Local News: A Christmas Open House will be hosted at Mission Mississippi’s new location (840 East River Place, Suite 506, Jackson, MS 39202) on Friday, December 21 from 1 to 3 p.m. Refreshments will be provided, and people are free to come and go. For more information, go to www.missionmississippi.org.
2012 is the year of commemoration for many things. It’s the centennial of the sinking of the Titanic. It’s the centennial of Francis Schaeffer’s birth. It’s been 50 years ago this year that the Beach Boys and The Beatles formed as a band. It’s been 50 years since Bob Dylan released his first album. It’s been 350 years since the final version of the Anglican 39 Articles of Religion were drafted. Among the many commemorations, it’s been 60 years ago since C.S. Lewis’ classic apologetic Mere Christianity was published.
In honor of the occasion, this month’s issue of Christianity Today offers a historical look back on the book. Though overall a “favorable” review, there were several criticisms leveled against the book that this examiner strongly disagrees with. This isn’t meant to be a “gripy” article. Examiner readers know that this page has a tendency to lean towards that. Much of what the CT review said was a little unfair, though, and should be addressed..
The article written by John G. Stackhouse Jr. charged Mere Christianity with being both “class conscious” (i.e. condescending to working class folks) and sexist. Neither charge resonates with this writer, though, who is a “working class” person, but has never felt condescended to by Mere Christianity.
The article explained Lewis’ appeal to Americans by saying that Lewis presented an extremely “individualistic” sort of Christianity which Americans identify with. Which C.S. Lewis was the reviewer reading though? Personally, Lewis introduced this examiner to the importance of Christian community, the necessity of attending church, the importance of the sacraments—which can’t be celebrated in isolation—and the importance of Christian tradition, which serves as a constant guard against individualism, as it constantly reminds us of the “communion of the saints” whose views matter no less than contemporary writers. Lewis, perhaps more than any other recent Protestant writer, has turned many readers onto Roman Catholicism (see, for example, Joseph Pearce’s book C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church). Whatever can be said against Rome, it can’t be accused of marketing an individualistic faith. It seems the reviewer was mistaking “individualistic” with “personal”. Lewis does articulate the importance of one’s faith being personal, but this need not mean private.
Finally, CT argued that the book didn’t live up to its title, presenting Lewis’ own idiosyncratic views on numerous issues under the false guise of presenting “mere” Christianity. No other book this examiner is aware of does as good a job, though, of presenting a faith that can be affirmed by all Christians in all times and all places. He takes care to distinguish Christianity from his own personal opinions, when expressed. CT contrasts Mere Christianity with John Stott’s classic, Basic Christianity, saying that Lewis fails to explain evangelicalism’s view of the gospel. This misses the point, though. Lewis wasn’t attempting to explain how evangelicals understand the gospel; he was intending to explain what all Christians, evangelical or otherwise, believe. That is why he had the section, “What Christians Believe” vetted by an Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic—to guard against sectarian or private views being smuggled in as if they were part of the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
Thankfully, these criticisms notwithstanding, CT did praise Lewis’ book, showing what modern apologists can learn from it. CT said that the book shouldn’t have “worked” since it violates what is supposed to be popular—it contains few anecdotes, it doesn’t jump from subject to subject for those with attention deficit problems, etc… The fact, though, that books like Lewis’ shouldn’t “work” says nothing against Lewis; it simply shows that we, as a culture, don’t like to challenge ourselves when we read.