C.S. Lewis, Billy Graham, and Stray Ricochets

As I am reading through ‘Fool’s Talk’ by Os Guinness, there are quite a few ideas of his that are ricocheting in my brain and bouncing off ideas I’ve picked up elsewhere.

In chapter 6, he draws a distinction between apologetics and evangelism. He goes on to  argue however that they must be “joined seamlessly” in the sense that apologetics must always be pre-evangelism if it is to remain faithful.

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Needless to say, many of us are better at one task than the other, and few are equally good at both. […] Even C.S. Lewis admitted ‘that my own work has suffered very much from the incurable intellectualism of my approach. The simple emotional appeal (‘Come to Jesus’) is still often successful. But those who, like myself, lack the gift for making it, had better not attempt it.'”

This comment by Lewis just stopped me in my tracks. What a thing to say! It reminds me of something else of his I read recently in the book of essays called ‘Christian Reflections.’ In the chapter called ‘Christianity and Culture,’  he spends many pages reflecting on the role of culture and the arts in the Christian life, as well as in bringing people towards Christ or away from Him. The heart of it is a serious consideration of certain principle values in European literature (of which Lewis was an expert scholar):

“(a) honour, (b) sexual love, (c) material prosperity, (d) pantheistic contemplation of nature, (e) Sehnsucht awakened by the past, the remote, or the (imagined) supernatural, (f) liberation of impulses. These were called “sub-Christian. This is a term of disapproval if we are comparing them with Christian values: but if we take” sub-Christian” to mean “immediately subChristian” (i.e., the highest level of merely natural value lying immediately below the lowest level of spiritual value) it may be a term of relative approval. Some of the six values I have enumerated may be sub-Christian in this (relatively) good sense. For (c) and (f) I can make no defence; whenever they are accepted by the reader with anything more than a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ they must make him worse. But the other four are all two-edged. I may symbolize what I think of them all by the aphorism ‘Any road out of Jerusalem must also be a road into Jerusalem.'”

He goes on to explain in more detail how the remaining values function to bring certain people closer to Christ. (It is to my mind a phenomenal passage worth reflecting on.) But certainly someone could accuse him at this point of something like ‘incurable intellectualism,’ especially when he cites untranslated German, Latin, and Greek in a single essay. Nevertheless, my point is to draw your attention to this little paragraph at the end of that section:

“On these grounds I conclude that culture has a distinct part to play in bringing certain souls to Christ. Not all souls – there is a shorter, and safer, way which has always been followed by thousands of simple affectional natures who begin, where we hope to end, with devotion to the person of Christ.”

Again such an interesting assertion for him to make, and so similar to his first comment I came across in Fool’s Talk. Maybe it strikes me because to some extent I can relate: it reminds me of how encouraging it was after being in a demanding intellectual environment for six years to move to a new city and attend a simple little church where many of the people had simple love and faith in Jesus. It was very refreshing. They indeed were where I hoped to end: ‘with devotion to the person of Christ.’

Finally, it is interesting to contrast Lewis, who is arguably the greatest apologist of the 20th century, with Billy Graham, who is inarguably the greatest evangelist of the 20th century, and, arguably, of any century. If anyone was gifted at making ‘the simple emotional appeal,’ it was Graham. I really enjoyed this interview with Graham biographer Grant Wacker where this aspect of Graham’s gifting came out. It will leave you wanting to pick up Wacker’s new book: ‘One Soul At A Time.’

I think it is only right to appreciate the contributions of both of these remarkable 20th century Christians. Guinness is right that we need both apologists and evangelists. And wherever you are on that spectrum, I encourage you towards greater self-awareness like Lewis evidenced in his comments, and genuine appreciation for those whose strengths lie where you are weak.

“So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” – 1 Cor. 3:7

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