This weekend I had the mighty privilege of visiting New St. Andrews College, located in the heart of the very progressive university town of Moscow, Idaho. Here, Doug Wilson and his band of classical christian thinkers wage a worldview war of sorts, raising the next generation of faithful christians that seek to live out all of Christ in all of life. The annual Wordsmithy Workshop is designed to do this precise thing in the context of thinking christians who want to write more and write better. It was quite the intellectual and spiritual feast and it set my thoughts and inspirations ablaze in a number of new directions.
The theme of the conference was the writing life of C. S. Lewis. We had the great privilege of having Micheal Ward (perhaps the foremost Lewis scholar on the planet) lead us in a deeper peek into the mind and work of this great and historic thinker. The following is my attempt at sharing some of the gold nuggets I take away from my time at NSA.
Imagination and Reason
We live in a world which must be made sense of. We are by nature creatures of meaning, always interacting with our environment, always trying to see how it all works together. Lewis insightfully points out that our imagination is the organ of meaning. Our imagination looks into the world and sees patterns, relationships and correlations. It asks questions. It explores how it all might collide or connect. Imagination then passes its ideas on to reason which, in light of what we already know to be true, examines their validity.
“It must not be supposed that I am in any sense putting forward the imagination as the organ of truth. We are not talking of truth, but of meaning; meaning which is the antecedent condition of both truth and falsehood, whose antithesis is not error but nonsense. I am a rationalist. For me, reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination, producing new metaphors or revivifying old, is not the cause of truth, but its condition.”¹
We all swim in a sea of metaphors. Driven by imagination, we tread into the new waters of potential truth and understanding. Thus, the creative mind is the one that is most often prone to stumbling upon the keenest of insights. Think about that one till your brain hurts.
Words and the Protestant Wheelhouse
Christians are people that believe that the universe is created by a mighty, wise and creative God. He has spoken this world into existence and he has spoken to us concerning his word created world. Although Lewis’ idea on imagination and reason is a keen observation and works for anyone, only the christian can explain why it works. Because the world is God’s idea, it therefore screams meaning everywhere you look. This is diametrically opposed to the secular thinker who says he believes the world is the product of chance and choas, and yet proceeds to find profound meaning in all he does. Without God there is no such thing as meaning. But there is indeed such a thing as meaning, or else you would not have gotten this far down the page.
Because we believe in a God who speaks, Wilson points out that “wordsmithing has always been in the protestant wheelhouse.”². We have always been people of words, ideas and books. A simple survey of the history of the English language shows that christian written works make up much of the soil in which english writing and literature has grown and thrived. We really do believe that, “in Christ, all things hold together”. And we mine in his Word and his world with the tools of imagination and reason. And we write about it.
Powerful Thinking is Seeped in the Classics
We cannot expect ourselves to get very far in our thinking if we are not willing to climb on the shoulders of the giants that come before us. Our postmodern culture thinks it has found a shortcut by untying the balloon of imagination from the string of reason which anchors it down. It may feel like soaring for a little while, but it doesn’t end well.
New Saint Andrews is committed to raising people who engage with the present on the basis of their strong understanding of history. History is the product of ideas, and we must understand what they are, how they work and where they have lead us in the past. We can expect very little true insight in our thinking if we are not seeped in the classics.
One of the permeating lessons I have been learning in the past few years is the christians need to understand the power of the answers that they hold. This enriching event has pealed back yet another layer to this reality. As Paul notes in Ephesians, we have much more in Christ than we realize. I come back with a eager desire to dive more into Lewis and the classics, to see the beauty of the world God has created, and to live and love all the more richly. And to write about it.
1. C. S. Lewis, ‘Bluspels and Flalansferes: A Semantic Nightmare’ (1939)
2. Doug Wilson, The Christian Imagination