Mere Christianity by CS Lewis
Back in 2002 I bought a copy of Mere Christianity by CS Lewis. I tried to read it, and promptly fell asleep. It seems my 16 year old mind at the time was much more interested in Tom Clancy and Phillip Yancey (still am). So back to the shelf it went, with many a promise in the following years that I would finally take the time to finish it. I tried to start it again last year, but ultimately got around to starting it sometime after school ended and finishing it today.
CS Lewis and I go way back. I read the Chronicles of Narnia series for the first time when I was aound 6 years old. I grew up on the BBC specials, which I consider superior to the more recent films (Prince Caspian was the best comedy of the year it was released!), so I enjoyed comparing the books to the films. I remember disliking A Horse and His Boy and the Magician’s Nephew, and absolutely loving The Last Battle. Later on, I read The Screwtape Letters, which is easily in my top 5 favorite books of all time. In the last two years I’ve read the Space trilogy, and am now working on more of his non-fiction works.
Mere Christianity is a remarkably easy book to read through. Each chapter is roughly 3-4 pages, and focus on a single topic. CS Lewis has a very readable style, albeit one that feels slightly archaic now due to his writing the book and delivering the original radio lectures in the 40’s. He uses the term “Mohammedism” often, which obviously refers to Islam but is slightly before the resurgence of the term “Islam” on the modern scene. (Which makes me wonder what was going on in Islam during World War II, and how did they fit in to the grand scheme of things? Were they under attack by Hitler? Was he trying to woo them? Bears investigating.)
Mere Christianity is one of CS Lewis’ most quoted books. Many famous lines come from it, of which this is probably one of the most famous:
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Yet, as I’m reading through the book, I found myself catching those famous quotes, and thinking “But…but there are so many other better quotes in this book!” I wish I had taken the time to write them down instead of just being encouraged by them, but that will probably have to be a blog post at a later time. There is so much gold in Mere Christianity that the stuff that gets quoted most often feels like it pales in comparison to the really good stuff, albeit more challenging to the average mere believer. His chapter on evolution was astounding, and I’m glad I read the book simply for that.
CS Lewis challenges me. I realize he’s hardly a Calvinist, but at the same time, he feels more Calvinist than Arminian, and takes pains at times to point himself in that direction by denying fundamental Arminian doctrines, all without declaring a team. I like that. He’s also an Anglican. One of the greatest blessings in my life is having friends from other denominations who I know beyond a shadow of a doubt are Christians, and are led by God’s Spirit to believe things other than what I believe. This creates a friendly tension whereby we can bless and encourage and still challenge each other (“iron sharpening iron”). I’m discovering more constantly that the authors and artists I’m most blessed by are those who don’t come from my theological camp and denominational background. I feel…more satisfied in Christ when I’m around Anglicans, Presbyterians, and the like. I feel safe. Maybe even safer.
The flipside to this is that it is slowly starting to break in me the feeling that I am “right” on everything. If two believers, both led by the Spirit of God, arrive at two different conclusions, then who is right? Possibly they both are to an extent, and possibly they are both wrong to an extent. I don’t buy the rhetoric that says “well one has to be wrong because they can’t both be right”. That argument is shaky, built on many fallacies. How about this? God is right, and we see through a glass darkly. But of course, I could be wrong, and the other position could be absolutely right! So what. Frankly, I don’t care anymore, and I’m not willing to entertain such fantasies.
I really enjoyed CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I plan on reading it again sometime. Hopefully it won’t take another 8 years. I think every Christian should read this book, and take their time with it too. Don’t just be looking through it for great quotes; wrestle with his arguments. Understand your faith. Know why you believe, and even know why you shouldn’t. Go where the Spirit leads you. If you find yourself discovering that you don’t believe certain doctrines anymore, that’s ok, because as CS Lewis says in the book, “you are probably closer to God in that moment than if you had just blindly accepted without thinking.” (paraphrase)
Mere Christianity will challenge you if you let. I’m sure many of the arguments in the book have been ‘refuted’ by atheists and agnostics, which is fine. The arguments are still valid, and it’s up to each person to either accept them or reject them for whatever reason.