A Book Review by Michael Eric Martin
It has been suggested by many in evangelical circles that C.S. Lewis was one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century. And for many, this is most evident in Lewis’ classic book known as Mere Christianity. In this well-known work of Christian literature, a book which has been considered by many as one of the greatest Christian writings in the last century, Lewis thoroughly presents a solid and convincing case for the Christian faith. The book covers the “nuts and bolts” of Christian doctrine, along with the theological foundation upon which every believer stands upon. To be sure, Mere Christianity has had a stellar impact upon our culture throughout the decades, and it has forever left its mark upon Christian literature.
To begin with, C.S. Lewis served as a layman in his church. This simplistic role within the church provided a unique perspective that many Christian authors cannot offer; for many Christian authors are pastors or clergymen. This position provided a fresh perspective upon the basic doctrines of the Christian faith along with the various subjects addressed in Mere Christianity.
Secondly, though Lewis was a member of the Church of England, he did not dabble and toil with arguments of theological difference. Lewis clearly states from the beginning that his intentions for writing Mere Christianity were not to promote the theological positions of the Church of England or even address the various opinions that can be found within the divisions of the Christian church. It was not his plan to pen a systematic theology. Rather, he intentionally focuses upon the aspects of the Christian faith common to all believers. This is why the title of the book truly sums its purpose up well – Mere Christianity. It is “merely” a book explaining the common denominator of all Christian denominations – Jesus Christ. Therefore, the dross has been burned off and the message of Christ is presented in its purest sense.
Thirdly, Lewis’s writing style is a tool within itself in convincing doubters the truths of the Christian faith. Lewis himself was an atheist prior to his conversion, which enabled him to “get into the mind” so to speak of the non-believer. Therefore, Lewis accurately understood the skeptic’s prejudices and presumptions against Christian faith and practice. This only enhanced and fueled his effectiveness in making a case for the Christian belief.
Fourth, there is a crisp and fresh experience in reading Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis is an effective wordsmith and a great illustrator. Like a weaver, Lewis sews together the fabric of Christian doctrine into one beautiful tapestry for all to enjoy and understand. He has a way of painting a picture for his readers unlike most other authors. His descriptive language allows his reader to understand the implications of the Christian faith in a deeper and more personal way. This is no doubt where Lewis’ brilliance shines the most. Very few authors have the ability to capture the attention of the reading audience as Lewis does in Mere Christianity. By way of deductive reasoning, Lewis challenges his audience to stretch a little further and to go a little deeper in pondering life truths. In the process of explaining a life truth, Lewis will present an argument, make his case, back it up with logical illustrations, and sum everything up with conclusive evidence.
Finally, what is most interesting about Mere Christianity is the fact that before there was a reading audience, there was a listening audience. Many of the writings in Mere Christianity were originally radio broadcasts voiced by C.S. Lewis himself during World War II. This unique attribute of the book provides different feel than most books offer. And whether people agree or disagree with C.S. Lewis on the information he presented during his radio broadcasts or penned in the book is really not a matter of concern. The truth is no one can deny the fact that Lewis was a brilliant Christian apologist who not only impacted his war torn generation but also has impacted the generations that have followed with the simple truths of the gospel.
Mere Christianity is very thorough, and covers various life subjects such as the root of sin, the depravity of man, God, the law, Christian marriage, human sexuality, ethics, morals, right and wrong, atonement, the doctrine of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the humanity of Christ, justice, and various social issues, just to name a few. And in the process of addressing these subjects, Lewis points to Christ, who is the Author and Finisher of our faith. C.S. Lewis’ presentation of the Christian faith is remarkable. With that said, there are still a few points of concern within Lewis’ theology. As a student ought to do with the writings of any theologian, one must eat the meat and spit out the bones. Unfortunately, Lewis has a few theological bones on his plate that one must be careful not to swallow. In some aspects, the latter chapters of the book are theologically off base. He suggested theistic evolution, along with an extreme position on free will (to the extent that God has limitations) – positions that I would fully and wholeheartedly reject. But with that being said, I could very well have misunderstood the things Lewis was articulating. If that is the case, I withdraw any criticism. For me, Lewis’ train of thought was sometimes hard to follow, and it could very well be that I was occasionally veered off his train tracks. With that being said, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
No Christian library is complete without a copy of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Therefore, I personally recommend the book not only to those serving in vocational Christian ministry, but to any born again believer. The truths addressed within its pages are to be considered priceless, and they must be carefully hulled out and unearthed just like a miner in search for hidden gold.
– Pastor Eric