Reason and Imagination – Philosophy and Art: Together We Can …

The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation … it relates not a series of disconnected raids on Nature but the various steps of a strategically coherent invasion –  an invasion which intends complete conquest and “occupation.” – Christian Writer C.S. Lewis

Apologetics (a field which includes thinkers and writers like Oxford’s CS Lewis, or Augustine from ancient times or, perhaps most famously, the 12th century monk Thomas Aquinas) is classically defined as giving a defense of one’s faith – but this defense is just one part of the overall task of communicating the full truth of one’s faith.  One typically thinks of an apologist as arguing against scientific theories (such as Darwinian Evolution), moral relativism and the conflicting claims of multiple world religions.  But this is just defense – when on the offensive, the apologist is tasked with effectively communicating the full depth and meaning of the gospel, and that, to questioners who may cling to rational arguments while there is otherwise a cauldron of emotional questions begging to be addressed, such as the need for belonging, purpose and significance

When the unbeliever may struggle to formulate the question which lies unsettled in the depths of their soul, the apologist must propose an answer that speaks to that inner need.  Surface arguments must be resolved in some sense, but it is the questions and problems of the human heart to which the apologist must respond. And this is often done most effectively not with reasoned argument, though our faith is not unrational, but with communicating the beauty and goodness of the gospel, which often requires presentation by example. The example, in this case, is a net cast fairly broadly – a net cast on the entirety of the human experience! The arts, visual and otherwise, literature including poetry, story and history, and even (back to the realm of reason) philosophy – these all provide moving and meaningful medium with which to present the full force of gospel truth. Developing an apologetic approach which makes use of these imaginative perspectives is vitally important for anyone committed to communicating their faith to their world.

The central role of the Christ’s incarnation provides the model for apologetic engagement   In his discussion of “The Grand Miracle” in his book Miracles, C.S. Lewis emphasizes the supreme importance of God’s visit to earth, allowing Him to redeem humanity and reclaim the entirety of creation:

The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation … it relates not a series of disconnected raids on Nature but the various steps of a strategically coherent invasion –  an invasion which intends complete conquest and “occupation.”[1]

As apologists communicating this great, fundamental truth, it is important to grasp and present God’s redemptive work in its entirety.  Beyond rational argument and evidentiary claims of the existence of God or uniqueness of Christ, we are to present God’s redemptive work in such a way as to give an actual taste of its sweetness, a glimpse of its glory.  When we allow creation to be reordered according to the original design of its Creator, and show where enduring meaning is to be properly found, we provide the antidote to the plagues of modernity, whose legion names include uncertainty, autonomy and alienation.

The quagmire of uncertainty in which the modern mind wades can be seen as early as the sixteenth century with William Shakespeare’s Hamlet pondering the famous question,

To be, or not to be …   

The dread of death … puzzles the will …

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,

And thus native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought[2]

              A fresh wave of uncertainty and shock reappeared at the turn of the twentieth century with the advent of The Great War (World War One), which led writers like William Butler Yeats to declare “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”[3]  The assumptions of continued peace, prosperity and progress similar to that of the nineteenth century, or in the case of Hamlet, from the unified worldview of the Medievals and their heirs, the Elizabethans,[4] became increasingly suspect in the modern era.  Where once there was a nourishing culture and community, “the mind of Europe” [5]as T.S. Eliot described, or the “awareness, the contemplative vision”[6] which the Medievals knew so well, and ultimately grounded in divine worship as Josef Pieper observed,  instead was found fragmentation.  With social and cultural dislocation attending rapid industrialization and urbanization in the nineteenth century, and brought to a calamitous head with the shock of World War I early in the twentieth century, the organic, communal and even spiritual center to society had collapsed.  Into this void of modernity slithered a sense of anomie, loss of purpose and confidence, and alienation; armed  with an arsenal of multidisciplinary, imaginative arts, Christian apologetics must author its own invasion.


Companion to modernity is a current of atheism, which can be countered imaginatively as well as rationally.  Modern atheism in the intellectual sense was hatched in the nineteenth century with figures such as Sigmund Freud and Ludwig Feuerbach arguing that religion was merely an act of wishful  longing, though David Hume a century prior had already argued (persuasively for many) for a position of atheism.  The drumbeat of atheism continued into the twentieth century, as New Atheists (Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins and Dennett) joined old (Carl Sagan and Bertrand Russell) in asserting the naturalness of a life without God and religion. Such atheism has a variety of ways in which it offers appeal. Rationally, it is easy to argue against a God who rarely if ever shows up in person; spiritually, it  is much more appealing to be the captain of one’s fate than to yield one’s independence and autonomy.  There is even an emotional appeal, which Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins captures, and rejects, in the opening of his poem, Carrion Comfort:


            Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;

