When I was fifteen, I spent a glorious summer selling ice cream at a hotel pool. It was the best type of job for a high schooler, and I distinctly remember sitting on a stool with my feet propped up, the warmth of the sun on my legs, and snacking on a ice cream cookie sandwich while reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. As long as we sold the ice cream when a customer approached, we were free to spend our time however we liked. And so the summer passed as I turned the pages, and I have to tell you, the season left me mesmerized. Mere Christianity was inspiring and influential, and I truly believe that reading it was what set me out the path that lead me to Westmont College, and then to receiving a degree in Religious Studies. It was the catalyst.
Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis
“In 1941 England, when all hope was threatened by the inhumanity of war, C. S. Lewis was invited to give a series of radio lectures addressing the central issues of Christianity. More than half a century later, these talks continue to retain their poignancy. First heard as informal radio broadcasts on the BBC, the lectures were published as three books and subsequently combined as Mere Christianity. C. S. Lewis proves that “at the center of each there is something, or a Someone, who against all divergences of belief, all differences of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks with the same voice,” rejecting the boundaries that divide Christianity’s many denominations. This twentieth century masterpiece provides an unequaled opportunity for believers and nonbelievers alike to hear a powerful, rational case for the Christian faith” (summary found here).
When I think of Lewis’ theology, I imagine it as if he were coloring in a drawing done in ink, filling in the blank spaces with wide, bright, watercolor strokes. The lines are those pieces of Christian theology that are clear enough in the Bible: the doctrines that most every Christian will agree upon. In grace-filled humility, Lewis acknowledges that there is a “core” of Christian beliefs that span across denominations (that is, “mere” Christianity), and that the rest of it just doesn’t matter quite as much. Absolute truth. The existence of a holy, Trinitarian God. The Hypostatic Union (the dual humanity and divinity of Christ). Salvation by grace. Santification. Life (or death) everlasting. The watercolor that connects all those lines, bringing depth and color and feeling… those are Lewis’ philosophical, moral, and emotional responses to the said doctrine. Could that drawing be colored with slightly different hues? Probably. Is there any reason to believe that the colors he has chosen are wrong? No, I don’t think so. And so that is what Mere Christianity is. It is an wise, affable old man laying out the foundations of Christian doctrine, and then using metaphors and illustrations to fill it all in, so that at the end, there is a beautifully drawn, intellectually & emotionally compelling, picture of his faith and mine.
I imagine Lewis’ voice as one that is both matter-of-fact and storyteller-esque. Perhaps it’s because I see him as the narrator of The Chronicles of Narnia. Or maybe it’s because he does his best to appeal to human nature at its very core, and that core is on one hand, simple and concrete and clear, and on the other, mysterious, complex and, well, a little bit magical. Some may say that he’s pompous. I prefer to think of him as speaking to both the adult and the child in me. The rhythm of the book is the same: some passages are plain while others are more intricate. There are bits and pieces of Christian theology can be addressed in just a few sentences, and Lewis does not hesitate to do so. Those doctrines that require more explanation, conversely, are bravely met with thoughtful attempts to portray their complexity. This natural rhythm, I believe, rightfully mirrors the layered depth of the Christian faith and so is a great attribute of this apologetic work.
To attempt to summarize my favorite parts of Mere Christianity would take much too long. The fourth portion of the book, “Beyond Personality” is most definitely my favorite, centering on the Trinitarian relationship and how it affects the Christian life. It is enough, I think, to say that it touched me. See for yourself:
“Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always existed and always will exist. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has — by what I call “good infection.” Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”