1,096 of 1,150 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2002
In his "Preface to Paradise Lost", Lewis wrote the following:
"The first qualification for judging any piece of workmanship from a corkscrew to a cathedral is to know *what* it is - what it was intended to do and how it was meant to be used. After that has been discovered the temperance reformer may decide that the corkscrew was made for a bad purpose, and the communist may think the same about the cathedral. But such questions come later. The first thing is to understand the object before you: as long as you think the corkscrew was meant for opening tins or the cathedral for entertaining tourists you can say nothing to purpose about them."
This is a splendid piece of writing, but the idea presented is no way an original one - Plato and Aristotle said the same, said it clearly, and said it over two thousand years before Lewis did. If you had been able to confront Lewis with this fact, he might have said "Exactly."
This brings us to one of the great themes of Lewis's writing, evident nowhere more so than in "Mere Christianity": the defense of traditional wisdom against prejudice of our age that would reject it for no other reason than that it is traditional. Lewis often encountered those who complained that his ideas were old-fashioned, and his standard reply was that theirs would soon be as well, so in that they were equal. I admit I couldn't help but smile at the complaint by one Amazon reviewer that Lewis's ideas on sexuality were "decades old". The complaint is quite mistaken: the ideas are not decades old but thousands of years old.
And it is here that we have part of the answer to the problem of understanding the kind of thing "Mere Christianity" is: it is nothing new. It is in fact very, very old. What Lewis is defending is not his own personal belief system, but the Christianity that is the common heritage of mankind. The threat to it comes not from hard-core atheists, who receive the barest of notices from Lewis, but the general modern tendency to subject traditional Christianity to the death of a thousand cuts - discarding one ancient doctrine after another, on grounds often no better than mere chronological snobbery - that modern people aren't supposed to believe that kind of thing anymore
This is why Lewis, in what has been often described as the most important defense of Christianity in the twentieth century, spends a mere fifteen pages in arguing for the existence of God. The important task is not to defend a vague theism, which is the position Lewis found from experience that his audience already believed, but to rebuild what little of traditional Christianity modernism has left them - some vague belief in "a higher power", and "some purpose to all of this" into that concrete set of specific beliefs that are the historical core of Christianity.
While the defense of historical Christianity is one part of understanding what "Mere Christianity" is, the other part is that it is intended to be accessible to anyone. This requires that Lewis be both clear and brief - a combination brutally difficult to achieve, as any writer who has attempted it will attest.
Lewis's success in this can be measured in two ways: first, that his work has indeed found a very wide readership - millions of have read it; second, his work is often recommended by those whose knowledge of traditional Christian theology is broad and deep. The size of the readership attests to the accessibility of the work, and the expert recommendations attest to the accuracy of its message.
There is one other thing that is important to note about Lewis's success: Lewis could afford to be brief because what he was explaining was not his own theology, but our common intellectual inheritance. The reader who is dissatisfied with the depth of this or that point in "Mere Christianity" will have no difficulty in finding sources that go into the same thing in much greater detail. Calvin wrote line-by-line commentaries on all of scripture. Thomas Aquinas's "Summa Theologica" is over 6,000 pages long. The collected works of Augustine fill more than 40 volumes.
So, to return to the question with which this review began: what kind of thing is "Mere Christianity"? The answer is that it is a brief exposition of traditional Christianity for a modern audience. In the sixty years since it was published, the nature of the modernist challenge to Christianity has not substantially changed, nor has a clearer, more accessible response to that challenge yet been written. Some have complained that the work has "gaps" or that it skims over this or that point, but that is a complaint that fails to understand what kind of thing this is. What they are asking for, whether they know it or not, is a completely different book. Properly evaluated, on the basis of the kind of thing it is, it is trivially easy to give the highest recommendation to "Mere Christianity": it is on a topic of the greatest possible importance and the presentation is outstanding.
205 of 215 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2003
CS Lewis is one of the great modern Christian writers. His writings are non-denominational, and can be appreciated by people of any faith. This box set contains some (though not all!) of his best work.
'Mere Christianity' is a great introduction to Lewis's way of thinking. Originally a series of radio addresses, this work details why Lewis is a Christian, and presents a case for Christianity that is compelling, to say the least.
'The Screwtape Letters' is my personal favorite. It is fiction, written from the unique point of view of a master devil named Screwtape. The master is trying to teach his nephew how to win souls for the devil through temptation. This one will definitely change the way you look at sin.
'The Problem of Pain.' -- what is pain? Well, Lewis tackles this subject here, and argues that God gives us pain because he loves us, and in order to mold us to his will.
