A Child’s Heart and a Grown-up’s Head

Small Talk — 2013 National Conference

The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C.S. Lewis

I have 10 minutes to give you guys a challenge that CS Lewis challenged me with. I’m going to start with a quote from Mere Christianity in the chapter on the cardinal virtues, he’s talking about prudence, or what do we call “common sense”, or “intellect”, or “wisdom”. He said:

Nowadays most people hardly think of Prudence as one of the ‘virtues’. In fact, because Christ said we could only get into His world by being like children, many Christians have the idea that, provided you are ‘good’, it does not matter being a fool. But that is a misunderstanding.

In the first place, most children show plenty of ‘prudence’ about doing the things they are really interested in, and think them out quite sensibly. In the second place, as St. Paul points out, Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence: on the contrary. He told us to be not only ‘as harmless as doves’, but also ‘as wise as serpents’. He wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head.

That’s the title, A Child’s Heart and a Grownup’s Head. He goes on about a paragraph later to say:

God is not fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers.

Mental Renovation

I think CS Lewis was one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. But not only that, I think he was one of the greatest mental exercisers of the 20th century. And one of his great lasting legacies, both in his time and today as we read him, is to redeem the half-true stereotype of Christians that we are contentedly ignorant. That we have to check our intellects at the door, and then with blind faith, walk forward in faith in Christ, paste a smile on our face, and walk around with a happy blank stare and blink, right? And so in a room this size, I can only imagine that the false dichotomy that he presents there by saying, “Well, you can be good without being intellectually savvy or wise or clever,” holds true for many of you.

I know it holds true for me somewhat. I think it had held true from the beginning in 1 Corinthians. If you remember in chapter 14, there’s a big debate among the Corinthians about speaking in tongues and who does it more. And Paul gets into this little rant where he says, “I care a lot more about how you think than how much you speak in tongues. I’d rather speak five words with my mind than 10,000 words with a tongue” (1 Corinthians 14:19). And he says to them, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking, be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20). And so in this room, I could imagine you would take this exhortation into thinking, “I really need to pursue a seminary education or any kind of education. I need to get into graduate studies or doctoral studies of some sort.”

I don’t think the exhortation to have a grownup’s head is aimed at any specific form of education at all. I think it’s aimed at mental activity, or mental renovation by being transformed by the renewing of your mind. If you want a really good summary phrase for the process of being sanctified, I would call it the second half of Romans 12:2 — “being transformed by the renewing of your mind,” or, “taking thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Here, I would think a lot of you, while you’re at the conference, are seeking to do that really well, but what about Monday? On Monday do you compartmentalize and start with your Bible, maybe read a good book, maybe read a CS Lewis book that you bought this weekend for half an hour, and then you just blankly walk around looking around, pushed to and fro by the winds and waves of every cultural doctrine, instead of destroying the plausible arguments of culture.

The Heart of a Child

Now, as I got to this point in the preparation of my talk, and even as I give you that exhortation that I think should land on you, I began to wonder if that side of the dichotomy is where most of you struggle. I don’t know if that’s the side that I struggle the most with.

The exhortation in Mere Christianity is to think like a grownup, right? To observe, to ponder, to chew, and to look at the world like a standup comedian. Have you ever listened to stand-up comedians? They’re observing all the time. So as a Christian, you look at the world and you say, “If Jesus is before all things, and in him all things hold together, I want to look at all those things and see how he is the lens of creation? How do these things point to him over and over and over again?” And that’s the exhortation to observe and to ponder and to chew.

But if you’ve been to anything DG over the last 10 years or so — which I assume you have by the nature of your being here — and if you’ve been attentive at all, then on some level you already seek the renewing of your mind. You put a pretty high value on that. But the given assumption in the excerpt is that the Christian has a child’s heart, right? He just kind of glances over the fact that the Christian has a child’s heart, and that is what I would guess that most of us here struggle with more, if you’re over the age of 11.

In the midst of an overly cynical and rationalistic and naturalistic culture ([realistic] https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-lie-of-realism), like N.D. Wilson just talked about), we have lost the value of childlikeness and the practice of childlikeness that Lewis and Jesus so blatantly emphasize.

In his essay on Three Ways of Writing for Children, Lewis says:

The modern critical world uses “adult” as a term of approval. It is hostile to what it calls “nostalgia” and contemptuous of what it calls Peter-Pantheism. Hence a man who admits that dwarfs and giants and talking beasts and witches are still dear to him in his 53rd year is now less likely to be praised for his perennial youth than scorned and pitied for arrested development.

“Oh, he never grew up.” That’s the idea. It’s not a cultural value to stay a child in the right ways. Then Lewis goes on to elaborate on this counter-cultural, scriptural value of child likeness in a number of places and from all sorts of angles. You can find it everywhere in his literature. In his fiction, often the heroes are child-like adults, while the antagonists can often be adult-like children. I’ll give you two examples from the Narnia series.

