Thursday, July 4, 2019

Thin Christianity

That part of the line where I thought I could serve best was also the part that seemed to be thinnest.

Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis

I have been having an internal debate about writing this post.  On the one hand, Lewis captures very well the reasons why I prefer not to have this blog used for theological debates; on the other hand, I know that by writing this post I risk just that.  But I think it is worth putting into words my thoughts…using Lewis’s words.

Lewis explains in the Preface why it is he wrote this book: “…to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.”  He notes that the things that divide Christians are often of such high Theology or of ecclesiastical history – topics that should be treated by experts and not fodder for division among the body.

To my point: those of you who are truly experts on such matters will find much more fruitful conversation elsewhere.

He notes up front the one topic that he will not touch: “the Blessed Virgin Mary,” at least not any more than necessary to discuss the Virgin Birth:

…there is no controversy between Christians which needs to be so delicately touched as this.

Anyone who has heard a Protestant speak on this point understands the venom; anyone who hears a Catholic speak on this point understands both the sincere religious belief as well as the almost chivalrous sensibility of a man defending his mother’s or wife’s honor.

One of the things Christians are disagreed about is the importance of their disagreements.

Topics that are almost irrelevant to some are of paramount importance to others – and even this disagreement about disagreements causes division.

Who is Lewis to decide who is or isn’t a Christian, or which doctrines are important?  Lewis offers that this is certainly a right, sensitive, and spiritual objection.

It has every available quality except that of being useful.

Lewis refers to the first use of the term Christian, to be found in the book of Acts…

…to ‘the disciples’, to those who accepted the teachings of the apostles.  There is no question of its being restricted to those who profited by that teaching as much as they should have.  There is no question of its being extended to those who in some refined, spiritual, inward fashion were ‘far closer to the spirit of Christ’ than the less satisfactory of the disciples.

What does Lewis see as the purpose of this book?  Is it to provide an alternative to existing creeds – perhaps in place of Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy?

It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms.

Just getting people into the hall is a significant task; it is a place to wait in, to try some of the different doors.  It is not a place to live in.  Consider the rooms the various denominations or creeds; in the rooms are fires and tables and meals.

…of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house.

Now…you strictist of the strict Calvinists out there, take some deep breaths!

When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall.  If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them.  That is one of the rules common to the whole house.


So what of the “mere” part of Christianity, at least as Lewis sees it?

The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start.

You might recall my post from a couple of months ago making the same point.  Christians will debate how it works and why it works, but they agree on the key point: it works.

Lewis will add:

There are three things that spread the Christ-life to us: baptism, belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names – Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper.

There may be some variations on the theme, but anyone professing to teach you Christian doctrine will certainly teach you to use all three.


The journey I have been on over the last several years has, at times, caused me to feel as if it would pull me away from my faith; there were times that I stopped working on a topic because of this.  I would say that ultimately, this journey has done just the opposite.  Further, it has helped me to be less headstrong about what I thought were mandatory Christian beliefs.  The Resurrection is sufficient for me.

And now I read Lewis.


  1. Thank for reading and writing through this CS Lewis. I haven't read his theological writings only his fantasy.

    I appreciate what he is trying to do here, which I think is encourage humility and unity in the Church. Being a peacemaker is part of the job of a Christian.

    In order to understand you better can you expand on what you mean by: The Resurrection is sufficient for me. I know you mean a bodily resurrection from previous posts.

    My question is, what about the Resurrection? The mere existence of the Resurrection? The belief in the Resurrection? Or those things and the implications inherent within the Resurrection (death, sin, faith, forgiveness).

    Because I agree the Resurrection is sufficient for me too in that last sense. I usually use the word, Gospel, to describe the bare minimum, sufficiency. I will just provide 2 passages to hopefully flesh out what I have in mind.

    Romans 1:16-17
    "16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

    The first, describes the initial step into the Church and the type of lifestyle that characterizes that person in some broad way.

    1 Corinthians 15:1-6
    Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

    3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep

    I like 1 Corinthians 15 because it lists out the specific elements of the gospel including the resurrection of which we are to believe in. I also love this passage because of vv. 5-6 talking about the various appearances of Jesus after the resurrection. He lists more appearances in vv. 7-8 but v. 6 to me is the most important. Paul references Jesus appearing to over 500 people at once and says that if you don't believe him go ask someone who was there. I love that. Not blind faith but reasonable faith on evidence.

    1. "Or those things and the implications inherent within the Resurrection (death, sin, faith, forgiveness)."

      All of it and more: this was the Son of God, it is a sacrifice and gift that is beyond anything imaginable or comprehensible to us.

      Acts chapter 2, Peter preaches to the crowd. He preaches the Resurrection - and all that it means. This brought 3000 to the Lord.

      That was his message: the Resurrection. Something all Christians believe; nothing on the topics that all Christians fight about.

    2. RMB, I will add: preachers, pastors, and priests could fill a lifetime of Sundays just exploring the Resurrection and its implications - implications for humans and implications about the character of God and His Son.

      This would be enough.

  2. I am happy for you.

    I read C.S. Lewis 50 years ago and "Mere Christianity" is one of his best. I felt I had a stronger faith after reading it myself.

  3. That last was from me. Sorry about the mess up on logging in.

    ~ Mark Stoval

  4. Cannot separate a discussion of Christianity from Him who is the author and perfector of the faith.

    "But, who do you say I am?" asked Jesus of Peter.

    As Lewis points out in his trilemma; Jesus was a liar, a lunatic or LORD.

