Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Jon Kennedy's 'C. S. Lewis overflow'
Jon Kennedy's latest book is The Everything C.S. Lewis and Narnia Book, due in stores in March 2008, from Adams Media, F&W Publications. This series of articles is thinking inspired by readings in Lewis's work that didn't fit into the book.

C. S. Lewis's Theology

One of the surprising things C. S. Lewis said in his early writings was that he was not a theologian. He meant that his schooling was not theological seminary or divinity school (interchangeable names for the graduate schools that prepare ministers for various kinds of church work). I think several threads of thought contributed to his pressing this claim when he began the 25 radio talks he gave during World War Two that kept BBC audiences glued to their sets and wanting more from him, and which were later published as what became a classic of Christian apologetics, Mere Christianity.

The thread that Lewis most wanted to press was that he was speaking as a layman, and a fairly recent convert from atheism at that, and that his membership in the laity was something he had in common with most members of the public. Also, however, he probably felt, with some justification, that if his audiences saw him as a theologian they would fear that his talks would be boring and "over their heads," dry, and possibly disturbing rather than comforting in a time of great personal and international upheaval. Already it was well known that many "theologians" discounted the Bible, miracles, and most traditional teachings of the Gospel and the church, so they were not trusted by practicing Christian laymen. And from the beginning Lewis clearly understood the gulf between orthodox Christian belief and the defense of doubt and skepticism common in the reigning schools of theology then and, in the liberal world, now. But as a young professor at a highly regarded university, he probably wanted to avoid unnecessary friction that would have occurred if he had represented himself as being in this other academic specialty.

These threads were all valid and true, though Lewis's scholarship in classic literature and classical philosophy in the original languages in which they were written, along with his voracious reading in religion and theology once he became a Christian, his friendship with Christian scholars at Oxford ranging from fiction writers to professional theologians, combined with his photographic memory, made him probably better qualified to write "theologically" than most of the full-time seminary professors of his generation.

Some years later, Lewis reversed this dissociation with theology and argued that theology is necessary in the lives of all serious Christians. Many, he later said, prefer to find God in their own ways, but if Christianity is true, it depends on God's self-revelation through the testimony of Jesus Christ, His Apostles, disciples, and their records in the Bible. He quoted a military man who confronted him at a talk he gave as saying he had no time for "theology," but that he had personally had encounters with God, especially when alone in the desert years before. Multitudes of people, especially men, cling to such personal "religions" of their own making. But their religion goes no where, Lewis writes, because it has nothing other than one or several experiences that warm the heart but fail to change lives.

Theology—study of the biblical doctrines to understand them—by contrast is a map that takes anyone serious about following God where he needs to go. The individual with his theology-free "experience" is like a person who loves the sea, but can experience it only from the beach, imagining other lands far beyond the horizon. The student of the church's teachings—theology—on the other hand, is comparable to a sailor who has maps and instruments that make it possible to set sail in what looks like an endless sea, and come in safety to the shore of a far-off land.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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Today's chuckle

• The Last Supper would have been eaten the next morning - cold.
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Thought for today

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

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