Thinking Out Loud

December 28, 2012

Why Mere Christianity Still Works: An Analysis

Mere Christianity C. S. LewisYou’re expected to review current books online, and this review is therefore 60 years too late. However, John Stackhouse has saved the best wine (so to speak) for the last (of the year) with a landmark analysis of the continuing popularity of the C. S. Lewis bestseller Mere Christianity.

I know not everybody clicks through, so I’ll include a few highlights here, but if you treasure good writing, you need to read the article now, because it is every bit as delightful as the book itself. 

john_stackhouseStill here? Okay, those highlights include:

  • A somewhat disjointed set of C. S. Lewis’s views on a wide range of theological, philosophical, and ethical matters, the book became the most important and effective defense of the Christian faith in its century.
  • The first reason why MC should not have worked is rather basic: It doesn’t deliver what its title promises. It does not do even what John Stott’s classic Basic Christianity does—namely, outline at least the basics of evangelicalism’s understanding of the gospel.
  • A second reason why… it is, after all, an extended set of philosophical and theological arguments. Even worse, it is front-loaded with its densest material, a reworking of the moral argument for the existence of God…
  • MC works because Lewis was a master at two rhetorical arts, which he combined fluently: argument and depiction.
  • Lewis can both show and tell. He can tell us what he thinks we should think, and then make it appear for us in an image that usually lasts long after the middle steps of the argument have vanished from memory.
  • What seems effortless for Lewis is actually extraordinarily difficult to emulate. The market is now flooded with books by Ph.D.s who cannot write an interesting and intelligible paragraph, and by wannabe pop apologists who just aren’t very smart.
  • People today do want arguments, but they want them the way Lewis delivered them: in plain language, about issues that matter, in a methodical step-by-step fashion, and with illustrations that literally illustrate and commend the point being made. For scholars to write this way today is at least as much of a challenge as it was in Lewis’s day.

Okay, that’s enough bullet points (aka spoon-feeding!) You really do need to read the article.

C. S. LewisBut then, if you haven’t already had the pleasure, you need to read Mere Christianity. I would suggest taking a chapter at a time; no more than one per day and don’t try to rush through it. Even better, if you can find an interested friend or relative, read it out loud to them daily for several days. (It was, after all, originally a radio broadcast.)

It may also whet your appetite for apologetics, a subject frequently discussed here, that is simply too foreign to too many Christ-followers. I encourage you to develop a taste for it.


If you make it through MC and do indeed find yourself wanting more, I would suggest your next stop be Classic Christianity by Bob George, a man who also knows the power of a good illustration.  Review here.  Excerpt here.

Images: I figured it rather obvious which one is John Stackhouse, Jr. and which one is C. S. Lewis, but, for the record, they appear in that order.  (Actually, the first image is the book in its most recent North American paperback edition from HarperCollins.)

November 3, 2010

Wednesday Link List

Not enough links for you in yesterday’s NIV post?   Well then here are few extra…

