A Review of "Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis

• Date Reviewed: Mar 2024

• Book Reviewed: “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis

• Number of Pages:  227

One of the things we enjoy doing together as a family is reading good books aloud together.  The children were already familiar with the author C.S. Lewis through his book series The Chronicles of Narnia but we decided to take a deep dive into his life by reading through a biography about him.  Now, that’s not the book I’m going to review for you today, but we recently finished that book and during our reading, it talked about several of the books C.S. Lewis wrote during his lifetime to include Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters.  I recommended The Screwtape Letters to our oldest daughter, who has been thoroughly enjoying it and will be providing her review of it to you all soon, and I picked up Mere Christianity, since we already owned a copy of it and I don’t remember having ever read it before despite being familiar with it. Some books we just become so accustomed to hearing about that we sometimes forget that we may never have actually undertaken the reading of it ourselves, so I was determined to rectify that.  However, before I go any further, this is a quick overview of what the book is about:

“One of the most popular introductions to Christian faith ever written, Mere Christianity brings together Lewis’s legendary broadcast talks during World War Two, in which he set out to “explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” Here, Lewis provides an unequaled opportunity for believers and nonbelievers alike to hear a powerful, rational case for the Christian faith.  A collection of scintillating brilliance, Mere Christianity remains strikingly fresh for the modern reader and at the same time confirms C.S. Lewis’s reputation as one of the leading writers and thinkers of our age.”

According to Tim Challies, “In the Foreword, Kathleen Norris provides further context by setting these messages in the midst of the Second World War, in a day when people were asking questions about the nature and existence of God. Lewis “gave talks to men in the Royal Air Force, who knew that after just thirteen bombing missions, most of them would be declared dead or missing. Their situation prompted Lewis to speak about the problems of suffering, pain, and evil, work that resulted in his being invited by the BBC to give a series of wartime broadcasts on Christian faith.” This is not a work of academic philosophy but a work of oral literature, delivered to people at war.”

I found this book to be very logically organized, starting at the beginning with “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe”, moving through “What Christians Believe”, followed by an analysis of “Christian Behavior”, and concluding with “Beyond Personality: Or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity.”  It was helpful how Lewis simplified the issues he chose to discuss, making them accessible to more people.  He employed analogies in a way similar to how Charles Spurgeon did, to assist in the understanding of what could be highly complex and challenging truths.   That being said, I feel as if I benefitted more from the earlier chapters than the later chapters, primarily due to Lewis’ take on free will and the lack of a support for the Calvinist doctrine of election, but I know that he was also Anglican and that despite his efforts to focus on core tenets of Christianity in general, his own beliefs seem more pronounced in the last section of the book.  For this reason, I would not immediately think to suggest that believers should recommend this book to unbelievers, at least not initially, although I have heard in the past that some people would consider doing that.

Since I have been studying evangelism a lot lately, I found this book to be helpful as it contains ways to explain Christianity to unbelievers through various analogies or simplification of complex issues.  This can be a very useful tool, especially to those who have been believers for many years and have solidified their understanding of many doctrines in their minds for themselves but may have difficulty communicating them in a way that makes sense to others.  C.S. Lewis does this remarkably well and I think it is worthwhile to familiarize yourself with this classic book to not only refresh your memory with the basic beliefs of Christianity but also with how to think through these things with others, especially unbelievers.

This book is just over 200 pages but the chapters are divided into readable sections.  I finished it in a few weeks, but I really took my time on this one and bounced around between other books at the same time.  If you have never read this classic, I would recommend it to you and also if you are interested in finding ways to communicate Christian truths in a simplified way to unbelievers.  Also, be on the lookout for the upcoming book review on The Screwtape Letters!  Both that book and Mere Christianity can be found in CRBC’s library as a 2-in-1 book.  Check it out!

Additional Note from Pastor Doug:

A Christian magazine once conducted a survey in which it asked pastors and theologians to share the book that had the most profound influence on them and which they would credit with putting them on the road to full-time ministry. "Mere Christianity" topped the list beating the book in the second slot by a large margin. Once you begin to dig in to this work, it is not hard to understand why. One of the reasons that the book is so accessible is that found in its origins, as noted above, in a series of radio broadcasts that Lewis was asked to do for the BBC. This means the chapters tend to be short and yet packed full of thought-provoking reflections on the faith. I cannot count the number of times that I have referenced something that Lewis has said in this book in various contexts. Just this past week I made two separate and unplanned references to it: one in my "Basic Christianity" Sunday School lesson and one during our Monday night small group.

Jennifer notes its use for preparing us to discuss Christian truths to non-believers and yet is hesitant to commend it to unbelievers themselves. I understand some of her cautions regarding the later chapters and I absolutely sympathize with them. That said, I'd like to share two examples of how I have used it in the past with non-believers. Both of these came while I was working at Starbucks. The first was with a handful of coworkers who were unbelievers but who had shown and openness to discussing spiritual matters with me. I invited them to my home for a weekly gathering to discuss why I found the Christian faith to be compelling. I purchased each one of them a copy of "Mere Christianity" and each week we would sit down and slowly read a chapter out loud and discuss it. I found this to be a helpful practice because a couple of them found Lewis' arguments to be a bit over their heads. Reading it out loud with them, allowed me to stop and address their questions and clarify any misunderstandings they may have had. In the end, they all found Lewis' arguments interesting if not compelling. The second came after I had asked a regular customer how he was doing. He said that particular day was the one-year anniversary of his wife's death, and then commented, "I'd like to think there is something more." I knew what he meant. I asked him that, if I were to give him something to read, if he would. He said he would and, the next day, I gave him my copy of "Mere Christianity." I watched him, over the next couple of weeks, come into the shop, buy his cup of coffee, and sit in the shop while reading the book. When he was finished, he informed me that he had given it to his daughter to read. It was not long after that my family moved from that area and I don't know what became of him or his daughter, but I pray that the Lord used this book with them as He has with so many others.

If you have never read this book, you are still likely to be familiar with an argument that comes from it. Lewis presents the claims of Jesus regarding His identity and says remarks that Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or He is the Lord and that we must make up our minds as to which one He is. This discussion is, in my estimation, worth the price of the book alone. That said, there is another exercise that he takes the reader through that I find just as valuable and it is his extended reflections on humankind's understanding of right and wrong. From whence do we get the idea that there are some things that are "right" and some things that are "wrong" and why is there basic universal agreement as to what these things are? This is a great question to begin a discussion with a non-believer and the question that haunted Lewis when he was an atheistic college student. His pursuit of the answer to that question eventually led him to the feet of Jesus.

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