            Not twist – slack they may be – these last strands of man

            In me.[7]


Settling for the complaint of existence instead of yielding to the wisdom of its author, the modern atheist does indeed feast on dead flesh.  But apologists need to listen to the modernist’s and atheist’s complaints and hurts, as an exercise in the practice of “intellectual hospitality” that “teaches us to cultivate generosity, humility, kindness, and patience.”[8] But it is with the arts, literature and poetry that apologists may lead the way forward from the morass of modernity, to answer the questions and hurts, and show that, as Hopkins continues,

            … I can;

            I can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be[9]

          The practical task of developing an imaginative approach to apologetics has several adept guides from whom to choose: we will begin with poet Malcolm Guite and cultural commentator Nancy Pearcey.  In Faith, Hope and Poetry, Malcolm Guite demonstrates aptly the way that poetry can help to re-enchant the world with an awareness of its Author. And in Saving Leonardo, Nancy Pearcey carries Guite’s program of enchantment beyond poetry to include the arts, literature and even philosophy.  It is through poetry that “a redemptive reordering of the human imagination”[10] can be begun; Guite cites fragments of poems from Seamus Heaney in which

he takes up the task of helping us in the midst of “utter invisibility” to be alive to what is “invisible” (Seeing Things), helping us, in the midst of meaningless or murderous noise, to hear a “music we would never have known to listen for,” (The Rain Stick) and to “enter heaven through the ear of a raindrop.” (The Rain Stick)[11]


Poetry thus follows what David Bentley Hart argues in The Beauty of the Infinite, that “Christian beauty one with Christian truth”[12]  can speak to the postmodern mind in a way that purely rational dialogue can’t.  This argument from beauty, and its cousin grace, is similar in a way to Paul’s injunction to “let your conversation always be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”[13] A strategy for the use of  poetry, however, is not trivial.

While poetry provides clues to and tastes of the transcendent impinging upon our world, its effective deployment does require a thoughtful approach.  Perhaps the most well-known poetry comes from the Romantic poets, and William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge in particular. Their collaboration on the Lyrical Ballads, as described by Coleridge in his Biographia Literaria, famously paired Wordsworth’s efforts to revive our sense of wonder in nature with Coleridge’s plumbing the depths of the human creature itself.  We can follow Wordsworth in seeking to “excite a feeling analogous to the supernatural, by awakening the mind’s attention to the lethargy of custom,  directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us,” thus awakening the realization of “an inexhaustible treasure, but for which … we have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that neither feel nor understand.”[14] But even more powerfully, we can follow Coleridge who, by contrast, sought to show how “the insights of imagination are insights into reality itself.”[15]  Nature and the mind of man, the creation and man created imago dei – both are the subjects of poetry which can point outwards and upwards, to their transcendent source (which for at least Coleridge was God, and that, in accordance with orthodox Trinitarian doctrine).


Understanding how Coleridge’s Christian faith imbued his view of human imagination, and thus of how we experience reality, is a helpful first step.[16]  In Frost at Midnight, Coleridge clearly states his view of nature as not just the awe-inspiring handiwork of God, but as a communication or lesson:


But thou, my babe! Shalt wonder like a breeze

By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags

Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,

Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores

And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear

The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible

Of that eternal language, which thy God

Utters, who from eternity doth teach

Himself in all, and all things in himself.

Great universal Teacher! He shall mould

Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.[17]


The “eternal language, which thy God utters,” and “from eternity doth teach Himself in all” – not only is nature intelligible, but as Guite observes,“its very coherence and order provide us with a vocabulary of symbols with which to explore a similar coherence and order, both within ourselves and beyond or through the veil of nature.”[18]  The language of nature[19] thus not only speaks to us, but provides the mother tongue and a home – dare one mention ‘Mother Nature’ as part of a grander Family? –  for which the otherwise lost and alienated soul longs.  Coleridge effectively spells out for us how and why nature is a direct communication from God to man, an understanding that informs so much of his poetry, as well as from other Christian poets we will encounter, such as Gerard Manley Hopkins.


Above all other poets, Coleridge also provides us with a view of man himself as imago dei, an imagining being yet made after the likeness of God, Himself a master of imagination.  Just as God imaginatively places His glory in creation, as with Hopkins’ kingfishers catching fire, who both cry out “What I do is me: for that I came” but also model how “Christ plays in ten thousand places” – so is man  able to comprehend such hints of beauty and glory.  As Coleridge described his part of the Lyrical Ballads project in Biographia Literaria, his interest in “persons and characters supernatural” was for the purpose of showing how to “transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief.”[20]  Lewis argued similarly of the capacity of the human mind to understand science and nature in his essay De Futilitate[21] – but with poetry, our imagination is able to gain a glimpse of not just the sense of the external world, but of the eternal rays of light, glory, beauty and grace that God places in it.


