Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tash Talking: Musings on Universalism

This summer our church is doing a series called "Theological Cliffs" whereby we delve into some of the more controversial doctrines of famous theologians like CS Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Simone Weill, and others. The Lewis controversy resides in his doctrine of salvation, specifically the question of "What must a person do to be saved?" In particular, Lewis' position is provocative to evangelicals because of some veiled hints in "The Great Divorce" that everyone might be saved, and because of the following quote from "The Last Battle" in his "Chronicles of Narnia" series.

In this story, a soldier goes through something analagous to the doorway of death. The soldier has served a god named Tash all his life, and he comes upon the great Lion named Aslan, who represents Christ...

"in a naorrow place between two rocks there came to me a great lion. the speed of him like an ostrich, and the size of him was an elepnat's; his har was like pure gold and the brightness of his eyes, like god that is liquid in the furnace. In beauty he surpassed anything that was in the world, even as the rose in bloom surpasses the dust in the desert. Then I fell at his feet and though, surely this is the hour of death, for the lion (who is worhty of all honor) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the lion and die than to be kind of the world and live and not to have seen him. But the Glorious One bent down and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, "Son, thou are welcome." But I said, "Alas, Lord I am no son of Thine but the servant of Tash." He answered, "Child, all the service thou has done to Tash, I account as service done to me." Then by reason of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, "Lord is it ture, as the Ape said, the thous and Tash are one?" The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, "It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services that thous hast done to him, for I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is note vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man do a cruelty in my name, than though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed accepted. Dost Thou understand child?" I said, "Lord Thous knowest how much I understand." But I also said (for the truth constrained me), "Yes I have been seeking Tash all my days."

"Beloved" said the Glorous One, "unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly, for all find what they truly seek."

1. What is Lewis saying? Is he really teaching universalism?

2. What are the implications of what he's saying when it comes to evangelism?

3. Can what he's saying be correlated to what Jesus said in John 14:6.


At 15/6/09 14:03, Blogger Bob said...

Hmmm, very thought-provoking Mr. Lewis.

I think it's a lazy mistake to assume that universalism of salvation is the same thing as saying that "all paths lead to God." Those are two different things.

In this story he's clear that there is one true God and that there is one true path toward him. Followers of Tash are NOT on the path of Aslan. The very thought that these paths are the same obviously makes Aslan quite angry.

But at the same time, the one true God/Alsan still maintains the right to save whomever he will. God is not artificially constrained by the circumstances of creation or the choices of people. (Isn't that the definition of grace, anyway?)

So good job CS Lewis for showing us that it might be possible to affirm that there is one God and one true religion - and yet even so, that the one true God may choose to be the savior of all.

"That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe" (1 Timothy 4:10).

At 16/6/09 13:37, Blogger Jeremy said...

I remember wrestling with this when I read The Last Battle.

I think we tend to go awry in how we define saved. I think we tend to come up with a list of minimum requirements and boom, meeting those gets a person admitted to heaven upon death.

Think of a cartesian plane from high school math. A person is a point and these minimum requirements represent a line. Once a person meets these requirements, the person is magically transported across the line, never to return to the other side.

I think God might view us not as points but vectors. A vector, like a point, has a position but that's not what is interesting about a vector. In fact most of the time vectors are used we completely ignore the underlying point structure. A vector also has orientation (direction) and intensity (velocity). I think God is interested in our orientation and intensity. I would offer the tax collector and pharisee parable as an example, along with the women at the well. While their doctrine and beliefs might have been confused, their orientation was towards Jesus, and their desire for him was great.

1 Corinthians 1:18
I love the phrase "but to us who are being saved". Salvation is not some threshold to be crossed, but a journey to be taken.

At 16/6/09 15:10, Blogger kiki5253 said...

I read a book called "What About Those Who've Never Heard" that talked about salvation. It made an interesting point regarding the writings of C.S. Lewis and a few other theologians about what it takes to be saved. Do you need to know the Gospel in order to be saved? For exmple, the writing about the soldier when he talks to Aslan.

