Last night, October 17, 2016, I had the privilege of hearing the noted historian, George Marsden, lecture at Palm Beach Atlantic University on the topic titled, “The Genius of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity.”
The lecture was based on part of Marsden’s book, C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: a Biography which was published earlier this year. Doing a biography of a book is an interesting approach. But books like Mere Christianity have had a life all to themselves. So it was a very appropriate approach.
The life of Lewis’s book began with a series of radio broadcasts on the BBC in 1941. Britain was facing the Nazi war machine and people had many questions as to how Christianity should be viewed in this tempestuous hour. The resulting book was not greatly received in America until the story of the conversion of Chuck Colson was told in his book Born Again. It continues to sell well not only in Britain and America, but also around the globe.
Marsden chose to center his lecture on five reasons for the lasting vitality of Mere Christianity.
1. Lewis always looks for Timeless Truths as opposed to the Latest Discoveries.
The scientific approach to learning was the method of many of Lewis’s contemporaries. However Lewis had been taught by Owen Barfield a concept called chronological snobbery. This snobbery purported that new ideas were better because they were newer. But Lewis grounded his arguments in history. He had concluded that ideas which stood the test of time had an advantage over those recently discovered. In this way, Lewis spoke to people of all generations.
2. Lewis’s point of contact with his audiences is common human nature.
Lewis saw himself as a translator of truth into the vernacular of the people. Although from the world of academia, Lewis did believe that a scholar does not really understand a concept until he can express it so that the common man understands. This is part of the reason that Lewis is still popular.
3. Mere Christianity is not just a set of rational arguments, but is designed to confront the whole person.
Lewis viewed reason as the organ of truth, but the organ of meaning was the imagination. Therefore he presented reason via imagination. He did so in such a way that he forced the reader to choose sides. In the end his approach confronts a person’s reason, imagination, and volition.
4. His subject is simply “mere Christianity.”
Lewis took this term from the 17th century works of Richard Baxter. Lewis was attempting to get at the essence or core of Christianity. These were beliefs commons to all Christians in all times. Do not misunderstand this to be the lowest common denominator with regard to the faith. Mere Christianity is not minimal Christianity. Mere Christianity is substantive, costly, and demanding. It is the giving up of self so that Christ is all.
5. Lewis points his readers to the luminosity of the gospel message itself.
Lewis had no interest in garnering fame for his book or for himself. His work pointed readers to Christ and the gospel. Like a good tour guide, the author and book takes us to the place of beholding awe-inspiring beauty in the Lord Jesus. We may thank the tour guide, but we praise the Lord.
So now I am going to have to pull out my copy of Mere Christianity and read it again in light of Marsden’s lecture. That is always a good thing.
Question: Have you ever read Mere Christianity or any other work of C.S. Lewis? Which one is your favorite?