on June 8, 2004
Lewis was a master of language. This book is written in a style that is both easy to read and beautifully constructed. He was Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge, and his works are widely recognised as masterpieces of literature.
In the book, his description and characterisation of mainstream Christianity is thorough. He covers the faith at a basic level, but it is more comprehensive and comprehensible than most non-Christians and even many Christians have ever heard before. This book taught me a lot about mainstream Christianity, not in a dogmatic sense, but in a spiritual sense. Too many authors rely on discussion of theology and dogma; Lewis covers the spiritual, and this is what sets his book apart.
His coverage of the faith is non-denominational, and he deals with the subject in a frank, conversational manner. It is an extremely easy read, but at the same time both interesting and involving.
With that said, many of his arguments lack force. While his apologetics make use of many good analogies, his logic will be unconvincing to most non-believers.
On a side note, Lewis died on the same day as Aldous Huxley and JFK. Funny how life works!
on July 16, 2004
This book was not written in an attempt to convince the staunch non-believer. It was written for those who believe and those who doubt their non-belief. I felt that his opening chapters regarding the moral argument presented a strong point in a weak way.
Lewis used very little scripture in this book, but I do not see that as a weakness. If Christ genuinely is the Word, then his message should make perfect sense even apart from the written word.
One of the things Lewis demonstrated very well was the fact that if you look at man's dilemma as being fallen, and consider how he came to be in this dilemma, then the solution that Christianity offers makes perfect sense.
The concept of the trinity is also covered very well.
Finally, the chapter on God and Time sheds light on a few misconceptions about God's nature, and introduces a number of different ways of thinking about time that make it easier to see how God can hear everyone's prayers, or how the fact that God knows my future doesn't mean that I have no choice over the matter.
on January 14, 2009
This is a great book for people who are either half or fully convinced about Christianity. But, and I should mention this right away, this book is not meant to convince a non-Christian that Christianity is true. Many other books have been written for this purpose, and if you want to find one then just search for a Christian apologetics book.
This book answers many questions that Christians might ask about their faith, and does so in an easy-to-read format, almost like a novel. The book is written in a very non-technical manner, so almost anyone should be able to understand what Lewis is talking about. Also, there are lots of analogies to help the reader better understand what is being explained.
This book is comprised of four smaller books called 'Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe', 'What Christians Believe', 'Christian Behaviour', and 'Beyond Personality, or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity'.
The first book explores the idea that the concepts of right and wrong are proof that a morally good God exists and loves us. Lewis does a good job of explaining this point, and, as usual, uses lots of analogies and examples. His explanation may not convince an atheist that God exists, but nevertheless it provides food for thought for all readers. Again, if you want to be shown proof of why God exists then you shouldn't be looking for it in this book. Read a book that is dedicated to Christian apologetics instead.
The second book explores the Christian idea of who and what God is, and discusses some aspects of the Christian faith. Some ideas that are discussed are pantheism, dualism, and the nature of the devil.
The third book continues exploring what Christians believe, but does so in a more detailed way. Some concepts that are discussed are morality, sex, marriage, forgiveness, charity, and faith. This is my favorite of the four books because it gives some good reasons for why Christians believe what they do, and it also gave me a better understanding of what the Christian faith is about.
The fourth book is the most abstract of the four, which makes sense considering that it's about the Trinity. This book also talks about what God wants from us and how we can become true Christians. A lot of this book is comprised of Lewis' opinions (rather than commonly accepted facts), but nevertheless it is an excellent read because Lewis has some very interesting and convincing opinions. Lewis' analysis of how we become 'true' Christians was particularly interesting.
Overall I consider this to be a very good book. Lewis is a very intelligent man who has many convincing arguments. I also enjoyed it because Lewis seems to think in the same way as me; many of the ideas that he presented are similar to things I have thought of in the past. Nevertheless, there are a few things about the book that I didn't like. For one thing, it is written in a very old-fashioned way which many young people may not be used to (but, Lewis wrote these books in the 1940's, so that is to be expected). Also, it would have been nice if the first book (which is commonly called 'The Case for Christianity') included other proofs of the Christian God, rather than just dwelling on the origin of morality. Many people are not convinced by this proof, so it would have been a good idea to present other proofs such as miracles, the historical accuracy of the Bible, the origin of the universe pointing towards the existence of a god, etc. The final problem that I have with this book is that some parts are not at all convincing. But, this only applies to about 5% of the book, and perhaps these arguments that I consider weak would be convincing for other people, so this is a pretty insignificant objection.
