A Calvinist's thoughts on Emeth

(if my credentials as a geek weren’t already firmly established, I had to install an extension in the forum software to allow for footnotes, in order to make this post)

The subject of Emeth[1] has generated quite a bit of discussion here in the past, and I’ve struggled with it quite a bit myself. It really is, more broadly, the question of “what becomes of those who haven’t heard the gospel before they die?” I recall a conversation I had about 25 years ago with a pastor friend of mine, in which I expressed concern that Lewis stood condemned based on Gal. 1:8[2], which certainly wasn’t an outcome I wanted. After more thought, reading, and discussion (some here), I reached the belief that the Bible didn’t preclude (though it also most certainly doesn’t teach) salvation for a person who dies without knowing the name of Jesus. Doug Gresham has described this, IIRC, as a reverse inference of Romans 1. But then…

A few years ago, somewhat to my surprise, I found myself a member of a Presbyterian (PCA) church and a Calvinist. We use as our creed (sorry, Mike) the Westminster Confession of Faith, (cited here as WCF) frequently considered one of the clearest and most direct statements of orthodox Calvinist theology. And while I’m not (yet) completely in agreement with the WCF (I’m not yet convinced that it deals correctly with baptism, for example), I’m convinced that it’s a generally-accurate statement of Biblical theology set into a systematic framework. I’m not particularly interested here in arguing the truth or falsehood of Calvinism–though I’m certainly willing to discuss it, that really isn’t subject I’m getting at in this post.

So what does that do to Emeth? Rather a lot, actually. To begin, I should review a few Calvinist beliefs that are relevant:

  • God, before the foundation of the world, sovereignly chose, specifically (i.e., by name, not by group or category) who would be saved. This is not a matter of simple foreknowledge, but a specific choosing of people, solely for His own glory, and not on the basis of anything he foresaw in them[3]. These people are known collectively as “the elect.” This is probably the best-known (albeit often misrepresented) tenet of Calvinism.
  • Adam served as our representative in the garden, such that when he failed, we all failed and therefore all inherit original sin. That original sin, by itself ( i.e., even without any specific sins on our part) is enough to condemn us[4]. The concept of an age of accountability is alien to the Calvinist; the zygote conceived today stands condemned without God’s saving grace, as a result of original sin.
  • God is under no obligation to save anyone (or offer salvation to anyone); he would be perfectly just to condemn all men to hell (any contrary position would turn salvation into something that could be demanded, which is antithetical to grace). If he saves some, he likewise isn’t obligated to save others; he is free to save whomever he chooses, and only those. God thus isn’t obliged to make the gospel available to everyone, or to make other saving provision for those who haven’t heard it.
  • As God has chosen specific people for salvation, he has also chosen specific peoples as a focus of his work–not that all people in that group will be saved, or that nobody outside it will, but that’s a group that’s his people in a special sense. This is evident in the OT with Israel. More recently, Christianity has been much more active in, say, America and Europe than in Asia. In the Chronicles, Narnia (and Archenland, to the extent it’s thought of at all) would be a clear example of Aslan’s people.
  • And, along with (at least) most other Protestant Christians, we believe that faith is the instrument of salvation[5].

So where does that leave Emeth? The easy answer would be that as he doesn’t (accurately) know Aslan, he cannot have faith in him, and is therefore properly condemned. The fact that, growing up in Tashbaan, he would be unlikely to have heard the truth about Aslan, doesn’t really matter–he’s condemned for his original sin, as well as for his own individual sins. Thus Lewis would be wrong. But I don’t think it’s quite that simple.

The same logic I just applied to Emeth equally applies to babies and young children, as well as to what would have been called at the time of the WCF “idiots and lunaticks” (i.e., those with severe mental disabilities)–they don’t have the capacity to know of, and thus believe in, the gospel. The Confession deals with this situation in Chapter 10, paragraph 3:

Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are uncapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.

Some Calvinists (e.g., Lorraine Boettner) will read this to say that all infants who die as infants will be saved, but this is a minority view among Presbyterians. But all believe that at least some will be saved, as well as the elect “who are uncapable of being called by the ministry of the Word.” I believe the thought on the part of the Westminster Divines was what I mentioned above–those whose mental disabilities make understanding and belief impossible, or perhaps were physically disabled to such an extent that they couldn’t do anything to manifest belief. But I’d argue that this would apply to Emeth (and all others who haven’t heard) as well, on the basis of Romans 10:14[6].

