• Matt O'Reilly

Why C.S. Lewis Was Not A Calvinist


From time to time, someone will (oddly) suggest that C. S. Lewis was a Calvinist. Douglas Wilson did it. Then he did it again. Apparently, Wilson's case was good enough for John Piper to resist including Lewis among his non-Calvinistic influences.


There is good reason to reject such claims. One of them comes in Lewis' The Screwtape Letters. The book is a set as a series of letters from an elder and experienced demon, named Screwtape, to his nephew Wormwood, a novice tempter who needs all the help he can get. In the eight letter, Screwtape reflects on how God - Screwtape calls God "the Enemy" - never uses his infinite power coercively or irresistibly. It seems to me a clear rejection of the fourth point of Calvinism. Here's the quote:

You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to override a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo.

Here Lewis explicitly acknowledges the idea that God might act irresistibly to save a human being. But he does not, because it contradicts his desire for a free relationship in which human agents come to him because they want to, not because they have to.


Now someone might respond by reminding us that Lewis warns us in the preface to the book not to assume the details in these letters are true. Devils are, after all, liars. And we shouldn't assume they are portraying things as they are. Perhaps Screwtape is not representing things as they truly are. Perhaps he fails to understand the true nature between freedom and responsibility. Perhaps he's lying about what God is like and how God behaves.


Here's why I don't find that objection persuasive. Screwtape sees God's refusal to act irresistibly with contempt. And what devils disdain is something the rest of us should admire. Screwtape would love to be able to act irresistibly to destroy human life. But he doesn't have that power. He sees that God does have that power, and scoffs at God's refusal to use that power. One theme that recurs in the book is this. What the devils praise, we should detest. And what the devils hate, we should love. In this instance, Screwtape mocks God's unwilling to act irresistibly. That means we should love that aspect of God's character. It also indicates that Lewis is giving a demon's warped perspective on something he takes to be fundamentally true and praiseworthy. Lewis' God is not a God of irresistible grace. That's why Lewis wasn't a Calvinist.


Interested in further problems with Calvinism?

Check out this video on why Calvinism gets Romans 9 wrong.



Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, Alabama, Director of Research at Wesley Biblical Seminary, and a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians. He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice, The Letters to the Thessalonians, and Bless the Nations: A Devotional for Short-Term Missions. Connect at theologyproject.online.



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