Even just at the mention of the word “Christianity,” I bet a whole bunch of different images come to your head. In my recent tour of Europe, I visited hundreds of different churches with vastly different beliefs. Historically, the different churches would often differ to such an extent that they would go to war over problems that arose between them. Even today, I guarantee that most of you reading this would come from a variety of denominations and church backgrounds.
When I begin to think about it all, I often find myself wondering if there could possibly be any unity between all the different churches and people who claim to be Christians. What does the word “Christianity” actually mean today? Can there really be a united truth behind it all?
This is the exact question C.S. Lewis is looking to tackle in Mere Christianity. You may know him from other famous works, like his timeless Chronicles of Narnia series, or his work The Screwtape Letters. In this work, however, we get an intimate look at Lewis’ deep thoughts about Christianity as he seeks to defend it from skeptics and warring Christians alike.
A Deeper Unity
He starts us off on a surprising platform, far from where you would expect him to begin. Instead of beginning with a Christian understanding, Lewis begins his discussion by showing how all men, whether they claim to be Christian or not, acknowledge the necessity of many of the truths of Christianity even while denying its premises. In other words, even non-Christians see the need to use things that are fundamentally Christian, especially the ideas of morality and law.
“Human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it.”
This is an incredible word to hear from a man who was himself a prominent atheist scholar and Oxford professor for many years before his conversion. Lewis offers insights that make it clear that he has wrestled with these issues deeply, not only from a Christian perspective, but also from a secular one.
The Core Truth
Lewis then moves to outline the core truths at the heart of Christianity. There is a key difference between what Lewis does here, however, and the task of a normal theologian. It is important to remember that he is not trying to write a normal work on theology. What he is trying to do, however, is view Christianity with the skeptic, Catholic, protestant, and atheist, and pretty much anyone else in mind. He is taking his intellectual shovel and digging right into the heart of humanity, trying to access some of our deepest questions. As it happens, our deepest questions and religious urges happen to be intrinsically connected to Christianity.
And that is Lewis’ task in the rest of Mere Christianity: to expose the deep and vital currents which run underneath all of our denominations and even religions, but also to discover the God and the story behind Christianity. It is this story that answers those very same questions at the heart of our existence. It is mere Christianity that offers answers.
So that is Lewis’ task, but was he successful?
For starters, it is important to note that Mere Christianity is simply the transcribed version of some talks he gave on British radio during the heat of WWII. This has a positive effect, in my view. When I realized this and began reading, it was almost like he came into the room, and it felt like hearing him talk right to me. This certainly adds to the readability of a somewhat difficult work, and the sensitivity with which he handles the many worldviews of his audience is excellent.
Although it is not an easy read, I would recommend this as one of the great works written on Christianity. It was written by a man who understood the many challenges to the church and the gospel in an intimate way (although not necessarily and evangelical believer).
I will add a word of caution, however. I do not believe Mere Christianity is a perfect theological work, or something that we should use in place of scripture. He tends to be somewhat vague on some key gospel issues, but I don’t believe Lewis’ intention was to hammer down theological formulations into perfect doctrine. Instead, Mere Christianity exposes the deep core truths of the gospel, and then displays them for a skeptical world in a way that shows not only their validity, but also their irresistible attraction. I would highly recommend this as one of my favorite apologetic works of all time.