Marsden, George M. C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: A Biography. Lives of Great Religious Books. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016.
If you haven’t read Mere Christianity, then I suggest you start with this dramatized audiobook.
If you like C. S. Lewis and his book Mere Christianity, then you’ll enjoy Marsden’s biography of that book. Marsden is a world-class historian of evangelicalism, and he did his homework for this one.
- Since 2001 Mere Christianity has sold well over 3.5 million copies in English alone, far more than in the midcentury years after it was first published. (p. 1)
- Chesterton provided a model for Lewis as an engaging apologist, a novelist, a good-humored stylist, and a learned critic of modern assumptions. … By far the most important influence was his friendship with J. R. R. Tolkien …. (p. 11)
- Those of us who have not lived through the horrors of warfare can hardly imagine the prolonged fears, anger, sufferings, sorrows, and uncertainties that many English people endured during the bleakest years of World War II. Americans might think of the shock and outrage that they experienced in reaction to the 9/11 attacks and then consider the appalling number of times such feelings would have to be multiplied even to begin to compare them to those experienced due to the traumas of the Blitz on London and other cities. (p. 19)
- Lewis was a literary scholar with no discernible political interests. The fact was that he rarely even listened to the radio or closely followed the news. (p. 27)
- Lewis was acutely aware that Great Britain was a Christian country in name only. (p. 28)
- The most fascinating aspect of Lewis’s early rise to fame in the United States is that although the mainstream press (such as the New York Times, Time, and the Saturday Review) and mainstream Protestants (who wrote for such publications) widely acclaimed him, American conservative evangelicals were very cautious in their praise. Their response was in that respect something like that of conservative Catholic commentators. But in this case the initial reserve is especially intriguing because eventually conservative evangelicals would most wholeheartedly embrace Lewis and practically canonize him. (p. 74)
- Much of the growing popularity of Mere Christianity had to do with the individuals whose lives were changed by it. (p. 116; ch. 6 highlights Chuck Colson, Francis Collins, J. I. Packer, N. T. Wright, Timothy Keller, Alister McGrath, Peter Kreeft, Thomas Howard, Dwight D. Longenecker, Francis Beckwith, Walter Hooper, Guanghu He)
- Contrary to his expectations that his works would soon be forgotten, Lewis is far better known in the twenty-first century than he was at the time of his death in 1963. (p. 137)
- The argument in Mere Christianity that both has been the most celebrated and also has received by far the most negative responses is the so-called trilemma that Lewis sketches in book 2: that one cannot accept Jesus as just a great moral teacher who was not God; either  Jesus was correct in his astonishing claim to be God or  he was an evil self-aggrandizing liar or  he was a lunatic. … Lewis himself was aware that there was a fourth option: that the disciples might have invented the story that Jesus claimed to be God. (p. 145)
- [In the final chapter, Marsden distills seven reasons Mere Christianity has not faded away like almost every other nonfiction book from the 1940s and 1950s (pp. 153–88).]
- Lewis looks for timeless truths as opposed to the culturally bound.
- He uses common human nature as the point of contact with his audiences.
- Lewis sees reason in the context of experience, affections, and imagination.
- He is a poet at heart, using metaphor and the art of meaning in a universe that is alive.
- Lewis’s book is about “mere Christianity.”
- Mere Christianity does not offer cheap grace.
- The lasting appeal of Mere Christianity is based on the luminosity of the Gospel message itself.
- [Lewis] is like a companion on a hike who is a learned but companionable naturalist and who points out all sorts of flora or tiny flowers or rock formations that you would have missed on your own. When you see these wonders you are duly impressed with your guide as an intermediary, but, particularly if he leads you around a bend where you encounter the most astonishing mountain peaks set against stunning lakes that you have ever seen, your attention is overwhelmed by the beauty of the objects themselves. You are deeply grateful to your guide, but that is not the essence of your unforgettable encounter with that luminous beauty. So Lewis points his audiences toward seeing Christianity not as a set of abstract teachings but rather as something that can be seen, experienced, and enjoyed as the most beautiful and illuminating of all realities. (p. 188)
- Justin Taylor, “75 Years Ago: C. S. Lewis Speaks to England about Christianity on the BBC—A Chronology,” August 5, 2016
- C. S. Lewis at War: The Dramatic Story Behind Mere Christianity
- The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis
- Diabolical Ventriloquism: A 1-Sentence Summary of Each of Screwtape’s Letters
- Ten Narnia Resources