Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy


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  Word study: theology

Jonal entry 1120 | July 23 2010

Theology is a compound of two Greek root words meaning God and study (or "science" in the loosest sense). Is there a God, and if there is, what can be known or at least guessed about Him is, therefore, a theological question and any effort to answer it is "doing" theology. C.S. Lewis claimed that he was not a theologian, and Eastern Orthodox teaching is that "to pray is to do theology and to do theology is to pray," but both of these claims fail to be the whole truth of the matter. Both are true only in their contexts.

Lewis's context in making his claim was the academic world, and in the academic sense he was not a theologian, meaning a fulltime student of theological theories, writers in the field, and that field's history; I don't think he ever had a university course in the subject. The context of the Eastern Orthodox claim is the Orthodox church, which has a very particular understanding of prayer. For example, prayer that is consistent with all the Bible says about God and communicating with him will be theologically sound, and therefore the prayers of the church teach and reinforce theological knowledge in its members.

But in the sense of my first definition, Lewis was not only a theologian, he was a better theologian than—I dare to say—the great majority of theological seminary graduates. That's because he was, first, a better thinker than most, and, second, better at expressing his questions, answers, and guesses than the great majority of English speaking and writing people. And I should add a third factor: he had a lot to say both directly and indirectly (through his fiction and even through his literary criticism) on the subject of whether there's a God and what He might be like.

And prayers to Greek or Roman pagan gods, or to "the universe" (which is a common form of prayer in my part of the world), or "the force," is hardly theology, at least in any sense Christians would recognize, though it might be legitimate to do a study of "the theology" of the Star Wars movies which popularized "the force" as a surrogate god. It could even turn out that "the force" was just a metaphor for the Christian trinity or at least a deity that most theists ("believers in a Creator-God") would recognize. So to make the Eastern Orthodox "definition" of theology mean anything to non-Christians it requires some qualification: Theology is prayer consistent with the biblical understanding of God and its teachings about communicating with Him.

I was always put off by sports because every gym class that began playing a game like baseball, basketball, or even volleyball always assumed that everyone on the field or court already knew the rules. I couldn't begin to play without knowing the rules (I'm that way in all areas of life), but to admit ignorance of the rules was to admit to being a total dork, and rather than admit that I'd rather be considered too uncoordinated to be able to make the right moves to play. So I always did the least required in the gym classes and was never invited to play in any spontaneous neighborhood games. And there's a correlation to this in most academic subjects, too. The books usually start up with language that assumes insider vocabulary in the subject. And in this, though his writing is more "British" than we Yankees may be comfortable with at the beginning, Lewis is better than most "academic" theologians. His audiences were (or at least always had a high percentage of) undergraduate university students who had little training even in philosophy, much less theology, so most of his writings approach the subjects at an elementary level.

And Lewis's theological masterpiece, Mere Christianity, grew out of broadcasts over the radio during World War II for the express purpose of communicating directly to the mass audience of mostly uneducated people in that highly troubled time, to bring hope and courage in the face of possible death by German bombers or eventual subjugation by the Nazis, had they won the war. So, though a bit dated, Mere Christianity remains the best introduction to theology for a general readership with no academic background or interest in the subject. If you find the first few pages a little daunting, my advice is to stick with it and by page 10 you will have been so captivated that you'll be able to go on through it. Or don't begin at the beginning but skip to one of the most controversial topics, like Christian teaching on sex, and see if that doesn't make it easier to follow. Then go back and start at the beginning again.

And don't think this is worth doing only if you want to become a Christian or a better one...we live in a world where almost everything in our history and cultural trappings (even TV shows, movies and pop music, for example) is speaking to or at least arguing against Christian teachings. Do it, if not to become a better Christian, to better understand your own generation, your history, to understand just about anything you hear or watch, and probably better understand at least some of the people you know and love.

— Webmaster Jon Kennedy




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Today's chuckle

My young grandson called the other day to wish me Happy Birthday. He asked me how old I was, and I told him, 68. My grandson was quiet for a moment, and then he asked, "Did you start at 1?"

Thought for today

The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.

C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

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Jon Kennedy's latest book is The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis and Narnia, now in stores, from Adams Media, F&W Publications. From May 9, 2007 through July 2, 2008 his blog entries or "Jonals" were articles inspired by readings in Lewis's work that didn't fit into the book. Click here for a list of all articles in the C.S. Lewis Overflow series. The book is available for purchase in support of the Liberty Museum in Nanty Glo and is also available on Amazon.



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