Meditations with C. S. Lewis: The Right Defense through Education

C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity.  Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press.  On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.

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The right defense against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments.
–The Abolition of Man

Here, Lewis is pointing out the only effective defense against the falsehoods of the world:  teaching the Truth.  This would seem to be so obvious that one would ask, “Where is the profundity in that?”  Unfortunately, if it were that obvious, we would be doing it more often.  Actually reaching that goal, thinking it through to the present and future, really will require a revolution in a modern western church that has abdicated it’s responsibility to teach more than a Sunday morning sermon.  We must “inculcate just sentiments” not just on spiritual issues, as we have for many years now, but on all levels of science and knowledge.  What’s more, the church must take this responsibility onto itself. We cannot rely on others to do it for us.

There was a time in the historical West when the most widely read and educated people resided in the Christian church.  Christians set the standards for research in history, science, and philosophy.  Christians created and discovered knowledge, they didn’t just borrow it and warm it over with their perspective.  Also, for a very long time, first in Europe but also later in the United States, Christian Truth and the Gospel were both at least acknowledged as right even by those who refused to follow them.  People did not object to their inclusion in broader education or government.  While that that was the case, Christians could “safely” delegate large portions of what was rightly the church’s authority to outside entities, like the government schools, and the government would in turn trust the churches to handle important cultural work, like charity.  That system, one could argue, was never very healthy in the best of times, and it led directly to the mess we are in now.

In more recent years, churches have distinguished themselves primarily for how disconnected from the wider culture they can be, especially after the Scopes debacle in the years of the fundamentalist movement.  When they do connect with the world, it is usually in less than positive ways–to copy a music style that secular culture pioneered and Christians only produce in pale imitation or to scream at the government that we are not afforded the special rights of a bygone era.  It is rare to find a truly well-educated, well-rounded pastor who really understands issues of philosophy, science, and technology or who makes any effort to find out about them.  Most sermons and attempts at church education fail miserably from an intellectual perspective, focusing exclusively on relationship building, the all consuming need to be “nice” people, or giving a shallow rehashing of Biblical stories that we’ve heard since childhood.

This has to do with the fact that the culture, by and large, has changed around us.  We no longer live in a “Christian” nation in any meaningful sense of the term.*  That requires a completely different approach to education, charity, politics, and many other topics.  Increasingly, we will need to take our lessons from believers in places like Japan, where Christians account for less than 1% of the population, Muslim nations, or even China. Part of that will involve the church redefining its approach to education while it still can.  It must once again become a center of all knowledge, not simply a purveyor of moralistic tidbits.

What should that look like?  Of course I can’t lay out an entire revolution in 1000 words, but here are some ideas:

  • Churches must begin to conceive of themselves as real communities of believers, not just Sunday morning associations–The churches must begin to minister to the whole human being:  mind, body, and spirit.
  • Churches must broaden their topical horizons–Like it or not, they now, at this moment, bear the responsibility for educating their members on apologetics, science, history, literature, philosophy/worldview issues, finance, relationships, theology, and much, much more.  If the churches do not take on this responsibility, they will take the blame before God for the failed lives of their parishioners.
  • Churches must pay attention to the very idea of education–Each church will need to make a serious effort to connect believers of all ages with engaging material from a very broad spectrum  of subjects.  Am I suggesting that a church offer classes in history and science on Sunday morning.  Yes.  And other times during the week, and on a broad range of other subjects too.  
  • Churches must follow their mouths with their monies–Once a church is talking about the right things, it must be willing to back up that talk with cash.  Pay for good materials and speakers, set up scholarships for poorer children to attend good high schools, and for older individuals to find good colleges and universities where they can get a balanced education.
  • Churches must, above all else, begin teaching their parishioners how to think, not just what to think.–They must engage the greats of Christian thinking, Lewis among them.

I could go on for much longer, but I think the general point is clear:  Lewis is 100% correct that as Christians we must “inculcate just sentiments” into our children and ourselves if we are to hope to survive the next century as a people and as a nation.  We can no longer afford to simply wait on someone else to do it for us.  It’s time for the churches to “summon up the blood” and Henry V put it, and close the breach in the evangelical mind.

Do you agree with me?  Share this article with your pastor, Christian education director, your Sunday School, or your congregation, and see where the conversation takes you.  (Yes, I am enough of an idealist to think that mere blog post could make a difference!)

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*Incidentally, I think this is where many Christian political movements run afoul of reality.  It is no longer a question of a “silent” or “moral” majority reasserting control.  The country must be re-evangelized from the ground up.

Click here for the entire run of “Meditations with C. S. Lewis” so far.

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About Brian Melton

I am a history professor and author living with my family in the Virginia Mountains. It's hard to improve on a life like this!

Posted on September 23, 2012, in Brian Melton, C. S. Lewis, Meditations, Social Commentary and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I am generally sympathetic to this exhortation, but here’s a friendly challenge. What would you say to this? If the church is responsible for everything, it’s responsible for nothing. Therefore, one needs to ask: Will the Great commission get lost in this agenda? Or is it the responsibility of *Christian educators*, rather than “the church” per se, to teach history and science, and the responsibility of the church to teach its people the spiritual principles that lie behind those other disciplines, and then teach them to support the Christian educators, politicians, artists, etc., who are doing a good job at those things because they were discipled by the church to do so?

    If you are using the word “church” loosely to mean the larger Christian community, my question would be moot. But you seem to be using it more specifically to mean the church as an institution. Am I being too subtle, or does that distinction need to be maintained more carefully?

    Bear in mind that the Great Commission is not just evangelism, but the charge to make disciples. You know I support preaching that applies the whole counsel of God to all of life. But we also have to keep the church focused on what it should be doing–which includes supporting its members who are doing what you want done. Are we on the same page?

  2. We are at least on similar pages, though I think the key difference is that I am laying, perhaps, a much stronger emphasis on the “church” as God’s tool to minister to the whole person, as opposed to simply limiting to being an instrument of evangelism.

    In this case, I use “church” in two similar, but not quite interchangeable senses. First, it is the larger community of all believers, broadly defined. The Bible itself employs this meaning when it talks about the church being the bride of Christ.

    At the same time, from an institutional perspective, it is the church building on your street corner (or elsewhere) that is the organized, physical representation of this very broad meaning. Without it, there is no one in a position to take any actual responsibility for anything beyond an individual level–even of evangelism.

    The problem here is far bigger than any individual, and therefore it is difficult for individuals to address it, even if we want to relieve the local manifestation of the church inside it’s insulated shell. Christian educators have to be given a venue in which to educate; the government schools are increasingly closed to them to their point of view. Christian scientists and historians have to be able to fund their research and it’s publication. Even when all that happens in outside locations, there needs to be a consistent way to connect the average, normal believer and his/her family to all those resources in an accessible, understandable way. Who can accomplish that if not the church?

    So, I don’t see the local church ever becoming primarily a teaching institution, but it must do a far better job of teaching and educating the whole person than it has so far. Without giving people some real intellectual grounding, it will contribute to the eroding and ultimate rejection of their faith.

  1. Pingback: Meditations with C. S. Lewis: The Right Defense through Education ... | Christianity in Education | Scoop.it

  2. Pingback: Meditations with C. S. Lewis: The Right Defense through Education ... | Thinking about teaching | Scoop.it

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