For professional development through Carey’s Centre for Lifelong Learning this year, my cohorts and I have been reading through the works of C. S. Lewis. Recently we read his autobiographical Surprised by Joy,1 in which he narrates the story of his conversion to the Christian faith. His testimony combines well with an essay of his, “Christianity and Culture,”2 in which he discusses the potential role culture can play in helping expand one’s horizons and open them up to the reality of ‘ultimate truth’:
A cultured person … is almost compelled to be aware that reality is very odd and that the ultimate truth, whatever it may be, must have characteristics of strangeness—must be something that would seem remote and fantastic to the uncultured. Thus some obstacles to faith have been removed already.3
This resonates with Lewis’s own testimony of coming to know that strange ultimate truth by way of several experiences of what he calls “Joy”. Lewis was first met by joy in his encounter with Norse mythology as a bookish youngster. Later, in his early academic life he was met once more by this joy—surprisingly, to the then atheistic Lewis—in his reading of books by Christian authors. By contrast he found that the writers with whom he shared a non-religious view of the world “all seemed a little thin; what as boys we called ‘tinny.’”4 His broad literary experience exposed him to both sets of writers, and though he was philosophically aligned with the non-religious writers, it was the Christians whose work was most compelling to him! These were significant signposts pointing him in the direction of the surpassing joy of Christ.
Which raises the question for me of culture and evangelism: have we been making adequate use of culture to raise the question of a deeper joy for the non-Christian? Are Christians still producing the types of films, music and literature that cause people to see other material as ‘tinny’?
Lewis reminds me that the Christian, because we know the surpassing joy of Christ by the Spirit, should offer a richer, deeper, embodied account of reality, which is compelling to the world in its pursuit of tinny happiness. And similarly, in journeying with non-Christians, how am I open to what pre-conversion experiences like Lewis’s experience of joy might be preparing them to meet Christ? These experiences can be like signposts in the forest, pointing to the surpassing joy of Christ who faithfully pursues them.
Reflection: Elliot Rice
Elliot works in tandem with his wife Sarah as Co-Senior Pastors at Papanui Baptist Church, where they’ve served since 2016. He also lectures at Laidlaw College (Christchurch), teaching New Testament: Introduction and Theology: Introduction. Elliot completed his Master of Applied Theology through Carey Baptist College last year, engaging the systematic theology of Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar.
- C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (San Diego: Harcourt, 1955).
- C. S. Lewis, “Christianity and Culture,” in Christian Reflections, ed. Walter Hooper (London: William Collins, 2017), 16-50.
- Ibid., 32.
- Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 213-14.