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The Beliefs of Two Christians Compared: C. S. Lewis and Josh McDowell

C.S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis needs no introduction.

Josh McDowell is the author of Evidence That Demands a Verdict and other Evangelical Christian works of apologetics.

Of all the “converted skeptics” whom McDowell mentioned in the first ed. of Evidence That Demands a Verdict none has had as wide and enduring an influence as C. S. Lewis. His “Christian novels” and works of “Christian apologetics” are sold in both mainstream and Christian bookstores, and make McDowellʼs books and efforts pale in comparison. Many, including McDowell, have utilized Lewisʼ fame to their own advantage by citing him as a Christian authority in their own works.

However, Lewis never systematically examined each Biblical book and discussed what he believed about it and why. When he spoke on theological matters, he always qualified himself as an amateur: “I have no claim to speak as an expert in any of the studies involved, and merely put forward the reflections which have arisen in my own mind and have seemed to me (perhaps wrongly) to be helpful. They are all submitted to the correction of wiser heads.”[1]

Some interesting facts about C. S. Lewis that McDowell might not like his readers to know, include the following:

Josh McDowell
  1. Lewis admitted the Bible “may no doubt contain errors,” and, he doubted, denied, or avoided discussing, many biblical miracles (though he stood by most if not all of the miracles of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels).[2]

  2. Lewis denied the “inspiration” of Biblical authors whenever they attributed to “God” blatantly immoral actions and commands (such as linking “God” to the “treacheries of Joshua” or to “striking dead” a married Christian couple for withholding some of their money from the church in Acts). Lewis wrote, “The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scripture is to prevail when they conflict. I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two.”[3] “The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him [i.e., God]. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there's no God after all,’ but, ‘So, this is what God is really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’”[4]

  3. Lewis acknowledged that Jesus made an error when Jesus predicted that the Son of Man would come in final judgment within a “generation” of Jesus' day, or, “before those standing [around Jesus after his transfiguration] had all died.”[5]

  4. Lewis focused on Jesusʼ death as “exemplary,” the perfect example of “dying to self” that we all should follow. He did not focus on it as a necessary price to pay to appease God's wrath toward all mankind.[6]

  5. Lewis had no theological difficulty accepting that Genesis may have been “derived from earlier Semitic stories which were Pagan and mythical,”[7] and he found more truth in the story of the “Garden of Eden” when he regarded it as a myth than when he regarded it as history.[8]

  6. Lewis accepted the theory of the biological evolution of the human form from earlier animal species.[9]

  7. Lewis speculated that at least some animals might be granted eternal life with human beings in heaven.[10]

  8. Lewis believed in the miraculously “real” presence of Christ in the communion wafer.[11]

  9. Lewis held a tolerant attitude toward things like beer, tobacco and the cinema, and disagreed with those who found such things “bad in themselves.”[12]

  10. Lewis believed in purgatory, prayers for the dead, and prayers to saints.[13]

  11. Lewis believed that even the most peculiar religions contained “at least some hint of the truth.” “There are people in other religions who…belong to Christ without knowing it.” “We do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.” In fact, in Lewisʼ fairy tale, The Last Battle, prince Emeth “hated” the name of “Aslan [the Christ-figure],” and worshiped the false god, “Tash,” but prince Emeth was loved and accepted by Aslan after Emeth died.[14] Lewis even had a character in his novel, The Great Divorce, say, “St. Paul talked as if all men would be saved.”[15] Moreover, Lewis' central inspiration in the field of Christian apologetics was G. K. Chesterton. And the man whom Lewis called “my spiritual mentor” was George MacDonald. Both men agreed on the theological possibility (if not inevitability) of all mankind being saved.[16]

