*Excerpts*, VOLUME 12

Frank Viola: Seven Shocking Beliefs that C.S. Lewis Held!

Seven Shocking Beliefs
that C.S. Lewis Held!

An Excerpt from 

ReGrace: What the Shocking Beliefs
of the Great Christians Can Teach Us Today
Frank Viola

Paperback: Baker Books, 2019.
Buy Now:
[ Amazon ] [ Kindle ] [ Audible] [ Hearts & Minds Books ]


The intention of this chapter (and the book) is not to degrade or criticize Lewis. It’s rather to show that despite his brilliance, he may not have gotten everything right. Because evangelical Christians, as a whole, regard Lewis to be the greatest apologist (defender) of the Christian faith in modern history, these beliefs of his will surprise (and perhaps even shock) many evangelicals because they might be regarded as unbiblical by some evangelical standards.

God undoubtedly used Lewis despite whatever he may have believed that was inaccurate or questionable. Therefore, let’s extend grace to our fellow Christians when we find ourselves disagreeing with them. The book explores how to disagree in a Christ-like manner. ]
[Despite] his amazing contribution to the Christian faith, here are seven shocking beliefs that [C.S.] Lewis held.

1. Lewis believed in praying for the dead.

Here’s a quote:

Of course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden.


2. Lewis believed in purgatory.

Springing out of his belief of praying for the dead was his belief in purgatorial cleansing. According to Roman Catholic dogma, purgatory is the final purification of the elect after death. In A Grief Observed, Lewis talked about his deceased wife, Joy, connecting her to suffering and cleansing in purgatory. Lewis believed in salvation by grace, but he thought complete transformation was dependent upon one’s choice. Thus he felt that transformation can even occur after death, and some Christians need to be cleansed in order to be fit for heaven and enjoy it.

For Lewis, purgatory was designed to create complete sanctification, not retribution or punishment. So Lewis saw purgatory as a work of grace.

Here are some revealing quotes from Lewis:

To pray [for the dead] presupposes that progress and difficulty are still possible. In fact, you are bringing in something like Purgatory.

Well, I suppose that I am. Though even in Heaven some perpetual increase of beatitude, reached by a continually more ecstatic self-surrender, without the possibility  of failure but not perhaps without its own ardours and exertions—for delight also has its severities and steep ascents, as lovers know—might be supposed. But I won’t press, or guess, that side for the moment. I believe in Purgatory.


3. Lewis believed that it was possible for some unbelievers to find salvation after they have left this world.

While Lewis didn’t subscribe to universalism or ultimate reconciliation, he did believe that salvation after death was a possibility for some.

His view was that some people may seek and find Christ without knowing Him by name. However, he was very clear that this was not “salvation by sincerity” or “goodness” but rather a Spirit-driven desire for God.

For Lewis, Christianity is not the only revelation of God’s way, but it is the complete and perfect revelation. Lewis, therefore, didn’t hold to the idea that all roads lead equally to God. In addition, Lewis believed that time may not work the same way after death as it does in life. Thus all those who lived before Christ and after might be subject to the grace of repentance.

Interestingly, Lewis’s distant mentor, George MacDonald, believed in ultimate reconciliation (meaning, hell will be empty because God will win everyone to Himself in the end). Lewis’s regard for MacDonald was incomparable. He said of MacDonald, “I dare not say that he is never in error; but to speak plainly I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself.”

That’s quite a statement to make about someone you don’t fully agree with doctrinally.


4. Lewis believed that it was acceptable for Christians to drink alcohol.

In contrast, many evangelicals today believe that all Christians should abstain from alcohol. Here’s a direct quote by Lewis on this point:

Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism. . . . It is a mistake to think that Christians ought to be teetotalers; [Islam], not Christianity, is the teetotal religion.


5. Lewis believed that the book of Job wasn’t historical and that the Bible contained errors.

This view will be shocking to some evangelicals, especially the conservative wing, since Lewis is widely regarded as an evangelical icon.

The Book of Job appears to me unhistorical because it begins about a man quite unconnected with all history or even legend, with no genealogy, living in a country of which the Bible elsewhere has hardly anything to say; because, in fact, the author quite obviously writes as a story-teller not as a chronicler.

The human qualities of the raw materials [of the Bible] show through. Naïvety, error, contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed. The total result is not “the Word of God” in the sense that every passage, in itself, gives impeccable science or history. It carries the Word of God.


6. Lewis didn’t believe that all parts of the Bible were the Word of God.

In his Reflections on the Psalms, Lewis made these interesting comments:

Speaking of judgment and hatred in the Psalms. [Lewis calls them, “the vindictive Psalms, the cursings”; they are also known as “the imprecatory Psalms.”] Yet there must be some Christian use to be made of them; if, at least we [Christians] still believe (as I do) that all Holy Scripture is in some sense—though not all parts of it in the same sense—the word of God.


7. Lewis believed that the creation account in Genesis may have been derived from pagan sources.

Here’s a quote:

I have therefore no difficulty in accepting, say, the view of those scholars who tell us that the account of Creation in Genesis is derived from earlier Semitic stories which were Pagan and mythical.


