Narnia - Part 3

A postmodern path to faith and salvation?

by Berit Kjos -  December 2005

See also The Abolition of Man and C. S. Lewis Timeline

Truth, Myth or 'Discovered Reality'? and

Lewis, Tolkien and Barfield explore Reincarnation and Theosophy

Emphasis in bold letters added throughout

Narnia

Part 1

Part 2

 

 

 

 

 

 


"'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'... is worthy of support from anyone, whether conservative or liberal, who believes in classic, humanistic storytelling. ... Aslan, it has been debated, is intended by... C.S. Lewis to be a symbol for Christ... but of course the lion is also a royal and divine symbol throughout world religion; there are numerous lion-like divine figures in ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek, Hindu and Buddhist religious symbolism....

     "The White Witch herself seems to be a throwback to various witches and goddesses of Celtic and Greek mythology. Her hair is dressed in the snake-like coils of a Medusa.... Is it perhaps that like a shamaness, the White Witch dons the lion's garb in order to assume his magical powers, or to signify some deeper connection with the figure of Aslan - a connection that surmounts the duality of good and evil? Why would the White Witch be garbed in leonine costume at the end, except perhaps as a sign that she and Aslan are two halves of one whole, and that they are playing out in ritual fashion an eternal cosmic struggle, where good and evil, light and dark, summer and winter alternate in ascendancy throughout the round of time?"[1] "Narnia' a Classic Tale for the Ages"


 

Resources to aid your Understanding

An argument between evangelical and secular Narnia fans has been raging for decades: Are The Chronicles of Narnia supposed to be Christian? The release of the Disney movie has added fuel to this debate. Its director, Andrew Adamson denies the connection to Christianity and says its spiritual themes are common to the fantasy genre. Nor does the producer, Mark Johnson see the Christian message. "When I read the book as a child," he said, "I accepted it as a pure adventure story. It never occurred to me Aslan was anything more than a great lion."[2]

 

Even Douglas Gresham, Lewis' stepson, said recently: “Churches in Britain and America are promoting the film as a Christian film, but it’s not . . . and the Narnia books aren’t Christian novels.”[2]

 

Evangelicals disagree. "We believe that God will speak the gospel of Jesus Christ through this film,"[2] said Lon Allison, director of Illinois' Billy Graham Center.

 

A letter C.S. Lewis wrote to one of his many young fans back in 1961 may close that debate:

“Supposing there really was a world like Narnia . . . and supposing Christ wanted to go into that world and save it (as He did ours) what might have happened? The stories are my answer. Since Narnia is a world of talking beasts, I thought he would become a talking beast there as he became a man here. I pictured him becoming a lion there because a) the lion is supposed to be the king of beasts; b) Christ is called ‘the lion of Judah’ in the Bible.... The whole Narnian story is about Christ.”[3] Narnia's lion really is Jesus

 

That letter, sent from Magdalene College, Cambridge, brings us back to another question: Are the stories true to the Bible?

 

"Lewis was anything but a classic evangelical, socially or theologically," wrote Bob Smietana in a Christianity Today article titled "C. S. Lewis Superstar." He continued with these thought-provoking statements:

"Though he shared basic Christian beliefs with evangelicals, he didn't subscribe to biblical inerrancy or penal substitution. He believed in purgatory and baptismal regeneration. How did someone with such a checkered pedigree come to be a theological Elvis Presley, adored by evangelicals? ...  Part of Lewis's current appeal... is a postmodern interest in 'thin places'—places where the physical world and the spiritual world meet—and for myth that makes sense of life in a way that rational thinking can't. For their dose of myth, postmoderns turn to The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and, of course, Narnia.

      "Fantasy allows you to explain and grasp and integrate into your life things that are not logical.... It is to say that we can tell each other truth in story."[4]

But when you communicate "truth in story," the truth can be stretched like a rubber band. It takes on new colors and character. The author creates the context out of the imagination, and the story is likely to change from time to time -- and from teller to teller. Such "truth" is nothing like Biblical truth which was written for eternity according to the words and inspiration of God Himself. In fact He warns us repeatedly against any meddling with His message!  We cannot add or delete anything. His certainty must not be tainted with our uncertainties. [See God's unchanging Word]

The last book written by C. S. Lewis shows the author's view of change and ambiguity. In The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature, he tells us that when people no longer like the old Paradigm or cultural "Model" with its cultural beliefs and values, they will simply discard it. Nothing is permanent; everything changes along with human thought, imagination, philosophies and preferences:

"When changes in the human mind produce a sufficient disrelish of the old Model and a sufficient hankering for some new one, phenomena to support that new one will obediently turn up." [5, page 221]

"We must recognize that what has been called 'a taste in universes' is not only pardonable but inevitable. We can no longer dismiss the change of Models as a simple progress from error to truth. No Model is a catalogue of ultimate realities, and none is a mere fantasy. Each is a serious attempt to get in all the phenomena known at a given period.... But also, no less surely, each reflects the prevalent psychology of an age almost as much as it reflects the state of that age's knowledge...."[5, p. 222]

