A Biography of Mere Christianity - page 1

 


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From the Spring 2017 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

A Biography of Mere Christianity

by George Marsden
Professor of History Emeritus at University of Notre Dame

 biography of a book may sound like ‌an unusual concept, but books do have ‌their own lives, and some ‌books have shaped the world profoundly. That is especially true of religious books. Recognizing this, the ‌religion editor of Princeton University Press instituted a series called the Lives of Great Religious Books. So far, the volumes include The Book of Genesis, The Book of Job, The Book of Mormon, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Augustine’s Confessions, Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, John Calvin’s Institutes, among others published or forthcoming. When I was asked to contribute to this project, I saw C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity as an appropriate addition to the series. Even though it is relatively new and is not, like many of the works, an official authoritative text of a religious movement, it has a claim to being one of the most important religious works of the twentieth century.   One of the remarkable features of the life of Mere Christianity is that, unlike most other books of its time, it is even more popular today than when it first came out. During the first fifteen years of the twenty-first century, it sold more than 3.5 million copies in English alone. It has been translated into more than thirty languages. I have been told that, next to the Bible, it is the book most likely to have been read by educated Chinese Christians.
  That is all the more remarkable because what became Mere Christianity was not originally planned as a book. Rather, it began as a brief series of broadcasts on the BBC during England’s dark days in the early part of World War II. Lewis’s presentations were successful enough for the BBC to invite him back for some additional broadcasts. Eventually he offered four such series. He collected and edited the first two series into a little paperback, titled simply Broadcast Talks. These were soon published also in the States with the catchier title The Case for Christianity. Lewis had suddenly become well known for The Screwtape Letters, first published in book form in 1942. During the next couple of years, he published the third and fourth sets of BBC talks, adding a few extra chapters. These he titled Christian Behaviour and Beyond Personality. It is not even clear whose idea it was to bring the three small paperbacks together as a single book. But in 1952 Lewis issued them together, lightly edited, and with an important new preface that explained the meaning of his new title: Mere Christianity.

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