A. N. Wilson, C. S. Lewis: A Biography (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1990): One might regret the title . . . Mere Christianity—for it implies that he has written a sort of mini-Summa or encyclopaedia of theology. That was not his intention. His intention in the lively fifteen-minute talks was to answer such questions as ‘Can an intelligent person be a Christian?’ ‘What should a Christian’s attitude be towards war, sex or money?’ ‘Is there a heaven and a hell?’ He answers these questions with a breeziness and a self-confidence which on an academic podium would have been totally unacceptable.
I love Mere Christianity. I have read it multiple times, and my enjoyment of it remains undiminished. Nonetheless, I don't agree with everything the book says. Indeed, it’s doubtful that anyone who considers himself to be a Christian—whether he calls himself a born-again evangelical, a devout Catholic, or a liberal theologian—agrees with everything in the work. That may be surprising to some, considering its title and apparent aim—to explain “mere” or “basic” Christianity—and considering comments that are usually made when describing the work. For example:
Dabney Hart, PhD, Professor, Lewis Scholar, Georgia State University, Atlanta: I think the basis of his widespread popularity is that his Christian faith was as he called it mere Christianity. It was basic Christianity. It was Christianity that created a unifying element. And so Roman Catholics and Baptists and many others find there a reinforcement.
Walter Hooper, trustee and literary advisor of the C. S. Lewis Estate: And what he could do for the brethren, all the brethren, Catholics, non-Catholics, Baptists, whatever, is to say, “Look, we’ve got so much in common. I’m not going to talk about your differences. I don’t want you to think about your differences. Just while you’re reading this book or listening to this talk, think about what you have in common.”
Douglas Gresham, stepson of C. S. Lewis: [Mere Christianity] cuts through all of the denominational rubbish,* all the dross that we have added to what Christ did and what Christ taught. It cuts through right to the nitty gritty of the matter and makes it so very simple for people to understand what Jesus was really all about.
(Quotes taken from The Life and Faith of C. S. Lewis: The Magic Never Ends [The Duncan Group/Crouse Entertainment, DVD, 2001].)
The problem with such statements is that anyone writing a text on “mere” Christianity is bound inadvertently to make assumptions based on his own studies, denominational background, and personal experiences. That’s true for Lewis as well—he was a brilliant academic, a scholar, a product of the Anglican Church, but not (and Lewis himself admits this, and it is one of the appeals of the work) a theologian. Weaknesses of the work include:
- a lack of scriptural support for many of his points (This is not to say his points are necessarily unscriptural; it’s just that Lewis doesn’t take the time to reference clearly the Scriptures on which he’s basing his points.)
- assumptions that all Christians agree on certain things that in fact they do not (e.g., the role of the sacraments, evolution).
Nonetheless, Lewis’s views deserve serious consideration, not only because his was one of the greatest intellects of the twentieth century but also because he does make so many points that so many Christians can agree with. Strengths of the work include:
- Lewis’s winsome, approachable, frequently humorous style
- his demonstration that Christianity is a matter not of blind faith but of reasoned faith—an intellectually satisfying belief system that can stand up to tough scrutiny.
I recommend the book to Christians and non-Christians alike—to Christians because many of the work's statements will strengthen your faith and stretch your mind in ways you haven't experienced before, and to non-Christians who are curious to know more about Christian beliefs, especially to those seeking to better understand the Bible, Christ and His teachings, and His followers and their beliefs.
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: Mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man.
* I feel compelled to note that many Christians take “denominational rubbish” quite seriously because they see important differences—and errors—in the ways various denominational groups define true Christian belief based on their interpretation of Scripture.