The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best: C.S. Lewis on Imagination and Reason in Christian Apologetics Part 3 of 3 – page 5


Receive our Publications and Updates


Complete Library Knowing & Doing

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

  The apologist is thus a John the Baptist figure, preparing the way for the One who comes after. Apologetics serves a vital ancillary function and this is its main justification, for although reasoned defences do not of themselves create conviction, the absence of them makes belief much harder to engender or sustain. As Farrer wrote, ‘What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief [not even rational argument most richly and sensitively supplied by imagination], but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish. So the apologist who does nothing but defend may play a useful, though preparatory, part.’33
  Divine supervention takes us away from the field of pure apologetics into evangelism and soteriology. The indispensable role Lewis found for divinely-imparted faith both in the acquistion and retention of Christian belief34 is not something we can here address, though it is a subject worth exploring.35 Let us therefore conclude with what Lewis wrote in ‘The Decline of Religion’:

Conversion requires an alteration of the will, and an alteration which, in the last resort, does not occur without the intervention of the supernatural. I do not in the least agree with those who therefore conclude that the spread of an intellectual (and imaginative) climate favourable to Christianity is useless. You do not prove munition workers useless by showing that they cannot themselves win battles, however proper this reminder would be if they attempted to claim the honour due to fighting men. If the intellectual climate is such that, when a man comes to the crisis at which he must either accept or reject Christ, his reason and imagination are not on the wrong side, then his conflict will be fought out under favourable conditions.36


Page   1   2   3   4   5

To view this full article on a single page, click here.

1 See, for example, letter to Eliza Butler, 25 September 1940, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume II, ed. Walter Hooper (London: HarperCollins, 2004), 445.
2 Hence the phrase ‘only imagination’ is always meant pejoratively in Lewis’s works. This independent imagination is his target when, for example, he opposes ‘faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other’ (Mere Christianity, 120).
3 C.S. Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress (Glasgow: Collins, 1980). 195.
4 ‘If ever the vastness of matter threatens to overcross our spirits, one must remember that it is matter spiritualized which does so. To puny man, the great nebula in Andromeda owes in a sense its greatness’. ‘Dogma and the Universe’, C.S. Lewis, Essay Collection, 121.
5 E.g., The Screwtape Letters (Glasgow: Collins, 1982), 37. Screwtape, the senior devil, advises Wormwood to evacuate his patient’s will and intellect of virtues, locating them entirely in his fantasy or imagination: ‘No amount of piety in his imagination and affections will harm us if we can keep it out of his will’ (70).
6 C.S. Lewis, Prayer: Letters to Malcolm (Glasgow: Collins, 1983), 87.
7 Lewis practised his theory of disciplining his imagination from young adulthood onwards. E.g., see his resolution not to let “things I really don’t believe in and vague possibilities haunt my imagination’. Diary entry for 26 January 1927, All My Road Before Me: The Diaries of C.S. Lewis, 1922–1927 (London: HarperCollins, 1993), 439.
8 C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (Glasgow: Collins, 1984), 29.
9 C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964), 158.
10 E.g., the epistemology which structures his approach in Mere Christianity (16), for instance, broadly reflects the categories of Rational, Sensitive and Vegetable Soul described in The Discarded Image, 152–65.
11 The Discarded Image, 158.
12 See, e.g., The Abolition of Man, 23, 28.
13 Miracles, 39; cf. The Discarded Image, 161.
14 Austin Farrer, ‘The Christian Apologist’, in Light on C.S. Lewis, ed. Jocelyn Gibb (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1965), 37.
15 Miracles 115–16.
16 The Four Loves, 116–28.
17 Bluspels and Flalansferes’, SLE, 265.
18 ‘Human thought is not God’s, but God-kindled’, Miracles, 33.
19 ‘Bluspels and Flalansferes’, SLE, 265.
20 ‘Man’s reason is in such deep insolvency to sense’. ‘Horrid Red Things’, C.S. Lewis, Essay Collection, 129. Lewis is quoting Robert Bridges’s The Testament of Beauty, I, 57.
21 ‘The Philosopher’, Collected Poems, ed. Walter Hooper (London: HarperCollins, 1994), 186–87.
22 Letter to Cecil Harwood, 28 October 1926, Collected Letters, Volume I, 670.
23 In this, Lewis’s last novel, there is a character called the Fox, a rational teacher, who comes to learn at the end of the story that mere reason is ‘glibness . . . a prattle of maxims . . . all thin and clear as water’. Till We Have Faces (Glasgow: Collins, 1985), 306.
24 ‘The Decline of Religion’, C.S. Lewis, Essay Collection, 182.
25 Letter to Brother George Every, 12 October 1940, Collected Letters, Volume II, 448.
26 ‘Letter to his brother, 24 October 1931, Collected Letters, Volume II, 7.
27 ‘Where thought is strictly rational it must be, in some odd sense, not ours, but cosmic or super-cosmic. It must be something not shut up inside our heads but already ‘out there’—in the universe or behind the universe . . . a rationality with which the universe has always been saturated’. ‘De Futilitate’, C.S. Lewis, Essay Collection, 676.
28 ‘I do not think the resemblance between the Christian and the merely imaginative experience is accidental. I think that all things, in their way, reflect heavenly truth, the imagination not least. “Reflect” is the important word. This lower life of the imagination is not [i.e. not necessarily and by its own nature: God can cause it to be] a beginning of nor a step towards, the higher life of the spirit, merely an image’. Surprised by Joy, 135–36.
29 Letter to T.S. Eliot, 2 June 1931, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III, ed. Walter Hooper (London: HarperCollins, 2006), 1523.
30 See The Discarded Image, 70. It is not known how much of Karl Barth’s work Lewis read (he was not sure himself, see letter to Corbin Scott Carnell, 13 October 1958, Collected Letters, Volume III, 980), but his references to it are invariably unfriendly. He coined ‘Barthianism’ as a loose term to cover ‘a flattening out of all things into common insignificance before the inscrutable Creator’. English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, 449, 453. Cf. The Pilgrim’s Regress, 18; ‘Why I Am Not a Pacifist’, C.S. Lewis, Essay Collection, 292; letter to his brother, 18 February 1940, Collected Letters, Volume II, 350–52.
31 The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition (Oxford: Clarendon, 1936), 267.
32 I take it that those who read apologetic works and who are in need of their help may include many whose religious practice is already significantly developed.
33  Austin Farrer, ‘The Christian Apologist’, in Light on C.S. Lewis, 26.
34 See, e.g., Mere Christianity, 119–29; ‘Religion: Reality or Substitute?’, C.S. Lewis, Essay Collection, 131–37.
35 See, e.g., my ‘Escape to Wallaby Wood: Lewis’s Depictions of Conversion’, in C.S. Lewis, Lightbearer in the Shadowlands: The Evangelistic Vision of C.S. Lewis, ed. Angus J.L. Menuge (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1997), 143–67.
36 ‘The Decline of Religion’, C.S. Lewis, Essay Collection, 182.

