C.S. Lewis on Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism
C.S. Lewis goes on to explain why he is skeptical of this new "authority of experts." With all due respect to the late C.S. Lewis, I would say the same thing with regard to my skepticism of the authority of the self-proclaimed biblical experts which emerged from the Reformation. They too are an "authority of experts ... in deference to whom we are asked to give up a huge mass of beliefs shared in common by the early church..."
"The undermining of the old orthodoxy has been mainly the work of divines engaged in New Testament criticism. The authority of experts in that discipline is the authority in deference to whom we are asked to give up a huge mass of beliefs shared in common by the early church..."
(C.S. Lewis, "Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism," Chapter 31, McDowell, J., The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1999, pg. 574)
With regard to modern biblical criticism, C.S. Lewis rightly compares the reliability of biblical criticism to the reliability of those who attempted to review and theorize about his own literary works. C.S. Lewis wrote many works of science fiction, children's stories, as well as scholarly works. Reviewers would often attempt to apply literary criticism to his works, to reconstruct his authorial intent, and in C.S. Lewis' view, what "he can say with certainty" follows:
"I have watched with some care similar imaginary histories both of my own books and of books by friends whose real history I knew. Reviewers, both friendly and hostile, will dash you off such histories with great confidence; will tell you what public events had directed the author's mind to this or that, what other authors had influenced him, what his overall intention was, what sort of audience he principally addressed, why--and when--he did everything.
... My impression is that in the whole of my experience not one of these guesses has on any one point been right; that the method shows a record of 100 percent failure. You would expect that by mere chance they would hit as often as they miss. But it is my impression that they do no such thing. I can't remember a single hit.... What I think I can say with certainty is that they are usually wrong....
Now this surely ought to give us pause. The reconstruction of the history of a text, when the text is ancient, sounds very convincing. But one is afterall sailing by dead reckoning; the results cannot be checked by fact. In order to decide how reliable the method is, what more could you ask for than to be shown an instance where the same method is at work and we have facts to check it by? Well, that is what I have done. And we find that when this check is available, the results are either always, or else nearly always wrong.
... While I respect the learning of the great biblical critics, I am not yet persuaded that their judgment is equally to be respected. But secondly, consider with what overwhelming advantages the mere reviewers start. They reconstruct the history of a book written by someone whose mother-tongue is the same as theirs; a contemporary, educated like themselves, living in something like the same mental and spiritual climate. That have everything to help them.
The superiority in judgment and diligence that you are going to attribute to the biblical critics will have to be almost superhuman if it is to offset the fact that they are everywhere faced with customs, language, race characteristics, a religious background, habits of composition, and basic assumptions, which no scholarship will ever enable any man now alive to know as surely and intimately and distinctively as the reviewer can know mine. And for the very same reason, remember, the biblical critics, whatever reconstructions they devise, can never be crudely proved wrong. St. Mark is dead. When they meet St. Peter, there will be more pressing matters to
discuss." (ibid., 578-579)