Saturday, May 14, 2011

alan jacobs | the language of stories

Words in defense of Christianity miss the mark: they are a translation into the dispassionate language of argument of something that resides far deeper in the caverns of volition, of commitment. Perhaps this is why Saint Francis, so the story goes, instructed his followers to “preach the Gospel always, using words if necessary.” It is not simply and straight-forwardly wrong to make arguments in defense of the Christian faith, but it is a relatively superficial activity: it fails to address the core issues. A Christian who participates in a Socratic debate about Christianity could be said to be falsifying the spiritual situation, or allowing it to be falsified. After all, an apologist for Christianity, to some degree at least, commits himself or herself to answering questions that Jesus himself consistently refused to answer.

But strange to say, there is a kind of language that, if it does not avoid such superficiality, nevertheless shows an awareness of that danger and in a sense can point beyond itself. I refer to the language of stories.

“I am not quite sure,” Lewis wrote in 1952, when most of the Narnia books were done, “what made me, in a particular year of my life, feel that not only a fairy tale, but a fairy tale addressed to children, was what I must write. ... Partly, I think that this form permits, or compels you to leave out things I wanted to leave out. It compels you to throw all the force of a book into what was done and said. It checks what a kind, but discerning critic called ‘the expository demon’ in me.”

“Everything began with images: a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.” There was not, he says over and over again, an evangelistic plan in the making of Narnia, no apologetic scheme. ...

What he has to do instead is to trust the images that come into his mind – or, more accurately, trust that he is being formed as a Christian in such a way that the images that come to his mind are authentic ones, ones that lie at, or at least near, the center of his soul.

He can only do this if he rejects not only the market-driven questions of modern authors and publishers (“What do children want?”) but even the more morally sound question of the Christian apologist (“What do children need?”): “It is better not to ask the questions at all. Let the pictures tell you their own moral. For the moral inherent in them will rise from whatever spiritual roots you have succeeded in striking during the whole course of your life.”

by Alan Jacobs,
"The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis"
(pages 242-244)