Skip to main content

Mere Theology--Introduction

Here we go! This is the beginning of our discussion of Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C. S. Lewis. The plan is for each of us to read one chapter of Mere Theology every week and then discuss it. Each week or so I will offer a few questions to get us started on each new chapter, starting this week with the Introduction to the book. We may go slower than a chapter a week if a lot of discussion is generated. So here are the questions for the first week:
  1. How were you introduced to the work of C. S. Lewis? What Lewis books have you read?
  2. Why do you think Lewis denied being a real theologian?
  3. What do you think of Lewis's definition of theology as "the science of God"? Do you think theology is more like science or more like art? In what ways does Lewis approach theology like a science? In what ways does he treat theology as an art?
  4. Do you agree with Lewis that theology is like a map? If so, is it a helpful map? Why or why not?
  5. Do you agree with Lewis that the goal of theology should be practical?
You can respond to any one or all of these questions by submitting a comment. Anyone is welcome to chime in!


Anonymous said…
Ray Schneider
1. How were you introduced to the work of C. S. Lewis? What Lewis books have you read?
My mom was concerned about my science fiction reading and gave me "Out of the Silent Planet" -- but I read it and gave it back to her saying it wasn't what I thought science fiction was. She persisted. I've read almost everything Jack ever wrote. Very few exceptions -- not all the letters yet, and not some of the specifically literary scholarship.
2. Why do you think Lewis denied being a real theologian?
The simplest answer is because he wasn't -- he was an amateur having never studied theology formally. I think that a fair assessment too. Of course because he had not been infected by the orthodoxy of theology he was also pretty original.
3. What do you think of Lewis's definition of theology as "the science of God"? Do you think theology is more like science or more like art? In what ways does Lewis approach theology like a science? In what ways does he treat theology as an art?
Theology means knowledge of God which is a much closer to "science" i.e. sciens = knowledge, than art every is. Indeed, I don't think theology is an art at all except perhaps in the sense that it can be practiced well (artfully) or poorly.

4. Do you agree with Lewis that theology is like a map? If so, is it a helpful map? Why or why not?
I don't know where Lewis says that theology is like a map, but all knowledge is like a map so Theology would also be like a map. The knowledge is not the thing known but like a map it informs us of aspect, important aspects, of the thing known. But we can never perfectly know anything.

5. Do you agree with Lewis that the goal of theology should be practical? It is hard to know how knowledge of God could be other than practical. That is in view of what God is -- to know Him truly is to do all the rest. Of course that is presumably a kind of perfect knowledge. Knowing God should lead us to worship and obedience which is practical.

Since my surgery is on September 6th Will -- I may not be too active for a week or two after the surgery.

Cheers, Ray
Lewis says theology is like a map at the beginning of "Beyond Personality".

Just so you know, most of the questions will tie in directly to something in "Mere Theology". And when you are looking for the reference to something Lewis said you can usually find it in the endnotes.

Glad to have you aboard, Ray. I look forward to the comments of our other participants.
Hannah said…
Lewis writes that theology is like a map on pages 154 and 155 of "Mere Christianity".
I find it very helpful. Without this map we come to the wrong conclusions about God and what is truth. Paul in Romans 3 anticipates their questions and reasons with them from scripture. Since Paul showed them that map we certainly need it amidst all the false assumptions today, because there is nothing new under the sun.
Thanks Hannah, for bringing Scripture into the equation. Lewis doesn't mention Scripture, but he does talk about theology being the accumulated knowledge of many Christians who have written about God over the past 2000 years. Certainly the starting point for map-making is the Scripture itself.
Browning said…
My first CSL book was "The Screwtape Letters" for a book report in high school. My English teacher was impressed that I had chosen it and suggested that I read more of CSL.
I think Lewis denied being a real theologian because of his characteristic modest and humble nature.
Browning said…
Re "the science of God" - when I think of science I think of the "scientific method". My impression is that Lewis was very methodical in his writing. (Others might call it "closely reasoned, or hair-splitting")
Because of his methodical nature, I believe that Lewis approaches theology as a science.
Welcome to the discussion Browning!
Your name always reminds me of the line from Browning's poem--
Grow old along with me,
The best is yet to be!

