How Can We Have Narnian Faith in a Screwtape World? – page 3




How Can We Have
Narnian Faith in a
Screwtape World?

by Russell Moore,
President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty
Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention

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This is what in the 1920s the Presbyterian theologian J. Gresham Machen called Liberalism, not speaking, of course, of the political categories with which we often use the word, but with the idea of Christianity as a means to an end, Christianity as a tool. Lewis recognized that, and so must we. That’s why I’m glad that in my own life’s journey I started with Narnia before I came to Mere Christianity. I needed to find myself embedded in this story before I could really take in the arguments that Lewis was making. And as we think about what Lewis is doing in The Chronicles of Narnia, it wasn’t the characters there. As the other Inklings knew, Narnia really wasn’t a myth as carefully constructed as, say, Middle Earth was. But my experience with Narnia was similar to that of science fiction and fantasy author Neil Gaiman, who said: “The weird thing about the Narnia books for me was that they mostly seemed true.” They seemed to be reports from a real place. There was a weightiness here, and there was in fact a familiarity there. That was not by accident. Lewis intended this; as he put it, talking about why he was constructing this world, he talked about the sense of disdain that comes with an overfamiliarity with the Word of God, with the great doctrines of the creeds of the faith. Lewis says:

But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.

Certainly he did, at least in the case of many of us in this room. What Lewis was able to do with an imaginative world is what the prophet Nathan did with King David. Not to immediately and directly call him on the adultery with Bathsheba, but to begin by engaging the imagination, by engaging the conscience in a way that would steal past that watchful dragon of a guilty conscience.

You and I are living in a culture right now that’s filled with a different set of watchful dragons than, at least American culture, has known for some time. We’re living in a secularizing age that causes many Christians to respond with bewilderment or with fear or with panic or with outrage. None of that should be the case. We are the people who have been given the charge to appeal to the kind of longing embedded in every human heart that Lewis talked about as joy. He talks about that sense of nostalgia, that sense of longing for the future, that sense of autumn, as he puts it in one place, that sense of northernness as he puts it in another place. That is embedded in all the consciences and hearts of our neighbors, as is a sense of justice, a sense of a longing for a world in which there is justice. You think of, for instance, the movie Spotlight, which addressed the pedophilia scandal within an institutionalized church. There is a sense in which even the most secular people can recognize that a cover-up of an evil that awful demands justice. And as a matter of fact, demands an even greater justice than what we can muster up in our context and in our laws.


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