Gannon Sims: C.S. Lewis and our changing culture

Few writers are more widely read than C.S. Lewis. The Abolition of Man, his little book first given as a series of lectures in 1943, is a prophetic word to those of us seeking an understanding of our changing culture. He makes his case by explaining the role that modern education plays in favoring rational skepticism over any sort of universal values or Divine reality.

For Lewis, the chief concern of modern education is to achieve a certain amount of distance from anything remotely connected to our religious past so that we might get back to the basics or the way things were before “the parasitic growth of emotion, religious sanction and inherited taboos.”

The grim reality, however, is that stripping away the past leaves very little on which to stand in the present. Lewis suggests that the innovations of education in our present circumstance will attempt to reduce reason to a belief in basic instinct or impulse. The problem is that our instincts leave very little reason to demonstrate concern for anything other than our own basic needs. It supposes that each individual is the master of his or her own destiny. And that not only presents problems for culture, it presents problems for the existence of humanity itself.

This approach is unsustainable and unrealistic. Because no matter how much culture changes, there is a center at the center of it all. Lewis calls it the Tao. Others might call it ‘the first principles’; Christian theologians would call it the Logos: the Word that was and is and is to come.

The recognition of such a center at the center of it all is probably part of the reason there appears to be an uptick in those who register as ‘spiritual but not religious’ on the latest surveys of American religion. Spiritual in that there is in some sense a deep longing for the center—something outside ourselves. Not religious because of the proposed connection to that disquieting past.

The good news is that Lewis believes that deep longing for connection with the Tao (or the Logos) can only be met from within the accepted tradition that only the Tao (or Logos) provides. So for the longing to be met there must first be some sort of belonging—to a group, a people, a way.

And this is why Fresh Expressions of church are vital for our changing culture. “The task of the modern educator” Lewis writes “is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts.” And to the degree that Fresh Expressions of church create a sense of belonging, they are, in a very real sense, conduits through which living water flows.


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Gannon Sims

Gannon is the Director of Ministry Formation for Fresh Expressions US and leads the Fresh Expressions efforts of the Baptist General Association of Virginia. He earned the Bachelor of Arts Degree from Baylor University and the Master of Divinity degree from Duke University. Prior to entering seminary, Gannon worked as a legislative aide in the U.S. Senate and as a public affairs officer in the anti-human trafficking office at the U.S. State Department. He enjoys forging partnerships between followers of Jesus from different traditions and has served in various roles at several churches, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Anglican. Gannon is married to Carey, who also is a graduate of Duke Divinity School. Together they work to bring fresh expressions of church to the collegiate community at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.


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