The Areopagus Lectures

Inviting our neighbors in central Virginia to join MARS HILL AUDIO in a continuing conversation about the Church’s role in a post-Christian society.

Spring 2019 Areopagus Lecture

“They taught me longing - Sehnsucht; made me for good or ill, and before I was six years old, a votary of the Blue Flower.” 

— C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

We are pleased to announce that theologian Alison Milbank will be presenting the next Areopagus Lecture. Dr. Milbank’s talk will address the formation of the imagination as part of the vocation of the Church. Alison Milbank was a guest on the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal on Volume 99 when she talked about her book Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians. She is a professor in the department of theology and religious studies at the University of Nottingham. 

When: April 4 at 7:30 PM

Where: The Haven - 112 West Market Street, Charlottesville, VA 29902

What: “Imaginative Apologetics beyond C. S. Lewis”— Lecture: free and open to the public

RSVP: Please register here for the lecture

In contrast to previous lectures, this spring’s lecture will take place in conjunction with a day conference on the Church and the academy hosted by the Methexis Institute

More on “Imaginative Apologetics beyond C. S. Lewis” . . . 

“This love more intellectual cannot be without Imagination, which, in truth, is but another name for . . . reason in her most exalted mood.” 

— William Wordsworth, Prelude

Christian apologetics is often understood as a rational defense of belief presented to unbelievers on grounds other than faith. As John Milbank has put it in his forward to Imaginative Apologetics, these grounds reside “on one’s opponent’s territory, where one risks remaining in a weak or even a false position.” In other words, reasons and rationality are understood in terms already inclined to make belief in transcendence less plausible. What if, however, the “apology” offered remained intact and faithful to its original setting? What if the defense of truth relied on the conditions of goodness and beauty? 

The famous apologist and fantasy writer, C. S. Lewis wrote that “reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination, producing new metaphors or revivifying old, is not the cause of truth, but its condition.” In other statements and in his poem “Reason,” Lewis suggests that not only are reason and imagination distinct from each other, but that they are opposed and that we experience this opposition internally as in irreconcilable tension. How is it that such a superb writer of imaginative fiction seems to maintain a contradictory view of imagination in his non-fiction? Are we to take Lewis’s more direct statements about the imagination literally? Or can the imagination — and Lewis’s admitted love for beauty and longing — be incorporated into our understanding of reason and rationality? 

In her talk, Alison Milbank will investigate these questions in light of the transcendentals of truth, goodness, and beauty. With the help of some other thoughtful observers on the role of the imagination, Milbank will examine whether the Church can adopt an imaginative apologetic that does not deny the claims of reason.

From the Archives: Alison Milbank on Chesterton & Tolkien

“Chesterton saw that in order to restore the real, you did have to take a journey away from it.” — Alison Milbank

On Volume 99 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal, Alison Milbank joined us to talk about how the fantasy writings of G. K. Chesterton and J. R. R. Tolkien are intended to reconnect readers with reality. Both Chesterton and Tolkien saw fantasy as an escape from reality in order to restore one’s perception of what was truly real. Tolkien, in particular, wanted his fantasies to enable readers to see the objects of this world as meaningful things apart from ourselves, as opposed to dead objects subject merely to our manipulation and control. Milbank comments that Tolkien’s fantasies reflect a desire to return to a medieval view in which objects participate in reality as we participate in reality, with their own form and integrity. For both authors, the things we perceive in the world present themselves as intentional, personal, and given.

By way of introduction to Milbank’s work, listeners can stream this interview from a web browser or access it by downloading the MHA app.

Listen to the interview with Alison Milbank

Alison Milbank

Alison Milbank is associate professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Nottingham. Milbank studied Theology and English Literature at Cambridge, and then took her doctorate at Lancaster. She was a John Rylands Research Institute Fellow at the University of Manchester, where she had access to its extensive Dante archives. After a temporary lectureship and extensive college teaching at Cambridge, Milbank taught in the English Department at the University of Virginia for five years, making full use of the Sadleir-Black Gothic collection in the UVA library. 

Dr. Milbank’s research interests focus on the relation of religion to culture in the post-Enlightenment period, with particular interest in non-realist literary and artistic expression, such as the Gothic, the fantastic, horror and fantasy. Her books include Dante and the Victorians (2009), Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians (2007), and God and the Gothic: Religion, Romance, and Reality in the English Literary Tradition (2018).


Since 1993, MARS HILL AUDIO has sought to encourage the pursuit of wisdom concerning the cultural consequences of the Gospel. Toward that end, the hundreds of interviews distributed by MARS HILL AUDIO have explored two principal questions: 1) What are the distinctive features of the culture of modernity? and 2) How are those features in conflict with Christian cultural faithfulness? 

One such feature is the assumption that a “religion” is an essentially private, subjective, and non-rational set of beliefs and practices. Thus public life (which is presumed to be a neutral space) must be cleansed of all religiously grounded contaminants. The past several decades have witnessed a more extensive commitment to the de-Christening of the West — the quest for a society freed of interference from Christian claims about human nature and social order. As a result, many Christians are more perplexed than ever about the public consequences of the Gospel.

We believe this is a time for the Church to recognize and remedy the mistake of assenting to the separation of theology from public life. Because the radical privatizing of the claims of Christ is contrary to the ends of human nature and the purposes of God in history, the modern project of radical secularization is inevitably destined to fail. As its failure becomes more obvious (either with a bang or a whimper) the institutions that sustain social, political, and economic life will be open to re-imagination and re-configuration in ways that acknowledge that in Christ, all things hold together. 

In launching the Areopagus Lectures, MARS HILL AUDIO hopes to stimulate conversation among our neighbors about how to navigate this time in the Church’s history with wisdom, courage, and hope. 

Previous Lectures