'A Grief Observed' is a very intimate work, written after Lewis's wife died. It is, quite simply, a very honest and unique look at grieving, which shows this master Christian apologist, who seems to always have all the answers, vulnerable and without a solution.
'The Great Divorce' is Lewis's 'Divine Comedy.' This is a great look at Heaven and Hell, and presents the very compelling idea that people will go to Hell, not because they are forced to, but because they simply won't tolerate Heaven.
'Miracles' examines the question "can miracles occur?" For Lewis, the answer is yes, and this book shows how the Creator of Nature and mankind can work miracles without interrupting the 'natural' flow of things.
Buying these books together in a set is a good way to get these six classics at a great price. This is a wonderful starting point for anyone interested in Christian theology. No one interested in Christian thinker should be without these masterpieces by CS Lewis.
344 of 371 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2001
After reading several books on a similar topic that did nothing but confuse me, I was glad that I came upon C.S. Lewis's work. All of the other books about the existence of God are way off in their own world, and discourage anyone who feels lost in their ideas about God. This book really explained the reasons that God must exist, and then moved on to easily describe the major beliefs of Christians, without leaving anyone out in the cold on what the key issues actually are. This book is perfect for the agnostic, the atheist, and even the Christian that wants to know the logical and simple reasons that C.S. Lewis came to be a Christian. Over and over, his words made me see even the simplest concepts of religion in a completely new light. I was greatly impressed and have already read this book multiple times.
372 of 405 people found the following review helpful
C. S. Lewis rejects the boundaries that divide Christianity's many denominations. While religious belief is not a concern for some, to many more it is an extremely serious decision, requiring deep thought and the entire energy of the mind.
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis leads all the Christian religions to common ground. This book is in fact a defense of the beliefs common to all Christians at all times. Originally, these ideas were contained in three separate books. Prior to 1943 they were only heard as informal radio broadcasts. This is why you will see colloquialisms used and the conversational style of the writing.
When you read C. S. Lewis' work, you can hear his voice. Sometimes I forget I am reading. Like a friend with a cup of coffee in hand, he sits across from us. He then leads us up a ladder of logical thinking. He starts on the lowest step and gives us confidence to climb the next step. He guides us through an incredible thought process to a conclusion, which is perhaps so logical it becomes irrevocable truth.
If you were to fall off a real ladder, your body would simply be obeying the laws of Gravity. He brilliantly explains how there is an eternal Law of Human Nature. This is the law of how mankind "ought" to behave in order to maintain a safe and happy society where everyone plays fair. Unfortunately, we all know how our society has failed to practice this law in all aspects of life.
If you want a definition for this law it can only be "morals." A word from which many reel, as if a light was shining brightly in their eyes. To others: it is a light by which they see the path they walk through life. C. S. Lewis divides morality into three main sections: the actions, reasons behind the actions and why man was created. When you realize that different beliefs about the universe can make us behave differently; you can then make some compelling arguments in favor of Christianity.
C. S. Lewis was an atheist (as was my father once and his writing reminds me of a conversation with my father for some reason, perhaps they came to some of the same conclusions) who later became a Christian. He is perhaps one of the most qualified individuals to discuss a universe at war, for the idea of atheism and Christianity could not be more diametrically opposed.
"Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance." --C. S. Lewis
Like a voice from the grave (he passed away in 1963), C. S. Lewis speaks as if this message was for the year 2000. I read this work 53 years after it was written and the truths are still eternal. Good and Evil are perhaps the oldest concept we know of. I found it interesting when he pointed out that without good, evil would not exist. That good allows evil to occur. For example: selfishness is undesirable, while unselfishness is desirable. The basis for this is founded in some deep religious beliefs. He explains how this all relates to the moral laws of nature.
I enjoyed his discussion of the Theological Virtues (Faith/Hope/Charity) and the Cardinal (pivotal) Virtues (Prudence/Temperance/Justice/Fortitude). His chapter on the issue of "Pride" (the most evil of all vices) also shows how "power" is what pride wants.
"There is nothing that makes a man feel more superior to others as being able to move them about like toy soldiers." --C. S. Lewis
Through this book, you will gain a greater understanding of what holds us all together, what makes us responsible to one another. You may even conclude that those who find morals threatening, may in fact be the largest threat to a civilized society. If we all had morals we would simply have a safer environment to thrive and be happy in. It is simply the way you look at it.
Mere Christianity is one of the most thought provoking books I have ever read to date! If you are at all interested in the logical basis for Christianity, this book goes to the depths of thought and reveals the essence of the beliefs behind the beliefs. This book becomes perfume, which completely seduces your soul.
For Christians, it will be a reminder of the truth you hold dear and a reminder of our eternal life. For those who love the Narnia Chronicles, page 146 gives you an insight into the "time factor." (The children in the story can leave the material world and when they return, time never changes.)
