Running the Halls (or: revisiting Mere Christianity)

HallwayOne of the few practices I’m trying out over the Advent season is the (re)reading of a book.  Because the season last just over three weeks, I thought it was a decent amount of time to do a slow reread of C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity.  Sad to say, but Mere Christianity is probably my least-favorite Lewis book.  It was also one of the first I read, I believe.  I remember liking the last chunk but thinking that the first two-thirds was nothing special.  Yet it keeps coming up in conversations and discussions as one of the few books that younger Christians have read.  Beyond that, I often refer to excerpts in class (his section on “Rival Conceptions of God”) or the basics of the Moral Law.  And so: three weeks with Lewis.

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Like so many others, I really appreciate what Lewis attempted with the radio talks that became Mere Christianity.  The idea of spotlighting the key Christian beliefs and practices in a way that helps us see what we hold in common is something relevant even today.  And even though the tone of inter-denominational conversation has changed since Lewis put things together, wisdom can still be found there.  Consider this gem:

Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son.

A wonderful idea, but one that can be easier said than done.  On a “forensic” level, one of the most interesting things about Christianity is its diversity of belief and practice within a kind of basic orthodoxy.  Beyond that, Lewis also asserts that

One of the things Christians are disagreed about is the importance of our disagreements.

So a wonderful tension exists between affirming what we agree on while also trying to hash out our differences . . . and all too often for all the world to see.  Which is what makes Lewis’s visualization at the end of the preface of Mere Christianity such a good one.  When explaining his ‘mere’ Christianity approach:

It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms.  If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted.  But is it is in the rooms, not the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals.  The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in.

Lots of people are in the hall, seem content to live in the hall, really.  But Lewis hopes for the best: that people will ask and seek and knock until they find the right room.  Even still:

But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping.  You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house.

It’s a good image the house and the hallway and the many rooms.  It in an image, perhaps, that can be transferred to other areas of life, too.  But for Lewis, it starts with the Christian faith and its expressions.  Like Lewis, then, our task is to get people into the hall, point things out, serve the best that we’ve got, and present the truth as it has been revealed to us.

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So over this Advent season, between now and Christmas Day, I’ll be posting some reflections on my reading of the book.  From ethics to doctrine to wherever else the book goes, I’ll take some time to think through things, if nothing else, through the lens of a high school classroom.

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