The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best: C.S. Lewis on Imagination and Reason in Christian Apologetics Part 2 of 3 - page 5


Receive our Publications and Updates


Complete Library Knowing & Doing

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


  The method is poetic, rather than polemic. There is no question, at the outset, of whether these various images or situations are good or bad, true or false, beautiful or ugly. They just are: rational judgements about their value can wait. We know that they mean something and they resonate with our experience or our observations of the world. Having thus engaged our imaginations, Lewis then proceeds to his next step. But as he proceeds he does not leave imagination behind and exit into some purely ‘rational’ realm. His strategy is imaginative all the way along: it has to be, given his understanding of how reason works. There is no question of discarding imagination and emerging into a neutral, reliable, ‘scientific’, disinterested region which must perforce command the assent of all objective observers. Lewis is not willing to reduce himself or his readers to mere ‘thinkers’ in a sort of ultra-Cartesian move which plagues so much inferior apologetics and so many earnest undergraduate late-night discussions. It is no good arguing for ‘God’ or ‘Christ’ or for ‘the atonement’ or even for ‘truth’ until the apologist has shown, at least at some basic level, that these terms have real meaning. Otherwise they will be just counters in an intellectual game, leaving most readers cold. Likewise, apologetic arguments for the authority of ‘the Church’ or ‘the Bible’ or ‘experience’ or ‘reason’ itself, must all be imaginatively realised before they can begin to make traction on the reader’s reason, let alone on the reader’s will. Before we act or think we understand meaning, in Lewis’s view, and so the provision of meaningful images becomes the hallmark of his apologetic method.
  But although Lewis accords imagination a high place, it is not the only or the highest place. There is also reason and reason is important — indeed, essential, — if imagination is to serve its proper purpose.

Article taken from Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition, edited by Andrew Davison. Published by SCM Press, 2011. Republished by permission. For permission to quote, republish or distribute this material, please contact


Page   1   2   3   4   5
To view this full article on a single page, click here.

1 Letter to the Revd Henry Welbon, 18 September 1936 (unpublished, but available in the Wade Center, Wheaton College, IL).
2 ‘Myth Became Fact’, C.S. Lewis, Essay Collection, 142.
3 Miracles, A Preliminary Study (Glasgow: Collins 1980) 72.
4 ‘I do believe that God is the Father of lights - natural lights as well as spiritual lights (James 1:17)’. Interview with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, reprinted as ‘Cross-Examination’, C.S. Lewis, Essay Collection, 555. Cf. Lewis’s assessment of Richard Hooker, perhaps his favourite theologian, who thought that ‘all kinds of knowledge, all good arts, sciences, and disciplines come from the Father of lights and are ‘as so many sparkles resembling the bright fountain from which they rise’’, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama (Oxford: Clarendon, 1954) 460.
5 Spenser’s Images of Life, ed. Alastair Fowler (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967) 14.
6 Letter to the Revd Henry Welbon, 18 September 1936 (unpublished).
7 ‘Myth Became Fact’, C.S. Lewis, Essay Collection, 141.
8 ‘Myth Became Fact’, C.S. Lewis, Essay Collection, 141.
9 ‘The Language of Religion’, C.S. Lewis, Essay Collection, 261.
10 ‘On Obstinacy in Belief’, C.S. Lewis, Essay Collection, 215.
11 ‘The Language of Religion’, C.S. Lewis, Essay Collection, 261.
12 Rowan Williams, ‘A Theologian in Narnia’, address to the Oxford Lewis Society, 9 November 1999; speaker’s own notes (copy in this author’s possession).
13 Chad Walsh, ‘Impact in America’ in Gibb, Jocelyn (ed.) Light on C.S. Lewis (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1965) 116.
14 ‘When we pass beyond pointing to individual sensible objects, when we begin to think of causes, relations, of mental states or acts, we become incurably metaphorical. We apprehend none of these things except through metaphor’, ‘Bluspels and Flalansferes’, Selected Literary Essays, 263.
15 Mere Christianity (Glasgow: Collins, 1990) 67-70.
16 Mere Christianity 135-136.
17 Mere Christianity 175.
18 Mere Christianity 52.
19 The Four Loves 33.

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 Romantic Rationalist: God, Life and Imagination in the Work of C.S. Lewis, edited by John Piper and David Mathis (Crossway, 2014)

C. S. Lewis stands as one of the most influential Christians of the twentieth century. His commitment to the life of the mind and the life of the heart is evident in classics like the Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity — books that illustrate the unbreakable connection between rigorous thought and deep affection. With contributions from Randy Alcorn, John Piper, Philip Ryken, Kevin Vanhoozer, David Mathis, and Douglas Wilson, this volume explores the man, his work, and his legacy — reveling in the truth at the heart of Lewis’s spiritual genius: God alone is the answer to our deepest longings and the source of our unending joy.

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