Thursday, March 31, 2011

Was C. S. Lewis an Anglo-Catholic?

(reprinted with permission from

Was C.S. Lewis an Anglo-Catholic?

By Pastor Brian Carpenter

C.S. Lewis has certainly received a warm embrace by almost all sections of Christendom, and by people of all sorts of other stripes. When I was a student at St. Meinrad’s School of Theology and Benedictine Monastery (yes, you read that right) there was a whole section in the bookstore dedicated to Lewis’ writings and writings about Lewis. I bought my own copy of Pilgrim’s Regress there. His books could also be found in the bookstore of the liberal Presbyterian seminary where I studied. And when I attended Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul, MN, I also found him prominently featured in the campus bookstore and widely appreciated at the seminary. I have to say that no other (uninspired) author I can think of could be found in those three places. That remarkable fact alone speaks volumes about Lewis’ stature. Lewis even has a following among the Mormons, who find some of his more speculative fictional writings to be congenial with their peculiar views.

But it is somewhat surprising that Lewis has been received so widely among Evangelical Protestants, for Lewis’ views, especially the views he expressed towards the end of his life, were remarkably congruent with Anglo-Catholicism.

What is even more surprising is how many Protestant Evangelicals are unaware of that fact. Mere Christianity, it is true, was written to be “non-partisan” on matters which divided Protestantism from Rome, but that is the only place where he intentionally withheld his own views. In every other place where he thought it relevant, he had no qualms about articulating them.

However, he did not see himself as a belligerent participant, taking sides in a battle of ideas within Christendom, except insofar as some aspect of unbelief had invaded Christendom. Even there, he was courteous. Thus, most of his fire was directed outwards, towards the pervasive unbelief he encountered. So it is true that Lewis stayed away from internecine debates, and in particular the debate between the high and low parties in the Church of England (one friend and biographer remarks that Lewis looked at him as though he had tried to serve him poison when he mentioned it, and said, “We must never speak of that again.”)

Yet his views were clearly congruent with Roman Catholic or Anglo-Catholic theology. Consider, for instance, the theology of the sacraments underlying the following statement from “The Weight of Glory:”

Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat, the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

In his essay “Priestesses in the Church?” he argues that women can’t be priests, but not because they can’t preach, à la 1 Tim 2:12, (indeed, he explicitly repudiates the notion that women can’t preach in this essay.) Instead, he grounds it on the concept that the priest must be male in order to represent God to the people. This, of course, is the argument used by Rome to justify an all male priesthood.

In one of his radio addresses during WWII, he said (and note the order):

There are three things that spread the Christ life to us: baptism, belief, and…the Lord’s Supper.

About the Lord’s Supper, he once said:

Here is big medicine and strong magic.

And again he said:

My ideas about the sacrament would probably be called ‘magical’ by a good many modern theologians.

He also credited his wife’s very striking remission from cancer to a private communion service administered by a friend of his who was an Anglican priest.

Lewis professed a belief in purgatory. In Letters To Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer he wrote:

I believe in Purgatory. Mind you, the Reformers had good reasons for throwing doubt on the ‘Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory’ as that Romish doctrine had then become . . .

. . . The right view returns magnificently in Newman’s DREAM. There, if I remember it rightly, the saved soul, at the very foot of the throne, begs to be taken away and cleansed. It cannot bear for a moment longer “With its darkness to affront that light.” Religion has claimed Purgatory. Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, “It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy?” Should we not reply, “With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.” “It may hurt, you know”—”Even so, sir.”

I assume that the process of purification will normally involve suffering. Partly from tradition; partly because most real good that has been done me in this life has involved it. But I don’t think the suffering is the purpose of the purgation. I can well believe that people neither much worse nor much better than I will suffer less than I or more. . . . The treatment given will be the one required, whether it hurts little or much.

My favourite image on this matter comes from the dentist’s chair. I hope that when the tooth of life is drawn and I am “coming round,” a voice will say, “Rinse your mouth out with this.” This will be Purgatory. The rinsing may take longer than I can now imagine. The taste of this may be more fiery and astringent than my present sensibility could endure. But . . . it will [not] be disgusting and unhallowed.

The Newman he mentions is the 19th C Oxford Tractarian who founded Anglo-Catholicism.

Along with that, he believed in praying for the dead. Again, in Letters to Malcolm he writes:

Of course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden. At our age, the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to him?

When his Anglo-Catholic friends thought he was near death, they arranged for him to receive Extreme Unction from an Anglo-Catholic priest, and Lewis accepted it.

