Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis' eloquent and winsome defense of the Christian faith, originated as a series of BBC radio talks broadcast during the dark days of World War Two. Here is the story of the extraordinary life and afterlife of this influential and much-beloved book.
George Marsden describes how Lewis gradually went from being an atheist to a committed Anglican - famously converting to Christianity in 1931 after conversing into the night with his friends, J. R. R. Tolkien and Hugh Dyson - and how Lewis delivered his wartime talks to a traumatized British nation in the midst of an all-out war for survival.
Marsden recounts how versions of those talks were collected together in 1952 under the title Mere Christianity, and how the book went on to become one of the most widely read presentations of essential Christianity ever published, particularly among American evangelicals. He examines its role in the conversion experiences of such figures as Charles Colson, who read the book while facing arrest for his role in the Watergate scandal. Marsden explores its relationship with Lewis' Narnia books and other writings and explains why Lewis' plainspoken case for Christianity continues to have its critics and ardent admirers to this day. With uncommon clarity and grace, Marsden provides invaluable new insights into this modern spiritual classic.
©2016 Princeton University Press (P)2016 Recorded Books
Lovers of CSL's books (of which I am one) nearly always approach a new Lewis book with a mix of excitement (Alright! More stuff about Lewis!) and dread (What if something foundational to my experience with Lewis is threatened??). Especially with this book, since many of us find Mere Christianity's arguments almost perfect and we rely upon it for the part of our belief monitored by our reason.
Well, there are critiques of Lewis's arguments here. In fact, a major part of the book catches us all up on the latest (N T Wright, McGrath, et al) responses - and responses to responses - to the most debated parts of Mere Christianity, particularly the Lord, Liar, Lunatic argument. There is nothing earth-shattering, but this book did finally turn a light on for me concerning what I really come to Lewis for: it is not to have my intellect 100% secure in my belief. If I'm honest, all along I have come to Lewis to have my intellect "pretty sure" in my belief. There are other parts of my person besides my reason responsible for my faith, and this book articulates that in a way I had not anticipated.
That is not to say that the arguments against parts of Lewis's thought are especially convincing to me - honestly, I still side with Lewis in every particular that the book addresses. But it's the first time I've known that, even if I didn't, it wouldn't matter. It turns out that the thing Mere Christianity does to us and for us is a bit more elusive and interesting than offering watertight arguments.
Also, this review makes it sound like the book emphasizes arguments against Lewis, but it definitely does not. Most of the book is, like he calls it, a biography of a book: the story of how the broadcast talks originated, got printed, and got compiled. It's a fascinating read.
MacKenzie's performance is perfect. I mean, really perfect. I listened to it twice back-to-back, largely because of the vocal performance.
Book blogger at Bookwi.se
I stumbled across the audiobook of CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity: A Biography when I was looking for another book by George Marsden. I have previously read two other books from The Lives of Great Religious Books series (Letters and Papers from Prison and the Book of Common Prayer) and so I eagerly picked it up (both as a fan of Marsden’s and the series.)
The series seems to have done a good job hiring good authors, and good writers matters in a series like this. This is not a series that requires heavy historical lifting: a short section of biography about the author, the story of the writing and overview of the content, a summary of the response and objections, and the spread of the book. All three that I have read have basically been the same format. But the format works.
I have a pretty good handle on Lewis’ own biography at this point. Marsden handles that well and throws in a few tidbits that I have not previously heard, but made sense in the context of the book. The basic story of the book, I was also familiar with because it is pretty important to Lewis’ own life story.
What was more interesting to me was the response and objections to Mere Christianity. The discussion of the Catholic objections to Mere Christianity made sense once Marsden pointed them out. But I would not have been able to express them myself without his help.
The importance of the United States readership to CS Lewis’ spread is always interesting. As I have heard in context of NT Wright and a few others, a British accent and a professorship at one of UK’s great schools really can really impress a lot of Americans. That is not to minimize the strength of Lewis’ work. I would not have read more than two dozen books by or about Lewis in recent years if I did not think he was important. But mere sales numbers do not confirm long term importance and impact.
Historical stories of cultural impact are interesting. So much seems to happen almost by chance. The right book at the right time matters. As helpful as Mere Christianity is, there are far better written apologetics books. But there is a voice there, and the context of Lewis’ others books. And Mere Christianity has had a lasting impact. I read it for the first time only a few years ago with a reading group, more than 60 years after it was published
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