Vinoth Ramachandra

Archive for September 2017

Re-reading some of C.S. Lewis’s theological essays, I have been struck again by how stimulating and relevant they remain.

His essay on “Christian Apologetics” (1945), delivered as an address to Anglican clergy, is prescient in gently chiding the latter for being out of touch with the thought-world of a rapidly changing Britain and proclaiming a message that simply did not make any sense to most working-class people. While sending missionaries to other parts of the world, the Church in Britain had not woken up to the reality that Britain itself needed to be evangelized- and in non-traditional ways.

“A century ago our task was to edify those who had been brought up in the Faith: our present task is chiefly to convert and instruct infidels. Great Britain is as much part of the mission field as China. Now if you were sent to the Bantus you would be taught their language and traditions. You need similar teaching about the language and mental habits of your own uneducated and unbelieving fellow countrymen. Many priests are quite ignorant on this subject. What I know about it I have learned from talking in RAF [Royal Air Force] camps.”

We should be grateful that Lewis did not learn theology in a theological institution. He was self-taught. His academic expertise was in English literature and in philosophy. These generally provide a much better education for Christian communicators, provided of course that they, like Lewis, are willing to listen and learn from the non-academic people with whom they interact. Lewis had a voluminous written correspondence (no e-mail or cell-phones then!) throughout his life with men and women from all social backgrounds, largely through his radio talks and popular children’s stories. He seems to have been equally at home in the Senior Common Room, the local pub, or an RAF canteen. (The life of an Oxford don was obviously a more leisurely affair than today. No pressure to publish or perish).

An extract from his essay “Christian Apologetics” (1945) resonates so much with what I have been saying for many years that I cannot resist reproducing it below:

“I believe that any Christian who is qualified to write a good popular book on any science may do much more good by that than by any directly apologetic work. The difficulty we are up against is this. We can make people (often) attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so; but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted. Every newspaper, film, novel and text book undermines our work. As long as that situation exists, widespread success is simply impossible. We must attack the enemy’s line of communication. What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects- with their Christianity latent.

You can see this most easily if you look at it the other way round. Our Faith is not very likely to be shaken by any book on Hinduism. But if whenever we read an elementary book on Geology, Botany, Politics or Astronomy, we found that its implications were Hindu, that would shake us. It is not the books written in direct defence of Materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books. In the same way, it is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian. The first step to the reconversion of this country is a series, produced by Christians, which can beat the Penguins and the Thinkers’ Library on their own ground. Its Christianity would have to be latent, not explicit: and of course its science perfectly honest. Science twisted in the interests of apologetics would be sin and folly.” (Emphases in the text)



September 2017
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