Why C. S. Lewis’ Integration of Reason and Imagination Matters
Today marks the 50th anniversary of C. S. Lewis’ death. In the half a century since his passing, Lewis’ keen ability to join what is assumed incompatible (reason and imagination) remains largely unmatched.
Michael Ward, in his Christianity Today article on Lewis, elaborates on the power of Lewis’ approach:
In Christ, poetry and philosophy have met together. Meaning and truth have kissed. C. S. Lewis understood, like few in the past century, just how deeply faith is both imaginative and rational.
As Ward explains, since the Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we’ve been told of the supposed dichotomy between reason and imagination. “Reasonable people don’t need imagination. Imaginative people don’t need reasons,” he adds. Lewis challenged that misconception, articulately weaving reason with imagination to create a faith-affirming tapestry that holds strong. And his “poetic approach to commending and defending the Christian faith still lights the way for us today.”
“Jack,” as he was known by friends, plucked theological concepts from their lofty abodes and presented them on prose-laden platters, allowing what was once out of grasp to be reached. For instance, who could fully envision the bondage of sin before Lewis’ ghost with the red lizard on his shoulder? Or Christ’s kingliness (good but not safe) until Aslan?
Through Lewis’ work, we see how imagination can peel back the curtain separating us from deeper Truth. Would we expect anything less from one bearing the image of a God who did the same through the Incarnation? Erin L. Naler, in her article “Image Bearing in the Creative Process,” writes that “The infinite God came into the world through a too-small space, to dwell in a too-small, finite body…The unseen became seen.”
Christ, through His Incarnation and during His earthly ministry, set the example of using the tangible to explain the abstract. From the Vine and the branches to the lost sheep, from the moneylender forgiving unequal debts to the three workers given bags of gold, Jesus used earthly experiences to convey heavenly concepts. It makes sense, then, that His image bearers would also use story (art) to connect others to deeper truth.
Organizations like the International Arts Movement (which integrates art, faith, and humanity) and the Brehm Center (which integrates worship, theology, and arts) work to revive art as a fuel to faith. Mako Fujimura, founder of the International Arts Movement, recalls a presentation he gave to a crowd of New York artists. In mentioning beauty, and Jesus as the source of beauty, “I knew that I was transgressing against what was culturally acceptable for them. But as His follower, I needed to acknowledge Christ’s claims, to hold them up as something we can test.”
Likewise, Reasons to Believe (RTB) embraces Paul’s call to “test everything,” holding biblical and scientific claims under the microscope, so to speak. As with art, science is often considered unrelated or perhaps counter to faith and yet the progress of science demands imaginative thought. Scripture reveals the role of both art and science.
In the midst of His own creative work, God assigned Adam a creative task—to name all the animals in the Garden. During His ministry on earth, Christ used creative storytelling to connect those with “ears to hear” to the kingdom of heaven. And where the Bible describes physical events, it follows a pattern (establishing the frame of reference and initial conditions, the actual occurrence, and then the final condition). RTB founder Hugh Ross suggests that this pattern is what inspired the scientific method and the scientific revolution of Reformation-era Europe.
Lewis, Fujimura, RTB scholars, and others show how art and science can be used as an expression of faith and even a means to it. Their work resonates with others because it points back to the approach in Scripture—art and science not as idols but as colors on God’s canvas. Colors with which to paint a portrait of the first Creator and Artist.
If art and science are God-given gifts then they are not given without the obligation to use them. Recall the parable of the bags of gold. One man received three bags, another man, two. The third man received one. But rather than spend his treasure, he hid it in the ground. There the treasure is of no use to the man or his master. Perhaps then it’s time to restore art and science to their rightful standing—as God-given gifts to be used. Many today are grateful that Lewis didn’t hide his bags of literary gold.
A quick poll of RTB staff revealed many of us are fans of Lewis’ work. Krista Bontrager, dean of online learning, listed God in the Dock as her favorite. Editorial director Joe Aguirre, ministry advancement director Hannah Palpant, and yours truly listed The Great Divorce as our favorite. And editor and fellow Take Two blogger Maureen Moser lists The Horse and His Boy as her favorite. Till We Have Faces, The Screwtape Letters, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe also made the list among staff.
Philosopher and theologian Kenneth Samples, perhaps Lewis’ biggest fan at RTB, lists Mere Christianity as his favorite. Samples also offers a plethora of resources on C. S. Lewis.
Lessons from C. S. Lewis (part 1 of 2)
Lessons from C. S. Lewis (part 2 of 2)
C. S. Lewis’ Death Plus 50: An Interview with Dr. Jack Collins, part 1
C. S. Lewis’ Death Plus 50: An Interview with Dr. Jack Collins, part 2
C. S. Lewis: Life and Conversion
C. S. Lewis: Christian Apologist
C. S. Lewis: Strengths and Weaknesses