Macat’s Featured Book of the Month: C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity
There are a select group of religious books that bridge across generations and cultures. Over seventy years after its publication, Mere Christianity stands in this class of work as it has been translated into over twenty-five languages and continues to be a source of inspiration today.
Originally composed as a series of talks for the British Broadcasting Network (BBC) during the second World War, C. S. Lewis set out to explain the basics of the Christian faith to a largely secular British audience. His intent was not to convert the masses but, rather, he wanted Christianity to have its place in the public square. In his talks Lewis offered a philosophical and moral argument for the existence of God that expanded into broader discussions on Christian theology, ethics, and practice. He also addressed spiritual practices to help guide people on their faith journey.
The enduring qualities of Mere Christianity stem from its simple explanation of the basic doctrines of Christian belief and from the fact that Lewis himself was a devout atheist who had a complex and intriguing journey to faith. His personal style and life experience gave him a voice to speak to a skeptical public whom he thought had dismissed Christianity without fully understanding its claims.
He did not speak as one addressing academics or specialists. Instead, Lewis spoke as a layperson to other laypeople and presented Christian theology in a way that made it seem less daunting. Even after the talks were converted to published form in 1952, they still retained their informal, conversational style. Though Lewis was steeped in classics, philosophy, and literature his breadth of academic knowledge and experience did not prevent him from presenting Christian doctrine in a fresh, lively, and often humorous manner. This ability to communicate philosophical and theological ideas in plain language has caused some to label him as the greatest Christian apologist of the twentieth century.
Mere Christianity was a groundbreaking text that challenged the modernism and naturalism of Lewis’s day. It offered a coherent argument for the existence of God using both philosophical principles as well as illustrations from everyday life. Lewis begins by laying out the building blocks of his argument which start with the universe, moral law, and the possibility of a Creator God. His first chapter is entitled ‘Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe’ and explores universal moral and ethical behavior as a sign of God’s influence in creation. He then discusses the particular revelation of the Judeo-Christian God and how Christians understand the claims made by the historic figure of Jesus Christ.
The second portion of the work discusses the practical results of belief in the Christian God. Lewis focuses on three aspects of morality in connection with human relationships, the interior moral life, and the end goal of life in relationship with God. In the final section he addresses theological topics such as the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) yet he does so within the context of practical faith and how one might grow in their spiritual life.
Lewis’s work was not without its critics when it was first published. Those on the secular and religious left criticized him for being overly dogmatic and not progressive enough in his ideas. The conservative Christian right (both Protestant and Catholic) classified him as unorthodox and questioned his view on certain contentious doctrines. Yet his surge in popularity in American during the late twentieth century brought Mere Christianity back to light and it has enjoyed continued success around the world today.
Mere Christianity is the product of a highly educated, creative, and imaginative author who wrote from his own life experience. Though Lewis is best known for his series of children’s fantasy books, The Chronicles of Narnia, he enjoys a strong following for his endeavors in apologetics. His ability to combine scholarly integrity with simplicity and lucidity make his defense of a ‘mere’ Christian faith a work of lasting significance.
As future generations wrestle with issues of God, morality, and meaning, Mere Christianity will continue to be relevant as Lewis’s clarity of argument provides one of the best apologetics for the Christian faith today. His work continues to be published around the world which is evidence of the wide-ranging impact it continues to have on those seeking to engage with the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. Mere Christianity is a classic text that has inspired generations of readers to engage seriously with matters concerning religious faith and it will continue to do so in the future.
– Dr. Mark Scarlata.
The Reverend Dr Mark Scarlata is Vicar-Chaplain at the church of St Edward King and Martyr, Cambridge. He holds a PhD in Old Testament studies from the University of Cambridge and is senior lecturer at St Mellitus Theological College in London. The Revd Dr Scarlata is the author of ‘Am I My Brother’s Keeper?’: Christian Citizenship in a Globalized Society (Cascade Books, 2013).