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Christian Particularism in Narnia: Part 1
April 29, 2013 Kurt Jaros

Christian Particularism in Narnia: Part 1

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I recently came across an article by Christina Hitchcock called “What Has Aslan to do with Tash? C.S. Lewis and Natural Theology.”[1]  Though I disagree with Hitchcock’s conclusions, it was a nice, short piece to read about how Lewis used natural theology, specifically religious particularism in Narnia.

Christian particularism is the view that Christianity is the only true religion.  This is contrasted with pluralism which holds that many ways lead to God.  Under Christian particularism there are three views regarding salvation: universalism, inclusivism, and exclusivism.  I won’t deal with universalism (that God will save all humans) here as I think there is a larger discussion between inclusivism and exclusivism that I’d like to be a part of.

As I understand it, exclusivism is the view that if one were to obtain a saving faith, they must make a proper response to the Gospel message. Contrasted to that is inclusivism, which holds that one need not necessarily have a response to the Gospel message to be saved.  This deals more specifically with issues such as the problem of the unevangelized.  The incluvisist would hold that Christ’s atoning work on the cross is the means through which the person would be saved.  Interestingly enough, most exclusivists are happy to grant an exception to their view that infants will be saved, despite their not having a response to the Gospel message.  I commend them for this; I think there are other exceptions, too.  I advocate inclusivism for both biblical and philosophical reasons, which I won’t delve into here. Now on to Lewis.

In The Last Battle we read of the conversation between Aslan and Emeth, a Calormene, who worships the god, Tash:

The Glorious One [Aslan] bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of Thine, but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then . . . I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growed so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him, for I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore, if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him . . . . But I also said (for the truth constrained me), Yes I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me, thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.

Lewis serves up a great example of inclusivism: Emeth worships a god other than Aslan and Aslan still reckons it as worthy.  Note how after being questioned whether Tash and Aslan were the same, Aslan roars in dissent.  Tash and Aslan are not the same, and thus Lewis separates himslef from pluralism. Thus Lewis creates Aslanian particularism, which is presumably serves as a symbol of Christian particularism.

But how could it be that Emeth could come to have some partial understanding of the objective world (in Narnia)?  Theologians refer to this as natural theology.  Hitchcock explains that, “natural theology claims that humans can have some knowledge of God through the natural, created world, including innate human capacity.”  And so it was with Emeth.

In The Weight of Glory Lewis explains how partial knowledge of God is not false knowledge of God. He writes,

We should, therefore, expect to find in the imagination of great Pagan teachers and myth makers some glimpse of that theme which we believe to be the very plot of the whole cosmic story—the theme of incarnation, death, and rebirth.  And the differences between the Pagan Christs (Balder, Osiris, etc.) and the Christ Himself is much what we should expect to find.  The Pagan stories are all about someone dying and rising, either every year, or else nobody knows where and nobody knows when.  The Christian story is about a historical personage, whose execution can be dated pretty accurately, under a name Roman magistrate, and with whom the society that He founded is in a continuous relation down to the present day.  It is not the difference between falsehood and truth.  It is the difference between a real event on the one hand and dim dreams or premonitions of that same event on the other.  It is like watching something come gradually into focus; first it hangs in the clouds of myth and ritual, vast and vague, then it condenses, grows hard and in a sense small, as a historical event in first century Palestine.[2]

This partial knowledge to full knowledge reminds me of Jesus’s scolding his opponents in John 5:37-47.  Basically, “In rejecting the words of Jesus, these Jews revealed that they had already rejected the words of Moses.  Jesus never implies that they were predestined to reject Moses.  He is simply explaining that their rejection of his words stems from a prior rejection of God’s revelation.  Because they had not believed Moses, they could not believe him.”[3]

Conversely, it is implied, those who did not reject the words of Moses would come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah (because they rightly understood the words of Moses).  This is the same principle that natural theology operates on: those who accept the right prior knowledge will accept the later given knowledge. Or, as Lewis says, the haziness becomes more clear.

In my next post I’ll defend Lewis against Hitchcock’s Barthian critique.

[1] Christina Hitchcock, “What Has Aslan to do with Tash? C.S. Lewis and Natural Theology,” in Inklings Forever, Vol. 5, Taylor University, 2006
[2] C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 128-129.

[3] Murray Vasser, “No One Can Come,” January 23, 2013

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