The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best: C.S. Lewis on Imagination and Reason in Christian Apologetics Part 2 of 3 - page 3


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From the Fall 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 2 of 3

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

« continued from previous page

  Given that an imaginative embrace of Christianity is as necessary a response as rational assent, and given that rational assent cannot be given without imaginative content informing it, the only issue that the apologist has to settle is whether he is going to conduct his ‘reasoned defence’ in terms which are more imaginative or less imaginative. They are going to be imaginative at some level whether he likes it or not. The question to be answered is: to what extent will they approximate the lived language of the Christ story and to what extent will they render that language in more abstract categories?
  Abstract categories have the value of clarity, but in other respects are less desirable, Lewis thinks. The less imaginative the terms in which an apologist couches his argument, the less they can actually communicate the thing under discussion. In a brilliant, though sadly incomplete, article entitled ‘The Language of Religion’, Lewis homed in on this problem:

Apologetics is controversy. You cannot conduct a controversy in those poetical expressions which alone convey the concrete: you must use terms as definable and univocal as possible, and these are always abstract. And this means that the thing we are really talking about can never appear in the discussion at all. We have to try to prove that God is in circumstances where we are denied every means of conveying who God is.9

  We have already observed how Lewis discovered, in the course of his own path to faith, that doctrinal language is less adequate to the reality of Christian truth than the lived language of the Christ story itself. As an apologist, he further discovered that controversial language (the language of debate, persuasion, demonstration) was even less adequate than doctrinal language because, in a controversy, one has to thin down one’s language so that one can communicate with one’s opponents who, by definition, do not posssess the imaginative embrace of the topic in hand necessary to a full appreciation of what one is saying. The apologist has to work, so to speak, at the university lecture podium or at the bar of the court-room, all the while talking about something which goes on, in reality, at neither place, but rather in prayer, Communion, confession, the reading of the scriptures, – in the holistic life of faith. Apologetic language unavoidably uses ‘the logic of speculative thought’ instead of the more pertinent ‘logic of personal relations’10; it has to be univocal so that it is useful in contexts where Christianity does not, of its own nature, normally reside. The situation is akin to Mozart or Beethoven trying to prove their musicality not by conducting one of their symphonies in front of an orchestra but by standing gagged at a maths blackboard using only numbers.
  This is what Lewis means when he talks about ‘the great disadvantages under which the Christian apologist labours’11. The life of faith is best communicated in its own terms, namely ‘life’: the lived language of real human beings in real times in real places. Actions speak louder than words. If faith has to be turned into apologetic words, it is best to use words that tell a story, as in the Synoptic Gospels, or words that both tell a story and are richly resonant and connotative, like the mighty nouns of St John’s Gospel (‘Word’, ‘Light’, ‘Life’, ‘Way’, ‘Water’, ‘Glory’, ‘Vine’, ‘Bread’). Such narrative or symbolic terms are more capacious than the attenutated metaphors characteristic of abstract arguments; they are therefore more able to contain the huge wealth of meaning that there is to carry.

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