Man’s imaginative capacity echoes across the poetry of such Christian poets as Coleridge, Hopkins and twentieth century Irish Nobel Laureate, Seamus Heaney.  In Coleridge, it is perhaps most clear in his Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  The Mariner’s alienation from nature and God are evident early on, as the Mariner states

I looked to heaven and tried to pray

But or ever a prayer had gusht

A wicked whisper came, and made

My heart as dry as dust[22]


The soul’s yearning is capture later, as Coleridge’s description (commentary ‘glosses’ in the margins by Coleridge upon republishing the poem) of passages such as

The moving moon went up the sky

And nowhere did abide

Softly she was going up

And a star or two beside[23]


declare how the Mariner, “In his loneliness and fixedness, yearneth towards the journeying moon and the stars … (to) their appointed rest and native country and their own natural homes.”[24]  And the solution to this modern predicament of alienation and uncertainty? Coleridge provides the Mariner’s redemption  as the Mariner later “by the light of the moon (he) beholdeth God’s creatures of the great calm,”  then “A spring of love gushed from my heart / And I blessed them unaware … The self-same moment I could pray.”[25]  Just as the Mariner finds redemption in truly understanding nature as the preserve of God’s imagination, so can such poetry perform apologetic resuscitation for modern man.


While the anguished conscience can be found in non-Christian poetry or literature as well, it is in poets such as Coleridge, Hopkins and Heaney that the created soul finds its resting place in the world of its Creator, or as Augustine declares, “the heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.”[26]  To take just a brief look, we can see the redemption of the soul in Hopkins’ That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection.  Man initially finds his fading place as

            Million-fueled, | nature’s bonfire burns on.

            But quench her bonniest, dearest | to her, her clearest-selved spark

            Man, how fast his firedint, | his mark on mind is gone![27]


Man, left to his own device, succumbs to bleakness and unfathomable dark:


            Both are in anunfathomable, all is in an enormous dark

            Drowned. … Manshape that shone

            Sheer off, disseveral, a star, | death blots black out[28]

 But Hopkins spells out this soul’s redemption, with

            Enough! The Resurrection

            A heart’s clarion! Away grief’s gasping, | joyless days, dejection.[29]

And Hopkins is perhaps at his imaginative best in assessing man, when he follows with

            Across my foundering deck shone

            A beacon, an eternal beam.  | Flesh fade, and mortal trash

            Fall to the residuary worm;[30]

and then redeems man by virtue of Christ’s entry, or invasion as Lewis put it, into not just the created world, but into man himself:

            I am all at once what Christ is, | since he was what I am, and

            This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, | patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,

            Is immortal diamond.[31]


Hopkins thus follows Coleridge in casting man as an imaginative being after the likeness of his Creator, as “across (Hopkins) deck shone, a beacon, an eternal beam.”  Hopkins is able to see, to capture this beam, then later shine its brilliant light outward, as “immortal diamond.”

Heaney shows us  exactly the same imaginative casting of man as a beacon of refracted light, when in Station Island he likens himself to “the prisms of the kaleidoscope / I once plunged in a butt of muddied water” which is able yet to surface “like a marvellous lightship … to salvage everything, to re-envisage / the zenith and glimpsed jewels of any gift / mistakenly abased.”[32]  Even J.R.R. Tolkien follows in this tradition quite explicitly, casting man as “subcreator, the refracted light / through whom is splintered from a single White / to many hues, and endlessly combined / in living shapes that move from mind to mind.”[33]  This imaginative casting of man as conversant with, and understanding and capable of, the glories and messages of God as placed in nature is fundamental to an apologists’ use of poetry for redeeming the soul; once established, we can more easily discern the messages of God inscribed in nature, yet another arena in which the poet can bring vital, spiritual awareness.


Hopkins is perhaps the pre-eminent modern era guide to finding God’s glory in nature, though he continues in the long history of writers such as Dante, Milton, John Donne and Herbert Spenser who wrote from a deeply Christian perspective of their worlds.  In Hopkins’s Pied Beauty, in between the opening “Glory be to God for dappled things” and the finale “He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:/ Praise Him”[34] Hopkins infuses creature and nature alike with playful, purposeful beauty. Similarly, in God’s Grandeur, Hopkins begins with “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” summarizes with “Because the Holy Ghost over the bent / world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings”[35] and in between , despite how men for “generations have trod … for all this, nature is never spent.”[36]


