C.S. Lewis Meets One Of My Heroes

A couple of years ago, at a Christians for Biblical Equality conference in Toronto, I was privileged to meet Dr. Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, an evangelical feminist and professor of psychology at Eastern College. She’s the author of My Brother’s Keeper: What The Social Sciences Do and Do Not Tell Us About Gender, and it’s one of the books I’ve found most important to my development as a woman of faith and ministry.

She is an imposing woman, and I’d been following her work for years. She towered over me, and I’m not speaking only in terms of intellect; her face looked as grandmotherly as scholarly, and her voice was like the low, comforting rumble of thunder. Or, perhaps, like part of the mighty cloud of witnesses surrounding us all. She’s provided the foundation of much of my work, in the same way, perhaps, that C.S. Lewis has been an influence to our local classical Christian scholars. In fact, his views on gender roles and Scripture have informed much of the work of conservative complementarian scholars like Douglas Wilson and his pals, the sneering and smug Tim Bayly, a speaker at last fall’s Christ Church Sexual Orthodoxy bull session, and John Piper, a member of the Council On Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

I don’t like the CBMW. There are a lot of complementarian Bible scholars who I disagree with, but whose scholarship, emphases, and ministries I admire greatly. But I see the CBMW, lead by Piper, Grudem, and Vern Poythress, veering recklessly toward the heresy of subordinationism in the Trinity, about which I’ve written extensively and which scholars (Kevin Giles, Gilbert Bilezikian, and Millard Erickson, for example) have warned is dangerously close to the heresy that casts Jesus and the Holy Spirit in permanently, ontologically lesser roles than that of God the Father.

Further, they’ve used this bad theology — I’m not convinced it’s not in itself heretical, by the way — to insist that as Jesus is eternally, functionally subordinate to the Father, women, while ontologically equal to men, are to be eternally, functionally subordinate to them. I think that’s bad scholarship. I also think it’s conveniently self-serving in support of the status quo that has crippled the Church and pleased the aims of its Enemy.

CBMW may be eternally, functionally committed to gender inequality, and complementarians may be eternally eager to rely on their views, but Stewart Van Leeuwen demonstrates that in casting their lot with C.S. Lewis, they have a less-than-reliable ally in the gender wars. Because the C.S. Lewis of the early 1930s and 40s evolved into the Lewis who, later in life, became much more egalitarian in his theology and in his actual dealings with real women.

That, demonstrated aptly by Stewart Van Leeuwen in her just-released book “A Sword Between The Sexes? C.S. Lewis and the Gender Debates” (Brazos Press, 2010), should cause some reexamination on the part of our local Christian patriarchs. Lewis’ theology wasn’t always consistent; to the extent that he was an apologist for the faith, his writings show that his strengths were much more in logic and observational philosophy than in serious theology, and yet it appears that the Holy Spirit used experiences in his life, particularly his marriage to American poet Joy Davidman, to re-cast the rigidity with which he had examined the Scripture’s teachings on gender roles. I think it’s fair to say that Lewis’ early work reflects a tendency to speak for Scripture far beyond, and in different directions, from how the Scriptures themselves speak. We can all praise God for Lewis’ opened eyes, softened heart, and enlightened mind.

I thank God for Stewart Van Leeuwen’s book and will quote both from her citations of Lewis’ work and from her own in subsequent posts on Prevailing Winds. Some of Lewis’ words are cringe-worthy. Some have resonance in the first things, the deeper things; others are regrettable now and probably would be to Lewis if he read them. But God is always working in conforming us to his will and to the person of Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ was the One who modeled right behavior between among people.

Being like him is the only goal worth attaining, and as I read Stewart Van Leeuwen’s book, I’m pleased to see what God has wrought in her life, and how he worked in Lewis’.

2 Responses to “C.S. Lewis Meets One Of My Heroes”

  1. Ashwin says:

    Answer this question: Did you start questioning the “patriarchy” because of your theology or did you modify your theology to suit your feminism?

  2. Actually, for many years after becoming a Christian, I was a complementarian, because that’s what I’d been led to believe the Scriptures taught. As I grew older in the Lord and my understanding of his word, I began to see that what I’d been taught wasn’t, in very many cases, what the Bible itself taught about gender. I didn’t set out to become a Biblical feminist, just as I never determined to become a complementarian. I simply followed the Word, listened and read from teachers on both sides, and came to my own conclusions.

    And while I’m innately more comfortable with the Bible’s position on gender roles — the complete ontological and role/function equality of men and women in Christ — that doesn’t mean it’s “of the flesh.” Many things attract or repel us because of the inherent light of the Holy Spirit. If we are attracted to a teaching that turns out to be a true teaching, why blame it on the flesh instead of glorifying the Spirit?

    Regardless of our differences, I’m so glad you’re my brother in Christ!

    Keely

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