The Bronx Blogger

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Thoughts On "Mere Christianity" by C. S. Lewis

[Note: This post is the continuation of a discussion started at the blog of Joe Carter, The Evangelical Outpost.]

For several decades, C. S. Lewis taught medieval and Renaissance literature at Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England. He was famous for his literary criticism, his popular novels, and his Christian apologetics.

Lewis' book, Mere Christianity, is a compilation of radio addresses he gave in 1942, 1943, and 1944 on the topics of Christian beliefs and morality.

As a veteran of World War I, Lewis could speak with some moral authority about life, death, and suffering to those soldiers who were going off to fight the nightmare of Nazi totalitarianism. He also wanted to help inspire the whole British nation to find the moral and spiritual strength to survive and strive for victory.

When Germany started bombing Britain in 1940, Lewis became an air raid warden and gave inspirational lectures to Royal Air Force recruits. Since anyone who went regularly on sorties on a British warplane was likely to be killed in action, Lewis spoke about the problems of suffering, pain, and evil from a Christian perspective. Apparently he was very successful at getting his points across, and as a result, the BBC radio network asked him to give 15-minute lectures on the air, and that is how Mere Christianity got started.

Mere Christianity is a very interesting book. It relates the moral and religious philosophy of someone who had wrestled with metaphysics and religious puzzles for several decades. While he displays great learning and a mastery of logic, Lewis doesn't come across as pedantic or condescending. To the contrary, he seems to be a compelling teacher and a warm person.

While Mere Christianity is a very philosophical work, it is not exactly a treatise establishing the truth of Christianity.

Lewis claims that the existence of a conscience in people (and the fact that people are incapable of consistently following their consciences) is evidence that God exists. But he does not actually present any logical argument that leads to that conclusion. He merely asserts the conclusion, that God exists, and moves on to his next topic.

Likewise, Lewis makes the argument that Jesus' moral teachings don't make sense unless he was the Son of God and he had the power to forgive anyone's sins. Lewis then uses this point to claim that Jesus therefore must have been the Son of God, and furthermore that he did in fact rise up from the dead after his execution by crucifixion. Once he has gotten past these points in his book, he spends a lot of time making very persuasive arguments about the consequences of Jesus' divinity and of his resurrection, but he never revisits his crucial assumptions in an attempt to put them on a more rigorous logical or philosophical footing.

Nevertheless, Mere Christianity is a jewel of Christian apologetics. Lewis applies a skeptical, probing logic to the belief system of Christianity, and he builds an edifice that is quite sturdy. His system of Christian belief accommodates a lot of truth about human psychology and sociology.

Lewis never gets around to establishing a rational basis for believing Christianity in the first place, but he does give the believer a coherent and respectable worldview that he may not have received from his previous religious education.