C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity: A Review
As a part a Thursday night bible study group, I have been studying this book for the past several weeks. I would like to spend my time this month reflecting on it.
Lewis adapted this book from a series of BBC radio talks made between 1942 and 1944, while Lewis was at Oxford during World War II. Considered a classic of Christian apologetics, the transcripts of the broadcasts originally appeared in print as three separate pamphlets: The Case for Christianity (1942), Christian Behavior (1943), and Beyond Personality (1944). Lewis was invited to give the talks by Rev. James Welch, the BBC Director of Religious Broadcasting, who had read his 1940 book, The Problem of Pain. Lewis, an Anglican, intended to describe the Christian common ground. In Mere Christianity, he aims at avoiding controversies to explain fundamental teachings of Christianity, for the sake of those basically educated as well as the intellectuals of his generation, for whom the jargon of formal Christian theology did not retain its original meaning.
Lewis claims that to understand Christianity, one must understand the moral law, which is the underlying structure of the universe and is “hard as nails.” Unless one grasps the dismay that comes from humanity’s failure to keep the moral law, one cannot understand the coming of Christ and his work. The death and resurrection of Christ is introduced, as the only way in which our inadequate human attempts to redeem humanity’s sins could be made adequate in God’s eyes.
God “became a man” in Christ, Lewis says, so that mankind could be “amalgamated with God’s nature” and make full atonement possible. Lewis offers several analogies to explain this abstract concept: that of Jesus “paying the penalty” for a crime, “paying a debt,” or helping humanity out of a hole. His main point, however, is that redemption is so incomprehensible that it cannot be fully appreciated, and he attempts to explain that how God atones for sin is not nearly as important as the fact that he does.
Lewis also covers such topics as social relations and forgiveness, sexual ethics and the tenets of Christian marriage, and the relationship between morality and psychoanalysis. He also writes about the great sin: pride, which he argues to be the root cause of all evil and rebellion.
His most important point is that Christianity mandates that one “love your neighbor as yourself.” He points out that all persons unconditionally love themselves. Even if one does not like oneself, one would still love oneself. Christians, he writes, must also apply this attitude to others, even if they do not like them. Lewis calls this one of the great secrets: when one acts as if he loves others, he will presently come to love them.
I found as read and studied Lewis’ words that I wanted to agree with everything he said. His calm logic pulled me in gently towards his side. I found myself agreeing with him. His arguments made sense and seemed to be right and not just right, but reasonable and clear. I wanted to get this book into the hands of those who weren’t Christian and say look here read this Christianity makes sense. Just read Lewis. Ignore the extreme elements that would have you believe that Christianity is more about judging and not loving your neighbor more about heaping rules on one another and not spreading the amazing news that God loves everyone as they are not as they should be.
The thing I had the hardest time with was the last section of the book where he talks about the Trinity. I have had trouble with this concept of God. My rational brain just wants to reject as senseless nonsense. I am thankful for my pastor, as I have been wrestling more with this and trying better to understand it. I will not go into it here, but I have posted on this site about my troubles and wrestling with the Trinity. Lewis has good ways of describing it; I especially like how he describes prayer and the Trinity. Lewis has a good grasp on the Trinity and shares it.
In 2006, Mere Christianity placed third in Christianity Today’s list of the most influential books amongst evangelicals since 1945. The title has influenced Touchstone Magazine: A Journal of Mere Christianity and William Dembski’s book Mere Creation. Charles Colson’s conversion to Christianity resulted from his reading this book, as it did to Francis Collins, Josh Caterer and the philosopher C. E. M. Joad.
A passage in the book also influenced the name of contemporary Christian Texan Grammy-nominated pop/rock group Sixpence None the Richer. The phrase, “the hammering process” used by Christian metal band Living Sacrifice for the name of their album. Singer Brooke Fraser wrote the “C. S. Lewis Song” from the album Albertine, which is heavily indebted to Lewis’s works, including the lyrics “If I find in myself desires nothing in this world can satisfy / I can only conclude that I was not made for here.”
This is a classic of Christian literature and a good book to pick up over the summer if you have not read it or it’s been a while sense you last read it. I hope you spend some time this summer to read a good book. As far as I am concerned, few activities can compare to reading a good book.
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