Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Some readers of this blog may not know much about Jesus or Christianity. A basic, working knowledge of the faith that Jesus inspired is key to understanding some of the resources and ideas that will be discussed in this blog. To that end, I would like to suggest as an introductory resource C. S. Lewis’ seminal book, Mere Christianity. It was a book given to me in undergraduate school by a Christian friend who was frankly perplexed and concerned that I did not believe in Jesus. It has now been about twenty years since I first read the book. It is a well-respected book treasured by many Christians.

In Mere Christianity, Lewis succinctly and plainly described Christianity in layman’s terms. You don’t have to have a degree in theology or philosophy to read this book. The text is divided into four parts, each of which is subdivided into distinct chapters. Well-organized, Lewis takes the reader in a methodical, logical way through the basics of Christianity. And he does so from a decidedly non-denominational perspective, which is helpful to many. I found the book to be a very readable introduction to the Christian faith, which was something I had never had previously. It also gave me a lot of food for thought. Indeed, it was very influential in my eventual embrace of Christianity.

For socially progressive readers of this blog, I will warn you that I myself don’t necessarily agree with 100% of what Lewis wrote. His views on women and the institution of marriage immediately come to mind. Nonetheless, it is helpful to remember that Lewis and Mere Christianity were shaped by a very different culture than that of modern American readers. Lewis was British. He was born in Belfast in the nineteenth century, and enjoyed a successful academic career in England. He adapted the book from a series of BBC radio talks he gave in the 1940s. Moreover, when he wrote Mere Christianity, he had never been married. Arguably his writing on women and marriage were beyond his areas of expertise. For these reasons, I try to cut him some slack. In my opinion, the clear and plain-spoken nature of his writing makes up for such biases.

Indeed, even in the context of his writing on marriage, Lewis had intriguing insights on the interplay of religion and secular government. He rejected the notion that Christians should advocate civil laws prohibiting divorce. He analogized that he would not be in favor of Muslims imposing secular bans on alcohol just because consumption of alcohol is prohibited within Islam. Lewis argued that British Christians should recognize that most of their countrymen were not Christians and the faith should not be force upon them. Instead, Lewis advocated that there should be civil marriage laws separate and distinct from church rules governing marriage.

Psalm 86:11 (New International Version)
“Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth.”

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