The back cover C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity has the word “Religion” printed in the upper left corner. This should be the first clue as to who the publishers thought Lewis’ audience would be. Mere Christianity, which is mostly the printed version of several radio talks Lewis gave, does little more than preach to the choir. Granted, every writer or speaker must choose a target audience. And in this book, Lewis chooses Christians. Throughout the 192-page book, concepts familiar to Christians and lay-theologians abound. Lewis’ voice is clear and his intent, noble. When it comes to religion, though, results seem to be more important than intent, and here is where we begin to question Lewis’ work.
At every turn Lewis remarks, “If this is useful, use it. If not, skip it.” It’s all very heart-warming until we stop and consider the repercussions of failure. As a Christian, Lewis relentlessly forces the reader to acknowledge the unpleasant parts of Christianity, most notably–though he never addresses it outright–an afterlife in hell. We find it disconcerting that a book would be geared towards those who have already avoided this hell. We can’t but think of Sunday school stories of Jesus seeking out the sinners, not the saints. Instead of mirroring this trend, Mere Christianity decides to tackle such high-brow concepts as the nature of God, the Trinity, Jesus, predestination, usury and more. In fact, he offers commentary on such a breadth of topics that it would be impossible for him to come out squeaky clean. Take the following example. At one point Lewis tries his hand at explaining why Christianity hasn’t fared better throughout history, assuming it is true. He writes:
You will find this again and again about anything that is really Christian: everyone is attracted by bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further: and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity (81).
With this assessment Lewis opens the door to debating why Christianity hasn’t/doesn’t/isn’t (fill in the blank). Our own unending curiosity already led us to an answer that even Lewis can’t top. To be specific, in his own attempt at clarity Tolstoy infects his readers with idea that Christianity has continually missed the mark because, as a religion, it harmonizes that which was never intended to be harmonized.
And herein lies our most pointed criticism of Lewis’ “beloved” classic. Our problem with his enterprise comes after reading many of his eloquent metaphors which do kind of make sense. A man of his skill should have recognized his limitations. A man of his skill should have recognized the problem as it stood in front of him, and stands in front of us today.
C. S. Lewis can’t offer us salvation.
Christianity can’t offer us salvation.
There is only one man who can offer salvation–and his name is Jesus.
In the end, Mere Christianity is nothing more than another misguided, divisive attempt to unite a religion seemingly set on a path of unending fragmentation.
Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity: Comprising The Case for Christianity, Christian Behaviour, and Beyond Personality. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. Print.