Monday, November 21, 2016

"Mere Theology" by Will Vaus: A Review

Although Lewis was not a professional theologian, he did consider himself, and every Christian, to be an amateur theologian. (15)

There is no one I enjoy reading more than Clive Staples Lewis - the 20th century Christian apologists. One of the books that has been on my list to read for some time has been Will Vaus work Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of CS Lewis.

From the beginning, as the author is quick to point out, an exploration of Lewis's theology is fraught with problems. Lewis was no theologian and as his most widely read non-fictional work, Mere Christianity, suggests, Lewis was more interested in exploring and discussing theology that was held among all Christians. Nevertheless, to suggest that Lewis was not a theologian does not mean that he was incompetent at theology. Lewis clearly had a strong understanding of theology, church history, and his church's tradition. Furthermore, Lewis continued to address theological topics from creation (think of the Magician's Nephew) to the atonement (think of Aslan on the stone table) to prayer (think of Letters to Malcomb) to love (think of The Four Loves) to the Trinity (explored in Mere Christianity in some detail) and a host of other key doctrinal issues.

Lewis may not have been a professional theologian but certainly he had a developed theology. Vaus, if he accomplishes anything, it is proving this one point.

One thing is clear in this volume; the author has done his homework. His primary goal seems to be to explore the various loci and topics of theology by exploring the multiple times Lewis addresses them in his writings. Often Vaus divides each chapter by the sources where Lewis addresses the topic. As such, the book often reads as a resource for future Lewis scholars more than just an exploration of Lewis's thought. Nonetheless, Vaus offers an invaluable tool for Lewis fans.

There are two conclusions I have drawn from the book worth exploring here. First, I am in greater disagreement with Lewis than I thought I was prior to reading Vaus. I have always known that Lewis was off on a number of important theological issues like inclusivism and the atonement. But Vaus shows that Lewis held other unfortunate conclusions that I was not aware of. One surprising example regards purgatory. Though Lewis did not hold to a Catholic view of purgatory - where one is "purged" of sin thus granting justification - he held to a more Protestant view of it. Vaus describes Lewis's view as:
Lewis believes that the right view returns magnificently in Newman's Dream, where the saved soul upon entering Heaven begs to be taken away and cleansed before approaching the throne. Lewis believes that in this sense our souls demand Purgatory. he assumes that purification in Purgatory will involve suffering. He bases this partly on tradition and partly on life experience. Most of the good he has experienced in life, he insists, has come from suffering. But the suffering of Purgatory will have nothing to do with earning merit before God. Purification will be the only purpose of any suffering we will have to endure. (207)
There are other examples of Lewis's weak theology and this book highlighted them. Thus I return to what I say often of Lewis: when Lewis is right, he says it better than anyone, but unfortunately, he wasn't always right..

Secondly, Vaus addresses the question of the Trinity in Narnia. This may sound like a mute point, but I had previously argued that it is a major weakness of the great Chronicles. Vaus writes:
In The Chronicles of Narnia we see Aslan (the Christ figure), and we hear of the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea (God the Father), of whom Aslan is the son. Finally, there is the breath of Aslan, which brings back to life again the creatures turned to stone by the White Witch, similar to Jesus breathing on the disciples and saying, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (Jn 20:22). (46-47)
So, apparently, there is three persons of the Godhead of Narnia. The problem, however, is that this theme is not prominent. Aslan is a common theme in each narrative, yet the other two Persons remain distant and rarely mentioned.

Vaus is aware that the Trinity is a weakness of Narnia. He reasons it is because the Trinity cannot be portrayed (I'm looking at you The Shack) and there is an element of truth to it. Nevertheless, Narnia still lacks a developed Trinity.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it especially to those familiar with Lewis's writings. Vaus often assumes the reader is familiar with Lewis's biography and writings. No doubt Vaus has offered an invaluable tool for future Lewis scholars and fans alike.
Post a Comment