  • First of all a quotation from Bishop Fulton Sheen we found at Big Blue Wave:  “So much of what people call atheism is not so much the negation of God as the deification of the ego.  All atheists believe in God, but the god is themselves.”  Ouch!   This is a website that deals with social issues from a Christian perspective.
  • A story in the Imperial Republican in Imperial Nebraska is one of the most amazing things I’ve read this week.   Little Colton Burpo had a near death experience that resulted in his dad, Todd Burpo publishing the story with Thomas Nelson in the just-released book, Heaven is for Real. Check this one out, and be sure to read the four reasons why his dad concluded that his son really did get a look at heaven.
  • It took Kelley Mooney two years, but she finally got the mechanical rights to use Leonard Cohen’s song Halleluljah with substituted lyrics which look at Jesus’ road to the cross.   Check out the video premiere in Nova Scotia, Canada with an awesome children’s choir.
  • Some great stuff at Christianity 201 recently including:  Michael Krahn’s look at the Wayward Son’s older brother;   Mark Batterson on the Jewish “3D” understanding of sin;   Bob Coy wonders aloud how long The Flood was effective in wiping sin off the face of the earth;  an anonymous e-mail forward takes a look at the 23rd Psalm;  Daniel Jepson cites Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ take on the subject of brokenness;  David Fisher finds a church in Belfast which, rather than a statement of faith has a statement of ethos.
  • Greg Koukl at Stand To Reason takes a cue from Jesus’ ministry and suggests that when someone is trying to trap you with a question about some controversial social issue; turn the table and answer the question with a question.
  • In Christian circles preoccupied with pastors who are major authors, or attendance figures at megachurches, Darryl Dash celebrates the beauty of average or ordinary churches including this quote from Derek Webb:  “I’ve found that often success looks more like failure, riches more like poverty, and real life often feels more like death.”
  • Regent College theology professor John Stackhouse flat out thinks that Mark Driscoll needs to take a study break to sharpen his exegetical skills.   C’mon, John; tell us what you really think.
  • Robert A. Schuller does an unscheduled 20-minute interview with Jim Cantelon at the daily Christian talk show in Canada, 100 Huntley Street; including a mention of how his son, Robert Vernon Schuller, aka Bobby, pastor of The Gathering, brokered a meeting between Robert A. and grandfather Robert H. Schuller.  This is a two part video; here and here.
  • And speaking of the Crystal Cathedral, Karen Spears Zacharias suggests that Joel Osteen should be taking notes on what is happening at the big glass church.
  • Joshua Harris looks at the big picture of how we approach Sunday morning worship, including a growing lack of punctuality, which we’ve also noticed recently in a few churches.   Does it say something about our increasing apathy in our hearts?  Do people in your church fill the front rows first?   Is the hunger there, or is there complacency?
  • Our picture below is from a general interest website, BoingBoing; which spells out the scripture mentioned in the sign:  “Mark 11:12-14 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard him say it.”

October 6, 2010

Wednesday Link List

Here are some highlights from my blog travels in the past week:

  • While you’re link hopping  here, you can stream audio from CCM Gold Radio – Christian music from the ’60s thru the ’80s; though it’s a bit like tightrope walking without a net, because they don’t tell you what you’re hearing, and there are many obscure songs.   Great for Christian music trivia, however; I’m just not sure how many songs actually support the claim to include the ’60s.   I have a 3,000-plus library of Christian music on vinyl, and only a small handful are pre 1970.
  • Then again, you’re going to have to switch media for this one:   Many of you know Pete Wilson from his blog and his new book, Plan B.   But how many of you have been to Cross Point to check out a Pete Wilson sermon?   I thoroughly enjoyed this experience on the weekend.  Go to the page for Pete’s new Empty Promises series, and click on week one, the introductory message.   I promise you 30 solid minutes of distraction-free preaching.
  • Tullian Tchividjian has been busy on Twitter compiling short statements expressing various aspects of the gospel.  Blogger Barry Simmons assembles a couple of lists at his blog The Journeyman’s Files both here and here.   Sample sentence: “When we transfer trust from ourselves to Christ, we experience the abundant freedoms that come from not having to measure up.”
  • Trevin Wax plays transcription stenographer to a recent address by Al Mohler as to how he came to his present position on women in pastoral ministry.   Check out some highlights.
  • What life goals are you working on?  Things you’re trying to cultivate in your life?   Ever feel lost or orphaned?   Kathy Escobar has three words for you.
  • Here’s another take on the new CEB (Common English Bible) translation, which the writer calls a “Good News Glut.”   We learn now that five publishers are involved, and many are motivated by providing an alternative for the NRSV crowd.
  • Just When You Thought You’d Heard Everything Department:  Don’t know if this conversion would actually ‘stick,’ but Delaware Republican Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell says she became a Christian because of her love of Italian food, primarily meatballs.
  • This one’s been in my files for awhile… Author Max Lucado considers things spiritual and things sci-fi and everything in between in a consideration of what the next life might be like.
  • Bene Diction posted this link a few days back to an article by Regent College professor John Stackhouse on the appropriateness of criticizing other Christians in a public forum.   Should we shoot our own?
  • Related?   Here’s a comment from a reader at CT’s article on Rick Warren’s video appearance at the Desiring God conference, and John Piper’s negative attitude toward Warren in particular:  “All of us, including the most intellectual, will be taking a Theology 101 course in heaven…”
  • Author Wayne Jacobsen got an insider’s look at the making of the now-released movie adaptation of Karen Kingsbury’s book Like Dandelion Dust.
  • New music artist of the week is two-time ASCAP award winner John DeGrazio.  Check out his 2010 album Stronghold at his webpage.
  • Michael Belote at Reboot Christianity has a great word picture of a typical gathering in the first century church, but to get there, link here first for a quick eight-question quiz.
  • No actual link on this one, but I’m currently reading Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis … out loud! Working away one chapter a night, and with my youngest (who’s now 16) listening, I figure many of the chapters started out as radio broadcasts anyway, so why not cover the book in its original form.   It also slows me down to catch all the nuances of Lewis’ masterful apologetics.
  • At least one Target store would rather slash women’s clothing to pieces than donate it to an orphanage in southeast Asia.   Why?   They’re afraid someone else might get the product and try to return it for refund.
  • It remains one of my all time favorite cartoons; so I’m thankful to a reader who sent a much better rendering of it than the one I posted… I think you already know the cartoonist’s name, right?

