Clive Staples Lewis, better known as C. S. Lewis was one of the most influential Christian thinkers of all time. Whether through symbolism in the Great Divorce, biting satire in the Screwtape Letters, or unflinching logic in Mere Christianity his brilliance shows through clearly. "The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics" contains his seven most popular works - Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, Miracles, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain, A Grief Observed, and The Abolition of Man. While I read many of these years ago as a young Christian and college student this is the first compendium that I have reviewed. Make no mistake about it; this is a collector's edition in all respects - hardbound, nice dust jacket, crisp quality printing, and even an attached ribbon bookmark.
"Mere Christianity" presents the basic tenets of Christianity. C. S. Lewis breaks the book up into four parts - Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe, What Christians Believe, Christian Behaviour, and Beyond Personality: Or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity. This book is one of the most commonly recommended books for new Christians and those who want to understand basic Christian doctrine from a well-rounded apologetics point of view.
"The Screwtape Letters" has been one of my favorite books for many years. While it is fictional it soon becomes quite clear that we are dealing with real world problems. Through thirty-one letters to his nephew, Wormwood, Screwtape consoles and instructs him in how to keep his "patient" from becoming a Christian or at least from becoming an effective one. Using the vehicle of these letters C. S. Lewis examines various issues and problems of the Christian life. For example, he points out to Wormwood that if he can make his "patient" start going all over town looking for a church that "suits" him instead of being loyal to his local church it will reduce his effectiveness. By searching for the "suitable" church he learns to be a critic of churches instead of a pupil of Christianity. Not to mention that the "congregational principle" makes each church into a kind of club for a specific type of person and eventually that becomes a faction. Each letter points out one or more of the insidious ways that a Christian or church can be slowly changed into nothing more than an ineffective shell.
"Miracles" is an examination of the possibility that supernatural events happen in the world. Within the pages C. S. Lewis develops a compelling argument for the existence of miracles and God's personal interaction with the world. Lewis examines miracles not only in the light of Christian belief but also addresses the positions of agnostics and rationalists and shows why their view is less tenable than the existence of miracles.
"The Great Divorce" is another fictional tale in which the narrator takes a bus ride and visits both heaven and hell.
On this fanciful trip he meets supernatural beings and those who have passed on to be consigned to one or the other. Through discussion and observation he soon realizes that the people who are consigned to hell are there because they refuse to give up even minor sinful thoughts for the greatness of heaven. It is sure to challenge your concept of sin, heaven, and hell.
In "The Problem of Pain" C. S. Lewis examines one of the most common questions of Christianity. If God is all-knowing and all-loving then why is there pain and suffering? He deftly deals with that question from a generic point of view and does an excellent job. You have to realize that it is not specific and so will not answer why something happened to someone in particular. However, reading it does help provide a positive understanding of how pain and suffering can actually be a tool to grab our attention and to purify us for heaven.
"A Grief Observed" is one of the best books on grief and working through the effect that it can have on your faith. After losing his wife, C. S. Lewis comes to face grief and the feelings of anger and doubt toward God that often accompany such a loss. Here we see a strong Christian and apologeticist having his faith shaken to the core and come to understand that these feelings are a normal part of grief. However, over time he comes around to working through his grief to a stronger understanding and deeper relationship with God.
"The Abolition of Man" examines moral relativism and education. C. S. Lewis argues that all morals are not relative, some are absolute. His examination of the issues also applies very well to today's concerns with situational ethics. Lewis points out that due to poor education, bad logic, and the advances of science mankind will eventually destroy itself.
If you would like a collection of some of his best known works in a solid collectible single volume you will want to add this one to your library. "The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics" is a very highly recommended purchase whether to read for the first time or as a quality edition for the C. S. Lewis enthusiast.
on May 3, 2003
C. S. Lewis is remarkable in his depth of faith and logic while remaining consistently humble about his opinions. Also, he purposefully avoids denominational battles or speaking on denominational doctrines, focusing on Christ instead. When he discusses Christianity, he makes every effort to avoid advancing a denominational agenda and focuses on the things that unite Christians instead. CS Lewis is a refreshing breeze to those who believe that we should be presenting a united front to the world.
