Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Review Of Mere Christianity By C.S. Lewis

by Frederick Meekins -- C.S. Lewis is renowned as one of the foremost Christian thinkers of the twentieth century. Despite being an Anglican and exhibiting a number of tendencies making him a bit of an iconoclast among his fellow believers, C.S. Lewis has been fondly embraced by a broad swath of the church in part because of his efforts to promote a version of the Christian faith amicable towards all denominations by appealing to what all of these theological niches have in common, which could be referred to as mere Christianity.

As such, one of Lewis' best known apologetic texts is titled none other than
"Mere Christianity". Originally presented as a series of broadcast talks,
Lewis vetted much of his text past four members of the clergy --- an
Anglican, a Methodist, a Presbyterian, and a Roman Catholic --- in order to
keep denominational idiosyncrasies to a minimum. Because of such
conscientious effort, the Christian finds in "Mere Christianity" a rational
defense of the faith of considerable sophistication.

"Mere Christianity" begins as a recitation of what is known as the moral
argument for the existence of God. According to Lewis, the moral law
consists of the fundamental rules by which the universe operates and to
which all residing within are bound. And even though considerable
intellectual resources have been expended to deny its existence, not even
those making it their life's purpose to undermine these eternal principles
can escape from them try as they might. Lewis observes, "Whenever you find a
man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find
the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to
you, but if you try breaking one to him, he will be complaining `It's not
fair' before you can say `Jack Robinson' (5)."

The very fact that human beings are able to argue that one set of moral
claims is superior to another, Lewis observes, is itself proof that some
kind of higher law exists. Lewis writes, "Quarrelling means trying to show
that the other man is wrong. And there would be no sense in trying to do
that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong
are; just as there would be no sense in saying that a footballer has
committed a foul unless there was some kind of agreement about the rules of
football (4)."

Lewis notes, "If no set of moral ideas were truer or better than any other,
there would be no sense in preferring...Christian morality to Nazi
morality...If your moral ideas can be truer, and those of the Nazis less
true, there must be something --- some real morality --- for them to be true
about (11)." Thus, the standard by which human moralities are judged stem
from a source apart and above them.

From establishing that natural law exists, Lewis moves on to examine where
this eternal law originates from. Lewis postulates there are approximately
two sources that this law could possibly originate from: the materialist
view that the principles governing the universe arose through a process of
chance and the religious view that the universe was established by a
conscious mind. And since the law comes to us in the form of principles and
instructions, this would seem to conclude that the promulgator of this law
would have to be mind rather than inanimate matter.

Despite the fact that the universe was meant to run according to moral law,
it is obvious from a quick look around that the moral agents operating
within it fail to live up to these noble ideals as we are regularly aware of
even our own shortcomings. As such, the universe requires a divine
intervention to set things right. Lewis writes, "Enemy occupied territory
--- that is what the world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful
king has landed...and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of
sabotage (36)." This king is none other than Jesus, whom from his own
claims, must be God or, as Lewis famously points out, is a lunatic "on a
level with a man who says he is a poached egg or a devilish liar (41)." It
was the primary purpose of Jesus to suffer and die so that our sins might be
forgiven so that we might be made whole in Him.

Fundamental as this message is to man's eternal salvation, "Mere Christianity" is also full of practical observations less cosmic and more
down to earth. Lewis writes, "Theology is practical. Consequently, if you do
not listen to Theology...It will mean that you have a lot of...bad muddled,
out of date ideas (120.)" Many of theology's practical concerns manifest
themselves in the form of morality.

Lewis lists morality as being concerned with three matters: harmony between
individuals, the inner life of the individual, and the general purpose of
human life as a whole (57). Lewis observes that different beliefs about the
universe will naturally result in different behaviors and those closest to
the truth will produce the best results (58).

Lewis demonstrates how this phenomena manifests itself in a number of
ethical spheres, sex being one of interest to just about all people. It is
this obsession with sex, Lewis point out, that shows just how out of whack
contemporary morality has become. Lewis comically comments that the level to
which this biological impulse has been elevated in our own society is akin
to a land where the inhabitants have such a prurient interest in food beyond
nourishment and wholesome pleasure that the inhabitants watch a plate
containing a mutton chop that is uncovered just before the lights go out
(75). Ironically, Lewis points out, such deviancy is not usually the result
of starvation but rather overindulgence.

Though Lewis is witty in regards to most issues he addresses, even in
regards to this beloved Oxford professor, the Christian must remember to be
a Berean and measure even his formidable intellect by the standard of
Biblical truth. Unfortunately, there are at least two matters that must be
approached with caution.

Lewis likens the process of change we go through as Christians to the
biological theory of recapitulation where it is believed an embryo passes
through the various phases of evolution during development in the womb. Of
the process, Lewis writes, "We were once like vegetables, and once rather
like fish; it was only at a later stage that we became like human babies

One hopes that had Lewis lived until more technologically advanced times
that he would have not retained this scientifically erroneous theory. For at
its most innocent, it is used to justify Darwinisim and from Lewis'
statement one could very well use it to justify abortion.

From another passage, it would seem Lewis tottered dangerously close to a
"proto-universalism" in his thought. Lewis writes, "There are people in
other religions who are being led by God's secret influence to concentrate
on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity,
and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it (162)."

John 14:6 says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the
Father except through me." And Acts 4:12 says, "Salvation is found in no one
else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must
be saved."

In writing "Mere Christianity", Lewis does a commendable job overall of
balancing the theoretical and practical concerns of the faith. As such,
"Mere Christianity" will no doubt continue as a classic apologetics text for
decades to come.




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