Book Review: Mere Christianity and C.S. Lewis

Guys,

Scott Brundidge is one of the best men I know. A quiet Christian of uncompromising integrity and kindness. He has been a brother to me.

Each time I left for Afghanistan, or came home, he gave a party at his house. He wrote me daily when I was overseas (the idea behind these emails). The best gift he ever gave me was a simple book called “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis.

It was an insightful book but the story of the man is even better.

Intro

Clive Staples (C.S.) Lewis career was defined by scholarly pursuits. He was a renowned scholar of medieval literature and Christian Apologetics- a field of Christian theology which attempts to present a rational basis for the Christian faith, defending the faith against objections.

His works brought magic into the world of adults and kids through imagination and adventure through his series “The Chronicles of Narnia.” He was called Jack by his friends.

Early Life

Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland in Northern Ireland on November 20, 1898. His family was upper middle class. He was surrounded by book of literature, myths and adventure. This feed his great imagination.

At 9 years old, he lost his beloved mother to abdominal cancer. This caused him great sadness and grief. It was the great tragedy of his childhood.

The loss of mother caused him to become an atheist. It was hard for him to reconcile his beliefs in a loving God that would take his mother.

He attended Oxford for a time before World War I.

The Great War

Lewis was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant of Infantry. On his 19th birthday he arrived at the front in France. He was wounded in action less than a year later and returned to Oxford.

While in the trenches he asked himself important questions, “What happens to a man in combat when his best friend is killed? What is the need for the death of the men under his command?” The war had a profound impact on Lewis.

He lost his best friend in the war, Irishman Paddy Malone.

They made a pact. If either of them died, they would take care of the other’s family. Lewis took in Paddy’s mother and sister when he returned home.

Jack in WWI

Lewis in World War I

Academic Life

In 1929 he purchased a home in Headington Quarry only three miles from the Oxford Campus. He called the two story house “The Kilns.”

The Kilns

The Kilns

Most of his time was spent on the grounds of Oxford University. Here he lectured, taught and wrote for nearly 30 years. Literature was the primary source of his imagination. He loved the life of the mind.

There are more than 30 colleges that make up Oxford University. Throughout his tenure, he taught at Magdalen College. He was a professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature.

He kept rooms at Magdalen where he tutored students. He spent many late nights in philosophical discussions with friends such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield, Neville Coghill and Hugo Dyson.

Tolkien would often go to Magdalen to dine with Lewis. Lewis in turn would go to Pembroke College to dine with Tolkien. This friendship would be the start of both the men’s work.

Almost 80 years after the publication of “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” and Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” theirs is one of the great serendipitous friendship of literature.

Myths and Conversion

Along with Tolkien, Lewis started the Inklings. They would meet at The Eagle and The Child Pub or in Lewis’ Magdalen rooms. All the members supported each other socially and contributed to each other’s work critically.

Some members helped to transform Lewis from being an atheist to a theist to a Christian. From the age of 10 to about 33 years old Lewis thought that Christianity was a popular myth- a beautiful lie.

He was a reluctant Christian, but felt called to God. In 1931 he asked Tolkien and Hugo Dyson to dine with him. They talked about myths. Myth is not fact. This is how he saw Christianity.

Tolkien, a devout Catholic, said “Jack don’t you understand that these older myths were glimpses that people had received of what was going to happen.”

They debated until 4am in the morning. In the end, Lewis believed in God.

Dyson and Tolkien showed Lewis that one at some point myth becomes fact. Lewis began to understand that myth is not a false belief.

Throughout history there are mythic storylines. Each of them reflects a truth. Ancient myths of all cultures represent the human imaginations’ attempt to express their understanding of the relationship between human beings and divine power.

All common myths come out of a similar origin, but what happens, in Lewis’ view, with Christianity is different. He saw Christianity as the one true myth.

Lewis believed that Christianity held onto everything that is true and became an historical fact. All myths talk about a “dying God” but this actually happened in Christianity.

For Lewis this was an absolute truth. Lewis believed you could date the life of Jesus and in the end prove the myth of Christianity to be true.

His transformation from atheist to Christian was the most significant event of his life.

