C.S. Lewis — Mere Christianity
“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about [Jesus]: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say … Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”
“Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.”
Some of CS Lewis’s most famous quotes reside in one of his most famous works: Mere Christianity. However, I must admit that while I skimmed through this book as a new Christian years ago, I have not read it since.
Quoted from it, absolutely. Engaged with the actual work, not exactly.
This January, I picked up Mere Christianity for a class I’m taking on its author, CS Lewis. I had as much familiarity with vaguely remembering of an argument about Jesus being liar, lunatic or Lord. Yet as I read, it was not what I thought it would be, in mostly good ways.
Maybe you have read it years ago, or you have skimmed it like me, or your only interaction with it is your pastor’s quarterly CS Lewis quote from it. No matter your familiarity with it, great benefit can come from adding it to your to-read list in 2019.
Here’s a brief summary, a few personal takeaways, and who I’d recommend to read this book this year.
Mere Christianity is quite possibly Lewis’s most known work, apart from Narnia. The book’s origin was a series of weekly BBC radio talks beginning in 1941. These talks were compiled and put together into what is now a classic in Christian literature.
While connotations may run wild, the name ‘Mere’ Christianity comes from Lewis’s belief that this book contains the faith which has been believed “always, everywhere, and by all”. Mere, means the Christianity that has been held historically as the core of the faith. Therefore, Mere Christianity is assembled of core elements of our belief in the Christian God.
With that as the backdrop, Lewis wants to apologetically evangelize the Christian faith, ethic and theology. It was his goal to make a logical appeal for the existence of God and move from that point to Christianity specifically. By the end, his goal was to lay out an appeal for the reader to believe in God and trust in His Son Jesus Christ.
After finally slowly working my way through the entire book, here a few takeaways I had personally. Some may be helpful and some may be warnings, but consider these few points before you pick it up this year.
(1) Dense, but helpful Mere Christianity is more dense than I was expecting. With only hearing random quotes by Lewis and reading the Chronicles of Narnia, I didn’t have an appropriate expectation at the genesis of my reading. I underestimated his philosophical prowess.
Now, with that said, Lewis did write this for a popular level. So don’t let me scare you. It is not unattainable or for academia’s elite. It is for the commoner, like me. But don’t assume Edwin, Lucy or a talking Beaver will appear to lighten the density. This is a philosophical work that can be extremely helpful when approached appropriately.
(2) Use with CautionLewis wrote in decades ago in Europe. Keep this in mind as you read. Some of his language, examples, and apologetics are contextual (as they should be!). An appropriate reading of Mere Christianity won’t copy and paste lines and examples and throw them at spiritually skeptical friends.
For instance, one of Lewis’s claims is that everyone, at their core, are pantheists. While he makes the argument for this, I’m not sure that I would adhere to that cultural commentary today. If we begin telling everyone around us that they are pantheists, they may either be confused, offended, or guarded by your sudden synopsis of their beliefs.
Use the arguments and logic of Lewis, but proceed with caution. Digest and mediate on what he is trying to say, and as you consider this for yourself or your evangelism, put it into our context today. Many arguments in this book are phenomenal, but take the principle or truth, not the letter of the law.
(3) Know Lewis and ProceedLewis is self-admittedly not a theologian. When he says this, he means that he is not trained scholarly in theological grids and doctrines. Therefore, while most critique Lewis on not being theologically astute, I believe Lewis would chime in with a hearty ‘Amen.”
It is helpful to know this about Lewis because some of his theological insight is not always helpful in this book. He questions the use of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus on the cross, which is a core tenant of our faith. I don’t go so far to say he doesn’t believe it, but in his apologetic bent, he will shy away.
Don’t cast Lewis out because of this, but don’t copy Lewis on this. Read Lewis with an eye for philosophical arguments and apologetics. Allow his theology to challenge you. But let us not be a Lewis copycat or throw out Lewis with the bathwater. Like with any other author, know strengths and weaknesses, and then proceed.
(4) Read Lewis on MoralitySimilarly with theology, Lewis does not claim to be a moral police or expert. But his case for virtues are immensely helpful to process through. Remember, again, he is in another context, culture and age. But his arguments for virtues are tremendously valuable to read.
A common critique on the God of the Bible or the Christian faith is our view of morality. Our ethical system is under attack consistently (if you feel that, don’t be shocked, that has happened since the beginning of the church).
Lewis is a man who did not grow up a Christian and therefore has lived with different internal ethics. His insight and arguments can be helpful as you consider a personal ethic, or consider how to communicate the Christian ethic to skeptical friends.
With all of this said, should you read this book? I cautiously recommend to all, and specifically recommend to some.
For anyone who does not enjoy engaging on a deeper level with an author, this will be a difficult book for you to wade through. His arguments can be dense and take consideration. Mere Christianity is not a book to flip through and set on the bookshelf; it is a book to digest, meditate on, and discuss.
If you are looking for a book to quickly pick up some theology or apologetics, this may not be the first book I’d suggest, even though it may be a classic.
However, if you are in one of these three camps, I highly recommend it: (a) enjoy being challenged by a new work, (b) are not yet a believer in any sort of God or the God of the Bible, or (c) you want to grow in your ability to share the gospel through various means with friends and family.
Evangelistically, I don’t recommend trying to memorize certain lines and arguments; but, I highly recommend digesting his particular view and moving forward in real conversations. Lewis, in proper context, can be extremely helpful for Christians today and impactful to someone seeking to find truth in the spiritual realm.
With all fair warnings and personal thoughts - go enjoy Lewis’ Mere Christianity.