Lewis’ and Piper’s Transitive Influences on Evangelicalism


II. Lewis’ and Piper’s Transitive Influences on Evangelicalism: In a previous column, I examined Lewis’ and Piper’s troubling affirmations of hedonism. In that piece, special notice was given concerning Piper’s troubling praise of atheist Ayn Rand: “I think she [Ayn Rand] points to truth and to Jesus ultimately: she esteemed reason, individualism, and hedonism – and so do I…”[1]

The notion of praising an individual whose life was invested in the agenda of blaspheming God seems quite incredible. But Piper has demonstrated such a pattern wherever he finds evidences of hedonism which he believes supports his view of “Christian Hedonism.” For Piper, Ayn Rand (author of The Virtue of Selfishness) should receive some commendation for her love of hedonism, despite the fact that the Apostle Paul saw such hedonism for what it is: a sign of maximal human depravity:

2 Timothy 3:1,4: 1. “In the last days…men will be lovers of self…” 4. “lovers of pleasure [lit. lovers of hedonism: φιλήδονοι]…”

In the pursuit of such hedonism, Piper also insists:

“We should never try to deny or resist our longing to be happy, as though it were a bad impulse. Instead we should seek to intensify this longing and nourish it with whatever will provide the deepest and most enduring satisfaction.”[2]

However, his confident assertion runs headlong against James’ forceful rebuke of the hedonistic pleasure seekers of his day:

James 4:3–9: 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions [lit., hedonism: ἡδοναῖς]. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.

It should be noted that, according to Scripture, hedonism is not only an evidence of grave sin among the ungodly (2 Timothy 3:4) but it is also a potential and grave danger for the people of God (James 4:1-11). It is difficult to imagine that anyone would think that it is a good idea to promote a view of sanctification which has at its roots mankind’s historic problem of hedonism. As was mentioned in the previous article, J.C. Ryle’s rebukes against using “uncouth” words to promote thoughts about sanctification supply a wise warning that should not be ignored.[3] Novel approaches to biblical doctrine will often sell many books, but Christ’s church is not at all helped by such innovations. Thus, Lewis’ troubling legacy survives, and even thrives in the modern era because of those who rest in a similar philosophy of hedonism:

“You notice that I am drawing no distinction between sensuous and aesthetic pleasures. But why should I? The line is almost impossible to draw and what use would it be if one succeeded in drawing it? If this is Hedonism, it is also a somewhat arduous discipline.”[4]

The advancement of Lewis’ hedonism, subjectivism, and mysticism[5] continues to spread in Evangelicalism today, and there are many who are helping with such an advancement. Just last year, John Piper held a conference entitled: The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C.S. Lewis – 2013 National Conference. At the conclusion of the conference’s final message, Piper offered this rather telling benediction, replete with a Lewisian thrust:

“May God take all the messages of this conference, and all the wisdom of C.S. Lewis, and all the wonders of this world, and all the truth of his word, and grant you to taste and see that the Lord is good. And with the help of C.S. Lewis may you communicate it with a joy and skill as never before to a world full of unsatisfied longing.”[6]

John Piper can at least be credited for his admitted reliance upon, and dedication to, C.S. Lewis. But should the body of Christ join him in such devotion? I think not. What must be understood is that whenever a person reads a book by C.S. Lewis, they are ingesting much more than the work of just one author. With Lewis comes the thinking and theology of mystic and universalist – George MacDonald. When introducing his George MacDonald Anthology, Lewis said this:

“…In making this collection I was discharging a debt of justice. I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him [George MacDonald] as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him. But it has not seemed to me that those who have received my books kindly take even now sufficient notice of the affiliation. Honesty drives me to emphasize it.”[7]

By Lewis’ own admission, he was wholly committed to the thinking and teachings of George MacDonald, and this was evident in his writings:

“This collection, as I have said, was designed not to revive MacDonald’s literary reputation but to spread his religious teaching. Hence most of my extracts are taken from the three volumes of Unspoken Sermons. My own debt to this book is almost as great as one man can owe to another: and nearly all serious inquirers to whom I have introduced it acknowledge that it has given them great help—sometimes indispensable help toward the very acceptance of the Christian faith…”[8]

George MacDonald’s main labors focused on his fictional writing, though he started out as a pastor (Trinity Congregational Church, Arundel – 1850) where his disdain for Calvinism and his friendliness towards Universalism became evident. Leaving the ministry with much disdain for the doctrine of election, MacDonald advanced his views through his fictional works. MacDonald’s unwillingness to accept God’s true nature as revealed in Scripture is evident throughout his works, however, his sermon entitled, Justice (where his views on Universalism are evident), makes his disdain for God’s justice quite clear:

“Those who say justice means the punishing of sin, and mercy the not punishing of sin, and attribute both to God, would make a schism in the very idea of God.” [George MacDonald, Sermon on Justice, Psalm 62:12]

In this sermon, MacDonald works backwards from his incredulity regarding God’s absolute justice, surmising that not all will be lost in the end. He renounces the idea of penal substitution and then posits his own view of purgatorial reconciliation:

“’…you do not believe in the atonement?’ In what you call the atonement, in what you mean by the word, what I have already written must make it plain enough I do not believe. God forbid I should, for it would be to believe a lie, and a lie which is to blame for much non-acceptance of the gospel in this and other lands.”