MERE CHRISTIANITY: An excellent exposition on the necessity of a good, personal God based on observational and philosophical evidence. He then moves to an argument that Christ is a "personality" of that creator God and that Christianity follows "naturally" from what we have already acknowledged to be true. His arguments are 100% as true and effective today as they were when written - I find myself using them today (and surprisingly, belief systems that portray themselves as more "rational" have not yet responded to these criticisms in the past 75 years or so...)
THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS: one can chillingly find the demon Screwtape's suggestions being carried out in our own actions on a regular basis. CS Lewis has an intuition of human nature!
MIRACLES, THE PROBLEM OF PAIN: these two didn't thrill me, but we each respond to different things. Lewis at least develops these ideas very well and that development was interesting.
THE GREAT DIVORCE: This was my favorite work. Lewis displays once again a keen insight into human nature, set in the backdrop of arriving at Paradise from Purgatory and having to shed their old selves before they are willing to enter Heaven.
A GRIEF OBSERVED: This chronicles the spiritual journey of CS Lewis after his wife's [end of life]. It is very open and honest, and thus very painful to read. Sometimes we benefit by reading of others' trials as well as their triumphs.
THE ABOLITION OF MAN: A fascinating analysis of post-modernism and where it will lead us.
Next to my Bible, my copy of the Catechism, my copy of the Didache, and some other writings from the early church, this is the most important book that I own. C.S. Lewis is one of the English speaking world's greatest treasures, and his work is a contribution to all of humanity.
That might sound over the top. But it is simply true. This book contains 1) Mere Christianity, which is adapted from a series of radio shows Lewis did. If this book does not lead you closer to Christ, I don't know what will. 2) The Screwtape Letters, my favorite book by Lewis, which is a satirical look at how the enemy tempts us away from God. 3) The Great Divorce, which is a masterful discussion about the problem of good and evil. 4) The Problem of Pain, an equally excellent look at why a loving God allows suffering. 5) Miracles... I challenge you to read this and remain a cynic. 6) A Grief Observed. Heartrending and helpful for anyone who has suffered. 7) The Abolition of Man, a scary look at where we are headed when we loose our values.
I have read Screwtape several times, and have checked out every other book in this collection at least once. If you are looking for solid, sane philosophy grounded in reason, to help you through your journey, get this book. It is the only MUST own I have ever recommended next to the Bible. (okay, one of two MUST owns. If you are Catholic, you MUST own the Catechism too)
The book itself is beautiful in hardcover, with a partially cloth cover and a ribbon marker. A suitable package for this quality of writing.
C.S. Lewis was a rare individual. One of the few non-clerics to be recognised as a theologian by the Anglican church, he put forth the case for Christianity in general in ways that many Christians beyond the Anglican world can accept, and a clear description for non-Christians of what Christian faith and practice should be. Indeed, Lewis says in his introduction that this text (or indeed, hardly any other he produced) will help in deciding between Christian denominations. While he describes himself as a 'very ordinary layman' in the Church of England, he looks to the broader picture of Christianity, particularly for those who have little or no background. The discussion of division points rarely wins a convert, Lewis observed, and so he leaves the issues of ecclesiology and high theology differences to 'experts'. Lewis is of course selling himself short in this regard, but it helps to reinforce his point.
This collection contains several of C.S. Lewis' classic works (although it is not in fact a complete collection of all his writings, not even of all his non-fiction writings). It contains the following works: 'Mere Christianity', 'The Screwtape Letters', 'The Great Divorce', 'The Problem of Pain', 'Miracles', 'A Grief Observed', plus 'The Abolition of Man'. It does provide an excellent survey of Lewis' theology, ethics, and general outlook on life. I will highlight two of the selections that show the different ways Lewis approaches things.
