I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the lovely luxuries that my current job affords me is the opportunity to listen to books on CD while I’m working. For those of you getting all jealous and up in arms please remember that I basically do data entry for 9 hrs every day, so it all comes out even in the end.
For the last few days I’ve been listening to C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia…all of them. I’ve always loved these books, ever since my uncle gave them to me as a box set when I was 12 years old. That being said my recent theological and literary educational ventures have allowed me to understand explicitly something that I’ve known implicitly for a long time: the Narnia books represent some of the very best pure narrative theology that the world has to offer.
Narrative theology, for those unfamiliar with the jargon, is a way of talking about God using stories, parables, poetry and other narrative devices instead of using systematic propositional statements. This is pretty much a reaction to Christianity’s all-but-wholesale acceptance of the modern (and particularly positivistic) program of equating fact with truth (this is a crude definition but will serve here). Narrative theology, conversely, drives towards truth using stories. A narrative theologian neither asks nor answers questions that the Christian Story does not itself engage.
This is what the Narnia books accomplish so well. Though often described as allegory they are not. Allegory is a device that creates an essentially exact relationship between two narrative worlds or systems in order to comment on the one by means of the other (usually using either imagery or personified concepts). What Lewis does with his world is to create a symbolic universe that does not mirror our universe precisely but instead demonstrates the nature of God as he might interact with a different Story. In other words not everything that happens in Narnia has happened here, and not everything that has happened here happens in Narnia. What is common to them both is the fact that God interacts with both stories. To be more precise he tells both stories. The importance and the truth of Aslan’s story is found less in precise theological formulations or provable facts. It is found in the resonance of the story with our story, in that intuitive place between emotion and cognition where all that we are is involved and engaged in the experience of the narrative.
This is a fairly verbose way of saying that even now Lewis’ children’s stories have the ability to say more than much of the most complex systematic theology, and to say it better. Do you still wonder why almost the entire Bible is written either in narrative or in poetry?