Lewis ends his book with this prediction:

"It is not impossible that our own Model [including the Biblical worldview] will die a violent death, ruthlessly smashed by an unprovoked assault of new facts -- unprovoked as the nova of 1572. But I think it is more likely to change when, and because, far-reaching changes in the mental temper of our descendents demand that it should. The new Model will not be set up without evidence, but the evidence will turn up when the inner need for it becomes sufficiently great. It will be true evidence.'[5, pgs. 222-223]

"What Lewis imagined to be 'not impossible' some generations away--the death of the modern model or worldview -- turns out to be happening," wrote the leading postmodern Pastor Brian McLaren, who has discarded absolute truth just as Lewis predicted.

If you go to the Customer Reviews of The Discarded Image at Amazon.com, you would find other interesting responses to this book. The third reviewer wrote:

In this context, it is perhaps fair to warn potential readers coming to the book directly from Lewis-the-Christian that he displays throughout a remarkable sympathy for a variety of views (pagan, Neo-Platonic, medieval Catholic, and so forth) which they may find disturbing. Education, not edification, is his primary focus....

To use a catch-phrase introduced to scholarship in 1962 by Thomas Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolutions," Lewis is presenting an "Old Paradigm" of the Universe, the very presuppositions of which have been replaced by a series of "New Paradigms" during the last four centuries. It describes a vast but finite world of natural hierarchies.... It is an effort to equip the student to think and perhaps even feel in medieval, not modern, terms. I can think of no one who has so successfully evoked the sensation of living in a Ptolemaic or Aristotelian cosmos."[6]

In other words, Lewis has a remarkable ability to bring Christian readers into new worlds or worldviews and make them feel at home in the midst of pagan rituals, occult mysteries and magical forces. In so doing, he presents unbiblical views of the most important gifts God has given us: His truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation.

3. God's PEACE to have and share

God's peace is based on certainty: absolute confidence that God will be and do what He has promised in His Word -- no matter how difficult our circumstance. This peace is incompatible with the postmodern belief that everything must change and nothing is absolute.

Likewise, it clashes with the dialectic process, which is driving the transformation of churches as well as schools, corporations, government and homes. In other words, there can be no peace when truth (thesis) and myth or opposing opinions (antithesis) continually merge together (synthesis) into an evolving consensus. In this context, everything becomes uncertain and subject to change with each new thought, feeling or group input. Any belief or supposition must be claimed as a "truth" by a person or group. In this context Narnia can be interpreted in countless ways. That brings us back to the old question again:

"USA Today asked: 'Is the world created by C.S. Lewis a rip-roaring piece of fantasy – or a fairy tale suffused with Christian imagery? 'The answer is both, and that raises a related question: Can Disney succeed by selling the movie on two tracks – as a sort of cross between ‘The Lord of the Rings' and ‘The Passion of the Christ'?"[6]

That's not God's way to peace. Unlike the ways of human nature, His message doesn't waver between two worlds. But human nature continually tries to compromise. The apostle Paul knew that. "I fear," he wrote to the Corinthians, "lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!" 2 Co 11:3-4

Jesus never marketed his message with entertaining thrills or dialectic compromise. Nor should we! Like Him, we must bring true light "into the world," even though "men [have always] loved darkness rather than light." [John 3:19]

Some will hear and others will hate that truth. "For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life." But "thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ!" [2 Corinthians 2:15-16, 14]

“Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” John 20:21

"These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 [See PEACE]

4. The shield of FAITH -- absolute confidence that God's word is true and right.

When C.S. Lewis wrote Narnia half a century ago, the actual practice of witchcraft and ancient occultism was generally out of reach. In an era of politically correct cultural Christianity, few knew the Bible well and even fewer knew much about other religions. The stories seemed safe, yet exciting and far from reality. People enjoyed them but didn't believe them.

This is a different era. Magical powers are now both real and tantalizing. Among teens, witchcraft is said to be the fastest growing religion, accessible to all through the Internet. And children in public schools are trained to view all religions through a pluralistic filter that rules out any claim that one "God" is better than any others.

"Faith is in the eye of the beholder," declared Tilda Swinton who played the part of the Witch. "Lewis' original book is more 'spiritual' than religious.... You can make a religious allegory out of anything if that's what you're interested in."[2]

Like many today, Lewis had, early in his life, been captivated by the mythical worlds that filled his mind and heart. As he wrote in Surprised by Joy, the possibility that "the visible world" might conceal huge "uncharted realms"--

"started in me something with which, on and off, I have had plenty of trouble since—the desire for the preternatural, simply as such, the passion for the Occult. Not everyone has this disease; those who have will know what I mean. ... It is a spiritual lust; and like the lust of the body it has the fatal power of making everything else in the world seem uninteresting while it lasts. It is probably this passion, more even than the desire for power, which makes magicians....

