Theology and Our Relationship With Jesus

C. S. Lewis wrote:

Everyone has warned me not to tell you what I am going to tell you… They all say “the ordinary reader does not want Theology; give him plain practical religion.” I have rejected their advice. I do not think the ordinary reader is such a fool. Theology means “the science of God,” and I think any man who wants to think about God at all would like to have the clearest and most accurate ideas about him which are available. You are not children: why should you be treated like children?

In a way I quite understand why some people are put off by Theology. I remember once when I had been giving a talk to the R.A.E, 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 in a sense I quite agreed with that man. I think he had probably a real experience of God in the desert. And 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 real waves to a bit of colored paper. But here comes the point. The map is admittedly only colored 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 isolated 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.

Now Theology is like the map. Merely learning and thinking about the Christian doctrines, if you stop there, is less real and less exciting than the sort of thing my friend got in the desert. Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But the map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God—experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you or I are likely to get on our own way are very elementary and very confused. And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must 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. In fact, that is just why a vague religion—all about feeling God in nature, and so on—is so attractive. It is all thrills and no work; like watching the waves from the beach. But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music. Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea. Nor will you be very safe if you go to sea without a map.

—From The Joyful Christian by C. S. Lewis

Shrove Tuesday

For the most part, I am satisfied to let Lewis speak for himself on why we need theology in our lives. I would only add that in a day and age when sound theology is coming under increasing attack, Lewis reminds us of its importance in helping to develop our relationship with Jesus. Theology and doctrine, when kept in their right place, can help serve as guides for us as we struggle to develop our relationship with Christ. Given our broken, finite, and fallen condition, who among us cannot use a little help in this area? Of course, theology and doctrine are not to be elevated to the status of God. They can, however, be used as guides; and guides, when properly used, can certainly be helpful—just like a good map can be helpful when we journey to a new place.

What about you? How have theology and doctrine helped (or hindered) you in your developing relationship with Jesus? Share your stories so that we may continue to learn from each other and grow in knowledge and grace together. As we enter into another season of Lent tomorrow, my prayer and hope are that we might discover or rediscover the “map” we need to grow in our relationship with Jesus.

A Prayer From William Barclay

O God, we thank you for all those in whose words and in whose writings your truth has come to us.

For the historians, the psalmists and the prophets, who wrote the Old Testament;

For those who wrote the Gospels and the Letters of the New Testament;

For all who in every generation have taught and explained and expounded and preached the word of Scripture:

We thank you, O God.

Grant, O God, that no false teaching may ever have any power to deceive us or to seduce us from the truth.

Grant, O God, that we may never listen to any teaching which would encourage us to think sin less serious, vice more attractive, or virtue less important;

Grant, O God, that we may never listen to any teaching which would dethrone Jesus Christ from the topmost place;

Grant, O God, that we may never listen to any teaching which for its own purposes perverts the truth.

O God, our Father, establish us immovably in the truth.

Give us minds which can see at once the difference between the true and the false;

Make us able to test everything, and to hold fast to that which is good;

Give us such a love of truth, that no false thing may ever be able to lure us from it.

So grant that all our lives we may know, and love, and live in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

—From Prayers for the Christian Year