I went back and forth about reviewing this book precisely because it’s a classic.
I think everyone I know has read this, or at least heard of it, I thought. And then: besides, there are more modern writers doing more up-to-date versions of what C.S. Lewis did back then. What was the point, I wondered, in recommending a book that has already earned a place in the Christian canon?
And then I remembered my first experience teaching it.
My husband and I headed up a “college and career” class that was, in actuality, quite the mixed bag. A few of our members had already graduated college and were in the workforce. Others were freshmen. It was a diverse group racially. We had a skeptical agnostic, a burgeoning playwright, couples and singles. And we decided to teach our merry band with a curriculum based on Mere Christianity.
We didn’t really know what the result would be. Mere Christianity is written in an older style (and in British English), so it isn’t always the most conversational book to read through. It’s not interested in offering fresh takes on spiritual truths or modern interpretations of Scripture, nor is it a book about feelings or personal spiritual growth: rather, it’s an attempt by C.S. Lewis to offer a full-throated defense and examination of Christianity and why it is necessary and how it works for us. Some of the concepts require careful reading. It is theological and thoughtful, full of reasoned arguments.
Our attempt to teach it was a smashing success.
The long-time Christians in our group were surprised by the arguments Lewis offers for Christianity in the book: arguments based on reason and logic and philosophical thought. Arguments they hadn’t encountered before. Arguments that they could share with non-believing friends, with people from other religions, with skeptics, atheists, and agnostics. Having long accepted these spiritual truths themselves, they were delighted to find other layers beneath them that were rich and illuminating. Our agnostic was convinced enough to claim a full-throated return to faith. And our diverse group spent long evenings debating the questions that Lewis forces us to confront: since we must accept that these things are true, in what ways should that change become manifest in our lives?
This classic book is a classic for a reason. If you’ve always been too fearful to start on theology or apologetics or defenses of Christianity, then this is a good and gentle place to begin. Give yourself some time with it; the concepts demand thought and careful understanding. This isn’t a book you’re going to blaze through in a week, nor should it be. But it will give you some wonderful illustrations of precisely why Christianity is so fundamental to our world, and offers a moral/logical/philosophical defense of the faith.
This book is good if you’re teaching a group, particularly a skeptical one. It’s also a wonderful re-read, if you’re already familiar with it, to simply remind yourself of what is true and why, and how the world so desperately needs Christianity: what our role is, and why it matters so much.
And that’s why Mere Christianity is such a classic: it is the rare book that still works and still holds value across generations, through various circumstances, to people in all sorts of stages of their faith journey. So if you want something thoughtful – a book to chew on, that might at times challenge you and certainly will, if nothing else, give you more tools to explain your own faith to others – this is a wonderful addition to your library. Read it, re-read it, treasure it, and make use of it: you’ll always be surprised by what you discover, even years after the fact.