So even as a Calvinist, I believe there’s room to allow for the possibility that one who hasn’t heard the gospel can be saved. It isn’t a certainty–just as previous discussion reaches it based on inference from the Bible, this is based on inference from our statement of faith. A different Reformed take on the Emeth question (which comes to the same conclusion) is here:

  1. Emeth, you’ll recall, is the young Calormene soldier who appears at the end of The Last Battle . The Calormenes are the bad guys, and worship a false god (a demon, really) named Tash. Emeth has grown up in the service of Tash, and sincerely desires to serve him and know him as a good god. Jewel the unicorn observes of him, “he is worthy of a better god than Tash.” And Aslan accepts him, saying, “Not because he [Tash] and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him.” ↩︎

  2. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. (ESV) ↩︎

  3. The following paragraphs from Chapter 3 of the WCF explain this in part:
    p2. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.
    p3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.
    p5. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace. ↩︎

  4. WCF, Ch. 6, para. 6:
    Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal. ↩︎

  5. WCF, Ch. 11, para. 2:
    Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.
    See also WCF, Ch. 14, para. 1 (emphasis added):
    The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word, by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened. ↩︎

  6. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (ESV, emphasis added) ↩︎

In re the doctrine of baptism, there are two confessions of faith, namely the London Confession and the Philadelphia Confession, which are identical to the WCF, except for the doctrine of baptism, in which they reject infant baptism and teach believers baptism, i.e. only believers are to be baptized.

In re Calvinism I not only do not like the doctrines of election and reprobation, but the very idea of their being a fall into sin by Adam and Eve and of the demons, BUT I am forced to admit they are true. But there is a very obvious reason why they occur and that is that God not only wanted to do a work of creation but also a work of salvation. You cannot do a work of salvation if there is nobody needing salvation. This is analogous to a medical doctor who cannot practice medicine if he lives in a place where no one ever gets sick or wounded. One thing that many people forget is that God is the Author of history, which is characterized by Two Motifs: the Creation Motif and the Salvation Motif. So the Calvinistic theology is completely analogous to the relationship of the author of a story to the events in that story. One thing about Calvinistic theology I do not like is the wrangling over the correct order of the “decrees”. The Creation Motif and the Salvation Motif are NOT decrees, they are motifs. The reason for the confusion here is that generally throughout its history Calvinists have not had much concern for the arts. They were big on science and on political matters, but not the arts. Until recently, that is.

As this insight increases there will be more Reformed people becoming interested in The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis and The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings by Tolkien. Let me finish with the wise comment of Sam who said he felt like he was in a poem! Amen!


1 Like

Dan, you are about as firmly established as a geek as anyone I know! Re:Emeth etc, your two words “possibility” and “certainty” are key for me. But I leave all “possibilities” in God’s capable hands and just attend
to certainties. I think speculating on the eternal destinies of those we aren’t sure about is above any human’s, even Lewis’s, authority.

I also think speculating on the relationship (Calvinisms) between God’s Sovereign freedom and human responsibility is pointless. The Bible, most church tradition, and experience teaches us both but does not reveal
any model which tells us how they are connected. It’s like Lewis says either in Discarded Image or Experiment in Criticism: there is no model out there which explains the relationship of our minds to our brains. Some things we just can’t know in this life.

I do think Lewis made some serious mistakes because of an inadequate appreciation of Biblical authority and inerrancy. These are especially in
Reflections on the Psalms, especially a misunderstanding of the maledictory Psalms.


1 Like

Indeed–and in the context of salvation, the certain answer to “what must I do to be saved?” is “repent and believe” (e.g., Acts 16:30-32). We aren’t told that is the only answer, but it’s also the only answer we are given. Scripture gives us room, I think, to believe that an Emeth could be saved, but that’s as far as I think we can take it–we certainly have no biblical warrant to believe that one who has heard and rejected the gospel can be saved in that condition.

I’m just getting into that chapter, and I’m inclined to agree–but more on that in another post. It’s clear that Lewis held a high view of scripture–his was not the modern liberal view which can take it or leave it at will. But it also was not the view of many conservatives today (and, incidentally, the WCF and LBCF) that the entirety of scripture is the inerrant word of God[1]. As J.I. Packer (who heard Lewis speak at Oxford, but never personally knew him) argues persuasively in Fundamentalism and the Word of God, the Bible either is authoritative or it is not–to admit even one error is to step onto a very dangerous slippery slope.

Lewis also has a chapter in ROTP on scripture, in which I expect he gives a fuller explanation of his view–unfortunately it’s the last chapter in the book.

