by C. S. Lewis
Reviewed by Terry Akers
Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) was an intellectual giant of the last century and one of the most influential Christian writers of his day. The Oxford and Cambridge scholar wrote more than 30 books, achieving international acclaim for his contributions in literary criticism, children’s literature, fantasy literature and popular theology. His books continue to attract large numbers of new readers from the religious and secular worlds.
During World War II, when England’s national survival was threatened by Hitler’s bombs, C.S. “Jack” Lewis was invited by the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) to give a series of radio lectures addressing the central issues of the Christian faith. These lectures were later published as three books and subsequently combined as Mere Christianity in 1952. This literary masterpiece has had an enormous effect on believers and nonbelievers alike with its forceful and rational case for Christianity.
Lewis’ original intent was simply to “explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” Mere Christianity’s vast appeal lies in its rejection of the boundaries that divide the church’s many denominations. Its uncompromising focus throughout is the centrality of Jesus Christ — his life, death, resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit.
The book makes a clear distinction between the essentials and non essentials of historic Christian orthodoxy, re-focuses believers who have unwittingly drifted to the left or right and provides a powerful witness to those outside the faith. This book is a beautiful expression of the old Christian guiding principle, “In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, and in all things love.” Despite his intellectual prowess, Lewis writes in an engaging style with wit and humor.
Lewis, a converted atheist, establishes our common ground as believers in our faith in Jesus Christ. He pulls no punches when he speaks about the author and finisher of our salvation: “I am trying 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.’... 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… 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.”
Mere Christianity was composed from the perspective of an educated layman in the Church of England during trying times. Writing as a professor of literature, not as a theologian or philosopher, Lewis is able to bring the bare essentials and some of the broader aspects of the faith to the ordinary person in a down-to-earth and common sense way in terms they can easily understand.
Yet his intellectual and literary gifts add depth and substance to the thoughts contained in the book, making it the perfect launching pad for deeper theological study. Its brilliant biblical reflections and familiar style make it as current and relevant to the modern reader as it was to its original wartime radio audience.
This is a quote from Kathleen Norris’ Foreword to the HarperCollins 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.”
This is an ideal book to share with inquiring friends who desire to know what Christians believe. It comes in economically priced paperback editions and makes an excellent resource for group discussion. Mere Christianity has been used to make a dynamic statement for the faith for more than 50 years and continues to speak to new audiences in each generation. It is comprised of clear, concise, thought-provoking sentences in lucid, conversational prose.
Lewis’ logical arguments are eloquently expressed and are interspersed with imaginative illustrations to illuminate his points. He makes fine use of analogy and metaphor to help explain some of the deeper theological concepts. Overall, this Christian classic is a pleasure to read and serves as a splendid introduction to Christian theology and doctrine. It should not be missed.
Copyright © 2005