C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity – Analysis and Application Part I

180px-merechristianity.jpg Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. A Touchstone Book, Published by Simon & Schuster. New York, NY. 1952.

This classic is drawn from three separate parts. The first is The Case for Christianity, then Christian Behaviour, and finally Beyond Personality. All three were given on the air as introductory lectures on the Christian religion. To the glorious benefit of the readers Lewis has taken his talks and with a few additions, put together this marvelous work that has served to lead many to consider the claims of the Christian God.

In this series of 15-20 articles, I would like to discuss some of the crucial aspects of Lewis’ writings and make some observations, which, I deem to be important in this day and age. I would like to begin where all good books begin–the preface.

Here we are, removed from C.S. Lewis thirty-three years since God called him. Yet, we are still moved by the brilliance of his works and are amazed by the enormous wealth his famous works[1] still bring to publishers and the movie industry alike. It is crucial to realize that Lewis’ intention in this volume is not to put Christian against Christian, but rather to make a case for the Christian faith. But before doing so, there are several observations in his preface that are worth mentioning.

The relevance of C.S. Lewis is seen in his efforts to unite the body of Christ. Granted, in modern theological language, Lewis would be considered an ecumenicist. That is, one who seeks unity at all cost. As such Lewis avoided dealing with certain issues. It is not that despised them, but that they were not important enough as he sought to defend the faith. To some, to be ecumenical is to flirt with the devil. Nevertheless, Lewis’ ecumenicism is healthy and needed. Lewis is not someone who would compromise the Creedal statements of the church, nor would He compromise other significant elements. However, it is important to see Lewis as someone who was very aware of the non-believing world. He was indeed, an apologist for the Christian faith to the un-Christian masses.[2]

C.S. Lewis was conscious of how the world perceived Christians and he wanted to train believers to be not just intelligent and sophisticated thinkers, but kind and gentle as well.[3] One example of this occurs in Lewis’ preface, in which he writes how we ought to behave if unbelievers are present. He writes:

Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His Only Son.[4]

This is a lesson in what I call “Christian prevention.” If the reader will keep in mind that the unbeliever is at most times completely naïve about the most basic element of the Christian faith, then why would he debate another Christian in areas of the faith that are beyond foreign to the unbelieving ear? The sad state of the church is due to unnecessary fights and inflammatory language that divide and tear asunder the unity of the church. Lewis, in this instance gives us an initial caution mark of what to do in a particular situation. It is better in my estimation to deal with general issues of worldview thinking, unless an unbeliever is curious about something he has heard.[5]

One common critique of C.S. Lewis is that he rarely dealt with controversial Christian issues. He speaks briefly about this when he says:

Some people draw unwarranted conclusions from the fact that I never say more about the Blessed Virgin Mary than is involved in asserting the Virgin Birth of Christ…to say more would take me at once into highly controversial regions.[6]

This is crucial to understand about the nature of Lewis’ writings, and that is, that he was called to be an apologist.[7] As an apologist his audience was not primarily Christian. Lewis wrote in insightful and provocative ways to call the atheist (which, he was before embracing Christ) to see the claims of Christianity. C.S. Lewis made the Christian message appealing to the Oxford philosopher as well as to the children. Of course, Lewis was an Anglican; he never denied it, but he was a reserved Anglican. He never cared too much about presenting the claims of the Church of England versus Methodism or Presbyterianism.

There is a short illustration used by Lewis, which has been used elsewhere, that may shed some light into his thinking about decisions concerning religions.[8] Lewis’ desire is to get an unbeliever into the hall. He writes that if he can “bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted.”[9] Here, once again, Lewis reiterates his passion to draw unbelievers to the Christian message. But once you get into the hall, then the individual is confronted with several doors from which to choose. But which religion, or perhaps which communion should they enter? C.S. Lewis answers: “And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and paneling. In plain language, the question should never be: “ Do I like that kind of service?” but “Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?”[10] The language Lewis uses seems to indicate that he is referring to what communion of saints one must enter once he sees the light of the Christian faith. Whether this is the case or not, one needs to analyze internally the reasons to enter into a particular door. Certain doors may seem attractive, but they may be deadly. C.S. Lewis calls for caution and wisdom in these decisions.[11]

Many years ago the late atheist Dr. Gordon Stein debated the Christian apologist Dr. Greg Bahnsen[12] on the question of the existence of God. Among Stein’s many futile arguments[13] was that Christians can be unkind at times. Dr. Bahnsen’s answer was not to deny that assertion, but to affirm, “Christians can be real asses.” I never forgot that statement, because it is a frightening truth. We can be the most arrogant people alive. Calvinists or Arminians, Episcopalians or Methodists, the Christian communion has much to learn. C.S. Lewis once again enlightens us with some profound warning after we reach our distinct rooms: “When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house.”[14] If some are seen to be outside the family, then we ought to pray for them, so they may be adopted into the family. But if they are in the family, but in a separate family,[15] we do not pray for their conversion, but rather, that they may continue to grow in their faith. If indeed, we find that they are being misled in their theology, we pray God to grant us grace to speak to them with gentleness.

This is a miniscule sample of the wisdom of C.S. Lewis. May we learn from his writings and from his life. We are in dire need of true catholicity in our thinking and acting. May God be pleased in our interactions with unbelievers and believers alike.

  


[1] One of which, has been made into a movie: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

[2] This would certainly include the children. This is seen in the many children’s books that Lewis wrote.

[3] This seems to follow Peter’s model in I Peter 3:15.

[4] Mere Christianity, pg. 6.

[5] This is rarely the case. When Christians argue in front of an atheist, they are only proving that what they have in common is of least importance to them. His suggestion is to leave all bickering and arguing to discuss in the presence of other Christians.

[6] C.S. Lewis, pg. 7.

[7] Whether his apologetic methodology could have been improved upon is a matter for another time.

[8] Here, I am not sure if this illustration can be used for both. It appears to apply to any such thing, though I assume Lewis refers to the doors as different religions.

[9] Pg. 11.

[10] Pg. 11.

[11] If these doors represent religions, then only by the transforming power of the Spirit can one enter the correct door.

[12] Dr. Bahnsen died in 1995 and Dr. Stein died in 1996.

[13] He failed to address Dr. Bahnsen’s Transcendental argument.

[14] Pg. 12. Note: I confess this is a difficult thing to do, but this is our call as Christians.

[15] I refer here to a separate Christian communion.

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Ethics, Philosophy, Reflections, Tolle Lege. Bookmark the permalink.

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