets a lion there, who gives her the task of finding a lost prince and bringing him back home to Narnia.
  The lion also gives Jill four signs to guide her on this quest. When he asks her to repeat these four signs, she does not remember them quite as well as she expected. So the lion corrects her and then patiently asks her to repeat the signs until she can say them word-perfect and in the proper order.
  Unfortunately, even though she knows the signs by heart, Jill somehow manages to forget most of them by the time she needs them. The first sign pertains to Jill’s traveling companion—a boy who was named Eustace Clarence Scrubb (and almost deserved it). As soon as Eustace sets foot in Narnia, he will meet a dear old friend, whom he is to greet at once so he can gain help for his journey. But by the time the children figure out that the old king of Narnia actually is Eustace’s friend Caspian, the king has sailed away and they have missed their chance. “We’ve muffed the first Sign,” Jill says impatiently. “And now . . . everything is going wrong from the very beginning.”1 And so it continues. Later in the story, when the children discover to their dismay that they have also muffed the second and third signs, Jill admits, “It’s my fault. I—I’d given up repeating [them] every night.”2
  Whether C.S. Lewis meant it this way or not, to me this story has always illustrated the importance and challenge of Holy Scripture in the Christian life—of memorizing Bible verses, spending time in God’s Word every day, and putting what it says into practice. To be faithful to her calling, Jill needed to go back every day to the will of Aslan (for of course he was the lion who sent her on the quest). Yet, as time went on, she was tempted to neglect the daily quiet time when she recited the four signs. And because of this neglect, she and her friends fell into disobedience and confusion, nearly to the point of death.
  If there is an analogy here, then it is entirely in keeping with the importance that C.S. Lewis placed on biblical truth for Christian discipleship. For Lewis, Holy Scripture was the supreme authority for faith and practice, and reading the Bible had life-giving influence for the Christian. These writings are “holy,” Lewis said, “inspired,” “the Oracles of God.”3 The way for us to know God is on the authority of His Word, which provides the data for doing theology.4
  These strong affirmations of Scripture may seem surprising. Although C.S. Lewis seems to get quoted on almost everything else, he is not cited often on the inspiration and authority of the Bible. There are some good reasons to be hesitant about certain aspects of Lewis’s doctrine of Scripture—reasons that can be explored elsewhere.5 Yet Lewis generally had a high view of Scripture, not a low one, and his defense of biblical truth can nourish our confidence in the Bible as the Word of God.

Submission to Scripture

  To begin, C.S. Lewis believed that Christian doctrine should always be surrendered to Scripture. He had a healthy respect for theological tradition, as codified in the creeds of the church. But his theological norm was the Bible, which typically he referred to as “Holy Scripture.” If we believe that God has spoken, Lewis wrote in a letter to the editor of Theology, naturally we will “listen to what He has to say.”6

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