C.S. Lewis, the beloved Oxford and Cambridge professor who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, was a staunch atheist—until he encountered Christ.
I started reading Mere Christianity many years ago, and gave up after about four chapters. It is not a quick and easy read. However, so many people (including my own son) have told me it helped clarify and advance them in their faith that I thought I should give it another chance. I’m so glad I did. I chose it as my selection for the continent of Europe for the Around the World Reading Challenge.
During World War II, the British Broadcasting Corporation invited Lewis to record a series of ten-minute talks about the basics of the Christian faith. Those talks were eventually collected into what became Mere Christianity.
The beginning of the book seemed pedantic, simple, and boring to me. I really struggled with it, and felt tempted to abandon it. But I stuck with it, and it’s a good thing I did. The beginning sets the groundwork for the rest of the book.
In it, Lewis tackles subjects like free will, predestination, the God-man Jesus, salvation, morality, hope, and eternity, concepts that flummox even long-time Christians. When I was present with him (I had to reread passages over and over; my brain would wander away), his explanations were crystal clear. For example, here is how he begins to explain how God’s omniscience differs from Man’s limitations, and still does not compromise our free will:
Everyone who believes in God at all believes that He knows what you and I are going to do tomorrow. But if He knows I am going to do so-and-so, how can I be free to do otherwise? Well, here once again the difficulty comes from thinking that God is progressing along the Time-line like us: the only difference being that He can see ahead and we cannot. Well, if that were true, if God foresaw our acts, it would be very hard to understand how we could be free not to do them. But suppose God is outside and above the Time-line. In that case, what we call ‘tomorrow’ is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call ‘today’. All the days are ‘Now’ for Him.
While I was reading the book, I often thought I would understand the words so much better if I could just hear Lewis say them with his own inflection. Sadly, only one tape remains—all the rest were recycled during the war effort. Yet, through the magic of the internet, you can hear that one remaining broadcast on YouTube:
How cool is that? The beginning of this talk appears in book 4, Chapter 3, Time and Beyond Time (the same chapter from which I took the above excerpt). The salt illustration and some of the thoughts about personality are included in Chapter 11, The New Men. This makes me think it was part of another tape–the clip is fifteen minutes long, and the voice changes at one point.
As I got to the last chapters of this book, I was touched to the point of tears, and excited about the journey ahead of me in my faith. At my advanced age, I am finally ready to rely only on God.
I recommend this book with one caveat—it’s simple, but it’s not easy. And it is so worth rereading.
This is my third installment in the Around the World Reading Challenge sponsored by the blog Booking It (click here). For my other installments, please see What is My Calling? and Can Your Story Change the World? Disclaimer: I don’t think I’m going to be able to finish the Challenge before the end of the year–I haven’t yet chosen my books from Africa, Australia, or South America.