    John 5
    16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

    1. That's why Christ is such a Divisive Figure. He puts you in a position where you can't just call Him a great moral teacher and leave it at that. A mere moral teacher does not make such extraordinary claims for Himself.

      What's that? His apostles just concocted Christ's claim to divinity to advance their movement? The same gang reporting they denied Him, abandoned Him, and cowered in hiding in the wake of His death for fear of the authorities?

      They're the ones who made the whole thing up? How about the authorities themselves? Did they put the claim to divinity in His mouth, too?

      So the Jews and Romans killed Jesus for the crime of preaching love and peace while wandering through the towns and villages of first century Palestine--and not for having "made Himself out to be the Son of God"? I'm afraid we have a situation of competing extraordinary claims here.

    2. It may or may not have mattered to the Jewish leaders that Jesus made Himself out to be the Son of God. I don't think the Romans cared one way or the other.

      The real reason He was killed, though, is that He had developed such a following that He became a dangerous threat to the status quo, the system of government which ruled from the top down. Jesus promoted the idea that every person had value with God and could find that value individually, without having to go through the 'proper' authoritarian channels, i.e., temple ceremonies, tithes, offerings, religious rituals, etc.

      This created a situation which the leaders (religious and political) found intolerable and, like all tyrants everywhere, they found the means to eliminate the threat. "Show me the man and I'll show you the crime", as Stalin purportedly said. The only "crime" Jesus committed was that He claimed to be the Son of God and it proved to be exactly what the authorities were looking for in order to make a case against Him.

      The Romans were only interested in maintaining a relative calm. Since Jesus preached a message of peace and encouraged His followers to get along with the Romans, it's not likely they would have done anything if it hadn't been for the Jewish leaders stirring up a stink. In fact, Pontius Pilate wanted to turn Him loose, but because the Jews wouldn't agree to that, Pilate ordered the crucifixion, not because Jesus claimed to be God, but because He was expendable in the quest to maintain a steady state.

      The Jews were frantic to get rid of Him. The Romans were pragmatic about it. Jesus had to go.

  5. Dear BM,
    It just so happens that I am currently reading ‘Mere Christianity‘. And I had thought a nice title for an article along the lines of Lewis would be ‘Mere Libertarianism’ like your play on ‘Thin Libertarianism’.

    Relating directly to libertarianism is this quote:

    "Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans."

    The book is based on Lewis’ radio talks during the war, one could certainly make the case that Hayek took this point from him.

    And then, this quote that speaks to the larger project of your blog:

    "It is easy enough to remove the particular kinds of graft or bullying that go on under the present system: but as long as men are twisters or bullies they will find some new way of carrying on the old game under the new system. You cannot make men good by law: and without good men you cannot have a good society. That is why we must go on to think of the second thing: of morality inside the individual."

    Ira Katz

    1. "You cannot make men good by law: and without good men you cannot have a good society."

      Libertarians who think good law comes first and will then make good men are sorely mistaken.

      Thank you, Ira.

  6. "It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms."

    Currently I'm reading Rodney Stark's "The Triumph of Christianity" and in it, Stark defends a similar position to C.S. Lewis. As a side note, Stark's book is one of the better books I've read on the subject. How come I didn't learn any of this stuff in Sunday school?

    In a prior post I mentioned in passing that Stark was a Catholic, because I had assumed mistakenly that only a Catholic would bother to author the types of works that Stark has ("God's Battalions", "Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History"). But it turns out his religious story is a bit more complex. He was raised a Lutheran, became an agnostic, but now considers himself an 'independent Christian', i.e. he's returned to the hallway!

    His "Triumph" is fantastic so far (I'm about 75% through it). He makes a strong case for why a pluralistic Christian faith is healthy and for a very libertarian reason too: it promotes competition among the various churches. He makes the case that monopolistic faiths (and to the extent their situation approximates monopoly - legal favoritism, subsidies, tax breaks) become lazy, worldly, and corrupt (which makes perfect sense if you, like I do, see the state as a Satanic institution). He goes further to say that churches that rely on state funds or favoritism often have very lackluster attendance and competency. This is what explains Europe's declining Christian populations, since many European states are still funding Christian churches with tax payer money.

    He has an interesting discussion on Constantine too, saying his funding and favoritism of the early church was a mixed blessing. The unfavorable part of the blessing was to stifle the integrity and zeal of the early church leadership. By making the church an extremely wealthy institution, from government funds, which paid large sums to its clergy, it encouraged more worldly and less religious people into its leadership ranks.

    This led to a somewhat lazy and corrupt clergy which did not seek conversions or education in the faith nearly as well as it did when the church was existing and spreading underground beneath the pagan Roman empire (according to Stark, Christians represented half the population of the empire (and over 60% in Rome itself) by the time Constantine converted!) and surviving on voluntary donations of the faithful.

    This is a fascinating book that every Christian should read (whichever room you may reside in).

    As for me personally, I'm very Catholic minded but not actually a member of this particular room. I prefer the hallway. Rooms can get too comfortable, and I tend to get complacent in comfortable situations. I'll probably convert some day (for practical family reasons), but I don't see this as paramount to my salvation.

  7. "Further, it has helped me to be less headstrong about what I thought were mandatory Christian beliefs. The Resurrection is sufficient for me."

    I differ with you. All those countless hours when Christ explained to the apostles and disciples exactly what He meant about this or that: those things that He instructed them to do, those things that were not written down but were transmitted as Traditions: those are the things that are mandatory. Regards.