  • And here’s an edgy one appearing September 14th from Tom Pappalardo at The Optimist written in response to the migration of Roman Catholics out of New England, which leaves the northeast with a reputation once exclusively belonging to the northwest:

March 24, 2010

First Spring Wednesday Links

While New Mexico and Arizona had snow this winter, we here in Southern Ontario, Canada have hardly seen a flake of it.   But snow in May is not unheard of, especially out on the Canadian prairies.   Here’s the past seven days online as I saw it:

  • If you haven’t seen it already, Peter Hitchens, brother of noted atheist Christopher Hitchens details his conversion in this Daily Mail (UK) article
  • Kent Shaffer has once again dusted off his calculator and slide rule and using a mathematical formula known only to NASA, brings a list of the Top 100 Christian Blogs plus 30 bonus blogs.   (I’m pretty sure the one you’re reading now was # 131.)
  • Speaking of charts and lists, the blog Floating Sheep offers a map showing the dominance of different forms of Christianity around the world, although, maybe it’s just me, but the North American map and the world map seem somewhat conflicted.  See for yourself.
  • Because I don’t watch the animated TV show, King of the Hill, I had never seen this incredibly accurate, must-see bit from two years back where Hank Hill and family decide it’s time for choosing a new church.
  • On a more serious look at the same subject, J.D. Greear — whose goal is to plant 1,000 churches in 40 years (it’s true) — discusses the thorny topic, “On What Grounds Should You Move to Another Church?”  He sees this as finding a balance between two truths.
  • The graphic at the right is apparently page eight of a coloring book, Jesus and the Dinosaurs as posted online by David Kirk at the blog Frogtown.  Love the line, “He probably did.”
  • We talk a lot about the “un-churched,” but Skye Jethani asks the musical question, “Who are the de-churched?” in Part one of a two-part post at Out of Ur.
  • John Stackhouse discusses what happens when pastors — or any of us for that matter — get asked to offer a prayer at an academic, civic or sports gathering, and comes up with an answer you might not expect.
  • Jim Lehmer adds up all things he’s looking for in an ideal church, and finds them in a completely different kind of place.
  • Ever wonder what kind of books pastors are reading?  Greg Boyd — who may not be 100% representative! — shares his list and they’re not titles most of us are familiar with.
  • C.S. Lewis may no longer be with us, but he seems most contemporary when he discusses the where our focus should be in worship.
  • Internal links:  If you missed the two-part series on the weekend, my wife Ruth grieves the loss of our church (again) on Friday, while I look at the issues of who gets to serve — and who decides — on Saturday.
  • The website Fast Company summarizes the implications of Google’s pullout from China, including how it might affect a similar situation in Australia.
  • From The Online Discernmentalist Mafia site; first there was Build-a-Bear, and now…



And before I started this blog, I remember happening on the Prayer Pups. After a two year run, there haven’t been any new strips posted since August, but the archives are worth visiting.


