In my summer reading, I encountered Oxford theology professor Alister McGrath’s assessment that the force and clarity of C.S. Lewis’s Christian apologetics were due in large part to Lewis’s sophisticated literary understanding of mythology.
That’s right, Christianity and mythology combined in a sensible and thought-provoking essay, “A Gleam of Divine Truth: The Concept of Myth in Lewis’s Thought,” in McGrath’s book, “The Intellectual Life of C.S. Lewis.”
Lewis (1898-1963) famously authored the descriptive “Mere Christianity,” the satirical “Screwtape Letters,” the classic children’s fantasy series “The Chronicles of Narnia,” and several other works that shed broad, accessible and reasonable understanding of the Christian faith onto the 20th Century intellectual scene.
Our culture has long understood “myth” and “mythology” to mean either “things that are not real” or “a primitive way of understanding things.” Lewis, as an atheist in his mid-teens through late 20s, himself described faith in terms of untrue, non-rational, primitive “mythology.” But in his early 30s, following a period that included intense discussion with close friend, fellow scholar, and later “Lord of the Rings” author J.R.R. Tolkien, a Roman Catholic, Lewis reluctantly but irreversibly came to terms with a deep, personal faith that declared the reality of Christianity.
Lewis, from circa 1931 on, publicly presented a consistently logical and rational portrait of Christianity. It wasn’t something imaginary and unreal but Truth requiring our greatest, spirit-driven human faculties of imagination, myth and reality to comprehend the idea of an external, omniscient, omnipotent, creative God who through Jesus Christ is as intimately personal to each of us as our own psyches, souls and personalities.
McAlister writes, “Lewis came to see that myths possess an innate capacity to expand the consciousness and imaginations of their readers. A myth awakens imaginatively a longing for something that lies beyond the grasp of reason.”
While I find Lewis’s journey to Christian faith and development as a world-renowned author fascinating, it is this idea of de-mythologizing our popular but errant cultural concept of Christian “myth” that I think most brightly shines persuasive, contemporary light into the unseen mysteries of God’s deepest truths.
Twice in Matthew 6 Jesus refers to God the Father as “unseen.” In 2 Corinthians 4:18, the Apostle Paul is describing eternal glory and says, “so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Many believing Christians, just like secular doubters, mistakenly insist on defining and “seeing” every bit of their faith rather than accepting the unseen, undefined and yet boundary-less, elegant, true mythology of God’s inexplicably infinite glory.
That acceptance, that trust, defines real faith.
Walters (email@example.com), like Lewis, sees Jesus as imaginative, not imaginary.