As a finale ode to the power of poetic imagination to revive, recast and redeem, we must look at Heaney chiefly among others, and at the use of water as an image specifically, serving as complement to the imagery of light discussed previously.  Guite introduces the imaginative power of poetry with Heaney’s Rain Stick, in which the sounds of water sloshing about invite us to find “a music that you would have never known to listen for.”[37] Through the experience of the poem (the sounds of words like sluice-rush, spillage and backwash themselves evoke the imagery) the reader becomes “like a rich man entering heaven / through the ear of a raindrop.”[38]  But Heaney’s moist introduction to the music of heaven here is but a trickle, compared to other poetic ventures invoking insights from this essential fluid of nature.  Coleridge’s Kubla Khan poem, originally intentioned and envisioned as a poem about a brook (to have been titled The Brook[39]) which provided connection and unity between nature and society, finds its own unity from the great, sacred river Alph.  Named to be reminiscent of God as I AM THAT I AM, the Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, the river makes the land fertile (and so giving its life to he who “on honeydew hath fed, / and drunk the milk of paradise”[40] ), but has its source in a paradise, the source of which Coleridge beckons the reader to find.  This is the source of both our being, and as Coleridge saw our imaginations as derivative from God, the source of our imagination as well.  This is poetry pointing to the transcendent, to the source of nature, of our being, and of our imagination, at its most powerful.  Heaney baptizes the image of water, literally, when in the poem Seeing Things, the water “Where Jesus stands up to his unwet knees / And John the Baptist pours out” over his head becomes “the flowing river” in which “in that utter visibility / The stone’s alive with what’s invisible.”[41]  The intimated power and hope of this baptism provides the central image to the poem, which is flanked by sections in which Heaney tells stories of his own fears of drowning, thus bringing into stark relief that hope and relief afforded by our baptism with Christ. As Lewis argued the centrality of the Incarnation over the Resurrection which has traditionally assumed a central role in our redemption, so here does Heaney offer our baptism with Christ, our death unto life, its own place of primacy in our salvation.

Nancy Pearcey resided at Francis & Edith Schaeffers’  L’Abri community for the arts and philosophy in Switzerland, and held a Francis Schaeffer Scholar position at the World Journalism Institute

   The power of poetry to imaginatively argue the cases for man’s transcendent imagination as well as for nature as an exhibition of God’s purpose and beauty, is powerful, but should be complemented imaginative perspectives from art, literature and even philosophy.  In Saving Leonardo, Nancy Pearcey traces the case for Christian truth across a broad swath of Western history, including discussions in philosophy, art and literature as well as popular culture. Pearcey’s fundamental explanatory concept is that of the divide between fact (the empirical and largely scientific world), and value (claims of religion or a transcendental view of philosophy): the basement of this two story building is the world of fact, the upper story one of values.  While this divide can take many forms as it is applied across various areas of thought – science/religion, enlightenment/romanticism, mental-emotional/physical for instance – its initial articulation as a view of truth is perhaps the most helpful.  “Facts” – public, objective, and universal (such as can often be readily determined like physical truths are shown by science) forms the basement, out of which we, as Christians and apologists, wish to climb, to the upper story of “Values”  – most often cast as private, subjective and culturally relative.  It makes the most sense to address this divide philosophically, before tracing it through art and literature.


The philosophical divide of truth between public and private is part of a centuries long historical and philosophical process of secularization, and the move away from a faith-moored culture towards one in which secular processes dominate.  As society loses its sense of religion, or any transcendent mooring (Pearcey cites the philosophical loss of ‘Logos,’ the assumption of enduring truths and values since the time of the Greeks and Romans[42]) public life comes to be dominated increasingly by more superficial developments such as industrialization, economic development and political diversity. Philosopher Joseph Pieper, writing in post-Nazi Germany, cast this as a divide of which even the medievals were aware: a split in the mind between ratio or logical reasoning (as used by natural and social sciences), and intellectus or a philosophical contemplation of enduring truth and value.[43] This split  exhibits itself in the divide between the world of utility and work, and that of leisure and contemplation of what the meaning and purpose of it all, that is, of cultus, of what we choose to worship and preserve our freedom for – in short, what culture preserves – value.

The largely secular orientation of the discipline of sociology and its relation to the more spiritual artistic movement of the avante garde is perhaps as telling a story as any here.  In 1825, Utopian Socialist pamphleteer Henri de Saint Simon argued in his essay, “The Artist, the Scientist and the Industrial: A Dialogue” for a “new priest class,” adopting the military term avante garde, led by the arts, to “spread new ideas among men, (to) inscribe them on marble or canvas.”[44] Saint-Simon’s religious language was more than coincidental: he also argued for a “Christian Socialism”which would have “a tremendous impact on intellectuals and artists in France and Great Britain.”[45]  By contrast, August Comte, the father of modern sociology sought to “develop a purely positivistic scientific and anti-religious program of social progress … sought in his theory of positivism to abandon he need for the spiritual in society, (and) claimed that modernization meant secularization, in which science not religion,would serve as the basis of moral judgments.”[46]  The contrast is telling, since Comte was Saint-Simon’s “disciple and adopted son”[47] with whom he broke over just this cleavage.  We now turn to the arena of philosophy, as a means by which to develop a nonrational yet nonrelativistic apologetic approach, however ironic that may sound.