It is true that he perhaps said some things from time to time which might allude to Protestant views, but it is equally clear that he had rejected Protestantism at least as consistently as he rejected theological liberalism. Though I obviously think there is benefit to be had in reading Lewis, I think the reader must be discerning. For there is little doubt where his sympathies lay on a great many crucial issues, and those positions are not very congenial to historic Protestant views.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

GPTS: Creation Seminar

Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary's Summer Institute will be on the topic of Creation. Featured speakers will be Dr. Jonathan Sarfati (ya know, the guy who Great Homeschool Conventions brought in to replace Ken Ham) and Dr. Joseph Pipa.

I have, several times, on this site recommended the book Did God Create in 6 Days? which was edited by Dr. Pipa. If I were within a thousand miles of South Carolina, I would attend this conference. So, if you are within 1000 miles, I recommend you attend it!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

WCF Sunday School Week 7: Of Providence

Yesterday, in the adult Sunday School class at Communion Presbyterian Church, we went over Chapter 5 of the Westminster Confession, "Of Providence." Below you will find the class handout as well as my lecture notes. You will also find some recommendations for further reading.

Week 7 Handout: Chapter 5
Week 7 Handout: Discerning God's Will in Your Life
Week 7 Lecture Notes

Further Reading:
Westminster Larger Catechism 18, 19
Westminster Shorter Catechism 11
Belgic Confession 13
Heidelberg Catechism 26-28

Joseph Pipa, The Westminster Confession of Faith Study Book, Lesson 7
A. A. Hodge, The Confession of Faith, Chapter 5 (91-104)
David Dickson, Truth's Victory Over Error, Chapter 5
G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 5

Monday, March 14, 2011

PCA BCO 14 Amendments Map Update

On Saturday, Iowa Presbytery voted to reject the proposed BCO amendments, bringing the vote tallies to 33-40 against on BCO 14-1 and 31-42 against on BCO 14-2. There are 6 Presbyteries left in the PCA which have not yet voted on these amendments. Interestingly, the votes in Iowa Presbytery were tied on both amendments (11-11). I've linked to the updated map below, and for anyone interested, I've also updated the spreadsheet with vote tallies, which you can access here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

WCF Sunday School Week 6: Of Creation

Week 6 of my Westminster Confession of Faith Sunday School class at Communion Presbyterian dealt with chapter 4 of the Confession: Of Creation. Below are links to the class handout, my lecture notes, and some further reading. Remember, all the material for the class can be accessed by clicking on the "Westminster Confession of Faith Sunday School Class" on the right hand side of this site.

Week 6 Handout
Week 6 Lecture Notes

Further Reading:

Did God Create in 6 Days? Joseph Pipa and David Hall, editors. [I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Every Presbyterian should own it and read it!]

Thursday, March 10, 2011

WCF Sunday School Week 5: Of God's Eternal Decree

On week 5 of my Westminster Confession of Faith Sunday School class at Communion Presbyterian, I relied heavily upon Joseph Pipa's The Westminster Confession of Faith Study Book. His chapter on God's Eternal Decree is excellent. Below are links to the class handout, as well as my lecture notes.

Week 5 Handout
Week 5 Lecture Notes

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

WCF Sunday School Week 4: Of God and of the Holy Trinity

In the fourth class meeting of my Westminster Confession of Faith Sunday School class at Communion Presbyterian, we discussed Chapter 2 of the Confession: Of God and of the Holy Trinity. We had a good class discussion based on the handout which I've linked below. I used the handout as my lecture notes this time. Remember, all handouts, lecture notes, and other information regarding the class can be accessed by clicking on "Westminster Confession of Faith Sunday School Class" under "Labels" on the right hand side of the page.

Week 4 Handout/Lecture Notes

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Full of the Holy Spirit: A Word Study

I don't often post my notes from the mid-week Bible study covering the Book of Acts I lead (maybe I should), but last week, as the study was ending, we had a discussion about what it means to be "full of the Holy Spirit". Stephen is said to be full of the Holy Spirit in Acts 7:55, and that is how the discussion arose. Since we were running out of time, I offered to prepare a brief study on what it means to be full of the Holy Spirit, for us to discuss this week. Below, I've linked to the handout we used to discuss that term. It was a good discussion, and I believe we all benefited from it.