Hopefully this discussion of Mere Theology does not grow old. And I sincerely hope that the best is yet to be!

Regarding theology as art or science: Lewis would certainly have remembered that when Oxford and the other great universities were founded in the Middle Ages, theology was considered the Queen of the sciences. But I doubt Lewis would have been completely comfortable with seeing it as a science. As he notes elsewhere, the imaginative man in him is older than the reasoning man. I think Lewis saw a place for imagination in theology as well as reason, thus art as well as science. Perhaps his most profound theology comes through Narnia, which is also art.

I first started thinking this way about Lewis's theology when one of the original readers of Mere Theology, a man who had a Phd in theology and who read the book in manuscript, said: "I strongly suspect one could also add that in addition to accurate ideas, Lewis would like to evoke correct emotional responses or attunement to reality in his readers as well. In this sense, his theology is an art! He admits to wanting to weave a spell, to break the enchantment of worldliness and of unbelief (Cf. The Weight of Glory essay or Puddleglum's foot in the fire to defy the Green lady)."

Just a thought.

I look forward to our continuing discussion as we enter chapter 1 next week!
Adam Gonnerman said…
For some reason that I can't remember I got a copy of The Screwtape Letters while I was in high school, just after I had left the Roman Catholic Church and "turned Protestant." It deeply impressed me, and later I read Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. I couldn't find a copy of That Hideous Strength at the time, and only recently read that book. His Mere Christianity sat on by bookshelf for a decade before, in the midst of a serious faith crisis, I picked it up. The main reason I am still a Christian today is because I read that book.

C.S. Lewis was honest. He had no formal training in theology or theological methodology. This is why formal theologians often criticize his work. His methods were definitely those of a lay person...although still a genius in any case.

It's a science and was always considered one before the modern age, in the sense that "science" refers to a field of knowledge and study. It is not, however, science in the laboratory sense.

Certainly the special revelation given by God serves as a map, as Lewis explained. The other light God has provided is wonderful, but only the map will show us the way home (or rather, point us to the One who is the true Word of God who can take us home).

Of course theology has to be practical. Everything given by God as knowledge of him serves some purpose in the path of discipleship. It could hardly be otherwise.
Welcome to the discussion Adam! And thank you for your well worded, insightful comments.

Popular posts from this blog

C. S. Lewis on Homosexuality

Arthur Greeves
In light of recent developments in the United States on the issue of gay marriage, I thought it would be interesting to revisit what C. S. Lewis thought about homosexuality. Lewis, who died in 1963, never wrote about same-sex marriage, but he did write, occasionally, about the topic of homosexuality in general. In the following I am quoting from my book, Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C. S. Lewis. For detailed references and footnotes, you may obtain a copy from Amazon, your local library, or by clicking on the book cover at the right....
In Surprised by Joy, Lewis claimed that homosexuality was a vice to which he was never tempted and that he found opaque to the imagination. For this reason he refused to say anything too strongly against the pederasty that he encountered at Malvern College, where he attended school from the age of fifteen to sixteen. Lewis did not rate pederasty as the greatest evil of the school because he felt the cruelty displayed at Malver…

A Prayer at Ground Zero

Christmas Day Thought from Henri Nouwen

"I keep thinking about the Christmas scene that Anthony arranged under the altar. This probably is the most meaningful "crib" I have ever seen. Three small woodcarved figures made in India: a poor woman, a poor man, and a small child between them. The carving is simple, nearly primitive. No eyes, no ears, no mouths, just the contours of the faces. The figures are smaller than a human hand - nearly too small to attract attention at all.
"But then - a beam of light shines on the three figures and projects large shadows on the wall of the sanctuary. That says it all. The light thrown on the smallness of Mary, Joseph, and the Child projects them as large, hopeful shadows against the walls of our life and our world.
"While looking at the intimate scene we already see the first outlines of the majesty and glory they represent. While witnessing the most human of human events, I see the majesty of God appearing on the horizon of my existence. While being moved by the ge…

Sheldon Vanauken Remembered

A good crowd gathered at the White Hart Cafe in Lynchburg, Virginia on Saturday, February 7 for a powerpoint presentation I gave on the life and work of Sheldon Vanauken. Van, as he was known to family and friends, was best known as the author of A Severe Mercy, the autobiography of his love relationship with his wife Jean "Davy" Palmer Davis.

