These are the notes from a talk I recently gave. You can listen to the talk by clicking the button.
The Supermodel Who Became a Babushka
For centuries, Modernism has made attempt after attempt to fit the universe into a tidy Excel spreadsheet. Everything was premised on nature as a closed system with no room for the supernatural or miraculous. Reason was the center. But the goddess reason still could not account for such things as courage, love, and man’s sense of morality; logic demanded that all causes need a causeless Cause, and every motion needs ultimately to be explained by an unmoved Mover.
Modernism has now morphed into the disgruntled and skeptical curmudgeon we call Postmodernism. Reason alone couldn’t hold the universe together, so rationally the only explanation for the universe is irrationality.
[In Narnia] You come away equipped to fight the right enemy, the right errors, and most importantly in the right way.Modernism viewed the cosmos as a machine; humans were the only beings with enough reason to peer behind the curtain and explain how and why the machine grinds away. Without a Creator outside of creation, this view of the cosmos as a machine deteriorates into a view that the cosmos are chaos. That is postmodernism.
Modernism worshipped the goddess of reason; postmodernism is left to grovel at the altar of raw appetite. Feelings, impulses and desires are the only thing that make sense to a world that has no Cause to give it purpose. If there is no explanation, all that is left is experience. If there is no transcendent, there is only the imminent. So, eat, drink, be merry…smoke pot, become a woman, or a dragon, or an alien, make love, take love, and be swallowed up by the meaningless. Modernism was the supermodel which enamored the whole earth, but now she is a babushka.
What would Narnians Do?
Lewis, while not explicitly aiming at the postmodernism of 2018, gave us Narnia. In reading through the Narniad, he envelops the reader with a sense of joy, epitomizing courage and cowardice, heroism and heresy, villains and virtues. You come away equipped to fight the right enemy, the right errors, and most importantly in the right way.
King Lune of Archeland admonished his son, “For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land (The Horse and His Boy, pg. ?).”
The lesson here is that there will be engagement with enemies. This is a non-negotiable. Thus, a true Narnian spirit is one that leads with courage and sacrifice. In the face of a fight, the instinct is to run to battle and not away. Even in the hardest of circumstance, a Narnian does all this jovially and sets the example of resisting moroseness and despair.
While in Underworld, as the witch has almost lulled the heroes into an enchanted sleep, Puddleglum rouses himself to stamp out the magical fire (burning his foot in the process). Notice that his argument is not an appeal to reason, but an appeal to beauty:
In striving to persuade, sometimes the best way to win an argument is not with a syllogism but with a good story, along with the aroma of personal sacrifice.‘“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one more thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say (The Silver Chair, pg. 182).”
What we learn from Puddleglum is to “man up,” and never be seduced by the enchanting words of godless worldviews. Further, in striving to persuade, sometimes the best way to win an argument is not with a syllogism but with a good story, along with the aroma of personal sacrifice. Puddleglum is a faithful reminder that, “Aslan’s instructions always work; there are no exceptions (The Silver Chair, pg. 121).”
In High King Peter’s fight against Miraz, we see noblesse oblige exemplified. Narnians refuse to “fight dirty.” Although intrigue, deception and manipulation are commonplace in Miraz’s camp, it was not to be found in Narnia’s. Honor before life. Edmund even remarks: “Oh, bother, bother, bother, need he as gentlemanly as all that? (Prince Caspain, pg. 208)” We should go above and beyond to be above reproach; but notice, Peter still fought. It is not bad form to fight fervently for the truth, it is bad form to fight dirty…but worst of all is to not fight at all.
Simultaneous to this episode, Aslan, Lucy, and Susan are romping through Narnia feasting and celebrating (cf. pgs 210-218 of Prince Caspian). Their train grows larger with each stop as the misery of Telmarine fear, lies, and intrigue are thrown off for the joy, gladness and merriment of Narnian rejoicing. We win by laughing and feasting.
In the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the heroes find themselves rescuing a man from a “dark Island.” He is terrified and begs them to flee. Reepicheep responds: “Compose yourself and tell us what the danger is. We are not used to flying.” He informs them that this is the “Island Where Dreams Come True.” Everyone is mortified. ‘[They realized] what it would mean to land on a country where dreams come true. Only Reepicheep remained unmoved. “Your Majesty, your Majesty,” he said, “are you going to tolerate this mutiny, this poltroonery? This is a panic, this is a rout.” “Row, row,” bellowed Caspian, “[…] You can say what you like, Reepicheep. There are some things no man can face.” “It is, then, my good fortune not to be a man.” replied Reepicheep. (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, pgs. 156 & 157)”
Despite Reep’s adjuration that they not flee, a terror begins to descend on them, and it seems all hope is lost. It is at this moment of utter darkness and terror that Lucy petitions, “Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, pg. 159).” Even if our nerves fail us, our fears beset us, our foes overshadow us, we ought to always turn to God in prayers of deliverance.
Of course, we should be like Reepicheep and be quite unfamiliar with retreating. After all, the armor of God makes no provision for the backside. The implication is that retreat should be a foreign concept to Gospel work. Reepicheep was a Narnian Jonathan Edwards, with eternity stamped on his eyes.
When the orphan, Shasta, first meets the Narnians, here is how they are described: “Instead of being grave and mysterious like most Calormenes, they walked with a swing and let their arms and shoulders go free, and chatted and laughed. One was whistling. You could see that they were ready to be friends with anyone who was friendly and didn’t give a fig for anyone who wasn’t (The Horse and His Boy, pg. 55).” One prevailing thread here as we watch “Narnian cultural engagement” is that they are overwhelmingly carefree. Ready to befriend, and not at all concerned about the applause of man. Indeed, they were free men.
Bold Ambassadors, Living Peaceably
Narnia, of course, is not our standard, Scripture is. What Lewis has done is embody Scriptural attitudes, manners, and worldview into a vibrant story. We are pilgrims on this earth (1 Pt. 2:11). Scripture paints a picture of how the people of God should interact with the unbelieving world. We are to approach it as if we are, in fact, ambassadors, and thus we should be bold. Notice that at the end of the description of the armor of God we have this prayer request appended:
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
And in the book of Acts it was a frequent prayer of the early church that—even in the face of persecution—God would grant them boldness; they were after all servants and ambassadors of the King of kings.
And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word.
Furthermore, our desire for our enemies is not that of violence, but of Gospel peace. We are to desire, and strive for, their conversion. The peace which we proclaim is not compromise with the world, but the Gospel that Christ has overthrown the kingdom of darkness and now rules the world with truth and grace. We are inviting them to the feast of the conquering King.
If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
Living in God’s World
As ambassadors, then, we should take great comfort and courage in the fact that this is God’s world; He is king, creator and sustainer of it. Furthermore, we know that every human we meet with has a knowledge of God Almighty. In the reprobate we know they have devised all sorts of schemes to repress this knowledge, and thus their idolatry, ingratitude and fornication (see Romans 1:18-32); in the regenerate, obviously this knowledge has been revealed in Christ and by grace, believed upon.
This is God’s world. God’s rules are at play here, not the rules of man’s autonomy. Tirian, the last King of Narnia, embodies this mindset, when he reminds Jill (on the cusp of a seemingly hopeless battle), “Courage, child: we are all between the paws of the true Aslan (The Last Battle, pg. 106).” For a Narnian Christian, underlying everything is a rock solid confidence in the sovereign power of the Lord Jesus over all things.