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Volume 13, Issue 5: Thema

Incarnational Apologetics

Nathan Wilson

The current Christian found wandering aimlessly about our city streets has no sense of apologetics. He, when stopped outside the bowling alley where he plays pinball sometimes, will give an account for his faith with some weak "works for me," or if he is a sophisticated evangelical, he will give his questioner an "I've found love and acceptance, and so could you." We in the Reformed world have often griped about such lackluster apologies for the Christian faith. We have also tried, generally speaking, to avoid another evangelical error, the error displayed by many evangelical champions.

Evidential apologetics assumes a neutrality out there in reality, and this is displayed in various evidential arguments and proofs. The assumption is that we can prove that God exists from some neutral starting point. We have problems with this also, and so we react against both. We dodge the ignorant emotional apologetic of the bowler, but we also hold ourselves to be more intellectually sophisticated than the evangelical champion. We know that there is no neutrality. We function in the realm of logic and reason, but we know that it does not prove God. God is the "without which not" of our reason. We are so bright as to realize that we do not have to prove God; we can just disprove everything else. Let it be a game of "last man standing," and we'll go home with the gift certificate.
Of course, those Christians whom we attempt to surpass are awash in their silliness. But we have simply hopped into a different breed of silly. This is not to say that presuppositional apologetics is silly in its essentials. It is not, but we are. We attempt to act in a presuppositional fashion, but we are wearing fake badges. We talk presuppositions and in our talk betray ourselves. We have a mightier weapon than our opponents, the pagans, and it is mighty because it assumes God at its very foundations. But we continue parading this assumption around in the arena of reason. We march our transcendental arguments across the stage in front of the audience and ask reason to judge who is the victor. Obviously, our presuppositional apologetic is more logical than a pagan's doubt of God. So why is it that they are not convinced? How is it that they are not beaten?
A bat is for swinging. Knives are for cutting. There is no joy for a small boy with a hatchet if there is no chopping. Nor should there be. We talk about our foundations, but C.S. Lewis built on his. We wave our hatchet from behind a lectern, arguing cogently that it is sharper than our opponent's. Lewis crosses the stage and lops a head or two
Logic is to be desired. Truth is to be present in all of our lives and our arguments. But we have erroneous rationalistic assumptions about what is to be done with the truth. We take reality and put it in a large pot, boil all the meat off, and then burn the bones. We then hold up the charred remains of a skeleton for the world to see and believe in. Our syllogisms are the former bones of truth, charred, blackened nubs of useless structure. We have not only removed their flesh—we have removed the strength that enabled them to support flesh. We are left using impotent P's and Q's. When a man presents a syllogism in debate and points to its valid structure as proof of his victory, he has not only missed the battle, he has missed the war. He is attempting to defeat his enemy by displaying the simplistic definition of a superior weapon, not by using a real one. Even if his opponent is thoroughly convinced that the Christian holds a sword capable of severing his head, that head still remains firmly on his body. A man may be convinced of his enemy's strength and yet not be beaten by it.
C.S. Lewis' fiction has many aspects to its loveliness, but perhaps the most glorious is its apologetic value. Lewis' apologetic transcends that used by our Reformed apologists as much as it does that of the evangelical. The Reformed may claim that neutrality does not exist. Lewis acts as if it does not. Lewis takes the logic of truth and gives it both soul and flesh. He never argues that he has some real bits of actual syllogistic bone. He does not need to; he has a body walking around.
Lewis is perhaps best loved for his Narnia Chronicles, but his incarnational apologetic is prevalent in his Space Trilogy as well. In both he takes the truths of Christianity and presents them, not as arguments, but as truths. He does not argue that without God there is no beauty. He does not even say as much within the stories. His stories are as much. Beauty within God is a truth that is incarnate within his stories. Ugliness portrayed apart from God is just as incarnate. His characters are not allegories with correlations to reality. His characters are mythical flesh and bone, but they scream truth. The truths of our reality are enfleshed within his stories. Lewis does not need to discuss his weapons with his enemy because he used them. He does not present the nature of redemption in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the nature of redemption is. He does not argue for it, or ask his readers to believe it, his characters live it, and the reader assumes its truth or puts the book down. His fiction presupposes more fully than so called presuppositionalists do.