One final note about this book (and religious books in general). When it comes to religion (or any other controversial topic), many people are extremely biased, emotionally-driven, or narrow-minded. Not all people are like this, but way too many are. If you plan to read this book, or any other book that is about a controversial subject, please do so in an objective, emotionally-neutral, open-minded manner. Doing so will help you figure out what you truly believe.
on February 23, 2004
Many people go into this book expecting C.S. Lewis to erect an impenetrable wall of logic around Christianity and its theology. Aside from being impossible, such a feat would be wearisome and pointless. Besides, Lewis is not a theologian or philosopher (something that probably makes the book all the more enjoyable!), but a professor of literature. As such, his genius lies in a causal (yet convincing) discussion of what would otherwise be a group of very complicated ideas.
Some complain that the book begins weakly, for it is here that Lewis attempts a refutation of other theologies and philosophies in order to demonstrate the credibility of Christianity. Of course, we all know (as did Lewis, I am sure) that you cannot substantiate one position on the basis of the refutation of another (when there exist countless positions). But to claim that the book is therefore fallacy-ridden would be misguided because it is quite evident that Lewis was not after rigor. Rather, the book is designed to be a causal discussion of basic Christian principles, morals, and beliefs. And we must remember that it was originally given as a radio address in the early '40s. That being the case, I find the result fairly impressive even today.
So what did I get out of the book? Although interesting, the philosophy is not Lewis' strong point. His real strength comes in showing us the kind of life that Christianity offers, and how that life is so amazingly true on a mythological level. For example, in discussing the idea of repentance Lewis explains: "repentance...is not something God demands of you before He will take you back...it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like." But we need God's help in order to repent, for "no man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good." And when we do try to be good, we find that we are utterly incapable. So we turn to God for help. But how can a God which has never suffered help us in our own suffering? Such a God is too impersonal. And this is where Christianity comes in. We must die to our own pride and independence of God, and God must help us with this metaphorical death. But "we cannot share God's dying unless God dies; and He cannot die except by being a man." This is the vision of Christianity: we are not alone in our suffering. Theologically, it is difficult to imagine anything more brilliant or true. However, those who look logically and with disdain upon what they perceive to be an elaborate and unlikely substitute for science, pronouncing religion nothing more than superstition, do not see these truths.
on February 21, 2004
As another reviewer pointed out, Christians seem to rate this book highly while atheists and agnostics tend to give it low ratings. Assuming that orpington is not an atheist or agnostic (from his objections that Lewis does not tow the Scripture line as he would demand of such a work), I guess fundamentalists (at least this one in particular) are not impressed with this work from Lewis either. THE BIBLE may say that once a person is saved they are never lost, but Lewis points out that giving our lives to God is a decision, and who among us hasn't seen someone make that decision and then change it?
As for the idea that people could come to Christ from other traditions, I can attest to this myself. I was raised in the Methodist denomination and then pursued the Bahai faith and Buddhism seeking to determine if I really believed in Christianity or followed it merely from conditioning in childhood. Lewis has helped bring me back into the Christian fold, with a much clearer idea of what I believe and why. As Mike Scott of The Waterboys wrote in one of his songs, it's "been a long way to the Light." Who is to judge how we get there, so long as we answer God's call?
on February 16, 2004
This is a great book for those who want to take their belief in Christ to a higher level. This book is laid out in three parts: Right and Wrong, What Christians Believe, and Christian Behaviour. In the third part--Christian Behaviour--Mr. Lewis eloquently portrays what it means to accept Christ.
Mr. Lewis understood very well the true principle: one of the things that will make heaven indeed heaven is the way people treat each other and deal with each other. Those who accept Christ will find themselves yearning to live as he lived, and do as he did. By doing so, they will ultimately build the kind of character it takes to be "heavenly."
Mr. Lewis also points out some of the characteristics that prevent us from developing such character -- such as pride. "Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man." Mr. Lewis points out that pride is one of the many qualities, which (if unbridled) keeps so many people away from true discipleship in Christ. The competitive nature of pride compels us to squander away our limited time on earth in a competitive pursuit of worldly treasures and success, which (for most of us) is at the expense of more important things. And, if my life has been spent without performing the Christ like acts of service and love -- necessary to build "heavenly character," can I actually expect heaven to be a place where I will comfortably fit in?
