Lewis’s Perelandra on God’s “Thwarted” Will

Not too long ago I got into a debate with Frank Turk over at the Pyromaniacs blog over Arminianism. In the ensuing discussion the issue of whether God’s will can be thwarted came up. Lewis has some interesting thoughts he communicates in the second book of his space trilogy Perelandra that express much better what I was trying to get across.

The book reframes the Temptation account from Genesis on the planet Venus where Lewis imagines a pair of first “humans” being tempted to disobey the God figure named Maleldil. One of the Tempter’s strategies is to say that Maleldil can turn anything for good, so why not go ahead and do what he forbids? Nothing will be lost. The hero of the story, an earthling named Ransom, is sent to intervene. The “Lady”–who is being tempted–inquires of Ransom if this is true. Ransom replies:

“I will tell you what I say,” answered Ransom, jumping to his feet. “Of course good came of it [the Fall]. Is Maleldil a beast that we can stop His path, or a leaf that we can twist His shape? Whatever you do, He will make good of it. But not the good He had prepared for you if you had obeyed Him. That is lost for ever. The first King [Adam] and the first Mother [Eve] of our world did the forbidden thing; and He brought good of it in the end. But what they did was not good; and what they lost we have not seen. And there were some to whom no good came nor ever will come.” He turned to the body of Weston [the Tempter]. “You,” he said, “tell her all. What good came to you? Do you rejoice that Maleldil became a man? Tell her of your joys, and of what profit you had when you made Maleldil and death acquainted.”

Frank and I’s debate became long and protracted. Given the last word, Frank made some puzzling remarks that claimed that Arminians such as myself are under the influence of Charles Finney. Why he says this, I do not know (I have never read Finney, and don’t know anyone who has). If anything, we Arminians, or anyone else who does not believe in Calvinism, are the children of C.S. Lewis. It is Lewis, not Finney (or Pelagius or whomever) who has had the biggest influence on evangelical thought in the last 50 years. His books Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain are the main reasons why so many Christians are attracted to free will theism (theism that is compatible with libertarian freedom) and the logical coherence of the free will defense (against the logical problem of evil).

Calvinism is seeing a revival, and that may have its place in the story of Christian theology as the church navigates its way through a postmodern wasteland. But it is Lewis who has guided many Christians, and continues to guide many more through the tangled mess of a world gone wrong. If Frank wants to relegate Lewis and company to the category of heretics, then that says a lot more about the so-called “New Calvinism” than it does about “mere Christianity.”

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