C.S. Lewis’s Denial of the Blood Atonement
February 28, 2024
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) is loved with an equal fervor by conservative evangelicals, emergents, Roman Catholics, Mormons, even atheists, a fact that speaks volumes to those who have ears to hear.

Lewis was not a sound Bible believing Christian. His autobiography,
Surprised by Joy, has no statement of the gospel and no born again experience. He held a sacramental view of salvation, saying that it is “spread to us” by “baptism, belief, and ... holy communion.” Lewis did not hold to the infallible inspiration of Scripture. He believed that Jonah and Job are not historical books, calling Jonah “a tale” and Job a “vein of typically Jewish humor.” He denied Christ’s substitutionary atonement. He denied the literal six-day creation (calling it “a Hebrew folk tale”). He said “man is physically descended from animals” (The Problem of Pain). He said hell is “a state of mind” (The Great Divorce). He believed in purgatory and prayers for the dead. He confessed his sins to a priest. He believed it is possible to be saved without believing in Christ, and he said that “many of the good Pagans long before Christ’s birth” may have been saved (Mere Christianity). In the popular Chronicles of Narnia series, which has influenced countless children, Lewis taught that those who sincerely serve the devil (called Tash) are actually serving Christ (Aslan) and will eventually be accepted by God.

Consider Lewis’s denial of the
“PENAL SUBSTITUTIONARY ATONEMENT,” which is a fundamental of the Christian faith. The Bible plainly states that that Christ shed His blood and died to satisfy the penalty of God’s holy Law. But Lewis claimed that it does not matter how one “defines” the atonement and said that it is not an essential part of Christianity. In Mere Christianity he made the following statement:

“You can say that Christ died for our sins. You may say that the Father has forgiven us because Christ has done for us what we ought to have done. You may say that we are washed in the blood of the Lamb. You may say that Christ has defeated death. They are all true. IF ANY OF THEM DO NOT APPEAL TO YOU, LEAVE IT ALONE AND GET ON WITH THE FORMULA THAT DOES. And, whatever you do, do not start quarrelling with other people because they use a different formula from years” (
Mere Christianity, HarperSanFrancisco edition, 2001, p. 182).

This is rank heresy. Lewis wrongly claimed that it does not matter if a person believes that he is washed in Christ’s blood, that this is a mere “formula” that can be accepted or rejected at one’s pleasure. He said that it is just as well to believe that “the Father has forgiven us because Christ has done for us what we ought to have done.” That is a bloodless salvation through Christ’s life rather than through His Cross, which, according to the Bible is no salvation at all. The “blood” is mentioned more than 90 times in the New Testament, and that is no accident. “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb. 9:22). If Jesus had lived a perfect life in our place and died a bloodless death, we would not be saved.

Lewis said, “The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. ... Any theories we build up as to how Christ’s death did all of this are, in my view, quite secondary...” (
Mere Christianity, HarperSanFrancisco edition, 2001, pp. 54, 55, 56).

This is unscriptural teaching. God has revealed exactly what Christ did and what the atonement means. It is not a matter of theorizing or believing one “formula” over against another. The Bible says our salvation is a matter of a propitiation, a ransom, whereby our sins were washed away by Christ’s bloody death, which was offered as a payment to satisfy God’s holy Law.

Lewis never mentions the doctrine of propitiation, but propitiation was a necessary part of our salvation and the propitiation was made by blood. “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” (Rom. 3:25). Propitiation means satisfaction; covering; the fulfillment of a demand. It refers to God’s estimation of Christ’s sacrifice. God is fully satisfied by what Jesus Christ did on the Cross. The penalty for His broken law has been fully satisfied (Rom. 3:24-25; 1 Jn. 2:2; Heb. 2:17; Isa. 5:11). The Greek word translated “propitiation” in Rom. 3:25 is also translated “mercy seat” in Heb. 9:5. The mercy seat perfectly covered the law which was contained in the ark of the covenant (Ex. 25:17, 21). This signifies propitiation--Christ satisfying the demands of God’s law. That it is Christ’s blood which satisfied this demand and put away our sins was depicted on the day of atonement when blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat by the high priest (Lev. 16:11-17).

Through Christ’s blood we have eternal redemption. “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Heb. 9:12).

Through Christ’s blood we can enter into the presence of God. “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19).

That we have eternal redemption and boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Christ, and only by the blood, is not a “theory” or a “formula”; it is the Word of God; it is the very heart of the gospel; and if one does not receive it he cannot be saved.

D. Martin Lloyd-Jones warned that C.S. Lewis had a defective view of salvation and was an opponent of the substitutionary and penal view of the atonement (Christianity Today, Dec. 20, 1963).

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