Narnia on Exclusivity
By: Jonathan Blaylock
Narnia is quite fascinating: talking beasts, dwarfs, trees that come to life, centaurs and fawns, kings and queens, and more! C.S. Lewis wrote seven books in the 1950’s that comprise The Chronicles of Narnia. Perhaps you have seen the movie, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005). That movie was simply the story of Book 2 of the series. Two of the other books were also turned into movies. These children’s fiction books are known throughout the evangelical world because of Lewis’s faith and the numerous biblical overtones throughout the series. Time and time again, Lewis points to the Messiah. However, not every single overtone lines up just right with orthodox protestant doctrine.
Recently, I finished the final book with my children, and I was caught in disbelief when I came to Lewis’s inclusivity. It was the second time I had read the series but was still dumbfounded. Even more recently, I used Lewis’ inclusivity as an illustration in a sermon and I mislabeled him a universalist. He was not a universalist, but he does seem to be an inclusivist. This article is not a complete or exhaustive look at Lewis’ theology, but it is simply meant to clarify the distinction between a universalist, a pluralist, an inclusivist, and an exclusivist.
“Universalism is teaching that every person to live on planet Earth will ultimately be eternally saved.”1 Proponents typically cannot imagine a loving God that would create human beings and then send them to Hell.
“Strong Pluralism views all religions as effective in attaining their own ends… According to this view, all religions are more or less equally valid, and perhaps even equally true. Christianity is true, and faithful Christians will go to heaven when they die; but Buddhism is also true, and faithful Buddhists will achieve nirvana, just as Hindus will attain moksa and Muslims will be rewarded in paradise.”2
“Moderate Pluralism views most or all religions as culturally mediated attempts to grasp the same ultimate reality. It sees all religions as soteriologically efficacious I attaining the same end.”3
“Inclusivism views only one religion as true, and views the other religions of the world as soteriologically efficacious paths towards the God of the one true religion.”4
“Exclusivism views only one religion as soteriologically efficacious [effective for salvation] and the adherents of all other religions as lost. According to Christians who are exclusivists, Christianity is the only religion that is true, and although there may be some truths in other religions, these truths are not adequate to bring about salvation.”5
What is the problematic theology of Narnia?
In The Last Battle, Lewis clearly demonstrates that certain characters did not enter into the newly re-created Narnia, the allegorical new heavens and new earth. Certain characters met doom and destruction, ruling out that Lewis was promoting universalism. However, Aslan (the Christ figure) in the fiction series, does allow a servant of Tash (the evil deified being) into the new Narnia. Here is an excerpt of the scene, as recorded by Emeth, the servant of Tash:
“But the Glorious One [Aslan] bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art 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 reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou 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 which thou 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 not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him… But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious 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.”6
So what does this scene depict? A self-proclaimed, life-long, faithful servant of Tash, the evil one, is granted access into the re-created Narnia based on his sincere service to Tash.
This is inclusivism. Lewis depicts only one way into the New Narnia, and it is by Aslan, but service to another deity is of equal value and merit to Aslan. One religion is correct, but those who live in and under other belief systems will have their genuine efforts applied toward the correct system of belief.
He goes on to say that “all find what they truly seek,” teaching that Emeth’s sincerity of heart excused his ignorance of the one true God.
This is a works-based salvation. Aslan credits the work and service and seeking that Emeth performed towards Tash as that which gets him into New Narnia.
It is not pluralism, at least not a strong pluralism. The Ape had taught and persuaded many of the servants of Tash and many of the Narnians that Tash and Aslan were actually the same deity, to the point that many began calling upon “Tashlan.” This might be similar to the way some argue that God and Allah are the same deity. In the excerpt above, Aslan is quick to dismiss this idea though. He is clear that He and Tash are not one in the same.
What’s the problem?
Evangelical Christians traditionally hold to a view of exclusivity. We hold to exclusivity because we also hold to the inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture. The Scriptures teach exclusivity:
Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).”
“Unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3).”
“Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’ (John 3:7).”
Furthermore, the exclusivity of the gospel of Jesus is why protestant evangelicals are missionaries. Exclusivity drives evangelism. If we held to a view of inclusivism, mission endeavors would be a pointless, unnecessary danger. We believe that if people are not born again, if they do not confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in their heart that God raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 10:9), then they will not be saved and will be eternally lost. We believe that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom. 10:13).” The Apostle Paul goes on to say, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching (Rom. 10:14)?” Paul fully expected that people would need to go and tell the lost about Jesus so that they would believe!
In Romans 1, Paul felt an obligation and an excitement to preach the gospel of Jesus, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome (Rom. 1:14-15).” Why would a man be so eager to do something that at best is culturally unwelcomed, and at worst, is illegal? Why would a person be jailed, beaten countless times, stoned, shipwrecked, homeless, starved, and more (2 Cor. 11:23-28)? A rational man that believed in inclusivism or pluralism would be content to stay in the comforts of his own home knowing that on the last day God will work all genuine faiths out for salvation.
So how do we respond?
Every now and again we come across something that one of our evangelical heroes said or did that shock us. C.S. Lewis is one of those heroes of Christianity. It hurts to find out that he did not interpret the Scriptures exactly like you or I might, but it’s okay! I totally disagree with the way that servants of Tash were admitted into the New Narnia, but I still enjoyed the fictional series, and my children still learned so much of a biblical view of Christ through the series.
Relax. One doctrinal difference does not necessarily negate the entire corpus of this author. The truth that he taught is still true. You do not have to throw out everything he said or taught because one idea is incorrect.
Test. You should make a normal practice to test what preachers, teachers, and authors say or write (1 John 4:1). Test doctrine against the Scriptures.
Grace. Show grace to authors, teachers, and preachers, realizing that they too are sinful, fallible human beings. Men are men, and as such they are not without error. They make mistakes, and they misinterpret. Keep reading, keep listening, and keep learning!
History has given us numerous theologians throughout the centuries that have been hailed as heroes, but every single one is flawed. Some took views of communion or baptism that I do not take. Others were slave owners, which is abhorrent and repudiable. Some were influential in the death sentencing of heretics. Some were far more ecumenical than I could be in good conscience. Some took differing views of hell than I could take. Many preachers and teachers of today, that I enjoy listening to and reading, practice different styles of worship or have different theological understandings, but I still learn from them.
I totally disagree with Lewis’ decision to include Emeth, a servant of Tash, in the New Narnia; but I really enjoyed this series! This is the second time that I have read through this series as an adult and I’ve enjoyed every book both times. I enjoyed pointing out to my children all of the elements that show so much of Christ. And, I was thankful to be able to point out why Lewis’ inclusion of Emeth is not biblical.
I am most grateful to Lewis for so elegantly causing me to mediate on the nature of Christ. Aslan is a ferocious lion, yet he is so gentle when children hug him and play with him, almost like a lamb. Lewis masterfully describes fear, reverence, wonder, and awe in those that approach Aslan. At times, Aslan seems to not be anywhere near, but he always shows up at just the right time. My heart would leap with excitement when Lucy would catch a glimpse of what she thought was Aslan. Her certainty of Aslan’s presence is often doubted, even by her believing siblings. Aslan’s providence and provision though, is worthy of mention. Yes, I may not totally agree with all of Lewis, but I am very thankful for Narnia, and I will continue to learn from the brilliant mind of C.S.Lewis!
1 Preston Condra, “Universalism,” The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics., Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner, eds. (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 487.
2 Michael Jones, “Pluralism,” The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics., Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner, eds. (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 393.
3 Jones, 394.
4 Jones, 394.
5 Jones, 395.
6 C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle, (New York, NY: Harper Collins Children’s Books, 1956, 1984), 204-206.