Friday, June 26, 2015

Book Review: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

This book has always been on my "to read eventually" list, but I finally picked it up for a book club I've joined. This was our book for May, and I am really glad it gave me an excuse to read it.

Mere Christianity was actually a BBC broadcast series by C. S. Lewis done from 1942 to 1944, separated by 3 broadcasts: The Case For Christianity, Christian Behavior, and Beyond Personality. The book is the result of C.S. Lewis' in depth studies into Christianity over the years, and the basic premise is to define Christianity as a whole. No matter what "theology" of Christianity you choose, this book sets down the ground rules that every follower of Christ believes. It's very interesting that he removes any specific religion's beliefs from the argument - everything listed in this book is defined by the teachings of Christ in the bible, so there really is no gray area on these terms. The book examines such points as faith, hope, charity, forgiveness, chastity, and "Be thou perfect", among other things.

This book was just incredible. C.S. Lewis is able to explain things in such a way that it really made me look at certain aspects of my own beliefs in a new light. I particularly loved how he explained that you must choose a religion within Christianity:
I hope no reader will suppose that 'mere' Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions - as if a man could adopt in it a preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various other doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable. It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is a difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait. When you do get into your room you will find that the long wait has done you some kind of good which you would not have had other wise. But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping. You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and panelling. In plain language, the question should never be: 'Do I like that kind of service?' but 'Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?' When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house.
I also really loved the chapter about forgiveness. He relates questions he often received from skeptics at the time he wrote this (during and after World War II) about how it isn't right to just forgive the Nazis everything and move on. He examines the law of "Love thy neighbor as thyself," and breaks it down to realize that to love one as oneself doesn't mean that you have to like them or think them always right since we do not always like ourselves or think that we are a "good person"l. We forgive ourselves every single day and we still love ourselves in spite of our flaws. To love our neighbor as yourself, we simply need to hope that they will become better than they are, just as we hope for ourselves.

One chapter in particular really stuck with me (so much so that I copied the entire thing for future quotes) - the chapter called Counting the Cost. In this chapter, Lewis explains that while we may only want to let God help us to become better at certain things, he will not stop until we achieve perfection. He relates a wonderful quote from George MacDonald that really stuck out to me:
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doings and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.
As I'm sure you can tell by all the quotes, I absolutely loved this book. I look at my own faith in a whole new light now, and that is remarkable that a simple book like this could accomplish such a feat. I feel that I understand Christ and his teachings a little better, and even feel a little more enlightened about what I have agreed to by following Him. Even if you are not a Christian yourself, this is a very educational and unbiased view of Christianity as a whole. If you've ever wanted to understand the basics, this is the book for you. Likewise, if you want to gain a better understanding about the principles upon which all different Christian religions are based upon, this is the book for you. Reading it will inspire you to be a better Christian while giving you the building blocks to begin your efforts. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars.

1 comment:

  1. I was introduced to this book years ago. I read many excerpts (it belonged to a friend) but never completely read it. Very interesting review you've written here.


Thanks for joining in the conversation!