Review of Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis
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.
The Building Block
Greetings! How’s everyone doing this morning? It is great to see you today. Let me say that I know you’re taking a risk by attending the first-ever sermon of this church. Thank you. Before we get started, I want to take stock and simply remind you that I love you and I’m glad you decided to show up this morning. What’s that? Yes sir, even you.
I love you because you are.
Alright, I feel pretty good today. How’d you like the music? Pretty great, no? I love those songs we sang today. I love that we always sing four songs. Did you notice how the first three songs crescendo’d and then we ended on a slow one? Yep, that’s on purpose. The music director put a lot of effort coming up with that formula. Oh, I suppose that’s not entirely true. He’s just doing what he grew up doing. The point is, it works. Who isn’t in the mood for a message of hope?
Okay then. How much time do I have? By my guess you’re expecting about 30-minutes in your seats, you’ll be happy if I wrap-up in 20, and you’ll give me a 10-minute grace period if I’m on a roll. Sound about right? Okay, now that we’re on the same page, let’s get to it.
Jesus. The reason for the season as they say. History tells us he existed. At least as much as any person of history existed. The truth is, though, there’s not much support for his existence outside of the bible; John the Baptist actually receives more pointed attention. Oddly enough, this strengthens his message in a way. That’s the beauty of it.
Okay, before we can go anywhere, the inescapable question each of us must answer is this, “Can I trust another person?” Like all of you, I was born a trusting human. Then one day I was hurt. One day someone broke my trust. I don’t remember who did it or any specific moment that it happened, but I’d put money on it having been one of my parents. Or maybe both of them; it’s really just a numbers game. People hurt each other. The people we’re around most will likely be the people who hurt us the most. In either case, for many years afterwards, I unconsciously, then consciously, chose to not trust anyone else.
“Can I trust another person?” Like any great question, the best part about this question is that you are the only one who can answer it. No one can answer it for you.
So I’m going to continue talking for a bit up here, and I’m hoping you don’t think it is a waste of time. More than that, I’m hoping that you find that you’re glad you came. I say this to emphasize that in the end you determine you’re level of involvement. These are big questions; questions that are not to be taken lightly. You’re an adult. No one can make up your mind for you.
Do you know that I’m not even going to say anything new today? That’s right. There’s nothing new to say. You’ve heard the message many times before. I just happen to be part of a group of people who think it is worth repeating. And by your being here this morning, I take it you don’t mind hearing the good news again either.
So what do you think? Can you trust another person?
I’m going to take a risk and tell you that I believe that if we’re all human, if we’re all made of the same parts, then the way I feel must be similar to the way you feel. And if you’re like me, that means that you are silently screaming out in answer, “Yes! There’s nothing I want more than to be able to trust other people again!” That’s what goes through my head most of the time. The remaining time is spent longing to be able to trust myself again.
Today, to start this relationship off right I simply want to share with you that I believe there is hope for us. I believe there is hope for us, but like a fire, this hope needs fuel. This hope-fire won’t start unless each of us deliberately carry some wood to it. Any boy scout will tell you that a fire needs three things. Fuel, oxygen and spark. We need to bring the fuel. Now, nobody needs to do any heavy lifting; instead like any fire, this fire must begin with tinder. Tinder is the smallest of fuels: twigs, leaves, lint, paper, mostly twigs. And the metaphorical twig that you need to carry is making the decision to trust a certain someone.
I know. I know, I know, I know. Believe me I know. 2000 years is a lot of time. The people who have professed Jesus to be trustworthy have really mucked things up. I also know that today, there are still beliefs circulating in His name that strain an educated mind. That’s not what I’m talking about right now. Right now I’m talking about sifting through the entirety of history until only Jesus of Nazareth remains. What did he say? What did he teach?
He taught that people, each of us, make mistakes.
There are a whole lot of synonyms for “mistakes”, like “sin”, that carry a lot of baggage. Maybe in the end it will prove valuable to keep the word and the baggage. Today, I’m asking you to let go of the baggage.
We make mistakes. And we’re going to keep making mistakes. But Jesus taught that if we simply acknowledge our imperfect status, we will inherit what he called “the kingdom of heaven.” Stay with me for a minute. Remember, this is a man who really walked the earth. He lived in a context. The people he preached to understood what that phrase meant. Today, it is not so simple. Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? Fun questions, but not appropriate to today. Today, I am concerned with another part of this “kingdom of heaven” that he talked about. He taught that it exists both in the future and right now. Right now, here in the present, the kingdom of heaven is attainable.
So what is the kingdom of heaven? I have no idea. I don’t. Jesus had a hard time defining it. He’d use parables. He’d use metaphors. Here’s my favorite. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” I love it because I can’t figure out why the man would hide the treasure after finding it. Every once in a while I get glimpses of why he would do that, but I’m sure that I would have just taken it and ran.
