A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones—bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas. For a great many of the ideas about God which are trotted out as novelties today are simply the ones which real Theologians tried centuries ago and rejected. To believe in the popular religion of modern England is retrogression—like believing the earth is flat (p. 155).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

There are very few new ideas; mainly just refurbished forgotten ideas. Theology seems to have more in common with fashion that one would think. Just like the bad fashion of the 1980’s are back (with vengeance and vibrancy), so are many equally bad theological ideas that have been discredited in generations past.

As I write this I am amused to ponder what current high school students would think if they flipped through my high school year book. Would they think we were cool before our time? Would those embarrassing pictures be considered “vintage”? Would they completely miss the resemblance out of the blinded belief that their fashion is cutting edge?

The same could be said about many popular “new” ideas in church life. What would they think if they flipped through a history of theology book? Would they side with those declared heretics and claim the church has been wrong for 2000 years? Would they try to say that their rendition of the old false doctrine is nuanced better? Would they even see the resemblance?

This quickly becomes more than humor. My “new” ideas are subject to the same assessment. Do I let myself “off the hook” because I consider myself “in the fold”? Heretics are not bad people.

Most often they are passionate people who view real problems within the church or culture and speak from where they know they’re right without considering where they might be wrong.

I can relate to that sense of passion when I see something “wrong,” can’t you?

That moment when I’m seeing what most/most of those around me are “missing” is when I think I have something “new” to add to the conversation. If what I say helps, then I will quickly gain an audience and a growing confidence in my “new” thought.

So what is the danger? The danger is that my question and answer were framed by the current broken situation.  This means that many relevant questions have been overlooked. Those I am responding to as “wrong” responded the same way to a “wrong” they were passionate about. When this is the pattern the whole counsel of God does not get to frame problems as much as the current efforts of people. We quickly wind up like theological dogs chasing our tails.

This is not just true of theology. Another place I have seen it frequently is in abuse victims. Their abusive environments are “wrong.” They develop ways of thinking and patterns of life in reaction to the wrongness of their abusive environment. When this happens the wrongness of the situation that framed their thinking about “right” still implants many misguided thoughts about life, relationships, and emotions.

So what is the abuse victim to do? They are to be affirmed for being able to see what is really “wrong.” They are to be affirmed for taking actions to change. But then they should be encouraged to begin to ask “What is healthy?” outside the context of the abusive environment and with safe people.

What does this have to do with theology and heresy? We should be able to declare certain beliefs wrong. We should take actions to address bad doctrine and practice. But we should always be asking, “How does truth (the whole counsel of God’s Word) frame this discussion?” We should ask this question humbly with other honest seekers of truth (Christian community). This is the only way we’ll slow down our repetition of bad theological history.