In his introduction to C.S. Lewis: Pre-Evangelism for a Post-Christian World, Brian Williams poses a question. What is it about the world and our imaginations that make a visitation of “joy” not only possible but even likely? Does joy imply something beyond the world we see and experience?
Williams also describes it another way. A child or adult can read one of the Narnia tales by C.S. Lewis, one like The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, or J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and sense there’s something more than the story at hand. It may be a fine, wonderful story in and of itself, but it also points to something else, something just as real but not visible or tangible. And we know it as surely as we know our names, our addresses, our family members, and everything else associated with daily life.
Another question is posed: might these works of imaginations be a way to ultimately reach a post-Christian world? We’re not considering here thinly disguised stories of theology, faith, and belief, but works of imaginative minds, stories that stir our hearts and our minds, stories that point to something much larger than ourselves.
Williams’ book is devoted to answering these questions. Using the lens of the life and writings of C.S. Lewis, and especially the fiction works The Chronicles of Narnia and The Space Trilogy, as well as the autobiographical Surprised by Joy, Williams makes a solid case for imaginative fiction as a pre-evangelism tool.
The book has five chapters. The first is biographical, considering Lewis’s life and the influences which shaped his mind, philosophy, faith, and outlook. Williams then considers Lewis’s sacramental view of reality, and he means something different then we think of with the word “sacramental.” Quoting author Chris Armstrong, he defines sacramentalism as “a linked set of beliefs” that spiritual reality manifests itself in created reality, all creation reflects the Creator, and God is present throughout the world.
He then looks at Lewis’s romantic view of the human imagination; how Lewis uses The Space Trilogy and The Chronicles of Narnia to see how Lewis used fiction as pre-evangelism; and how the medium of imaginative fiction might work today. It’s a scholarly and phenomenally well-researched work (813 footnotes, no less).
Williams has served as an adjunct professor at Southeastern College in Wake Forest, N.C., teaching the history of ideas and philosophy. He’s been published in the Journal of Inklings Studies, and is the author of Putting Together the Pieces: How to Make Sense of the Old Testament. He lives with his family in Wake Forest.
And in C.S. Lewis: Pre-Evangelism for a Post-Christian World, he answers the questions he raises and more than makes his point. Imaginative fiction can stimulate our sense of wonder and help us understand that something more, something bigger, is beyond the reality we see.