It was at the beginning of my time in seminary that I first came into contact with someone who was a reformed Christian. Prior to that, Calvinism was a mysterious belief system derided by some as totalitarian or worse.
I found in reformed theology a way of following Christ that paid serious attention to the intellectual and doctrinal as well as the experiential. I needed a way of being a Christian that allowed my mind to be part of the journey as well as my heart.
This isn’t, of course, to say that there are no other parts of the Christian family that do this only that my experience was that I came to reformed theology before others and now I am a minister in a reformed body, the Presbyterian Church USA.
One of the other significant influences on my Christian identity has been C S Lewis, no Calvinist. In Lewis I found just as much intellect and reason as in the greatest reformed theologian, but something else in addition. Imagination.
For Lewis, the imagination was the most important faculty. In my experience many reformed Christians are more than a little frightened of the imagination. This is why Calvinist poets like John Piper, for example, are something of an anomaly.
Like caricatures of the Puritans, many reformed Christians expect that the imagination will more likely lead them astray than help redeem them. However, there are limits to reason. G. K. Chesterton once wrote that the perfectly rational man lives in an insane asylum. Interestingly, being nothing but rationality or intellect is actually less than fully human.
This is where Lewis is so helpful. He uses story to powerfully enact his theology in a way that helps it to work deeply into our souls. There’s a limit to how deeply a truth can penetrate us through the mind. Real knowledge, the sort that truly shapes and forms us, comes about through the integration of heart and mind and through enacting and embodying that truth in a physical and sensate way. This is the power of liturgy and ritual*, two good words that are rich with meaning and need to be recaptured by reformed Christians.
Several months ago I came across a list of books on the spiritual life that C S Lewis had recommended in his correspondence. You can find that list here.
I have reproduced it below:
- Thomas Traherne, Centuries of Meditations
- Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
- George Herbert, The Temple
- William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life
- G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man
- Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy
- Theologica Germanica
- Augustine, Confessions
- Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity
- George McDonald, Unspoken Sermons
- John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress
- Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love
- Edwyn Bevan, Symbolism and Belief
- Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy
- Dante, The Divine Comedy
- Walter Hilton, The Scale of Perfection
- Charles Gore, The Philosophy of the Good Life
- Athanasius, On the Incarnation
- Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene
- Thomas Browne, Religio Medici
- Jeremy Taylor, The Whole Works of Jeremy Taylor
- Joseph Butler, Sermons
- Coventry Patmore, poetry
- Essays Catholic and Critical, ed. E.G. Selwyn
- Francois Mauriac, Life of Jesus
- Charles Williams, The Descent into Hell
- Dorothy Sayers, The Man Born To Be King
*I consider myself a sacramental, liturgical, and missional presbyterian.