Thursday, June 2, 2011

C. S. Lewis to Carl Henry

A couple of months ago I read the following letter from C.S. Lewis to Carl Henry, the founder of Christianity Today magazine. Mr. Henry wrote Lewis asking if Lewis would contribute some articles to CT. Here is Lewis's reply, dated September 9, 1955:

Dear Doctor Henry, Thank you for your letter of Sept 12th. I wish your project heartily well but can't write you articles. My thought and talent (such as they are) now flow in different, thought I think not less Christian, channels, and I do not think I am at all likely to write more directly theological pieces. The last work of that sort which I attempted had to be abandoned. If I am now good for anything it is for catching the reader unawares - thro' fiction and symbol. I have done what I could in the way of frontal attacks, but I now feel quite sure those days are over. With many thanks. Yours sincerely, C.S. Lewis

I have friends who resonate with the didactic teachings of Lewis and, I think for the most part, are uncomfortable with his stories. His stories are "fiction" while his directly theological pieces are non-fiction - this is their unspoken position. While they will use Lewis's book Mere Christianity  for outreach and discipleship, they would not think of using Narnia, The Space Trilogy, or Till We Have Faces in such a fashion.  An irony is that Lewis came to Christ not so much through direct theological argument, but rather through "story" and "myth".

Lewis, Tolkien, Charles Williams, Dorothy L. Sayers, Hugo Dyson, and others of Lewis's circle valued the power of story. Certainly Scripture provides us with both didactic teaching and story. The bookends of Scripture, Genesis and Revelation, are replete with story, powerful narrative that speaks to us in an ocean of uncertainty. When we take Revelation and attempt to turn its visions and images into didactic presentations we caricature the Word which was given to John and suck the wind from its sails. The breath of the Holy Spirit is reduced to reconstituted potatoes.

This is not a case of having to choose either story or didactic teaching for one's life, it is a case of submitting to the text and approaching the Bible naturally, as an original audience would have naturally read it and as the human authors naturally wrote it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Now had I been a contemporary of Lewis's in a certain stage of my life, I'm certain I would have thought Lewis's reply to Henry a mistake; why waste a great mind and talent on writing story when he could be reaching thousands in an Evangelical journal? 

The images of Narnia are likely to remain with folks long after they have forgotten what they read in The Problem of Pain, and the Gospel accounts of Christ on the Cross are more likely to remain with a person than Paul's exposition of forgiveness in Romans - unless that exposition is placed in the context of narrative; unless it is derived from the Gospel; which of course it was when it was written. 

As Lewis argues in The Abolition of Man, we are becoming (have become!) men without chests, men and women without hearts, we have become mechanistic creatures - and Biblical story and narrative have the power to awaken the slumbering heart, by-passing the programmed mind and speaking to the essence of who we are - men and women created in the image of a holy God, enslaved by deceit, blinded by sin, tricked into believing we are the products of time plus matter plus chance. 

I don't recall a hymn about singing the great doctrines of the faith in Heaven (though I'm sure someone will bring one to my attention), but someone did write a hymn titled I Love to Tell the Story, with the words, t'will be my theme in glory, to tell the old old story of Jesus and His love. The worship and praises in the heavens portrayed in Revelation center around the story of the Lamb - why? Because we are a part of that story.

I love the didactic passages in Scripture, and I love to think and teach didactically; but I've also learned the power of story, and I've learned that unless I and my brothers and sisters see ourselves as participants in God's Story that we are prone to intellectualize the Gospel and the Scriptures, reducing the Gospel to argument and reasoning; thereby not only missing the texture of the Bible, but also missing an avenue into the hearts of those around us.

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