Speaking plainly, I think of achieving the kingdom of heaven as being able to transcend this life. Transcend meaning to go-beyond this life, to rise above the petty problems and realize the situation with a full awareness. But I don’t really know. All I can offer is that there is a certain peace that I have only ever felt when I trust that Jesus was right.
That’s it folks. That’s all for today. In a moment we’ll sing a couple more songs.
If there’s one thing I want to be clear about it is that this church is going to be based on action. We’re going to have these weekly services which will follow the format you’ve seen this morning: music, preaching, music. They’ll always be that format. Different perhaps than other churches is the fact that there will always be a meal afterwards. Jesus seemed to almost always be eating when he was teaching, so we’re going to mimic that. Also, to emphasize that while sharing the good news is our mission, almost equally important to me, because it appears to have been to Him, is fellowship–so I’m capping this particular church at 200 members. That’s plenty of people to fellowship with. If we get bigger than that, the way we’ll know it’s for the right reasons is because one of us else will step up to lead another version/branch. Jesus told his followers to share the message, but if people reject it, move on. If we never have more than the 30 of us here this morning, that’s fine with me and I’m not going to fret about it. This isn’t about numbers, it isn’t about buildings. It is about people.
Lastly, it won’t always be me up here. Anytime you want to share, just let me know and we’ll get you on the calendar.
This is real life folks. The only one we get. I think it’ll be more fulfilling to live it with each other. If you agree, stick around for the meal and maybe come back next week.
Music Director – lead us in something that’ll immerse us in an introspective mood.
I’ve seen this technique used by other bloggers. Writing in italics let’s you know that it’s me speaking and not…me. Either way, I like it. It’s just a short post today, as I want to get to work on tomorrow’s post now. Tomorrow is for me. If I succeed, it may be for you too. I’m going to challenge myself to be vulnerable in a way that I have never been. It is my version of ‘be the solution, not the problem.’
As some of you can tell, recently I have been attending church. It’s the first time in nearly a decade. I never stopped reading and thinking about the whole concept while I was away, and now that I’m back, I’ve discovered that there are some tenets that are difficult to accept. In voicing my criticisms, I feel like a whiner, a critic. That’s got to stop. Tomorrow’s post then, will be my ideal sermon. The trouble is that it isn’t coming as easy as I’d like it to. I have realized this is a very, very personal business. How does one reveal to others one’s most intimate beliefs? I don’t know but it sounds like fun, so I’m going to try. Hope you enjoy.
(Normal posts (ha) will resume Thursday if this isn’t your thing).
I don’t mind admitting that I was one of the suckers who left the church after I cracked The DaVinci Code. A decade has passed since then, along with a lot of livin’ and learnin’. Since I was young, my mantra has been, “Life is funny, I’m serious.” The older I get, the more I find it to be true.
While it was reading that caused my faith to falter, it has also been reading that has guided me back to faith. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that in the couple of times that I have been back in a church, I have felt the prodigal son’s father’s arms around me. I am unable to dive back in devoid of all skepticism, but I’ve seen enough over the years to recognize the simple truth that good people are good people. And good people are rare.
I can’t help but feel like something is amiss though. In the time I was away, a shift has taken place.
As I write this, I feel like an old timer longing for a past that probably never existed. We’re all more than familiar with the rather cliche critique of modern churches, “they are too feel good.” Maybe, maybe not. Either way, I’m not interested in joining that chorus. Instead, what I am interested in musing about is the amount of comedy that has been interjected into sermons.
Comedy in sermons interests me because of the subject matter. For all communication, save sermons, I believe the speaker’s first step is to recognize his or her audience. Sermons dealing with ‘the Truth’ are different. By definition, if one person is going to communicate that they really know the nature of human existence, the audience has the responsibility to adapt to the speaker. The Truth is fixed, it doesn’t bend or change. It is universal. On top of that, it simply becomes too difficult to discern why someone is listening and/or why the speaker is popular if the sermon is built around the audience.
Did Jesus of Nazareth ever purposefully try to keep his listener’s attention? What do you think? Can you picture Him ever caring about whether the audience felt entertained? Would Jesus have ever removed some Truth from his message in order for it to meet expectations, or to gain a follower?
I know life was fundamentally different back then. I get it. But they killed Him via public execution. Whoever “they” actually were is irrelevant to this point. An organized ‘they’ killed Him.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this and I’ve concluded that it would be very difficult to give a sermon today that would incite some group of people to that amount of passion; enough to call for a capital punishment proceeding.
(This is where my respect for Him grows tremendously.)
Let’s say I did develop this sermon. Could I give it? Perhaps.
I guess I would have to believe it was the Truth.