A Brief Book Summary from Books At a Glance
Editor’s Note: Some have requested that along with newer titles we summarize some of the more notable books from previous generations. C.S. Lewis seems never to lose popularity, and we were not surprised to hear his works suggested. So today we offer an excellent summary of his important and very popular apologetic work, Mere Christianity.
About the Author
C. S. Lewis was one of the most influential writers of Christian literature in the 20th Century. His works sell more copies today than ever before. Lewis’ writings range from technical academic works (his works on medieval English literature are still considered magisterial), to popular apologetics, to children’s literature, and more.
Mere Christianity is one of the world’s most widely read books on the subject of Christianity. It consists of four books which originated as broadcast talks for the BBC during World War II. Amongst other things, Lewis covers the reality of moral law, human sinfulness, the nature and work of Christ, Christian ethics, and the doctrine of the Trinity. Lewis’ goal was to translate theology into language that people could understand. He desired to present “mere Christianity” (i.e. the core doctrines that all Christian traditions and creeds would accept), in a way that made it intelligible in a society where most people no longer grasped the meaning of Christian teaching.
Table of Contents
Book One: Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe
Chapter 1 The Law of Human Nature
Chapter 2 Some Objections
Chapter 3 The Reality of the Law
Chapter 4 What Lies Behind the Law
Chapter 5 We Have Cause to Be Uneasy
Book Two: What Christians Believe
Chapter 1 The Rival Conceptions of God
Chapter 2 The Invasion
Chapter 3 The Shocking Alternative
Chapter 4 The Perfect Penitent
Chapter 5 The Practical Conclusion
Book Three: Christian Behaviour
Chapter 1 The Three Parts of Morality
Chapter 2 The ‘Cardinal Virtues’
Chapter 3 Social Morality
Chapter 4 Morality and Psychoanalysis
Chapter 5 Sexual Morality
Chapter 6 Christian Marriage
Chapter 7 Forgiveness
Chapter 8 The Great Sin
Chapter 9 Charity
Chapter 10 Hope
Chapter 11 Faith
Chapter 12 Faith [Part 2]
Book Four: Beyond Personality: Or, First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity
Chapter 1 Making and Begetting
Chapter 2 The Three-Personal God
Chapter 3 Time and Beyond Time
Chapter 4 Good Infection
Chapter 5 The Obstinate Toy Soldiers
Chapter 6 Two Notes
Chapter 7 Let’s Pretend
Chapter 8 Is Christianity Hard or Easy?
Chapter 9 Counting the Cost
Chapter 10 Nice People or New Men
Chapter 11 The New Men
Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe
Animals may fight but people quarrel — and when they quarrel they appeal to an independent standard of right and wrong. People try to show that they are on the right side of the standard, rather than deny that the standard exists. This standard used to be referred to as the Law of Nature, and the human race accepted its existence. Even in practical ethics, there is enormous agreement on fundamental moral duties that transcends cultures and historical eras. The Law of Nature is a law of morality, as real as physical laws. Unlike physical laws, however, people can choose to violate it. Curiously, even though everyone knows the moral law, everyone is guilty of breaking it.
Some have suggested that the moral law is simply an instinct that has developed like other instincts. But what we find in practice is that the moral law actually adjudicates between my instincts. I can feel an instinct to go and help someone, but I also feel an instinct to run away and be safe — what tells me that I ought to obey the instinct to go and help, even though that instinct is producing a weaker desire in me than the instinct for self-preservation? The moral law is taught and passed on, but it is not invented by educators. It is like the multiplication table: we learn it by being taught, but multiplication sums are objective facts. We can make progress in morality, and societies can grow in morality, only because there is an objective standard to which we need to conform. The moral law is prescriptive rather than descriptive. It does not describe what humans do but what they ought to do. It is also not just about help or harm: I am not angry when someone trips me accidentally, but I may be angry if someone tries to trip me even though they are unsuccessful. The moral law cannot be reduced to rules that benefit society — if such rules hurt me as an individual, why should I be concerned with society? I can only be obligated to society on the basis of a deeper moral code.
There are two views of the universe: the materialist and the religious. The religious view believes that behind matter there is something like a mind with intentions, purposes, and preferences. Science can only look at the universe — it cannot look at what’s behind it. If there is something behind the universe, it will have to be revealed in a different way. When we turn to study ourselves we actually have insider information, because we are not only studying human beings we are human beings. One of the things we know about ourselves is that we internally experience the reality of the moral law. When I study myself I find that I am under instructions to obey the moral law: I ought to act in certain ways. It follows that there is a power that has woven this law into my nature. This conclusion does not prove the truth of any one religion.
When religion comes up, some people simply dismiss it as an attempt to go back in time and stop the progress that we have been making. Progress, however, is only possible when you are getting closer to your goal. If you are traveling the wrong way, continuing down that road is not progress: you only begin to make progress when you turn around. If we want to understand what the character of God is like, the best way is to pay attention to what the internalized moral law tells us to do and not to do. If nothing else, we learn that God is intensely interested in right conduct. He hates what’s wrong. Unfortunately for us, much of what we have done in our lives has been wrong. This is where the Christian teaching about repentance and forgiveness can begin. If you do not think you have done anything wrong, and if you think that there is nothing for which you need forgiveness, then Christianity cannot help you. But if you recognize that you are on the wrong side of the moral law giver, and that you cannot meet God’s demands, then you are ready to hear the good news. God became a man to save us from his judgment for our law-breaking….
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