“Further Up and Further In!” C.S. Lewis on HeavenCarol Zaleski
“[O]ur natural ways of sensing, feeling, and knowing will be ‘flooded’ and drawn into the higher life, raised up into the life of glory rather than canceled out, and all flesh shall see this together.”
C. S. Lewis never set out to be a theologian. His explicitly theological writings are hedged with disclaimers: “I walk in mirabilibus supra me and submit all to the verdict of real theologians.”1 The “real theologians” would have been ordained members of the clergy and credentialed members of the academic guild. Lewis, in contrast, was a lay Anglican and a literary historian who played almost no part in Oxford’s faculty of Divinity, aside from reading the occasional thesis and failing the occasional undergraduate on the compulsory “Divvers” exam (for which he incurred the resentment of the poet John Betjeman).2 His religious writings, moreover, were unsystematic and far from cutting edge; to many academic theologians, they seemed rather quaint and tossed off, the work of a “professor at play.” But Lewis’s star has risen, and though he defies classification as a theological specialist, he is recognized by vast numbers of Christians as offering something more immediately relevant to their spiritual concerns. In the Pilgrim’s Progress of our age, Lewis’s role is that of the Interpreter—he is the most successful modern translator of the doctrines and mysteries of Christianity. In this Interpreter’s house, furnished with bright pictures and homely analogies, many lost souls have found their way back to the faith.
For that reason alone, it is worth exploring what Lewis has to say about heaven. Lewis has no new doctrine to offer, thankfully, but the pictures and analogies he puts forward can be wonderfully subtle and instructive.
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1. C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, ed. Walter Hooper, revised and expanded edition (New York: Macmillan, 1980), 71.
2. For Lewis’s relations with academic theology at Oxford, see Alister McGrath, The Intellectual World of C. S. Lewis (Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 170, and Daniel D. Inman, The Making of Modern English Theology: God and the Academy at Oxford, 1833–1945 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014), 255–56.