Tolien and Lewis

Tolkien and Lewis

C.S. Lewis’ Great Works

Already a scholar of medieval literature, after his conversion to Christianity, he began his career as a Christian writer and novelist. Some of his books are, “The Screwtape Letters”, “That Hideous Strength”, “Till We Have Faces”, “The Great Divorce” and, of course, the trilogy-“The Chronicles of Narnia.”

Throughout the 1940’s and 50’s he was a household name in the US and Great Britain.

He is best remembered for what is simply called, “The Chronicles.” Some people the story parallels the story of Christ as seen by Lewis.

In all of his work he wrote about right and wrong. Both Christian and non-Christians were cheered by his message of hope and faith.

He saw life in epic proportions. The ultimate struggle of light versus and darkness.

He wrote about a personal and loving God who created an enchanted world all around us. He saw the world as full of mystery and hope if we look for it. All decisions have consequences.

He insisted throughout his lifetime that the Narnia Chronicles were not an allegory. Aslan is a Christian figure, but not exactly like Christ.

The books are a landscape of the soul where we can make choices that affect our spirit. In essence, it is the power of free will.

His writings appeal to all Christian faiths. There is a reinforcement of the ideal of Christianity- the hope and love in believing in Jesus Christ.

Influence of his work

At the height of World War II, he would talk to the public of England. His talks started during the Battle of Britain- a relentless bombing campaign carried out by Nazi Germany during the summer and autumn of 1940. They lasted throughout the war only adding to his fame.

These talks were put into his most famous book- “Mere Christianity.”

Mere

Mere Christianity

Writing Style

Like many of his writings the concept was simple, inclusive and unifying. During World War II the reigning mindset was naturalism or materialism.

Lewis takes all this on in a logical fashion and explains why the world is the way it is. He offers an alternative in basic Christianity. He gets to the essence of what Jesus is really all about.

Lewis states that there is a common theology and doctrinal tradition that runs through all Christian traditions. He does it all with humor and simplicity.

In “The Screwtape Letters” he engages people and activates their imaginations- a trademark of his writing style.

His narrative tool is a series of letters from a senior demon to his nephew a junior demon. His message is about the battle of good versus evil. The struggle for the soul of man.

He was a prolific writer. He gained inspiration through mental images. He looked for visual cues on what to write.

He believed, “… he was given things to say.” He stated he was the writer but that God was the author.

Academic and Writing Career

Despite his literary success he was repeatedly denied a tenured professorship at Oxford. Cambridge offered him his dream job- the Head Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature. From 1955 to 1963 he split his time from Cambridge and his home life at “The Kilns.”

By now he was a world famous author. He was besieged by correspondence from all over the world. With the help of his brother, he responded personally to almost every letter he ever got.

Throughout the world, there are personal letters from Lewis to his fans. He would average a 100 letters a week for almost 20 years.

Love and Marriage

Through answering letters an encounter changed his life. It crystallized his emotions and spiritual core.

An American Jewish woman named Joy Davidman Gresham living in New York begins reading his books and they change her life. Her life is harsh. She has a failing marriage, an alcoholic husband, two sons and a yearning for something far more. His books offer her hope. In 1950 she begins to write to Lewis.

He loves her letters and over the next two years they correspond regularly. Joy’s letters were powerful and they moved Lewis.

In 1952 they met in a café in London. For Joy meeting Lewis was the culmination of self-discovery. The meeting leads to friendship, love and finally marriage.

Their relationship was an intellectual tennis match. They constantly talked back and forth. Lewis had met his soulmate.

Joy and CS

Joy and Jack

The relationship changed Lewis. He opened his heart and felt more deeply than other time in his life.

Within months of the marriage, Joy was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Joy and Lewis prayed for a miracle. After a few months the cancer went into remission baffling doctors.

They spent a few more happy years together. In 1960 the cancer returned and she died.

Lewis wrote about her death to God in one of the most profound essays ever written about death in “A Grief Observed.”

In The End

His health soon declined after Joy’s death. He died the same hour President Kennedy was assassinated on November 23, 1963.

He is buried at Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry is located in Oxfordshire in the church’s small graveyard.

His legacy is his over 30 books on children’s books, literature, scholarly works, adult fantasy, science fiction, and Christian Apologetic essays. He is considered by many scholars to be the greatest Christian writer in the English Language.

One critic said that Lewis saw the universe almost as surely as God must see it- full of hope, love and second chances.

Lewis Grave

Lewis’ Grave