The Page That Changed My Life: Jared Wilson

C. S. Lewis wrote about how the writing of George MacDonald “baptized his imagination” for later receipt of the gospel of Jesus. The writing of Lewis himself did this for me. I consumed the Narnia stories in elementary school, the Space Trilogy in junior high, and most of Lewis’s non-fiction in high school. My experience is not rare, I know. For many Christians, the writing of C. S. Lewis serves as a gateway to both intellectual and imaginative Christianity. This is why he is the greatest Christian writer of the 20th century and one of the greatest of all time.

A burgeoning storyteller myself, I had an overactive imagination that spilled over into my sense of self and my understanding of the world around me. Childhood was magical because I wished it so. Everything in my environment seemed ripe with splendor and meaning. I was an odd kid. But I didn’t just enjoy Lewis’s Narnia—I felt it. I knew instinctively he had tapped into something truer and better about fairy tales and fantasy and also about the ordinary world that seemed on sabbatical from wonder, much less from the prevalent miracles of the Bible. But I didn’t know what.

When I graduated from high school in 1994, my Grammy gave me a paperback copy of C.S. Lewis’s “God in the Dock” and Other Essays. I devoured it. And when I came to my absolute favorite piece in the book, a little treatise on the importance of mythology called “Myth Became Fact,” the effect was similar to putting on corrective lenses for the first time. Clarity of vision descended. I am speaking of page 67 in my edition, specifically, where Lewis writes this: “We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology.” He has been explaining why the ancient myths continue to be so resonant; namely, because “myth transcends thought” (66). These stories are received on a deeper frequency than other transmissions.

I like theology and its systems. I like to think rationally and logically. (So did Lewis!) But there is an inscrutable logic in a statement like this:

“We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic . . . shall we refuse to be mythopathic?” (67)

Lewis’s point is this: Myths resonate because there is a residue of truth in them—not historic facts of course, but truth about reality. (In his novel Perelandra he writes that myth is “gleams of celestial beauty falling on a jungle of filth and imbecility.”) And in the biblical story of Jesus and his gospel we find the convergence of the radiance of the mythopoeic with the glorious radiance of fact! Finally the one true “myth,” the myth that is not fiction. Lewis writes:

For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us no less than to the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher (67).

Can even the Christian scholar and philosopher deny that the facts of the gospel are received on a frequency deeper than just the intellect? We discern the facts of the gospel with our minds, of course, but we receive them with our hearts because the Spirit has freed our hearts to receive them as true—to receive Christ as The Truth, the one true myth that is incontrovertibly fact.

What Lewis helped me see in that page helped me to see period. Page 67 of “Myth Became Fact” helped me to make the difference between seeing along the beam of light and seeing into the beam of light (to borrow from a later essay in the volume, “Meditation in a Toolshed”). Lewis helps me see how wondrous our real God and Savior is, how expansive, how utterly and eternally glorious. These words in “Myth Become Fact” gave me permission to wonder at God and to deepen in enjoyment of the true story of his Son’s reversal of death, rescuing of the bride, razing of evil, ruining of the dragon, and reigning forevermore. He has helped me see that nothing is wasted under God’s sovereign authorship of the universe, not even our fictions.

  • zilch

    I’ll agree with you in your admiration of Lewis. I have a very sharp memory of reading “The Magician’s Nephew” in the library when I was maybe twelve- he was a gifted writer, and had a feeling for humanity that his fellow fantasy writer Tolkien did not.

    But I suspect the same would have been true if he hadn’t converted. On the other hand, he wasn’t very logical- he came up with his famous “trilemma”, that is, Jesus is either Lord, liar, or lunatic, which shows us something about the power of words, but not much about the real world: there are lots more than three possibilities here: perhaps Jesus didn’t exist, or was misquoted, for instance.

    cheers from sunny Vienna, zilch

    • Jared C. Wilson

      Zilch, thanks for the comment.

      In context, the trilemma works, b/c if you recall, Lewis is responding to those who believe that Jesus was a good teacher. (This is in *Mere Christianity.*) So it works for those who already agree that the biblical testimony is at least somewhat reliable for an accurate estimation of Jesus’ character.

      When someone tells me they think Jesus was “just” a good teacher, I ask them “Based on what?” They tend to point from some of the things he said in the Bible, legitimizing the Bible as a reliable source of estimation. Using that source and that agreement, the trilemma is quite effective, b/c Jesus said much more provocative things than “Do not judge lest ye be judged” and “Bless those who persecute you,” as provocative as those are.

      But if one does not at a base level believe Jesus was a good teacher, you are right, there are more options.

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  • Keith Williams

    Hi Jared, I love TGC and you preacher/writer/bloggers who keep the main thing the main thing. Thanks for your clarity and faithfulness.
    I worry that Lewis meant something more by Myth Became Fact than just what you refer to. If he didn’t, others certainly do: That the early chapters of Genesis are myth and that somewhere around Abraham’s time the myth story became a fact story. I’ve run into this type argument several times. But (just for one argument against this thinking) the genealogy in Luke 3 doesn’t contain real and mythical persons. It begins with Son-Jesus and ends with Father-God. It’s real from beginning to end.
    One other concern: the mind/heart differentiation in your next to last paragraph. Some preach that the heart is a more reliable gospel instrument than the mind. But the unregenerate heart is of no more use than the unregenerate mind. Our new heart and our new mind (the mind of Christ) are both wrought by God and are of the Spirit and not of the flesh. I don’t believe the heart receives myth/facts that the mind only discerns. We believe and discern with both our minds and hearts. Watchman Nee and many others divide up our inner sensors and powers in ways the Bible never does.
    What is common to mind and heart is that we love God fully with both. What baptized my imagination and then led to my receiving of the gospel during the next week was a Navy chaplain’s sermon about the seed of the woman bruising his heel while bruising the serpent’s head. God was using symbolism to tell the true story of salvation 4000 years in advance. I was blown away. More creative types do and experience things differently than less creative types. I don’t think it makes them more godly. Lots of both categories will go to heaven and lots to hell.
    It’s great that Christians are enjoying writing and reading myths. But historically, most myths take glory from God and give it to men and demigods. More of a case can be made that mythical clouds obscure true theology than mythical radiance rests on theology. Peter did not allow the word myth or fable (ever so cunningly devised) to be associated with the transfiguration of the Lord. I’m not sure what your point was in the 2nd paragraph about the ordinary world ignoring miracles of the Bible. I don’t think Bible miracles are more likely to be savingly believed by creative types than by less creative types. Don Carson says that in his experience more science and math professors on college campuses are believers than arts, psychology, and English professors(p.15, The God Who Is There).
    I am so glad that God is working all things in your life to conform you to the image of Jesus. I’m also glad he does the same for all types of believers, the more imaginative and the less.
    I think that perhaps what you attribute to your love of mythical creativity being instrumental in your becoming and growing as a Christian (likewise for CS Lewis) might be more of a case that God drew you and grew you according to how he made you.
    Rom. 15:13, Keith

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