For the first example, the book 'Mere Christianity' looks at beliefs, both from a 'natural' standpoint as well as a scripture/tradition/reason standpoint. Lewis looks both at belief and unbelief - for example, he states that Christians do not have to see other religions of the world as thoroughly wrong; on the other hand, to be an atheist requires (in Lewis' estimation) that one view religions, all religions, as founded on a mistake. Lewis probably surprised his listeners by starting a statement, 'When I was an atheist...' Lewis is a late-comer to Christianity (most Anglicans in England were cradle-Anglicans). Thus Lewis can speak with the authority of one having deliberately chosen and found Christianity, rather than one who by accident of birth never knew any other (although the case can be made that Lewis was certainly raised in a culture dominated by Christendom).
Lewis also looks at practice - here we are not talking about liturgical niceties or even general church-y practices, but rather the broad strokes of Christian practice - issues of morality, forgiveness, charity, hope and faith. Faith actually has two chapters - one in the more common use of system of belief, but the other in a more subtle, spiritual way. Lewis states in the second chapter that should readers get lost, they should just skip the chapter - while many parts of Christianity will be accessible and intelligible to non-Christians, some things cannot be understood from the outside. This is the `leave it to God' sense of faith, that is in many ways more of a gift or grace from God than a skill to be developed.
Finally, Lewis looks at personality, not just in the sense of our individual personality, but our status as persons and of God's own personality. Lewis' conclusion that there is no true personality apart from God's is somewhat disquieting; Lewis contrasts Christianity with itself in saying that it is both easy and hard at the same time. Lewis looks for the `new man' to be a creature in complete submission and abandonment to God. This is a turn both easy and difficult.
'Mere Christianity' was originally a series of radio talks, published as three separate books - 'The Case for Christianity', 'Christian Behaviour', and 'Beyond Personality'. This book brings together all three texts. Lewis' style is witty and engaging, the kind of writing that indeed lives to be read aloud. Lewis debates whether or not it was a good idea to leave the oral-language aspects in the written text (given that the tools for emphasis in written language are different); I think the correct choice was made.
On the other hand, Lewis can write in ways that are intensely personal and reflective. This is true of the book 'A Grief Observed'. This was drawn out of his personal experience with his wife, Joy. C.S. Lewis was a confirmed bachelor (not that he was a 'confirmed bachelor', mind you, just that he had become set enough in his ways over time that he no longer held out the prospect of marriage or relationships). Then, into his comfortable existence, a special woman, Joy Davidson, arrived. They fell in love quickly, and had a brief marriage of only a few years, when Joy died of cancer.
This left Lewis inconsolable.
For his mother had also died of cancer, when he was very young.
Cancer, cancer, cancer!
Lewis goes through a dramatic period of grief, from which he never truly recovers (according to the essayist Chad Walsh, who writes a postscript to Lewis' book). He died a few years later, the same day as the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
However, Lewis takes the wonderful and dramatic step of writing down his grief to share with others. The fits and starts, the anger, the reconciliation, the pain--all is laid bare for the reader to experience. So high a cost for insight is what true spirituality requires. An awful, awe-ful cost and experience.
'Did you know, dear, how much you took away with you when you left? You have stripped me even of my past...'
All that was good paled in comparison to the loss. How can anything be good again? This is such an honest human feeling, that even the past is no longer what is was in relation to the new reality of being alone again.
In the end, Lewis reaches a bit of a reconciliation with his feelings, and with God.
'How wicked it would be, if we could, to call the dead back. She said not to me, but to the chaplain, "I am at peace with God." '
Lewis had a comfortable, routine life that was jolted by love, and then devasted by loss. Through all of this, he took pains to recount what he was going through, that it might not be lost, that it might benefit others, that there might be some small part of his love for Joy that would last forever.
I hope it shall.
This is a wonderful collection.
on April 11, 2006
This book is an excellent collection of seven of the major theological writings of the Christian apologist C.S. Lewis. I have used this book several times for a class I teach on C.S. Lewis. Rather than having students purchase multiple books, I help them save money by requiring this text.
The dimensions of this book are indeed larger than standard book sizes. It is about the size of dictionary, an encyclopedia, or as other reviewers have mentioned, a coffee table book. It can indeed be cumbersome to tote it around and it may sometimes feel like you're reading an encyclopedia.
