Lewis on the Christian Life is another installment in the “Theologians on the Christian Life” series from Crossway. This time, the subject is the extremely popular Christian thinker, C.S. Lewis.
It is clear from the start that Rigney has a monumental task. Lewis wrote a lot and clearly had development in his thought throughout his life. Some of this is briefly touched upon by Rigney, but other aspects of it are skipped over (especially Lewis’s development of thought on men and women). Rigney makes it clear early on that he intentionally draws from many of Lewis’s lesser known works in order to try to bring some balance on people’s thoughts regarding Lewis. Rigney divides his look at Lewis’s theology of Christian living up topically, including such things as Prayer, Christian Hedonics, Healthy Introspection, “The Choice,” “The Gospel,” and more (17 different topics worth!).
Of particular interest to me were the sections on prayer and choice. Lewis’s theology is worked through with the idea of choice for the Christian and the person–whether it is heaven or hell. As Rigney puts it, “This is the Choice: God or self. Happiness or misery. Heaven or hell” (Kindle Location 468). People’s choices lead to right (or wrong) living and play out into eternity. This idea of choosing doesn’t meld very well with some forms of theology, particularly a more Reformed or Calvinist one–which is typically what the publisher Crossway leans towards. Rigney touches on some parts of this notion showing how he thinks Lewis’s thought may be compatible with Reformed thought, while also offering some critique. Rigney draws heavily from The Screwtape Letters to discuss many aspects of Lewis’s theology of Christian living, including prayer. I find this work fascinating, and was edified by Rigney’s many looks at aspects of it.
One area I thought was odd was how much time Rigney spent on Lewis’s doctrine of atonement. Lewis was no systematic theologian, but RIgney seems quite concerned to make Lewis one when it comes to the doctrine of the atonement. Particularly, he is keen to show Lewis affirmed penal substitutionary atonement. I’ve been surprised by how frequently this view of the atonement is seen by its adherents as almost equivalent to the Gospel, and this is no exception. I’ve always seen the scene with Aslan in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe as more of a ransom theory notion of atonement, but Rigney takes it penal substitutionary, with a slight nod to how it could be seen as ransom theory. For myself, I don’t see a huge gap between the two, and also honestly don’t understand much of the debate. It seems clear to me penal substitution is found in the Bible, but so are many, many other aspects of the various theories put forward. Is not a holistic view more preferable because it easily integrates everything? Why must we be mutually exclusive? More relevant for this book, why must Lewis become one who endorses penal substitution when it doesn’t actually seem that clear from his writings? Such questions remain unanswered.
Lewis’s idea of Christian living also allowed for pretty much anything not forbidden. This doesn’t go well with more Puritan-like aspects of thought, but it is, I think, generally correct. Rigney, oddly, takes this as a chance to try to explore what is allowed or forbidden in worship services (kindle loc 4612ff). I didn’t really get how this was relevant or why it mattered, but that might be my own theological background showing through (as a Lutheran, I believe much of this is adiaphora).
Lewis’s views of male and female are certainly a product of his time, and Rigney, apparently endorsing complementarian doctrine, seems to delight in some of the frankly silly things Lewis said in some of his works. Particularly silly was the idea of the oh-so-manly Mars in the Space Trilogy. Why is it manly? Because it has Mountains ‘n’ stuff! Yep, no distorted cultural expectations of masculinity and femininity reflected there, right? Wrong. Rigney seems particularly affirming of these aspects of Lewis’s theology, which frankly seem like the strangest aspects to affirm. Moreover, there is debate over whether Lewis actually maintained this kind of strong complementarian doctrine throughout his life. For example, Mary Stewart Van Leeuwan dedicated an entire book to the topic.
Perhaps my biggest complaint with the book, which I’ve already touched on, is how much space is dedicated to correcting Lewis’s theology, which most frequently means moving him more in line with the kind of Reformed Baptist theology that Crossway promotes. I’ve read numerous books in this series of theologians on the Christian life (see more here by scrolling down), and there are some (like the one on Luther) that seem to fulfill the series’ mission of expositing the various theologians’ views on the Christian Life. This one offers much more by way of analysis than some of the others, and I think I have gotten more out of those that focus almost entirely on showing what the titular thinker had to say than what the author wanted to correct.
Lewis on the Christian Life is an uneven but interesting look at the breadth of C.S. Lewis’s theology of Christian living. Rigney opens up whole fields of investigation into Lewis’s thought, but spends a bit too much time on analysis relative to other books on the series. I recommend it for those interested in investigating what Lewis has to teach us about living life in Christ.