(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

To understand Mere Christianity, one of C. S. Lewis’s most well-known apologetics, one must understand his audience. The work is a compilation of talks on Christian philosophy that Lewis gave to radio listeners between 1941 and 1944. Lewis is an accomplished scholar, but he is writing for a popular audience. Therefore, he leaves out a great deal of material that scholars would look for in a systematic theology; most notably, epistemology. The book takes for granted a commonsense attitude toward morality, reason, and the Bible. Many scholars criticize the book for oversimplifying some issues, but Lewis’s arguments are sound if one understands his views on literary criticism, history, and Socratic logic as expressed in his other works.

The title comes from Lewis’s claim to abstract from the various denominations a kind of “pure” Christianity. Like a Puritan, Lewis believes that this “undiluted” Christianity would be as potent as merum, undiluted wine. However, like a Catholic, he relies heavily on tradition and dogmatism.

The book is divided into four main parts, titled after the separate series on which they were based, aired by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

In “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe,” Lewis discusses commonsense morality. Even young children are aware of right and wrong, and there are some acts that most people recognize as evil. People engage in acts of self-sacrifice that defy pragmatic or utilitarian ethic. Lewis argues that all human beings share a basic moral law. Using Platonic reasoning, Lewis contends that such a moral law requires the existence of a moral lawgiver.

In “What Christians Believe,” Lewis works through the basic concepts of divinity, in a manner similar to what Saint Augustine does in De civitate Dei (413-427; The City of God, 1610). A moral lawgiver must be extrinsic to the universe, eliminating pantheism as an option. Polytheism fails to meet the standard, as pagan gods are capricious and have a supreme God that rules them. Lewis discards dualism since an...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Beversluis, John. C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1985. A rationalist critique of Lewis’s thought. Focuses on issues such as the argument from desire.

Kilby, Clyde S. The Christian World of C. S. Lewis. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1964. Kilby was one of the pioneers of Lewis scholarship. Includes a chapter on each of Lewis’s major fictional and apologetic works, including Mere Christianity.

Meilaender, Gilbert. The Taste for the Other: The Social and Ethical Thought of C. S. Lewis. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1978. Covers Lewis’s social and ethical works, showing the interrelationship between his fiction and nonfiction.

Milward, Peter. A Challenge to C. S. Lewis. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Press, 1995. A Catholic priest who admires Lewis critiques the concept of “mere Christianity.” Draws out several flaws in Lewis’s claim to represent what “most Christians believe.”

Purtill, Richard. C. S. Lewis’s Case for the Christian Faith. Rev. ed. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004. Provides an introduction to and summary of Lewis’s Christian apologetics, including Mere Christianity.