The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best: C.S. Lewis on Imagination and Reason in Christian Apologetics Part 2 of 3 - page 4


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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

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  Aware of the ‘disadvantages’ of abstraction, Lewis did not limit himself to the ‘reasoned defences’ of traditional apologetics. He also attempted more poetic and creative presentations of the faith in his fiction. His most notable attempt was, of course, the seven Chronicles of Narnia, and these stories have achieved more, perhaps, than any of his writings, by way of communicating the heart of his faith. Rowan Williams has said of the Narnia septet that ‘more theological students ought to read it for a sense of what classical orthodox theology feels like from the inside, – a unique achievement at that level’.12 Chad Walsh, author of the first study of C.S. Lewis, Apostle to the Skeptics, is of the opinion that ‘In these books where his imagination has full scope [Lewis] presents the Christian faith in a more eloquent and probing way than ever his more straightforward books of apologetics could.13
  But this present essay is about apologetics in the sense of ‘reasoned defence’, where language cannot be as rich and redolent, and therefore true to life, as in a fairy-tale. In non-fiction apologetics, language has to be univocal or, at any rate, ‘as univocal as possible’. Lewis did not think it was possible to be utterly univocal, even in his ‘reasoned defences’, for he believed that all language, except for the most basic and elementary, was metaphorical, and even the highly desiccated metaphors are not verbal algebra.14 So, he makes a virtue of necessity and, if one compares his Mere Christianity against other broad introductory apologetic works such as John Stott’s Basic Christianity, N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian, or Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God, one notices how much Lewis’s book stands out for the wealth of imagery it employs. He constantly resorts to analogy, simile and metaphor in a way and to an extent which none of these three successor books does. His ‘flotilla’ metaphor has always struck me as especially helpful15; likewise the image of the statues in the sculptor’s shop.16 Other images, such as the Whitesmile’s toothpaste that remains unused ‘by a healthy young negro’17, are now well past their use-by date; the famous ‘poached egg’18 simile is also perhaps too colourful for its own good. But Lewis’s working principle is sound, whatever the particular faults one may identify in his practice: apologetic language benefits from being vivid, sensory, and chosen with poetic, not just abstractly rational, intent.
  Lewis aims, then, to lead his readers along the road he himself trod. Apprehension of meaningfulness was, as we have seen, the first step in his conversion and so it became, in due course, the customary first step in his apologetic method. If one looks at the rhetorical strategies informing Lewis’s apologetics, one almost always finds that he begins, in the very first paragraph, by immersing the reader in a meaningful situation, whether it be quarrelling (as in Mere Christianity), despairing (as in The Problem of Pain), or doubting (as in Miracles). When, in The Four Loves, he introduces the first of the loves, storge, he aims first of all to establish ‘the meaning of the word’:

The image we must start with is that of a mother nursing a baby, a bitch or a cat with a basketful of puppies or kittens; all in a squeaking, nuzzling heap together; purrings, lickings, baby-talk, milk, warmth, the smell of young life.

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