Friday Book Pick: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
If CNN called you up and invited you to give a series of talks on live radio on the
topic of what Christians believe, how would you approach the challenge?
Once upon time, BBC radio did just that. They called up C.S. Lewis and asked for a series of live broadcast talks on the central beliefs held by Christians. He seized the opportunity, and today’s “Book Pick” is the printed version of those radio lectures from 1943.
Mere Christianity offers a poignant explanation in clear and rational terms of what we Christians believe, first of all as theists and then specifically as Christians.
C.S. Lewis was an interesting selection on the part of BBC. He was a Fellow and Tutor in English literature (not of theology) at Oxford University at the time of the BBC lectures. Later he become the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge University—a post he held until his retirement in the summer of 1963, a few months before his death.
Interestingly, Wikipedia’s bio on C.S. Lewis refers to him as a theologian, a term I
don’t think Lewis would have readily accepted. Lewis was a highly educated man, a scholar and an academic, with great skill in wielding the English language; he possessed a remarkable gift for conveying with clarity and a certain simplicity his well-reasoned thoughts. Furthermore, Lewis was an atheist who made the laborious journey back to Christian faith largely through his God-given intellect and reason (but not without the example of friends who were believers). And while that does not make him a theologian, it does make him an authority.
Mere Christianity is, I think, a fitting title. The “Christianity” part is obvious enough, but you may be wondering about the “Mere.” In the BBC lectures (and then the book) Lewis makes no attempt to list, acknowledge, highlight, or explain any of the points that divide Christians; in fact, he is at pains to avoid these topics altogether. He is offering an explanation of Christianity in its most basic creedal points that any and every Christian would agree on—the bedrock of our faith.
If you are a person who takes your own faith seriously, and even may make forays into evangelization, this book could provide you with an interesting playbook for approaching conversations about faith. Lewis doesn’t start in lecture one with the moral ills of his age, or even with the Gospel—two common starting points. Rather, he starts with the existence of God. And he uses the common experience of every man as his starting point.
He explains that human beings everywhere experience an internal pressure to do the right thing. And with this comes the strong expectation that others do the right thing to us, which of course presupposes that there is a right thing to be done. For example, I expect others to not take from me what is clearly mine. And all the world over there is a common understanding that to take what belongs to another is wrong. In other words, Lewis begins by making a case for the natural law and that there is a Something or a Someone who is behind it, “…directing the universe and appears to me as a law urging me to do right and making me feel responsible and uncomfortable when I do wrong.”
From there Lewis goes on to make a case for a God Who is a Person (and in the process dismantles the logic of Dualism) and not a “Life Force,” and that prepares the way for the briefest and most succinct explanations of Judaism and then of Christianity.
Lewis strikes me as a master of human nature because his arguments begin from “the inside information” he knows through his experience of being a man. His shared humanity with his listener or his reader is always his starting point.
As the book goes on and Lewis gets into the reality of becoming a Christian—of
deciding to throw in your lot with Jesus Christ—he makes a compelling explanation that amounts to: this way, and this way alone, leads to happiness. “God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other.” He goes on, “God cannot give us happiness apart from Himself, because it is not there, there is no such thing.”
Happiness is the quest of all the world, and Lewis shows the way to get there. Not through pleasure, power, or honor but through Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life. As old as it is, Mere Christianity is as relevant and as useful as ever it was.
-Mother Clare, CFR
This is the second Book Pick in a series on the great Christian author C.S.Lewis.