“Mere” Christianity

A reader had kindly sent me a book by a prominent theologian explaining the doctrine of the Christian church to which she belongs. Starting to read, I came upon the author’s definition of Christianity, with which I disagreed. I was thinking of blogging about it, but didn’t want to get into such a controversial area, especially as I lack sufficient knowledge to deal with it adequately.

At the same time, I have had a copy of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity sitting on my book shelf for years, but had not read it. It occurred to me that with Lewis’s emphasis on the basics of Christianity rather than the doctrines of a particular denomination, he might be helpful to me. So I began reading the book yesterday afternoon. Right in the preface Lewis says something that fit exactly with my own experience and was extremely helpful to me. I immediately adopted it as my own approach for any future writings on Christianity at VFR.

Here it is:

The reader should be warned that I offer no help to anyone who is hesitating between two Christian “denominations.” You will not learn from me whether you ought to become an Anglican, a Methodist, a Presbyterian, or a Roman Catholic. This omission is intentional (even in the list I have just given the order is alphabetical). There is no mystery about my own position. I am a very ordinary layman of the Church of England, not especially “high,” nor especially “low,” nor especially anything else. But in this book I am not trying to convert anyone to my own position. Ever since I became a Christian I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbours was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times. I had more than one reason for thinking this. In the first place, the questions which divide Christians from one another often involve points of high Theology or even of ecclesiastical history which ought never to be treated except by real experts. I should have been out of my depth in such waters: more in need of help myself than able to help others. And secondly, I think we must admit that the discussion of these disputed points has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold. So long as we write and talk about them we are much more likely to deter him from entering any Christian communion than to draw him into our own. Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son. Finally, I got the impression that far more, and more talented, authors were already engaged in such controversial matters than in the defence of what Baxter calls “mere” Christianity. That part of the line where I thought I could serve best was also the part that seemed to be thinnest. And to it I naturally went.

So far as I know, these were my only motives, and I should be very glad if people would not draw fanciful inferences from my silence on certain disputed matters.

For example, such silence need not mean that I myself am sitting on the fence. Sometimes I am. There are questions at issue between Christians to which I do not think I have the answer. There are some to which I may never know the answer: if I asked them, even in a better world, I might (for all I know) be answered as a far greater questioner was answered: “What is that to thee? Follow thou Me.” But there are other questions as to which I am definitely on one side of the fence, and yet say nothing. For I was not writing to expound something I could call “my religion,” but to expound “mere” Christianity, which is what it is and was what it was long before I was born and whether I like it or not.

Some people draw unwarranted conclusions from the fact that I never say more about the Blessed Virgin Mary than is involved in asserting the Virgin Birth of Christ. But surely my reason for not doing so is obvious? To say more would take me at once into highly controversial regions. And there is no controversy between Christians which needs to be so delicately touched as this. The Roman Catholic beliefs on that subject are held not only with the ordinary fervour that attaches to all sincere religious belief, but (very naturally) with the peculiar and, as it were, chivalrous sensibility that a man feels when the honour of his mother or his beloved is at stake. It is very difficult so to dissent from them that you will not appear to them a cad as well as a heretic. And contrariwise, the opposed Protestant beliefs on this subject call forth feelings which go down to the very roots of all Monotheism whatever. To radical Protestants it seems that the distinction between Creator and creature (however holy) is imperilled: that Polytheism is risen again. Hence it is hard so to dissent from them that you will not appear something worse than a heretic-an idolater, a Pagan. If any topic could be relied upon to wreck a book about “mere” Christianity-if any topic makes utterly unprofitable reading for those who do not yet believe that the Virgin’s son is God-surely this is it.

- end of initial entry -

Matthew H. writes:

You often write of synchronicity. Years ago in the first phase of my Christian life, like many others I went through a C.S. Lewis phase, collecting and reading several of his works including Mere Christianity. I was edified by them but eventually moved on and I had not picked any of them up for at least ten years or so. Sometime last week while scanning my shelves for something to read I lighted on my old copy of The Screwtape Letters . I just finished it last night and I enjoyed it once again. And lo and behold, here you come quoting Lewis.

I strongly recommend his The Abolition of Man where he discusses some of the trends in education and society already evident in his time and whose fruits we are reaping today.

LA replies:

The Abolition of Man is a seminal conservative book, perhaps the one that had the most influence on me. Also, it’s nice and short. However, you need to get past the opening part which, discussing two imaginary representative intellectual figures named Gaius and Titius, is a bit obscure. Someone should publish a revised version of the book without that distracting and difficult opening which may drive away some readers.

November 19

Jacob M. writes:

Gaius and Titius weren’t imaginary representative intellectual figures; they were real pedagogic authors for whom Lewis invented pseudonyms because he was too nice to criticize them by name. In the introduction Lewis discusses their book, a textbook for schoolchildren which he called The Green Book, whose modernist approach to the English language and relativistic philosophy were the very things that touched off his writing The Abolition of Man. Readers later surmised the book was The Control of Language: A Critical Approach to Reading and Writing by Alex King and Martin Ketley.

LA replies:

I didn’t know that that the real Gaius and Titius had been identified.

However, a Gaius & Titius by any other name would still have been a less than compelling way for Lewis to start his own book.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 18, 2012 02:17 PM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):