Saturday, August 19, 2017
Introducing The Mere Christian Approach To Communicating And Defending The Gospel
Acts 11:23-26 "Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; 24 for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. 25 And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch."
Introduction: Defining Mere Christianity
Whenever one talks about communicating and defending the Christian worldview - which is the best approach? Furthermore, if one is attempting to communicate or defend Christianity - which Christian tradition or "brand" best represents the case for Christian theism? One twentieth century writer chose to do a series of radio broadcast that eventually became a book entitled: "Mere Christianity". That author, C.S Lewis, produced his series of lectures and the book, which, in his own words, summarizes the "mere Christianity" approach:
"Ever since I became a Christian I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbors was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times."
In reading the introduction to Lewis' book, one discovers that his term "Mere Christianity" was borrowed from an earlier 17th century Christian pastor and theologian Richard Baxter. Baxter was a Puritan pastor who desired to communicate and defend the Christian faith in his context - 17th century Anglican England. Lewis saw in Baxter a potential method in which he could set forth the Christian faith in what was his post-war twentieth-century English setting.
Lewis then captures the essence of "Mere Christianity" in the following famous and helpful word-picture:
"I hope no reader will suppose that 'mere' Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of existing communions - as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires, chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in."
Such thoughts drive me to consider Lewis' contribution as a valid method for communicating and defending the Christian worldview today. We will first note the contents and argument of "Mere Christianity". We will then consider some leading Christian thinkers and institutions that have adopted the "Mere Christianity" approach as evidence for its enduring and effective appeal in reaching a non-Christian culture with the claims of Christianity. Then as a final set of thoughts, we will propose that this method is effective in taking up the task of communicating and defending the Gospel.
A Brief Summary Of C.S Lewis' "Mere Christianity"
In turning to C.S Lewis' work "Mere Christianity", a simple and straightforward strategy is laid out for what constitutes the communication and defense of the Christian faith. Lewis divides his overall work into "Books", with four such divisions covering the following main points:
Book 1: Right And Wrong As A Clue To The Meaning Of The Universe
Lewis' first major plank for presenting "Mere Christianity" centers on the assumption that our universe is not just a physical, but also a moral reality. Five main sections comprise this first leg of "Mere Christianity", spelling out Lewis' version of the moral argument for God's existence.
Book 2: What Christians Believe
This second major plank of "Mere Christianity" centers on the Person and work of Jesus Christ. The final and fifth section entitled: "The Practical Conclusion", summarizes what lies at the heart of the "Mere Christian" approach to the core of Christian doctrine. Lewis writes:
"The Perfect surrender and humiliation were undergone by Christ: perfect because He was God, surrender and humiliation because He was man. Now the Christian belief is that if we somehow share the humility and suffering of Christ we shall also share in his conquest of death and find a new life after we have died and become perfect, and perfectly happy, creatures."
Book 3: Christian Behavior
This third major leg of Lewis' overall case for the Christian faith is the longest. Much like the Apostle James, Lewis finds the greatest evidence for the reality of the Christian faith to be found in how it changes those who are followers of Christ. The scope of the "Mere Christianity" approach to Christian apologetics and communication is seen in the number of topics covered by Lewis. For example, in Lewis' time, the popularization of Freud's psychoanalyisis was sweeping Europe and America. Such a movement was attempting to redefine humanity apart from God and to recast people in terms of their underlying drives.
Lewis asserts that apart from God's existence and the reality of Jesus Christ - there can be no justification for morality, let alone Christianity. This heavy emphasis on the grounding of moral values and duties in God and the necessity of a changed life for those claiming Christianity is what makes "Mere Christianity" a perennially useful resource.
Book 4: Beyond Personality - Or First Steps In the Doctrine Of The Trinity
In Lewis' final installment of Mere Christianity, one finds a laying out of a Trinitarian concept of God - and the life-changing implications that follow. Lewis notes:
"I warned you that Theology is practical. The whole purpose for which we exist is to be thus taken into the life of God. Wrong ideas about what that life is will make it harder."
Centering around the Personability of God, Lewis develops his final section around demonstrating the reasonability and plausibility of God being Tri-personal. In establishing God as Personal, Lewis shows how commitment to this God, as decisively revealed in and by Jesus of Nazareth, makes Christianity both "easy" and "hard".
In sum, the easiness of which Lewis speak points back to what was achieved by Christ on the sinner's behalf. Receiving all that Christ did and is by faith means that I don't have to jump through hoops to attain it. With that said, the "hard" part of Christianity comes with counting the cost and recognizing that following after Jesus isn't a call to be "a nice-person", but a "new person". Heeding the call to be a "new creature" means dying to self, the old habits and old ways of thinking and adopting daily by faith what Christ has set forth in the Bible. Lewis notes:
"It is something like that with Christ and us. The more we get what we now call 'ourselves' out of the way and let Him takes us over, the more truly ourselves we become."
Mere Christianity then is not just an apologetic strategy, nor just another approach to communicating the Christian faith. Lewis' project aims not at just making converts - but disciples of Jesus Christ.
The Mere Christian Approach As a Major Strategy For Communicating The Christian Faith in the 21st century
Since Lewis' book was published, major Christian ministries have adopted his approach. In reading a recent autobiography by Liberty University's Elmer Towns, indirect-appeal to this sort of approach explains the wide-variety of Christian students that enroll and graduate from Liberty. In terms of a more overt reliance upon Lewis' "Mere Christianity" method, one only need to look at one of the leading institutions on the forefront of Christian Apologetics and Christian Ministry - Houston Baptist University. Other examples of leading Christian ministries demonstrate how far-reaching Lewis' project as shaped a generation of Christian thinkers:
1. William Lane Craig, a Christian Philosopher and Theologian, founder of the ministry "Reasonable Faith"
2. J.P Moreland, a scholar and professor at Talbot School of Theology who has written numerous articles and books
3. Ravi Zacharias, Frank Turek and other leading Christian apologists regularly appeal to Lewis' work to one degree or another in their public debates, books and lectures
Today we considered C.S Lewis' work "Mere Christianity" as a valid method for communicating and defending the Gospel. We were mainly concerned at laying out the basic contents and argument of the book, as well as understanding why this approach is worth adopting as a major method for communicating the Christian faith.