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A Tale of Two Reviews
on July 8, 2002
Judging from earlier reviews, you'll either love this one or you'll hate it. A quick scan of the ratings reveals that Christians love it while agnostics and atheists pan it. From 129 ratings out there, only four readers provided on-the-fence "3 star" reviews. By joining this lonely (objective?) crowd, I'm hoping to convince myself that writing review number 130 is not purely an exercise in conceit but can provide a different perspective on the work.
First, let's recognize that this book is really a combination of three prior, separate essays comprising two distinct topics. These topics are an apologetic of the Christian faith and a high-level review of fundamental Christian beliefs held across denominations. Those who offer blanket criticism appear to miss this distinction and view the entire work as an apologetic. In my view, these distinct components differ sharply in intent and quality and therefore deserve separate reviews.
As to the common threads throughout the work, they are largely positive. Readers of other Lewis works will be familiar with his wonderful ability to write in clear, concise, conversational prose and these gifts are on display throughout the book. His capacity for using metaphors and analogies if rightfully renowned and is particularly helpful in explaining complex beliefs and doctrine.
Unfortunately, the pure apologetic section of the work falls far short of it's target of providing a rational justification for the faith. Lewis attempts to structure logical deductive and inductive reasoning arguments to support his conclusion that there is a single God and that Jesus was his only Son. Surprisingly for one of Lewis' obvious intellect, his logic if rife with serious flaws. Two quick examples are symptomatic. First, Lewis states that "Reality is something you could not have guessed. This is one of the reason's I believe in Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed." What he means is that the world is complex and therefore a religion that accurately explains the world must be complex. Thus, because Christianity is complex, it accurately explains the world. This logic leaves seekers of religion free to accept any "complicated" belief system (in fact, the more complicated the better). Second, Lewis argues that Jesus must be the Son of God because the Bible makes it clear that he was "neither a lunatic nor a fiend" and that he must be either a lunatic/fiend or the Son of God. In addition to several deductive logic holes, the argument faces an obvious circularity problem (i.e. one believes what the New Testament says because Jesus is the Son of God and one believes He is the Son of God because of the Bible's description of his life). These and other similar examples of poor logic lead me to give a "2 star" rating to this section of the work.
For all the issues with Lewis' apologetic efforts, his attempt to provide an easily understandable, concise summary of the major cross-denominational Christian beliefs is outstanding. One can take issue with the lack of depth and breadth of coverage, but only if one does not clearly understand Lewis' objectives. His discussion of the cardinal virtues, the sin of pride and the trinity are among the most clearly articulated explanations I have seen. While the passage of time has exposed several of his points (e.g. the Christian wife's obligation to "obey" her husband) as no longer falling within the common Christian belief set, on the whole he clearly succeeds in his goals. Thus, I give a "4 star" rating to this section of the work.
The 2 and 4 stars equate to an overall 3 star rating. C.S. Lewis fans should read the book for an interesting perspective on his personal beliefs. Those looking for a clear explanation of those common beliefs that Christians hold dear would get great value from the work. Those looking for a compelling, rational defense of the faith would be better served looking elsewhere.