The Field of Biblical Studies as Described by C.S. Lewis

I greatly enjoyed the bulk of my seminary Bible courses. I learned a great deal and was introduced to a variety of viewpoints I had never considered–that I didn’t know existed, in fact. Some of it, though, I found extremely unsatisfying and empty. I think Lewis captures it quite well as he communicates through Screwtape:

Only the learned read old books and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so…when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase in the writer’s development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood (specially by the learned man’s own colleagues) and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the ‘present state of the question’. To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge…would be rejected as unutterably simple-minded.

This method of historical criticism, says Screwtape, is how hell succeeded in creating a rather godless intellectual climate throughout Western Europe. I don’t think Lewis was talking explicitly about biblicists, but I imagine they were in view.

Lewis’ critique of modern scholarship and methodology is pointed, but not without point. We should heed the voice of this recently old writer. Why be suspicious of such methods?

Screwtape concludes: …it is important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another.

Some of you will liken Lewis’ position to that of evangelicals or other conservatives. And you’ll dismiss it as I would expect. But be not fooled; if in the crusade for truth all things become untrue, then bananas running through lily field drowning puppies.

Life is senseless and your pursuits fruitless. All is vanity.

 

P.S. I will always have an appreciation for scholarly biblical studies and Bible scholars. I have friends who live in that world, and I am wowed by the breadth of their knowledge. But knowledge alone is not a goal of mine. Wisdom, however, is. Thus, I will try to learn from the old guys and their mistakes as much as possible, that I might walk in truth.

 

 

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