The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best: C.S. Lewis on Imagination and Reason in Christian Apologetics Part 3 of 3 – page 3


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From the Winter 2017 issue of Knowing & Doing:

The Good Serves the Better and Both the
Best: C.S. Lewis on Imagination and Reason
in Christian Apologetics
Part 3 of 3

by Michael Ward, Ph.D.
Senior Research Fellow, University of Oxford

« continued from previous page

Imaginative Reason Is Also Insufficient

  Thus the good imagination serves the better reason which allows readers to understand a good deal about their human situation and even a certain amount about God. But only a certain amount. We have already pointed out imagination’s deficiencies; reason also is insufficient for the full knowledge of God. Reason, for Lewis, we must remember, was not the organ of truth but ‘the natural organ of truth’;17 it could not rise to the supernatural in its own strength.18 Though a self-confessed ‘rationalist’,19 Lewis was a great deal more than merely a believer in the power of ‘Enlightenment’ ratiocination. Reason depends not only on what we might call the ground floor (imagination) and but also on the basement (physical sensation20) in order to be supplied with its raw materials. Considered alone, then, reason is nothing special: ‘gnawing, peasant reason’, as the young Lewis calls it.21 It is helpless unless equipped by imagination (and sensation); and even thus equipped it cannot reach into the heavens. To his friend Harwood, Lewis wrote in 1926: ‘No one is more convinced than I that reason is utterly inadequate to the richness and spirituality of real things: indeed this is itself a deliverance of reason.’22 And he never resiled from this position, as many of his later writings, most notably Till We Have Faces, demonstrate.23
  So, his religion is not merely rational, any more than it is merely imaginative. But it would be a mistake to conclude that his religion was composed merely of an imaginatively informed rationality: imagination and reason together work not to serve themselves but to serve the will. The good serves the better and both serve the best. The best is the will, the heart of a person, and this requires to be reorientated by a meeting with the divine. However much an apologist may labour with imaginative and rational tools to defend the faith and persuade skeptics to accept its claims, nothing can be achieved “without the intervention of the supernatural”, because only the supernatural can bring about “an alteration of the will”.24 How then, can the apologist hope for supernatural intervention in the imaginatively rational process of Christian apologetics?

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