Evangelization, Apologetics, and Literature
by Holly Ordway
Apologetics is a discipline that benefits from many different approaches. Just as archaeologists, textual critics, historians, and specialists in exegesis contribute to the study of Scripture in very different, but complementary ways, so too will different modes and approaches to apologetics help us in the good work of sharing the truth of Christianity with a world in need. Philosophy, theology, biblical studies, history, cultural studies, witness, worship, liturgy, preaching — all these have a part to play in pointing people toward Christ and his Church. Literature, too, has its place — and an increasingly important one, I believe, as we seek to evangelize an increasingly post-Christian culture.
Literary apologetics is a mode of apologetics that functions through the use of the Imagination in stories, poetry, drama, and song. Imagination is a mode of knowing; it is the twin sister of Reason. Imagination that is not grounded in Reason can become what JRR Tolkien called “morbid
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fantasy,” unhealthy and unhelpful; conversely, Reason that is not supported by Imagination can become sterile, rigid, and unfruitful. Literature is particularly well suited to bring these two often-separated sisters together, so that Reason and Imagination can illuminate the path to truth.
Stories, poetry, and drama can help us to both comprehend the truth (with our intellect) and apprehend it (imaginatively and emotionally). As with rational argument, literature cannot in itself bring a person to know Christ, but it can open doors, challenge assumptions, and most importantly provide a glimpse of experienced truth. Stories invite readers to indeed “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).
Literature can best fulfill this role when the author is committed both to expressing the truth and to creating a good story. The best literary apologists – such as CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and GK Chesterton, just to name those of the past century – did not set out to wrap a moral in a story, or explicitly to promote Christianity through their fiction writing. Rather, they believed fully and deeply, and sought to glorify God in all that they did – and so their stories show the truth, in deep and satisfying ways…