Come and See: The Value of Storytelling for Apologetics
by Holly Ordway
The following is my contribution to the volume A New Kind of Apologist, ed. Sean McDowell. I was very pleased to be able to contribute a chapter on this subject: ‘imaginative and literary apologetics’ is a vitally important approach for apologetics today, and it’s one that’s included in the courses that my colleagues and I teach in the cultural-apologetics track of HBU’s MA in Apologetics. Enjoy!
Let me tell you a story.
Once upon a time there was an atheist. Then he read a fairytale and discussed myths. As a result, he stopped being an atheist and became a Christian.
That, in the very briefest of summary, is the story of C.S. Lewis’s conversion to Christ. As a young atheist, Lewis was profoundly influenced by reading the novel Phantastes by the Christian author George MacDonald. Phantastes does not mention Christ or the Church anywhere in its pages, but it is deeply imbued with the Christian worldview. Lewis later wrote that this literary encounter was pivotal: “my imagination,” he said, “was, in a certain sense, baptized; the rest of me, not unnaturally, took longer.”
By 1931, Lewis had come to belief in God on a rational, philosophical level, but he found himself unable to accept the claims of Christianity; he couldn’t find the doctrines meaningful. Then one day Lewis walked through the grounds of Magdalen College, Oxford, in conversation with his friends J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson. They helped him to see that Christ’s sacrifice is a story, just like the stories Lewis loved, but with the difference that it also happened in history. Doctrine became more than a dry set of propositions; Lewis realized that the two hemispheres of his life, his imagination and his reason, could be united in the Christian faith. The final barrier to belief fell. He could become a Christian as a whole person—and he did. Now he is known to millions as the author of the Chronicles of Narnia; he has a memorial in Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey; his books have helped countless people to know Christ.
Lewis’s conversion shows that stories matter—and not just for him, but for all of us…
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