Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

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In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis sets out to share what he believes the core of Christianity is. He makes it clear in the introduction that he is not sharing doctrines of a specific faith, but rather Christianity in general.

I hope no reader will suppose that “mere” Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions-as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable. (I apologize I don’t have page numbers; I had to return the book to the library.)

In the end, I certainly appreciated C.S. Lewis’s analogies and explanations of Christianity. It encouraged me to ponder my own understandings and determine what I believe. It reminded me of lots of things I should do to improve myself. There are so many quotable analogies!

For just one example out of many, I need to eliminate the “rats in the cellar” of my life, even if I don’t see them every day:

[S]urely 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. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man: it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light.

Mere Christianity, of course, describes what C.S. Lewis believes is core. In some respects, I think any Christian (well, if they were a good writer) could develop a similar book for their own understanding of the core of their faith. And while the “core” of this core would remain the same, I suspect there may be differences. Mere Christianity is not scripture, and Lewis is not a prophet.

I listened to the audiobook of Mere Christianity in March. While the book was only six hours long, it took me a few weeks to listen to it because my listening ended up being in 5 or 10 minute intervals. C.S. Lewis provides lots of analogies, and I was often confused how the analogy related to the point because my listening was so sporadic. I really didn’t enjoy listening to it, and I felt I needed to give it another chance, so I also read it in April. I am glad I gave it another chance because I enjoyed it a lot more.

I think part of the problem with audio format is that Lewis shares so many deep concepts that are meant to be pondered and applied to my own life. Listening to it in brief intervals confused me, rather than enlightened me. Reading it was much better.

C.S. Lewis’s strength lies in his analogies and his personal voice. His perspective is also significant, since he was an atheist until age 33. (He was 44 when he wrote this book.) The book was highly readable and personable, and the analogies followed his logic.

One of C.S. Lewis’s goals in writing this book was to bring everyone into the “hall” of Christianity (see quote above). Will atheists and other non-Christians be convinced of Christianity after reading this book? I don’t think so. I’m not a logic expert, but I’m not sure Lewis’s logic would convince anyone determined in their current beliefs. For me, a Christian, though, it was an interesting perspective on my faith.

Ironically, Mere Christianity began as a series of radio lectures, aired in the United Kingdom in 1942, in the midst of World War II. For me, it didn’t work in audio format. There were so many things to ponder and apply to my life that I feel it is a book to read and study in depth, probably more than twice. In the mean time, I should read the scriptures again.

What type of audiobooks work best for you? This month, I’ve been listening to children’s books and it is very pleasant. I often listened to nonfiction in the past, but this experience shared that some nonfiction doesn’t work well in 10 minute intervals.

Mere Christianity counts for the Dewey Decimal Challenge (200s).

Other Reviews:

If you have reviewed Mere Christianity on your site, leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it here.

Reviewed on April 28, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

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  1. I’m so glad you reviewed this one! CS Lewis is probably my favorite author of all time. He writes in a way that I really get. I have only read about half of Mere Christianity, but what I appreciate about it is that Lewis is able to put into words ideas that I have known but didn’t know how to express. I would be curious to hear an atheist or non-Christian’s view of the book.

    As far as audio books go, I find that I never know if a book will work for me in audio until I am about halfway through it. For me it just comes down to how the writer writes and the subject matter dealt with. I recently listened Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and found it fascinating. But, last year I listened to Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead and had to fight to stay awake (although I know I would have enjoyed reading it because I liked the concept of the story. It was just tough to listen to).

  2. AK, Yes he does express through his analogies what seems to be inexpressible. That what makes this good. I actually don’t think I would recommend this to an atheist or non-Christian. I don’t think Lewis is going to convince any one. I did see some reviews on LibraryThing and Amazon and it seemed the non-Christians were just annoyed at the book for various reasons. The Christians all gave it five stars, though!

    Amanda, I’ve loved everything else I read (mostly the fiction) by Lewis but this one was more challenging, probably because it was more academic in topic, although it was still conversational. If that makes sense.

  3. I haven’t read this one, but I’ve read many of his works — fiction and nonfiction, letters, etc. I love his writing style, his wit, his humor, and his honesty. Lewis was a Christian, but I don’t really think of him as a Christian writer (if that makes sense). In other words, I think those outside Christianity can enjoy most of his work.

  4. What an incredible cooincidence! I just finished the audio book of Mere Christianity today. I am a big fan of audio books, but this one was difficult to follow because the concepts were so big and, because I know it is a major classic of what I think of as “popular theology,” I really wanted to absorb every bit. I ended up rewinding quite often to relisten to parts.

    I also think that I will read the paper version. I am particularly interested in the first two parts — the first two of the radio programs. Those were more philosophical and less like sermons than the later chapters. His philosophic arguments for his own conversion were interesting.

    I think I will go and spin some of my ideas into a short review of my own. Since I can “bulk up” my review by linking to yours! 🙂

  5. Lisa, I also love Lewis’ works, the ones I’ve read. But I have to disagree about the Christian writer thing: I think he certainly is in that Christianity permeates everything he writes (at least that I’ve read). You can enjoy the fiction without realizing that, but I do think it’s a core of his allegorical works. Non-Christians can enjoy it but

    Rose City Reader, that is a crazy coincidence! I also had such a hard time with the audio, probably for similar reasons, but I didn’t rewind to re-listen. I just wasn’t enjoying it. I thought that it was very odd that something that began as audio (radio programs) was so hard to listen to in audiobook format.

    I don’t know much about philosophy, so I feel I can’t comment on his arguments: according to some reviewers on Amazon and LibraryThing, though, his philosophic arguments aren’t sound, but more like fallacies. But then I wonder if they are saying that because they aren’t Christian so they don’t like this book for that reason? I’d be interested in a philosophers’ dissection of the arguments, unbiased by religion.

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