“I believe that justice and mercy are simply one and the same thing; without justice to the full there can be no mercy, and without mercy to the full there can be no justice; that such is the mercy of God that he will hold his children in the consuming fire of his distance until they pay the uttermost farthing, until they drop the purse of selfishness with all the dross that is in it, and rush home to the Father and the Son, and the many brethren–rush inside the centre of the life-giving fire whose outer circles burn.”

From all of this, the reader should understand that the similarities between MacDonald and Lewis are quite strong, and this will help the reader to comprehend the following fictional dialogue between Lewis and his Master – George MacDonald:

Lewis to MacDonald: “In your own books, Sir,” said I, “you were a Universalist. You talked as if all men would be saved. And St. Paul too.”

MacDonald: “Ye can know nothing of the end of all things, or nothing expressible in those terms. It may be, as the Lord said to the Lady Julian, that all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well. But it’s ill talking of such questions.”

Lewis: “Because they are too terrible, Sir?”

MacDonald: “No. Because all answers deceive. If ye put the question from within Time and are asking about possibilities, the answer is certain. The choice of ways is before you. Neither is closed. Any man may choose eternal death. Those who choose it will have it. But if ye are trying to leap on into Eternity, if ye are trying to see the final state of all things as it will be (for so ye must speak) when there are no more possibilities left but only the Real, then ye ask what cannot be answered to mortal ears.”[9]

One of the interesting things about Lewis’ work, The Great Divorce, is that the question of Universalism is never completely answered. According to Lewis’ Master, “all answers deceive,” and so the reader is dissuaded from looking into such a query.[10] Though the reader may not recognize it, Lewis’ fictionally constructed dialogue with MacDonald affords him the opportunity to present the words of Lady Julian, a 14th century mystic and Universalist. In her collection of claimed revelations from Christ entitled, Revelations of Divine Love, Lady Julian recorded the following:


“Often I wondered why by the great foreseeing wisdom of God the beginning of sin was not hindered: for then, methought, all should have been well.” “Sin is behovable–[playeth a needful part]–; but all shall be well”

AFTER this the Lord brought to my mind the longing that I had to Him afore. And I saw that nothing letted me but sin. And so I looked, generally, upon us all, and methought: If sin had not been, we should all have been clean and like to our Lord, as He made us.

And thus, in my folly, afore this time often I wondered why by the great foreseeing wisdom of God the beginning of sin was not letted: for then, methought, all should have been well. This stirring [of mind] was much to be forsaken, but nevertheless mourning and sorrow I made therefor, without reason and discretion.

But Jesus, who in this Vision informed me of all that is needful to me, answered by this word and said: It behoved that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. [italics mine]

The fabric of thinking in the above narrative, from Lady Julian to George MacDonald, leads the reader to the strong possibility of Universalism – in a manner similar to Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins. It should therefore be no wonder that Bell’s book cites Lewis’ The Great Divorce as an important title for a description of Heaven and Hell. In mentioning Bell at this point I must say that this is one of the central reasons why I was disturbed regarding the hypocrisy of those who lambasted Bell, especially those who lavishly promote Lewis without hesitation. To be frank, why would the following two tweets ever be produced by the same person?:



Overall, the selective outrage expressed by Evangelicals over Rob Bell remains a disturbing contradiction, with no resolve. Inconsistencies like these are both confusing and shameful. But there are more questions that must be addressed. What awareness is there regarding the transitive influences of George MacDonald and C.S. Lewis in the modern era? Do men who promote Lewis have any possible idea of the murky influences and teachings that they are passing on to Christ’s sheep? It appears that John Piper has some limited sense of this:

“There is a personal side to this question [Universalism] for me. It is one thing to know that there are always “certain people” in the church who deny the reality of eternal hell, and it is another to love an author and then discover he is one of them. Since my college days, I had read three novels by George MacDonald: Phantastes, Lilith, and Sir Gibbie. I enjoyed them. I had also read a lot of C.S. Lewis and benefited immeasurably from the way he experienced the world and put that experience into writing. I knew that Lewis loved MacDonald and commended him highly: ‘George MacDonald I had found for myself at the age of sixteen and never wavered in my allegiance.” “I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him.” “I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself.” …Largely because of this remarkable advocacy by Lewis, I think, George MacDonald continues to have a significant following among American evangelicals. I certainly was among the number who was drawn to him. Then I picked up Rolland Hein’s edition of Creation to Christ, a collection of MacDonald’s sermons. To my great sorrow, I read these words: ‘From all the copies of Jonathan Edwards’ portrait of God, however faded by time, however softened by the use of less glaring pigments, I turn with loathing….’

