Smuggling for God: What the Emerging Church Movement Can Learn from C. S. Lewis’ Incarnational Aesthetic

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1Paul Roberts, “Liturgy and Mission in Postmodern Culture: Some Reflections Arising from ‘Alternative’ Services and Communities,” (accessed September 5, 2003): The author is an ordained priest in the Church of England, serving parishes in Bristol. This online paper was presented at the “Alternative Worship Day” gathering at Lambeth Palace in 1995.

2Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations (Zondervan-Emergent-ys, 2003), p. 135. Kimball’s church can be visited online at

3Andy Crouch, “Visualcy: Literacy Is Not the Only Necessity in a Visual Culture,” Christianity Today (June 2005): 62.

4Brian McLaren, “An Open Letter to Chuck Colson,” A New Kind of Christian (December 2003). See (accessed December 16, 2003).

5McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy (Zondervan, 2004), p. 145; also quoted in an interview with Jason Byassee, “New Kind of Christian: An Emergent Voice,” Christian Century (November30, 2004): 29.

6These concerns are raised by Alan Roxburgh, “Emergent Church: Filled with Creativer, Energetic Potential,” Allelon Ministries (June 15, 2005). More articles here (accessed June 23, 2005).

7Scott Bader-Sayre, “The Emergent Matrix: A New Kind of Church?” The Christian Century (November 30, 2004): 20-27; and Andy Crouch, “The Emergent Mystique,” Christianity Today (November 2004): 36-41.

8Winner, quoted in Bader-Sayre, p. 26. Winner is author of the popular spiritual autobiography Girl Meets God: A Memoir (New York: Random House, 2002).

9Lewis, “Christian Apologetics,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), pp. 93-94.

10Stephen M. Smith, “Awakening from the Enchantment of Worldliness: The Chronicles of Narnia as Pre-Apologetics,” in The Pilgrim’s Guide: C. S. Lewis and the Art of Witness, ed. David Mills (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), pp. 168-181.

11Regarding Lewis’ explicit evangelistic agenda, see especially his essay “Christianity and Culture,” in Christain Reflections, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), pp. 12-36.

12Lewis, Magdalen College-Oxford, to Sister Penelope CSMV, 9 July (August) 1939, in The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed. Walter Hooper, vol. 2, Books, Broadcasts, and the War, 1931-1949 (HarperSanFrancisco, 2004), pp. 262-3.

13Lewis, “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s To Be Said,” in Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories, comp. and with Preface by Walter Hooper (New York: Harvest Book-Harcourt, 1996/1994), p. 37.

14Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1955), 221. Some prominent examples from EC circles include: Gordon Lynch’s Losing My Religion? Moving on From Evangelical Faith (London: DLT, 2003); Dave Tomlinson’s The Post-Evangelical (El Cajon, CA: Emergent ys-Zondervan, 2003); Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003); and Brian McLaren, Generous Orthodoxy (Zondervan, 2004), esp. Chapter 9. For a helpful critical assessment of the deconversion phenomenon in contemporary evangelicalism, see Kurt A. Richardson, “Disorientations in Christian Belief: The Problem of De-traditionalization in the Postmodern Context,” in The Challenge of Postmodernism: An Evangelical Engagement, ed. David S. Dockery (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995), pp. 53-56.

15Louis Markos, Lewis Agonistes: How C. S. Lewis Can Train Us to Wrestle with the Modern and Postmodern World (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003), p. 139.

16Lewis, “Transposition,” in The Weight of Glory (HarperSanFrancisco, 1949/1976, rev. 1980), pp. 98-99. Transposition, for Lewis, is not strictly a literary strategy, but rather a broad statement of principle regarding the analogous relations between the spiritual and natural or the higher and the lower realms. In Christian theology, Lewis referred to the sacramental as a more advanced instance of transposition (p. 102).

17Charlie Peacock, New Way to Be Human (Colorado Springs: Shaw Books, 2004), p. 176; and McLaren, Generous Orthodoxy, pp. 150-151.

18Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study (New York: MacMillan, 1947/1960), pp. 111, 118-120.

19Lewis, “Epilogue,” in An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge University Press, 1961), pp. 130, 139, 140.

20Lewis spoke of his own baptized imagination in his preface to George MacDonald: An Anthology (HarperSanFrancisco, 1946), p. xxxviii; see also Surprised by Joy, pp. 179-180.

21The term “phenomenology” is often used in the sense of Rudolf Otto’s notion of the numinous—the experience of “the holy” aside from its moral or rational aspects. Lewis appreciated Otto’s phenomenological description of the universal or essential aspects of religious experience, but he also acquired a taste for philosophical phenomenology from the lingering neo-Hegelianism at Oxford University—especially that of T. H. Green (d. 1882), F. H. Bradley (d. 1924), and Bernard Bosanquet (d. 1923), all of whom were “mighty names” in Lewis’ intellectual formation. Their cumulative effect on Lewis was to provide a door into Christianity; this according a letter he wrote to Paul Elmer More, 25 October 1934, in The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, p. 145. Green and Bradley, in particular, appropriated the venerable notion of sympathy into their modified Hegelianism as a mode of moral reasoning. It was also a more popular expression of ethical sentimentalism that influenced evangelical piety throughout the late 18th and nineteenth centuries. John MacCunn provides an introduction to Green’s version of sympathy in a standard work that was contemporary with Lewis’ philosophical studies; see Six Radical Thinkers (New York: Russell & Russell, 1910/1964), pp. 215-266. For a recent overview of Lewis’ idealist phase, see David C. Downing, The Most Reluctant Convert: C. S. Lewis’ Journey to Faith (InterVarsity Press, 2002), pp. 123-137.

22Lewis, “The Language of Religion,” in Christian Reflections, pp. 137-138. For a helpful survey of how Lewis accomplished this in his fictional works, see Kath Filmer-Davies, “Fantasy,” in Reading the Classics with C. S. Lewis, ed. Thomas L. Martin (Baker Academic, 2000), pp. 285-296. Thus, in The Narnia Chronicles, we see how community forms through the mutuality and cooperation of siblings, each with their own distinctive roles and individualities, but also varying capacities of affection and friendship. We also see how the wicked witch Jadis seeks to destroy these sympathetic relations and, in the telling of the story, we find ourselves identifying with the struggle to resist and, sometimes, redeem the resulting brokenness. The Space Trilogy takes us further into the realm of human and social psychology, but, as Kath Filmer-Davies has observed, as much through an exploration of inner space, as outer. In The Great Divorce, we plunge into the dark world of human selfishness while, in Lewis’ last novel, Till We Have Faces, we encounter the fundamental human tension between submission and control. In all of these works of fantasy, the immediate concern with interpersonal dynamics remains accessible to our (the reader’s) sympathetic imagination. Accordingly, by the very act of “good reading” we are moving about in a world that is creatively designed to nudge us beyond the tiny sphere, if not prison, of our own self-interest.

23See, for example, Dan Devadatta, “Strangers but Not Strange: A New Mission Situation for the Church (I Peter 1:1-2 and 17-25),” in Craig Van Gelder, ed., Confident Witness–Changing World: Rediscovering the Gospel in North America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 110-124; James Wm. McClendon, Jr., “The Practice of Community Formation,” in Nancey Murphy, et al., Virtues & Practices in the Christian tradition: Christian Ethics after MacIntyre (Trinity Press, 1997), 85-110; and The Rutba House, ed., School(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism (Eugene, Oregon: CascadeBooks, 2005).

24Paul Roberts, “Considering Emerging Church,” Thinking Anglicans (August 28, 2003). Article here (accessed March 20, 2005).

25Lewis, Miracles, p. 131.