Biblical Convictions and The Words We Use

(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends,

This morning I read with interest an article by Pavel Hosek, Chairman of the Systematic Theology department at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Prague, Czech Republic, called, “C.S. Lewis and the Language of Apologetics”. In it he writes about how Lewis is by far the most popular religious author in his country.

Towards the end he concludes:

I think the situation in my own country is in harmony with a worldwide trend. People today, in the midst of scientific technological culture, which robbed the world of all wonder and mystery, start to search anxiously for the vanishing traces of the Sacred. Lewis’ writings, offering a vision of humble fascination and reflecting the unimaginable glory of the Creator, find many open ears and hearts among the postmodern readers, even in the post-Communist, atheistic Czech Republic.

Needless to say, Lewis always voted for a balance of reason and imagination, not for an irrational escape or a pseudomystical approach to reality, which would do more harm than good. It is exactly this balance of heart and head, feeling and thinking, imagination and reason, which makes Lewis’ writings so effective and so suitable for the postmodern situation.

Are you in awe of God? Filled with wonder by DNA, the stars at night, the human imagination?

How can we invite our friends into experiences where we marvel together at the world God has made, at the beauty of the human experience, at the wonder of life?

(Dave Kenny) #2

Hi @CarsonWeitnauer

As soon as I saw the title of this thread, I had to read it! This is because I am guilty, guilty, guilty of having Biblical Convictions and yet conveying them poorly in The Words I Use… so… I expected a real whipping on this one!

As it turns out, you brought this into a more constructive space… which you do so well… thank you!

Personally, I am finding as I read and grow in imaginative, creative, existentially emphasized authors, that this has been an underdeveloped aspect of my journey. To your challenge:

How can we invite our friends into experiences where we marvel together at the world God has made, at the beauty of the human experience, at the wonder of life?

I suppose for me it starts with understanding my deficiency here… I have to beef up my exposure… my recent studies of Kierkegaard have been exactly in this direction…

Then… I need to share what I am learning… process it out loud with another Christian (or two)… based on their face, reactions and feedback… I start to get a good idea of the ‘life’ that some of my words appear to have… those ones I keep the next time I’m going to share this…

So, after I have first exposed myself to more aesthetic christian writings, then I process with a fellow saint… after that, I try to phrase my questions with those who I am witnessing to in such a way as to lead the emotional discussion into the truths that I have uncovered with the help of another saint (during my debrief session)

I am finding that there is great value in probing this inner sense that everyone seems to have that there is more to our existence than pure matter… many of my non-Christian contacts would assent to the idea that there is a soulishness about them… that there is something more than purely matter (of course I know some hard-boiled naturalists too… even they have to repress these inner inklings that their nature is more than matter…).

So… the aesthetic, the emotional, the creative, the imaginative, the fanciful… all familiar tunes that belong to a far off land (sorry… Lewis quote…)… probing into this seems to present an excellent evangel…


(SeanO) #3

@CarsonWeitnauer You know, I think this is why when atheist philosopher’s talk about evolution they cannot help but anthropomorphize it or stand in awe of nature.

For example, the Encyclopedia Britannica article on evolution uses words like "staggering, “impressive” and “infinite” to describe the supposed work of chance and time.

The awe is already there - when people see nature they get it. But just like in the Garden of Eden the deceiver has sold us a lie about the source of such wonderful things.

Writer’s like C. S. Lewis can “sneak past the watchful dragons” that prevent people from even considering religion because they have been biased against it or hurt by it.

C. S. Lewis:

“I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday School associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could."

(Omar Rushlive Lozada Arellano) #4

It seems to me that based on the article, what made C.S. Lewis successful was his use of intuition, imagination, and emotion with reason and logic. The mindset of modernity which results to the disenchantment of the world robbed people who subscribed to it the awe and wonder which they once had.

The advantage of us with the Christian worldview is that we can help those who don’t in making sense of their experiences in God’s universe. After all, whichever worldview they subscribe to which they use in seeing the world in the phenomenal sense, it’ll be hard for them to reconcile whatever they see or practice in God’s universe in a noumenal sense.

Since we are all made as thinking and feeling creatures, and we reside in God’s universe, we can help connect with others through common experiences we have and also based on our longings or aspirations.

This reminds me of Abdu Murray’s talk here in the Philippines in the Intentional Discipleship Conference. He used a quote from Blaise Pascal:

“Men despise religion, they hate it and are afraid it might be true. To cure that we have to begin by showing that religion is not contrary to reason. That it is worthy of veneration and should be given respect. Next it should be made lovable, should make the good wish it were true. Then show that it is indeed true.”

