The current featured essay at In Pursuit of Truth, the journal of the C.S. Lewis Foundation, is Phillip Harrold’s “Smuggling for God: What the Emerging Church Movement Can Learn from C.S. Lewis’ Incarnational Aesthetic.”
Harrold’s piece is an interesting and unsatisfying–if only because he hurries over the argument–analysis of Lewis’s aesthetic principles and their relation to the Emerging Church. Harrold effectively highlights the tension of cultural engagement for the Church, as it is difficult to dialog with a culture while simultaneously resisting its influences. Harrold sees help in Lewis:
It would be much too modern, of course, to build anything on a blueprint, let alone one blueprint(!), but the incarnational aesthetic offered by Lewis is remarkably fluid, adaptive, and missional. More importantly, it modulates the EC’s passion for relevance with a relational phenomenology of sympathetic imagination that strongly resists, as St. Anne’s did in That Hideous Strength, potent cultural pressures of competitive individuality, on the one hand, and reductive homogenization (the proverbial “lowest common denominator”), on the other. However Lewis’ aesthetic is applied—in the creation of new forms of worship, new channels of literary endeavor (especially on the Internet), or sponsorship of the arts—it must be informed by the “The Grand Miracle.” The Incarnation was, after all, Lewis’ chief source of inspiration, and he devoted most of his life to letting it work its peculiar magic in his mind and craft. “It digs beneath the surface, works through the rest of our knowledge by unexpected channels, harmonises best with our deepest apprehensions and our ‘second thoughts,’” he observed, “and in union with these undermines our superficial opinions.”25 Ultimately, for Lewis, that’s what smuggling for God is all about.
How Lewis’s incarnational aesthetics does this is left disappointingly unclear (at least to this reader). Perhaps other readers can discern what I am missing.
But the notion that Christians should smuggle in the Gospel–a word, as Harrold points out, that Lewis used–is worth further reflection. Though Harrold directs his attention toward the social nature of the Incarnation, it seems the secretive nature of the incarnation is more pertinent to his case. The paradox of his ministry is that he is often telling individuals to not tell others about him, particularly in the Gospel of Mark. He reveals Himself in and through his hiding, as it were.
This is the tension of cultural engagement. We must smuggle the Gospel into the world and shape the hearts and minds of those around us, so that when confronted by the King they are able to recognize Him as King.