Dr. Paul Gould on C.S. Lewis and Christian Platonism
“The questions we must ask,” Dr. Paul Gould said in last week’s lecture, “are ‘Where are you standing?', 'Which culture do you inhabit?' and ‘What sort of person do you want to be?’” Dr. Paul Gould, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Christian Apologetics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke at Tyndale about C.S. Lewis and Christian Platonism.
During his studies at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, his professor J.P. Moreland spoke of the distinction between two cultures: the sensate and the ideational. Today’s western society is a sensate culture, where even the church is disenchanted. In a sensate culture, people only believe in the physical, material world that can be experienced by the five senses. Dr. Gould explained that history’s sensate cultures do not survive, as they lack the intellectual resources needed to sustain them. The ideational culture, on the other hand, is two-tiered and involves belief in the sensory world as well as an immaterial reality. This reality is the realm of meaning, value and purpose, a place that is beyond the senses. Moreland’s class captured what Paul Gould had sensed for a while—that the world is full of mystery and value. He exited the class a Christian Platonist.
Dr. Gould argued that C.S. Lewis was also a Christian Platonist and that we should return to Lewis’ Christian Platonism because it is both true and satisfying. Dr. Gould drew a direct comparison between Plato’s cave and the cave of ‘dark enchantment’ in Lewis’ novel The Silver Chair. As in Plato’s cave, Lewis’ characters are told that the cave is the only reality. The book’s villain tries to convince them that Narnia and Aslan are made-up, but the character Puddleglum states that he would rather believe that the mundane world of the cave is not their true home.
Dr. Gould pointed out where Lewis departs from Plato in Narnia’s creation account. Described in Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, the creation of Narnia involves order, integrity and giftedness as well as a personal creator, Aslan the lion. While Aslan creates Narnia, the children Diggory and Polly are overwhelmed by joy and wonder while Diggory’s Uncle Andrew is terrified. Where the children hear singing and talking, he can only hear growling. Each character’s reality is based on where they stand, or which culture they inhabit.
Near the end of his lecture, Dr. Gould asked, “Do you want to live for something greater than yourself?” Lewis used Platonic concepts to convey deep Christian truths that awaken in us a desire for another world. His view of the world is a “blending together of reason and romance,” said Dr. Gould, and it is Christianity that brings these two ideas together.