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Mere Christianity

by C.S. Lewis

2.7 out of 5 great Rate Book · View Ratings Details · 98 Ratings

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Mere Christianity

by C.S. Lewis

2.7 out of 5 great Rate Book · View Ratings Details · 98 Ratings

C.S. Lewis’ masterful work Mere Christianity has long been regarded as a classic of Christian writings. It is notable for many things, but one of the most useful facets of its composition is a profound simplicity and clarity of prose. Originally presented as a series of lectures for the BBC between the years 1942 and 1944, the content of the book retains a conversational style that enhances its universal appeal.

Lewis’ intent in the work was to present a strong case for the basic tenants of the Christian faith, accepted by all orthodox Christian branches. It is startling for the modern reader to peruse the pages of this work and find such relevant and prescient issues addressed including sex, marriage, gender roles, and political partisanship, among others.

This relevance gives lie to the common idea that the pre-1960s world was a repressed hot-bed of conformity. Lewis and his contemporaries confronted the same corrupted human impulses and deceptions we encounter in our own time, and thus the work is able to speak to us as powerfully now as ever. The book is also full of timeless wisdom on topics like moral habituation, temptation, pride, virtue, and spiritual transformation.

Mere Christianity is also notable for its clear explanation of the strongest classical arguments for theism in general, and Christianity in particular. However, Lewis did not stop at repeating past arguments; instead he added several compelling original arguments in favor of theism. One of the most powerful is The Argument from Desire found in chapter 10.

This syllogism works off of the basic truth that we all hunger for more fulfillment and happiness than this world actually offers. However, this hunger is not merely a desire for a greater quantity of happiness than we presently partake of. Rather, the hunger is qualitatively superior to the greatest pleasures we actually experience. Recall that sense you had in the back of your mind at your greatest height of ecstasy – a marriage, birth of a child, or the greatest professional recognition of your work. Was there not something in the recesses of your mind asking “Is this as good as it gets?”.

Yet, what other desire is common to all of humanity and yet also so profoundly lacking in human experience? There is a desire for food because there is food. Sexual desire can find fulfillment in sexual intercourse. Yet this longing for eternal happiness that Christianity accounts for is just as common as the desire for food. The hunger pangs for the divine demonstrates the reality of the divine just as do other universal human longings.

This theme arguably pervades the whole of Lewis’ writings. His fictional tales of Narnia and the Space Trilogy all contain thought-provoking passages in which a character is faced with the radical insufficiency of his natural pleasures in satisfying his supernatural longings for joy. It is only after these individuals confront their desire for more that they receive the grace to undertake the excruciating task of surrendering to God. Lewis discusses this surrendering in the last few chapters of Mere Christianity in a way that jettisons empty piety in favor of the true work entailed in practical obedience and devotion to God.

Mere Christianity is no fool-proof treatise for convincing the skeptic, but it does serve the purpose of demolishing virtually every major philosophical objection leveled by critics of Lewis’ day as well as our own. The plain spoken, earnest character of the prose lowers the guard of the hostile objector and lays out the truths of the faith in winsome sublimity. The work has remained a classic for over 60 years for many reasons. The fame of the fictional stories Lewis wrote is one major reason for its continued circulation, but beyond that, the sheer creativity of Lewis’ sanctified imagination exerts a gravitational appeal to the reader even in the midst of rigorous philosophical prose.

The man who once wrote chillingly dark poetry in the depths of the Great War period as an atheist was able to capture the nagging desire for God found in the hearts of even the hardest skeptic. The booming voice of Magdalen College who enthralled the minds of children with his other-worldly allegories of courage and virtue was able to speak to the child-like simplicity of our moral sense and its dependence on a transcendent moral order. The man who spoke with the voice of devils in a prescient work on temptation was able to explain the simple disciplines of moral habituation to which Christ calls us. And the man who divided the solar system into realms of allegorical redemption in the space trilogy was able to cut across the distances of moral intuitions to lay bare our common ethical kinship.

In Mere Christianity, this towering mind of the 20th century argued persuasively in prose style for the ideals and truths he had already brought to life in stories that captivated, and still captivate, the imaginations of millions.

Original CBC review by Isaac Woodward.

Review by: Isaac Woodward

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About C.S. Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century, and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. He was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954, when he was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement.

He wrote more than thirty books, allowing him to reach a vast audience, and his works continue to attract thousands of new readers every year. His most distinguished and popular accomplishments include Mere Christianity, Out of the Silent Planet, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and the universally acknowledged classics The Chronicles of Narnia.

Comments


  1. Frederick Meekins

    C.S. Lewis is renowned as one of the foremost Christian thinkers of the twentieth century. Despite being an Anglican and exhibiting a number of tendencies making him a bit of an iconoclast among his fellow believers, C.S. Lewis has been fondly embraced by a broad swath of the church in part because of his efforts to promote a version of the Christian faith amicable towards all denominations by appealing to what all of these theological niches have in common, which could be referred to as mere Christianity.

