Alister McGrath: Challenging the next Christian Novelist
“I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen. Not only do I see it, but by it, I see everything else.” These were the words of C.S. Lewis in his classic essay, Is Theology Poetry?
On the night of June 8th, the Centre for Mentorship and Theological Reflection celebrated its 15th Anniversary event at Bayview Glen Church. Dr. Alister McGrath, a world renowned scholar and theologian, gave the audience of one thousand a glimpse into the life and theology of C.S. Lewis. In addition to McGrath, the presenters included Reverend Joe Boot and the founder of the centre, Dr. Dennis Ngien.
The topic this year centered on Christian apologetics and McGrath’s presentation was the highlight. Alluding to Lewis’s metaphorical image of the rising sun and its illuminating attributes, McGrath said that for Lewis, “the Christian faith enables us to see things as they really are; it’s about illuminating the landscape of faith.” Most importantly for Lewis, said McGrath, is that the Christian faith “casts light on the shadows” of life. In fact, Lewis has told us that “without the Christian gospel, suffering is an enigma; a threat to existence. But with the Christian gospel, it’s something we can cope with as we are reminded of the suffering of Christ.”
Not only is the Christian faith illuminating according to Lewis, but it also acts as a clarifying lens to bring life – including the “shadow lands” – into focus. Lewis, who began as an atheist, experienced this first hand. “At first, everything in life seems blurred and meaningless. Then, you twist the lens. Suddenly, it becomes sharply focused and you begin to see things in clarity,” said McGrath, capturing Lewis’s insights. McGrath’s lecture brought C.S. Lewis to life, challenging the audience to appropriate his call to communicate the gospel to our culture today.
One way to do this is by engaging the imagination of our culture through storytelling. McGrath said that storytelling was very important for Lewis because “stories capture the imagination and allow people to embrace the story and with them the Christian narrative itself.” According to McGrath, the challenge, or perhaps the opportunity, is “to find ways we can translate the Christian faith into terms our culture can understand.” Citing books like the Da Vinci Code, which used storytelling as an attempt to discredit Christianity, McGrath called on the church to find ways “to out narrate the competition.” Perhaps, he said, the next great Christian novelist was sitting amongst the audience. If so, the event surely promised to “illuminate” and “clarify” this person’s calling – if they exist – to engage the culture with the same brilliance and passion for storytelling as Lewis did over half a century earlier.