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.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

6 Comments

  1. […] THE EMERGING CHURCH: What the Emerging Church can learn from C.S. Lewis.   […]

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  2. Perhaps I shouldn’t try to crack the riddle and unlock all the mystery of it… :)
    But I will say I loved the aesthetic approach taken in Lewis’ That Hideous Strength. I can only guess as to what Harrold means, but the way Lewis approaches beauty in the book is so vastly different than the objective approaches that leave beauty to be a concern of the elite crust. He sees beauty in the overgrown countryside and the quaint taverns. He sees the glory in the common man. Yet, perhaps its not the mere “commonness” that is beautiful but the allusive nature of humanness (as Seerveld would put it – beauty is what alludes to God himself).

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  3. I have attempted to read this article a few times and each time I am just bogged down. I think the problem I am having is that the author is comparing what I consider two different things: worship and our witness.

    From what I understand Lewis was talking about “smuggling” the gospel into our everyday lives. The article seems to be talking about the Sunday service as a gospel message. I have a real problem with that philosophy, so I just couldn’t get past it in the article. Our Sunday worship is not supposed to be a witnessing extravaganza. In fact, historically it wasn’t intended for non-believers in the first place. Sadly, most modern American Christians are woefully lacking in their understanding of worship.

    If our Sunday services want to “hide” the message of the Gospel, the Incarnation, the Triune God, then are we really worshiping the God of the Bible or a god of our own making?

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  4. Matthew Lee Anderson November 10, 2007 at 3:11 pm

    Sorry for the delay, all. I was at GodBlogCon this week.

    Enipal (Matthew),

    You show great restraint! Your analysis of That Hideous Strength is interesting to me–I’ve read it multiple times and have thought about the role of beauty in the book, but not about the notion of its ‘commonness.’ I’d love to hear you elaborate (either here or at your place).

    Debbie,

    It is an infuriating article, isn’t it? It shows such promise, but is so unsatisfying.

    As for your analysis, like Matthew’s I have nothing to add but, “Well done!” That thought certainly hadn’t occurred to me while reading it, but it is exactly right. Ironically, the seeker sensitive movement and the emergent church movement share that deep error in their ecclesiology.

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  5. t is an infuriating article, isn’t it?
    LOL – Well, what came to my mind the first time I read the article was the words of the Green Lady in Perelandra. “You had nothing to say about it and yet made the nothing up into words.”

    Forgive me for that, just couldn’t help myself.

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  6. Matthew Lee Anderson November 10, 2007 at 10:14 pm

    Heh. That quote terrifies me, given how many words I’ve written here at Mere-O. Thanks for giving me a restless night…. : )

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