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The Great Bridge Builder

On C. S. Lewis and the beauty of a well-told story

Published on:
April 11, 2017
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3 min.
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The name most frequently mentioned from the pulpit of every church should be Jesus Christ. He is the name above all names after all. But, second to Jesus, the one name you will hear more on Sunday mornings from pastors than any other is C. S. Lewis. 

On any given Sunday, quotes from Lewis’s Mere Christianity, A Grief Observed, and The Problem of Pain find their way onto slides and into sermon notes worldwide. Despite the prolific use of Lewis’s nonfiction writing, the greatest impact Lewis has had as an evangelist is through his children’s series The Chronicles of Narnia. In a very real sense, the Narnia books are more theological than Lewis’s theological works.

According to Lewis, the series began with just images.

The Theological Work Lewis Didn’t Intend to Create

Now, many people accuse Christians of making too much of the “Christian” features within Narnia. This accusation seems to be founded. Lewis himself denied that his Narnia stories were meant to represent some greater biblical truth.

He didn’t intend for his books to be taken allegorically, as Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress was. He didn’t set out to create a scavenger hunt of the Christian symbolism behind every talking mouse or magic potion.

According to Lewis, the series began with just images—a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion—at first there wasn’t anything particularly Christian about them. “That element pushed itself in of its own accord.”[1]

The Subliminal Gospel

Rather than overtly make his stories “Christian,” Lewis’s beliefs subliminally made their way into his work. As he said before, his evangelistic zeal as a Christian “pushed itself in” to everything he thought or wrote.

As Lewis himself said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”[2]

The reason the lion Aslan came bounding into Lewis’s Narnia stories, although not yet fully conceived when he began writing, was that the glory of Jesus Christ was bound to push itself into the story in some way or another—the biblical image of Jesus as the “lion of the tribe of Judah” just happened to be the form it ultimately took in Lewis’s imagination. 

That Jesus would be present in Lewis’s writing was inevitable.

Lewis doesn’t present Aslan by means of a systematic study. He never uses the word Christology—or even Christ, for that matter.

The question of whether the Christian themes in his Narnia books were purposeful on Lewis’s part has an obvious answer to anyone who is familiar with him, with the Narnia books, and with Christianity.

The Christian gospel roars out of Aslan’s mouth with a ferocious beauty that is meant to bring every person to both awe and love the Christ whom Aslan represents.

The Power of a Fairy Tale

Christians would do well to understand the variation in Lewis’s presentation of the Christian message in the Narnia books and the way he expresses it in his various apologetic works.

Lewis doesn’t present Aslan by means of a systematic study. He never uses the word Christology—or even Christ, for that matter. He doesn’t write an apologetic work on it or woo you with his wit. But he presents the Christian message through a story. And a story, as he believed, was one of the most powerful ways to communicate truth.

Lewis explains this in an essay.[3]

I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralyzed much of my own religion in childhood. . . . An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. . . . But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday School associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past these watchful dragons? I thought one could.

The medium of the fairy tale, Lewis was convinced, has the power to express realities more real than the physical world around us. And more important still, myths have the potential of stealing past the “watchful dragons” of our natural inhibition against “an obligation to feel,” and instead unlocking our heart’s deepest longings with transcendent truths from beyond our material world.

This was appropriate for Lewis, who believed that the purpose of theology is not merely theorizing about God, but drawing ourselves and others into a closer relationship with God, which Lewis described as “the Great Dance.”[4] This dance imagery implies celebration, joy, communion, and vigorous activity. Lewis desired his readers to see relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, in this way.

In The Chronicles of Narnia, and especially through the character Aslan, Lewis sought to sneak his readers past sleeping dragons and into the Great Dance of relationship with Jesus Christ.

Jesus is “the Great Bridge Builder” between our world and Aslan’s country, and Lewis sought to imitate this bridge-building work by purposefully communicating Christian truth through the medium of his fairy tales.

The more a person reads the stories, the more clear this message becomes; and the older the reader grows, the more evident the Christian gospel in the stories grows as well. This is the beauty of a well-told story.

Justin Huffman
Justin Huffman has pastored in the States for over fifteen years, authored the “Daily Devotion” app which now has over half a million downloads, and recently published a book with Day One: Grow: The Command to Ever-Expanding Joy. He blogs at justinhuffman.org.

[1] C. S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories (London: Harvest, 1966) 36.

[2] C. S. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry?” (Samizdat University Press, 2014), 15.

[3] C. S. Lewis, On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature (London: Harvest, 1982) 47.

[4] Will Vaus, Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C. S. Lewis (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2004), 16.

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