Revisiting “Mere Christianity”

This year at Gettysburg College, I am working with several first-year seminars as a Student Success Advocate (a new program this fall). All of the these seminars are very interesting and very engaging: one of them, which is about the history of tea, has started me doing Japanese calligraphy and practicing the Japanese tea ceremony; and another one of them is about J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. One of the things that I am particularly enjoying about that seminar is the opportunity it affords me to go back and reread those authors, since it has been a long time since I have read their work.

For example, a couple of weeks ago, I read Surprised by Joy, by Lewis–which I don’t think I had ever read, actually–and this week, I just finished Mere Christianity.

That one, I had read this before, but, as I said, it had been a while, and reading it again I was struck anew by what a great writer Lewis is. Certainly, there is some material in the book that is quite dated, but overall, I think much of it holds up very well. He has the zeal and passion of a convert (well, more precisely, an adult re-convert–thanks to Tolkien, actually), and throughout, he has such lovely turns of phrase, and such beautiful images and symbols as he walks the reader from no belief, to a vague sort of Deism, to Christianity–and then into the heart of Christian faith and practice.

So today, I just thought I would share with you some of the quotes/ideas from the book that I really loved, and if you haven’t read it–or haven’t read it in a while–I strongly encourage you to pick it up. (It’s a great book for a congregational book study, too!) I hope you enjoy these little “amuses.”

“The Life-Force [that is, belief in an abstract creative process–Lewis calls this “Creative Evolution”] is a sort of tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you. All the thrills of religion and none of the cost.”

“Besides being complicated, reality, in my experience, is usually odd. It is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect….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.”

“God made us: invented us as a [hu]man invents an engine. A car is made to run on gasoline, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on [God]self. [God Godself] is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other.”

[He uses “asinine fatuity” in a sentence. I just love that.]

“We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules; whereas [God] really wants people of a particular sort.”

“The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins….That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute.”

(This is a little paraphrase, but mostly a quote) “Love is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit, reinforced by grace from God.”

“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.”

He talks about biblical imagery, and that it is a “symbolic attempt to express the inexpressible” and not meant to be taken literally. He says, “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.”

He also has several chapters where he talks about theology as so very practical. I love him for that alone.

“God looks at you as if you were a little Christ: Christ stands beside you to turn you into one.”

Last one: Lewis borrows as parable from George MacDonald. “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what [God] is doing. [God] is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently [God] starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is [God] up to? The explanation is that [God] is building quite a different house from the one you thought of–throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage; but [God] is building a palace. [God] intends to live in it [God]self.”

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