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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!

Comments

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
WILL VAUS said…
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.
WILL VAUS said…
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.
WILL VAUS said…
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.
WILL VAUS said…
Welcome to the discussion Adam! And thank you for your well worded, insightful comments.

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