In the realm of philosophy, Pearcey places analytical philosophy, the tradition in which typically the epistemological strengths of truth claims about reality (“Heirs of the Enlightenment”) are judged, in her ‘basement,’ leaving continental philosophy, which tends to be more literary and oriented to the meaning of existence (hence the phrase “Existentialists,” or as Pearcey subtitles this room, “Heirs of Romanticism”), in the upper room of the House of Truth.[48]  Similar to her divide between body (basement) and mind (penthouse), or nature (basement) and freedom (upper story), the Romantics (much like our poets Coleridge and Wordsworth among others) address areas of meaning in life, such as the arts, theology, literature and culture. Citing Aristotle’s notion that “poetry is truer than history … because history deals with individual facts, while poetry communicates universal truths,”[49] Pearcey points us towards a significant reliance on non science-based, non-rational arenas of thought and argument.  Whilst her discussion on philosophy can tend towards abstract and academic venues for philosophy, discussing Kant’s efforts to make room for the upper floor of values while allowing work in the Enlightenment basement of science and reason to continue, Pearcey does cite at least two trends in philosophical apologetics which the practical apologist will find helpful.

Pearcey’s first point about a Christian approach to philosophy involves efforts by philosophers such as Herman Dooweyard and Paul Ricouer to “plunder the Egyptians” by adopting and adapting philosophical approaches of the Continental, Romantic branch of philosophy. In particular, the phenomenological approach of philosophy, a deconstructing of concepts into their origins and meaning in everyday life experiences, is one which is cited as having largely been taken over by Christians such as Ricouer and others. Ultimately, the life experience of the story of God’s redemption of man throughout recorded Biblical history provide such a grounding for what philosophers and others have sought to address.  Pieper mentions how questions of philosophy gain their power when they strike near to their roots in questions of ultimate meaning and origins, in short, theology; and while philosophers often reject the theological as an answer, their questions are moving in the same sense as theological questions, as with them one can “taste the salt of theology on one’s tongue.”[50]  And in God in the Gallery, Seidell follows up his discussion of August Comte with modern day (Christian) sociologist Peter Berger, who regularly traces the role of religion in society, in works such as A Rumor of Angels,[51] The Sacred Canopy[52] and A Far Glory.[53]  Works by such Christian academicians, philosophers and sociologists alike, among the very many other disciplines, can help an apologist in bringing the Christian perspective to these fields ultimately grounded in making value judgments.

            But it is with Pearcey’s discussion of writers and thinkers from what has been characterized as the British or literary approach to apologetics[54] that the most imaginative approach to philosophy can be found.  Authors of literature both fictional and philosophical-apologetic, figures such as C.S. Lewis, G.K.Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams and George MacDonald (among others) have provided a substantial body of apologetic writing which engages the modern and postmodern worlds imaginatively, with both stories and cultural analysis. Pearcey casts both Tolkien and Lewis as Romantics at heart, with Tolkien engaged in rehabilitating the virtues and enchantment of the Medieval  and largely Christian era, and Lewis as engaged in a lifelong struggle between the philosophical strands of reason and imagination.  Views of history and religion were explored by Lewis, Tolkien and Chesterton in particular, with perspectives such as how Christianity paralleled the ancient myths, but actually played out in history, or “became fact.”[55]  The literary apologetic approach of these writers lends itself to a consideration of literature as yet another prong of an imaginative approach to apologetics.  As this paper is already pushing (has pushed) the recommended verbiage limits, we will just briefly look at one particular work, Lewis’s fictional The Silver Chair, as an example of imaginative apologetic literature.

silver chair1

The Silver Chair is a favorite choice from Lewis’s fictional series, The Chronicles of Narnia, and for good reason: it offers one of the clearest depictions of the modern malaise of ambiguity and unbelief.  Prince Rilian has been missing from his kingdom of Narnia for some ten years, taken captive in the underground realm of the Queen of Underland.  With a spell of forgetfulness cast over him, so that he is in his full, rightful mind just one hour of the day (when he is tied and bound to a silver chair), Rilian has fallen prey to the Freudian lie of wish fulfillment  that things transcendent are merely false extrapolations from our mundane,earthly experience. The Queen of Underland has seduced her kingdom into believing that the sun of Overland (as Narnia is called, though it is not even believed in anymore) is merely a figment of a wish based on the pale lanterns of Underworld, and the royal Lion Aslan, similarly a wish based in their experience of the small cats from the Queen’s world.  To the Queen’s lies, that “your sun is a dream … the sun is but a tale, a children’s tale,”[56]  Rilian’s rescuers (Puddleglum, in fact, who was arguably equally unfortunately albeit appropriately named as his companion here, Eustace Scrubb)  declare, almost poetically:

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself.  Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the  made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But  four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it… we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.[57]


Puddleglum’s faith in a world of infinite more enchantment is the same faith that the imaginative apologist seeks to induce by showing glimpses of such a transcendent world in the clues and sparkles it leaves in our own.

