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C. S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity": A Biography (Lives of Great Religious Books) Hardcover – March 29, 2016
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"A clear and deeply informed account of a religious work that seems to have no expiration date."--Kirkus
"Admirers of Lewis as well as those interested in the origins of recent Christian thought will be happy to dive into this densely packed volume."--Publishers Weekly
"Books on Lewis abound. Marsden's belongs on the top shelf."--Booklist
"[A]n insightful historical sketch"--The Gospel Coalition
"If Marsden's biography of Mere Christianity encourages his readers to read or reread it for themselves, it may in its own way be an antidote for the attention to self that so dominates our culture."--Gilbert Meilaender, Commonweal
"Marsden's book is fascinating and well-written and researched. It makes one want to go back to read Mere Christianity itself."--Frank Freeman, University Bookman
"George Marsden provides a splendid account of the book's evolution . . . and its reception."--Jonathan Wright, Catholic Herald
"Marsden's work is a terrific exemplification of the contribution to knowledge which can be made by study of the reception history of texts. . . . Fascinating insights emerge."--Peter Anthony, Church Times
"[A] fascinating exploration of one of the most influential religious books of modern times."--Ryder Miller, San Francisco Book Review
"Marsden's ‘biography' of Lewis's Mere Christianity is an excellent commentary on a classic of modern Christian literature on spirituality."--Choice
From the Back Cover
"A superb study of C. S. Lewis's greatest work. Marsden succeeds both in illuminating the success of Mere Christianity and enriching our own reading of this seminal work."--Alister McGrath, author of C. S. Lewis--A Life
"This is a match made in heaven: C. S. Lewis, modernity's most influential Christian voice, interpreted by George Marsden, leading historian of Christian intellectual culture. Mere Christianity has taken on a life of its own, winning converts by its peculiar blend of rhetoric and reason. In unveiling the life of this book and taking the measure of its influence, Marsden has given us an indispensable key to the mind and stature of its author."--Carol Zaleski, coauthor of The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings
"A significant contribution to Lewis scholarship. No one has surveyed the reception history of Mere Christianity as well as Marsden has done here, and given the enduring popularity and influence of the book, this is a task well worth doing."--Alan Jacobs, author of The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis
"Though there have been analyses of Mere Christianity before, none has been so comprehensive or serious as this one. Marsden has subjected Lewis's book to an assessment more searching and satisfying than anything so far in print."--Michael Ward, University of Oxford, author of Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis
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Marsden is an imminent scholar and author, having written the Bancroft Prize winning biography, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, in 2004. In Marsden's latest work, however, his subject is a book itself rather than an individual.
Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, has gone down in time as one of the most read and re-read introductions to the Christian faith. What some may not realize about the book is that it originally was birthed as a series of radio addresses Lewis gave on the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) during World War II. As Britain, and all of Europe, were in the throes of war, Lewis laid out, in 15 to 20 minute segments, what the basic tenets of Christianity were. As a masterful storyteller (most notably seen in his Chronicles of Narnia series) Lewis was able to provide vivid analogous examples to describe the basic foundations of the faith. This, coupled with his past history as an atheist, gave him a good background in skepticism, so as to speak to the skeptics that were so prominent in Britain at the time.
Of course, when writing the biography of a “book” it is impossible to not also write a semi-biography of the man who wrote the book. Lewis was an instructor in English Literature at Oxford University when he gave the talks that would become Mere Christianity. And the response to his radio talks was mesmerizing, in both good and bad ways. Many people desired to hear them again and reconsider the Christian faith. Others, rationalistic in nature, abhorred Lewis's archaic religious beliefs and ridiculed him for both the radio addresses and the ensuing book. This was one of the most enlightening aspects of the book for me, the realization that Lewis was intellectually persecuted for his Christian faith by British liberals in general, and by his Oxford colleagues in particular. In fact, Lewis's adherence to the faith, perhaps cost him promotions from within the university.
Lewis's life was forever changed with the publication of Mere Christianity. He incorporated the help of his faithful brother Warren (Warnie) to answer the correspondence he received as a result of the radio broadcasts and the book itself, which emerged from a desire by so many to re-read what Lewis had said. From Mere Christianity, Lewis went on to pen several, short philosophical works devoted to various aspects of the Christian faith. While many modern day evangelicals would disagree with Lewis on several issues, it could also safely be said that his book has been used of God to bring many an atheistic skeptic to reconsider their stance on Christianity. Some of these well known Christian figures (Charles Colson for example) are mentioned in the book. It should also be noted that Lewis went to great pains to ensure the book presented as “basic” a view of Christianity as possible. He was not interested in drawing sharp doctrinal and denominational lines. And this can be seen throughout the work. If you are expecting a sharp-tongue polemic for your branch of Christianity, you will be disappointed. But if you desire, a more vague introduction to the faith, then Mere Christianity will satisfy. Lewis claimed that he was simply trying to bring unbelievers into the vestibule of the faith, and that whatever specific “room” they chose was up to them. As an Anglican himself, he was not trying to win unbelievers to Anglicanism. But rather to coax unbelievers to consider Christianity as a whole.
After having been passed over one too many times at Oxford, Lewis eventually accepted a promotion at the rival Cambridge University. His latter years were spent in study and in the late-in-life marriage to American Joy Davidman, who succumbed to cancer in 1960. Lewis himself died on November 22, 1963, largely overshadowed by the assassination of John F. Kennedy, on the same day.
Marsden's book is an interesting read that presents an aspect of Lewis's life and of Mere Christianity that might not be known to the reader. Never boring, Marsden weaves an interesting narrative about Lewis and how the book came to prominence. If you have not yet read the book itself, it would behoove any Christian (or even skeptic) to read Lewis's Mere Christianity. Then read Marsden's biography of the book itself. The historical context, extenuating circumstances, and the author, Lewis himself, make for a fascinating read. Marsden succeeds in writing a readable and interesting “biography” of Mere Christianity. I would highly recommend both Lewis's original work, and Marsden's biography of it.
Clive Staples Lewis authored a whole shelf of books in several genres. Mere Christianity, probably his most famous book (though some would argue for Screwtape Letters or the Chronicles of Narnia) didn't start out as a book. In the darkest days of World War Two, all of Europe in Hitler's control and the German airforce raining down bombs on London every night, embattled England was the free world's last hope. Lewis's fifteen minute talks every evening on BBC helped keep that hope alive.
In the final chapter, Marsden captures in one masterful sentence the unique qualities that Lewis brought to the task. "Almost like a Mozart of words, Lewis was so thoroughly steeped in a rich tradition, was so much a master of a rational discipline, and so much a lifelong connoisseur of the imagination that he could toss off a series of occasional pieces for broadcast that were not even at first planned to make up a book, and they would turn out to be a compelliing set of rhetorical gems."
That sentence demonstrates something else as well—the publisher's wisdom in choosing Marsden to write the book. Steeped in the same tradition as Lewis, with perfect balance of reason and imagination in his own work, Marsden's breadth of intellect and sensibility pervade the whole book from beginning to end.