Let me give an example from his talk. He talked about Christianity affirming the grand central question of worldviews. One of them was secular humanism. The grand central question for the worldview is objective human value or worth. We can use the secular humanist’s affirmation of the essential dignity of man to let them see how the Christian view far outweighs their view in making sense of man’s intrinsic worth. In his talk, Abdu cited Lawrence Krauss to show that for Krauss, man is on a cosmic scale like pollution, and Richard Dawkins to show that man’s sole reason for living is for propagating DNA. This is something which is contrary to our common sense and experience.

Even if we are not speaking on a worldview level explicitly with a person, we can use anything we have which we see that others could relate to. One example I could think of is the musical The Greatest Showman. I have a number of friends who have watched it and they really loved the songs.

Let’s say for example, a friend confesses of his feeling of not being satisfied with whatever he is getting in life. He thought that getting something he had dreamed for so long will complete him, but he still feels empty. Since I know that he loves the musical, I would relate it with Jenny Lind’s song in the movie, Never Enough. I believe he will be able to resonate with the lyrics, since it said that without the other person sharing the dream with Jenny, all the shine of a thousand spotlights, all the stars they steal from the night sky, towers of gold, and holding the world will never be enough.

I believe this could be used to let them further understand what idolatry is, and how it cannot deliver its promised salvation. In a sense, it could be used as a bridge for theological discussions where we can point what can truly satisfy the unquenchable thirst which they could not identify.

(Helen Tan) #5

Hi @CarsonWeitnauer, thank you for another interesting discussion.

In his essay, “Blusphels and Flalanferes” found in ‘Selected Literary Essays’, Lewis argued that “while reason is the natural organ of truth, imagination is the organ of meaning.” That is to say that we need a clear image we can connect with before we can grasp the meaning of a word or concept. The outflow of this is that Lewis would provide the appropriate picture or metaphor to help one grasp the meaning in the midst of his apologetic argument.

One example is seen in ‘The Weight of Glory”: “Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

According to Alister McGrath in his article, “Try seeing it this way: Imagination and reason in the apologetics of C.S. Lewis”:
Lewis helps us to appreciate that apologetics need not take the form of deductive argument. It can be presented as an invitation to step into the Christian way of seeing things, and explore how things look when seen from its standpoint - “Try seeing things this way!” If worldviews or metanarratives can be compared to lenses, which of them brings things into sharpest focus? This is not an irrational retreat from reason. Rather, it is about grasping a deeper order of things which is more easily accessed by the imagination than by reason. Yet once seen, its intrinsic rationality can be appreciated.

Lewis enriches our vision of apologetics, allowing us to affirm that Christianity makes sense, without limiting it to the “glib and shallow” rationalism that he himself once knew as an atheist. Reason and imagination are woven together, using a rich concept of truth which emphasizes how we come to see things properly, and grasp their inner coherence. Truth, beauty and goodness all have their part to play in Lewis’s apologetics.

Such an “imaginative apologetics” allows us to affirm the reasonableness of faith, while at the same time displaying its power to captivate the imagination. The Christian churches need to ensure that their preaching, witness and worship express this same rich vision of reality, and lead others to wonder how they can go “further up and further in” to the landscape of faith.”

This is challenging me to think more deeply as to how to incorporate the imagination into my apologetic dialogues. Does anyone have more advice in this respect?

(Jennifer Judson) #6

Quite a few months back I watched the PBS Nova program: Earth From Space. It’s a phenomenal program about the advances in knowledge about our planet from satellite data. I was spellbound for 2 hours at the extraordinary interlinking of every part of the globe in every aspect of the natural world. Did you know there’s a vital natural connection between the sands of the Sahara and the Brazilian rain forest that helps keep the planet functioning? The whole program is mind blowing. Watching it from a Christian world view I literally felt my faith deepening as I watched.

There were so many connections it’s unfathomable to me that anyone could believe it all came into being randomly. After watching it I reviewed God’s reply to Job from Job 38. It gave it a whole new perspective.

(Jennifer Judson) #7

The life of C.S. Lewis always gave me hope concerning my seeker father. Dad was an engineer and always got hung up on biblical inconsistencies. When I learned that C.S. Lewis was an atheist that came to belief as an adult I was heartened that there is a path for logical, thinking persons to believe.

(Helen Tan) #8

I am learning a lot from this discussion and would like to add this to the mix. I just read what Stuart McAllister wrote about the power of stories which, I think, offers much for us to consider in terms of practical application in our apologetic dialogues:

  1. Human beings are hungry for stories and ultimately for the one true story even though they may not be aware of it. People from every culture have stories – fables, books, movies, etc. An example of the power of a story is seen in the movie ‘Avatar’ which affected many, causing some to even experience depression and suicidal thoughts as people can’t cope with the dream of Pandora being intangible. Stories impact lives.

