Top Ten Theologians: C.S. Lewis

by Tim Kimberley

Our count down of Top Ten Theologians continues with #7: C.S. Lewis.  His inclusion on this list will be an obvious choice for some and a surprise for others.  Yes, I completely agree it is risky and potentially short-sighted to have two 20th century people (Lewis and Barth) on the list.  Time has not vetted these men as much as someone like Irenaeus or Anselm.  Generations to come may downgrade the influence from any 20th century theologian.  I am excited, nonetheless, to offer you C.S. Lewis.

Lewis’s World

Michel Foucault (pronounced foo-ko) may be one of the most influential 20th century thinkers you’ve never heard of. He was interested in studying the development of ideas.  How and why do we know what we know?  He held a chair at Collège de France with the title, “History of Systems of Thought.”  He wrote several books on diverse subjects such as:  psychiatry; medicine; the human sciences; prison systems; as well as the history of human sexuality.

Foucault’s observations and skepticism challenged many long-standing ideas.  His first book wondered why some people are considered crazy?  What if these “crazy” people lived at a different time in a completely different culture? Would they still be considered crazy? 

How about, for example, John the Baptist?  His clothes were nasty.  He lived out in the desert eating bugs.  He yelled at people to repent.  They responded by letting John hold them under water.  In first century Israel John was viewed as one of the greatest prophets who ever lived.  Transfer John the Baptist to New York City and he’d be locked up in a mental hospital.  Craziness is relative.

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In Foucault’s studies on sex he wondered why people seemed to possess differing ideas of sexual appropriateness.  Why do women in certain developing countries walk around topless?  Every person at that particular time and place believes topless women are normal.  It is unimaginable to consider the same women walking around Victorian England.  The sexual customs of these two cultures are worlds apart.  Sexual morals appear to be relative.

Foucault believes periods of history have possessed specific underlying conditions of truth that constituted what he expresses as discourse (for example art, science, culture, etc.). Foucault argues that these conditions of discourse have changed over time, in major and relatively sudden shifts, from one period’s knowledge to another.1

Different cultures have different ways of discussing and knowing reality.  What is crazy?  What is immoral? What is joy?  Who is God?  What is beautiful?  Foucault shows how people answer these questions for themselves.  There are no objective answers, knowing is relative.

Foucault’s thoughts are very popular.  Even though he died in 1984, he is currently the most cited author in the humanities.2  For books published in 2007, for example, he was cited 2,521 times.  During the same period, in comparison, Friedrich Nietzsche was only cited 501 times.3

Foucault is skeptical of ideas or realities which claim to exist for all people at all times.  Christianity, however, claims a Savior who exists for all people at all times.  C.S. Lewis will become known as the “Apostle to the Skeptics”…

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