Copyright 2019, Frank Viola. Used by permission of Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

L10-Launch Promo Blog Phase 1 CTA 1

Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior

Enter your email below to sign up for our weekly newsletter & download your FREE copy of this ebook!
We respect your email privacy

In the News...
Understanding Christian Nationalism: Essential Books [A Reading Guide]
Most Anticipated Books of the Fall for Christian Readers!
Ten Theology Books to Watch For – September 2022
Journalist Barbara Ehrenreich died earlier this month. Here's a few video clips that introduce her work
Hilarious One-Star Customer Reviews of Bibles


  1. You missed on #6. Lewis said, “we still believe (as I do) that *all Scripture* is in some sense – though not all parts of it in the same sense – the word of God.” (Emphasis added)

    He affirmed that ALL SCRIPTURE is “in some sense” the word of God. He believed that some parts of it (say, Job as you point out in #5) were the word of God in a different sense than, say, the Gospels. But unless we are inserting a further premise that there is only one correct understanding of the phrase “the word of God” – which Lewis clearly did not believe – then it is false to say that he believed that not all the Bible are the words of God. He says in that very quote that all of Scripture is the word of God – he just has a broader understanding of that phrase than some evangelicals do.

    • Your criticism isn’t accurate. This article is a very short excerpt from a book called ReGrace. I read the book and it’s fully documented. Point 6 is explained in the book and it has more to it.

      The point the author is making is that every great voice of the past in the christian world got things wrong on some stuff therefore every christian today should not immediately cut off other christians or be uncivil with them over areas of disagreement which happens all the time today on social media.

      It’s a great book for the times and really funny too.

      I bought it after hearing him in this interview. https://insurgence.podbean.com/e/11-the-mark-of-a-true-disciple-false-teachers-heresy-and-jesus-humor/

      • Actually, Spencer is bang on with what he says. The heading for #6 is, and I quote, “Lewis didn’t believe that all parts of the Bible were the Word of God.” but he did, and the quote from Lewis in this very article PROVES that he did, so that statement is quite simply untrue. Nobody’s saying the book is anti Lewis, and it may well go into further explanations, but it wouldn’t change the fact that that heading is incorrect, so it ought to be changed. As it stands, it would be off-putting to anyone, Lewis fan or not, who read it closely and could see the contradiction.

  2. Again, you need to read the book to see that the statement is true. In the book it is established that ‘the word of God’ is a term used by evangelicals to mean every word of the Bible is inspired and is fully accurate (innerant). Lewis didn’t believe that all parts were innerant but he believed that all of it can ‘serve’ God’s word.

    here’s another quote of Lewis that the notes in the book reference.

    “I take it that the whole Old Testament consists of the same sort of material as any other literature –chronicle (some of it obviously pretty accurate), poems, moral and political diatribes, romances, and what not; but all taken into the same service of God’s word. Not all, I suppose, in the same way.”

    “taken into the service of God’s word” rather than God’s Word.

    Most evangelicals wouldn’t describe the Bible this way and that is why it’s one of the surprising views of Lewis. It certainly surprised me.

    I recommend the book, it’s really remarkable, especially the part about how to disagree with a fellow christian in a way that honors God.

    • Candice, I mentioned that in my criticism: “But unless we are inserting a further premise that there is only one correct understanding of the phrase “the word of God” – which Lewis clearly did not believe – then it is false to say that he believed that not all the Bible are the words of God. ”

      The heading is disingenuous. “Lewis didn’t believe that all parts of the Bible were the Word of God” is false **according to Lewis’ own beliefs**. The heading equivocates about the phrase “Word of God” by presupposing and not explicating a specific meaning about that phrase (ie, inerrant) that Lewis would not have agreed with. This is a far more accurate and charitable heading: “Lewis didn’t believe that the Bible is inerrant.” Perhaps the author believes that the two headings are functionally identical, but that is not what Lewis believed and thus is misleading at best and baiting at worst.

      The existing heading does violence to Lewis’ own beliefs, which is supremely ironic in a book that purports to discuss how Christians can disagree in a way that glorifies God. Surely one of the criteria for that is enaging woth anothers’ beliefs in the most charitable, accurate, and clearest light?

  3. Let’s wrap this up. To repeat, the article here is just a short excerpt. The endnotes and explanations are not included in it. I already gave quotes which explain it all. The author also has a whole discussion at the beginning of the chapter that puts Lewis in a positive light. This also isn’t part of the excerpt.

    The book is amazing. I wish every christian would read it.

    God bless.

  4. This is an awesome book! Highly recommend it.

  5. Aren’t #5,6,7, connected? If what is being called the Word of God has errors, and is partially derived from pagan sources, then how can it be the word of a perfect God?

    I have trouble figuring out what Frank really believes about the “Word of God” in his various writings. I don’t have any of his books with me, but I recall that he seems to believe that Jesus himself is the Word of God and that the scriptures are simply an authoritative witness to this fact. Can you help me get a definitive grip on this?