Michael Ward is Senior Research Fellow at Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford, and Professor Apologetics at Houston Baptist University in Texas. He is the author of Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis and co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to C.S. Lewis. He studied English at Oxford, Theology at Cambridge, and has a Ph.D. in Divinity from St Andrews.


Recommended Reading:
The Cambridge Companion to C. S. Lewis (Cambridge Companions to Religion), edited by Robert MacSwain and Michael Ward (Cambridge University Press, 2010)

A distinguished academic, influential Christian apologist, and best-selling author of children's literature, C. S. Lewis is a controversial and enigmatic figure who continues to fascinate, fifty years after his death. This Companion is the first comprehensive single-volume study written by an international team of scholars to survey Lewis's career as a literary historian, popular theologian, and creative writer. Twenty-one expert voices from Oxford, Cambridge, Princeton, and Wheaton, among many other places of learning, analyze Lewis's work from theological, philosophical, and literary perspectives. Some chapters consider his professional contribution to fields such as critical theory and intellectual history, while others assess his views on issues including moral knowledge, gender, prayer, war, love, suffering, and Scripture. The final chapters investigate his work as a writer of fiction and poetry. Original in its approach and unique in its scope, this Companion shows that C. S. Lewis was much more than merely the man behind Narnia.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE:  Knowing & Doing is published by C.S. Lewis Institute; 8001 Braddock Road, Suite 301; Springfield, VA 22151. Portions of the publication may be reproduced for noncommercial, local church or ministry use without prior permission. Electronic copies of the PDF files may be duplicated and transmitted via e-mail for personal and church use. Articles may not be modified without prior written permission of the Institute. For questions, contact the Institute: 703.914.5602 or email us.



Support Discipleship
Come partner with us in the
call to develop disciples for Christ!

Learn More

Discipleship Resources
Audios, videos, publications, &
small group DVDs for heart & mind

Learn More

Find discipleship conferences
and events in your area.

Learn More

Fellows Program
Do you want to experience the
power of a transformed life?

Learn More