Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

To study the Middle Ages, you need to understand Christianity. Once you can engage with Christianity in general, then you need to understand medieval Catholic Christianity. If you are not a Christian yourself, then you likely have a lot more background research to do than somebody who was educated as a practicing Catholic. Whenever I meet someone who is not familiar with Christianity but needs to learn about it, whether for personal or scholarly reasons, C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity is the first book I always recommend. You can memorize the Summa Theologica if you’d like, but it takes more than reading doctrine to understand why people believed the things that they did. You cannot even begin to study medieval culture without this information.

First, I recommend Mere Christianity because it’s a friendly read. Many people do not want to pick up a book about religion even for research purposes because they are afraid it will be all hellfire and brimstone. Whether rightly or wrongly so, condemning writings are not enjoyable to read. The best way that I can describe Lewis’s writing style is “comfortable,” and Lewis mentions that he wanted the book to sound “familiar” in style, friendly but engaging.

Second, I recommend Mere Christianity because it is general. Lewis starts with Something that May Exist Beyond Man, then slowly progresses to specific points of Christian doctrine. Mere Christianity is a good place to start if you’re not a Christian because even if you disagree with Lewis, he explains what has made Christianity valuable for so many. Whenever I give someone Mere Christianity, he usually tells me that the book answered interesting questions that it had never occurred to him to ask. You don’t have to agree with it to understand it.

Finally, I recommend Mere Christianity as an introduction to Christianity because it is about Christianity in general, not a specific denomination. Lewis attempts to engage with a few points common to all denominations of Christianity (or most; saying “all” is probably a bit dangerous). Despite Lewis’s Anglican background, Christians of many denominations have found much that is valuable and familiar in Mere Christianity. This makes Mere Christianity a good introduction to Christianity in general and a good precursor to studying Catholic theology. (Do not use it as more than an introduction—it is too general to take you much farther.)

Take C.S. Lewis’s own advice about Mere Christianity—if you find it isn’t of use, put it aside. It’s just one of many, many books. However, if you think Mere Christianity might be of use to you, get it from the library. The worst thing you can lose is a few hours of your time.

You can expect to find Mere Christianity at any bookstore, Christian or secular, and at most used bookstores. It comes in several editions, hardcover and paperback, audio formats, and several e-reader formats. I also expect it should be easily available at any library or through inter-library loan.

Table of Contents

  • Book I, Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe
    • The Law of Human Nature
    • Some Objections
    • The Reality of the Law
    • What Lies Behind the Law
    • We Have Cause to Be Uneasy
  • Book 2, What Christians Believe
    • The Rival Conceptions of God
    • The Invasion
    • The Shocking Alternative
    • The Perfect Penitent
    • The Practical Conclusion
  • Book 3, Christian Behavior
    • The Three Parts of Morality
    • The “Cardinal Virtues”
    • Social Morality
    • Morality and Psychoanalysis
    • Sexual Morality
    • Christian Marriage
    • Forgiveness
    • The Great Sin
    • Charity
    • Hope
    • Faith
    • Faith
  • Book 4, Beyond the Personality: or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity
    • Making and Begetting
    • The Three-Personal God
    • Time and Beyond Time
    • Good Infection
    • The Obstinate Toy Soldier
    • Two Notes
    • Let’s Pretend
    • Is Christianity Hard or Easy?
    • Counting the Cost
    • Nice People or New Men
    • The New Men

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