    As such, one of Lewis’ best known apologetic texts is titled none other than Mere Christianity. Originally presented as a series of broadcast talks, Lewis vetted much of his text past four members of the clergy — an Anglican, a Methodist, a Presbyterian, and a Roman Catholic — in order to keep denominational idiosyncrasies to a minimum. Because of such conscientious effort, the Christian finds in Mere Christianity a rational defense of the faith of considerable sophistication.

    Mere Christianity begins as a recitation of what is known as the moral argument for the existence of God. According to Lewis, the moral law consists of the fundamental rules by which the universe operates and to which all residing within are bound. And even though considerable intellectual resources have been expended to deny its existence, not even those making it their life’s purpose to undermine these eternal principles can escape from them try as they might. Lewis observes, “Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him, he will be complaining ‘It’s not fair’ before you can say ‘Jack Robinson’ (5).”

    The very fact that human beings are able to argue that one set of moral claims is superior to another, Lewis observes, is itself proof that some kind of higher law exists. Lewis writes, “Quarrelling means trying to show that the other man is wrong. And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are; just as there would be no sense in saying that a footballer has committed a foul unless there was some kind of agreement about the rules of football (4).”

    Lewis notes, “If no set of moral ideas were truer or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring…Christian morality to Nazi morality…If your moral ideas can be truer, and those of the Nazis less true, there must be something — some real morality — for them to be true about (11).” Thus, the standard by which human moralities are judged stem from a source apart and above them.

    From establishing that natural law exists, Lewis moves on to examine where this eternal law originates from. Lewis postulates there are approximately two sources that this law could possibly originate from: the materialist view that the principles governing the universe arose through a process of chance and the religious view that the universe was established by a conscious mind. And since the law comes to us in the form of principles and instructions, this would seem to conclude that the promulgator of this law would have to be mind rather than inanimate matter.

    Despite the fact that the universe was meant to run according to moral law, it is obvious from a quick look around that the moral agents operating within it fail to live up to these noble ideals as we are regularly aware of even our own shortcomings. As such, the universe requires a divine intervention to set things right. Lewis writes, “Enemy occupied territory — that is what the world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed…and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage (36).” This king is none other than Jesus, whom from his own claims, must be God or, as Lewis famously points out, is a lunatic “on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg or a devilish liar (41).” It was the primary purpose of Jesus to suffer and die so that our sins might be forgiven so that we might be made whole in Him.

    Fundamental as this message is to man’s eternal salvation, Mere Christianity is also full of practical observations less cosmic and more down to earth. Lewis writes, “Theology is practical. Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology…It will mean that you have a lot of…bad muddled, out of date ideas (120.)” Many of theology’s practical concerns manifest themselves in the form of morality.

    Lewis lists morality as being concerned with three matters: harmony between individuals, the inner life of the individual, and the general purpose of human life as a whole (57). Lewis observes that different beliefs about the universe will naturally result in different behaviors and those closest to the truth will produce the best results (58).

    Lewis demonstrates how this phenomena manifests itself in a number of ethical spheres, sex being one of interest to just about all people. It is this obsession with sex, Lewis point out, that shows just how out of whack contemporary morality has become. Lewis comically comments that the level to which this biological impulse has been elevated in our own society is akin to a land where the inhabitants have such a prurient interest in food beyond nourishment and wholesome pleasure that the inhabitants watch a plate containing a mutton chop that is uncovered just before the lights go out (75). Ironically, Lewis points out, such deviancy is not usually the result of starvation but rather overindulgence.

    Though Lewis is witty in regards to most issues he addresses, even in regards to this beloved Oxford professor, the Christian must remember to be a Berean and measure even his formidable intellect by the standard of Biblical truth. Unfortunately, there are at least two matters that must be approached with caution.

    Lewis likens the process of change we go through as Christians to the biological theory of recapitulation where it is believed an embryo passes through the various phases of evolution during development in the womb. Of the process, Lewis writes, “We were once like vegetables, and once rather like fish; it was only at a later stage that we became like human babies (159).”

    One hopes that had Lewis lived until more technologically advanced times that he would have not retained this scientifically erroneous theory. For at its most innocent, it is used to justify Darwinisim and from Lewis’ statement one could very well use it to justify abortion.

    From another passage, it would seem Lewis tottered dangerously close to a “proto-universalism” in his thought. Lewis writes, “There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it (162).”

    John 14:6 says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And Acts 4:12 says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

    In writing Mere Christianity, Lewis does a commendable job overall of balancing the theoretical and practical concerns of the faith. As such, Mere Christianity will no doubt continue as a classic apologetics text for decades to come.

    by Frederick Meekins

    June 14, 2017,11:15 am


  2. Sandra

    I have read several books by C S Lewis and have always learned so much from them. He lived a life of changing views until he finally realized that God IS and he never looked back. I highly recommend all of his books.

    July 5, 2016,6:12 pm

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