Monday, February 25, 2008

C.S. Lewis and Gender

Many of us can probably remember our first C.S. Lewis experience. For me, I was introduced to Lewis’ works through the old PBS Chronicles of Narnia series. I loved these movies, and would often step into my bedroom closet just hoping that on the other side the world of Narnia and Aslan would be waiting for me. As I got older my encounters with Lewis became more intellectual. I distinctly remember thinking that I had long way to go at my first, and second, attempts at reading Mere Christianity.

C.S. Lewis is a staple of thought-provoking, engaging evangelicalism, which is why I was delighted to read a complementarian essay by my favorite Narnian.

In his book God in the Dock, Lewis pens an essay entitled “Priestesses in the Church,” where he expresses his dismay over the Anglican communion’s decision to ordain women. As a result of a shortage of priests, much like today, the Anglican church voted to bring women into the priesthood.

He says:

"To take such a revolutionary step at the present moment, to cut ourselves off from the Christian past and to widen the divisions between ourselves and other churches by establishing an order of priestesses in our midst, would be an almost wanton degree of imprudence. And the Church of England herself would be torn in shreds by the operation."

Lewis saw the decision to ordain women as one that would have lasting repercussions on his denomination. And it did. The very denomination that once moved in the direction of the ordination of women is now wrestling with the ordination of homosexuals. The Anglican Church now ordains more women than men.

Lewis saw that the ordination of women has everything to do with the doctrine of God. It is not simply about women being in the pulpit.

"To us a priest is primarily a representative, a double representative, who represents God to us and us to God. Our very eyes teach us this. Sometimes the priest turns his back on us and faces the East—he speaks to God for us: sometimes he faces us and speaks to us for God. We have no objection to a woman doing the first: the whole difficulty is about the second. But why? Why should a woman not in this sense represent God? Certainly not because she is necessarily, or even probably, less holy or less charitable or stupider than a man. In that sense she may be as God-like as a man; and a given woman much more than a given man. The sense in which she cannot represent God will be perhaps plainer if we look at things the other way round."

"Suppose the reformer stops saying that good woman may be like God and starts saying that God is like a good woman. Suppose he says that we might just as well pray to “Our mother which art in heaven” as “Our Father.” Suppose he suggests that the Incarnation might just as well have taken a female as a male form, and the Second Person of the Trinity be as well called Daughter as the Son. Suppose finally that the mystical marriage were reversed, that the Church were the Bridegroom and Christ the Bride. All this, it seems to me, is involved in the claim that a woman can represent God as a priest does."

And there is the reason. The ordination of women is not simply a preferential issue, like we decide music styles. Rather it is deeply rooted in a theology of God, a theology of his Triune nature, and theology of His Gospel. To abandon male ordination is to be set on a trajectory to abandon these fundamental doctrines. Lewis even goes so far as to say that moving away from masculine images and male priests is “against Christianity.”

According to Lewis, gender matters. Not simply in technical terms but for the Gospel itself. As is evident from his from his writings, C. S. Lewis saw in advance the problems that the church now suffers as a result of the ordination of women.


debt said...

Our decisions, our actions, our choices all beget a consequence, a reaction, a domino effect. Well said, Courtney and thank-you, C.S. Lewis.

Melissa said...

In the passage you sited, Lewis says, "Suppose the reformer stops saying that a good woman may be like God and starts saying that God is like a good woman." Wouldn't that also apply to a male leader? You could easily say in its stead, "Suppose the reformer stops saying that a good man may be like God and starts saying that God is like a good man."

cdt said...


I think in this case you would have to ask C.S. Lewis what he means exactly.

But I think what he is trying to apply his thinking to is not so much whether man is superior to woman (because he isn't), but that God has designed things in a certain way (male as head, Bridegroom and Bride, the Trinity) and to change these things into feminine types would go against what he has created things to be. Lewis isn't saying that it makes a woman any less, he is simply saying that God has a plan for the way he has ordered creation. He is God and authority, we are creation and are under his authority.

Thanks for interacting!