August 26, 2009

Link Land

I’ll keep these short and sweet so you have time to click on all of them!

  • Michael Spencer, aka Internet Monk is blogging through a series of analysis and commentary on the elements that make up an Evangelical church service.   No particular post link here, as you’ll have to scroll up and down to catch the entire series, The Evangelical Liturgy.   (But if you’re coming to this beyond early September ’09, then use this link to the first six posts.)
  • Christianity Today has done an interesting piece for women called What Not To Wear, advice for women in church leadership.    Apparently “Sally is too pretty to preach.”  (No, guys, there’s no pictures.)
  • Regent College professor John Stackhouse suggests that it might be to our advantage to stop the drive towards extinction of that endangered species known as the Christian bookstore.   The piece  is titled, Good Bookstores: If We Ignore Them, They’ll Go Away.
  • Congratulations to Denver-bound Jeff McQuilken at Losing My Religion on the occasion of 500 thought provoking blog posts.   Well, maybe not the anniversary one.   BTW, that blog title would make a great song title, don’t ya think?
  • Ben Bateman at Mankind Toons has picked up his pen or brush or whatever cartoonists use after a long break, and also launched a new website.    See below for a sample of his work.
  • Blogger Michael Kruse at Kruse Kronicle posts the 2013 Beloit College list, significant for me since I have one headed to college in a week.
  • If you ever endured Philosophy 101, you know all about Plato’s Cave aka Plato’s Cave Analogy.   Someone has done a short Claymation, which in turn has been posted at Clarion: Journal of Spirituality and Justice.
  • Worried about Fluffy and Fido after the rapture.   Here’s another service that will take care of them, for a fee that is, at Eternal Earthbound Pets.  But don’t worry any longer, because in an interview with Jayson Boyette, the atheist founder admits they have no intention of ever actually having to feed the cats and dogs.     Part One.   Interview Part Two.

Super Apostles - Mankind Toons

March 9, 2009

The Extreme Sport of Speculation

close-to-home-on-blogging1

Christianity Today Online has an article today about blogging itself. I decided to shake things up a bit:

With somewhere between 1 1/2 and 2 percent of the electricity in the U.S. now being used to power cloud computers and server farms, blogging could be come an environmental issue someday! (Yes, I’m serious.) Christianity Today Online’s one-thousand character limit on comments ought to be normative across the blogosphere. There are too many words, too much time and way too much brainpower being used up in the flood of opinion. Christian blogs often become battlefields in wars of doctrine, especially those doctrines which perhaps belong more to the realm of mystery than to anything we can sort out through argument. Still, as a blogger who just passed the one-year mark, I wouldn’t have traded the past year (675 posts) for anything. I’ve encountered the most interesting people, been encouraged to read books I might never have known, and have risen to the daily challenge that newspaper publishers have known for decades. Blogging is both the best and worst of online activity, depending on what you read and write.

The focus of the article is the “attack mentality.”   (Wow! Were they reading this blog a few days ago?)  There are a couple of interesting links including:

I’m not sure both of these links belong in the same article.   As big a fan as I am of Rob Bell; Ben Witherington makes some good observations while remaining very charitable toward Bell in his writing.

While I’m closer in age to Stackhouse than I am to Chris Tomlin, Stackhouse clearly doesn’t understand modern music.   He wants all the words to rhyme perfectly, failing to “get it” when it comes to words sharing the same vowel sounds (like grace and praise.)    But his concern with Tomlin mixing metaphors is well founded.   Most of us don’t think much of the words as we sing them.   (Stackhouse would love the recent debates over the Hillsong composition, Mighty To Save.   It’s verse and chorus seem to belong to two entirely separate pieces.)

As for the broader article itself, it’s true that in the blah-blah-blah of words online, “blogs facilitate the literary genre of ranting.”

That’s something that, moving forward,  I’ll try not to be guilty of.  In the meantime, I get to indulge the extreme sport of speculation and suggest that blogging could become an environmental concern.   Where else do you get to play head games like that?

Graphic:  John McPherson comic strip Close To Home

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