Lewis's fiction has also been called didactic, and it is. But its didacticism comes in the same fashion, truth incarnate in story. We look at something he wrote and wonder where the lesson is. What is the moral of the story? What is the answer? Because Lewis was weaving myth into God's reality, he never knew where all the meanings were. Some were obvious to him, but there are as many lessons in his stories as there are in life. He was quite conscious that he was structuring his tales around truths, and he intentionally brought many of them right to the surface, but he was never sure of the depths of his own creations. He created along the same principles that he saw in creation, and as a result their fullness was unknown even to their author. He explains this expressly in one of his letters.
And that surely is why our works . . . never meant to others quite what we intended: because we are re-combining elements made by Him and already containing His meanings. Because of those divine meanings in our materials, it is impossible we should ever know the whole meaning of our own works, and the meaning we never intended may be the best and truest one. 1
Lewis was no deconstructionist. His works may have meanings beyond his own awareness, but this is because reality has meanings beyond his own awareness. When he embodies essential Christianity in his stories he loads them with truth—even more, they are true themselves in that they tell the same tale as those incarnate in history.
Lewis understood the true nature of truth. The Word became flesh, and so Lewis enfleshed his words. The Way, the Truth, and the Light walked among us incarnate, and so Lewis incarnates his faith.
Again, it is difficult to praise Lewis without seeing our own errors and foolishness. It is odd that Lewis, a kind of Christian Platonist, would be freer of the errors latent within a theology of essences than we who have no distinct philosophies. Lewis knew that there could be no true separation of the accidental and essential attributes of a thing.2 But we still think that the essence of a thing contains the potency. We still think that a presentation of Christianity on a blackboard in syllogistic form, with major and minor premises established in validity, with all accusations of fallacy sufficiently refuted through citation of the neutral rules of logic, is an effective weapon against unbelief. It is not. It is a demonstration, of the fact that we have an effective weapon. Lewis can very rarely be caught in such a demonstration while such demonstrations are all that our Reformed produce. Our arguments have no flesh, and thus they have no potency. We might exude confidence in our intellectual superiority, but we have no conquest. The world is still under the control of our adversaries. Our arguments are words without bodies. They never rise up and laugh at our opponents like Tor, the king of Venus.
Then unexpectedly the king laughed. His body was very big and his laugh was like an earthquake in it, loud and deep and long, till in the end Ransom laughed too, though he had not seen the joke, and the Queen laughed as well. . . . and new modes of joy that had nothing to do with mirth as we understand it passed into them all, as it were from the very air, or as if there were dancing in Deep Heaven. Some say there always is.3
Our assaults do not actually presuppose God. Our assaults do not actually presuppose victory. Our assaults pay far too much mind to our enemies, instead of simply rejoicing in truth. Our assaults have the potency of chalkdust in a classroom: Lewis' enjoy the potency of laughter at a feast.
While Lewis' fiction is the ideal example of his incarnational apologetic, some will immediately point to his nonfiction and wonder if his direct apologetics there are as impotent as our own. They are not. Debate and rational interaction are not evils. Debate of form only is an evil. Lewis' nonfiction is still full of fiction. Every page turned leaves behind a story—a metaphor—and finds a new one waiting. His arguments are always couched in examples—arguments with flesh. And so, when a man stands behind a lectern and hits his opponent with story, with small myths, the myths of metaphors, he follows Lewis and incarnates his words. But his incarnation is still in miniature and is not as powerful as the epic incarnations of Lewis's trilogy, his chronicles, or the cycle of his friend J.R.R. Tolkien; he fights in a lower weight class.
Incarnational apologetics are not new in our culture. The potency of the incarnate word is known among the ranks of our enemies. They dominate our culture and our souls, not with well-structured arguments, but with story. We write book after book refuting the bones of lies, and yet watch film after film enfleshing the same falsehoods, and they have seemingly beaten us. But of course, ultimately, they cannot beat us, for it is true, our syllogisms are sound. This means, rightly understood, they have bigger bodies and laugh deeper laughs. Lewis has shown us the way. He escaped his own Platonism while we still wallow in it.
The Reformed faith has been accused of having no soul. It is sadly true that for too long no soul has been visible. But this is not because there is not soul. This is because there has been no flesh, no cheeks ruddy with wine, no full-bellied laughter, no tears of joy. The modern Reformed have boiled and burned themselves down to their truest shape, the shape of useless destroyed bones. We have removed our strength and stared at what we thought was structure, forgetting that it was meant to bear something. It is time we regained our potency, the potency found in flesh. We can begin by reading Lewis thoughtfully, a man who enfleshed his faith, who ate the bread, drank the wine, and laughed the laughter.

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