Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Visiting with C.S. Lewis

A couple of years ago, I was introduced to a whole new avenue of Christian thought--one I had not been exposed to in college or seminary or by any recommendation from any bishop or pastor I had met.  It was a congregation member who gave me a book entitled A Place for Truth: Leading Thinkers Explore Life's Hardest Questions.  Reading the book was like a dehydrated soul drinking from the deepest, coolest well. 

Authors like Timothy Keller, Mary Poplin, Oz Guiness, Richard John Neuhaus, Francis Collins, and N.T. Wright helped me tremendously with many issues I had wrestled with since getting both my B.A. in Theology and my Master of Divinity.  I've talked about some of those things in earlier postings.  While reading these authors, one name kept surfacing time and again: C.S. Lewis.  Most had great respect for him and his writings.

This caused some "profound brain things" to happen (apologies to the movie Madagascar).  Of course, I had heard the name.  I had read a few of his writings, namely The Chronicles of Narnia.  But I had never read his more serious works--works being cited time and again by the above named Christian thinkers.  I began wondering just why I had never been assigned any reading of his work by my professors.  I began wondering why this apologist (i.e. a defender of the Christian faith) of last century was glossed over by my education.  Curiosity got the better of me as did a desire to read what many had cited so often.  I purchased Mere Christianity for my Kindle.

Before long, I figured it out.  Lewis's world view and understandings of Christianity clashed greatly with many of my professor's own world views and understandings of Christianity.

For instance, Lewis understood Christianity to have the ultimate claim on Truth among all world religions.  This doesn't mean he didn't respect their viewpoints, but he held tenaciously to the idea Christianity had it right.  He'd argue some religions came closer to the truth than others and should be respected for that, but he argued--rather successfully I would say--that Christianity was the top dog.  Most of my professors would turn up their noses at such an idea.  Most of my professors were universalists who argued Christianity was but one path to the top of the same mountain--an argument easily debunked by most serious theologians.

Secondly, Lewis does not buy into the concept of relativity--there are many truths and no absolute Truth.  Lewis argues that Truth does exist and it is folly to suggest otherwise.  Many of my professors adhered to some form of relativism.

Thirdly, Lewis's commentary on morals would drive most of my professors absolutely nuts!  That's all I'll say on that one.

Now, I respect the fact that many of my profs didn't agree with Lewis.  I respect the fact they taught something very different, but I am a little disturbed at this point.  For I believe the goal of education is to open a person's mind up to the various arguments people put forth regarding whatever subject matter a person is studying.  I believe the goal of education is to give people the chance to study across the spectrum of thought and then allow them to solidify their own understandings of the subject matter--even if it disagrees with your own.  I am wondering why my professors never gave me the chance to do so?  Is it because they didn't like the challenge of Lewis and others?  Is it because they had difficulty overcoming their arguments?  Is it because they wanted their students to adhere to their own worldviews and so did not thoroughly subject us to any others?

I wish I knew the answers to these questions because I believe I found something in Lewis, in Wright, in Poplin, in Guiness, in Keller and in others.  I believe I have found the ability to address many of the critiques offered by others in the culture directed toward Christianity.

Too often I have discovered that most Christians are ineffective at engaging the questions thrown at them by the surrounding cultural milieu:

How can Christianity be so exclusive?
Christianity is just a bunch of rules and regulations.
Science has disproved Christianity.
One must leave one's faith at the door when engaging in public discourse because reason is a better judge of things. 

Lewis and others give a Christian the tools to address these thoughts without having to slip down the path of relativity and cultural acceptance or the path of ultra-conservatism--the argument of "the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.  Neither has ever been acceptable in my book because they both fall short.  Relativity makes faith lose power.  Ultra-conservatism gives no credence to the questions asked by culture.

The orthodox positions of Lewis and others gives Christians the tools to be engaging while being true to our faith.  I wish I had read his thoughts many years ago.

Of course, I am thankful I have gotten the chance to do some visiting with C.S. Lewis at this point in my life and ministry.  I think I will do some further visiting with a few more of his books.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Well, this is interesting. Of course, I wish you well in your journey. It is the pride and glory of my life that I had the great honor of being expelled from a liberal Theology Master's program by two liberal profs and a Department Head. I shout: Question authority!

Check out Luther's "On the Bondage of the Will." This has something to do with that "blue pure perfect" diamond thing. Remember? Jesus said: "Be ye perfect." We need to "preach the Bible." If "Christ rides us like a man riding a donkey" (Luther), and our will is in bondage, how can we become that clear blue diamond? We will end up a flawed diamond in a second-rate jewelry shop.

It is so simple: The Truth is written on the Heart.