Comparing Rob Bell & C.S. Lewis on hell

Humanity is already “saved” in principle. We individuals have to appropriate that salvation.

— C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Scot McKnight has a guest post from Jeff Cook (author of Seven: The Deadly Sins and the Beatitudes) comparing the theology of C.S. Lewis and Rob Bell. Jeff’s main argument is this:

There’s not one controversial idea in Love Wins that is not clearly voiced as a real possibility by the most popular evangelical writer of the last century, C.S. Lewis.

Jeff highlights numerous similarities between the two writers on salvation and hell… and one or two areas where they differ. For example, Jeff notes that Lewis was more pessimistic than Rob about whether those in hell are willing to swallow their pride and repent. Hell, Lewis suggested, is “locked from the inside.”

But given the similarities between them, one question keeps coming back to me:

If you’re so eager to not only disagree with Rob but denounce him as a heretic, are you prepared to do the same with C.S. Lewis? Are you going to suggest a book burning and so rid the world of Mere Christianity, The Great Divorce, and The Chronicles of Narnia (especially The Last Battle)?

Now, there is another area where C.S. Lewis and Rob Bell part company. Rob seems to believe that love doesn’t win if, in the end, some individuals are forever consigned to exile. (I say “exile” because I believe the fires of hell are a metaphor for life outside God’s presence. And, in fact, “exile” is one of the dominant motifs in the Bible.)

C.S. Lewis agreed that anything less than a universal salvation represented, in one sense, a defeat — God getting less than what God wants. But Lewis wasn’t particularly bothered by this. Just the opposite:

It is objected that the ultimate loss of a single soul means the defeat of omnipotence. And so it does. In creating beings with free will, omnipotence from the outset submits to the possibility of such defeat. What you call defeat, I call miracle: for to make things which are not Itself, and thus to become, in a sense, capable of being resisted by its own handiwork, is the most astonishing and unimaginable of all the feats we attribute to the Deity. I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.

— C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, pages 113-114

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