C. S. Lewis, McDowell, and Tolerance

In contrast to Lewisʼ views, above note what Josh McDowell preached at a Youth for Christ rally in 1994. McDowell got up in front of thousands of young people and denounced tolerance itself: “Tolerance is the worst roar of all, including tolerance for homosexuals, feminists, and religions that don't follow Christ.” (If only C. S. Lewis were alive to tell McDowell, “I dare say, there are people in every religion who are ‘following Christ’ more closely than you at this moment, Mr. McDowell.”) McDowell reiterated in a magazine article published in 1997 that we are teaching our kids to focus on tolerance too much. He called it a “drastic change,” “one of the greatest shifts in history,” adding, “I am convinced we have only a short time to counter this new doctrine of tolerance before it will be too late - for us and our children.”[17] McDowell even had a novel published in 1997 titled, Vote of Intolerance, in which the hero “takes a hard stand against crime, drugs, homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia” (and presumably against all beliefs and convictions other than his own).

McDowell's statements remind me of similar ones reported by a friend who attended a famed retreat/camp for young Christians called “Scroon Lake” in New York State. The retreat was tied in with Jerry Falwell's ministries and Campus Crusade for Christ (who sponsor Josh McDowell Ministries), and other Christian organizations. According to my friend, “On the first day, a speaker pushed Oliver North's book and sang the glories of the Gulf War. Most of the weekend was in the hands of some anti-evolutionists from the Institute for Creation Research in California; one of them, a leading member in the organization with which Josh McDowell is closely associated, said how terrible a sin it was that Charles Darwin was buried in Westminster Abbey. He added that we could all take comfort in the fact that we could, anytime we pleased, go there and trample and spit on his grave. Another speaker went on about the evils of secular education, the evils of tolerance for homosexuals, etc. All of this provoked constant cheers and ‘Amen's’ from the youthful audience. I felt like I was at a Hitler Youth Rally! The weekend ended with someone quoting Jerry Falwell himself: ‘If you're not a born again Christian, you're a failure as a human being.’ If only this sort of ‘Christianity’ were an aberration. Unfortunately, itʼs not.” [18]

Speaking of the difficulty that many fundamentalists and hard-line evangelicals have in tolerating the notion of tolerance, about ten years ago in Greenville, South Carolina (where I live), the County Council (backed by “strong Christian principles”) passed an “Anti-gay resolution.” The council did not advocate running gays out of town, but they felt they had to let homosexuals know that they were to blame for destroying America. In response to the Council's “Anti-gay resolution,” homosexuals organized a gay pride march to take place in Greenville. Some stores on Greenvilleʼs main street hung signs in their windows supporting the march. But on the day of the march those shop owners discovered that someone had jammed toothpicks into their door locks so that they could not open. And two weeks after the gay pride march a local minister organized a “pro-family rally” and told people to boycott all restaurants in downtown Greenville because “waiters with AIDS” were transmitting the disease by “spitting on people's food.” A few weeks later a man who said he was “sent by God to kill homosexuals” spewed obscenities and threats at students in a high school career center in Greenville county (it took numerous police officers to subdue him).[19] Then the Southern Baptists (the majority religion in the South, including Greenville county), voted to boycott Disney because they treat their gay employees as if they were human beings (i.e., Disney pays benefits to the gay companions of their employees).

