Thursday, November 10, 2011

Encouragement from C. S. Lewis for Christian Scholars

    In the Article "Learning in War-Time", found in the book Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces, Lewis encourages young scholars concerning their education and research. I would like to use this article as an opportunity to encourage myself, and all those who might read this blog, in two ways. The first is for everybody, regardless of their domain of expertise (though for Lewis it was specific to scholars), and the second is primarily for Christian Theologians, Philosophers and Apologists.

    The first encouragement is to "get going and don't stop". C. S. Lewis, near the beginning of World War 2 (December 1939), presented this article, in which he argues that those who are "called" to be scholars should not take war as an excuse to stop, or postpone, their education. He claims, that if we are looking for the perfect time to start or continue our education, it will never come. "Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. (p. 580)"  Now is the time to glorify God through your talents and gifts, don't wait for the "opportune" time, because it will never come. He explains that there are three enemies which raise up against scholars (in the context it is war that raises them up, but I think that they are constant enemies). They are as follows: excitement, frustration and fear (p. 585). In discussing the first, excitement, he says, "We are always falling in love or quarrelling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.(p. 585)" I think that we need to stop worrying about what tomorrow may bring (as a man who changed the face of the world once said), and get to work. The best time to start seeking after knowledge and beauty, after excellence in your domain of expertise, is now, regardless of what's going on in the world.

    Secondly, I want to encourage those who are, or who desire to be, Christian Apologists, Theologians or Philosophers, to seek excellence in these domains. First of all, your task is a divinely appointed one. The New Testament says that God gave to the church, and continues to give, doctors or teachers (Eph. 4:11). God created humans with a desire to know and a desire for beauty. C. S. Lewis says this "I mean the pursuit of knowledge and beauty, in a sense, for their own sake, but in a sense which does not exclude their being for God's sake. An appetite for these things exists in the human mind, and God makes not appetite in vain. We can therefore pursue knowledge as such, and beauty, as such, in the sure confidence that by so doing we are either advancing to the vision of God ourselves or indirectly helping others to do so. (p. 583)" As Christian scholars, your primary task is to pursue knowledge or beauty itself, for the Glory of God. Which means that you need to pursue excellence in knowledge and beauty. (Eph. 6:5-9, Col. 3:23-24) Secondly, your task, that of apologist, theologian or philosopher, is necessary for the church. Lewis says this, "To be ignorant and simple now - not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground - would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. (p. 584)" Not everyone is supposed to be a Christian teacher or doctor (apologist, theologian, or philosopher), but those who have this gift need to seek excellence, for the glory of God, for the sake of knowledge, and for the sake of those in the church who do not have the time, interest or capacity (which ever it is) to do so. It is the church that recognizes who has the gift to be a teacher or doctor, once it has been recognized in you, don't be discouraged, don't give up. Discouragements and distractions will come, but you need to rely on the God who gave you that gift, as He also gives you the strength to pass through discouragement, and to avoid the distractions. Discouragements and distractions will come from within the church and from without, but you need to find you strength in God to get past these barricades.

    Finally, I would also like to encourage those who are Christians, but who are not doctors or teachers (apologists, theologians, or philosophers), nor have any such desire. The church needs excellent Christian apologists, theologians and philosophers, however it is not easy to be a Christian in these domains. The Apologist, Theologian and Philosopher are constantly engaging people who disagree with them on every, or almost every, point - enemies of the faith. They are studying, learning, seeking knowledge and beauty, in order to defend the perennial Christian Faith. It is not easy to be constantly confronted and attacked by men and women who disagree strongly with Christianity (and who often bring arguments that are highly intelligent and seem, at first glance, to be coherent). The apologists, theologians and philosophers that are in our churches need the support of the churches, they need to know that their fellow Christians love and support them in their research, study and teaching. They need a place where they will find security, because their job is necessary for the church, and they are under constant attack from without. They not only need your moral support, and prayers, they need to know that you are willing to support them financially as well. The Church needs to support, in every way possible, their apologists, theologians and philosophers.