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Where's the New "Mere Christianity?"--Skeel

Over 55 years since it was first published, C.S. Lewis's wonderful book Mere Christianity still seems to me the best introduction to, and most winsome account of, orthodox Christianity. I've found it surprising that after all these years, there still isn't a real replacement for it. I wrote a little op-ed about this that appeared this morning: here. I'd be interested to hear whether readers agree, and whether there's a book any of you thinks measures up to the Lewis classic.


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Comments ( 24 )

Professor Skeel-
First, thanks for the wonderful op-ed in today's WSJ.
Second, even though I am a Presbyterian pastor and Westminster Seminary grad like Tim Keller, I would support your analysis of "The Reason for God." No doubt "Mere Christianity" requires a careful reading and a rigorous mind to evaluate Lewis' arguments. Keller is attempting to reach post-moderns and I wonder if they are less rigorous readers than lawyers and pastors?
Thanks again for the op-ed.

"But he often digresses into theological debates (such as distinctions among "concrete" or literal or metaphorical interpretation of the Bible) that would mean little to readers who are new to the Christian faith."

I'm not so sure. I think that question is lurking in the back of alot of inquiring minds, having heard filtered discussions of it down on the street. Its part of the fog in which we all move.

I just completed your op-ed in this morning's WSJ. I cannot agree more with your view that it may be a long time before we have anyone who can rival CSL in apologetics.

I do feel that the chances are slim for finding his direct replacement due to the following. Lewis was the product of an educational environment that has sadly been supplanted by one that is a mere shadow of the former. Relative truth and political correctness diminish academic integrity. Lewis' time at Oxford was one that allowed him the freedom to pursue his Christian apologetic writing. While this was not encouraged by the majority of his peers in the University, I believe that his strong, somewhat bellicose nature allowed him to pursue this in spite of the subtle resistance to the non-academic endeavor.

The intellectual character of the core of Professor Lewis' close friends and colleagues during the time of his writing was quite unique. Consider being in an environment that included either direct contact with or frequent correspondence with Dorothy L. Sayers, Owen Barfield, TS Eliot, Charles WS Williams, GK Chesterton, and JRR Tolkein. I have always imagined that the conversation at the Eagle and the Child and in his study was of a very high intellectual, social and moral level.

In spite of this he was able to maintain a very gentle almost mirthful view in living out one's Christian walk. Perhaps caring for Mrs. Moore and his brother Warnie allowed him to face the frailty in himself and others with that certain measured grace that he imparted to others in his writings and correspondence.

In sum, there has not been and probably will not be as unique an apologist as CS Lewis. However, I see much hope in the constellation of present day saints who each convey a portion of his character in their writings. For instance:

His intellectualism - Charles Colson
His moral strength - Jerry Bridges
His humility and grace - Phillip Yancy, Frederick Buechner
His profound theological understanding - NT Wright

As a child I always feared finishing the last book of a series. With Lewis one can always find something fresh. His ability to turn a phrase with such truth and life that it can lift you from your chair and leave you breathless from the dance is a true gift from on high. I am convinced that God will continue to grace us with writers and teachers as compelling and transcendent as Jack Lewis. May we have the strength to listen, filter out the noise that is so ever present, and follow.

With regards,

Bob Moore

I believe a book by Michael Green called "Who is this Jesus" presents a clear, concise and engaging look at what it means to be a Christian. Charles Colson says "In a post Christian society, this simple and well written book portrays for the inquiring mind what is 'mere Christianity.' That well sums up my own thoughts.
Thanks for an interesting and thought provoking article.

Nice article on CSL. His greatest gift is clarity. He wrote short, concise and understandable sentences.

Why is this even a problem in the first place? Should we also look for a successor to Augustine’s City of God, or Edwards’ Freedom of the Will? Why stop there? Why not hope for a successor to Homer’s The Odyssey or Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov? I doubt that God is perturbed or dismayed by the style and scope of modern apologetics.

Thanks for sharing the article. If memory serves me correctly, the Lewis book came on the heels for the first Graham crusades in LA (1947). The landscape has changed dramatically during these last 50 years. We've lost many of the nationally recognized ministers and becoming more fragmented every day.

I currently subscribe Sproul, Horton, Kroll and Begg's pod-casts which can leave one with the question why go to church? I believe this is a trap the younger generations may fall into. I am not troubled by your friend's lack of knowledge with the Lewis book and possibly the monographs that followed, but am curious about his Biblical knowledge? If it is lacking, there is more than the need for a successor to Lewis.

Lewis actually got the argument of Jesus as liar, lunatic, or the very Son of God from G. K. Chesterton. You will find it in The Everlasting Man in the chapter "The Strangest Story in the World."

