The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best Part 1 - page 1


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From the Summer 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 1 of 3

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


Lewis is probably the most influential practitioner of Christian apologetics over the last hundred years. According to his Oxford contemporary, the theologian and philosopher, Austin Farrer, Lewis was ‘the most successful apologist our days have seen.’1 Works such as Mere Christianity, Miracles, The Problem of Pain, and Surprised by Joy, as well as his classic Chronicles of Narnia, have been read by millions of people round the world since they were first published in the 1940s and ‘50s.
 In this essay I want to take a step back and look at the Lewis of the 1930s in order to examine some of the groundwork to his thinking that enabled him to become so effective an apologist. The titles I just listed are the famous flower of his life’s work: in what follows we will inspect the stem and indeed the root. Our examination will show that Lewis’s apologetics were successful not simply because the Christianity he presented was reasonable (although reasonable it certainly was, or at any rate was intended to be), but first and foremost because it was presented with imaginative skill and imaginative intent. Lewis had a profound respect for the imagination, and his thinking about and practice of imaginative apologetics constitute one of the main reasons why he is still a relevant, indeed a most timely, voice in the field. In a postmodern world, systematic or abstract or propositional apologetic strategies may often be of limited appeal because of suspicions about the supposed neutrality or utility of ‘reason’. Lewis himself gave considerable thought to the relations between reason and imagination and it is this that I propose to explore. As someone trained in literary history and criticism and equipped with talents as a poet and novelist, Lewis inevitably thought long and hard about the role of imagination, but he also taught philosophy at Oxford for a period and was a (non-professional) theologian of wide reading, so he gave considerable attention also to the claims of reason. When he turned to apologetics, that thinking about imagination and reason naturally informed his whole approach and only if we understand his thinking about both faculties and the way the inter-relate with each other and with the life of faith will we gain a secure grasp of his effectiveness as an apologist.


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