Contra C.S. Lewis: Why 1 Timothy 4:10 Does Not Endorse Religious Pluralism Heresy
Posted by Job on January 1, 2011
Recently, due to a confluence of circumstances, the kids and I had a block of time that had to be spent at a movie theatre. Due to my, er, conservative tastes, the only viable options were Megamind (part of the Hollywood campaign to promote subversive ideas by attacking concepts of virtue and decency in the minds of our young, but that’s a whole other story), Tron Legacy, and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The little ones – and not so little ones – wanted to see Tron Legacy, but I chose the Narnia installment (which will be the last to be made into a film) because of its Christian elements and themes.
Result: much better than expected. The script was far from perfect, but the action and effects were great, and the Christian elements were far more frequent and explicit than expected, which made for a rousing good time for all. In my exuberance, I was ready to immediately abandon my mixed feelings about C.S. Lewis and his Narnia works and borrow my neighbor’s volume set and begin reading at the first opportunity.
Now as God’s blessings had it, the first opportunity would have been the next morning. As a result, I decided to spend the evening before doing a little research on the Narnia series on Wikipedia for a preview. I am not one of those who fears “spoiling the ending by knowing what will happen in advance”, preferring instead to know what I am getting into when I undertake reading a novel or watching a movie. And in this case, boy did knowing what I was getting into paid off.
The reason is that at the end of the very last of the series of 7 books, “The Last Battle”, C.S. Lewis, the famed Christian apologist and scholar cherished and beloved by millions of Christians worldwide, and whose works are referenced and quoted by many prominent Christian pastors and leaders and used in a great many of the seminaries and Bible colleges that train future such leaders, uses the devout pagan false god worshiping character Emeth to make an aggressive endorsement of the “many paths to heaven” religious pluralism heresy popularized by those ranging from John Hick, Billy Graham, and the Vatican Council II (now of course my position is that Roman Catholicism is a wholly other and false religion to begin with, but thanks to a long line of people from John Wesley to Billy Graham, Roman Catholics are now accepted as Christians by most evangelicals, which means that their doctrines increasingly influence Protestant thinking). Aslan, the allegorical Jesus Christ figure in Narnia, gives Emeth entrance into heaven because he accepted Emeth’s loyal – indeed fervent – devotion to the demon Tash as service to him. Lewis promoted the popular modern heretical abomination that “good people” who faithfully worship false deities are actually worshiping the one true God whether they know it or not … that those who worship YHWH in ignorance through false religions will receive the same reward as those who worship God openly. This was even inconsistent with the contents of the Narnia books themselves, as the religion dedicated to this demon had corrupted Emeth’s entire culture, people and nation.
But wait. There’s more. Aslan also allows entrance into heaven those who did not worship him, but merely obeyed the laws of Narnia (as Narnia’s laws were based on knowledge of Aslan). So, in addition to “you can get to heaven by being a good demon worshiper”, Lewis basically endorsed the “all good people go to heaven regardless of worship or personal faith” doctrine, which is essentially an endorsement of both Roman Catholic doctrine (salvation is conferred by being a member in good standing with the church) and modern state-church doctrine. May I remind you that C.S. Lewis was on extremely good terms with the Roman Catholic Church, and a member of the Church of England.
Basically, C.S. Lewis held the position that Jesus Christ’s atoning death on the cross is applied to all good people regardless of religious practice. Lewis, typical of pluralists and universalists, interprets “I am the way and none can come to the Father except through me” to mean that Jesus Christ alone was the One who secured salvation regardless of faith in Him, and not that salvation is only through faith in Jesus Christ.
Again, C.S. Lewis’ beliefs are not hidden in a corner. They are in the Narnia books, read by millions of Christians who profess conservative theological beliefs. And Narnia has defended his views as expressed in “The Last Battle” in a number of writings and media interviews. Naturally, these are not what the many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians who love citing Lewis refer to, and it is not what the many evangelical and fundamentalist seminaries assign their students to read. That the folks who tread in these circles esteem C.S. Lewis merely because he is counted as a theological conservative on certain matters (i.e. inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible and the virgin birth, deity, atoning death, resurrection and literal return of Jesus Christ) and oppose theological liberals when they believe basically the same thing on the vital issue of who gets to go to heaven can be nothing other than an indictment of the scandalous condition of the church today … a church that many believe is on the precipice of the great falling away of 2 Thessalonians 2:3. What else can be said about a Christian climate that continues to revere C.S. Lewis, Rick Warren and Billy Graham, sponsors such efforts as Evangelicals and Catholics Together, Mormon outreaches, and the Manhattan Declaration (signed by a number of prominent Christians including Al Mohler, which is no surprise as Mohler is on the board of James Dobson’s Focus On The Family).
