Why we need more Christians who write

Thursday, 06 December, 2007

And speaking of Christians who write, I found these quotes while going through my archives on C.S. Lewis's view on the subject. The first one is from George Sayer's marvellous biography of Lewis:

The reviewers' failure to see the point of the book [Out of the Silent Planet] gave Jack the idea that would be basic to all his children's stories: ‘... [I]f there was only someone with a richer talent and more leisure I think that this great ignorance might be a help to the evangelisation of England; any amount of theology can now be smuggled into people's minds under cover of romance without their knowing it.’ At this stage in his career, he was not often so explicit about his intent, because he was only gradually coming to realize that he had the power to evangelize through the writing of popular books in which Christianity was implicit. We have a more clearly formed statement of his view in a paper on the subject of Christian apologetics that he read to a group of Anglican priests and youth leaders in 1945. He pointed out that the difficulties of the Christian writer or lecturer arose from the fact that the difficulties of the Christian writer or lecturer arose from the fact that the culture was not at all Christian. This meant that the influence of a Christian lecture or article would be undermined very quickly by the influence of films, newspapers, and novels in which an opposing point of view was taken for granted. This made it impossible for the Christian writer to achieve widespread success. What was wanted was not more ‘little books about Christianity,’ but more books by Christians on other subjects in which the Christianity was latent. All his fiction is of this sort, as are his philological books and works of literary criticism ...

It is possible to extract from the Narnia stories a system of theology very like the Christian. Thus the theological content of The Magician's Nephew is the story of the creation. Aslan sings it into being. The temptation in the Garden of Eden and the Fall are there. In the story he wrote next we have death, judgement, Hell, and Heaven. But the author almost certainly did not want his readers to notice the resemblance of the Narnian theology to the Christian story. His idea, as he once explained to me, was to make it easier for children to accept Christianity when they met it later in life. He hoped that they would be vaguely reminded of the somewhat similar stories that they had read and enjoyed years before. ‘I am aiming at a sort of pre-baptism of the child's imagination.’

(George Sayer, Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1997, pp. 255-26, 318.)

... and the second quote is by Lewis himself (to show where Sayer got it from):

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 lines 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 Anatomy, 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 conversion 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.

(C.S. Lewis, “Christian Apologetics”, Compelling Reason, Fount HarperCollins, 1996, pp. 68-69. Essay reprinted from Undeceptions, Geoffrey BLes, London, 1971.)

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I saw Shadowlands on the West End on Monday night - it’s really quite powerful in a live theatre format. If it ever plays in Australia, you’d love it.

Posted by Erin King on 07 December, 2007 7:42 AM

Oh, that first quote is somewhat foreboding in the midst of the uproar over Phillip Pullman - eg what is the power of those films (or it seems rather more the books) to influence a child’s reaction to hearing the gospel in the future? Clearly what we need is a subsequent latently-Christian block buster! smile

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