I highly recommend this book and I find it a valuable addition to my library.
on January 26, 2004
C.S. Lewis originally captivated me with his "Chronicles of Narnia". I didn't learn of his Christianity until later - which has no bearing on my personal, spiritual choices. I just want to point out that he wove some of his theories into the "Chronicles" without being at all preachy or overbearing. It is a great series.
"Mere Christianity" steps outside of that fictional setting. The first half of the book is Lewis' persuasion on the possibility of an existence of God. He lays his points politely and respectfully. This is his demeanor throughout the book's entirety. I feel he makes great points and explanations, all while taking his reader into consideration.
I don't think this is the type of book that will convert a die-hard atheist. I believe that it gives thoughtful answers (that are much better than "It's in the Bible, that's why!" or, worse, "Because that's what God wants!") If the reader isn't swayed, at the very least, I think they can walk away, content with a mutual agreement to disagree.
on December 29, 2003
Religious or athiest (which, one could argue, is a religion itself), all will agree that Lewis was a master of his craft. Few men possess the talent to strip an issue down to its core, exposing its true (or the author's view of the truth) value. Other apologists, like Chesterton, get bogged down and easily lose the reader. Lewis, on the other hand, has a knack for making the most complex appear trivially simple.
For those who reject Christianity, Lewis offers at the very least an exercise in logic and reasoning. He'll begin an argument with simple reasoning, akin to "you agree that two plus two equals 4, corrct?", and then before you know it, he'll trap you in a logical parlor trick, forcing you to either accept his reasoning, or argue that two plus two does not equal four.
It takes a few readings of some passages to discover some errors (as I percieve them)in his assumptions. He writes with such lucidity and confidence that you'll find yourself mesmerized and nodding along with him. But he lost me at the pivotal point, where he argues for Christ's divinity.
Lewis warns us of those who would look to Jesus as a moral teacher, and not as the Son of God, saying that they then are placing their trust at what would be, by their denial of Christ as Savior, in the hands of a lunatic. If Christ is not God, than he was insane; for only an insane man would argue that he was the Son of God. Thus, you must completely dismiss Jesus as a relevant moral teacher, or accept his divinity. I believe Lewis is on shaky ground here.
A popular example to argue the contrary is the story of John Nash, popularized by the movie A Beautiful Mind. Nash was insane - certifiably so - yet that doesn't preclude mathemeticians from accepting his mathematical ideas as correct. Granted mathematics and religion are not the same (but probably closer than most would like to believe), but I think the point is still valid - "insanity" does not preclude someone from the validity of their work. I am not arguing that Christ was insane, I'm just trying to illustrate that the pivotal argument of the apology is on very shaky ground. I can accept his arguments regarding the internal moral law and such, but I expected a much better argument for the most important issue an apologist can address - the divinity of Jesus Christ.
But it is still worth 4 stars for the greatness of his writing, and its excellent treatise on "What Christians Believe". At the very least, this book will force you to think - a dying art itself.
on October 28, 2003
Recently, I've run into several people who say they find reading C.S. Lewis difficult. What??? C.S. Lewis had the cleanest, most lucid prose style ever known to English (His poetry however is another case).
I guess I am left asking--like the Professor in Lewis's The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe--"What are they teaching in schools these days?"
Now that that is out of my system:
Mere Christianity is a fine book. It played a huge part in my own acceptance of Christ as my Savior. Lewis's arguments for the presence of a universal standard of behavior, of the presence of conscience/the Holy Spirit met me right where my atheistic/agnostic self had been living. "If we do not believe in decent behavior, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently?"
Lewis follows his opening argument by presenting what he sees as the basic Christian beliefs and the general characteristics of Christian living. In the chapter titled The Invasion Lewis states the position of the Christian in the world quite succinctly and eloquently:
"Enemy-occupied territory--that is what the world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage."
Lewis's arguments are chock full of such vivid passages. His real strength is in the boiling down of his arguments. Lewis gets to the absolute core of True Christian beliefs and traditional Christian living.
At the end of the last century the magazine Christianity Today called Mere Christianity the Christian book of the century. I personally think that this is a bit of an overestimation (the Bible speaks to all generations and is the book of every century), but Mere Christianity is indeed a worthy book.
