C.S. Lewis on the Search for the “Historical” Jesus

The following is taken from Dr. Robert A. Morey’s book The Trinity: Evidence and Issues.

“C.S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, recorded a letter from Screwtape to Wormwood in which the search for the ‘historical Jesus’ is revealed as a device of Satan to turn men away from the real Jesus found in the Gospels.  What Lewis says clearly applies to the Jesus Seminar:

You will find that a good many Christian-political writers think that Christianity began going wrong, and departing from the doctrine of its Founder, at a very early stage.  Now this idea must be used by us to encourage once again the conception of a ‘historical Jesus’ to be found by clearing away later ‘accretions and perversions’ and then to be contrasted with the whole Christian tradition.

In the last generation we promoted the construction of such a ‘historical Jesus’ on liberal and humanitarian lines; we are now putting forward a new ‘historical Jesus’ in Marxian, catastrophic, and revolutionary lines.

The advantages of these constructions, which we intend to change every thirty years or so, are manifold.  In the first place they all tend to direct men’s devotion to something which does not exist, for each ‘historical Jesus’ is unhistorical.  The documents say what they say and cannot be added to; each new ‘historical Jesus’ therefore has to be got out of them by suppression at one point and exaggeration at another, and by that sort of guessing (brilliant is the adjective we teach humans to apply to it) on which no one would risk ten shillings in ordinary life. . . . We thus distract men’s minds from Who He is, and what He did . . . we substitute a merely probable, remote, shadowy, and uncouth figure, one who spoke a strange language and died a long time ago. . . . The ‘historical Jesus,’ then, however dangerous he may seem to be to us at some particular point, is always to be encouraged. 1

The fatal error of liberalism is its a priori assumption that the early Church created Jesus.  But they have it backwards.  The Church did not create Jesus – Jesus created the Church!  They have forgotten the words,

I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18).

The second search for a ‘historical’ Jesus will sink into the quagmire of its own subjectivism and relativism just as surely as the first search.  The view of Jesus found in the New Testament is the historical Jesus of fact as well as of faith.  He is the Christ, the Son of the living God and the only Savior of sinners.” 2

~~

  1. C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (NY: Bantam, 1982), 67-69.
  2. Morey, Robert A. “God the Son.” The Trinity: Evidence and Issues. Las Vegas: Christian Scholar’s, 1996. 288-89. Print.
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