C. S. Lewis the Apologist: Truth, Reason and Imagination

Greg Strand – May 27, 2015 3 Comments

C. S. Lewis is often considered one of the foremost apologists of the Christian faith of last century. Lewis’ approach to articulating and defending the Christian faith has been influential to many Evangelicals. What was it that made him fruitful and inimitable?

Ben Witherington interviews Alister McGrath about his biography C. S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet. In this installment Witherington asks McGrath about Lewis’ approach to apologetics, particularly now that we have passed from a modern to a postmodern day.

The gist of McGrath’s response, which I include below, is that Lewis combines reason and the imagination to present a new view of the world which is centered in truth.

Lewis is probably the best apologist of the twentieth century. Nobody has arisen to rival him, although he has many imitators. Why was Lewis so successful? I think the answer lies in his unique combination of reason and imagination, which I find in very few other apologists. His Oxford colleague and fellow-apologist Austin Farrer, Warden of Keble College, once suggested that Lewis’s apologetic approach might initially look like a modernist rational argument; but when you look more closely, you realize that it is actually an encouragement to see things in a new way, and thus grasp the rationality of faith through the imagination. Lewis, Farrer suggested, makes us “think we are listening to an argument”, when in reality “we are presented with a vision, and it is the vision that carries conviction.”

Lewis helps us to see that apologetics doesn’t have to take the form of a rather dull modernist argument, but can be understood and presented as an invitation to step into the Christian way of seeing things. If worldviews or metanarratives can be compared to lenses, which of them brings things into sharpest focus? Lewis’s explicit appeal to reason involves an implicit appeal to the imagination. Perhaps this helps us understand why Lewis appeals to both modern and postmodern people. Yes, Lewis affirms the rationality of the universe, in a way that would please a modern thinker. Yet he does so without lapsing into the cold logic and dreary argumentation that so often accompany modernist apologetics. Yes, Lewis affirms the power of images and narratives to captivate our imagination. Yet he does this without giving up on the primacy of truth, which is one of my major concerns about some postmodern approaches. I think we can all learn from this.

What do you think? How do you approach the articulation and defense of gospel truth today? What can we learn from Lewis?

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA’s Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

3 responses to C. S. Lewis the Apologist: Truth, Reason and Imagination

  1. What McGrath is describing is really a variation on a presuppositional apologetic. Not what I was taught by John Gerstner at TEDS, but actually closer to what his mentor, C Van Til taught Dr. Gerstner- and Dr. Gerstner rejected– at Westminster Seminary. I find that in the post-modern situation, the hard nosed rationalistic apologetic that Dr. Gerstner and his most famous student R. C. Sproul and others such as N. Geisler defend, doesn’t really work among most folks. You have to get back to discussing their presuppositions.

    When my former classmate at TEDS R. Zacharias was in Iowa City for a Veritas Forum a few years ago, I asked him about his apologetic method and he told me that he was moving much closer to a more presuppositional approach. He said his growing up in India was what was driving that change of direction. Maybe our culture is becoming more like India.

    • Thank you for your response, John. I also appreciated learning of your experience. I, too, came to affirm a presuppositional approach to apologetics after my time at TEDS. Although it was Van Tilian, it was Van Til through Greg Bahnsen. I was also influenced by reading Carl Henry’s Toward a Recovery of Christian Belief where he spells out his two foundational axioms: the epistemological axiom, which is the Word of God, and the ontological axiom, which is the living God. As I often say, evidence or experience are not self-interpreting. All evidence and all experiences require a divine interpretation.

      • Greg, I remember a well-attended public debate between Carl Henry and John Gerstner at TEDS on apologetic method while I was a student. Dr. Henry’s postion was much stronger, but he was not a good, off the cuff, debater as brilliant as he was. Dr. Gerstner was very good in such formats and he used rather loaded language such as claiming Dr. Henry was “naked fideist” during the debate. Most students came away thinking Gerstner, who I thoroughly enjoyed as a teacher and mentor BTW, won. It was a lesson to me on how the use of loaded language can sway a debate.

        Justin Taylor has just recently posted some material by Greg Bahnsen on his blog, including a link to an important article by Dr. Bahnsen and also a link to his USC doctoral thesis which focused on the link between self-deception and Romans 1. I just started the article, but it looks very helpful.

        Here’s the link the JT, if you haven’t seen it.

        http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2015/05/26/the-concept-of-self-deception-a-philosophical-analysis-everyday-illustration-and-application-to-romans-1/

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