This post first appeared as part of the ‘On holiday with C.S. Lewis’ section of the latest issue of CASE Magazine.
You get talking with a friend about their objections to Christian faith. The conversation starts to gather momentum. You seem to be getting more and more opportunity to speak personally about Jesus and about the reasons for your trust in him.
But suddenly there’s a metaphorical screeching of the wheels. Then a sickening jolt.
Perhaps you’ve struck a fissure in the conversational rails. Colliding with some unforeseen personal investments around an issue like same-sex marriage.
Or perhaps something you’ve rounded a corner too quickly, barrelling at speed into some aspect of apologetics that you expected to bluff your way through using second-hand facts and figures (about the fine tuning constants in the universe or whatever).
Or perhaps you were too well-prepared, and allowed your ability to speak at length and in details on your personal field of expertise hijack your desire to talk about Jesus.
Whichever way it happened, your once pleasant and apparently promising conversation has been derailed — and may even be careening out of control towards some ominously looming interpersonal cliffs…
If you’ve ever found yourself in this situation then maybe, like me, you have something to learn from C.S. Lewis’s famous ‘Meditation in a Toolshed’.
Lewis introduces his meditation by recounting his experience of standing in a darkened toolshed. A single sunbeam, originating from a crack at the top of the door, cuts across the shed.
After describing the difference between his experience of looking at the sunbeam and looking along it to see the scene outside, he generalises this to two approaches to knowledge: the ‘external account’ of something, and knowing about something ‘from inside’.
For Lewis, this important distinction was itself an apologetic tool. It helped him challenge the hubris of the ‘scientific’, modernist approach to knowledge — especially its inveterate insistence on the absolute superiority of the ‘external account’.
But for me, it’s more significant as a way to sharpen my sense of how to answer questions.
To begin with, it helps me ask myself questions about how well my responses ‘look along’ my faith towards the One who is its object. A classic biblical passage about this is 1 Peter 3:15:
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…
In these terms, does my response move out of my reverence for Jesus? Or is it shaped by other forces (like my desire to win the argument or gain approval)?
Likewise, I’m learning that it’s one thing to launch a battery of apologetic arguments or draw on conversational tactics that I’ve carefully gathered and memorized, but it’s something quite different to give the reason for my hope in Christ.
For, ultimately, giving the reason for my hope is something that, if I were to do it, might possibly help my conversation partner look along my testimony to see Jesus, rather than simply looking at it to see how intelligent (or well-rehearsed) I am.