However, that withstanding, I still think this book is worthy of purchase. First and foremost, the collection itself is, as I mentioned before, excellent. It contains all the major theological writings of C.S. Lewis--including both fiction and non-fiction.
"A Grief Observed" is not as academic as the other non-fiction books included in this collection, and so it might seem a bit out-of-place. However, this piece of writing, which C.S. Lewis composed after the death of his wife, reveals Lewis' deep theological struggle with God and the problem of pain. It's a marked contrast from the book "The Problem of Pain" (also in this collection)in which he rationally defends the idea of an all-loving, all-knowing God despite the existence of pain and evil. In "A Grief Observed", we see where the rubber meets the road for Lewis. It's one thing to rationally defend a theological proposition; its altogether a different story when you have to work out that proposition in the context of an incredibly difficult and painful world.
I highly recommend this book to both avid fans of Lewis looking for a collector's-quality edition of Lewis' theological writings and beginners wanting a good intro to his major works.
on February 5, 2006
This book is perfect for the life-long Lewis fan, or the new Christian. It seems more like a gift book that you place on the shelf in a public place, and do your "hammer and tongs" stuff with the paperbacks.
The only problem I have with this book is the order of the contents. |The book does not have a rhyme or reason to the selection. There is a precise internal logic to So get the book, and then read it in this order:
1. Start with THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS. This gives you a broad overview to Lewis's intellectual leitmotifs, his voice, and his typically wicked British sense of humor.
2. The next book is ABOLITION OF MAN, which is a preface to Mere Christianity, and makes Lewis's case for moral absolutes. It is a mere three chapters long, but, like a good German chocolate cake, it is dense and filling
3. MERE CHRISTIANITY is probably Lewis's second most famous book, and continues his discussion of moral absolutes, and the "mere" or "essential" elements of Christianity.
4. PROBLEM OF PAIN is a smaller theological work and is the standard Christian work on dealing with this trick and sensitive issue.
5. MIRACLES is a thicker and more esoteric books dealing with another "tricky" issue of Christianity. If you find this book too thick, then skip over it and come back to it later.
6. After reading THE GREAT DIVORCE for the first time, I was surprised that more dictatorships have not banned this book. It is so true it hurts. It is about the divorce from God and life in Purgatory, and has nothing to do with marriage counseling.
7. A GRIEF OBSERVED seems a bit out of place in this collection. I think it was included as a tie-in to the film "Shadowlands." The book makes more sense when you actually are grieving than as a detached philosophical work.
If you loved what you have read so for, then I suggested the following books for you next reading binge:
* WEIGHT OF GLORY, which is a selection of scholastic papers, including his essay "Learning in Wartime."
* GOD IN THE DOCK, which is British for God in the Docket, God Takes the Stand, or God on Trial. It is also a selection of many of his cultural essays, so it has a "fruit salad" or smorgasbord taste to it.
* CHRISTIAN REELECTIONS is the last of his collected papers dealing with various issues.
His autobiography SURPRISED BY JOY was helpful, and should be read before PILGRIMS REGRESS. And after reading all of this, you can finally move on to the NARNIA books and the SPACE TRILOGY.
on January 31, 2003
The Signature Classics appeal to the rational mind the way the Narnia Series appeals to the imagination. For many Christians who grew up in the faith, trying to converse with non-believers is like trying to describe colors to a blind person. C.S. Lewis helps both believers and non-believers understand the Rationality of Faith. Having these works collected in a single volume is quite a treasure and belongs on the bookself (or in the hands) of every Christian.
So far the only two complaints I have with this edition are quite minor. The first is the size of the volume. I would have preferred the publishers had added more pages and decreased the highth and depth to make it more easily fit with other books when resting on the shelf between readings. The second is that they (very nicely) provided a ribbon book mark but THREE would have been even nicer. Many of these writings are very dense and need to be consumed (or re-consumed) in small increments. Switching from one to another allows the mind to digest the material before continuing, and having several bookmarks is almost a necessity.