Piper continues:

“I read further and saw a profound rejection of the substitutionary atonement of Christ: ‘There must be an atonement, a making up, a bringing together – an atonement which, I say, cannot be made except by the man who has sinned.’ And since only the man who has sinned can atone for his own sin (without a substitute), that is what hell is for. MacDonald is a universalist not in denying the existence of hell, but in believing that the purpose of hell is to bring people to repentance and purity no matter how long it takes. ‘I believe that no hell will be lacking which would help the just mercy of God to redeem His children.’ And all humans are his children. If hell went on forever, he says, God would be defeated. ‘God is triumphantly defeated, I say, throughout the hell of His vengeance. Although against evil, it is but the vain and wasted cruelty of a tyrant.’ I mention George MacDonald as an example of a universalist not only because of my personal encounter with him but also because he represents the popular, thoughtful, artistic side of Christianity which continues to shape the way so many people think.”[11]

John Piper’s admission is quite revealing, especially since he is one of the leading promoters of Lewis in the world today, as he said: “…Largely because of this remarkable advocacy by Lewis, I think, George MacDonald continues to have a significant following among American evangelicals.” By this fact it should be apparent that Piper comprehends that he is, to some extent, doing the bidding of Lewis: passing on the legacy of the mystic and Universalist – George Macdonald. Despite this, Piper’s prayer for “the help of C.S. Lewis” continues to stand, unabated.

Finally I should add that the transitive influence of Lewis is not only advanced through his more theological works, but his fictional works are still deeply seeded with his problematic views:

“Any amount of theology can now be smuggled into people’s minds under cover of romance without their knowing it.”[12] (italics mine)

Ironically, Lewis’ use of the words smuggled…under cover strikes a haunting resemblance to Jude’s expression – crept in unnoticed (Jude 4). Any pastor who genuinely cares for Christ’s sheep will not sleep during such a smuggling operation. With all this, I conclude my expressed concerns for now, but there are many more questions about Lewis’ transitive influences that must be addressed in the areas of mysticism, subjectivism, and secularism. These will be examined in the next column.

Overall, the legacy of Lewis cannot be ignored for the good of Christ’s church.

Soli Deo Gloria

[1] March 6, 2014, Ayn Rand’s Tragic Trajectory (Episode 292) https://twitter.com/JohnPiper/status/441732767915601920

[2] John Piper, Desiring God, (Multnomah Books, Oregon, 1996), p. 23.

[3]“Finally, I must deprecate, and I do it in love, the use of uncouth and new-fangled terms and phrases in teaching sanctification. I plead that a movement in favor of holiness cannot be advanced by new-coined phraseology, or by disproportioned and one-sided statements–or by overstraining and isolating particular texts–or by exalting one truth at the expense of another…”There is an Athenian love of novelty abroad, and a morbid distaste for anything old and regular, and in the beaten path of our forefathers. Thousands will crowd to hear a new voice and a new doctrine, without considering for a moment whether what they hear is true.–There is an incessant craving after any teaching which is sensational, and exciting, and rousing to the feelings.–There is an unhealthy appetite for a sort of spasmodic and hysterical Christianity. The religious life of many is little better then spiritual dram-drinking, and the ‘meek and quiet spirit; which St. Peter commends is clean forgotten (1 Peter 3:4.). Crowds, and crying, and hot rooms, and high-flown singing, and an incessant rousing of the emotions, are the only things which many care for.–Inability to distinguish differences in doctrine is spreading far and wide, and so long as the preacher is ‘clever’ and ‘earnest,’ hundreds seem to think it must be all right, and call you dreadfully ‘narrow and uncharitable’ if you hint that he is unsound!” J.C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, & Roots, (Charles Nolan Publishers, Moscow Idaho, 2001), p. XXIX.

[4] Lewis, C.S. (2002-11-04). Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (pp. 90-91). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

[5] Lewis’ views of mysticism will be addressed in the next column in this series.

[6] John Piper, 2013 National Conference – “The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C.S. Lewis.” Message:” What God Made Is Good — And Must Be Sanctified: C.S. Lewis and St. Paul on the Use of Creation”

[7] C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, An Anthology (HarperCollins, New York 1946), pp. xxxiii-xxxiv.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Lewis, The Great Divorce, pp., 124-125.

[10] In the next column, I will address why it is that the Emergent Church movement loves Lewis for his extrabiblical reasoning and inductive uncertainty.

[11] John Piper, Jesus: The Only Way to God, (Baker Books, Grand Rapids MI), pp. 19-21, italics mine.


[12] C. S. Lewis, 9 August 1939, in The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis. Quoted in Joseph Pearce, C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2003), p. 78.

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