MERE  CHRISTIANITY

 

          A swimming pool with varying depths of water is analogous to the typical church’s educational program.  The shallow end is the average Sunday School class, where infants paddle and non-swimmers wade.  Very few churches provide a deep end to the pool, a place for diving into doctrinal study and thrashing through perplexing problems in philosophy and ethics.  In order to adequately school its members and fit their spiritual diversities, every church should provide both depths of learning.

          Becoming a pastor or a priest requires seminary training.  And since Baptists claim to believe the doctrine of the priesthood of believers, i.e., every church member is a priest, every church should offer seminary-level training.  Sunday School can provide some of this education, but it is primarily geared to the needs of new Christians and to comprehension by uneducated persons.  This means that deeper study must come from advanced classes, clinics, and seminars.  Every Baptist church should offer these and thus transform itself into a seminary.

          The religion of the masses is generally over-simplified, shallow, and superficial.  Going to church is an occasion for socializing and getting a “feel-good” boost to one’s self-satisfaction.  When religion is taught, the profound, eternal questions are avoided, and the Bible is interpreted by means of “kangaroo exegesis” - skipping over the difficult passages.  Heaven help the teacher who dares to challenge a class to deeper commitment, to applying any brain-power, or to suggesting that religion is a life-long quest through rugged terrain (such as was allegorized by Bunyan in his The Pilgrim’s Progress).

          Baptists used to have a special program called “Church Training” in which they grappled with systematic theology, learned to appreciate their Christian heritage, and engaged in open debate, but that has largely been shut down in most churches.

          “Simple faith” is now the popular theme, and this cuts at the heart of what C. S. Lewis wrote about in his little book, Mere Christianity.  Some gleanings from that book are given below - with page numbers from the 1977 Macmillan paperback edition.

 

P. 7:  There are questions at issue between Christians to which I do not think I have the answer.  There are some to which I may never know the answer...But there are other questions as to which I am definitely on one side of the fence, and yet say nothing.  For I am not writing to expound something I could call “my religion,” but to expound “mere” Christianity, which is what it is and was what it was long before I was born and whether I like it or not.

 

P. 43:  If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth...But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong.  As in arithmetic - there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong: but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.

 

P. 46:  It is no good asking for a simple religion.  After all, real things are not simple.  They look simple, but they are not.  The table I am sitting at looks simple: but ask a scientist to tell you what it is really made of - all about the atoms and how the light waves rebound from them and hit my eye and what they do to the optic nerve and what it does to my brain - and, of course, you find that what we call “seeing a table” lands you in mysteries and complications which you can hardly get to the end of.  A child saying a child’s prayer looks simple.  And if you are content to stop there, well and good.  But if you are not - and the modern world usually is not - if you want to go on and ask what is really happening - then you must be prepared for something difficult.  If we ask for something more than simplicity, it is silly then to complain that the something more is not simple.

          Very often, however, this silly procedure is adopted by people who are not silly, but who, consciously or unconsciously, want to destroy Christianity.  Such people put up a version of Christianity suitable for a child of six and make that the object of their attack.  When you try to explain the Christian doctrine as it is really held by an instructed adult, they then complain that you are making their heads turn round and that it is all too complicated and that if there really were a God they are sure He would have made “religion” simple, because simplicity is so beautiful, etc.  You must be on your guard against these people for they will change their ground every minute and only waste your time.  Notice, too, their idea of God “making religion simple:” as if “religion” were something God invented, and not His statement to us of certain quite unalterable facts about His own nature.

 

P. 47:  Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed.  That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity.  It is a religion you could not have guessed.  If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up.  But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up.  It has just that queer twist about it that real things have.  So let us leave behind all these boys’ philosophies - these over-simple answers.  The problem is not simple, and the answer is not going to be simple either.

 

P. 54:  This is the key to history.  Terrific energy is expended - civilizations are built up - excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong.  Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin.  In fact, the machine conks.  It seems to start up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down...

          And what did God do?  First of all He left us conscience, the sense of right and wrong: and all through history there have been people trying (some of them very hard) to obey it.  None of them ever quite succeeded.  Secondly, He sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men.  Thirdly, He selected one particular people and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was - that there was only one of Him and that He cared about right conduct.  Those people were the Jews, and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process.

 

P. 55:  I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.”  That is the one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic - on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.