One of my favorite quotes from Mere Christianity:
" When it (Christianity) tells you to feed the hungry it does not give you a lesson in cookery." --C. S. Lewis, page 79
On page 87 you will also find a beautiful passage. It is my all-time favorite passage to explain LIFE! It is a must read.
This book will put your brain in gear and send you on a drive to enlightenment. I intend to read every one of Lewis' books. His work is deep, yet understandable. Eternally Recommended.
C. S. Lewis is my all-time favorite author. I was first introduced to his writing as a very young child in second grade. It was then that I fell in love with his writing. Through the Narnia Chronicles, C.S. Lewis weaves the morals and beliefs children need to learn.
I recommend Mere Christianity for non-Christians and Christians. For all children, The Chronicles of Narnia will enlighten them and they will never forget the stories! I also reviewed the set. They are the most magical stories a child can read. Mere Christianity is perhaps the most brilliant explanation for Christian beliefs any adult can read.
~The Rebecca Review
94 of 101 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 1999
At the age of 25 I read this book in 1976. In the midst of its pages, I became a Christian. The conversion experience was real, it was exciting, and it was lasting. Now, 23 years later, I consider myself a child of God through the ministry of C.S. Lewis. Charles Colson, former "enforcer" of the Nixon Administration, also became a Christian reading Lewis's Mere Christianity. I recommend it to non-believers, believers, and to outright opponents of the idea that Jesus is Lord. Why? Because Lewis strips away all the silly religious accretions that obscure the true message of this historic person known as Jesus of Nazareth. All of these notions kept me away from the faith for years, and it was exhilirating to confront, via Lewis, the Jesus who actually walked the Earth and who, 25 years ago, changed my life radically and forever. I am a lawyer who knows what evidence will stand up in a court room. Lewis has it. I have been "convicted" by that evidence, by the grace of God.
62 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2003
The books grouped together in this boxed set are - taken together - unquestionably the greatest achievement in modern Christian apologetics. (If I hesitate to place them alongside something like St. Augustine's "The City of God", it is only because their cultural contexts are so different that it would be comparing apples and oranges; not because I necessarily think Lewis's achievement is any smaller.) Years of exposure to their ultra-lucid and gracious discourse (such a tonic for the harangues of the televangelists!) - voluntarily sought out for the sheer pleasure of his elegant prose - gradually brought me from pugnacious atheism to (much to my surprise) a church pew. So if you're coming to Lewis with anything less than a hermetically sealed mind, be warned by my example. As he wryly puts it, an atheist can't be too careful what he reads.
That said, from a consumer's point of view, I would only feel confident recommending this set to the converted Lewis-ite who wants a uniform edition of the central works. (Though the surprising absence of his spiritual autobiography "Surprised by Joy" will need to be remedied somehow.) The artsy photographs on the covers are decent and the type is pleasantly sized (although a bit more watery than prose this solid deserves). The gift-giver who wants to introduce someone to the pleasures of Lewis would do better with the beguiling (and invitingly slim) single volume "The Great Divorce". (Others would propose the popular and entertaining "The Screwtape Letters". They might be right. But I stand firm.) Then - the following Christmas perhaps - "Mere Christianity", which explains what is being offered. And then "Miracles", which satisfied me at least that it wasn't too good to be true. And only then "The Problem of Pain", which wrestles manfully with the difficult, perhaps unanswerable stuff.
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Mere Christianity is, if not the most successful apologetic book for Christianity, certainly one of the most discussed. Christians proudly point to it as an irrefutable argument for their faith. Atheists proudly point to their facile rebuttals as an example of how the 'best' logic that Christianity can muster is really no logic at all. Personally it has been a very important book for my faith life, but I see no reason why anyone should be brow-beaten into believing after reading this. Actually, that's not what C.S. Lewis had in mind when he wrote it.
Several reviewers are quite right when they say that the internal logic may be consistent, but that's no indication that what Lewis says is true. All he meant to do was try to get the reader into the believer's mindset, to give an insider's view of why believers might find the tenets and premises of their faith convincing. Furthermore, Lewis wanted to keep things very simple, so that even the man on the street could understand complex matters of theology and practice. He did not want to write a philosophical tome, but an intimate conversation on the content and meaning of the Christian faith.
This is a book which begs to be put in its historical context, that of World War II Britain. The message is aimed towards people who did not know if they would live another day, whether they were pilots in the Air Force or citizens terrorized by the London blitz. This DOESN'T mean he just wanted to give them something nice to believe in. He sincerely believed that he was giving them the truth. Who says the truth can't be comforting and inspiring? It is a perverse logic that says that truth must be something 'harsh' and 'impersonal'. What I usually see is that this is assumed without demonstration from the outset, and from then on religious beliefs are debunked as 'wishful thinking'.