As part of the finale to The Silver Chair, Lewis offers yet another compelling, imaginative retelling of gospel Truth. King Caspian has re-appeared, dead, in a stream in Aslan’s country, and ready for revival, or in fact, resurrection. Lewis’s use of water and the resurrection are significant, given previous discussions of these topics in this paper. But it is the way Lewis conveys timeless, dogmatic truths of atonement and resurrection (and without using these same words that dogma otherwise relies one) that he demonstrates the power of imaginative literature:

“Son of Man,” said Aslan, “go into that thicket and pluck the thorn that you will find there, and  bring it to me.” Eustace obeyed. The thorn was a foot long and sharp as a rapier. “Drive it into  my paw, Son of Adam,” said Aslan, holding up his right fore-paw … And there came out a great    drop of blood, redder than all the redness that you have ever seen or imagined. And it splashed into the stream over the dead body of the King. At the same moment, the doleful music stopped. And the dead King began to be changed. His white beard turned to gray and from gray to yellow, and got shorter and vanished altogether; and his sunken cheeks grew round and fresh, and the wrinkles were smoothed, and his eyes opened, and his eyes and lips both laughed, and he lept up before them – a very young man.[58]

Not only is the death-conquering-life of the resurrection portrayed, but atonement, the spilling of not just Royal, but Divine, blood, “redder than all the redness that you have ever seen or imagined” portrays the divine quality that enters this world, and gives it (of Its own) life.

To do justice to Pearcey’s Saving Leonardo, though the hour be late and the page long, the way that the world of the fine arts portrays the search for, and glimpses of, the transcendent is vital for the apologist to consider.  Such ‘art’ encompasses paintings as well as music and even plays and operas, as thematic approaches express themselves consistently across each media of an era. This world of the arts is perhaps the most visible illustration of Pearcey’s divide which takes so many forms – between materialism and idealism, Enlightenment and Romanticism – and Pearcey creates yet another divide to specifically describe the world of art: Rational Truth, of the deterministic, science-described world in the basement, with Imaginative Truth of the creative, art-illustrated world, in the upper story. All along, it is the Romantic area in which the imaginatively cast truths of faith dwell most powerfully. By contrast, modernist and materialist approaches to art are shown to be dull and flat, with block-like Bauhaus-inspired buildings and dwellings meeting with popular rejection, as Pearcey notes: “but human being share not merely material beings. They are also social, moral and spiritual beings. And to ignore those dimensions is to court disaster.”[59] Art that has lost its transcendence – as the Formalist experimentation with the simplest of the artist’s elements (blocks of color, for instance, being passed off as actual works of art) – falls prey to the critique “when mankind no longer lives spontaneously turned toward God or the supersensible world … the artist too must stand face to face with a flat and inexplicable world.”[60]

df cross

           Caspar David Friedrich’s Cross in the Mountains (1807)

           Against the materialist and reductive approaches to art, Pearcey instructively holds out for us art that fits in very much with Coleridge’s poetic view of the world as full of divine symbol and meaning.  Christian art from the Romantic shows us how this is accomplished, as Caspar David Friedrich’s Cross in the Mountains (1807) shows, in Friedrich’s own words, “the cross stand(ing) erected on a rock, unshakably firm like our faith in Jesus Christ. The firs stand around the cross, evergreen, enduring through all the ages, like the hopes of man in Him, the crucified.”[61]  Other Romantic artists of the early nineteenth century, and the symbolists who followed them, similarly convey the symbolic meaning of a transcendent perspective, in protest of Enlightenment approaches.  These artists of that era provide us with classic themes which find their echoes in theology, and are appropriate and useful for communicating truths imaginatively. One artist’s work, not mentioned by Pearcey, but from that era and who has been made use of by evangelists, is Thomas Cole’s Voyage of Life (1842) which presents the stages of life as if in question of the greater meaning.  The Romantic era itself, in addition to the poetry of figures such as Coleridge and Wordsworth as previously discussed, as well has its own literary and musical authors who present the spiritual struggles of man in a way often foreign to modern artists, as Pearcey holds out for us figures such as Goethe who headed the Sturm und Drang movement rich in deep human and spiritual emotion, as well as opera writers like Carl Maria von Weber and musicians like Richard Wagner, whose works spoke of at least a certain enchantment, similar to the fiction of George MacDonald.

