Question and Answer

Narnia Stories of C. S. Lewis

Question:

I have a question regarding the Narnia stories by C. S. Lewis. Given their renewed popularity (primarily due to the movie), should Christians be wholeheartedly embracing such a story? I read the books as a child, and as an adult I still enjoy the stories. I saw the movie and was impressed both by the "Christian" content and, frankly, by the quality of the production. As a "flick" it's really pretty good! My concerns are these:

1) Is it right to present the story of Christ in the allegory of fantasy, particularly when most of the characters (witches, dwarves, unicorns, etc.) are taken from pagan mythology? Whether Greek, Norse, or whatever, the pagan connection remains.

2) Does representing Christ as a lion, and the relationship with the Father as "deep magic" trivialize the story? Does it give the wrong impression to children or adults? Does it in any way approach idolatry or otherwise violate the 2nd Commandment?

3) The popularity of the Narnia series is being used as a way to re-popularize Lewis' other books, such as Mere Christianity. I've read several of his works, and they're well-written and generally accessible presentations of aspects of the Christian faith. However, it concerns me that (a) his theology of humanity leans more heavily toward the free will of man than the sovereignty of God's control and (b) he tends to present his faith in a philosophical, rather than a Biblical, context. Does the OPC share this concern?

Thank you for taking the time to answer my lengthy question! With all the interest in Christian circles over this movie, I think the issue is worth clarifying.

Answer:

You wrote: "I have a question regarding the Narnia stories by C. S. Lewis. Given their renewed popularity (primarily due to the movie), should Christians be wholeheartedly embracing such a story?"

Let me begin addressing this general issue, along with the other particular concerns you raise, by citing chapter 1, paragraph 3 from the Westminster Confession of Faith:

The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture, and therefore are of no authority in the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.

Note that while the Apocrypha are not Scripture and must not be given any authority in the Church, we do not believe that they are therefore to be entirely rejected. They may be approved and made use of in the same way as other human writings; that is to say (as is implicit in the Confession) with a healthy measure of Biblically-informed discernment.

It is certainly the case that C. S. Lewis' work contains errors and infelicitous formulations of the Christian faith, since the fall affects our thinking as well as our moral behavior. "Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools..." (Rom. 1:21-22). Apart from the inerrant Word of God, we can expect this in anything a human being produces. Nor will you be surprised that a confessional Presbyterian pastor such as myself has a few nits to pick in the theological works of a lay Anglican medievalist.

So in one sense, I must say no, Christians should not wholeheartedly (if that means "uncritically") embrace the Narnia stories. But more importantly and fundamentally, I believe Christians can derive a great deal of pleasure and insight from the books (and the recent film) while being aware that it is not to be accepted with the sort of reverence and submission which Scripture alone deserves.

Regarding the specific questions you raise:

1) Is it right to present the story of Christ in the allegory of fantasy, particularly when most of the characters (witches, dwarves, unicorns, etc.) are taken from Pagan mythology?

Properly speaking, The Chronicles of Narnia are not an allegory. An allegory is a story in which very nearly every element has a one-for-one correspondence with elements from real life; an excellent Christian allegory is The Pilgrim's Progress. Rather, The Chronicles of Narnia are a fantasy which works with Biblical themes, but not with a one-for-one correspondence.

For example, Aslan sacrifices himself in the place of only one person. Certainly, C. S. Lewis believed Christ's substitutionary sacrifice applied to many more than one person; nonetheless, the Biblical theme of redemptive and atoning sacrifice by the innocent and righteous ruler for the sake of an unworthy sinner is clearly conveyed in the story.

This point is important because the sundry elements of the story (such as talking animals, dryads, magic, and the like) are not to be understood as corresponding directly to, or as making a point about, elements in the Bible or ordinary life. While it is true that many of them have origins in paganism, Lewis does not use them to commend the worship of false gods. If they are read about with discernment, their appearance need not lead anyone down the path to false religion.

2) Does representing Christ as a lion, and the relationship with the Father as "deep magic" trivialize the story? Does it give the wrong impression to children or adults? Does it in any way approach idolatry or otherwise violate the 2nd Commandment?

The Second Commandment forbids the making of images in order to worship them; since Aslan is not being set forth as an idol for people to worship, I don't believe this violates it. The language of "deep magic" makes sense in a conceptual world which includes magic. It suggests that there are more fundamental principles than the mechanistic ones which people attempt to exploit for their own advantage.

It strikes me as analogous to the justice of God displayed in the Cross of Christ. As we know, men often invoke justice (or "fairness") to require that their enemies get their due. Allowing an innocent to die in the place of the guilty seems, on the surface, entirely unjust, but Paul declares, "God hath set forth [Jesus Christ] to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Rom. 3:25-26). To play on the language of Lewis, the Cross is "deep justice" which can be understood only by those who realize that justice is not a tool to be exploited for man's own ends.

3) The popularity of the Narnia series is being used as a way to re-popularize Lewis' other books, such as Mere Christianity. I've read several of his works, and they're well-written and generally accessible presentations of aspects of the Christian faith. However, it concerns me that (a) his theology of humanity leans more heavily toward the free will of man than the sovereignty of God's control and (b) he tends to present his faith in a philosophical, rather than a Biblical, context. Does the OPC share this concern?

Certainly, the OPC is concerned over any presentation of the Christian faith which is not thoroughly grounded in "[t]he Word of God, which ... is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him" (Westminster Shorter Catechism #2). Here again the key issue is discernment. There are some works of C. S. Lewis which I would recommend freely, others only with serious qualification. This is to my mind another reminder that no author, no matter how reliable, can replace careful study of Scripture in the context of the faithful preaching of the Word and the diligent care of godly elders in the local Church, all of which aid us in proper discernment between truth and error.

I pray you may continue—using Christian discernment—to benefit from the works of C. S. Lewis and others, but always keeping them subordinate to the faithful testimony of God's Word to us in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.


About Q&A

"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. At least one new question is posted each week, so there should always be something new here for you to read. (For those who would like to look at previous questions and answers, they will continue to be available as well.)

The questions come from individuals like yourself. If you have questions about biblical and theological matters, you are invited to send them by e-mail by using the "Pose a Question" link on the OPC home page or by clicking here.

The purpose of the OPC website's "Questions and Answers" is to respond to biblical and theological questions. Matters of church discipline, disputes, or debates go beyond the scope of our work. We recommend that you present your concerns in these areas to the appropriate judicatory. In most cases this will be to a local pastor, elder, or session. We do not want the website to replace personal involvement in, or commitment to, the local, visible church.

While we will respond to every serious questioner, we are not bound to give a substantive answer to every question, should we deem the question to be beyond the scope of our purpose or our own ability to answer.

You will receive an answer by email. Please be patient as many of our respondents are busy pastors. The response to your question may take up to two weeks. Some of the questions submitted will be chosen to be posted here, along with the corresponding answers.

The answers come from individual ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expressing their own convictions and do not necessarily represent an "official" position of the Church, especially in areas where the Standards of the Church (the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) are silent.

Note that the "Questions and Answers" posted on the site have been edited—all personal references are removed, Scripture references may be added, and sometimes portions are expanded—to make the questions and answers more useful to a larger audience.

Return to Formatted Page