While living in Oxford, England in the early 1950's, Van and Davy came to faith in Christ through the influence of C. S. Lewis. Van was a professor of history and English literature at Lynchburg College from 1948 until his retirement around 1980. A Severe Mercy tells the story of Davy's death from a mysterious liver ailment in 1955 and Van's subsequent dealing with grief. Van himself died from cancer in 1996.

It was my privilege to know Van for a brief period of time during the last year of his life. However, present at the White Hart on February 7 were some who knew Van far better than I did--Floyd Newman, one of Van's…

Fact, Faith, Feeling

"Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods 'where to get off', you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith." Mere Christianity

Many years ago, when I was a young Christian, I remember seeing the graphic illustration above of what C. S. Lewis has, here, so eloquen…

C. S. Lewis Tour--London

The final two days of our C. S. Lewis Tour of Ireland & England were spent in London. Upon our arrival we enjoyed a panoramic tour of the city that included Westminster Abbey. A number of our tour participants chose to tour the inside of the Abbey where they were able to view the new C. S. Lewis plaque in Poets' Corner.

Though London was not one of Lewis' favorite places to visit, there are a number of locations associated with him. One which I have noted in my new book, In the Footsteps of C. S. Lewis, is Endsleigh Palace Hospital (25 Gordon Street, London) where Lewis recovered from his wounds received during the First World War....

Not too far away from this location is King's College, part of the University of London, located on the Strand, just off the River Thames. This is the location where Lewis gave the annual commemoration oration entitled The Inner Ring on 14 December 1944....

C. S. Lewis occasionally attended theatrical events in London. One of his favorites w…

C. S. Lewis on Church Attendance

A friend's blog written yesterday ( got me thinking about C. S. Lewis's experience of the church. I wrote this in a comment on Wes Robert's blog:
It is interesting to note that C. S. Lewis attended the same small church for over thirty years. The experience was nothing spectacular on a weekly basis. For most of those years Lewis didn't care much for the sermons; he even sat behind a pillar so that the priest would not see the expression on his face. He attended the service without music because he so disliked hymns. And he left right after holy communion was served probably because he didn't like to engage in small talk with other parishioners after the service. But that life-long obedience in the same direction shaped Lewis in a way that nothing else could.
Lewis was once asked, "Is attendance at a place of worship or membership with a Christian community necessary to a Christian way of life?"
His answer was as follows: &q…

C. S. Lewis's Parish Church

The first time I visited Oxford, in 1982, the porter at Magdalen College didn't even recognize the name--C. S. Lewis. I had asked him if he could give me directions to Lewis's former home in Headington Quarry. Obviously, he could not and did not. (Directions to Lewis's former home are now much easier to obtain. Just click here for directions and to arrange a tour: The Kilns.)
Things have changed a lot since 1982. Now Lewis is remembered all around Oxford. At the pub where the Inklings met, at Magdalen College, and not least--at his parish church--Holy Trinity Headington Quarry. The first time I visited the church I only saw the outside and Lewis's grave, shared with his brother Warnie.
Since that first visit I have returned to Holy Trinity a number of times and worshiped there. Father Tom Honey is a real gem. Under his leadership the congregation has grown and now includes a number of young families. I was overwhelmed by the number of children who came into the sanctuary…

A Christmas Psalm

Psalm 110
The Lord says to my Lord:
"Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet."

The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion;
you will rule in the midst of your enemies.
Your troops will be willing on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy majesty,
from the womb of the dawn
you will receive the dew of your youth.

The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind:
"You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek."

The Lord is at your right hand;
he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.
He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead
and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.
He will drink from a brook beside the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.

C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms,
Chapter XII, paragraphs 4 & 5:

"We find in our Prayer Books that Psalm 110 is one of those appointed for Christmas Day. We may at first be surprised by this. There is nothing in it about peace and good-will, nothing remotely sugg…