More recently, a “Christian” on the South Carolina state board of education proposed that the Ten Commandments be displayed in public schools throughout the state. When it was pointed out to him that people of other religions might be offended if their holy sayings were not also displayed, he replied, “Screw the Buddhists and kill the Moslems” (He apparently forgot the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.”) Which brings to mind an incident from a few years ago when a man on a Delta airliner in the skies above Greenville, South Carolina, told a flight attendant that he would “have to kill everyone who was not a born-again Christian.” Luckily, the man was unable to force the cockpit door open and attack the pilots or damage the controls.[20])
Returning to McDowell's magazine article on “Tolerance and Truth,” in it he listed “homosexuality, pornography, and abortion” as the evils taking refuge behind the “new doctrine of tolerance.” But compare McDowell's list of evils with Jesus'. Jesus did not crow on about the dangers of “homosexuality.” Though it certainly existed in his day, the Gospels never have Jesus addressing the subject even once. And he did not rail against “pornography,” though there were sexually explicit statues, pottery, and imagery throughout the Roman Empire. What Jesus railed against was each person's lack of control of their own wandering eyes, not against the objects they might spy. Neither did he cry out against “abortion” though the Greeks and Romans not only employed abortifacients, but also practiced infanticide on unwanted children. Jesus had different priorities and told people that instead of worrying about those who can kill the body, each person should “fear Him who can cast both body and soul into hell.” He urged each person to look into their own hearts, and not to judge the secret motives and desires of others. Nor would “compulsory public prayers” have made much sense to Jesus, who taught, “When you pray, do not do it loudly in the streets [or over satellite TV?] like the hypocrites, but go into your closet to pray in secret.” Jesus was obviously not obsessed with the same issues as McDowell (or today's Religious Right). Instead, Jesus preached things like, “Woe to the rich,[21] they already have their reward;” and, “Woe to the Pharisees” (self-righteous religious leaders who only see goodness in their own narrow causes and evil everywhere else). So if McDowell wishes to warn people of a “new doctrine of tolerance,” he should begin by warning Christians of their “new doctrine of tolerance” toward the wealthy and self-righteous, against which Jesus preached most loudly.

I would say that McDowell has disguised (even from himself) the motive behind his “dangers of tolerance” speeches. He is not “afraid” of a “new doctrine of tolerance.” He just wants intolerance reinstated to its age-old status of a moral and religious obligation. (Just like the Pharisees did.)

McDowell also apparently suffers from selective amnesia regarding the “dangers of intolerance.” C. S. Lewis was far more aware of such dangers and of the bloody history of Christians who persecuted pagans, Jews, Moslems, fellow Christians, and more. Lewis wrote in a letter to a friend, “Even more disturbing as you say, is the ghastly record of Christian persecution. It had begun in Our Lord's time - ‘Ye know not what spirit ye are of’ (John of all people!) [22] I think we must fully face the fact that when Christianity does not make a man very much better, it makes him very much worse…Conversion may make of one who was, if no better, no worse than an animal, something like a devil.”[23]

McDowell should consider whether he might be on the way down that slippery slope toward “devil-dom” that Lewis warned about, or whether he might be greasing up that slope for some of his Christian listeners to slide down. He might also benefit by reading Dr. F. Forrester Church's book, The Seven Deadly Virtues.


  1. Michael J. Christensen, C. S. Lewis on Scripture: His Thoughts on the Nature of Biblical Inspiration, The Role of Revelation and the Question of Inerrancy (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1979), p. 22.

  2. A. J. Mattill, Jr., “Some Reflections on C. S. Lewisʼ ‘Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism,’” The Journal of Faith and Thought, Spring, 1985, pp. 22-33. See also, Christensen, pp. 18-19, & Appendix A. And, W. H. Lewis, ed., The Letters of C. S. Lewis, (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1966), pp. 286-287. And, John Beversluis, C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1985).

  3. C. S. Lewis letter dated July 3, 1963 to John Beversluis. Quoted in full in Beversluis, pp. 156f.

  4. C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (New York: Seabury Press, 1963), pp. 9-10.

  5. C. S. Lewis, “The World's Last Night,” The World's Last Night And Other Essays (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, n.d.), pp. 98-99. See also, A. J. Mattill, Jr., “Some Reflections on C. S. Lewisʼ ‘Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism,’” The Journal of Faith and Thought, Spring, 1985, pp. 22-33.