  1. This doesn’t mean, of course, that it is all literally true, which nobody believes anyway (nobody believes that Christ has hinges, a latch, roots, leaves, or wings)–the Bible contains several genres of literature, and understanding of the genre is essential to properly interpreting the text. Packer himself uses the word “literally” rather confusingly in this work, and I understand that more recent works of his have instead used “literarily” as (IMO) a better expression of his meaning, that being true within the context and genre of the author at the time. This also doesn’t mean that the Bible accords with, e.g., modern taxonomy–bats aren’t considered birds today, but that doesn’t mean the Bible errs when it lists them among the birds. ↩︎

I understand that the LBCF also has more detail on the work of the Holy Spirit, an area in which the WCF is admittedly rather weak–but otherwise, that they are very similar. I couldn’t speak to the Philadelphia Confession.

I don’t recall that the fall was ever a particular problem for me, but predestination definitely was–I continued to resist long after I saw that it was clearly taught in scripture, mainly because, dang it, it’s just un-American. Yes, it’s lousy theology. Yes, I knew that at the time. But that’s pretty much where I was.

I don’t think I see why “decree” and “motif” are set here as mutually exclusive–they appear to me to both be true. God decreed (i.e., chose) to create, that the creation would fall, to choose some as his people, and to save those he chose. The order of these (which must necessarily be the logical order, rather than the temporal order, as time itself did not exist when they were made) is a discussion I’m aware of, but don’t understand very well. But I don’t see any way, if you grant God’s absolute sovereignty, to dispute that any of these are decisions (or decrees) of God.

They are also motifs–literary themes that appear over and over in the Bible, and throughout history. But that is an orthogonal quality, rather than being contrary to their being decrees.

11 posts were split to a new topic: Is universalism biblical?

Well, now, let’s ask C. S. Lewis about this! Remember his picture of what happens on “Judgment Day”. The saved say to God “Thy will be done”; then God says to the unsaved “Thy will be done”. And, if that is not enough, look at Lewis’s “The Great Divorce” where the lost are given a second chance via a bus that transports them from Hell to Heaven, but they do not like Heaven, so that they choose to go back to Hell.


Dan, you wrote that “we certainly have no biblical warrant to believe that one who has heard and rejected the gospel can be saved in that condition”

The following is a translation of a scriptural meditation from the Russian book, “Day by Day”. The last paragraph expresses the same thought:

Scripture: “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt: 5, 48)


"To be perfect means to see in life first of all the Kingdom of God and His truth – to act, understand and think in such a way that the Kingdom of Heaven inside us can freely grow and develop, so that the corroding breath of vice and sin not touch us, and so that the Kingdom not be extinguished among endless earthly cares. This is what the soul must primarily strive for: not for riches, not for glory, not for one’s advantage, not for pleasure, but to emulate our Heavenly Father.

" ‘Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear…because the pagans seek all these things’ (Matt: 6: 25, 32). This is what distinguishes us, children of God, from others. We are now sons of God, and therefore, citizens of a different, heavenly city, with a firm foundation. Having been born again, we think about ‘the things above, not the things of the earth’ (Phil: 3, 20), – the aim of our life and what we strive for has completely changed.

“ ‘Our dwelling is in heaven’ (Phil: 3,20), we are citizens of the heavenly home, subject to its laws, and have the right to its benefits. We live not only with the promises of future blessings, but are even now free members of the Heavenly Kingdom. As such, we hold high the banner of our King and place before Him all our fervor and all our love.

"For us our Father’s Kingdom contains all the glory, all the value and all the delight which others seek in the earthly life. If we were to seek first of all His truth and submit everything to His law, how the faith in Him would increase around us! Faith in the afterlife would become easier if all our deeds and thoughts were directed to the Heavenly Kingdom.

"So holiness consists in total well-being of the spirit. And what is total well-being? Everything that we live by and breathe, everything we ask of God, must come from us unto others.

"Christ is our life – having accepted Him, we must bring Him everywhere – into our family, into our work, into our thoughts, into our desires, words and actions. Everything that we live by must be filled with Him. This is what holiness and perfection consists of.

“If we hold back the wave of grace which carries Christ Himself into our soul, our soul will become ill and wither. If we end this in-flowing, the illness will end in death.”
And Lewis expresses a similar thought in his essay, “On the Reading of Old Books”, where he defends the words of the so-called “Athanasian Creed”-- “Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly”. Lewis writes that these words “are commonly misunderstood. The operative word is keep. The author, in fact, is not talking about unbelievers, but about deserters, not about those who have never heard of Christ, nor even those who have misunderstood and refused to accept Him, but those who having really understood and really believed, then allow themselves, under the sway of sloth or of fashion or any other invited confusion to be drawn away into sub-Christian modes of thought. They are a warning against the curious modern assumption that all changes of belief, however brought about, are exempt from blame.”

And Emeth, of course, was not someone who knew Aslan and consciously decided to resist him.


“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)