These problems are minor, however. I can not overstate how much I enjoy having this book in my home. Over and over again as I read through this book I find myself astounded with Lewis' insight and clarity. This is definitely a book to buy, to keep, and to read.
on April 30, 2005
C.S. Lewis is probably the best Christian writer for both believers and unbelievers to read. He dispels rumors that the orthodox Christian camp is one dominated by anti-intellectualism, thus being assertive with his Christianity; yet acknowledges the doubts of his past and the cleverness of his ideological opponents.
I strongly believe that Christianity is under attack from two places. One place is from without; there will always be those who despise Christianity. The other, however, is not so obvious: an attack from within where Christians have become compromising and complacent with what is supposed to be the crucial areas of life and faith.
I think Lewis is the ultimate and perfect blend of conviction and civility; and that is why his writing is so comforting as a supplement to Biblical texts. What he does is show that Christianity is a particular, identifiable thing. While this may fly in the face of postmodern anti-foundationalism and critique of "metanarratives," mere Christianity sustains itself as not only a tenable, but the true, philosophy/religion.
Lewis is also an artistic man who is highly creative, and "The Great Divorce" and "Screwtape Letters" are proof enough of that. He engages the Christian rationality, imagination, and spirit all at once, fulfilling the greatest commandment to love God with all that we are. I highly recommend him to anyone.
on March 29, 2005
The Complete C.S. Lewis transcends books, which I happen to value highly. It transcends wealth, a comfortable home, a comfortable life. It is, as such, accrued wisdom: valuable over the long-term, perhaps less so for some in the here and now. I purchased this volume when I read that Mere Christianity [included] was at least partially responsible for removing the "a" from an atheist of note. I am not one (of note nor otherwise), but was struggling somewhat. I was fortunate, for this is where C.S. Lewis shines.
From apologia such as Mere Christianity to the personal, and deeply moving A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis provides his crystal clear view of the "why's" and "how's" that many a reflective person ponders. But, he provides more than salve. His is an exploration that presents challenges as well: responsibility, inevitability, cause and effect. It is not all celestial repose.
The Complete C.S. Lewis has dislodged that which rested in my favored book spot upon the library coffee table. I feel as though a life-long education has been accelerated by a quantum leap. There are those who will think it inconvenient, impractical, or worse. But, C.S. Lewis presents God to those wishing to learn of Him. The opinions of those who wish otherwise are, at least in this arena, of little account. 5 huge, life-affirming stars.
on March 16, 2016
For a long time, I toyed with the idea of ordering the paperback edition but was put off by the many negative reviews concerning the binding, printing and paper. I even tried to get the paperback book at my public library but all they had was the hardcover edition so I took that out and found it well, big! I returned the library book after only a cursory glance, and having already read a paperback edition of Mere Christianity a couple of dozen times considered buying some individual editions of Lewis' other works. Still, the cost and logistics of acquiring a stack of "regular size" paperbacks was not attractive. What to do?
Finally, I decided to take the plunge and ordered a "Very Good" copy of the hardcover edition from one of Amazon's "Prime" vendors. Okay, I'm cheap but hey, less expensive, no sales tax, free two-day shipping and guaranteed by Amazon - for me, that's a no-brainer!
Ta Dah! The book arrived in two days and was in "Like New" condition, dust jacket and all. Reading the "big" book turned out to be no "big" deal. The tome sat comfortably in my lap and as I relaxed with it in my favorite recliner, the hardcover and excellent binding kept the pages nicely in order. Yes, it is somewhat larger than a "normal" hardcover book but actually, it is no thicker. And now that I have it in my possession and have actually begun reading it, the quality of the paper and printing is so much better than a pulp and glue edition that I am delighted with my purchase.
So what about Lewis? Well, Lewis is Lewis, and if you want to have a convenient collection of his works that you can use for both enjoyable reading and meditative reference, then my recommendation is to go for the hardcover edition. It is a really nice book and if you shop carefully, will cost you only a few dollars more than a chubby, stubby paperback of doubtful quality that at best, will turn yellow and fall apart if you give it any use at all.
So that's my 2 cents' worth and I'm stickin' to it!