ave you ever talked with a non-Christian about the gospel and wanted to follow up the conversation with the gift of a book? You sensed the person was open, and you knew you had more to say. Or have you hoped to have such a conversation but were afraid to? Having a few “leaving pieces” to offer outsiders may bolster your confidence, encourage someone’s seeking, and lead to eternally significant outcomes.
But what to give? At one time, it was fashionable for Christians to carry a stash of tracts or booklets that could help people understand the gospel in concise ways and propel them on to faith. I’m not convinced that’s the best route these days. And I’m even more persuaded that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all tool to connect well with people. We need a wide assortment of items to fit a very diverse audience.
Those of us who love C.S. Lewis often think his Mere Christianity must be the book for all non-Christians to read to bring them from darkness to light. When Christianity Today asked more than a hundred of its contributors and church leaders to nominate the ten best religious books of the twentieth century, in the context of having enduring significance for the Christian faith and church, Mere Christianity was at the top of the list. The magazine’s related article, “Books of the Century,” included David S. Dockery’s comment that Mere Christianity was “the best case for the essentials of orthodox Christianity in print.”1 But if you’ve given or suggested that book to more than a few people, you know it resonates well with some and seems like hieroglyphics to others. For some people, given their limited level of interest or reading stamina, the book is just too long. And Lewis’s style, which seems delightful, clear, and persuasive to some, sounds obscure, complex, or too intellectual for others.
While I hate to say anything negative about one of my all-time favorite books, one I’ve reread many times, and the one book except for the Bible that was most pivotal in my own conversion, Mere Christianity isn’t without its flaws. I think Lewis’s dismissal of deep reflection and debate about what the cross accomplished is too strong. Several evangelical spokespersons have made this clear in their various critiques.2 And Lewis seems to imply a kind of saving faith for people of other religions that has been rejected by many Christians of various stripes.
But some of Mere Christianity is still ideal for some people at some points in their journeys. So far, I have not found anything else that says what Lewis says as powerfully and convincingly as this classic book. Despite its flaws, I know why it is considered by some to be the most important Christian book of the twentieth century. No one makes me think so deeply and smile so widely at the same time as Lewis.
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