Thursday, January 3, 2013

The key is making theology enjoyable

Two good critical appreciations of C.S. Lewis in the last few days: an article and an interview:

John G. Stackhouse Jr. explains why C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity worked and continues to work even though, as he says, it "should have bombed." One reason, a reason that was important to me at a point of adolescent arrogance, was because "MC gives you permission to be both intelligent and Christian." From Stackhouse's column:
.... MC works because Lewis was a master at two rhetorical arts, which he combined fluently: argument and depiction. Indeed, his friend Austin Farrer emphasized the latter as his chief talent, and Lewis himself spoke, not only of creating Narnia in terms of "seeing pictures in his head," but of his entire writing career in this way. In the last months of his life, he explained to a friend why he was no longer generating new work. He was ill, but he was not old: only in his mid-60s. The situation was simple, he said: "The pictures have stopped."

Despite Lewis's protestations that he was not a theologian and his profession was a scholar of literature, it must be remembered that his first training was in philosophy and that he evidently took a subsequent degree (and a job) in literature only when he failed to obtain a position in philosophy. Thus we happily find a keen philosophical mind in harness with a lively literary mind—and a literary mind both critical and creative, which is another unusual combination.

MC works, then, because Lewis can both show and tell. He can tell us what he thinks we should think, and then make it appear for us in an image that usually lasts long after the middle steps of the argument have vanished from memory. ....

People today do want arguments, but they want them the way Lewis delivered them: in plain language, about issues that matter, in a methodical step-by-step fashion, and with illustrations that literally illustrate and commend the point being made. For scholars to write this way today is at least as much of a challenge as it was in Lewis's day. .... [more]
And Alister McGrath, author of a soon-to-be-published Lewis biography, C.S. Lewis-A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet, in an interview with Will Vaus at HarperCollins' C.S. Lewis Blog, makes a similar argument for CSL's effectiveness as Christian apologist. Excerpts:
.... I was an atheist and I came to faith when I came to Oxford. And I think the thing that really drew me to faith was a realization that Christianity made sense of things. It was an intellectual conversion. And when I read Lewis for the first couple of times I welcomed him as an exponent of rational apologetics. He reinforced my sense that Christianity really does make sense of things. But as I read him I realized there was a lot more than that: a lot about the imagination and a lot about experience, longing, yearning, and that didn’t really make much sense to me. But actually, as I grew older, my vision of the Christian faith began to expand. Now, here is what I don’t know.

Was it that by reading Lewis that my vision of Christianity expanded? Or was it that my vision of Christianity was expanding and I found in Lewis someone who spoke to me at multiple levels?. And you know it could be a bit of both. Lewis is a great dialogue partner. What I found was that Lewis really was a writer who helped me deepen my vision of the Christian faith. And because apologetics is very, very important to me Lewis actually gave me lots of new ideas of how I could defend Christianity. I found him very, very stimulating.

He also enriched my vision of personal faith. ....

WV: What do you think is Lewis’ best book?

AM: I would say it’s Mere Christianity. It continues to be very significant. I think Lewis is the master of the shorter essay and therefore there are a number of essays that would be my top picks. Let me tell you the ones I like best. I mentioned “The Weight of Glory.” I keep coming back to that. I think “Is Theology Poetry?” is awfully good. “The Funeral of a Great Myth” I think is very, very powerful. And there are others I could mention. What I find is that when Lewis is limiting himself to a couple of thousand words, he packs a lot in. ....

WV: What is Lewis’ major contribution as an intellectual, as a writer? And what one lesson do you take away from his life?

AM: For Lewis the key criterion is enjoyment. Lewis makes theology enjoyable. How many people can you say that about, that they make theology enjoyable? It’s a huge achievement. From his life, one thing I learned is that the positions Lewis critiques tend to be positions he once held himself. In other words, he’s passed through atheism, skepticism and so on, and in effect is saying, “I’ve got answers that work for me. Now I’m going to work on those and make them work for others as well.” That in effect is saying, “Here’s a way that God is able to gracefully use our life experience and elevate it.” [more]
Post a Comment