Sunday, July 26, 2009

CS Lewis on Persuasive and Effortless Preaching

CS Lewis was a great communicator and apologist. He presented difficult and high subjects with sublime simplicity and rigorous argument. He introduces his academic subject in his book The Discard Image, a fascinating introduction to the Ptolomaic Model of the Universe, one hard-wired with significance, which seems to have been part of the attraction to it for Lewis, a man who loved the idea of "a meaning-drenched universe"Lewis' observations on the vice and virtues of medieval writers make fascinating reflections for the contemporary Christian apologist or preacher. A vice to avoid, a virtue to aspire to.

"Poets and other artists have depicted these things because their minds loved to dwell on them. Other ages have not had a Model so universally accepted as theirs, so imaginable and so satisfying to the imagination. Marcus Aurelius wished that men would love the universe as a man can love his own city. I believe that something like this was really possible in the period I am discussing... Every particular fact and story became more interesting and more pleasurable if, by being properly fitted in, it carried one's mind back to the Model as a whole... a man today often feels himself confronted with a reality whose significance he cannot know, or a reality that has no significance; or even a reality such that the very question whether it has a meaning is itself a meaningless question... the Model universe of our ancestors had a built-in significance... the only difficulty was to make an adequate response.

It may explain both its most typical vice and its most typical virtue. The typical vice, as we all know, is dulness; sheer, unabashed, prolonged dulness, where the author does not seem to be even trying to interest us.. One sees how the belief in a world of built-in significance encourages this. The writer feels everything to be so interesting in itself that there is no need for him to make it so. The story, however badly told, will still be worth telling; the truths however badly states, still worth stating. He expects the subject to do for him nearly everything he ought to do himself. Outside literature we can still see this state of mind at work. On the lowest level, people who find any one subject entirely engrossing are apt to think that any reference to it, of whatever quality, must have some value. Pious people on that level appear to think that the quotation of any scriptural text, or any line from a hymn, or even any noise made by a harmonium, is an edifying sermon or a cogent apologetic... is also connected with the characteristic virtue of good medieval work. What this is, anyone can feel if he turns from the narrative verse of, say, Chapman or Keats to the best part of Marie de France or Gower. What will strike him at once is the absence of strain. In the Elizabethan or Romantic examples we feel that the poet has done a great deal of work; in the medieval, we are at first hardly aware of a poet at all. The writing is so limpid and effortless that the story seems to be telling itself. You would think, till you tried, that anyone could do the like. But in reality no story tells itself. Art is at work. But it is the art of people who, no less that the bad medieval authors, have a complete confidence in the intrinsic value of their matter. The telling is for the sake of the tale...

..I have made no serious effort to hide the fact that the old Model delights me as I believe it delighted our ancestors. Few constructions of the imagination seem to me to have combined splendour, sobriety, and coherence in the same degree. It is possible that some readers have long been itching to remind me that it had a serious defect; it was not true. I agree. It was not true.
 [CS Lewis, The Discarded Image, p202-205, 216]
Captivation with a subject is no substitute for being persuasive, it's more motivation to be so. True love of a subject should lead to what looks like effortless communication of it, but such communication will be anything but effortless. Casual comments shouted loudly will not do. The more I prize Christ the harder I will want to work to present him with engaging persuasion and clarity.

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