Friday, September 15, 2017

Stories and Teaching

As Fall arrives, and school gets cranking again, our little church restarts its education program...and for the adults, that means diving back in to reading.

A couple of years back, our denomination decided that pastors should be called "Teaching Elders," which had historically been the title for the folks who got up and preached on Sunday.  This distinguished us from the "Ruling Elders," who did pretty much everything else to make the church go.  That decision didn't stick, because it confused people.  "A teachity what?  You do what?  Is that even a job? "

And so we went back to being Ministers...or just plain ol' "pastors," but the idea remained.  The job of the Presbyterian pastor is to preach and teach, and so I'm once again stepping up

The class for this Fall Semester at PPC?  A slow, sustained, six week reading of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.  I'm a huge fan of Lewis.  I have been ever since I was young and wandering the green fields of Narnia in my imagination.  Although I really appreciate his essays and his reflections on the Christian life (Mere Christianity is brilliant, and A Grief Observed so powerfully poignant), it's his storytelling that really sets him apart as a teacher of the faith.

Screwtape is a fine example.  What Lewis is attempting in this book is nothing more than an exploration of the heart of human sinfulness.   Questions about the nature of truth, the ground of human resentments and angers, and our desire for power and control?  They're heavy, heavy stuff.  So heavy, in fact, that it'd be a little difficult getting human beings to wade through them.

But instead of just walloping us over the head with theology, Clive Staples Lewis gets creative.  He tells us a story, guiding us through the life and struggles of a young man whose life is being shaped by the inputs of his "guardian demon," an inexperienced young servant of darkness who's struggling to claim that soul for Hell.  We don't hear the voice of Wormwood...just the reactions and guidance of his Uncle Screwtape, an experienced senior demon who has risen high up in Hell's bureaucracy (because of course Hell has bureaucracy.)

What could have been tedious suddenly becomes mischievous, and by wrapping up some hard-hitting insights into humanity in an elegantly crafted story, Lewis finds a better way to teach.

As, or so I seem to recall, did Jesus.