The truth is that there isn’t that much difference between the beliefs of C.S. Lewis, who is treasured by so many conservative Christians, and the publicly stated beliefs of Barack HUSSEIN Obama. (Yes, Obama proclaims that he believes in the virgin birth, deity, atonement, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.) Yet one they embrace and the other they despise? Then again, since so many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians continued to support George W. Bush even after he stated that the Bible is not literally true but was merely good moral instructions (the position of the deist Thomas Jefferson), that Muslims and Christians worship the same god, and that this god (whoever he is) told him to invade Iraq, and that Billy Graham told him that some people are “born Christian” … well I guess it would have take finding out that C.S. Lewis supported the Democratic Party and Billy Graham becoming a Democrat for prominent Christians to turn on them! One must look at the church, look at the Bible and shudder at the judgments in store for the church of this generation!
Now the verse that C. S. Lewis used in his writings to defend his pluralist position was 1 Timothy 4:10, which reads “For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.” Lewis and his band of gospel-denying heretics interpret that to mean that God saves “good people” whether they believe or not. The problem: even if you are willing to discard everything else said in Biblical revelation in order to make that single verse the head of all scripture, that isn’t what the verse means. If God is the “Saviour of all” according to Lewis, then His salvation isn’t pluralism (all faithful adherents of their religious traditions get saved because all religions contain enough of God’s revelation to save) or works righteousness (all good people go to heaven) but universalism (everyone goes to heaven regardless of belief or works). So, in addition to Lewis being internally inconsistent in his Narnia universe by claiming that it was possible to be good, faithful and moral by following a religion dedicated to a demon, and which religion had made the nation given over to worshiping it corrupt and evil, he was inconsistent with his interpretation of 1 Timothy 4:10 by claiming that “Saviour of all” means “Saviour of all good/religious people” instead of “Saviour of all” which is what it plainly says! So, we have a fellow who goes on record stating that a Bible verse doesn’t mean what it plainly says (even according to his own fashion) and he still gets to be regarded as one of the greatest Christian minds of the 20th century? Ok … fine … so who’s the second greatest? If this is what it takes to be regarded as a great Christian mind, what’s the point? What is the benefit? Where is the profit! It would be far better to be regarded a rube, simpleton and dullard by the likes of these people!
So, as 1 Timothy 4:10 plainly cannot be used to support pluralism, we can reject Lewis out of hand and move on to what the verse seems to endorse, which is the universalism of a long line of heretics dating back to at least Origen. Now I must admit: I was stumped. (No great shock or issue there, for after all I am an amateur, not a professional pastor or theologian!) And when I did an Internet search on the matter, I didn’t find much. I guess all the professional pastors and theologians out there had better things to do than properly exegete/interpret/explain a verse that is very commonly abused by universalism heretics! What are some of those things? Oh, I don’t know, how about praising C. S. Lewis and telling their congregations to go watch the Narnia movies and buy the books without bothering to warn them what Lewis really believes and his books really teach … about how it really is no better than Harry Potter? Research shows that most evangelicals believe that “all good people are going to heaven.” Oh, gee, I wonder why?
Fortunately, the excellent The Highway ministry was up to the challenge. A link to their presentation of why 1 Timothy 4:10 does not teach universalism is below:
The main excerpt:
A. This is the correct interpretation. It is found by making a thorough study of the term “Saviour” (in both its noun and verb forms1) in the context of the chapter, the epistle, the New Testament and the Old Testament.2 The final phrase “specially of those that believe” clearly Indicates that the term is here given a twofold application. Of all men God is the Saviour, but of some men, namely, believers, He is the Saviour in a deeper, more glorious sense than He is of others.
This clearly implies that when He Is called the Saviour of all men, this cannot mean that He imparts to all everlasting life, as He does to believers. The term “Saviour,” then, must have a meaning which we today generally do not immediately attach to it. And that is exactly the cause of the difficulty. Often In the Old Testament, the term meant “to deliver — (verbal form) or deliverer (nominal form)” — both with reference to men and God (cf. Judg. 3:9; II Kings 13:5; Neh. 9:27; Ps. 25:5; 106:21). Also, in the New Testament, reference is made to the Old Testament where God delivered Israel from the oppression of Pharaoh for He had been the Saviour of all, but specially those who believed. With the latter, and with them alone, He was “well pleased” (I Cor. 10:5). All leave Egypt; not all enter Canaan.” POINT: In both the Old and New Testaments the term “Saviour” is often used to speak of God’s providential preservation or deliverance which extends to all men without exception. (Cf. Ps. 36:6; 145:9; Matt. 5:45; Luke 6:35; Acts 17:25, 28.) Moreover, God also causes His gospel of salvation to be earnestly proclaimed to all men without distinction; that is, to men from every race and nation (Matt. 28:19). Truly the kindness (providence or common grace) of God extends to all. But even the circle of those to whom the message of salvation is proclaimed is wider than those who receive it by a true saving faith.
B. Conclusion. A paraphrase of what Paul is teaching in I Timothy 4:10 is this: “We have our hope set on the living God, and in this hope we shall not be disappointed, for not only is He a kind God, hence the Saviour (i.e., preserver or deliverer in a providential, non-soteriological sense) of all men, showering blessings upon them, but He is, in a very special sense, the Saviour (in a soteriological sense) of those who by faith embrace Him and His promise, for to them He imparts salvation, everlasting life in all its fulness.
