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Please sir, will you put away your map.


In one of C.S. Lewis’ books, Mere Christianity, I believe, he relates a sermon he once preached on the topic of theology.  When it was finished, a fellow from the audience confronted him and declared that all this theological discussion was a poor replacement for an actual experience with God.  Mr. Lewis quickly conceded, but went on to explain how theology was simply a map for exploring new aspects of God.  And while a map of Hawaii is a poor replacement for swimming among the tropical breakers, it certainly helped you find the island in the first place.

I’ve relayed this passage on numerous occasions, and often found it a very helpful answer to the question ‘why study theology’.   The audience in those instances is always someone struggling to find the benefit of such heady, intellectual pursuits.  But there is another audience (and I included), that have much to gain from this illustration as well.  Those of us who, so enamored with theological exertion, find ourselves refusing to ever set the map aside.  Instead of undervaluing theology, we’ve erred in quite the opposite direction and mistaken theology as an end in itself.

How silly would we regard Magellan, if upon reaching the shores of Guam, he refused to leave the boat, and instead insisted on studying his maps? How absurd if he never felt the powdery sand beneath his toes, or drank the milk of a fresh coconut?  We would say ‘Leave the boat you fool, leave behind your outlines, your sketches, your contemplations – why fuss about with your silly paper and pencils, do you not realize, reality is at hand?’

I fear somewhere along our spiritual journey, some of us have traded a God of explosive experience for a God of cold and academic description.  And perhaps if left unchecked, we’ll someday find ourselves bringing this fallacy to the very shores of heaven.  And upon entering the New Jerusalem, instead of running through its golden streets, we’ll instead demand a detailed outline and explanation before taking another step.

Let theology act as a guide, certainly; but do not forgot, it is not the lines on the paper where He asks us to draw near, but rather the land that lies beneath where He demands to meet us.


Comment from KM
Time December 15, 2010 at 8:35 am

I agree wholeheartedly. It would be like reading about a wonderful Father and all His attributes, but never experiencing the relationship. How empty and sad.

Comment from Jeff Lesan
Time December 20, 2010 at 9:17 pm

Right on man. I feel like that is me. Praying I would see beyond the “map”.

Comment from Tom Hackett
Time December 30, 2010 at 4:36 am

There was a season when I spent a lot of time on Theology. I am so busy dealing with people and projects that I have almost lost interest in the details (not completely and yes it is important). While we gaze at our navels people are dying…literally. What an interesting balance to achieve…knowledge and experience.

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