  2. Eugene Paterson says that we all live in a story. Story is the language of the heart. Our souls speak not in the bare facts of mathematics or the abstract propositions of systematic theology but in the images and emotions of a story.

  3. One way to reach people with the Gospel in a multicultural context is by exploring ‘the power and pull of stories in our lives’. In his book “Engaging Unbelief: A Captivating Strategy from Augustine & Aquinas”, Curtis Chang talks about the rhetorical strategy of evangelism using 3 components:
    a. entering the challenger’s story – we enter the questioner’s story by initially operating within their worldview.
    b. retelling the story – having entered the story, we retell the story from the inside while offering a different perspective, that is, we re-interpret the story from within the questioner’s framework.
    c. capturing that retold tale within the power of the Gospel – The goal is not to attempt to explain everything, but to show how the gospel is able to do more fully what the original storyline could do only in part. A great example is Paul’s discourse before the Aereopagus in Acts 17.

  4. For us to be able to undertake this task, we need what A.W. Tozer calls a “sanctified imagination.” In his essay “The Value of the Sanctified Imagination,” Tozer observes, “The value of the cleansed imagination in the sphere of religion lies in its power to perceive in natural things shadows of things spiritual.”

(Carson Weitnauer) #9

Hi @Dave_Kenny, thank you for this candid reflection! I am with you in terms of needing my stated convictions to match the words that I speak! I like your iterative process of reading evocative words, testing them with Christian friends, and trying out new questions with nonChristians. Learning as you go. I think that speaks to the artfulness of life and the wisdom of practically applying our understanding to real life circumstances. A good reminder for me this morning!

@SeanO, I am loving the quotes from the Encyclopedia Brittanica article on evolution. Now that you’ve mentioned it, I see this all around. There are so many places where the soulish element of life ‘pops out’ of people and they speak in ways that don’t make sense for a naturalistic perspective.

@omnarchy, I thought this line was really clarifying, “Since we are all made as thinking and feeling creatures, and we reside in God’s universe, we can help connect with others through common experiences we have and also based on our longings or aspirations.” This turns evangelism into something very accessible and ordinary, something nearly anyone can do any day of the week. It isn’t a weird or awkward stuffing Bible verses down people’s throats. Rather if we will just be present, observant, curious, and kind, we will notice many opportunities to explore the deeper yearnings of life that point to Christ.

@Helen_Tan, your detailed, thoughtful research is always a blessing. This quote reminded me of something quite valuable:

Lewis argued that “while reason is the natural organ of truth, imagination is the organ of meaning.” That is to say that we need a clear image we can connect with before we can grasp the meaning of a word or concept. The outflow of this is that Lewis would provide the appropriate picture or metaphor to help one grasp the meaning in the midst of his apologetic argument. As you quote McGrath, ““Try seeing things this way!””

It is hard to do, but I think one reason for this is that I have not always ‘taken in’ the fullness of meaning of my own beliefs. To sit and meditate on the word of God until it reshapes even my imagination (Phil 4:8). I think Jesus was the master at illustrations that opened up the imagination with his word pictures and parables. I think one of the best ways to develop our imagination and understanding of the world is to meditate on the Scriptures. Or, to wander through an art gallery, or read a great novel carefully, or to spend an evening gazing at the stars - to really ‘take in’ and come to a deeper understanding of what we are seeing. In a world of distraction, it is hard to develop the routines that enable this reflection. But, once we have it for ourselves, we can share it with others.

As @Jennifer_Judson shared about the Nova program: “Watching it from a Christian world view I literally felt my faith deepening as I watched.” Or to quote you again, from Stuart McAllister, “Story is the language of the heart.” I think the immersion in great stories, especially the narrative of the Bible, is what we need to tell great stories ourselves in everyday conversation.

(Jennifer Judson) #10

“Story is the language of the heart,” I like that.

Think of the parables. Stories that spoke to the audience is both familiar and shocking terms. Can’t you just see the crowd around Jesus nodding in agreement at the wisdom of the priest and the Levite to quickly pass by and then scoffing that of all things a Samaritan would be the hero of the story? Doesn’t it thrill your heart to see in your mind’s eye the father running to the prodigal son, then convict it with sorrow when you realize how often you’ve acted more like the older brother.

These stories turned everyday familiar scenes into a glimpse into the heart and mind of the almighty. Yes, stories have power to spark imagination and transform hearts.