I do agree about Lewis' "magical prose." He is the one writer in whose works I can begin reading at any page about any subject and be stimulated immediately by the way he "speaks" in his writing. I think at the heart of what makes Lewis a great communicator is his childlike enthusiasm in his topics. A consistent theme in his teachings is that of joy being the motivator of what we do. Lewis was a scholar, but only because of his passion for his subject. He read, not to be well-informed, but for the pleasure he experienced.

mr.skeel: Perhaps the reason for why no one seems to be able to write a true succesor to Mere Christianity in the past fifty plus years may be fuond in several of Lewis' writings on Christianity,particularly,"Miracles".I would proffer the idea that Lewis was not "merely" Divinely inspired, but Divinely directed, in his thoughts and rhetorical genius.Perhaps our Creator willl bless us again sometime in the next 300 years or so, as He would deem appropriate.

I think Lewis' The Great Divorce is probably one of the best books to give to those who are skeptical of Christianity. I would say that it grabs at the heart where Mere Christianity grabs at the head. However, it uses a dialogue method that we lawyers would all like in its reasoning for God, Jesus Christ, faith, and the counter-cultural values which Jesus taught, including salvation by faith and not works, which still remains the hardest thing for folks to get their heads around. I believe the Great Divorce is particularly pertinent today in that there is a great religious movement toward self-actualization, which Lewis shows just doesn't work in this book. I would also say that it is also an important book from the standpoint of mature Christians reading it to see where they really are - it takes on judgmentalism much as the parable of the farm workers who arrive at all manner of times during the day and receive the same way, it takes on theological navel gazing in saying that there is a theological society in hell that doesn't know they are in hell and separated from God in a way that would have impressed Kierkegaard, and genuinely addresses our hold on earthly things that hold us back in misery when all we need to do is grasp Jesus Christ with all our heart mind and soul to achieve true happiness and be who we were created to be, even in the smallest of things such as family attachments.

I also recommend the Screwtape Letters for instruction on how to be the church. Really good stuff in there.

I thoroughly enjoyed your article in the WSJ today. Thank you. It was refreshing (and surprising in a good way) to read an evangelical voice about an obvious Christian topic in a newspaper like the WSJ.

Hm..the only book I could think of, as of late, that comes close to C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity" is "The Language of God" by Francis Collins (head of the Human Genome Project). He approaches the argument of Christ and Christianity from a more scientific perspective, rather than from a philosophical perspective. He quotes C.S. Lewis quite frequently though as a huge influence of his conversion was from his writings, especially "Mere Christianity". But even still, not sure how close he comes to good 'ol CSL.

That was a fine Op-Ed piece and it introduced me to this blog. As a preacher, ex-pastor (now retired) & current 3-L law student, I rejoice to discover it.

I believe that Mr. Moore's comment explains a good deal about why Lewis has no real successor. To go a little further, I think that Lewis's generation was nearly the last that shared a common educational and argumentative culture. In other words, Lewis and Bertand Russell had more in common intellectually than Christians now have with the faith's "cultured despisers." There really was a "universe of discourse." That's gone, and with it the niche that Lewis filled so gracefully.

A very good article in the WSJ and thanks to Brad Drell for pointing me out to your blog. I, too, had a friend recommend Keller's book to me and I found it very good but not another "Mere Christianity." It was similar because he quoted Lewis to such a large extent. Nothing wrong with that other than it illustrates the problem; modern scholarship too often is a recitation of what past people have said. However, in Keller's case he does an excellent job of taking on today's culture and the way it asks the age old questions and for that he is to be commended. His is a book that I would highly reccomend.

I have just read you oped piece this morning. I am a great fan(?) of Lewis and and also have recently read Wright's "Simply Christian". I believe one of the reason's for the difficulty in succeeding "Mere Christianity" rests in its origination. Lewis first gave a series of radio talks or lectures from which the book evolved. He was talking to a mass audience in audible language. The resulting brevity and clarity have ensured its place in classic Christian literature.

We are going to need something like hermits and monastics to preserve good apologetics. I agree with Daniel Reuter above - the changes (declines?) in education make it hard to come up with an apologetic that will have a very broad reach. Some of the written treasures like Mere Christianity will need to be saved for ripe moments.

Tim Keller is effective with his Socratic method as he asks questions to expose flaws and limits in the "post modern" assertions - although his affirmative case (like that of Diogenes Allen of Princeton) is cautious and points only to "possibilities".

I wonder out loud if we are returning to the early church model in which words are inadequate until verified by signs and deeds of power. Many would say "That's just a Global South/Third World/Premodern thing," but I read somewhere that Scotland is one of the most rapidly paganizing places in the world. It will be hard for those of us raised in an academic/modernist approach to the faith, but I think we are being called to demonstrate the transcendant power of God in ways that go beyond argument. I think this is the only available path to the certainties beyond the possibilities right now.

