Book Review / C.S. Lewis / Christianity

Reconsidering Mere Christianity

By Joshua Wise


C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity is in its 70th year in print, and HarperOne is bringing out a new Gift Edition for this Christmas.  The book  has not received a reworking of its presentation in a while, so we were very interested to take a look at it before it hit shelves.

The first thing I noticed in the copy HarperOne kindly sent us, beyond the very presentable cover, is that there is a new foreword by Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis’ adopted son.  This is especially welcome to avid readers of Lewis’ work for two reasons.  First, it is refreshing to have the introduction be by someone who knew Lewis for a prolonged period of time.  This has not always been the case with Professor Lewis’ books over the last few decades.  Second, the forward manages to more comprehensively put the book in its original wartime setting than the original introduction which follows.

You can buy this edition of Mere Christianity at Amazon right now!

This historical context of World War II sets the theme for the new edition.  Mr. Gresham relates the wartime situation in which Mere Christianity was originally composed as a set of talks for BBC radio[1]; and the book is filled with photographs of war torn England, mostly of destruction, landscapes and churches.  While these are often beautiful and evocative, they are not captioned nor explained.  They are also not of Lewis or even places or buildings specifically associated with him.  Instead they seem to try to evoke a general sense of England at the time the talks were given, and they seem to do that well enough.

The book also presents two appendices.  The first is a series of selections from Lewis’ published letters, pertaining to the radio addresses and lectures that originally made up Mere Christianity.  The second is a historical reference for the dates of the talks themselves.  In all, the presentation is quite well done, and rightly deserves to be called a “gift” edition of the book.

Now, for something of the substance over the form.  Mere Christianity has been both praised and lambasted in recent decades.  No less than N.T. Wright has considered the book and found it both charming and wanting.  I must disagree with the former Archbishop; for while I have read this book a dozen times or more, I still cannot find real fault with it for what it is: an introduction to Christianity by means of morality.

That is what Mere Christianity is, an argument for right and wrong as the secret to the universe, and to that special part of it that we know better than any other: humanity.  It is not an argument for the “Historical Jesus” as academia today might propose, nor for an impenetrable defense of theism (for that we must go to his work Miracles).  Instead, it is a presentation of the Christian message in the context of our sense of right and wrong, fair play, and equity.  It seeks to rouse our sense that there is something quite wrong with humanity, and then represent the Gospel to those who otherwise would have discounted it as superfluous medicine.  Lewis preaches the sickness first, and then the cure, but he does it without the “preaching” part.  One rather might call it diagnosing.  He appeals to our common sense, our everyday experience, and our knowledge of ourselves.

Mere Christianity is still a wonderful work to give to someone just entering into Christianity, or a curious teenager who wants to know more about her faith.  It is still a good starting point for a conversation about what it is that Christians believe; and has not been, as far as I know, superseded by any work written since.

[1] He also relates a bit of C.S. Lewis trivia that those of us who have read everything the man wrote for publication, but never a biography of him except his own, might find novel.

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