Introducing the 9/60 best books on the gospel. A 62-week long series.
Let me give you the lowdown on the asterisk up there next to the word “Gospel.”
When I first stumbled across this list of the best books on the gospel I found many titles that I would expect to be on that list. Then I found a few that I didn’t expect. Mere Christianity was one of them.
Before last week I think I’ve read the book twice. Once back in 1998. And then sometime shortly after August 2005 (that was the year that my father died and I inherited his library. Mere Christianity was one of the books in his library.)
Last week makes three.
I have to be honest. I wasn’t looking forward to reading this book. Nor was I looking forward to reviewing it. I’m not really sure why. Here are some hypothesis:
Hypothesis 1: Maybe because I’ve already read it and didn’t want to read it again. Listen. I do not re-read books. Hardly ever. I don’t care how good they are. They are never as good the second time around. I get bored and abandon the book because I know what is going to happen. Plus, time is short and too many OTHER good books to read. Why should I spend time on a book I’ve already read?
Hypothesis 2: I am lazy. No. I am bored easily. Yes. That’s it. And I’m bored already with the 60 gospel books in 62 week challenge? Quite possibly. I confess: I’m really good at starting projects. Not quite so good at closing them. I have commitment issues, I know.
Hypothesis 3: Mere Christianity is NOT a book on the gospel. At least that is what I thought. For the last five or so years every time the book was mentioned I thought, Now there is a good book on apologetics. One of the best, indeed, old chap. And I just did not want to read an apologetic book when my goal was to read a gospel book. I don’t have the time for that.
The last hypothesis is the correct one although, more than likely, there are elements of truth in the first two. (“More than likely,” as if I’m not self aware enough to know what I’m thinking and feeling. Don’t let me get away with a snow job, okay?)
But it is a gospel book. OH MY IS IT.
A Thinker’s Gospel
It is definitely the thinking man’s guide to the gospel. Not that the other books aren’t for thinkers. They are. We are all thinkers and God gave us brains for a reason.
But this one is for the man or woman who likes their gospel proclamation to follow a sequential argument. Who get goose bumps when the word “syllogism” is hissed.
Think about it.
This is contextualization at its best. World War Two is hot in his listeners minds (the original version of this book was from a series of radio talks).
“The Invasion” isn’t an abstract reference to an alien God becoming man. Saying we are living in occupied territory won’t go in one ear and out the other. Landing in force? So real the original listeners and readers sit in rapt attention. There is thoughtful assent. Profound recognition of the familiar.
How Is This a Gospel Book
The book opens with one of Lewis’ best contributions to Christianity: the moral argument for God. We all have a sense that there is an ultimate source for morality. Could it be God? He answers common objections against this argument (which is why it feels like an apologetic book), and eventually builds the case for this ultimate source of morality being the Christian God. And he does it in such a way that you don’t realize he is dishing out the gospel.
He tells us that we know that there is a law. And we know that we break that law. What, then, are the consequences? The fifth chapter “We Have Cause to Be Uneasy” explains: we are doomed for judgement.
And then in Book 2, chapter 4, we get an English rendition of substitutionary atonement. But you wouldn’t realize it unless you knew what to look for. Lewis is that slick.
Where the Book Gets Wobbly
Towards the late middle of the book he begins to lose his grip on the argument. He is trying to do too many things methinks. He wants to explain Christian behavior, biblical marriage (alert: he had never been married at this point) and typical virtues.
And there, like a rogue paratrooper plummeting into the book, is a chapter on “The Great Sin.” Any guesses what it is? It’s pride. It’s a good chapter. Just the chapter is misplaced.
And then there is book Four, which is a hodge-podge of topics like the Trinity, the cost of becoming a Christian and what it means to become a new creation. Feels more like a junk drawer than it does a systematic theology.
In the end, this book is a tricky one for me. I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone. But neither would I recommend Richard Baxter’s a Call to the Unconverted to everyone. Neither would I recommend those two books to the same people.
This brings me back to why my dad has this book in the first place.
He was not a Christian. His military dog tags said “Buddhist.” Which jived with his preferred label of “agnostic.” He just felt that was the most philosophically honest position. But he respected Lewis (I think that it helped that Lewis wrote science fiction, too. My dad was a fan of science fiction).
Which then makes it a gospel proclamation tucked into an apologetic defense. Something the thinker might actually read. Like my dad.
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