cole voyage.JPG

Thomas Cole’s Voyage of Life (1842)

            As art moves more towards the modern era, it often becomes more difficult to find works which present the hints and hopes of transcendence, though it is important to nevertheless be conversant with such works. And even symbolist and romantic arts are not entirely immune from an anti-transcendence, however, as at times the poetic expression of the arts “becomes a substitute for religion.”[62]  Themes of modernity, alienation and uncertainty (or ambiguity) are often on display in works such as the Expressionists of the early twentieth century, though even here, religious artists working in this era and genre, such as the devout Roman Catholic Georges Rouault, would depict human suffering along with images of Christ’s suffering to convey, again, without the actual words, the (gospel) message of redemption.  The issue of spirituality in art follows these cleavages throughout the modern era, as abstract art often seeks to highlight the transcendent structure behind empirical reality, as can be found in the art of Kandinsky, though man is often so abstracted and distorted that it is difficult to locate his humanity, as with Picasso or Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (1912).

         Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (1912); C3PO attempting the same thing

         It is nevertheless important for the apologist to understand and, to what extent is possible, sympathize with the art of modernity and postmodernity. As Glyer mentions in Intellectual Hospitality, communication across the various worlds each person inhabits is a difficult but rewarding task, and he utmost sympathy and desire to understand before communicating is essential for a loving presentation of gospel truths. Even in the most abstract expressions of art, artists can be found to use that genre to express their faith.  While Abstract artists such as Rothko may be seen as failing to embody their vision of the transcendent in a particular (let alone the Christian) tradition, Christian artists working in the abstract genre nevertheless exist, such as Carol Bomer’s joining of the empirical and transcendent worlds in the spirit of the Incarnation, often juxtaposing scripture and images.  Similarly, Makoto Fujimura, working within ancient Japanese tradition of using ground metals and gems instead of paint, so “paints” abstractly to communicate Christian hope and a sense of grace.

Some artistic movements, however, are largely opposed to the perspective that there can be transcendent truth, and it is important to recognize those as such. For instance, surrealism with its heavy use of the Jungian ideas of symbolism and the collective unconscious, tends to stray from Jung’s hopes that (religious) redemptive and healing forces could be found within the collection of humanity’s experiences, and instead typically promotes a form of pantheism or daoism, exulting in an unnamed and unaccounted for “life force” as a metaphysical explanation.  Similarly, existential art, such as Jackson Pollock’s “action art” (in which the random process of producing his splatter art was the point rather than any sort of authorial purpose) is wedded to a sense of meaninglessness, and so offers only negative exemplary value to the apologist. This despairing theme of ultimate meaninglessness is echoed across the worlds of  music, literature and drama, including authors such such as William Faulkner, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, dramatists like Samuel Beckett and his Waiting for Godot, and a variety of essentially nihilistic musicians.


Caspar David Friedrichs Romantic Wanderer above a Sea of Fog (1818)

            Against such works of the arts, whether accompanied by serious Christian practitioners or not (as some genres exult in meaninglessness), Pearcey implores the church to get involved.  Simplistic, sentimentalist depictions of Christ and the gospel, Pearcey warns, will do us little good if not actual harm, But it is the drama of the gospel message itself, the dogma of the incarnation, in which, to reiterate Lewis, God invades the world to capture and inhabit, and in every sense of the word, in every discipline known to humanity – it is this dramatic dogma which can not help but flow over into every realm understood by the human imagination.  We have seen how through poetry the taste of the transcendent meaning and purpose for which this world, and man himself in particular, were meant can be communicated. In the world of philosophy and its several attendant social, literary and even historical disciplines, the flowering of Christian truth into such areas of meaning (for which the Romantics have typically fought) requires those who would communicate gospel truths to be conversant in those disciplines, and move beyond rational argumentation, which is fundamental, to demonstration of the goodness of such truths, which will inspire. And by using the area of the arts, we can show the beauty of God’s truth, and how, much like the poets, the glimmer of the transcendent hope which Christ offers can be found in this world.  This is the challenge of imaginative (or nonrational and  non relativistic) apologetics, as well as its reward.

[1]    C.S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: Macmillan, 1978), 108.

[2]    William Shakespeare, Hamlet , Act 3,.1.86-93

[3]    William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming, 3-4.

[4]    E.M.W. Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture (New York: Vintage Books, 1942).

[5]    T.S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” in The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (London: Martino Publishing, 2015), 46.  Also The Poetry Foundation, accessed May 2016,

[6]    Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009), 28.

[7]    Gerard Manley Hopkins, Carrion Comfort , accessed May 9, 2016,, 1-3.

[8]    Diana Pavlac Glyer, Intellectual Hospitality (Azusa , California: Magazine of Azusa Pacific University, Summer 2015), 17. Original Oxford University lecture available at

[9]    Ibid., 3-4.

[10]  Malcolm Guite, Faith, Hope and Poetry: Theology and the Poetic Imagination (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2014), 224.

[11]  Ibid., 226.

[12]  David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 4.

[13]  Colossians 4:6.

[14]  Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, ed. J. Engell and W. Jackson Bate (Princeton: 1983), Vol. II, 6-7. Quoted in Guite, FHP, 164.

[15]  Guite, Faith, Hope and Poetry, 146.

[16]  Michael Ward, “Faith, Hope, Poetry “ in Apologetics, Nov. 6, 2015. Accessed May 11, 2016,

[17]           Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Poetical Works I, Poems (Reading Text), ed. J.C.C. Mays (Princeton, 2001), pp. 453-456 (Vol. 16 in CC), Lines 54-64.  This is reproduced in Guite, Faith, Hope and Poetry, 164.

[18]  Guite, Faith, Hope and Poetry, 153.

[19]  The exact parallel point regarding the language of the body, God’s design meant to direct us, is made by Pope John Paul II in his discussion of the ‘theology of the body,’ as related in Stratford Caldecott and David L. Schindler, “Theology of the Body and the Transformation of Culture,”  National Catholic Register, March 17, 2011, accessed May 12, 2016,

[20]           Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Poetical Works I, Poems (Reading Text), ed. J.C.C. Mays (Princeton, 2001), pp. 453-456 (Vol. 16 in CC), Lines 54-64.

[21]  C.S. Lewis, “De Futilitate” in Christian Reflections, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971).

[22]  Coleridge, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in Poetical Works I, 1834 text, pp. 373-419, lines 244-247. These portions of the poem are reproduced in Guite, Faith, Hope Poetry, Chapter 6.

[23]  Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, 263-266.

[24]  Ibid., gloss to lines 263-266.

[25]  Ibid., 285-289.

[26]                                                               Augustine, The Confessions, trans. John Ryan, (New York: Doubleday, 1988), 1.1.

[27]  Gerard Manley Hopkins, That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection , 9-11. Found at The  Poetry Foundation, Accessed May 13, 2016,

[28]  Ibid., 12-14.

[29]  Ibid., 16-17.

[30]  Ibid., 18-20.

[31]  Ibid., 22-24.

[32]  Seamus Heaney, Station Island (London: Faber, 1984), XI.1-9.

[33]  J.R.R. Tolkien, Mythopoeia, accessed May 13, 2016,

[34]  Gerard Manley Hopkins, Pied Beauty, accessed May 9, 2016,, 1, 10-11.

[35]  Hopkins, God’s Grandeur, accessed May 9, 2016, accessed May 9, 2016,, 1, 13-14.

[36]  Ibid., 5,9.

[37]  Seamus Heaney, “The Rain Stick,” in The Spirit Level (London: Faber, 1996), 1.

[38]  Ibid.

[39]  Guite, Faith, Hope and Poetry, 174.

[40]  Coleridge, Poetical Works I, 509-514.

[41]  Seamus Heaney, Seeing Things (London: Faber, 1991), II.3-4, 10-11.

[42]  Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals & Meaning (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2010), 25.

[43]  Josef Pieper, Leisure:The Basis of Culture (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009), 28.

[44]  Daniel Siedell, God in the Gallery (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 45. Nook.

[45]  Ibid., 46.

[46]  Ibid., 46-47.

[47]  Ibid., 46.

[48]  Pearcey, Saving Leonardo, 96, 245.

[49]  Ibid., 98.

[50]  Josef Pieper, “The Philosophical Act” in  Leisure: The Basis of Culture , 134.

[51]  Peter Burger, A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural (Garden City, New Jersey: Doubleday, 1969).

[52]  Peter Burger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (Garden City: Doubleday, 1969).

[53]  Peter Burger, A Far Glory: The Quest for Faith in an Age of Credulity (New York: The Free Press, 1992).

[54]  Louis Markos, Literary Apologetics in Christian Research Institute, accessed May 14, 2016,

[55]  Pearcey, Saving Leonardo, 210.  Also, C.S. Lewis, “Myth Became Fact” in God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), and G.K. Chesterton The Everlasting Man (London: Houghter and Stoughton, 1925) and G.K. Chesterton Orthodoxy: The Romance of Faith (New York: Doubleday, 1990); economizing on the enormous number of footnotes here.

[56]  C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair (Norwalk: The Easton Press, 1981), 178.

[57]  C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair, 182.

[58]  Ibid., 238.

[59]  Pearcey, Saving Leonardo, 164.

[60]  William Barrett, Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy (New York: Anchor Books, 1990), 49. Cited in Pearcey, Saving Leonardo, 170.

[61]  Pearcey, Saving Leonardo, 180.

[62]  Ibid., 186.

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