There were three main points, I can't remember them all, but one was about how God would be persistent even after death. That people would have a second chance to accept the Good News, which also involves knowing and hearing the Gospel. Another one said that unless you know the Gospel you can't be saved (so much for those who haven't ever heard). And then the last aligned with Lewis saying that you don't necessarily have to "know" Christ or have heard the Good News in order to be saved; that a general revelation would/could be all that is necessary.

This lead back to his writings on Tash. That you could have a general revelation of who God is while not knowing about the Gospel or having a specific revelation or encounter with Christ. Example, someone who's never heard about Christ but lives their life in such a way that they do believe in some higher power and try to live by that god; doing good thigns and such. Would that person be condemned to hell because they didn't know Jesus personally and had never heard the Good News?

At 16/6/09 21:28, Blogger Jason Bowker said...

Lewis' thoughts are quite compelling. If not leaning toward universalism, he definitely seems to be cautioning believers about being too concerned with who is 'in' and who is 'out.'

A number of things seem to be quite clear throughout the whole of Scripture. The first is that we worship a God of unsurmountable grace and his means of justice are always an effort to put back together a broken world. I constantly have to guard myself from limiting God's grace and mercy by boxing some 'in' and some 'out' of God's salvation of the world.

The second is that some people will find themselves having served Christ without ever knowing they did (Matthew 25) and some people will find themselves surprised on 'Judgment Day' (whatever that means), having thought they followed Christ but finding out differently.

A universalist way of thinking about Christianity would definitely change the role of evangelism, but would not eliminate it. Instead, the message of outreach would have to do with the way of Christ being the best possible way of living. It would probably also emphasize our role in helping usher the Kingdom of God into this world through the movement of following Christ.

Definitely an interesting discussion and I look forward to the CS Lewis week this summer.

At 17/6/09 14:45, Anonymous Geoff said...

On the other hand (just to play the opposing side ;-P) throughout Scripture, even in the teachings of Jesus, it seems clear there will be those who "do not inherit the kingdom"... so universalism seems to be discounted by Scripture. Additionally, Lewis' fictional account doesn't necessarily lead to "all people being saved" but only that some who are saved won't be who we expect them to be.

At 17/6/09 19:05, Blogger Sean said...

It's all interesting discussion, but I'm still confused. How do we reconcile "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me," with something like 1st John 2:29? This is something that I would really like to comprehend. When Jesus talked about serving Him and not knowing it, did He mean that such was enough to gain eternal life? I have always understood eternal life as knowing the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. So how can someone who does not know Christ have eternal life? Does righteousness or morality even matter if we don't know Him?

I know it's true that God can save whomever He wishes, but does that mean He will? I have always thought that God would judge people based on the standards that He had set up. Isn't that also His choice and right as Creator?

At 21/6/09 08:17, Anonymous thomas said...

1. I don't think Lewis is advocating universalism as some of the reasons already mentioned in the comments above seem to explain quite well. Aslan (the Christ figure) remains the final judge, the soldier immediately recognizes his authority over and against any others, and there is also the clarification that he (Aslan) and Tash are not one and the same (as far as I understand, it is the understanding of most universalists that the same divine Being lies behind all the gods we recognize here on earth), but are in fact opposite. And while Lewis' words seem to initially challenge John 14:6 (but ultimately I think affirms them), he also almost directly quotes Matthew 7:7-8 in the final sentence of this excerpt which states that those who seek will find, everyone who asks will receive.

