The native habitat of reason

‘Lewis was an imaginative genius. But more than that, he was a man who understood that a rightly ordered imagination was a fortress for the rational capacities of man. It is not the way we normally suppose. It is easy to think that clearheadedness is the fortress and that it protects the imagination, what we are allowed to play with in our recreational hours. But Lewis’s tough-mindedness was the result of having been given a sanctified imagination. In the apostle Paul we see the same kind of thing–it is the peace of God that passes understanding that protects our “hearts and … minds” (Phil. 4:7). It is not the other way around. One of the reasons many apologists are not nearly as effective as Lewis is that they want the cold granite of reason to do everything. But true reason will collapse before a false imagination. False imagination must be answered by a true imagination, and when that happens, reason can flourish in its native habitat.’

[Doug Wilson, Writers to Read: Nine Names That Belong on your Bookshelf (Crossway, 2015), p105]

This begs the question of what “true imagination” looks like. Nevetheless, the quote above adds support to the view that a purely rational approach to apologetics is deficient, since it tends to ignore essential non-rational aspects of human nature. No apologetic should be irrational, of course, but the process of persuasion is never simply a matter of the truth value of particular propositions. Scripture speaks in such a way that our capacity for imagination, beauty, poetry, humour, and so on, must be employed to be receptive to it. So, a defence of biblical truth should likewise employ these same capacities in order to reveal more clearly the nature of that truth as well as its truth value.  For example:

Rise, heart, thy lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without delays,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him may’st rise:
That, as his death calcinèd thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and, much more, just.

[George Herbert, Easter (from The Temple)]

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

[Psalm 23, KJV]

The truth that we confess is not merely true, justified and coherent, but also beautiful.

We cannot  ignore the fact that different people differ in their appreciation of beauty and imagination, etc. Nevertheless, a truncated apologetic that only targets one dimension of human nature (i.e. rationality) will be constrained in what it can say and communicate.

The Apologist’s Evening Prayer

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
Of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

Written by C.S.Lewis. Quoted in Dulles, A History of Apologetics (Ignatius Press, 2005), in the  first unnumbered pages. Original source is Poems, ed. Walter Hooper (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1964).

The material element and the spiritual reality

As both my readers may have observed from recent posts, I’ve read Bradley G. Green’s The Gospel and the Mind. This book is a clear, interesting and persuasive book that argues that it is only the Christian worldview that provides a basis for meaningful rationality and that Christianity, correctly understood, fosters the life of the mind rather than discouraging it. It is basic enough for the uninitiated to read yet delves deep enough to keep the more philosophically-inclined believer interested. Before I move on to the next book in my reading list (yet to be decided), I thought I would summarise one of the more striking points that Green makes.

Biblical truth often uses allegory and metaphor in order to express invisible and, in some ways, unthinkable realities. God is the creator of the material that is used as analogy to describe his spiritual realities. Lewis said there is a “pre-existing similitude between the material element and the spiritual reality.” One of the most obvious examples, and the one that Lewis addresses, is that of baptism. He says, “Water, ex naturali qualitate, was an image of the grace of the Holy Ghost even before the sacrament of baptism was ordained.” (The Allegory of Love, 46). Bradley Green points out that, if this similitude is genuine, then it seems that “this relationship is embedded in the very structure of reality, the structure of the created order… When Lewis avers that some words are more fitting than others in reference to the created order, he is echoing Augustine’s suggestion that God has structured the world in such a way that the various aspects of creation might serve as “examples” for us.” (The Gospel and The Mind, p128). As Augustine put it:

Divine providence has carefully provided certain trees which visibly exemplify these invisible realities which are incredible for those without faith, but are nonetheless true. After all, why should we not believe that this was the reason why he arranged it so that a wild olive is born of a domesticated one? Ought we not to believe that in something created for human use the creator provided and arranged what might serve as an example of the human race?” (Marriage and Desire, 19:21)