The message of the Gospel is meaningless apart from the story of Creation. Unless God is recognized to be the Author of all of reality, belief in his identity as Judge or Savior is an arbitrary religious preference, not bedrock belief. C. S. Lewis saw clearly how modern culture made Creation seem pointless and arbitrary. And he believed that our imaginations, not just our reason, needed to be realigned so we could properly honor the Creator.
The proper function of the imagination is a question often ignored by pastors. But what if discipleship, which involves training the affections, necessarily involves training the imagination? That necessity is an important theme in the thought of C. S. Lewis.
Throughout his writing, whether his literary criticism, poetry, fiction, or apologetics, C. S. Lewis assumed and insisted that poetic language “is by no means merely an expression, nor a stimulant of emotion, but a real medium of information.” Not all of the knowledge received by the imagination was true, any more than all knowledge presented to our reasoning faculties are true. But the imagination connected us to reality as truly as does reason. The way poetic expression conveys knowledge has resonances with what happens in contemplation. Poetry, like contemplation, requires a kind of receptivity, engagement, and openness to attend and to respond.
Poetic knowledge invites the engagement of the knower with the known. Poetic knowledge calls us away from detachment and dominion toward love and communion. Where the ideal of Enlightenment knowledge is to get above reality in order to know it, the ideal of poetic knowledge refuses to deny our participation in the world.
Poetry as a way of knowing challenges our glib assumptions about what we commonly call “objective knowledge” and “subjective knowledge.” As children of the Enlightenment, we assume that knowledge achieved through detached means is reliable, factual, and the only really true knowledge, whereas knowledge that involves us in any way beyond pure analytic reason is “subjective,” meaning arbitrary, idiosyncratic, private. But Augustine, by contrast, insisted that “unless you believe you will not understand.” That is, one approaches the challenge of knowing the world from the standpoint of belief, not detached neutrality.
The modern mentality insists that belief and knowledge are enemies. “If you believe you will not understand.” The knowledge we acquire through poetic engagement with the world requires that we be committed subjects. As educator James S. Taylor has written, “Truth that is subjective is truth that one has made one’s own—the observer is now engaged in the thing through connatural knowledge, and one has, through sympathy, participated in the reality (albeit obscurely) of the experience, so that knowledge ceases to be mere information and becomes existential and recalled as real. Poetic experience leading to poetic knowledge is concerned with bringing men into engagement with what is true. What is important is engagement with reality, not simply the discerning of reality.”
Lewis believed that, just as one can reason carelessly or fallaciously, so the imagination is capable of being twisted or out of synch. So just as young people need to learn to avoid formal and informal fallacies in logic, and just as, in pursuing a virtuous character, they need to learn to love what is good and just and despise that which is evil and unjust, so the imagination, the organ of meaning, required calibration.
Several MARS HILL AUDIO products explore the theme of imagination in Lewis's work. Especially notable are two of our Conversations, Alan Jacobs on The Narnian and The Heav'ns and All the Powers Therein: The Medieval Cosmos and the World of Narnia, featuring Michael Ward, author of Planet Narnia. These two Conversations are also available as part of a specially priced package of four products on Lewis, offering over four hours of insightful and stimulating discussion.
— Ken Myers