Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

The contents of this book were originally presented as a multiple-part radio series. C. S. Lewis, who served in World War I and was an air raid warden during World War II, was asked to give a series of broadcasts on Christian faith. These broadcasts came during the blitzkreig, when Great Britain was attacked on almost a nightly basis by German bombers. Incidentally, the blitz played a pivotal part in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

In the preface to Mere Christianity, Lewis states, “The reader should be warned that I offer no help to anyone who is hesitating between two Christian denominations.” This sentence tells the reader a lot about the book. It also describes why I liked Mere Christianity as much as I did.

Having grown up in a thoroughly conservative Christian environment, I am painfully aware of the misplaced importance that many Christians put on issues that have almost no bearing on what it means to be a Christian. Lewis is not concerned with the differences between denominations. His topic is much larger in scope. His goal is to answer questions, such as “What is Christianity?”, and “What are the major tenets of the religion?”. In other words, “What must one believe to be a Christian?”. I find this infinitely more interesting than squabbles over the importance of prayer or the debate over works and faith. Many of the questions that Lewis poses are questions that I have asked at some point.

Lewis approaches his topic logically, employing illuminating, and often witty, illustrations. He begins with the universe, arguing that Christianity provides answers to the many questions posed by the universe. Each successive chapter flows logically from the previous one. Of course, Lewis ends up concluding that Christianity is the salve to the aches and pains of the world. But he does not do so by being flippantly dismissive of other religious beliefs. In fact he says, “If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through.”

Lewis tells his reader that he is writing from the perspective of a layman, emphasizing that Mere Christianity is a collection of what he has come to know about Christianity. But he does not place undue importance on what he has to say. At one point he tells his readers, “If this chapter has not meant anything to you, or you have not found it helpful, drop it. Do not give it another thought.” I find this kind of candor refreshing.


Nihil Novum said...

I think this is probably the best logical apologetic for Christianity I've ever read. It doesn't hurt that it's rather clever and funny.

Christopher said...

I would like to see Lewis debate Christopher Hitchens