I've been reading C.S. Lewis' books since l962 when I found a copy of "Mere Chrisitianity" among my Father's book collection. I'm convinced that he will never have any literary rivals in explaining the Christian faith. Lewis has a non-threatening style that sneaks past objections with all of the skills that you mention, 'fluent prose style, powers of description, engaging narrative voice, and his way with the metaphor.' Not an easy task. His writings are among those that are ageless, on a par with "Pilgrim's Progress" or Hannah Smith's book, "The Christian's Secret of the
Happy Life."
Thank you, so much, for your timely article.

For people interested in the Christian faith, I would recommend Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharias. This book examines the claims of Christ compared with the claims of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. Zacharias offers compelling arguments for the preeminence and divinity of Christ.

Mr. Skeel,

My nomination for the modern answer to Lewis is Pascal. I know that's a little nonsensical, but I think in Peter Kreeft's edited version of Pascal, he makes a great argument for Pascal's being the perfect apologist for the modern mind (1980ish forward, probably).

Kreeft is a good writer for his own part, but his best contribution, imo, is his edition of and commentary on Pascal.

David, I never read "Mere Christianity." But I did try to read "The Problem of Pain," which was also written by C.S. Lewis. I thought it was a difficult book to read because the writing style wasn't clear. In fact, I thought it was the equivalent of wading through quicksand. In my opinion, rather than writing a sentence of eight words, Lewis deliberately chose 20 words instead.

That book's writing style reminded me of Reinhold Niebuhr's "The Nature and Destiny of Man: A Christian Interpretation, Volume 1: Human Nature." The writing style was equally horrible. Sometimes, I want to ask these theologians, "Why can't you write your books in plain English? If lots of people can't understand what you are trying to say, what is the point of even writing the book?"

Well, I guess I'll try to read "Mere Christianity" since lots of people at Sunday school tell me it's such a great book.

Sorry if my posting sounded like a long whine.

I think one reason why "Mere Christianity" has not been matched is because Lewis's arguments covered so much territory, and were so good and foundational, that it would be very difficult to come up with something "new" that goes about explaining true Christianity, without borrowing tremendously from Lewis's foundation and way of thinking and seeing the world.

I just finished reading your op-ed this morning. I was especially glad to be directed to this blog and to read about other authors I need to check out. I have read and listened to Ravi Zakarias a great deal and I think he is a worthy successor to C.S. Lewis; but I look forward to reading Keller, Green and others. Thanks.

Dear Mr. Skeel,

Bravo! And thanks. Your essay was very well done.

I do not lament that there is no Lewis successor, no "new" C. S. Lewis. Much of his work has yet to grow stale. But that speaks, perhaps, more to my interests than the actual spirit of the age. After all, St. Paul does warn us that in the "last days" men will not receive sound doctrine; so perhaps Lewis has become a dinosaur and we, his fans, act more like theological paleontologists repeatedly searching the same tar pits and peat bogs. Perhaps it's time we move on: our neighbors are not inspired by our backpacks full of bones, our notebooks filled with scribbled imitations.

I have found that Dinesh D'Souza's amazing book, What's So Great About Christianity, presents the Faith in a way that might positively impact the "postmodern," "post-Christian," "post-ecclesiastical" mind. The book is incredibly well-done.

I also found that Alan Jacobs' The Narnian, at least in part, to be every bit as exciting and challenging and insightful as Lewis' own works. (Granted, Jacobs' book is not an all-out apologetic, but much of it is, though accidentally.)

Question: Could it be that there are actually many Lewises around us? One read through "First Things" or "Touchstone" or sundry other journals will reveal that Mr. Lewis appears to have left many capable disciples in his stead to defend the Faith. Don't you stand in that very lineage?

I think so.

Peace to you.

Bill Gnade

These comments have been terrific. I'll plan to post some kind of follow up post in the next day or so with a further thought or two, responses to some of the suggestions etc. But one thought in the meantime: I've been a little surprised no one has mentioned Rick Warren's A Purpose Driven Life, which has sold tens of millions of copies. I don't think it qualifies as the kind of lasting apologetic work that Mere Christianity and some of the other books that have been mentioned are, but I've half expected to be challenged on this.

Hi -- found your blog and this thread after reading the very interesting WSJ piece.

Since you asked for book recommendations,I just thought I'd share two fairly recent books that I believe do a good job of discussing and defending Christianity from an intellectually rigorous point-of-view but communicated in layman's language -- and I'm guessing you haven't come across either:

The Spirituality of the Cross, by Gene Edward Veith (who blogs at www.geneveith.com).

The Defense Never Rests: A Lawyer's Quest for the Gospel, by Craig Parton.

(Both are published by Concordia -- www.cph.org)

And while not strictly an apologetic itself, a "classic" (1982) in my relatively small circle that I wish were more widely read is Siegbert Becker's "The Foolishness of God" ( http://online.nph.net/cgi-bin/site.pl?10418&productID=150383 )