Lewis on modern academic theology pt.1

"Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism" was the name of a paper written and presented by C.S. Lewis for a gathering of Anglican seminarians at Wescott House, Cambridge in May 1959. I read this paper recently and believe that many of his points are still quite relevant to the renewal of (mainline) theological education. Lewis confesses that he no doubt has many mis-understandings because he is an outsider to the theological academy (the academic study of the New Testament in particular), but even this may make his comments all the more helpful for these students of theology:

"Though I may have nothing but misunderstandings to lay before you, you ought to know that such misunderstandings exist. That sort of thing is easy to overlook inside one's own circle. The minds you daily meet have been conditioned by the same studies and prevalent opinions as your own. That may mislead you. For of course as priests it is the outsiders you will have to cope with. You exist in the long run for no other purpose. The proper study of shepherds is sheep, not (save accidentally) other shepherds. I am a sheep...And now I start my bleating."

We see here one good argument in favor of having a genuinely diverse theological faculty or curriculum, at least when it comes to "radical new understandings/methods": so that we do not have a complete assimilation of the student into some "academic worldview" that turns out to be a passing fad (remember Process Theology?) or totally useless to the actual work of pastoring (remember Process Theology?). There has at times been a very real divide between the intellectual (and spiritual) priorities of the seminary on the one hand and the actual needs of the local parish (and indeed, the soul of the Christian) on the other. It is critically important that the seminary remember, through and through, that it exists for the church, to provide intellectually, morally, and spiritually qualified spiritual shepherds. For that work we should always look to the time tested methods and theologies that have endured the centuries, while fads came and went.

This same issue of "theological parochialism" also plays out in a broader way in the church: we may at times forget how vast the Church of Jesus Christ actually is. This is why I tell my Methodist friends they really ought to go spend enough time with Charismatics or traditionalist Roman Catholics to begin to understand how they think and believe. By the very nature of denominationalism, we often end up working primarily with people who have had a very similar faith experience to our own, and this can cause us to neglect or even despise the insights we might gain from listening to other brothers and sisters in Christ.

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Blogger rob said...

I couldn't agree more. And I'd go so far as to suggest that the people to rub elbows with are those who know a bit about their denominations... for example, people who "converted" to that denomination from another.

For example, it won't do much good to hang out with the typical Baptist parishoner: odds are he doesn't know what Baptists believe or how they got there.

Maybe that's part of the problem too.

1:58 PM, October 03, 2011  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Rob, you bring up a good point. The folks that I know (including myself) who are most familiar with (and enthusiastic about) their own tradition/denomination tend to be those who quite deliberately chose to be a part of it (often having been raised elsewhere or otherwise having explored other ecclesial options at some point before coming full circle).

Just looking at my own pastoral work, it seems that one of the great needs we Methodists have is to understand the unique doctrinal history and spiritual practices that characterize Methodism (hopefully appreciating our own gifts without lapsing into a "we are superior" sort of attitude).

2:45 PM, October 03, 2011  

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