I give Mere Christianity my full recommendation.
on July 19, 2003
I was very much looking forward to borrowing this book, held by many as the be-all end-all of Christian apologetics, from my brother. In many respects, I was very pleased with what I found -- Lewis is a very strong writer, with a clear voice, clear non-ambiguous argumentative style, and it always seems as though he's speaking with you, rather than at you. He's not a preacher or an evangelist -- he's a man who just wants to put what he believes out there in the open, take it or leave. At several instances, he acknowledges the boundaries of his words: for instance, in his chapter on faith, he says "I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against" (p. 140), recognizing the possibility without being condescending to the person who holds it. For bringing logical, rational thought to an area of thought of dominated by televangelists and mindless cliches, it's a breathe of fresh air to see somebody actually arguing on basic principles for their beliefs, and accepting that if somebody disagree that is fully within their rights as well. It's something I wish more people would do, and if reading this book is a good way to promote that, I recommend this to everyone.
I suspect this book with be regarded the strongest by Christians who wish to strengthen their beliefs, and will be a useful tool for people who wish to come into belief but don't know quite what that entails. For the wavering Christian, I don't think you can do better than this book: it's well written, clear, and so far as I can gather from the lauding, accurate to its source, the Bible.
That said, I was surprised at points -- given how highly regarded this book is not only as a theology book, but as a apologistic/philosophy book -- to see some of the arguments used. He has many good points, of course, which I should not overlook mentioning. His argument against the problem of evil is nearly classic -- I've seen it quote a couple dozen times. One does not know evil, he argues, unless he measures it against good, just as one does not know a crooked like unless he sees a straight one. Far from a universal truth (opinions on good and evil differ) but a strong point about the subjectivity of the argument. His arguments for Christian charity and the value of deliberation are likely to strike a strong chord with all.
But I think there are some shortcomings. He uses the example of witches to show that people do not disagree directly on morality unless they disagree on the facts (witches were believed to be "people going about who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers to kill their neighbours or drive them amd or bring bad weather"). But there are many instances where the facts are clear but people directly disagree about the moral implications, aren't there? How about masturbation? Or homosexuality? Or animal rights? Or abortion? Certainly with the first two the facts are amply clear, but there appears to be a great moral divide -- some feel these are moral permissable, and others feel they are a moral abomination. Why isn't the inner voice clearer on these obviously moral issues?
He argues for the Christian devil by taking the Dualist point of view (there is an absolute good and an absolute bad power, equally powerful) and reducing it down to a more Christian-friendly idea (there is an absolute good power, and a rebelling, but lesser powerful, evil power). I was left with the impression: What of the person who simply believes the devil isn't a necessary being? He never directly argues for a devil, or defends against critisisms of the Christian conception of the devil, both of which are critical elements in any argument which comes to his conclusion.
His argument for Christ as the one and only Son of God goes basically along these lines: if somebody makes a claim about who they are, they are either correct or crazy; since Christ claimed to be God and appears to be a good and rationally sane person, he cannot be crazy; therefore he is the God. I know this isn't the only reason C. S. Lewis believed what he believed (although it's the only one cited), but I honestly could not believe reading this in print. If Gandhi had but claimed to have been God, we would be praising his name? Come on...
His forays into God-time logic are interesting. I disagree with his assessment that "Everyone who believes in God at all believes that He knows what you are and I are going to do tomorrow" (p. 170). I'm a theist, and I believe no such thing; it's is entirely incompatable with free will, which I hold to be a self-evident truth. Perhaps this was a reasonable statement at the time, but even the last few theist debaters I've seen haven't held such a view, usually limiting God's omniscience to present state knowledge rather than pre-cognition. Granted, one was Muslim, but doesn't he fall under Lewis' statement as well?
Lewis is usually very good at his choice of analogy, although I found one oddity later in the book (if they hadn't been in consecutive chapters, I may not have noticed it). He argues that individuality cannot be maintained through collectivity, as if life became one in the afterlife, because a drop ceases to be a drop when it is placed in an ocean. He then argues that individual *can* be maintained through collectivity, as in the trinity of God, because they are merely dimensions of the same thing and dimensions are distinct. But couldn't one just as easily argue that the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ lose their individuality, like a drop in the ocean (God), or that people in an afterlife maintain their individuality in a collective afterlife, just as dimensions keep their individuality when more is added?
Anyway, enough brain fodder. Recommended reading.
Matthew D. Johnston