A Biography of Mere Christianity - page 4


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Knowing & Doing

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

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  4. He is a poet at heart, using metaphor and the art of meaning in a universe that is alive. Lewis’s first ambition was to be a poet, and he never lost the sensibility that realities are best expressed through images and analogies that awaken the imagination. Mickey Maudlin, the religion editor who oversees Lewis’s publications at HarperOne, has observed that in Mere Christianity, as in his fiction, Lewis invites the reader on an imaginative journey. Similarly, while one might pick up Mere Christianity “because people say it is the best summary of what it means to be a Christian and of what Christians believe,” Maudlin observes that soon you find that it is something more:

What you find is the identification of a moral compass you did not realize existed, one that says you are not measuring up, the story of how God sent Jesus as an invasion into the world to start a revolution, that doctrines are really maps to show you your choices and to guide you forward on your journey, and that all this about God, Jesus, and the church is really about you: will you admit your need, receive God’s help, and start the process of being perfected, made into a little Christ, so that you can pursue further adventures with God in his heavenly realm, the world you were created to inhabit?1

  These poetic sensibilities underscore the previous point that, while Lewis appeals to the reason, he does so in the context of exciting the imagination. As in the Narnia tales, he invites his readers to see that the narrative of their own lives is set in the midst of a much larger real-life cosmic drama. They are invited to imaginatively see themselves as within a real cosmic drama in which a loving but dangerous God is inviting us to be remade.
  5. His subject is “mere” Christianity. This point, which he elaborates in his 1952 preface, is closely related to his deep historical consciousness. By “mere Christianity” he meant the beliefs that Christians through the ages had shared, beliefs that had been around “long before I was born and whether I like it or not.” Contrary to those who thought that Christianity with the disputed points omitted would be only a “vague and bloodless” lowest common denominator, he was confident that the perennial common beliefs were in fact substantial and powerful.
The concept of “mere Christianity” as something that binds Christians of all sorts together may have even more resonance in the twenty-first century than it did in Lewis’s time. Today denominational loyalties have weakened, and most Christians are willing, as Lewis urged, to be generous to those in other communions. Protestants and Catholics, for instance, are much more ready to recognize their commonalities than they were two generations ago. And as is illustrated by the various societies that bear his name or the organizations that describe their views as “mere Christian,” C.S. Lewis is one of the hallmarks that Christians of many communions have in common.

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