 

P. 58:  We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself.  That is the formula.  That is Christianity.  That is what has to be believed

 

P. 63:  I have explained why I have to believe that Jesus was (and is) God.  And it seems plain as a matter of history that He taught His followers that the new life was communicated in this way.  In other words, I believe it on His authority.  Do not be scared by the word authority...The ordinary man believes in the solar system, atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood on authority - because the scientists say so.

 

P. 64:  And let me make it quite clear that when Christians say the Christ-life is in them, they do not mean simply something mental or moral.  When they speak of being “in Christ” or of Christ being “in them,” this is not simply a way of saying that they are thinking about Christ or copying Him.  They mean that Christ is actually operating through them; that the whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts - that we are His fingers and muscles, the cells of His body.  And perhaps that explains one or two things.  It explains why this new life is spread not only by purely mental acts like belief, but by bodily acts like baptism and holy communion.  It is not merely the spreading of an idea; it is more like evolution - a biological or super-biological fact.

 

P. 75:  If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all.  But, fortunately, it works the other way round.  Anyone who is honestly trying to be a Christian will soon find his intelligence being sharpened...Christianity is an education itself.  That is why an uneducated believer like Bunyan was able to write a book that has astonished the whole world.

 

P. 77:  We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules: whereas He really wants people of a particular sort.

 

P. 80:  You will find this again and again about anything that is really Christian: every one is attracted by bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest.  That is why we do not get much further: and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity.

 

P. 120:  There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of Heaven ridiculous by saying they do not want “to spend eternity playing harps.”  The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them.  All the scriptural imagery (harps, crown, gold, etc.) is, of course, a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible.  Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people (not all) music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity.  Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendor and power and joy.  Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it.  People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.

 

P. 124:  ...daily prayers and religious reading and church-going are necessary parts of the Christian life.  We have to be continually reminded of what we believe.

 

P. 135:  Everyone has warned me not to tell you what I am going to tell you in this...book.  They all say “the ordinary reader does not want theology; give him plain practical religion.”  I have rejected their advice.  I do not think the ordinary reader is such a fool.  Theology means “the science of God,” and I think any man who wants to think about God at all would like to have the clearest and most accurate ideas about Him which are available.  You are not children: why should you be treated like children?

 

P. 136:  Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map.  But the map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God - experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused...and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers and music...For a great many of the ideas about God which are trotted out as novelties today, are simply the ones which real theologians tried centuries ago and rejected.  To believe in the popular religion of modern England is retrogression - like believing the earth is flat.  For when you get down to it, is not the popular idea of Christianity simply this: that Jesus Christ was a great moral teacher and that if only we took his advice we might be able to establish a better social order and avoid another war?  Now, mind you, that is quite true.  But it tells you much less than the whole truth about Christianity and it has no practical importance at all.

 

P. 184:  Perhaps a modern man can understand Christian idea best if he takes it in connection with evolution.  Everyone now knows about evolution (though, of course, some educated people disbelieve it): everyone has been told that man has evolved from lower types of life.  Consequently, people often wonder, “What is the next step?”  When is the thing beyond man going to appear?”  Imaginative writers try sometimes to picture this next step - the “Superman” as they call him...But I cannot help thinking that the Next Step will be really new...I should expect the next stage in evolution not to be a stage in evolution at all: should expect evolution itself as a method of producing change, will be superseded.  And finally, I should not be surprised if, when the thing happened, very few people noticed that it was happening.  Now, if you care to talk in these terms, the Christian view is precisely that the Next Step has already appeared.  And it is really new.  It is not a change from brainy men to brainier men: it is a change that goes off in a totally different direction - a change from being creatures of God to being sons of God.  The first instance appeared in Palestine two thousand years ago.

 

P. 186:  Never forget that we are all still “the early Christians.”  The present wicked and wasteful divisions between us are, let us hope, a disease of infancy: we are still teething.  The outer world, no doubt, thinks just the opposite.  It thinks we are dying of old age.  But it has thought that so often before!  Again and again it has thought Christianity was dying...But every time the world has been disappointed.  Its first disappointment was over the crucifixion.  The Man came to life again.

 

          These gleanings from Mere Christianity are just a taste of it - hopefully enough that the reader will be challenged to get the book for himself.  The excerpts provided above were selected for the purpose of showing C. S. Lewis’ distaste for shallow religion, for simple faith, for feel-good emotions.  And as Lewis said when he defined “mere” Christianity, superficial platitudes about Christianity are not sufficient, and this is true “whether I like it or not.”

                                                                                       Richard L. Atkins