"The vagueness, the merely speculative character, of all this Occultism began to spread--yes, and to spread deliciously -- to the stern truths of the creed. The whole thing became a matter of speculation: I was soon (in the famous worlds) altering 'I believe' to 'one does feel.' And oh, the relief of it!... From the tyrannous noon of revelation I passed into the cool evening of Higher Thought, where there was nothing to be obeyed, and nothing to be believed except what was either comforting or exciting.”[7] 

A similar obsession apparently drove ancient Israel from God's loving care. Fascinated with the beliefs and practices of their pagan neighbors, they put their faith in their own imagination and ignored His warnings:

 "There shall not be found among you anyone who... practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord..." (Deuteronomy 18:10-12) 

It may be tempting to let fantasies confuse magic with the mighty power of God, but the two are incomparable. God reigns over all! He alone is worthy of our faith.  

"I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

 5. The helmet of SALVATION -- a steady hope in God's promised victory

The Last Battle, the final book in the Narnia series, gives us a glimpse of Lewis' view of salvation and eternal life. The idol of the neighboring nation is Tash, a large, frightening creature who walked like a man but had a head like a vulture. After the final destruction of the worlds, the evil characters have all died. But Emeth, one of evil Tash' faithful servants, ends up in the new heavenly Narnia along with Aslan's loyal subjects.

"Do tell us who you are and what's happened to you," asks Jill, a "saved" human who has been reunited with King Peter, King Edmund and Queen Lucy. So Emeth begins his long story: "...always since I was a boy I have served Tash, and my great desire was to know more of him.... But the name of Aslan was hateful to me." He then describes the events of the final battle between the evil forces of Tash and the faithful followers of Aslan. Finally he shares his surprise at finding himself in the new world -- face to face with Aslan:

"...the glorious One 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 hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.'...

"I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, 'Lord, is it then true... 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 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, '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."[8] 

What does this passage suggest? That a person who serves Satan faithfully will reap eternal blessings if he does some "good" things? That those "good deeds" will save you, even if you trust in a false god and reject the true gospel? That Rick Warren is right and those who resist his "Second Reformation" are wrong?  Remember, that Reformation calls for a change in Christian focus from doctrine and beliefs to deeds and behavior.[9]

Don't believe it! God's Word tells us that -

"...this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." John 17:3

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." Ephesians 2:8-9

...this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come." Matthew 24:14


 

6. The Sword of the Spirit: The WORD OF GOD.

Never have our children been surrounded by so many spiritual counterfeits, seductive suggestions, digital delights and occult images. And seldom has the Christian community been less prepared to resist such spiritual temptations. We can't trust Christian schools or youth pastors to fulfill our God-given assignment. But when we -- as families -- trust God, memorize His Word, wear His armor, follow His way, and praise Him together, we will know a fellowship in our families that far exceeds the fleeting fantasies that the world offers.

      "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.

      "Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power." Colossians 2:6


Endnotes:

1.Jason Apuzzo & Govindini Murty, "Narnia' a Classic Tale for the Ages," (12-05) at http://view.e.newsmax.com/?ffcb10-fe8d1679716d067d7d-fe2515797d610678701271-ff2c1d70746d

2. Jim Meyers, "Disney's 'Narnia': Christ Need Not Apply" (12-9-05) at www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2005/12/8/204407.shtml

3. Narnia's lion really is Jesus" (12-4-05) at www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-1903338,00.html

4. Bob Smietana, C. S. Lewis Superstar, Christianity Today, 11/23/2005 at www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/012/9.28.html

5. C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image (Cambridge University Press, 1964), pages 221-223.

6. Customer Reviews of The Discarded Image at www.christianity-books.com/The_Discarded_Image__An_Introduction_to_Medieval_and_Renaissance_Literature_0521477352.html

7. C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (C.S. Lewis PTE limited, 1955), pages 60-61. In this passage, Lewis goes on to explain something the experience-driven Emergent church should take to heart: "One reason why the Enemy found this so easy was that, without knowing it, I was already desperately anxious to get rid of my religion.... I [had] set myself a standard. No clause of my prayer was to be allowed to pass muster unless it was accompanied by what I called a 'realization,' by which I meant a certain vividness of the imagination and the affections. My nightly task was to produce by sheer will power a phenomenon which willpower could never produce... and which, even when it did occur, was of very mediocre spiritual value. If only someone had read to me old Walter Hilton's warning that we must never in prayer strive to extort by "maistry" [mastery] what God does not give!" 61-62

8. C.S. Lewis, The Complete Chronicles of Narnia (Harper/Collin Publishers), page 517.

9. Warren's P.E.A.C.E. Plan & UN Goals at www.crossroad.to/articles2/05/peace-un.htm


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