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Lauren F. Winner


Tell Me the Old, Old Story—and Make It New

Apologetics for our time.

You may recall the premise with which C. S. Lewis begins Mere Christianity, that great work of 20th-century apologetics: "First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the world we live in." Lewis spends the next two chapters raising and dispatching with some objections to his axioms, and attempting to establish, by reference to men and to rocks and trees, that although the "Law of Human Nature … must somehow or other be a real thing … it is not a fact in the ordinary sense, in the same way as our actual behaviour is a fact. … [T]here is something above and beyond the ordinary facts of man's behaviour, and yet quite definitely real—a real law, which none of us made, but which we find pressing on us." From there, Lewis goes on to his landmark exposition of Christian belief and practice.

Mere Christianity is a classic. It has touched, and will continue to touch, many thousands of lives. But there is something in Lewis' gambit that strikes the contemporary reader as … a bit dated, a bit inapposite, a bit beside the point. It wouldn't occur to many of today's seekers, today's unchurched, today's pre-Christians—whatever term you choose—to begin their investigation of Christianity with a grid bounded by propositional truths. These spiritually hungry readers are drawn to the Cross not primarily through rational arguments about the veracity of the Gospel, but through story. This explains in part the recent popularity of spiritual memoir. Such readers don't want to be argued into Christianity; they want to come alongside someone else's journey; they want to enter into the story of what God has done in someone's particular life; and they catch the vision of the Gospel there. ...

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