C.S. Lewis: on the importance of lay people studying theology

Posted: May 27, 2010 by limabean03 in Anglican Communion, Apologetics, Apologetics and Evangelism, Christian Theology, Christianity, Current Issues, Discipleship, The Christian Life, Uncategorized
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This topic is of particular interest to me as more and more of the people at Trinity begin to pick up serious works of theology and report back the tremendous blessing that their theological studies have brought them.  In the words of one person, “Studying theology helps me know God better and I find the better I know him the more I love him.”

Everyone has warned me not to tell you what I am going to tell you in this last book. They all say `the ordinary reader does not want Theology; give him plain practical religion’. I have rejected their advice. I do not think the ordinary reader is such a fool. Theology means ‘the science of God,’ and I think any man who wants to think about God at all would like to have the clearest and most accurate ideas about Him which are available. You are not children: why should you be treated like children?

In a way I quite understand why some people are put off by Theology. I remember once when I had been giving a talk to the R.A.F., an old, hard-bitten officer got up and said, `I’ve no use for all that stuff. But, mind you, I’m a religious man too. I know there’s a God. I’ve felt Him out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery. And that’s just why I don’t believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about Him. To anyone who’s met the real thing they all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal !’

Now in a sense I quite agreed with that man. I think he had probably had a real experience of God in the desert. And when he turned from that experience to the Christian creeds, I think he really was turning from something real to something less real. In the same way, if a man has once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he also will be turning from something real to something less real: turning from real waves to a bit of coloured paper. 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 walks 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.

Now, Theology is like the map. Merely learning and thinking about the Christian doctrines, if you stop there, is less real and less exciting than the sort of thing my friend got in the desert. Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God-experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused. And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map. You see, what happened to that man in the desert may have been real, and was certainly exciting, but nothing comes of it. It leads nowhere. There is nothing to do about it. In fact, that is just why a vague religion-all about feeling God in nature, and so on-is so attractive. It is all thrills and no work; like watching the waves from the beach. But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music. Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea. Nor will you be very safe if you go to sea without a map.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Macmillan 1977) pg 135-135

  1. Theology, specifically biblical theology, is a sight more real than the most intense experience of encounters of a religious kind that some have had. What the Book has to say of, about, and from God is the truth that God Himself gives, a better foundation than the mere experiences of people who can be and often are duped. A helpful instance in getting a handle on the issues involved in this particular situation can be found in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progess along with his Grace Abounding to The Chief of sinners and other writings. Lewis is helpful, but the scriptural dogmas are deeper and more empowering than many imagine; they are the intellectual presentations of the Omniscient Being who inspired them, and they reflect that sort of wisdom, a clarity of frightening depth and transforming potency.

  2. Noel Perez says:

    I still want to reconcile “Irresistable Grace” and “Double Predestination”, scripturally to “Whosoever will……………

    Any takers?

  3. Matt Cullum says:

    Awesome! I am re-reading Mere Christianity again right now, and it should be required reading for everyone, christian or not. Churches should hand it out.

  4. Why reconcile “irresistible grace” and “double predestination” with “whosoever will”? Both sides are presented in the scripture with no effort made to reconcile them. Will you be wiser than God and bring abou a resolution? It is to be doubted. In fact, would it not be better to hold both poles in a desired tension in your two-sided brain which was designed for such a thing. Two apparrently contradictory truths produce a tension, a desirable tension, which enables one to be balanced, flexible, creative, and magnetic or, in other words, mature. Lon ago a minister answered with wisdom beyond his ken that conflict oer the two was like a tempest in a teapot, that is, unless you sart attributing salvation to mn’s free will, depriving God of His due honor and glory. As to Reprobation, consider how a dog is a symbol of such, and yet a dog provides us with the lesson that the only kind of people God ultimate saves are reprobates (Mt.15:21-28). From which we might well conclude the pericope of that event in the life of our Lord was to teach us that we should with our free wills embrace the idea of reprobation as the utmost, intensely inviting truth. Like Mr. Spurgeon said, when pressed to say what he would do, if he could choose, “I would choose that He (God) should choose for me.” Few people seem to realize that the doctrines of Sovereign Grace probably had more to do with providing people with liberty than anyone ever dreamt. Paradoxes are powerfully intoxicating liberators; they empower the down trodden to stand upon lame feet, the dead horizontals to rise to upright verticals.

  5. doulos tou Theou says:


    For discussions like that I think it’s better to discuss in person.
    I don’t know if that could be reconciled over a comment section unless the Sovereign Lord Jesus does it Himself. 🙂

  6. Provide all things honest and open before all men. Jesus, as a colloquial saying goes, just let it all hang out. He put the paradoxes to people who were truly low on the charts of life. The woman in Mt.21-28 is a case in point, but there are many more. You will find them, if you look for them. Empowerment by paradoxes is something that takes the less than ordinary and transforms him or her into the extradordinary. Americans like underdogs, because that is what they originally were. Underdogs are the story of the Christian Faith; they are the poor in the spirit, the meek, the downtrodden, for them the Liberty Bell proclaims the freedom of realization throughout the land.

  7. doulos tou Theou says:


    As I read through the Bible I see the tension between God’s Sovereignty & the call for human responsibility. One place it is glaring is in the Gospel according to John. So, I would encourage you to read through John look at how God weaves everything for His plan and yet doesn’t let people off for their decisions or lack thereof.

  8. Who ever thought He did let us off the hook of responsibility. some of the most responsible people in the world were the old Puritans of New England. The Intellectual historians have marvelled at their tenacity, and it is from them (i.e., Jonathan Edwards’ Humble ttempt) that the Great Century of Missions springs.

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