Faculty Column: Was C. S. Lewis a Universalist?


Near the end of “The Last Battle,” a noble Calormene soldier named Emeth dies and comes before Aslan, the Christ of Narnia.

Although Emeth hails from a distant land that worships a false god named Tash (rather than the true Aslan), and although Emeth has served Tash all his life, when he meets Aslan, he is welcomed by the Great Lion and invited into heaven.

Of all the passages in the voluminous writings of C. S. Lewis, none has caused more controversy and confusion than this suggestion by the orthodox Christian Lewis that salvation can be attained outside of Christ.

Was Lewis a Universalist?  Did he believe that all who practice their religion faithfully will be saved?

He did not. Had Emeth come before Aslan and requested directions to the Tash part of heaven, and had Aslan obliged, then Lewis would be a Universalist.

But that is not what happens in the episode.

Quite to the contrary, when Emeth stands before Aslan, he realizes and accepts that Tash is false and Aslan true, and that the deep spiritual desire he has followed all his life has found its fulfillment in Aslan.

He proves this by falling to his knees in worship.

Like the Magi of the Christmas story, he recognizes that Aslan is the end of his journey.

In response, Aslan assures him that “‘unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly.  For all find what they truly seek.’”

Now, it must be admitted that though this is not universalism, it does border on a concept that most believers would rightly reject as unbiblical: post-mortem, or “after death,” salvation.

Orthodox Christian teaching states that all decisions for or against Christ must be made before we die.  Once we pass to the other side, all bets are off.

So is Lewis an advocate of post-mortem salvation?

Well, Emeth is technically dead when he accepts Aslan’s offer of salvation, but that does not mean he is being given a “second chance.”

As Lewis explains in a number of his works, God lives in eternity, not in time. For God, every moment is a present moment; it is always now in heaven.

The moment Emeth dies is just such an eternally present moment — and that eternal moment contains all the other moments of his life.

He accepts Aslan (Christ) in that eternal moment, because all of the other moments have been building up to that acceptance.

And once he does, all the other moments become reoriented around that moment of decision.

One of the things I love about teaching at the University is the opportunity it gives me to interact with students from all races, nations and religions.

Lewis’ suggestion of what may happen at the moment of our death gives me hope that all people, no matter their ethnic background, will be afforded a full chance to embrace the love, mercy and grace of Christ.