2. I do not think a recognition that Christ is the final judge, and in that judgment the decisions made are his and not ours, and that there may be some people counted as sons and daughters of God with Christ we do not expect, should change our evangelism very much (although I suppose this depends also on your evangelism). I think if we share the gospel only because we know with certainty the results of our work (ie. saved souls), then I think we've missed the point. We are called to proclaim the gospel and love our neighbors not because we have some secret knowledge of how judgement day conversations will go (one of the reasons Lewis' "Tash conversation" in the Last Battle or his "Great Divorce" are so provocative is because we don't have anything very similar in the Bible as far as I know where God pulls away the veil of death's door) - we love our neighbors and proclaim the gospel because that is what Christ called us to do, regardless of the consequences. We are his body in the world, and through the Spirit we are called to the transformative acts of proclamation, invitation and agape love - Matthew 16-20 seems to be clear in its demands without clarifying the consequences of those actions, and our theorizing about the potential consequences should not undercut the importance of following Christ's demands. We should not be motivated by our own results, but by the call of Christ. In some ways this may make us bolder to proclaim the whole gospel (with its judgment, with its strange rituals like the sacraments, with this rag-tag body of Christ we call the church) rather than a soft version that we hope will provide the results we want.

3. Yes, as I mentioned about ultimately Lewis seems to affirm Aslan (Christ) as the final judge, the only true way (Tash is not the same, but the opposite).

At 21/6/09 08:42, Blogger Chad said...

so i think that what i have to say has already been said, but let me try to put it another way...
Is it possible that, in the quote, Lewis is attempting to relay the Truth that Aslan/God can name the true identity of a thing/person/act despite the names we so often mistakenly misapply to something? i.e. he calls a thing what it is, not what we say it is?

At 21/6/09 08:54, Anonymous thomas said...


I think you bring up some good points. I think that Lewis affirms the fact that Christ is the only way, rather than denies it, as it is Aslan (one of the divine figures who has been revealed in the Narnian world and history) who leads the people "further up and further in" in eternal life and not some "Divine Being" that has no historical/revealed reference point.

I guess the challenge is that like you say, God will judge by the standards he has set up, as He is the final authority - and the defining standard he has put in place seems to be seeking and following Christ, abiding in Him (as the 1 John passage you mention puts it), joining in with his work in the world in obedience to His will. How those who have not known of Christ in this life are able (given that they may be willing to follow, but have no opportunity to hear the call of a 1st century Jewish man or his followers) to meet these standards is a mystery to us given God's grace and invitation to all, and I think Lewis creatively tries to imagine one way this mystery might work itself out, with the promise of God that those who seek shall find, and all who ask shall receive as his Biblical reference point given these are the words he has Aslan say as explanation. When given the opportunity to know Aslan, to accept his invitation, the soldier does - for it was Aslan he has been seeking, even if his circumstances and knowledge did not allow him the opportunity to realize it. I think part of what I take from Lewis is that a God who denies some the opportunity to know Him just out of hand from the very start becuase of historical and cultural circumstances does not seem to fit with the character of God that we see in the Bible who from the very beginning chooses, but always chooses for the sake of others. Lewis seems to be saying (and I agree with him) that while the gate is narrow, everyone will get the opportunity to stand on its doorstep, even though some will choose not to go through it (such as the dwarves in the Last Battle). I don't know if that addresses your questions very well, but it is an attempt at trying to reconcile some of the things you are bringing up.

Also, I echo the earlier comments that I am looking forward to this summer series as well!

At 2/7/09 11:32, Blogger Patrick said...

Hey Richard -

After attending the discussion last night, I had a question about Bethany's view on soteriology. It seems pretty clear that the staff at Bethany falls squarely in the inclusivist perspective. My question is, is there room for people of other perspectives, exclusivist or universalist?


At 2/7/09 12:55, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

Hi Patrick...

your question resides as part of the "essential unity...non-essentials liberty" tension that is our community. I think the centrality of Christ and the necessity of His life and work as the source of salvation is the real issue. There are those in the inclusivist and universalist camps that don't buy into such centrality and those who do. So in the end, I think the camp one resides in matters less than the necessity of Christ as the source of grace...whether that source be known and declared by name or not.

At 2/7/09 13:27, Blogger Patrick said...

Hey Richard -

Thanks for the quick reply! I suspected that what you said would be the case, but I'm still encouraged to hear it! It's an example of one of the strengths of Bethany!



Post a Comment

<< Home