A Child-like Adult

On the one hand, you have Professor Kirke in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He’s the old man, the grandfatherly figure who owns the mansion that the kids are playing in when they find the wardrobe. He was Digory in The Magician’s Nephew, if you’ve read those books.

Peter and Susan, I think honorably, come to him asking his advice because Lucy has gone into the wardrobe and come out about two seconds later and said, “I’ve been in another world for hours.” And they say, “What do we do with that? She went in and came back out. And then she said that she’s been gone for hours.” And Professor Kirke says:

That is the very thing that makes her story so likely to be true. If there really is a door in this house that leads to some other world — and I should warn you that this is a very strange house, and even I know very little about it — if I say she had got into another world, I should not be at all surprised to find that the other world had a separate time of its own, so that however long you stay there, it would never take up any of our time. On the other hand, I don’t think many girls of her age would invent that idea for themselves. If she had been pretending she would’ve hidden for a reasonable time before coming out and telling her story.

And Peter replied, “But do you really mean, sir, that there could be other worlds all over the place, just around the corner like that?” “Nothing is more probable,” said the professor, taking off his spectacles and beginning to polish them while he muttered to himself, “I wonder what they do teach them at these schools.”

Professor Kirke is a perfect example of a logical grownup. He’s a logical man. He just worked through a very clear, logical progression, but he’s far from cynical. He’s far from naturalistic, saying, “What you see is what you get.” He’s far from realistic in our traditional, academic sense. He is, in fact, full of imaginative, hope-filled wonder, and easily acknowledges the likelihood of there being more than what we see. He’s a childlike grownup.

An Adult-like Child

Now, on the other hand, on the antagonistic side, you have Eustace Scrubb from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Maybe you guys remember Eustace. He’s a grownup in a child’s body. He has missed his childhood somewhere along the lines, at least until he gets changed later with the whole dragon thing. But this is how Lewis describes him. He says:

He didn’t call his father and mother, ‘father and mother’, but Harold and Alberta. They’re very up-to-date and advanced people. They were vegetarians, non-smokers, and teetotalers, and wore a special kind of under clothes. In their house there was very little furniture and very few clothes on the beds and the windows were always open. Eustace liked animals, especially beetles if they were dead and pinned on a card. He liked books, if they were books of information and had pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools.

He’s full of information but not childlike in the right ways. When Edmund and Lucy present to him their story of being in Narnia, CS Lewis says of Eustace:

He thought, of course, that they were making it all up. And as he was far too stupid to make anything up himself, he did not approve of that.

He’s unimaginative. Until he is changed later, he’s full of worldly information and knowledge, but devoid of imaginative wonder. He has ceased to be a child, and is therefore immature. Do you understand? He has ceased to be a child and is therefore immature, at least a child in the right ways.

So clearly one of the child-like attributes that Lewis is calling us to is that of what I would call imaginative wonder, or hope-filled wonder, thinking of things with wide eyes, thinking of another world and what could be.

Living with Perpetual Wonder

There’s more, and he would add to that, I think, one more adjective, and I’d call it something like perpetual or constant imaginative wonder. In an essay called On Stories, he writes of children that they understand this well when they ask for the same story over and over again and in the same words. They want to have again, the surprise of discovering what seemed like little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother is really the wolf over and over again. They say, “Tell it again!”

I have little girls, and it’s the same thing. They say, “Tell it again in the same words.” They want the same story in the same words. I think the reason that doesn’t apply to us very well is that our sense of wonder, the grownup sense of wonder, seems to have a painfully short shelf life. It’s really brief. So we resign to this seeming inevitability of, “Well, the novelty wears off and I’m not going to enjoy it anymore.”

And so, we cease to long for wondrous things. We don’t weep out of disappointment and groaning anymore like my daughter’s do when it rains right before we’re about to take a walk to the grassy meadow. We’re often bored with the wondrous things in front of us, and yet not bored enough to snap out of it and want more than what we see. To quote Lewis, one more time:

We’ve given up chasing the rainbows end, which we ought always to do.

My question to you is, do you live with wide eyes? To bring these two things together, I’m not talking about a not a naive, blank-smiling stare where you’re just walking around looking around and calling yourself a Christian, but an inquisitive gaze seeking to have your proverbial socks knocked off.

The call is to dig into, as a grownup, the intricacies of soteriology. You want to know about the hypostatic union. We want to know about penal substitution and all the ins and outs of how God saved us. And then to say, when you hear the wondrous story of the cross with all those details, “Tell it again in the same words. Say it again in the same words. I want to hear it again and again and again.”

So do you live with wide eyes? Or maybe a better question is this: when’s the last time somebody called you childlike, and did you consider it a compliment?

is the director for Campus Outreach Charleston.