It is not an overstatement to claim that no figure in recent Evangelicalism has been more widely influential than C.S. Lewis, and Mere Christians, edited by Mary Anne Phemister and Andrew Lazo, is a clear testimony to this. The book, a collection of 55 brief testimonials to Lewis’s influence, is marked especially by its personal focus—each contributor shares what Lewis meant to him or her at a particular juncture in that person’s life. Initially I was drawn to the book not only because I am a lifelong Lewis fan, but because I know two of the contributors personally and several more by reputation. Naturally, I wanted to read their stories of encountering C.S. Lewis. But as a set of testimonials I also came away with a few additional observations. Rising above all others I noted Lewis’s uncanny ability to communicate in a personal way to his readers. Each of these people, although very few of them had met Lewis in person, felt like they know him personally. This was something that had also been echoed in my own experience of reading Lewis. Another notable observation from this set of testimonials is the frequency with which the Narnia stories and Mere Christianity emerge. It is difficult, if not impossible, to calculate the influence those books have had on people seeking God, finding God, and staying with God.
But let’s imagine for a moment that our interest isn’t in calculating Lewis’s influence, so much as in recreating it. What would it mean to learn lessons from Lewis’s effectiveness that can be applied? I think that even within a collection such as Mere Christians we can begin to draw a few critical lessons. The first would be to note the degree to which Lewis’s present-day effectiveness is based on his inviting, personable, and clear communication. People continue to become literary friends with C.S. Lewis because he invites precisely this kind of friendship in each of his books. If we would emulate Lewis, we would need to strive for similar goals of invitation, personability, and clarity in our communication. Second, although Narnia and Mere Christianity are Lewis’s best known books, we do well to remember that Lewis was an academic to his core. These books, in other words, are birthed from the mind of a man who thought deeply about a great many subjects. Too often, well-meaning Christians plunge into the genres of apologetics and fiction without any real grounding and produce books of embarrassing shallowness. Now, while I am in no way suggesting that academics alone can write such books, it is well worth noting that Lewis, who wrote these books that we love so much, was a scholar of Medieval and Renaissance literature first. We will be like Lewis in our ability to communicate deep things if we ourselves are willing to go deep.
Mere Christians was an enjoyable book to read, but that was likely because I fall within its primary target audience: people who are already interested in Lewis and wish to hear about other people’s experiences of Lewis. If you are new to C.S. Lewis, skip this and read Lewis himself. Once you’ve had your own encounter, secure a copy and enjoy the pleasure of discovering the breadth of his impact on a wide range of individuals.