Written by Kevin LaTorre
It’s nearly impossible to imagine the nightly drone of planes overhead, each one loaded with screeching, fiery destruction. Harder still would be imagining the terror of your family and neighbors in the cramped dimness of bomb shelters. These harrowing circumstances were the plight of British citizens during the German air raids of 1941. These were also the nights that C. S. Lewis, chiefly known today for writing the tales of Narnia, spoke over the radio to a populace on the brink. He had one objective: the explanation of Christian beliefs.
I’ve had the pleasure of listening to Mere Christianity (the compilation of his broadcasts into one book) twice through the Audible app, and I knew immediately that I needed to write about it. The content of Mere Christianity, written deftly and with concise precision, transfixed me. A brief testimony: I’ve been a Christian since the age of eleven. Now, you might think to yourself, Well, of course, you’d find the book extraordinary. Lewis wrote it for Christians. But that’s simplistically false as Lewis wrote for an audience which included many people other than Christians. The frightful atrocities of WWII affected all British citizens without discrimination, and so C. S. Lewis tailored his words to reach all those who were afflicted.
I’ll try here to introduce Mere Christianity, and not to review it. Primarily because I’m unqualified to review a work so well-studied, and because a review might sound like preaching, and that certainly wasn’t C. S. Lewis’ focus. He was a writer and a scholar, not a preacher. In Mere Christianity, he addresses the central issues of Christianity directly: the existence of a God; the nature of that God; the relationship between God and man; the morality of Christians; and that morality’s foundations. His elegant explanations, often conveyed through illustrative metaphor, are marquee examples of intellectual exploration. Lewis does not simplify Christianity’s tenets, or downplay those doctrines which many find controversial. Instead, he embraces the faith’s complexity, and engages society’s aversion to its values.
I find this choice to be admirably honest. Mere Christianity could’ve deceived its desperate listeners to insulate its position, but Lewis instead chose to include all the available truths of Christianity, especially those which critics would wield against it. He didn’t take advantage of his audience, and addressed his opponents head-on. This introduction of Lewis’ work is only a glimpse, and—hopefully—an interesting one. I’m looking to create any amount of intrigue, for I’d wholeheartedly recommend Mere Christianity to anyone and everyone.
For non-Christians, atheists, agnostics, and the indifferent, the words of Mere Christianity might present the Christian faith in a new, encompassing light—maybe one that has never been available before. As far as introductions to Christianity go, this book is a godsend, for both its thoroughness and its sound, layman’s reasoning. Though he was a brilliant Oxford scholar, Lewis carefully designs his logic for maximum comprehension, and so accessibility is Mere Christianity’s masterstroke. Furthermore, Lewis can’t be caricatured away as a musty old fundamentalist; he was a studied atheist well into adulthood. His conversion came despite his persistent efforts to disprove Christianity, a testimony which qualifies his appeal to many secular audiences. For Christians, the words of Mere Christianity might point out underlying assumptions or unrecognized questions—before concisely answering them—or else provide steps for personal examination. If the complexities of both God and mankind were a language, Lewis would speak it fluently, and to all thoughtful readers’ benefit.
The niche Lewis occupied, straddling both academia and Christian thought, is one that many find unlikely, or antithetical. In this way, Mere Christianity could provide forgotten insight on how intellectualism and Christianity once related. The dominant thought today holds that they’re necessarily opposed. But Lewis’ example suggests that the two can coexist, and even complement one another.