Book Notes: Why Theology?
Lewis covers a lot of material in this week’s reading. I thought he gave a great explanation of why we should study theology. I don’t think Lewis meant studying theology as in a college course. I think he was meaning study at church, or like the discussions we have had here at Red State. There were two specific points I wanted to look at.
The first is in answer to an objection Lewis encountered at a talk he once gave. An RAF officer objected to studying theology. He called it “dogmas and formulas about Him.” The officer pointed out that he had his own experience with God and that was more real than any religion he had found. Instead of arguing with this officer, Lewis agreed with him. But, he pointed out that there is a difference between our own personal experiences with God, and theology:
…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.
Lewis gives us a very concise reason we should read books like his, why we should have discussions with other Christians, and why we should take Theology seriously. We each have our own religious experiences. Studying theology gives us a picture of many, many experiences with God through the ages. Just like we wouldn’t want to rediscover everything about math, we don’t have to rediscover everything man believes about God. And if we should decide to be hard headed and try to learn everything on our own, Lewis gives us a warning:
Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones — bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas. For a great many of the ideas about God which are trotted out as novelties today are simply the ones which real Theologians tried centuries ago and rejected.
When I first read this, I wondered if Lewis would label the “DaVinci Code” crowd as one of the ideas that were rejected. For that matter, the idea that man is destroying the planet isn’t a new idea. Today we label it global warming. In previous years it was called global cooling. In earlier generations it was earth centered druids. These people believed that mother earth ruled all, and man was harming mother earth. Today there are a great many ideas out there. How many of them were rejected by earlier, wiser generations? We will only know if we study what those earlier generations have to say.
For Next Week: Finish the book!
In Two Weeks: I want to start “Free to Choose” by Milton Friedman.