Saturday, December 26, 2009

Of Maps and Theology....

In Mere Christianity CS Lewis tells the following story....

In a way I quite understand why some people are put off by Theology. I remember once when I had been giving a talk . . . 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, I agree with this guy. CS Lewis does too...sort of...but not exactly... because he then goes on to explain the benefits of theology (aka dogmas and formulas) In fact, he stresses that a grasp of theology is just about an absolute necessity for the average person to progress spiritually.

The guy in the desert got a glimpse of the real God. To turn away and study theology, CS Lewis explains, is to focus on something "less real." Less real is somehow good? He goes on to compare it to standing on the beach looking at the Atlantic Ocean. When you turn away from the real ocean to study a map of the ocean you are turning to something less real but somehow more beneficial. How so, you (may) ask?

Well...the map is made up of the experiences of many, many people who have experienced the Atlantic Ocean over a long period of time...looking at it, sailing on it, flying over it, swimming in it. The map is the sum of their experiences all put together. And besides, if you actually want to get somewhere...well, you need a map.


So he reasons that while direct experience with the real God is exciting, it isn't really going to get you as far as incorporating the compilation of a whole bunch of experiences with God into a set of doctrines. Would that be "the more the merrier" school of theology?

Lewis says:

...if you want to get any further, you have to 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.


There is a lot here that I disagree with. First of all, I don't think a direct experience with God "leads nowhere." When we base our beliefs on the theology of others, what do we use as the benchmark when we come upon opposing views? I read somewhere that there are roughly 38,000 Christian denominations. Do you think that's because they agree on theology? If they do, then why are there so many of them?

Lewis believes in free will. But what about Calvinists who believe in God's predetermination of any and all events? And what about the different views of the atonement? Of communion? Of Baptism. I see a lot of issues that can come up if we base our beliefs on theology. The biggest issue being WHOSE theology do we go with?

I've heard Keith say....

A man with an argument is no match for a man with experience

And I can speak from my own experience of coming to the Lord. At the time, I knew enough about theology to be very confused by it. I was exposed to theologies that disagreed about key points like those mentioned above. What finally clarified my understanding? More theology? Not at all.

God was gracious enough to tap me on the shoulder during a crisis and shout out the proclamation of his existence in a silent whisper. No one else in the room heard it but me. In the still small voice scripture talks about he simply said, "See, I really am here." When you hear the voice of God, theology goes out the window. When you know that it was Him who spoke his truths to your heart, theology is second rate revelation.

1 comment:

Sue said...

I love and adore CS Lewis but he was certainly a product of his time, that's for sure. Like all of us, I guess.

I value the maps because they confirm my own experience. But actually, it's not maps I want so much as I want other people's stories of their experience.

See, I'm a product of my environment just as much as he is of his, haha.

PS: I've moved my blog: