Thursday, December 4, 2008

Reading the Classics: C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity- Preface and Forward

I've decided to participate in the "Reading the Classics Together" discussion over at We are reading C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. MC is certainly a modern classic and considered to be one of the most popular works of Christian apologetics. It is consistently regarded as one of the most important books for Christians to read.

I'll not summarize the contents of the book. I'll leave that for Challies. Go there, read his summary. Or, better yet, pick of MC and read it along with us. Let's talk about it.

  1. Lewis notes this book was originally a series of radio talks given during World War II. When he first put the book together, he tried to retain some of the sound of the talks in print form by using contractions and italics. He realized that it didn’t work and made the point that the art of speaking and the art of writing are very different. A talker should sound like he is talking and a writer should sound like he is writing. This is interesting to me because I spent about a year trying to write manuscripts of my sermons in a way to be read instead of spoken. This caused a disconnect between me and my hearers and some of the force of the message was lost. I’ve since abandoned trying to fully write out my sermons and have outlined them to be spoken. It is much more successful and effective.

  1. Lewis’ aim is not to discuss the intricate details of theology or the finer points of doctrine. His aim is to help people understand and believe the simplest, most basic form of Christianity. He does not deny that the particular doctrinal stands of various denominations are not important. But for unbelievers, those points should be kept in-house with other believers. He is looking for the absolute minimum of what it means to be a Christian. One question I hope he answers in the book is, is this really enough? Is a reductionist approach to the Christian faith good or even healthy? I think I understand his goal, but I am not sure if it really works that way.

  1. Lewis does note in passing that the Virgin Birth of Christ is an element of mere Christianity. If Lewis does affirm the necessity of the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, that puts him light-years ahead of Emergent Church guys like Rob Bell who believe the Virgin Birth, while true, really isn’t important at all.

  1. Lewis informs us that he is reluctant to say much about temptations which he himself has not experienced. He goes on to defend this decision because he does not have a pastoral office which obligates him from doing so. I think Lewis is right. For those who are not the teachers or leaders of the church, taking up issues which they have no real understanding or knowledge of and then seeking to instruct others is probably wise. Unfortunately, as a pastor, I don’t have that liberty. I am to preach the whole counsel of God. Though I have not murdered, I much preach against murder. Though I am not tempted with drunkenness, I should preach against drunkenness. But when I do preach on those sins and temptations which I am not, by the grace of God, as acquainted with, I need to do so with humility and caution. I must preach the whole counsel of God, but I need to be tender with my brothers and sisters who may be struggling with something I don’t understand. How might this approach to preaching on sin and temptation affect the way we deal with those who struggle with sins like homosexuality and abortion (two sins I am not tempted with)?

  1. At the end of the preface, Lewis makes two great points. First, his desire is not to make “mere Christians” but to help people who are not yet Christians become Christians and then later devote themselves to the truth of a particular system of theology. When choosing which church to be a part of, he warns us not to make on selection based on superficial matters, such as whether or not we like the services or not. Instead, we should look for truth and holiness. This really resonates with me as a pastor who struggles with those who want to “test drive” churches and look for the nice features and amenities. They are not concerned with doctrine and truth as much as they are having their personal likes satisfied.

  1. The final point he makes is that while there are differences among the Christian denominations, we should be kind to those who differ from us who are in the household of Christianity. I like this call for charity. We don’t have to ignore or disregard doctrinal convictions when we interact with other denominations, but we don’t have to be jerks.

  1. In the Forward, written by Kathleen Norris, I get the feeling that “Mere Christianity” may be moralism rather than authentic faith. I also got the feeling that Mere Christianity may lead toward a kind of doctrinal pragmatism. I’ll be looking in the rest of the book to see if this is an accurate perception. Since Lewis did not write the Forward, it would be unfair to charge him with moralism and pragmatism at this point. Just something to look for.

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