The writer of the preface tells us that Mere Christianity is “a book that begs to be seen in its historical context, as a bold act of storytelling and healing in a world gone mad.” This generation, and every generation really, is in need of a good storytelling and healing.
As you read, you will hear the conversational tone, as these were originally talks given over the radio from 1942-1944. Spoken to the general population, at a great time of upheaval, not to scholars or professionals but to all people who would tune in. We are not all professional apologists, but all Christians are called to be the salt and light in this world–part of being the light means engaging the cultural questions with Truth. This book is great for agnostics and atheists, but also for Christians unsure of how to engage in these sorts of conversations.
He addressed questions that sometimes only rise up in our souls during distressing times–but these questions reside in us all, rooted in our being creatures made in God’s image. As such, we are meaning-makers; we look around and think about our situation rather than just living each moment by mere instinct. We wonder if the world at large has any purpose, if we have any purpose, if our thoughts or actions “matter” in any way.
And so the questions Lewis discusses are timeless. My own children will read this book in high school; I myself did not read it until I had graduated college. And as a lover of good books, I’ve read it several times since. It is worth revisiting every several years.
Is there a God?
Though Lewis is unorthodox at points, the largest example being when he questions whether God would judge unbelievers who had not heard the gospel. Though he admits throughout he is no theologian, and is not really able to answer such questions. So while reading, I overlook those small points, and get to the main point–he knew how to converse on great topics that sometimes keep others from coming to the faith. We need to know how to converse, to see an obstacle and answer it gently.
Page 78, “God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers. If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you, you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all.”
The first five chapters walk through what philosophers call the Moral Law. Lewis shows the timelessness of this concept, and how it separates us from animals. He then walks through how this concept answers so many of our doubts about whether there is a God, and what sort of God He may be. Lewis writes of the point of science, and how scientists and historians can add to this discussion. Truly enjoyable chapters!
What sort of God is He?
The next five chapters move from discussing whether there is a God, towards discussing what Christians believe about God.
Page 40 “I will tell you another view that is also too simple. It is the view I call Christian-and-water, the view which simply says there is a good God in Heaven and everything is all right–leaving out all the difficult and terrible doctrines about sin and hell and the devil, and the redemption. Both these are boys’ philosophies.”
Lewis answers so many poignant questions in these chapters. He begins by discussing dualism, and then why & how it has no place in Christianity. After discussing dualism, and good vs. evil, comes one of his most famous quotes (from which preachers addicted to alliteration have stolen the idea, saying He is “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord”):
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘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. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Does Belief in God impact How I Live?
The next section Lewis calls “Christian Behavior” and he discusses not only beliefs, and how they lead to our ‘behavior’, but he also works towards a good definition of morality. He discusses how we can decide between right and wrong, good and bad, and what gives us the ‘right’ to do so. He discusses virtues–a word this generation needs to remember (or learn). He discusses hard topics, like sexual morality, pride, and repentance. Virtue and morality are timeless, reading his words written nearly 80 years ago will shed some valuable perspective on today’s cultural chaos, where some Christians are tempted to begin saying there are countless genders, countless sexual preferences, and temptation is not to be resisted–after all could it really be immoral for me to accept and act upon my desires?
He moves from there to hope and faith–chapters that are both enlightening and encouraging. Several times in this section Lewis alludes to ‘habit training’ or growing in our faith and learning to exercise our minds, our hearts, our bodies, etc. At the heart of Christianity then is not a checklist, not merely good advice and teaching, rather:
“But as soon as you look at any real Christian writings, you find that they are talking about something quite different from this popular religion. They say that Christ is the Son of God (whatever that means). They say that those who give Him their confidence can also become Sons of God (whatever that means). They say that His death saved us from our sins (whatever that means). There is no good complaining that these statements are difficult. Christianity claims to be telling us about another world, about something behind the world we can touch and hear and see…”. Page 156
The last few chapters tackle some of those questions that Christianity answers, which we all on some level struggle with, or have struggled with: Who is God? Did He create? Why? To what end? What does that say about me, a creature? What sort of Being is He? Why worship Him? Again, there are a few unorthodox wordings, but overall a captivating retelling, and a great primer for how to think through these ideas with neighbors, or with future generations, conversationally.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity; (HarperSanFrancisco; 1952).
C.S. Lewis, Miracles; (HarperSanFrancisco; 1947). An argument for the philosophical possibility of miracles with an attack on scientific materialism.
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain; (HarperSanFranciso; 1940). In this philosophic work, Lewis deals with the issue of theodicy.
Thank you for joining me in this introduction to apologetics series. This post was written a month ago, but I’ve been taking a bit of a break (summer, ahhhh). We will have one last apologetic post, on the idea of knowledge–or epistemology. A great topic to read up on and tuck away for your middle and high school aged children.