Rereading Mere Christianity • C.S. Lewis

by Glenn on January 25, 2015

Some books are worth reading and re-reading. I thought I would go back to C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity at the start of this year. Here are some haiku from my reading of the Introduction and Book 1:

Introduction

1
let’s talk divisions
only with those who believe
in God and Jesus

2
it is what it is
Christianity functions
whether I like it or not

3
careful with Mary
to Roman Catholics it’s
like insulting mom

4
we don’t agree on
even the importance of
our disagreements

5
please infer nothing
from Lewis’ silence on
issues of dispute

6
let the term Christian
be a description not an
evaluation

7
the word Christian means
nothing as an opinion
it describes a fact

Book 1

8
“we ought to” means we
acknowledge a right and wrong
that’s beyond ourselves

9
there are rules “out there”
which we call the moral law
and we break those rules

10
Please, God, excuse me
but hold accountable
the rest of the world

11
the world is either
an accident or product
of a Designer

12
the world we live in
beautiful and dangerous
tells us about God?

13

Christianity
makes no sense without belief
in sin—our dismay

14
bad men give up things
then expect everyone else
to give them up, too.

The older I get, the better this book gets and the more comfortable I get with its arguments. Some notes on a few of those haiku.

1. I so admire Lewis’ humility. He is arguably Christianity’s foremost apologist and so capable in describing Christianity, but he doesn’t consider himself an expert on issues that divide Christians one from the other. He makes a great point that our internal arguments, however important, don’t bring people to faith.

3. I appreciate Lewis’ sensitivity toward Roman Catholics. During the Christmas season I read a book by a Roman Catholic (see my review here) that was challenging for me and I found myself so quick to go on the attack.

6. Lewis uses the word “gentleman” to make his point. Gentleman used to indicate a person with land and a coat-of-arms. It had nothing to do with behavior, though you’d want a person with property and a coat-of-arms to act a certain way. Now we use the word gentleman either to insult or praise someone, which means it says more about the person who says it rather than the person being described. He insists on allowing the word Christian to describe beliefs and not be a term of judgment.

 ***

Here we are 70 years out from when Lewis wrote this book and I wonder if his argument still works. This is not to say it’s a bad argument, I think it’s the central argument. As the prophet Isaiah writes,

“‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord.
‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’” Isaiah 1:18 (NIV)

God is good and we are sinners. That is the problem in the world for which Christianity offers an answer. So I think Lewis is exactly right to start where he does. But eliminate God and/or sin and this whole thing called Christianity becomes superfluous at best, a menace at worst.

We’ve got problems in this world but we’ve said that the source of these problems is not sin but lack. We lack knowledge or resources or the means of adjustment and, therefore, the solution to these problems is found in education or economic parity or therapy. And while education, parity, and therapy are good things, we’ve more or less eliminated the need to deal with sin.

Also, I have no idea what the zeitgeist was like when C.S. Lewis was writing, but the press of relativism feels very strong today. It’s challenging because relativism is essential so that we don’t kill each other. The statement “true for me but not for you” is how we agree to disagree in our current age. Especially when multiple groups claim to be connected to absolute truth it’s the best way we have to protect each other.

But we’ve gotten so good at relativizing that I’m not sure how accepting we are of an absolute anything. For example, a friend of mine told me the other day, “There are no absolutes. I’ve told you that, right?” To which I wanted to reply, “Is that an absolute statement.” I’ve heard Os Guinness say that one of the tasks we have to do today is to relativize the relativizers. And I wonder how Lewis would approach his task today.

Anyway, these are not criticisms of Lewis. I think Mere Christianity is fantastic. It’s getting better as I get older. But it feels like it’s getting harder in our culture to make the case.

On to Book 2 ….

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[…] have written posts on Book 1, Book 2, and Book 3. The whole is a remarkable statement of apologetics and an affirmation of both […]

by 2015 Reading List [a work in progress] « glennaustin.com on 30 April 2015 at 11:29 am. #