Thursday, October 23, 2008

C.S. Lewis and Changing the Plausibility Structure

Two areas of apologetic activity by C.S. Lewis are little known any more, yet they occupied a great deal of his time. The first is live debating. Every week, he met with what was called the Socratic Club at Oxford and debated atheists. He writes of exhausting the phonebooks looking for atheists to debate because after awhile they did not wish to come. Well, to be honest, who would? With his baritone voice, quick wit and mastery of literature and philosophy, Lewis was a formidable opponent by any measure. But, like Francis Schaeffer who engaged in thousands of evangelistic conversations with students, Lewis demonstrated in the debates that Christianity was not to be simply blown off, but had to be seriously engaged by anyone who styled themselves as an honest thinker.

I really believe that debate and engagement is an area that has not been adequately explored in Canada, especially on university campuses. While there has been some, usually sponsored by Inter Varsity, there is room for much more aggressive action here. The results might not be immediately apparent, but in the long run, it would enable Christians to engage the pretensions of atheism in a direct way once again.

The other area not fully appreciated is his professional writing as a scholar of medieval and renaissance literature. Works such as his magisterial study of allegory (The Allegory of Love) and his study of Paradise Lost are consciously written as a Christian, but marvelously meet all the criteria to be taken with absolute seriousness by the scholarly community. Two things come to mind in how he used his scholarly writings as an apologetic tool.

First, he sought, as always, to build the Christian worldview. As an example, in his book The Discarded Image he portrays the worldview of the medieval times and how that affected its literature. As he discusses this, the contrasts with the worldview of the twentieth century become painfully obvious.

At the same time, he loves to debunk cultural lies in these writings. I might add that in common use one might say “debunk myths,” only that use of the term “myth” would probably be offensive to him. For example, in several places he refutes the concept that people in the first century and afterwards considered the world to be flat. And on it went. He truly believed that Satan had embedded many lies into cultural discourse to make it difficult for the truth of Christianity to be perceived. In truth, what Lewis was doing in this part of his project was trying to re-do the plausibility structure of which Newbigin speaks. He was not content to simply work within the twentieth century plausibility structure, he wanted to change it. Thus, in a number of places, he calls for Christians in every profession to remember that they are Christians when they write, whether they are scientists or professors in the humanities. He earnestly felt this would do more in the long run than any other effort.

This, of course, leaves us to ask if his challenge has been taken up. There is now a flowering of evangelicals in academia. I myself have not, and am not able, to peruse their writings, or even to sample them. But in my own small way, I would echo Lewis’ call to write consciously as Christians, for in this way, slowly, you contribute to a paradigm shift in the cultural understanding of plausibility.

1 comment:

NewWord said...

This is an encouraging post. I like the way you have called Christian professionals to write so as to defend the faith and contribute to the plausibility structure. I have never thought of writing as a means of contributing to the plausibilty of our have given me a new way of looking at this matter.

I agree that Christians need to be able to debate and converse openly about their faith -- part of this will involve being "brave and courageous;" part of this will involve understanding what we believe; and part of this will involve developing some skills and techniques of debate. This will take some committment. Are we ready and willing to be this committed to our God? Some are. Most are not.

You are the first voice in the C&MA I have heard calling Christian professionals to write -- I look forward to hearing more on this...