The more I read C.S. Lewis, the less I want to argue. What I mean is that even though Lewis loved a good logical fight, I don't think he necessarily thought it was the best means to defend the Christian faith.
C.S. Lewis scholar Michael Ward says, "C.S. Lewis understood, like few in the past century, just how deeply faith is both imaginative and rational." In his Christianity Today feature article Ward shows us how Lewis used rational apologetics and poetic apologetics. In his best works, Lewis enchants his readers. Lewis employed the beautiful in order to accomplish this.
For just as the beauty of the currant flower prompted his young mind to contemplate all that beauty symbolized, so too did Lewis create worlds in order to entertain, yes, but also to point to something beyond—a kind of beauty for which only the divine can account.
In his essay “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's To Be Said” Lewis gives us a clear view of his literary intentions. He describes himself as both “Author” and “Man,” each with his own set of goals.
“On that side (as Author) I wrote fairy tales because the Fairy Tale seemed the ideal Form for the stuff I wanted to say."
The stuff to which Lewis refers originated in images, such as a Faun carrying an umbrella or a magnificent lion. He saw images and used the form of the Fairy Tale as a means to communicate these images.
The “Author” Lewis represents the imaginative whereas the “Man” Lewis represents the rational—a systematic plan to create something that possessed sharp intent and clarity of thought. Lewis’s composite “goals,” ring with a certain Platonic echo.
For the ancient Greeks, the muthos (myth) was a true story used to communicate the origin of the world and human beginnings. Plato employed myth to “inculcate in his less philosophical readers noble beliefs and/or teach them various philosophical matters that may be too difficult for them to follow if expounded in a blunt, philosophical discourse.”
Lewis seems to adopt Plato’s muthos approach, using narrative, traditional stories, creative dialogues (i.e., The Screwtape Letters) and other Platonic devices to inculcate his readers with a persuading beauty which he hoped would lead to a logical supposal.
And so, we find in Lewis a composite author working not only to deliver whimsy and entertainment to his readers, but also the lessons of the Christian faith.
To read Lewis aright is to understand how he joined rationalism with imagination. For Lewis, the joining of the two occurred over time as he transitioned from being a cold atheist to a jovial Christian.
In his preface to George MacDonald: An Anthology (1947) Lewis writes a lengthy passage about MacDonald’s type of genius.
It is in some ways more akin to music than to poetry—It goes beyond the expression of things we have already felt. It arouses in us sensations we have never had before, never anticipated having, as though we had broken out of our normal mode of consciousness and ‘possessed joys not promised to our birth.’ It gets under our skin …
Likewise, Lewis seeks to crawl under the skin of his readers. He attempts to draw them into a journey he himself travelled. For Lewis, the Christian life was a constant pilgrimage, a sojourn spread out before the pilgrim, riddled with pockets of pain and suffering along the way. This part Lewis knew only all too well.
For Lewis, pain only whet one’s appetite for “the other,” while beauty was the impetus of the sojourn. Lewis sought to accomplish with his writings what he felt MacDonald had himself accomplished: to enliven the mind by quickening the spirit, and he used beauty to do both.
May we also seek a composite approach to how we share the Gospel and defend the faith. Arguments, yes, are at times necessary. But imaginative expressions of beauty are always welcome in a culture increasingly skeptical about the intentions of an arguing Christian.
Timothy Willard is the author of five books, including Longing For More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life and the forthcoming The Life-Giving Adventure of Chasing Beauty (Eerdmans, 2019). He has collaborated on over 20 books and has written, consulted and served as spiritual director for organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Catalyst, Q Ideas and Praxis Labs. When he’s not riding the trails in the Appalachian mountains you can find him by the fire with his three daughters and his wife making up stories about Tom the back yard badger. He lives somewhere in the south Charlotte woods.