On Lewis' argument from good and evil: he DID anticipate the 'sociobiology' objection, but he called it the 'herd instinct' explanation and did not think it touched the real issue behind his argument (see pp.9-11). Of course the ingenuity of skepticism is unbounded, so again there is no reason why even the most tightly reasoned arguments should touch the hard-core skeptic. Her eyes and ears are closed. That is not to say that Lewis' argumentation is perfect. He IS dated in places, he DOES oversimplify at times (but keep in mind his audience) and some of his opinions on Christian behavior may more reflect the preset attitudes of an Oxford don than the spirit of the faith. Overall, though, his case for Christianity is lucid, warm and compelling.
Even his most passionate despisers cannot deny, furthermore, that Lewis had a great talent for words, especially given that these chapters were originally radio broadcasts. His prose is a pleasure to read, warm, personal and measured, while sparkling with wit and just a hint of irony. You can almost see him smoking his pipe, rocking in his chair, exclaiming "who would have thought!" when he presents his case. This is a man whose faith went through enormous testing, and in fact Lewis never reached the certainty and ease of mind that he was looking for. He suffered doubts all his life, especially when his wife died. But he was always hopeful, in the best Christian sense of the word. He was confident that his trust in God would pay off. Now he knows, one way or another.
In the meantime, those of us who have not yet crossed over that river can learn much from Lewis' wisdom. His insight into human nature was remarkably prescient and still speaks to our time. Even if you don't buy his 'God-talk', you cannot help but squirm under his cold, clear, microscopic gaze as he exposes the foibles, weaknesses and shortcomings that prevent us from being the kind of people we want to be. In the end, the legacy of C.S. Lewis is not that he gave Christians the perfect weapon to cajole everyone into the fold. It is his insights into our souls that really stand the test of time. If Christianity is anything it is a religion of relentless self-criticism, which if applied honestly will drive the honest seeker to the realization of sin, at which point God may work a miracle and give him or her New Life.
57 of 62 people found the following review helpful
C.S. Lewis is perhaps the greatest Christian thinker of the 20th century. This book is one of his masterpieces. Basically this book is a reasoned explanation of the Christian religion. He covers the Trinity, the book of Genesis, etc. However, this is not light reading. Some books by Lewis (such as the "Great Divorce" and "Chronicles of Narnia") are very light and profound reading. Mere Christianity is not light. It's one of those books that you have to read one page three times before you move on. Lewis is not afraid to get deep and detailed in this book. There's a lot of philosophy in here which I like, its not just an "I believe and that's that" type of book. Really heavy, but rewarding reading.
93 of 106 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2000
If you're looking for a very interesting, enthralling book, this is the one. What I found so enjoyable about Lewis's style is how he develops such strong arguments promoting the fact that God exists by getting you to concede one small point at a time.
This is the best Christian book I've read--almost more philosophical than theological. His short, essay-type chapters make this an entertainingly easy read. His arguments are strongly built and well founded.
I'm a believer who sometimes runs across Atheists. I always try to explain why there must be a God; Mere Christianity makes it apparent that there is a God, purely from a logical perspective. Lewis proves it using the truth that lies in the guts every person.
43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2003
Recently, I've run into several people who say they find reading C.S. Lewis difficult. What??? C.S. Lewis had the cleanest, most lucid prose style ever known to English (His poetry however is another case).
I guess I am left asking--like the Professor in Lewis's The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe--"What are they teaching in schools these days?"
Now that that is out of my system:
Mere Christianity is a fine book. It played a huge part in my own acceptance of Christ as my Savior. Lewis's arguments for the presence of a universal standard of behavior, of the presence of conscience/the Holy Spirit met me right where my atheistic/agnostic self had been living. "If we do not believe in decent behavior, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently?"
Lewis follows his opening argument by presenting what he sees as the basic Christian beliefs and the general characteristics of Christian living. In the chapter titled The Invasion Lewis states the position of the Christian in the world quite succinctly and eloquently:
"Enemy-occupied territory--that is what the world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage."
Lewis's arguments are chock full of such vivid passages. His real strength is in the boiling down of his arguments. Lewis gets to the absolute core of True Christian beliefs and traditional Christian living.
At the end of the last century the magazine Christianity Today called Mere Christianity the Christian book of the century. I personally think that this is a bit of an overestimation (the Bible speaks to all generations and is the book of every century), but Mere Christianity is indeed a worthy book.
I give Mere Christianity my full recommendation.