Vinoth Ramachandra

Rethinking Apologetics With Lewis

Posted on: September 27, 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)

11 Responses to "Rethinking Apologetics With Lewis"

Wow, this is an article of Lewis’ that I have not read nor (I think) read about, but how prescient, it took till the 70’s and bishop Newbeggin before the churches and seminaries even began to wake up to this fact.

Thank you for pointing to this.

The article can be found in the collection Timeless at Heart

I also found it in God in the Dock, and here: http://www.virtueonline.org/christian-apologetics-cs-lewis-1945

I was first introduced to Lewis when I was in conservative American evangelical circles. They love and honor him and his work. Strange though … the more I read the more I´m beginning to see he is really, in some profound ways, nothing like them.

Thanks so much for sharing this, Vinoth.

A good example of such a book that I have recently come across is “Becoming Minimalist” by Joshua Becker. Josh Becker studied at Regent College in Vancouver, and his Christian worldview is apparent in every chapter. The book is about the kind of downsizing and decluttering that is very trendy in the West these days, but he assumes that you are doing that in order to live a life that better aligns with your values, and all his practical examples of what values you may now be able to live out better are Christian ones – charity, hospitality, generosity, giving people time etc. And the book seems to be selling very well and is in no way marketed as a ‘Christian’ one. I had to go on a waiting list to get it out of my local library – something that rarely happens for booksthat aren’t brand new

Reblogged this on and commented:
Oh man, helpful stuff!

The need for Christ (and Christians) transforming every sphere of life is of eternal value. But is our context different to that of Lewis in 1945 UK? That UK had Christian beliefs undergirding her politics at least in organising society within. The Welfare State, the NHS, the politics of Clem Atley, the Beveridge Report etc. But today we have lost our Christ co-ordinate and perhaps our sense of human connectedness to each other. We are bent on looking after ‘Number One’, embarrassed to utter God’s values in our work places, groping for purpose and meaning in our lives and attempting rather feebly to define ‘British Values’ – the basis for which is uncertain. We need a Christ centred presence, then, in our every day lives – so when people see our deeds they will know it is from the Father and praise Him. Christ centred living (including publications) is as important as the reasons as to why we aspire to be a counter-culture.

Thanks so much Kumar Abayasekara.

C.S. Lewis is indeed extraordinary.
I am hard pressed to think of anyone else who was a distinguished academic, popular Christian apologist, and wrote classic children’s books.
That is an incredible breadth of talent, genres, and audiences.

It is also interesting that American evangelicals are fond of Lewis. Yet, he would not be invited to speak at some of their colleges, seminaries, conferences, or churches. He accepted biological evolution and not inerrancy. He attended a high Anglican church, drank alcohol, smoked, and married a divorcee.
Some of this is discussed here.
http://blog.emergingscholars.org/2016/10/book-review-the-romantic-rationalist/

You also note the leisurely academic life he had, which gave the freedom and time for his diverse output. Apparently, Lewis, Tolkien etc. would often meet in mid-morning to beginning drinking beer and eating pies, and discuss their latest ideas.

A nice example of someone who has taken up Lewis’ challenge is Andrew Steane, a Professor of Physics at Oxford.
He has written a popular book about Einstein’s theory of relativity and another about Science and Christianity, as well as several undergraduate textbooks.
https://users.physics.ox.ac.uk/~Steane/

[…] Por Vinoth Ramachandra 27 de septiembre, 2017 Material Original: https://vinothramachandra.wordpress.com/2017/09/27/rethinking-apologetics-with-lewis/ […]

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