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Reading Classics - Mere Christianity (VII)
January 29, 2009
Today brings us to our final reading in C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. We’ve gone through it quite quickly but this has worked well, I think, as the book lends itself to a quick reading. This week we come to the final pages—chapters seven through eleven of Book 4. There was not a whole lot of discussion last week, but the consensus seemed to be that this is not the strongest section in the book. Lewis has lost a little bit of steam. Having said that, I think this week’s reading improves upon the last one.
Then again, though I think that this week’s reading was better than last week’s, it was not without it’s troubling portions.
In these five chapters, Lewis focuses on sanctification, on putting aside the old man and on becoming sons of God. I found a lot of great quotes that were worthy of some highlighting. Because there were so many, I think I’ll focus on simply sharing a few of them today. Here are some favorites:
“We begin to notice, besides our particular sinful acts, our sinfulness; begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are.”
“Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats; it only prevents them from hiding.”
“[Putting on Christ] is not a sort of special exercise for the top class. It is the whole of Christianity. Christianity offers nothing else at all.”
“Christ says ‘Give me all. I don’t want to much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it.’”
“As long as Dick does not turn to God, he thinks his niceness is his own, and just as long as he thinks that, it is not his own. It is when Dick realises that his niceness is not his own but a gift from God, and when he offers it back to God—it is just then that it begins to be really his own.”
“If you are a nice person—if virtue comes easily to you—beware!”
“We must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world—and might even be more difficult to save.”
But there were some areas of the chapter that were not so good. for example, in the final pages he writes about evolution and seems to have drunk deeply of that explanation to man’s origins. I find it hard to believe that a man of his insight could have believed in evolution without seeing that it is almost a religion unto itself. And yet he seems to have believed in it wholeheartedly. It certainly puts a damper on the book to have all of that in the final chapter.
There is more. I realize that this statement could be taken two ways, but from what I know of Lewis, he may mean exactly what it seems he means here: “There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it.” Lewis seems to have believed that other religions could lead people to enough of God’s truth that they could be saved. He does not articulate much further in Mere Christianity but apparently does so elsewhere. Obviously we need to set aside such unbiblical talk, realizing that it simply cannot be supported by Scripture.
So I guess in this last chapter we see again Lewis at his best and his worst. For every five or ten great insights (and many of them truly are great) there is one or two strange and unbiblical beliefs. And it’s too bad, really. I can see why Mere Christianity is regarded as a classic but it seems to me that this must depend largely on Books 2 and 3. It is here that we see Lewis at his finest and it is here that he is at times unparalleled. While there are moments of brilliance in the rest of the book, there are also quite a few moments I think we could do without.
Having said all of that, I am glad that we took the time to read this book and to read it together. It has fed both my mind and my soul.
The purpose of this program is to read these classics together. So if there is something you’d like to share about what you read, please feel free to do so. You can leave a comment or a link to your blog and we’ll make this a collaborative effort.
I guess we will wait just a couple of weeks and then start to think about the next classic we will read together. Feel free to share your suggestions in the comments.