C. S. Lewis did not live in an ivory tower separated from the world. He knew what people were going through and how they thought. During WWI, he was in the trenches with every social class in British society. When WWII erupted, he spoke to RAF pilots—those who might not come back from their next mission.
As he interacted with all types of people, he came to some sobering conclusions about them and how to reach them for the Gospel. As he relates in his “Christian Apologetics” essay, the society in which he lived was quite different from that of earlier times. One of his conclusions dealt with the change in society’s view of sin.
He notes that the modern Christian (and this applies not only to the WWII era but to today) is attempting to address people who don’t recognize their own accountability for what they do wrong. Rather, they tend to blame someone else, or a syndrome of some kind, or even society as a whole. Modern man does not want to be held responsible for his actions. Lewis stresses that our efforts must concentrate on the fact of personal accountability and help them see “the whole network of spite, greed, envy, unfairness, and conceit in the lives of ‘ordinary decent people’ like themselves.”
In order to accomplish this most effectively, he offers this sage advice:
Highly educated people sometimes talk over the heads of others. That must be avoided. Our task on this earth is not to impress people with how smart we are. Sentences that make sense to us might be little more than gibberish to others who aren’t accustomed to scholarly activities. I always tell my classes that my goal is to make things easily understandable so that I’m able to understand what I’m saying. Yes, we can confuse ourselves sometimes. Lewis then turns to another issue: that of truth itself.
People will evade the basic issue of whether something is true. “You have to keep forcing them back, and again back, to the real point. Only thus will you be able to undermine their belief that a certain amount of ‘religion’ is desirable, but one mustn’t carry it too far,” Lewis exhorts. He concludes with the heart of his message in these words:
One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.
Lewis’s observations and recommendations stand the test of time. The people he scrutinized in his day are little different than the people we interact with now. They continue to think sin is no big deal; they go out of their way to claim they aren’t accountable; they avoid the basic issue that Pilate raised with Jesus: “What is truth?” At least Pilate thought there might be truth. I’m not sure many today accept that premise.
Further, although there are different trends in thinking in some ways, the goal remains the same: speak in the vernacular of the people; make the message understandable; never stop pointing out that absolute truth exists. And as the final quote notes, if Christian faith is truth, it is of infinite importance for their lives.