Handout: A Word Study: "Full of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 7:55)

Six Observations on the PCA's Voting on BCO Amendments

I've been doing some analysis of the voting thus far on the (now failed) proposed amendments to the PCA Book of Church Order (BCO). As I have been creating the maps tracking the voting by the presbyteries, I have also been keep track of the vote tallies for each presbytery. If you are not the sort of person who is interested in number crunching and statistics, read no further. However, I think there are some interesting observations to be had from looking at the numbers. (NOTE: I have the vote tallies of 61 of the presbyteries. To date, 72 presbyteries have voted, so my data is not complete; however, I think it represents a large enough sample (84.72%) to make some observations.)

Observation 1: Abstentions matter! In 5 Presbyteries (Calvary, Chesapeake, Palmetto, Warrior and Western Carolina), the difference between BCO 14-1 passing or failing was less than the number of abstentions. The same is true in 4 Presbyteries for the voting on BCO 14-2 (same presbyteries as above, minus Chesapeake). For example, in Calvary Presbytery, the proposed amendment to BCO 14-1 passed by a vote of 37 to 31 and their were 10 abstentions. If those 10 men (or just 7 of those 10) had voted against the amendment, it would have been defeated.

Observation 2: Those same 5 presbyteries decided on 14-1 without a majority voting either way. There were 4 presbyteries that decided on 14-2 without a majority voting either way. For example, in Calvary Presbytery, 47.44% voted to approve 14-1 while 39.74% voted to reject it. There was not a majority vote for approving the amendment. The same is true of Chesapeake, Palmetto, Warrior, and Western Carolina Presbyteries for 14-1. (Chesapeake's percentages were: Approve: 45.83%, Reject: 47.92%. Palmetto: Approve: 34.55%, Reject: 43.64%. Warrior: Approve: 40%, Reject: 48%. Western Carolina: Approve: 0%, Reject: 17.07%.) For 14-2, the same presbyteries lacked a majority, except for Chesapeake which had 50.98% voting to reject.

Observation 3: The total number of votes from all presbyteries on 14-1 is 1,058 for, 1,167 against, 144 abstain. For 14-2 the numbers are 966 for, 1,221 against, 183 abstain. If all those voters had been at General Assembly last year, these amendments would have never gone to the Presbyteries in the first place. But, in fairness to those who were not able to attend GA, a lot of great opinion and analysis pieces dealing with these amendments have been written since then, as well.

Observation 4: There were more abstentions in presbyteries which rejected the amendments than in presbyteries which approved the amendments. The average abstention rate (# of Abstentions/Total # of Votes) for presbyteries approving 14-1 was 5.52%; whereas, the same rate for presbyteries rejecting 14-1 was 8.98%. For 14-2 the numbers are 5.63% and 8.53%, respectively. I'm not sure what this means, other than, perhaps if voters thought the amendment was going to fail, rather than be on the losing side of a vote, they simply abstained.

Observation 5: The average size of presbyteries (that is, the total of all voting members at the meeting of Presbytery which voted on the amendments) approving 14-1 and 14-2 was larger than the average size of the presbyteries rejecting 14-1 and 14-2. The average size of a presbytery approving 14-1 was 44.71 while the average size of a presbytery rejecting 14-1 was 35.03. For 14-2 the average sizes were 43.73 and 36.1, respectively. There are a lot of reasons why this may be. As noted in Observation 3, the raw total votes is clearly for rejecting the amendments. Why, then, do approving presbyteries have more voting members? It could be that those in favor of approving the amendments did a better job in those presbyteries of getting like-minded elders to Presbytery (the "rally the troops" factor). It could be that those presbyteries have a higher percentage of Assistant Pastors (see here: here: and here: for more on Assistant Pastors in the PCA). It could simply be that those presbyteries which approved 14-1 and 14-2 have more congregations in them, on average. There are a lot of reasons why the size of the presbytery is larger in approving presbyteries, and without more data, all I can do is speculate.

Observation 6: What happened in Western Carolina Presbytery? (OK, that's not really an observation, but it is a question I have after looking at the numbers.) Those brothers get the award for most skewed vote in favor of abstention. The tally for 14-1 was 0 voting yea, 7 voting nay and 34 abstaining. For 14-2 the totals were 0, 6, and 35! Perhaps there was some procedural tactic I'm not aware of at work, but it makes me wonder: Why have the amendments on the docket in the first place if all you're going to do is abstain? Perhaps someone more familiar with what happened at Western Carolina can help me understand the situation.

If anyone is interested, I've posted a spreadsheet of the vote tallies, here: PCA BCO Statistics

Feel free to reach your own conclusions based on these numbers.

Monday, March 7, 2011

PCA BCO 14 Amendments Map Update

Heartland Presbytery has joined the ever-growing list of PCA Presbyteries that have rejected the proposed amendments to their Book of Church Order. I've updated the map, as seen below: