There’s an excellent piece at Christianity Today about Why C.S. Lewis Didn’t Write for Christianity Today. In 1955 Carl Henry invited Lewis to write a Mere Christianity-like article for CT‘s first edition. Lewis famously declined: “I wish your project heartily well, but can’t write for you articles.”
I read over the article carefully, taking inventory and comparing Dan DeWitt’s analysis with Alister McGrath in his forthcoming book, C.S. Lewis – A Life. I was impressed to see that DeWitt hit all of the main points, but I’d like to challenge his emphasis.
For DeWitt, the fact that Lewis began his “frontal attack” approach to apologetics with his wartime BBC broadcasts – later adopted and published as Mere Christianity – and ended with his work Miracles published in 1947 is a clear indication of why Lewis didn’t write for CT. Namely, Lewis’ frontal approach to apologetics was “irrefutably” influenced by wartime. The 1950’s were peacetime, and it was time for Lewis to take a backdoor approach.
But I’d like to offer a reconsideration of the facts and suggest another reason why Lewis declined writing for CT.
As I said, DeWitt hit all of the main possibilities of why Lewis declined to write for CT, including – though almost as an afterthought – his debate with Anscombe of which DeWitt writes “some felt Anscombe was the clear winner.” I’d say. Even Lewis himself could not have put it more bluntly when he said that Anscombe “obliterated” him. He fell into a depression of sorts and began to doubt himself as an apologist, according to McGrath.
DeWitt correctly observes two facts, but he seems to overlook the relevant connection between them. First he observes early in the article that Lewis’ last clear apologetic piece was his book Miracles written in 1947. Later, at the end of the article he mentions in passing that Lewis’s debate with Anscombe was “on the topic of miracles.” But their debate wasn’t just “on the topic of miracles.” It was a debate centred on Lewis’s book, Miracles. A debate which was held publicly at the Socratic Club – as DeWitt says – a club in which Lewis was the leader – which DeWitt doesn’t say.
It other words, it was a devastating and humiliating debate that would have lasting affects on Lewis, ultimately altering his whole approach to apologetics.
When the pieces are put together, it seems that it was this debate, and not that Lewis’s apologetic approach was tied up with wartime, that would lead him to alter his approach and, subsequently, decline the offer to write for CT.
His new approach was to write a piece of “supposed” literature, Narnia. As DeWitt points out, Lewis himself saw this as a sort of “backdoor” approach. But I think a more relevant question to ask is why Lewis opted for this approach?
I think the answer goes back to Lewis’s own conversion in 1930-31. When you compare Lewis’s approach in Mere Christianity with his approach in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the following description of how Lewis came to believe in the Christian God becomes very illuminating.
“Tolkien helped Lewis to realize that the problem lay not in Lewis’s rational failure to understand the theory, but in his imaginative failure to grasp its significance. The issue was not primarily about truth, but about meaning. When engaging the Christian narrative, Lewis was limiting himself to his reason when he ought to be opening himself to the deepest intuitions of his imagination.” (McGrath p.149)
Perhaps, after his debate with Anscombe – a philosopher – Lewis was reminded that his own conversion was not a result of rational arguments, but of the power of the imagination for grasping, feeling, knowing intuitively, the truth of the Christian narrative.
What Christianity needed, I believe Lewis was saying, is more imagination.