Posted by: Billy Marsh | May 15, 2009

To Think and To Wonder

C. S. LewisFrancis Schaeffer

Some of the most valuable advice that John Piper gave to pastors/students who are in seminary at the recent Gospel Coalition 2009 Conferencewas to take professors not courses. I couldn’t agree more. If anything has proven true over my past 8 years of Christian-theological education is that it is men and women of God who have been used by the Lord to change my life for his glory, not course curriculum. However let me clarify this for a moment. When I say that taking Systematic Theology I and II was one of the defining moments in my life, what I’m really speaking of is the tremendous impact that Dr. Walter Johnson had on me in conjunction with the content he delivered. Taking it a step further, Dr. Wayne Grudem also had a major affect on my Christianity, but it was by means of his textbook on Christian theology. Piper’s not placing relationship above content, but rather, an idea that becomes revolutionary for your life has a source, that is, a person. If that person’s thinking is revolutionary in your life, then do whatever it takes to find every way possible to sit under that one as much as possible in order to soak up the great insight and inspiration that has been so graciously given to them from God the Father by the Holy Spirit because of the work of Christ. I heeded Piper’s sage wisdom long before I heard him give it with men like Dr. Johnson, Dr. Pete Wilbanks, and Dr. David Haynie. Each have contributed in their own unique way as an instrument of the Lord for aiding me to grow in my knowledge of God.

Likewise, you are able to meet authors vicariously through their works though you may never encounter them in the flesh. Some you cannot because they are long gone and so the only relationship you can have with them is through their words, but this is not wholly unfortunate. Authors pour the depths of their souls out into their writings, and have often laid themselves bare for all the world to see though paper and the pen. I would highly recommend that you go and listen to both Piper’s (The Pastor as Scholar) and D. A. Carson’s (The Scholar as Pastor) addresses from this conference. I want to highlight, however, a moment from Piper’s autobiographical account of his journey in the faith.

Two of the major points of the development of Piper’s persona came from two men who also have been similarly instrumental in my own life, namely, C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer. He testified that Lewis taught him to wonder, while Schaeffer taught him how to have an all-inclusive Christian worldview (how to be a thinking Christian). I commend you to go and listen to Piper’s message, if not for no other reason than for me to further persuade you of the great benefit of immersing yourself in these two men’s works.

I was just telling a friend the other day in an email how important I believe both Schaeffer and Lewis to be. As I began to read wider in Christian theology, these two names popped up in almost everything I opened. I’m not just talking about “Christian living” books either. I was finding Lewis and Schaeffer even in the higher level academic works. I’ve seen books dedicated to these men. I’ve seen several introductions where the author has set these men apart giving them their due as to the major influence one of them (or both) had on that person’s life and ministry. It has become clear to me that God has blessed these men in their own unique way to be mighty instruments for the building up of his kingdom and for contending and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, namely, the gospel that encompasses all of reality.

Like for Piper, Lewis has definitely taught me how to wonder. When you put down one of his books, you will begin to see the beauty of God and feel the longing for the heavenly in the simplest of life’s pleasures to more obvious points of transcendence such as the grandeur of nature. There is a warmth to his disposition that emanates a contentment in Christ that never ceases to marvel. I can’t give Lewis all the credit though. My dad especially set me on this path for as far back as I can remember. Not many 5th graders spend their weekends 10 or 15 miles packed away in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee overlooking the majesty of God’s creation from the peak of a ridge, reclining in a bed of grass. The constant stopping and gazing at every creek crossing. The silent distant glare at every breathtaking view through a whole in the treeline out onto an endless range of mountaintops. This type of upbringing makes you learn to awe at the grandness of God reflected in what he has made which you can truly enjoy resting in Christ. Dad also set me on the path to discover J. R. R. Tolkien. Tolkien, probably more so than Lewis, has built substantially upon that foundation. You cannot spend time with Tolkien whether in his fiction or in the explication of his worldview without learning to stand in awe and in wonder of the glory of God and his gospel.

Also similar to Piper’s experience, Schaeffer taught me how to be a thinking Christian. As with Lewis, I can’t give him all the credit either, but having immersed myself in his writings, he has definitely had the greater effect than other influences. I traversed some of this territory before encountering Schaeffer by reading some of Charles Colson, which is a good starting point. However, Schaeffer’s style is all his own. I’ve picked up other things from Schaeffer than this particular aspect, but without a doubt, no one has encouraged me more to develop a unified system of Christian thought than he has. Schaeffer has forced me to grapple with theology and to be brave enough to take it all the way to its conclusions. Even more so, I have to have a theology that can face reality. Better yet, I have to make sure that my theology makes sense of reality rather than create a false one. Schaeffer’s not just that “artsy” theologian. He’s the guy that wants to demonstrate that theology is big enough to have something to say to art. Much of his writing is geared towards his generation (1960s, 70s, & early 80s), however, the same principle applies today. As a Christian theologian who affirms that Christianity isn’t just the best religion out of a list to pick from, but rather that it is the “true truth” and all others are false, and that it is about ultimate reality and the God who is there, I should be more than willing to speak that truth in a loving manner to every area of life from art to movies to abortion to homosexuality to government to evangelicalism, and so forth. Schaeffer forces me to wrestle with my theology and my Christian cultural presuppositions in order to make sure that I’m not copping out and giving real people with real questions lame “Sunday school” answers that shortcuts them and cheapens the gospel.

I know that I beat these guys’ drums all the time, but now you have an even greater witness testifying to their value in John Piper. Please go and listen to this autobiographical lecture which has much to offer beyond commending Lewis and Schaeffer to you. Nevertheless, surround yourselves with these two Christian theological giants and let God use them the same way he has used them to impact my life as well as countless others in ways you’re just not going to find in other books and authors.

  • Surprised by Joy is a good entry point into C. S. Lewis to see how his ministry is one of causing people to wonder.
  • The Francis Schaeffer Trilogy is the classic starting point for anyone wanting to experience Schaeffer, but Escape from Reason or The God Who Is There (both part of the Schaeffer Trilogy) are also good entry points into the core of his theology and teachings.
  • Check out the book by Scott Burson and Jerry Walls that is devoted to both of these guys and their apologetic methods called, C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer: Lessons for a New Century.
  • Click here to visit the homepage for The Gospel Coalition Conference Messages.
  • Click here to subscribe the the Desiring God sermon audio podcast where you can find John Piper’s message “The Pastor as Scholar” and D. A. Carson’s message “The Scholar as Pastor” on iTunes.


  1. Great post! keep it up.

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