Lewis: The Apologist

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Lewis: The Apologist

Polarizing, yet popular. CS Lewis has been read, quoted, debated and nuanced for the last half century. Our previous post was devoted to giving background to Lewis and introducing one of his most famous works, Mere Christianity. But who was Lewis as an apologist?

Apologetics is a defense of a certain set of beliefs

Apologetics is a defense of a certain set of beliefs. You can have apologetics for the effectiveness of crossfit, a religion, a political ideology, or why the ’96 Huskers truly were the best college football team of all time. An apologist is simply someone who defends their beliefs and values.

Christian apologetics, then, is the defense of the faith. When most people think of apologetics in the Christian world, you might think of arguments for the existence of God, the resurrection of Jesus, or the reliability of the Bible. Mere Christianity, for example, begins with a moral argument for the existence of God. This writing would be a form of apologetics.

What we are interested in presently, is looking at Lewis as an apologist. What was his view on defending the Christian faith, and what was his impact? Let’s first examine some common views of apologetics and see if there is a camp that Lewis would fall into.

Classical Apologetics

For many, the form of apologetics that comes to our mind first is commonly called, Classical Apologetics. This style of apologetics attempts to make rational arguments for the God and stories of the Bible. The belief is that if people were to be shown facts and arguments that are logical, then we can lead people toward a belief in God.

Popular apologists that fall into this stream historically may be Augustine in the 4th Century or Thomas Aquinas. More contemporary classical apologists would be William Craig or RC Sproul.

Presuppositional Apologetics

Another stream of apologists follow a method commonly referred to as presuppositional. This style argues that the Christian faith is the only truly logical basis for thought; and so, the apologists task is to help those who do not hold to the Christian faith find the truth they already know deep down. 

John Frame, an adherent to the presuppositional approach, explains “The job of the apologist, trusting in God’s grace, is to persuade the non-Christian that the biblical presuppositions are true.”[1]Another popular presuppositional apologist, Cornelius VanTil, argues that it is the apologists task to show the non-Christian that the “facts” and “laws” they hold to are not actually “facts and laws”.

Imaginative Apologetics

A new work[2]has been done to define another stream of apologetics referred to as, Imaginative Apologetics. John Hughes, who writes an essay in this book, comments, “the rationalist project of proofs has sold out the Christian faith to deism and turned the God of Jesus Christ into an idol of human reason”[3]. His emphasis is that the transcendence of God is larger than any of our mere rational arguments. Therefore they are not helpful, but hurtful.

The goal behind this particular approach to apologetics is to engage the imagination along with reason to argue for the grand story, or “myth”, of God. An appropriate and useful way to defend Christianity is to engage the imagination in the broader storyline of Christianity. Condescension of the transcendent nature of God too much, they argue, will prevent the hearer of being properly caught up in the beauty and grandeur of God.

Lewis the Apologist

Does CS Lewis fall into one of these streams of thought? Most honest scholars will argue that the difficulty with Lewis is that he can be quite elusive. Where we attempt to pin down in categories, Lewis in some sense transcends our categories.

For instance, in Mere Christianity Lewis defends logically the existence of God using the moral argument. This argument would fall in line with a classical approach to reasoning someone toward an understanding of God. In his work, Miracles, with a slightly different approach, Lewis rationally argues for supernaturalism and the existence of miracles. Abolition of Man, The Problem of Pain, and other works follow in similar suit.

Through the creation of new worlds, Lewis gets under our skin by pressing our assumptions and expanding our capacity to dream

However, The Ransom Trilogy or The Chronicles of Narnia, would seem to follow a more imaginative approach to apologetics. If you have only read these myths (grand stories), you would naturally assume Lewis is a literary genius that is primarily a story-teller. Through the creation of new worlds, Lewis gets under our skin by pressing our assumptions and expanding our capacity to dream of the glories of God. These allegories help to touch and taste the transcendent nature of God.

Because Lewis does not fit neatly into our categories, he has become a somewhat polarizing figure. Evangelicals struggle with his theology in story, and different apologetic camps attempt to take ownership over the part of Lewis that lines up with their belief. With a variety of views, let’s remember three things.

(1) Lewis’ apologetics were undoubtedly evangelistic. “The salvation of a single soul is more important than the production or preservation of all the epics and tragedies in the world.”[4]Lewis cared deeply that the apologist or philosopher were not in the field simply to argue, but that they were attempting to win souls. In all the arguments and debates, do not forget that Lewis was an evangelist.

(2) Lewis’ apologetics were enhanced by his brilliance in philosophy. For any who have known Lewis only as the writer of their favorite children’s series, do not miss that Lewis was a great apologist because he was a great philosopher. Lewis founded a Socratic Club in the 1940s in order to argue the philosophical inconsistencies of pagan religions at the highest level of academia. His brilliance in philosophy comes out in more classical apologetic works, but is fantastically displayed in his prose.

One of Lewis’ greatest apologetic feats, is his telling of stories that would expand our view of the transcendence of God

(3) Lewis’ apologetics were enhanced by his brilliant imagination. As a young boy Lewis began dreaming and writing, fueled by his vivid imagination. As a Christian man Lewis began offering a defense for the faith, fueled by his vivid imagination. One of Lewis’ greatest apologetic feats, is his telling of stories that would expand our view of the transcendence of God. The great myth, or story, is divine redemption. Through the telling of stories, Lewis begins to capture elements of that story that enthrall our imagination.

So as you consider Lewis and apologetics, let us remember: no one approach is perfect, context matters, and God is big! Apologetics is important, but we must allow our context to shape our arguments. And we must never forget that God is big. If Lewis has taught me anything, it is to never think I am mastering an aspect of God. We know in part today, and one day, we will fully know. 

Until then, Lewis might say: dream big, tell grand stories, know and argue truth, and worship our transcendent God.

[1]Frame, John. “Presuppositional Apologetics” May 23, 2012

[2]Ed. Davison, Andrew. Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition. 2012

[3]ibid p7

[4]Lewis, “Christianity and Literature”

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scott.olson@reasonablefaith.org

Andrew Rutten