Beyond Mere Christianity

An Assessment of C.S. Lewis

Steven P. Mueller

C. S. Lewis was one of the most influential Christian apologists of the twentieth century, and he remains influential today. His apologetic works explain essential Christian teachings in ordinary, nontechnical language, and his writings usually focus on beliefs that all Christians hold in common— what he called “mere Christianity.” He thought this approach would best serve those who did not know Jesus Christ. Once they came to faith, Lewis believed, they would learn about theological differences between churches and join a Christian fellowship of their choosing.

Lewis claimed to have limited his apologetic writings to mere Christianity; however, there were times when he addressed teachings that are not held by all Christians. He believed, for instance, that Scripture is in some sense the word of God, but he questioned its inerrancy. He also believed in the existence of purgatory, though he did not consider it to be a place of punishment. Lewis, rather, believed saved people were purified of their sins in purgatory before entering heaven itself. Another controversial belief he held was that a person could belong to Jesus Christ and be saved without necessarily knowing Him specifically. This is not exactly universalism, but it goes beyond the clear teaching of Scripture.

A full consideration of Lewis needs to include his strengths and his weaknesses. A discerning reader can recognize that many of his writings and strategies are helpful and are a valuable contribution to apologetics and theology while also recognizing that some of his teachings go beyond the scope of mere Christianity.

C. S. Lewis (1898–1963) is often called the foremost Christian apologist of the twentieth century. His many writings have introduced countless people to the Christian faith. Apologetic works such as Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain explain and defend essential beliefs of Christianity. Children’s stories from the Chronicles of Narnia recast biblical themes, enabling readers to consider them from new perspectives. Popular books, such as The Screwtape Letters, have given many people ample material for thought and reflection.

Lewis believed that theology should be accessible to any Christian who was willing to read and think. His clear, concise writing addresses significant theological issues and invites the reader to explore a greater depth of faith. Consequently, many Christians from a variety of denominational backgrounds note Lewis’s influence on their own conversion and understanding.

In the decades since his death, Lewis’s books have remained popular, but they are not without their critics. Some from outside of Christianity dislike his works because of their biblical message, but critical voices have emerged from within Christianity as well.

When a reader encounters a description of Christianity that resonates with his or her own understanding, that reader may conclude that the writer shares his or her theological perspective. Further reading, however, may reveal some surprising contrasts. Lewis’s readers are often confused by unexpected teachings in his books. How should one respond to a writer who shared some remarkable insights but who also presented some questionable teachings?

Some readers consider any critical assessment of Lewis to be inappropriate, not wanting a champion of Christian outreach to be disparaged. This concern is legitimate. Lewis’s significant accomplishments should not be overlooked, but the opposite error is equally troublesome. Concealing or ignoring his shortcomings does no service to Lewis or the truth he defended. Lewis was not an inerrant writer, nor was he the ultimate theological authority. He was a human being who made a significant contribution, but his writings contain some flaws. A legitimate assessment of Lewis must account for both.

LEWIS’S APOLOGETICS

Lewis offered a diverse yet consistent presentation of Christianity. Through many literary genres (types) and in a variety of settings, he winsomely presented his faith to a modern audience. Though raised in a Christian home, Lewis abandoned his faith at a young age and became a self-professed atheist. He had many objections to Christianity and did not return to it until these objections were answered satisfactorily. With those answers, he answered the objections of others. His writings, therefore, focus on the most essential teachings of Christianity and on obstacles that unbelievers often face.

Some of these obstacles are addressed in his apologetic works: Is there a universal moral law? If so, must there also be a universal moral lawgiver? Is the universe a closed system, or is supernatural intervention possible? Is it logical to consider Jesus to be a good ethical teacher while denying His deity? Can miracles really occur? How can an omnipotent God allow suffering and still be good? Lewis addressed such questions with candor and ease…

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Beyond Mere Christianity – Equip.org

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