Concerning hell, C. S. Lewis wrote, “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power.” (C. S. Lewis, “The problem of pain”). J. D. Greear comments: “In many ways, I agree with him. No one, Christians included, should like the idea of hell. For years I’ve felt that if you were to give me a Bible, a divine eraser, and ten minutes, I would take hell out of the Bible.”
In the White Horse Inn podcast episode “Lamb of God Part 2” one of the participants quotes the same passage from Lewis, and comments:
“The text is reality the same way the external world is for the physicist; it can’t be transcended. If we imagine that it can, then it is the one who rose from the dead who vindicates all his promises in the Old Testament scriptures and his promises to the not yet having been written new, who says “until someone else says that, you might as well listen to me.”
At that point, Michael Horton says “This is a great time to take questions.” Me, me, I have a question. “Onedaringjew, what’s it this time?”
I want to say that all of us here agree that the Bible is clear about hell, that it is eternal punishment. As our topic tonight is about blood atonement – the scarlet thread running through the whole Bible – the point we all want to emphasise today is that the texts in the Bible about the lamb who was slain as a propitiatory sacrifice, about the shedding of Christ’s blood for our sins, are as clear as the fact that there is no way we can hop over, or duck, or, to put it posh, transcend the physical world and say it does not exist outside our noggins. Except for idea-lists, of course.
Here’s a funny thing that C. S. Lewis said about the lamb that was slain, about the shedding of Christ’s blood says (in “Mere Christianity”):
“You can say that Christ died for our sins. You may say that the Father has forgiven us because Christ has done for us what we ought to have done. You may say that we are washed in the blood of the Lamb. You may say that Christ has defeated death. They are all true. If any of them do not appeal to you, leave it alone and get on with the formula that does. And, whatever you do, do not start quarrelling with other people because they use a different formula from yours.”
No narrow formulas, says Lewis. Nor should we want a “cosy ecumenical love-in thing” (as someone said). Lewis, of course, indicates throughout his theological writings that this is the last thing he would desire. I wonder, however, whether this is exactly what Lewis has encouraged with his idea that substitutionary sacrifice (Lewis’ “washed in the blood of the lamb”) is merely an optional way of understanding the plan of salvation.
Lewis acknowledges the great influence of George MacDonald: “MacDonald rejected the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, and like many others, including Christians, believe that penal substitution, which involved the shedding of blood, was cosmic child abuse. MacDonald taught that Christ had come to save people from their sins, and not from a Divine punishment for their sins. (C. S, Lewis and the formula of “Christ’s blood shed for our sins.”
Lewis’s “optional formula” may not have found a way of transcending the text, or side stepping it; but definitely fudging it, or as Lewis might have objected, not definitely but “merely.”