Nature and Apologetics
Previously, we examined the way Lewis approaches the law of nature in Mere Christianity. From there, we saw how much of this natural law apologetic resonates with a classical Reformed conception of general revelation and the covenant of works. We now return to Mere Christianity to uncover some important implications for apologetics.
First, one need not take a presuppositional approach to apologetics to prove the existence of God. The Christian apologist finds sufficiency in beginning with human experience and then connecting it to the Christian faith. Even Calvin in his Institutes argues for God’s existence before his formal discussion of Scripture in Book 2. Calvin follows the same approach of Aquinas, who begins with the book of nature. Lewis’ method is akin to the historic catholic tradition whereby the subject is not approached from reasoning seeking faith, but faith seeking reason, modeled after Augustine’s observation:
“For understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe that you may understand; since, ‘except you believe, you shall not understand.’”
Augustine’s statement is comparable to Lewis’ own signature declaration of faith: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.”
Second, one need not employ deductive reasoning to prove the existence of God, but he should present a “vision” that appeals to truth, beauty, and goodness. As stated earlier, this approach is inferential, not deductive. Augustine’s prayer, “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you,” is entirely consistent with a proper understanding of the residual effects of the Imago Dei from the covenant made with Adam.
James K. Smith points out three truths about Augustine’s prayer:
- Human beings are made by and for the Creator;
- to be human is to be for something—for a vision of some perceived good;
- the heart is just as important as the head.
That is to say, the pull of a vision toward a perceived good is not primarily the pull of the intellect, but the heart. It is not a question of whether you love something, because we all love something. One cannot not love. The goal of the apologist is to show how our loves are misplaced, yet point a greater love lost upon us.
Third, one need not minimize human curiosity if we were created to be loved and to obey God. The very notion of being “lost” implies that in Adam we once belonged somewhere. Lewis pulls his audience in when he uses the word “clue.” Each clue is like a piece of a puzzle. The Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner once said, “Everything around us is bewitched spiritual truth, and that man attains truth when he breaks the spell.” Steiner’s statement assumes the world is enveloped in a kind of mystery—that behind the cosmos is an ultimate cause. The world really is enchanted, even if secular authorities do not formally recognize it. Scientific materialism has not totally eradicated man’s curiosity toward the supernatural; otherwise, we would not have a cable channel devoted to paranormal activity, read Stephen King novels, or binge watch Game of Thrones.
Finally, the apologist needs to realized that language, rightly utilized, has the ability to unlock the imagination leading a person to perceive truth. We should not privilege reason over the imagination. Although theologians like Augustine have argued that the fall has disordered our capacities of reason and imagination, the imagination is not deserving of demonization over against reason. One capacity should not be pitted against the other; rather, one should recognize that “these two ways of knowing are mutually enfolded and depend on one another.” Lewis claimed that all language is necessarily metaphorical and should be trusted to describe reality, even if not perfectly. Language represents a kind of “psycho-physical parallelism” that reflects the heavenly-earthly correspondence between Creator and creature. For Lewis, this parallelism is sacramental because it assumes there is a real connection between God and his creation, which is not merely nominal. This parallelism forms the basis for making heaven-to-earth connections in his myth-stories like The Chronicles of Narnia. One must remember that Lewis, himself, came to faith because J. R. R. Tolkien suggested to him that Christianity was the true myth.
The ideological and technological shifts within the culture that troubled Lewis and other Christian humanists at mid-twentieth century are just as acute today as they were over seventy years ago—if not more so, though perhaps in different ways. In the current environment, one is hard pressed to imagine a national broadcast institution like the BBC asking a Christian to explain the intricacies of his faith. Nevertheless, Lewis remains an important figure in the apologetic use of natural law, particularly in the way he demonstrates God as the divine Lawgiver, and couples this with our manifest inability to live up to that law. Such an apologetic is pre-evangelistic in the spirit of the Apostle Paul, who found common ground with the Athenians before he declared the particulars of the unknown God (Acts 17:22-34).
Since those claiming no religious affiliation—the “nones”—now constitute a body as large as evangelicals in this country, apologetic approaches will increasingly become an important commodity for Reformed churches. Lewis gives us an effective and proven instrument for that toolbox.
Arthur W. Hunt III is professor of communications at The University of Tennessee in Martin. He is the author of The Vanishing Word: The Veneration of Visual Imagery in the Postmodern World (Crossway, 2003) and Surviving Technopolis: Essays on Finding Balance in Our New Man-made Environments (Pickwick, 2013). Hunt and his wife are members of Covenant Presbyterian Church, Jackson, TN.
"Literary Theological Imagination" by Leland Ryken
"Covenantal Apologetics," review by Stephen Myers
"Reforming Apologetics," review by Ryan McGraw
C.S. Lewis: Apologetics for a Postmodern World by Andrew Hoffecker
The Messiah Comes To Middle Earth by Philip Ryken
 Fesko, Reforming Apologetics, 64.
 See ibid.
 Quoted in ibid., 195, from Augustine’s Homilies on the Gospel of John 29.6. Fesko says the starting point of apologetics is a faith seeking understanding epistemology.
 Quoted in McGrath, C. S. Lewis, 225-26, from the 1945 essay “Is Theology Poetry?”
 See James K. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2016). Smith says, in accordance with Augustine, that even though we may love the wrong things, this is only proof that we were created to love.
 Quoted in Como, Branches to Heaven, 122.
 See Malcolm Guite, Faith, Hope and Poetry: Theology and the Poetic Imagination (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2010), 11-12.
 Jack Jenkins, “’Nones’ now as big as evangelicals, Catholics in the US, (Religion News Service, March 21, 2019), https://religionnews.com/2019/03/21/nones-now-as-big-as-evangelicals-cat....