Friday, April 27, 2012

C. S. Lewis says: Why study theology?

The last section of C. S. Lewis's classic Mere Christianity is a sort of first, hesitant step towards that intimidating word: theology. Lewis was told his readers didn't want theology--give them something practical!--but he would have none of this. If we want to think and talk about God, he reasoned, we probably want to think and talk about God well.

I agree. I suppose this post is for those of you who might come to the wardrobe, see that I'm off on some theological rabbit trail, and hurry off as quick as you can, back to facebook, to another blog on your favorites, to the email--anywhere to avoid theology. It's important. We need to think through these things.

But why?

Lewis once encountered a old military man, tough as nails, who had no time for theology. If you've met the real thing, he barked, all the little dogmas and formulas seem ridiculous and unreal. Lewis could appreciate the man's complaint. This fellow probably had really encountered God, and moving from that encounter to the creeds and doctrines of the Church probably felt a bit like walking along the coast and looking out at the Atlantic, and then going in and looking at a map of the ocean. The man was "turning from something real to something less real."
Yet Lewis didn't stop there.
But here comes the point. The map is admittedly only coloured paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together. In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walk on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map. But the map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get to America.

God is deeper and more expansive than any ocean. His waves are fiercer. You can't go far thinking and talking about God without getting lost. Unless you have a map. The map helps us navigate. It shows us the way to go and the ways to avoid. Our personal experiences of God and thoughts about him can be powerful, but they aren't always clear. And I think this is no less true of someone's personal reading of the Bible--there are so many tempting paths that open up in the scriptures that you have to finally pass by, but you need guidance to help you see this. You need a map.

Theology isn't mathematics. We aren't hoping to figure out the right formulas for understanding God--once you have them, you just plug in the numbers and calculate the mind and actions of the Almighty.
Theology is exploration, probing the depths of this awesome Wonder before us. We do this with the Bible, as it witnesses to God's work in the world, through Creation, with Israel, in Jesus, and by the Holy Spirit in the Church. But we also do this with our map, with the theology of the Church. It helps us stay the course as we try to find out this deep and mysterious God. If we're going to talk about God well, we're going to need it.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

great!! I love read C S Lewis and blogs explaining things about his books.