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Review of Mere Christianity By C.S. Lewis

October 2, 2019

This review in an expanded form appears in the Fall edition of the Colorado Christian University publication BOOKS AND CULTURE. I encourage you to check out that fine publication for additional informative book reviews.

Mere Christianity

By C.S. Lewis

Reviewed by Dr. Kevin Turner

 

It would be hard to overestimate the impact of C.S. Lewis and his books on Christianity in the 20th and 21st centuries.  His more than 30 published works have been translated into over 30 languages and his variety of literary genres include children’s literature, autobiography, science fiction, apologetics, as well as literary and Biblical studies. These works have sold millions of copies and remain in print more than 50 years after his death.

During World War II, C.S. Lewis delivered a series of three talks over BBC radio to encourage the weary nation of Great Britain during the most challenging days of the blitz. These broadcasts were well received at the time and were quickly released in 3 separate books between 1943 and 1945. The books were combined in 1952 and entitled Mere Christianity. Since 2001, more than 3.5 million copies have been sold which clearly demonstrates the timeless relevance of this apologetic classic.

The book is divided into five sections. The first is the preface where Lewis explains the title and purpose of the book. He writes that the drive behind this work is “to explain and defend the beliefs that have been common to nearly all Christians at all times,” (1). To this end, Lewis submitted the manuscript to Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic clergy who agreed the book presented a “common Christianity” (2). The preface is also where Lewis explains the famous metaphor of Mere Christianity as “like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms” which represent various Christian traditions to be selected but with the stipulation to always “be kind to those who have chosen different doors as well as those who are still in the hall.”(3)

Book one focuses on “Right and wrong as to the meaning of the Universe”. In clear and easily understandable stories and illustrations, Lewis explores the reality that all cultures have rules or standards of what constitutes decent behavior. In addition to presenting his case, Lewis presupposes questions that the reader may be asking and answers them like the issue of changing applications of morality or the argument of social conventions through education. The end result is that chapters 1-5 present a poignant argument for the need of a transcendent God who is the ultimate law giver as well as the solution to the problem of broken laws.

“I have been asked to tell you what Christians believe and I am going to begin by telling you one thing that Christians do not believe….that all other religions are simply wrong all through” (4). These words introduce Book Two which is entitled “What Christians Believe”. Atheism and Deism are explored and found to be too simple and “After all, real things are not simple” (5). Chapter 3: The Shocking Alterative contains the oft quoted ground breaking statement, “You must make your choice. Either this man (Jesus) was and is the Son of God: or else a madman or worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit on Him and kill Him as a demon or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not have any such patronizing nonsenses about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” (6)

Having laid a credible case for Christin belief and calling to a faith commitment the outflowing of those theological ideas move toward Christian Behavior which is Lewis’ topic in Book Three. The topics selected for exploration could not be timelier for our present cultural tensions and struggles. Chapters include discussions on sexual morality, Christian marriage, forgiveness, and pride—which Lewis calls ‘The Great Sin.’  Also explained are the cardinal timeless virtues such as charity, and hope, as well as an expanded exploration of faith. The section concludes with a reaffirmation that faith in Jesus is not just about behavior modification or shame. He writes, “Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtues, yet it leads on out of all that, into something beyond” (7).

The doctrine of the Trinity is the subject of Book Four: “Beyond Personality”. The discussion is built on the metaphor of Theology as a map which is useful because it is practical, based on much more than a personal experience, and specific, not merely vague.  This section is filled with golden nuggets of wisdom that have appeared in classroom lectures and sermons since the book was published. Some of these nuggets include, “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God” (8)—as a nod to the Church Father St. Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296-373)— and “Men are mirrors or carriers of Christ to other men, sometimes unconscious carriers”(9). The book closes with these profound words, “Look for yourself and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him and with Him everything else thrown in” (10) which recalls to the reader’s mind Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:33.

Mere Christianity is significantly more than a collection of witty and memorable thoughts on Christian doctrine and behavior; the impact that it has had on its’ readers is profound. This fact is demonstrated by the way that reading it challenged the thinking of a man like Chuck Colson resulting in his conversion to Christ as well as my own children when I read it to them while they were growing up. This is a book for all time, to be read and reread as a conversation with an old and trusted friend. If you have not read Mere Christianity yet, I urge you to run, not walk, to your local library or bookstore and get a copy immediately. If you have read the book, dust off your copy and renew your acquaintance with the most significant Christian writer from the 20th century.

Footnotes:

  1. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Macmillan, 1952. P. 6
  2. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Macmillan, 1952. P. 8
  3. P. 12
  4. P.43
  5. P. 46
  6. P. 56
  7. P. 130
  8. P. 154
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