Relatable and Applicable
Mere Christianity, written by C.S. Lewis, is a basic Christian apologetics course that lays the groundwork for the gospel or introduces the new believer to the basic beliefs of Christianity (McGrath, 2013, p.208). His book, created from a series of radio talks he performed during World War II, impacts every reader differently and much as a person’s testimony of salvation lends credence and curiosity to the Bible, so does a person’s testimony of how important this book, Mere Christianity, was to their own decision to follow Christ. C.S. Lewis, through his gifts, talents, and willingness to be used by God, has managed to write a text that is cross-cultural, multi-generational, and non-denominational.
In the preface of Mere Christianity, Lewis gives an analogy that really resonated with me as I began to read. It was his analogy of a house with a hallway and many doors leading to rooms within the house. The house represented Christianity, the hallway represented the fundamental beliefs that all Christians believe, and the various doors led to the numerous denominations within the church. He wanted his book to present the hallway portion in layman’s terminology so Christians could better understand the basics, and therefore move on with more confidence towards the door that was most true as they understood the Bible to say (Lewis, 2015, p.xv-xvi). This analogy greatly assisted in understanding Lewis’ intent and purpose in writing Mere Christianity.
Lewis introduces the topic of the Law of Human Nature, or Moral Law, in chapters two through five of his first section regarding right and wrong. He gives an example that sets moral law apart from the herd, or cultural, instinct when he says that “feeling a desire to help is quite different from feeling that you ought to help whether you want to or not” (Lewis, p.9). “The Law of Human Nature…[is] a real law which we did not invent and which we know we ought to obey” (Lewis, p.21). This moral law that all seem to be aware of is mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Romans when he say’s “they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness” (Romans 2:15a, NIV). This law resides within each of us because we are created in the image of God, and as such we have an innate sense of what life is supposed to be like (Moreland, 2009). The search for what is true and right ends only “after you realize that there is a real Moral Law, and a Power behind the law” (Lewis, p.31).
I appreciated Lewis’ approach to marriage and his discussion on the importance of keeping a sacred vow. He points out that often people divorce because the feeling of being in love and the sexual attraction they felt for their spouse has waned and they want to find another to be with. But Lewis points out that “the duty of keeping that promise has no special connection with sexual [attraction]: it is in the same position as any other promise” (p. 106). Lewis regards the vows spoken at the marriage ceremony to be binding and very serious, and I agree. This foundational principle of marriage resonates through to the 21st century as the church reinforces the concept of a covenant, not contractual, marriage. Additionally, Lewis reminds us that “a promise must be about things that [one] can do, about actions” (p. 107). Marriage vows are all about actions, not sharing emotions. The profusion of emotion is what prompts the proposal, the marriage ceremony is what solidifies the union and gives it something concrete to build on.
The concept of headship and submission within a marriage are addressed later in the chapter. Lewis brings up several valid arguments that support the biblical principle of the husband being the head of the family, and the wife submitting to his leadership. He points out that “in a council of two there can be no majority” (p. 113) and therefore someone must be in the position to make the tie casting vote. Some would say that a marriage is made up of three, the third person being God. If you take this concept and apply it, God would be the deciding vote, and since He says in the bible that the husband is to lead, then His vote would naturally go with the husband. Either way, the husband has the final say. Lewis also points out that the husband and wife discuss things and are generally in agreement. He doesn’t suggest that a husband rule over his wife in a dictatorial manner, he implies that there is teamwork and a sharing of ideas that takes place prior to the husband having a final say when an agreement cannot be reached. This idea is very controversial in our current cultural climate, but I think the controversy comes from the various ways one can interpret the word submit. Lewis avoids this problem by not using the word, and instead focusing on the biblical mandate that the husband is to lead. It is a well laid argument that applies to all marriages, regardless of one’s race, nationality, or generation.
An aspect of Christ that Lewis emphasizes that is sometimes overlooked, although somewhat acknowledged, is the act of Christ forgiving everyone. We often look at this as Christ forgave me for my sins or Christ forgave you for your sins. But we overlook the fact that Christ “told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured” (p.51). In Luke, when Jesus is anointed by a woman who had led a sinful life, he tells her that her sins are forgiven and that her faith has saved her (Luke 7:36-50), he doesn’t ask permission he simply forgives. To apply it today, Jesus forgives the person who commits sexual assault or murder without ever asking the victim if it’s okay with them that their perpetrator be forgiven. It’s a hard lesson to accept, especially when we have been wronged by someone. But it is healing when we can turn that hurt over to Christ and see everyone as Christ sees them: a reflection of God who is valuable regardless of the number or severity of their sins. Jesus has already forgiven them; how can we do any less?
C.S. Lewis started out his idea of mere Christianity with the hope to encourage and help others on their walk with Christ. He wanted to help establish Christians in their faith. His ability to take complex topics like theology, ethics, or philosophy and transform them into topics more readily understood by the common man by using everyday vocabulary and imagery is what has helped his book be successful long after the time period in which he wrote. Mere Christianity would be great in a new believer’s class at a local church. In such a setting, the facilitator could help participants overcome some of the more off-putting characteristics of the book; such as some of the verbiage, or some of the rather sexist comments made throughout. Lewis’ book continues to span generations and cultures because of the impact it has on others. As new believers give testimony to how his book helped them accept Christ, more people open the book to see what all the fuss is about. As long as Mere Christianity is impacting lives, it will continue to be passed on and recommended to others.
Lewis, C.S. (2015). Mere Christianity. New York: HarperCollins.
McGrath, A. (2013). C. S. Lewis: A life – Eccentric genius, reluctant prophet. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House.
Moreland, J.P. (2009, April 17). What is Natural Moral Law. Retrieved from http://www.equip.org/article/what-is-natural-moral-law/