'At the Mercy of the Metaphor': C. S. Lewis and the Nature of Theological Language

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Fabian Grassl


Whether or not there is a God has been a perennial question for philosophy. What may be said about God is a central concern of theology. That anything meaningful can be said about God has been challenged in the course of Western philosophical thought from different sides. Plato has his character, Timaeus, in his book of the same name assert that “to find the maker and father of this universe is hard enough, and . . . to declare him to everyone is impossible” (28c). In a famous passage from his Philosophical Investigations (§610), Ludwig Wittgenstein muses about the impossibility of describing the aroma of coffee. But if this already exceeds human capabilities, how much more the task of speaking about something or someone as unfathomable as God? As an outstanding and influential representative of Christianity in the twentieth century, C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) had something to say about this problem. In this paper, I will explore his particular approach to the issue at hand. In five sections, I shall first briefly examine Lewis’s existential context and how it sets the stage for his giving primacy of the poetical over the analytical or abstract. Second, I will look at the central place metaphor takes in his overall understanding of language. In a third and fourth step, I shall look at his dealings with a central point of criticism as raised by the father of modern atheism, Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872). Finally, I will look at Lewis’s use of certain Christian tenets and how their appropriation rationally grounded his assuming a basic reliability of Christian God-talk.

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How to Cite
Grassl, F. “’At the Mercy of the Metaphor’: C. S. Lewis and the Nature of Theological Language”. Linguaculture, vol. 13, no. 1, June 2022, pp. 95-119, doi:10.47743/lincu-2022-1-0303.
Author Biography

Fabian Grassl, Bamler-Gehret Foundation, Germany

Fabian F. GRASSL, PhD, is a German theologian and philosopher of religion. Subsequent to his doctoral dissertation on Lutheran systematic theologian and ethicist, Helmut Thielicke, at the Queen’s University Belfast (published by Pickwick in 2019, and James Clarke & Co in 2020), he spent two and a half years of postdoctoral research at the International Academy of Philosophy in the Principality of Liechtenstein. Since 2020 he has been writing, teaching, and conducting research under the auspices of the interdenominational Bamler-Gehret Foundation (www.bg-stiftung.org), based in the Bavarian Forest, Germany. In his most recent publication (Leipzig 2022), he co-edited (with Harald Seubert and Daniel von Wachter) and contributed to the collected volume: Ist Theologie eine Wissenschaft? [Is Theology a Science?] Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2022.