Monday, November 21, 2011

Mere Christianity


C. S. Lewis is one of the premier minds in Christendom. An author with a broad reach and large audiences, Lewis is the famed author of The Chronicle Of Narnia series and The Screwtape Letters among others. However, Lewis has written his pièce de résistance with Mere Christianity. Taken from a series of lectures he delivered over the BBC in 1943, Mere Christianity is Lewis’ treatises on the Christian faith, morality, and the problem of evil. Mingling humor and an ascorbic wit along with a rational and starkly contemporary illustration of Nazism, he weaves us through the hardest questions of life, concluding with the needed all humanity has for a righteous and sovereign God.

 Mere Christianity is a though provoking book, that takes the reader systematically through the problem of evil. Because the book was originally a set of lectures presented via radio, the book has a pleasant conversational tone. It is almost as if Lewis were in a conversation with you, asking questions and, after waiting on your response, going on to the next thought he wants you to ponder. This particular edition is an easy read at two hundred twenty seven pages; and while the illustrations are dated, one could certainly hear Lewis speaking just as easily about Al Qaeda in Fallujah, as Nazis in Frankfurt. The enemy may be personified in Nazism, but undergirding this is the realization that the true enemy is the falleness of humanity itself.

        The basis for Mere Christianity seems to be centered around the failures of mankind’s feeble attempts at achieving the sought after Utopia of modernity. With the onset of the Twentieth Century and the enlightenment of Rationalism, the “civilized world” believed that this fabled Utopian society of Nietzsche and Marx would be realized by century’s end. However; by 1943, two world wars and the daily bombings of London had produced a malaise among the people. In addition, uncertainty in the face of the devastation and atrocities of war left people with little hope. The background of this catastrophe leads to the fallow ground that Lewis would till.

The book, then, is a look at Christianity and the great questions of the faith and faithful. Where is God when Nazi’s commit such heinousness crimes? How can a good God allow an Adolph Hitler to reign? What is a person to believe, and where can they find refuge? The greatness of Mere Christianity is in the answers that Lewis provides. These are answers that still ring true in the Twenty-first Century, when the question is, “Where was God when the world stopped turning, that cool September morn?”

            The lectures themselves have been divided into four “books.” Book One deals with human nature and what can be seen of an invisible God in a very visible natural law. Book Two focuses on Christian Belief, while Book Three looks at Christian Behavior. Lastly, Book Four deals with acclimatizing the reader to basic doctrine.

            In dealing with the natural law first, Lewis attempts to speak to the reader about the things of God, which we may see but take for granted. For instance, the fact that right and wrong does exist. In fact, humanity has a moral compass that proves that right and wrong exist. This standard is neither something that we have developed nor one that we have evolved in our human endeavors, so it must come from outside of us; namely, from God.

            In Book Two C. S. begins to develop thoughts on Christian Beliefs. His philosophical rambling run a little long in the tooth in this section; nevertheless, his points are generally on target. In Book Three he moves to Christian Behavior. This section is much more relevant to the average reader. In fact, his treatment of the Golden Rule is superior. The quote from “Dr. Johnson” that, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.” (82) is fabulous. How right that is. The Golden Rule is nothing new, every major religion having a form of it. Of course, Jesus puts His in the positive, whereas all others put it in the negative.

Again, the last section, titled Book Four, deals with specific doctrines of the Christian Faith. In a way, I feel the sentiments of the old RAF Captain, and I feel Lewis’ plight. People do not care about doctrine. They want a personal God. Nevertheless, we must understand what we understand. In that realm, we see the need for doctrines. Lewis puts together a doctrine study with the same wit and humor that captivates the audience and lulls them into a forgetful trance that makes them forget they are indeed studying doctrine.

The book, taken as a whole, is a deep well of influencing argument for the agnostic and atheist, and a primer or refresher course for the believer. As Lewis put in the preface, the book should be seen as an entrance into the halls of Christianity. (XV) Where one goes and what rooms are explored is left up to the reader. Nevertheless, the reader will certainly leave with a more thoughtful view of Christianity and

            This book can be an incredibly valuable tool for the minister’s library. It certainly will help a minister develop a “down to earth” philosophy of life and the problem that a life with God can cause. There is a great quote from Kathleen Norris’ in the foreword to the Harper One edition: “Lewis seeks in Mere Christianity to help us see religion with fresh eyes, as a radical faith whose adherents might be likened to an underground group gathering in a war zone, a place where evil seems to have the upper hand, to hear messages of hope from the other side.”  C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity is one of the rare jewels that come along once a generation, and remain timeless and relevant.

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