Beyond the Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis on Heaven & Hell by Wayne Martindale

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The reader’s interest in this book will be in direct proportion to his/her knowledge and appreciation of the works of C. S. Lewis. Lewis was in a league almost by himself in his ability to write great truths in ways that spoke to our hearts and opened our eyes. For this reason, even those who don’t agree with Lewis’ theology can’t help quoting him. There is a danger, however, of all but canonizing Lewis, giving more weight to his imaginative exploration than to Scripture. Martindale may teeter on the brink of this error.

If Beyond the Shadowlands is being viewed as research into Lewis’ beliefs concerning the afterlife (and its connection to this life) then Martindale has supplied us with an excellent source. This professor of English at Wheaton College has most certainly done his homework, immersing himself thoroughly in Lewis’ many works. Martindale may very well be the authority on Lewis, especially as relative to heaven and hell.

But if the reader of this book begins to believe that Lewis is adding definitive knowledge concerning heaven and hell we have a problem. To me, Lewis’ conjectures on this subject are interesting, suggestive, and thought-provoking. But the bottom line is that Lewis’ pictures are largely imaginative. He is as likely to draw from Dante as Scripture, and the reader must beware. If Lewis’ writings on this subject are taken for what they are—insightful fiction—all is well. If we believe Lewis’ understanding goes beyond Scripture, we need to regroup for Lewis’ imagination can skew our concept of heaven or hell if taken too seriously.

Lewis’ theology, even in these matters, has some serious flaws. He believes:

1) That our eternal destiny is determined totally by our free-will choices (p. 76).

2) That by our life choices we turn ourselves into what we have chosen. By contrast, Romans 1:18-32 indicates that, in our rejection of God, He gives us over to what we already are—creatures of impurity (p. 76).

3) In inclusivism (p. 17).

4) That salvation can be lost (p. 118).

5) In Arminian theology (p. 143).

6) George MacDonald to be a reliable guide; yet MacDonald, the tour guide in The Great Divorce, was a Universalist. Lewis rejected Universalism but MacDonald’s theology had a great impact on the theology of Lewis.

7) In Purgatory, “Both because of tradition and because it appealed to his imagination” (p. 203). The belief in Purgatory, however, muddles the gospel. If there yet remains something for us to do before we enter heaven, the death of Christ is not sufficient and our salvation becomes a mingling of faith and works.

As a work analyzing the beliefs of C. S. Lewis on heaven and hell, Beyond the Shadowlands is unsurpassed. But Lewis is not the definitive voice on the subject. He is too swayed by Dante, MacDonald, tradition, Anglican theology and his own imagination. Lewis gives us much to consider, and his views are worthy of study, as long as we realize that Scripture has the final say.

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