A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“Everyone has warned me not to tell you what I am going to tell you in this last book. 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… You are not children: why should you be treated like children (p. 153)?” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
People don’t want practical platitudes any more than they want dry theology. This is why I believe Lewis was safe to cast aside the cautions of his contemporaries.
It strikes me that Lewis’ advisers might also be the type to say, “Don’t teach history. History is boring.” While many early experiences with history teachers may be boring (primarily because many are coaches who are more concerned with athletics than academics), that is not a reflection of the subject.
Just as history well taught can be very stimulating, theology well taught is (in my opinion) the pinnacle of subjects. The question becomes, why has theology gotten a bad name as a boring subject? We cannot blame football coaches for this.
I believe the answer is that those who are well versed at discussing eternal, timeless realities are not always the most engaged in a temporal, daily existence. Teaching is always a journey and the theologian can have a tendency to be so enthralled with the destination (the answer) that he forgets to take his listener with him (making the questions relatable).
This was never a problem for Lewis. Rarely can you read his books without feeling like he is reading your mind (at least that is my experience). He is starting where I am – question by question, point by point, illustration by illustration—and leading me to the great truths of theology.
So our first take away is this, subjects are not boring; teachers are boring. Just as pencils don’t have bad handwriting; people have bad handwriting.
Our second take away is that we (teachers of theology) must be as creative in framing our question as we are articulate in answering them. We must realize that our listener is a pilgrim taking a journey, not a banker collecting information.
Therefore, a primary objective of teachers is to learn where their students are starting from. No journey began at an ambiguous point.
This is my experience as a counselor-teacher; what I have to say it not profound. I want the arguing couple to be nice. I want the addict to stop lying and stop using. I want the anxious person to trust God. I want the sinfully angry person to stop judging. Nobody says “Wow!” to those points, even when we say they can only be achieved by the grace of God.
But when I have done an excellent job of entering their experience and put their world into words, when they feel like I really “get them,” then simple answers point them towards their hope in Christ and radically transform their lives.
That is what Lewis has done for me in so many of his writings (theology, apologetics, fiction, journals). As we learn from his writing, I think there is as much to be learned from his style as there is his content. Lewis was able to reach an audience that spanned from the Oxford elite to the bloke at the bar. If we want to reach the same audience, then we need to follow his example.