Mere Christianity | Study Guide

C.S. Lewis

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Mere Christianity | Book 4, Chapter 1 : Beyond Personality: Or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity (Making and Begetting) | Summary

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Summary

In Book 1 Lewis argued for a universal moral standard or law and the implication of a mindlike power behind the universe. In Book 2 Lewis presented the problem of evil and the solution of atonement offered by Christianity. In Book 3 Lewis described the virtues a Christian is expected to practice in order to develop into a person of true faith who can be close to God. Now in Book 4, Lewis turns his attention to theology, "'the science of God.'"

As this chapter opens, Lewis emphasizes that the study of Christian theology is less real than any direct experience of God. It is, however, a systematic way to come to a deeper experience of God for those who wish to move beyond mere occasional glimpses. He makes a comparison to illustrate his point. It's like standing on a beach and watching the ocean. That's a true experience, much more real than looking at a map of the ocean. But he points out if you want to reach America, a map can be essential. Thus, theology can be a map, helping the Christian reach eternal life.

Lewis responds to the "Christ as great teacher" version of Christianity with a "so what?" He points out there have been many great teachers we would do well to follow but don't. If Christianity is but the teachings of one great teacher among many, it can do nothing significant for humanity.

Lewis now approaches the heart of Christianity as he analyzes the claim that through Christ we "become sons of God." We are already sons of God in one sense, but not in the same sense as Christ is the Son of God. A clue is found in the description of Christ as "begotten, not created." Humans are created by God in the way an artist creates a statue resembling himself. Begotten is more specific, referring to a creation of the same kind as its creator. Christ is begotten, filled with the same vital force as God.

Humans are "the highest of the animals" in God's creation because they resemble God more than any other creation. A human, Lewis explains, "not only lives, but loves and reasons." Nonetheless, Lewis explains that people share the same kind of biological life with all creatures. The life within God, however, is radically different from the life that people and the rest of creation have, even though there is only one word for both. It is "spiritual life" or "Zoe" rather than mere "biological life" or "Bios." Christianity makes people the children of God in the manner of Christ by allowing us to acquire the spiritual life, or Zoe, of the Father and the Son.

Analysis

Lewis offers Christianity to the person who has personally glimpsed God and wishes to know more. This was his own experience. In doing so he addresses the claim some people make that they are "spiritual but not religious." This claim argues that the choice of any religion needlessly restricts one's possibilities while being "spiritual" opens one up to all the possibilities of spiritual experience.

Lewis argues the opposite. If someone wishes to pursue a serious spiritual experience, religion is the only way to do it. Without the systematic approach and commitments entailed in practicing a religion, one's experiences of the spiritual will remain sporadic and largely without meaning.

Lewis hints at the depth of spiritual understanding offered by Christianity in a single turn of phrase, "begotten, not created." The phrase comes from the Nicene Creed, an authoritative statement of Christian belief formulated by a group of bishops in the 4th century. The emperor of the Roman Empire, Constantine, had just converted to Christianity. It would become the state religion, but during the early decades of the 4th century it did not have a consistent ideology, and controversies over the divinity of Jesus were prompting riots in the streets. Constantine invited bishops from all over the empire to meet in 325 CE and clarify the matter of Jesus's divinity once and for all. Out of this meeting came the Nicene Creed. A creed is a standard statement of belief by which one may measure any expression of faith. The Nicene Creed was meant to encapsulate the foundational beliefs of Christianity in a format people could remember and use. At this time the Bible was not accessible to average Christians, and the Nicene Creed helped fill the gap. Recitation of the short creed is still a part of services in some denominations.

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