  6. Christensen, pp. 33-34.

  7. C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (London: Collins, Fontana Books, 1958), p. 93.

  8. Christensen, pp. 34-35.

  9. Ibid., pp. 31-32.

  10. Ibid., pp. 32-33.

  11. Ibid., p. 30.

  12. Ibid., p. 25.

  13. Ibid., pp. 29-30. See also W. H. Lewis, p. 300.

  14. Christensen, pp. 25-30.

  15. When Lewis wrote, “St. Paul talked as if all men would be saved,” he was undoubtedly referring to verses such as, “All Israel will be saved…[for] they [the Jews] are beloved [by God] for the sake of the fathers: for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable…For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all.” [Romans 11:26,28,29,32] “O’ the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out…For of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things.” [Romans 11:33,36] “For just as all people die because of their union with Adam, in the same way all will be raised to life because of their union with Christ.” [1 Corinthians 15:22] “God was pleased…through him [Jesus] to reconcile to himself all things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” [Colossians 1:19-20] What, in terms of Pauline texts elsewhere, i.e., “We fight not against flesh and blood but against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places,” could “things in heaven” needing to be “reconciled,” refer to, except the rebellious angels including Satan, “prince of the power of the air!” Universalistic sentiments in the Bible can also be found in Lamentations 3:22,31-33 and Psalm 103:8-10,14 which agree that “the Lord will not reject forever,” “Nor will He keep his anger forever.” 1 Peter 3:19-20 even depicts Jesus “preaching” to “the spirits in prison who were disobedient [in Noah's day].”

    For a thorough discussion of the universalistic side of the Bible, I heartily endorse a slim paperback, titled, Salvation and Damnation by William S. Dalton (Butler, Wis.: Clergy Book Service, 1977). Also see Jan Bonda, The One Purpose of God: An Answer to the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment, in which he scrutinizes church traditions and Scripture - especially Paul's letter to the Romans – and concludes that neither Paul nor the prophets to whom he appeals show any trace of supporting the doctrine of eternal damnation. On the contrary, they tell us that God wants to save all people, and that He will not rest until that goal has been achieved. I am sure that C. S. Lewis would have been pleased to suggest books like those to Josh McDowell if Lewis had lived long enough to meet Josh.

  16. Babinski, pp. 213 & 218.

  17. Josh McDowell, “Tolerance and Truth,” Moody, Vol. 97, no. 4, March/April 1997, pp. 34 & 36.

  18. Bruce Wildish, e-mail message sent to Edward Babinski, dated Wednesday, August 24, 1994.

  19. “School Intruder Arrested,” Greenville News (Friday, May 23, 1997, p. 1D).

  20. “Man Tries To Storm Cockpit of Airliner,” Greenville News (p. 1A, date of paper was cropped off my copy of the article, but definitely between 1986 and 1994).

  21. Speaking of Jesusʼ frequent denunciations of the rich that McDowell and other hard-line evangelicals frequently ignore, Jesus would probably be more appalled by the gargantuan swindles perpetrated both in this country and abroad as reported in the Wall Street Journal, rather than by local street criminals (as shown on the television show, Cops) the latter of whom he would have far more compassion for. For those who disagree, I suggest reading the eye opening article in The Nation, April 7, 1997, “A Year in Corporate Crime.”

  22. In the “Gospel of John,” Jesusʼ enemies are depicted more than sixty times as simply, “The Jews.” Jesusʼ concern for Israel as seen in the Gospel of Matthew (10:5-6 & 15:24) is absent from the Jesus who appears in the Gospel of John (5:45-47 & 8:31-47). The Gospel John, having been written after Matthew, Mark and Luke, probably reflects the growing breakdown of relations between the early Christian church and the Jewish synagog.

  23. C. S. Lewis in a letter to Bede Griffiths, dated Dec. 20, 1961, not long before Lewisʼ death, The Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed., W. H. Lewis, (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1966), p. 301.


Josh McDowell spoke out on July 15th, 2011, during the Unshakable Truth, Relevant Faith event at the Billy Graham Training Center. There he identified what he claims as being the greatest threat to Christians…the internet. Why? Because it gives those who are skeptical “almost equal access to your kids as your youth pastor and you have… whether you like it or not.” The internet “has leveled the playing field [giving equal access to skeptics].”

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