A similar conclusion is reached by Pastor John Sampson.
A great deal more could be said to substantiate this idea of a savior, but I think the above would make the point. God provides food (Psalm 104:27, 28), sunlight and rainfall (Matt. 5:45), as well as life and breath and all things (Acts 17:25), for “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). God preserves, delivers and supplies the needs of all who live in this world, and it is in this sense that He extends grace to them, saving them from destruction every day they live.
God is also gracious in allowing many to hear the proclamation of the Gospel.
All of these mercies are refered to as “common grace.” It is common only in the sense that every living person gets it. This grace should actually amaze us because God is under no obligation whatsoever to give it to anyone. It can never be demanded. God sustains the lives of His sworn enemies, often for many decades! However, as wonderful as it is, it is only a temporal grace because all unregenerate people eventually die and will face the judgment (Heb. 9:27).
I believe then that 1 Timothy 4:10 teaches that we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior (Soter – preserver, sustainer, deliverer) of all people (showing mercy to all, each and every day they live), especially of those who believe (who receive full salvation from His wrath and everlasting life).
For an alternative explanation, Pastor James White proposes that this verse should have been translated to read “who is the Savior of all people, that is, of those who believe” because “malista” should have never been translated as “especially” but instead “that is”. So, a more smooth rendering “who is the Savior of all people who believe” with the “malista” being for the purpose of placing emphasis on “those who believe”, or highlighting those who have saving grace, in a peculiar language convention of the day.
Primarily, however, Dr. White also states that this verse means that Jesus Christ is the only Savior, but that since only those who believe in Jesus Christ actually get saved, Jesus Christ is even more so the Savior for those. In other words, it is a “from general to specific” literary convention. To employ a comparison example:
“A car is a method of transportation, especially for those who own one.” The fact that you do not have access to a car does not negate the fact that a car is a method of transportation. But for those who actually have access to a car, that car is THEIR method of transportation, making it a method of transportation even more so for them, or making it especially a method of transportation.
Taking that back to Jesus Christ, it means that Jesus Christ is Savior whether a person is actually saved or not! Jesus Christ is Savior, especially for people who get saved! And Dr. White’s interpretation actually does fit 1 Peter 1:13-25. That passage is concerned with Jesus Christ’s being appointed as Savior by God before the foundation of the world. This declares Jesus Christ to be Savior not by virtue of His act of saving people, but rather appointing Him to the office of Savior in an official or general way. To go back to the car example, a car does not become a method of transportation only when and because people are riding in it. Instead, provided that the car is capable of operating properly, it is a method of transportation merely by being a car whether it is ever actually driven or not. More to the point, it is a method of transportation even if it is driven by someone else and you personally never get to ride in it. Why? Because it is a car. Further, it is a method of transportation for all people – in the sense that every human being on the planet could hypothetically ride in it … even if they never get a chance to ride in it, they could hypothetically or potentially do so … even though not everyone actually gets to ride in it!
Another example: a surgeon is a surgeon even if he isn’t operating on anyone, and even if he isn’t operating on you. Why? Because even if he never operates on you, his job, title, duty, is still surgeon. And he is still surgeon for all people in the sense that hypothetically he is able to operate on any individual. Despite the fact that he will only perform a few hundred surgeries in his career, he is still qualified, trained, and able to operate on any person who needs a surgeon. So, he is a surgeon “for all” in a general sense, and the surgeon for people that he actually operates on in a specific sense. From general to specific.
Now both The Highway and Dr. James White are correct. God does save by being provider and sustainer of all in a common grace sense, and God also holds the title, role, office etc. of Savior. However, because Dr. James White’s primary explanation seems to best fit the context and also addresses the soteriology component (and does so without relying on either a minor translation for malista that results in a very odd literary construction), that is the one preferred.
The bottom line is that as there are several ways to interpret 1 Timothy 4:10 in a manner that precludes universalism, the only reason to use it to assert that heretical doctrine (or to use it to assert pluralism in spite of the direct text) is a rebellious heart. Which, of course, is no surprise … while there are certainly exceptions (i.e. ignorance) people generally adhere to heretical doctrines because they are heretics. So, those who use 1 Timothy 4:10 in some attempt to deny or reject what the Bible clearly reveals are without excuse, and will receive the heretic’s reward when they stand before the very Jesus Christ whose atonement they so marginalized, distorted and slandered on judgment day.
Do not be counted among their lot, of those who remain hard hearted to God’s revelation. Rather, let them be a lesson, byword, proverb or warning to you. Let their example be something that helps cause you to turn from your own sins – which are no greater than theirs – and submit yourself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ who is Savior. Be one of those who believes, one of those that Jesus Christ is especially, specifically a Savior to. Do not delay. Do this immediately.