Thursday, May 29, 2008
Over the course of his life, C.S. Lewis wrote some 40 books and numerous articles on a wide range of topics. While many are familiar with works such as Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters and the Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis has much more to offer.
But what works of Lewis should one turn to if interested in a particular topic? Where did he say what about apologetics, the Bible, the Second Coming or the Trinity? Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C.S. Lewis by Will Vaus seeks to equip those new to the works of Lewis as well as veteran's of his writings by providing a guide to Lewis's thoughts on a number of subjects.
As Vaus explains, "Over the years I have met many Lewis enthusiasts who have wondered, 'What did Lewis believe about ____________?' (You fill in the blank.) This book is written to answer those many questions about what Lewis believed" (p. 16).
Vaus's 266-page book in 25 chapters is filled with information on Lewis's beliefs on topics like "Scripture," "The Three-Personal God," "Faith and Works," "The Person and Work of Christ," "Hell," "Prayer" and more. In each chapter Vaus describes Lewis's thoughts on the topic and includes extensive endnotes documenting where one can find the original material in the works of Lewis (for the serious student or Lewis scholar, this feature alone is worth the cost of the book).
Although there are nearly 900 endnotes, Vaus does a fine job of weaving the thoughts of Lewis into each chapter without requiring the reader to look up every reference (though this is certainly encouraged for those who want to dig deeper). Moreover, Vaus does not shy away from some of Lewis's controversial positions, such as belief in a form of purgatory. Instead, Vaus seeks to clarify the misconceptions of Lewis's beliefs on such controversial topics by turning to the primary source material.
As an example of how Vaus approaches subjects, the chapter on "Defending the Faith" draws from a number of Lewis's works including books (fiction and non-fiction), essays, personal correspondence, biographies and more. In the chapter Vaus covers what are generally viewed as Lewis's main apologetic arguments: the arguments from longing, morality, reason, and Christ.
Lewis once wrote about the fun he had laying out all his books like a cathedral. "Like Westminster Abbey, Lewis's work grew over the years as he grew," writes Vaus, adding, "His books are the product of a fertile, alive, variegated mind ... they can provide years of delighted exploration ... Like a great cathedral, Lewis's theology is a work of art" (232). Vaus is right and Mere Theology is an excellent guide to the intricate cathedral of one of the 20th century's most popular apologists.
A version of this review first appeared in Christian Research Journal.