Altar to an Unknown Love: Rob Bell, C.S. Lewis, and the Legacy of the Art and Thought of Man by Michael John Beasley. The Armour Ministries, 2011, 144 pp., $10.95
In this volume Beasley concurs with the criticism heaped on Rob Bell and his heretical book Love Wins. But he is justly confused as to why others, particularly C.S. Lewis who taught essentially many of Bell’s errors, receives accolades from the critics of Bell. This is a valid point. Lewis, who never claimed to be an evangelical (pp. 11-12), is quoted and followed by evangelicals almost without question. For example, Beasley points out that John Piper builds upon Lewis for his concept of hedonistic Christianity and Timothy Keller draws much of his apologetics from Lewis as well (see my review of Keller’s Reason for God).
Lewis gets a bye from many evangelicals because he is creative, eminently quotable and seldom directly enters the realm of theology. Yet a careful reading of his works, both polemical and fictional, reveals serious false views: He rejects penal substitution, minimizes justification by faith, accepts baptismal regeneration, has a noninerrantent view of inspiration, believes in purgatory and salvation after death and promotes inclusivism—the view that people from other religions will be saved (pp. 11-17, 46, 116). Lewis admittedly developed his theology from the writings of his “master” George MacDonald (pp. 25-26). Why is it, Beasley wonders, that Bell receives harsh criticism for his heresies, while C.S. Lewis’s same teachings are ignored?
A more fundamental and widespread problem is exposed in an Altar to an Unknown Love: “The frailty and tendency of all men to herald their own thoughts above God’s divine revelation” (p. 27). This is in truth one of the most serious issues facing the evangelical community today. Experience, musings, secular philosophies, and pop-psychology are all elevated to a status equal to, and often above, the Word of God. “Bible studies” turn into book studies of human authors; mass appeal can be found for good communicators who feign preaching the Word but in truth are relating their own stories. Bell, Lewis, MacDonald and a host of modern evangelical writers fall into this disturbing category.
One key area which is often abused by evangelicals is the issue of love. Taking their cue from Lewis rather than Scripture, they muddy the meaning of love by confusing agape love with eros love. Beasley not only demonstrates this problem but also offers an exceptional section on the distinction between the agape and eros in the understanding of first century Greeks and Romans (pp. 37-84). For me this was the most insightful and valuable portion of the book.
Beasley is sounding an important warning. Bell and his theology did not occur in a vacuum. He is the product of not only the false teachings of others, but also of the acceptance by evangelicals of those false teachers. Even more—Beasley calls on his readers to sharpen their focus and look to the Scriptures for truth rather than to the ideas of man (see p. 15).