Mere Christianity Summary and Study Guide

C.S. Lewis

Mere Christianity

  • 68-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 33 chapter summaries and 3 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a literary scholar with a PhD in English and a Master's degree in Philosophy
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Mere Christianity Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature.  This 68-page guide for “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 4 books and 33 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Moral Law and Forgiveness.

Plot Summary

Mere Christianity was published in 1952 and is an expansion of some of C. S. Lewis’s radio talks. Lewis, best known for his Chronicles of Narnia series, had been raised as a Christian but grew disillusioned with the faith and turned to atheism at age 15. However, as he notes in this book, he found himself asking various questions that led him back to Christianity. Likewise, he was influenced by reading Christian texts and engaging in discussions with friends who were believers: notably, fellow author J. R. R. Tolkien. Lewis consequently returned to the fold and went on to write a variety of works defending the Christian faith.

At the book’s outset, Lewis states that that there are aspects of Christian thought that have become muddled, and that Christians themselves have been subject to internal strife. Lewis seeks to restore unity to the Christian religion, focusing on the difference between Christian and non-Christian belief (as opposed to disputes between—and within—the various denominations of Christianity).

Lewis begins by discussing morality, outlining a Law of Nature. Today, this is often assumed to relate to objects and forces in the natural world (such as gravity), but Lewis reveals that it used to refer to a standard of decency widely recognized by human beings. This is the sense in which Lewis uses the phrase, though he also refers to it as a Moral Law. Lewis acknowledges that there can be differences in moral codes depending on context, but he believes that they are minor in comparison to this universal standard of morality.

Lewis states that God gave human beings free will, meaning that people can disobey this moral law, but it may potentially resulting in grave consequences.  Still, Lewis believes that God had a valid reason for equipping human beings with free will. If people were mere robots, their good acts would be hollow. As Lewis repeatedly highlights, it is not only actions that matter, but the motives behind them. On this note, he points to the Christian belief in eternal life, stating that immorality becomes all the more severe if it is allowed to multiply unchecked.

Whereas Pantheists believe that God is the universe, Christianity believes that God created the universe. It follows that, for Pantheists, God is both good and bad. For Christians, meanwhile, God is infinitely good and wants humans to behave in particular ways. Lewis elaborates that God does not condemn people for their mistakes (He created imperfect beings, after all) and will forgive those who repent—as he has noted, forgiveness and repentance are crucial aspects of Christian faith. However, if people embark on Christianity, they cannot choose some aspects to accept and others to ignore, for Christianity demands obedience and devotion.

While Christianity recognizes that people can be wicked, it does not see badness as inherent. As Lewis states, people often engage in badness in the pursuit of “good” things. Here, Lewis points out that the Dark Power discussed in the New Testament is a good force that became perverted.

Building on the topic of human imperfection, Lewis states that Satan encouraged people to think that they could find happiness outside of God, and this resulted in them going astray. However, Lewis adds that God helped counterbalance this by imbuing human beings with a conscience and passing down inspirational stories about the Son of God (Jesus Christ), who took humanity’s sins upon Himself and was willing to die on our behalf. Here, Lewis points out that Jesus was able to take on this burden because He could suffer as a man but do so perfectly as God. One can regard Christ as a stronger being who was willing to help those weaker than Himself.

Lewis goes on to state that Christians should spend their time on earth trying to be as much like Christ as possible, working to maintain the “Christ-life” (which may otherwise ebb away) and to please God. People may ask why God has not yet made His presence known in a direct manner, but Lewis states that God is giving people ample chance to join His side freely. Here, Lewis wonders if people realize what it will mean when God does emerge—it will be the end of the world and everyone will discover the side that they have chosen (consciously or otherwise).

Lewis refers to morality as being concerned with three things: fairness and harmony with others, inner harmony, and the general purpose of humanity.  Still, he goes on to discuss a more in-depth, seven-part model of morality, which comprises three “Theological” virtues and four “Cardinal” virtues. The Cardinal virtues are prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude.

Lewis states that some Christians have lost sight of the importance of prudence, believing that foolishness does not matter as long as one is good. However, Lewis points out that God wants people to be both childlike and wise. As for temperance, Lewis clarifies that this does not just relate to alcohol but means moderation in general. Justice, meanwhile, includes everything we would include under the heading “fairness” (such as honesty and trustworthiness), and fortitude involves both courage and the ability to endure pain.

Another topic that Lewis discusses is sexual morality. He cites chastity as a key requirement in Christianity, though he recognizes that it is the least popular virtue on account of it seeming unnatural. He also refers to divorce as being highly undesirable, and suggests that people sometimes place too much emphasis on the initial thrill of “falling in love” rather than accepting the quieter contentment associated with marriage.

In general, Lewis believes that the sexual instinct has become excessive and perverted, though he emphasizes that Christianity does not regard sexual pleasure as sinful. Indeed, he points out that Christianity is not just a spiritual religion but a physical one too, and that God did not wish to deny the body. What he is advocating is self-control, which relates to one of his ongoing arguments: virtues require determination and persistence.

Lewis devotes significant discussion to the Christian emphasis on forgiveness, noting that forgiving one’s enemies may seem hard. However, he emphasizes that forgiveness need not mean affection, nor does it mean that people should go unpunished (in Lewis’s view, even killing can be acceptable in some situations). It is about hating the sin rather than the sinner.

The greatest sin, Lewis explains, is pride, as this is the root of all other sins. It is competitive in nature and involves a sense of superiority and desire to be better than others or wield power over others. Lewis states that God wishes us to overcome the burden of pride and embrace humility. The first step, however, is recognizing that one is proud.

The three theological virtues are faith, hope, and charity. Charity refers not only to giving to the poor but to the universal principle of loving one’s neighbor, while hope means looking forward to the next world. Faith is two-fold: it means belief in Christian doctrines, but it also involves striving for perfection but necessarily failing. It is at this point that we give up and put all our trust in God.

Though humans may be “sons of God,” Lewis states that only Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Here, he outlines a distinction between begetting someone and creating something: begetting means producing someone in one’s own likeness whereas creating means making something different.  So, while God beget Christ, he created humans.

Despite this, the goal for humans is to possess not only biological life but spiritual life, and this entails entering into a relationship with God. Lewis explains that this involves starting out by pretending to be sons of God (or “putting on Christ”), as emulating Christ can help one become more like Christ in reality. When this is achieved, creatures of God become sons of God.

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Prologue