Christianity 101: A Book Review of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity

This review of Mere Christianity is the third in a series of reviews in honor of the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’ death. The first was a review of The Great Divorce which can be found here. The second was a review of The Abolition of Man which can be found here.

Mere Christianity is perhaps C.S. Lewis’ best-known work of non-fiction. In it, Lewis works from a very vague idea of God, and moves all the way through to a very specific Christian idea of God, giving a very logical, step-by-step argument for the reasonableness of Christianity and its beliefs. Rather than simply repeat Lewis’ argument step-by-step, I just want to highlight a couple of points of interest, and leave it to you to read the whole book.

First, let’s look at the title, Mere Christianity. When we use the word “mere” in contemporary settings, it means something like “small” or “only” or “less-than”. It can sometimes tend to have a negative tone. For Lewis, though, he was using it as a synonym for “simple” or “basic”. In other words, Lewis was setting out to talk about the basics of Christianity. He wasn’t going to debate denominational boundaries. He wasn’t going to debate how Christianity affects politics, or other controversial subjects. The point of Mere Christianity is to layout the foundation for basic Christianity. Lewis tells us this in the Preface, when he says, “Ever since I became a Christian I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbours was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” In fact, Lewis was so dedicated to this goal that he had a large portion of the manuscript read by clergyman from Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic churches.

This is important because it reminds us Christians that Continue reading

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No Society Without Values: A Book Review of C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man

This review of The Abolition of Man is the second in a series of reviews in honor of the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’ death. The first was a review of The Great Divorce which can be found here.

While it is probably fair to say that The Abolition of Man is one of Lewis’ lesser known works, when one reads it, one can see its relation to some of his best known books, including Mere Christianity. Abolition starts with Lewis examining a literary textbook which Lewis calls The Green Book. In the book, the authors discuss the story of Coleridge at a waterfall with two tourists. One tourist calls the waterfall “sublime” while the other calls it simply “pretty”. Coleridge agrees with the first and rejects the second.

The reason the textbook references this story is interesting. The authors of the textbook insist that when the tourist says that the waterfall is sublime, the tourist is not saying something about the waterfall. According to the textbook, when the tourist says that the waterfall is sublime, he is actually saying something not about the waterfall, but about his own feelings. This is where Lewis steps in with his first helpful observation. These authors, who are writing what purports to be a literature textbook, are smuggling in philosophy under the noses of unsuspecting students. This is dangerous, Lewis says, for the “boy who thinks he is ‘doing’ his ‘English prep’ and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake.”

So what is the dangerous philosophy that the book proposes? That is the subject of the rest of the book. Remember how the authors use the waterfall story: when the tourist says the waterfall is sublime, he is not actually describing the waterfall. He is describing his own feelings. In other words, according to the textbook, there is no such thing as an objective value statement. Values are relative to our own feelings. This is the dangerous philosophy that Lewis says Continue reading

One Day Trip To Paradise: A Book Review of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce

November 22nd is the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’ death. Leading up to the anniversary, I will be reviewing a number of his works. The first is The Great Divorce.

The premise of The Great Divorce is that those who are in Hell get to take a trip to Heaven. While they are in Heaven, their loved ones come to them and try to convince them to stay. Lewis is clear that he doesn’t necessarily think those in Hell actually get another choice after death. He is simply trying to illustrate the nature of Heaven and Hell, and of good and evil. Rather than try to summarize the whole book, I will simply highlight a couple of themes that stuck out to me during a recent re-read of “The Great Divorce”.

The first thing that stuck out to me is how utterly lonely the inhabitants of Hell are. This starts becoming clear in the beginning of the book when Lewis is describing Hell. The Narrator, who is never given a name, acknowledges that the parts of the town he saw were so empty. Another inhabitant of Hell tells him that this is so because everyone in Hell is so quarrelsome. When I arrive in Hell, I might find a house pretty quickly, at first. But it won’t be long until I’m quarreling with a neighbor. When that happens, I will move to a house a few streets away. This pattern keeps happening until eventually everyone lives millions of miles apart from everyone else. How lonely!

As the story moves forward, we realize more and more about the nature of their loneliness. We realize that the inhabitants of Hell are so lonely because they Continue reading

Philip, Simon the Sorcerer, and the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:4-40)

Acts 8:4-40

After the death of Stephen, the first martyr, the believers began to be scattered because of the persecution by Saul and by others. Philip was one of the scattered believers, and chapter 8 tells us of his encounters Simon the Sorcerer and the Ethiopian Eunuch, and their very different responses to the Holy Spirit.

As Philip is preaching and performing miracles, a man named Simon the Sorcerer comes to Philip, believes and is baptized. But from here, we see that Simon’s intentions are actually selfish. As Simon follows Philip, he tries to pay the disciples in order to be able to dispense the Holy Spirit in the same way Philip does. See, Simon wants the power that comes with Continue reading

The Stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:54-8:4)

Acts 7:54-7:60

Acts 8:1-3

When we left off, Stephen was talking to the Jewish leaders, retelling Jesus’ story in light of the history of their own story. This ends with Stephen’s truthful accusation that they have rejected, and ultimately killed, the very Messiah that their whole history pointed towards. Given their track record, and given Stephen’s accusations, we can guess what will happen to Stephen. Up until now, those who threaten the Jewish leaders in power have been threatened, beaten and thrown in jail. At Stephen’s speaking the truth, the leaders essentially turn into a mob, drag him out of the city and stone him to death. Stephen becomes the first Christian martyr. (On an interesting side note: Luke specifically tells us that Saul witnessed this whole episode with Stephen. Keep this in mind as we work through Acts…)

This whole situation of Stephen’s martyrdom and the resulting situation of wider persecution of the church is set up as a conflict between those who are filled with the Holy Spirit and those who resist the Holy Spirit. Stephen says as much in verse 51, and Luke says as much in 55. The Jewish leaders resist the Holy Spirit and Stephen is full of the Holy Spirit. Interestingly enough, while the persecutors (including Saul) intended the persecution to stamp out this “false” new teaching Continue reading

How Well Do We Know Our Story? (Acts 6:8-7:53)

Acts 6:8-15

Acts 7:1-53

We learned in the last section that one of the people who was chosen to help with the situation with the widows is a man named Stephen. Stephen begins to perform many miracles, and once again those in power begin to get afraid. They begin to bring false charges against Stephen and go so far as to persuade people to serve as false witnesses against him. The false witnesses say that Stephen has blasphemed against Moses and God. So these angry Jews bring Stephen before the Sanhedrin with the charges that Stephen “…never stops speaking against this holy place (the Temple) and against the law.” It’s interesting how transparent the concerns of the leaders are. The leaders are concerned because this new Jewish-Christian movement is taking the power that used to reside in the Temple and spreading it out among the whole Body of Christ. So how do they combat that? They accuse Stephen of speaking out against the Temple.

How does Stephen answer their accusations that he speaks against the Temple, Moses, God and the law? He tells the Jews Continue reading

Racial Controversy In The Early Church (Acts 6:1-7)

Acts 6:1-7

As the disciples are faithful to preach the Gospel, God is faithful to keep adding to their number. As their numbers increase, the kinds of ministries that were needed to benefit the community also increased. It came to pass that one ministry that grew up was a ministry that helped to provide food for widows, both of Jewish heritage and non-Jewish heritage.

As often happens when there are ministries involving groups who aren’t yet used to living life together, a practical issue arises. The non-Jewish, or Hellenistic, widows claim that they are being overlooked in the distribution of food. Even in the midst of a ministry led by the Holy Spirit, these practical sorts of issues arise. Let’s look at how the Twelve handle the situation Continue reading