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Lowest common denominator Christianity?


Published: 19 April 2018 (GMT+10)

Why ‘mere Christianity’ isn’t enough


As a new Christian, C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity was one of the first books I read, and it had a major impact on how I saw Christians from different traditions. I could see how different streams of Christianity share a lot in common, as well as what differentiates us from non-Christians.

Lewis himself was not trying to set up a new category of Christianity—just trying to describe the set of beliefs that makes a Christian a Christian:

“I hope no reader will suppose that ‘mere’ Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions … 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 it is in the rooms, not in 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. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable.”1

Today, there are a lot of people who claim to subscribe to ‘mere Christianity’. Lewis was presenting the idea of a ‘lowest common denominator’ where a new Christian might start out, but he was advocating that no Christian should stay there. He was suggesting that as people learn, they should take a position on what they believe and align themselves with a church.

But today, we’re seeing a greater agnosticism about doctrine, where people refuse to take a position for doctrines that the Bible clearly teaches, such as the virginal conception of Christ, a biblical view of gender and marriage, and biblical creation. This goes far beyond even the ‘mere Christianity’ that Lewis envisioned might be someone’s initial state while they were exploring competing denominational claims—this is uncertainty as to whether the Bible is even true.

Lowest common denominator creationism

There are many Christians who would affirm that God is the Creator, but who would refuse to get specific about issues of timescale, chronology, or even whether Adam and Eve were our historical first parents. Some want to see a broad cooperation between all these people, because perhaps together we could have a greater impact against the godless evolutionism of atheists like Richard Dawkins.

But this ignores the challenges inherent in such an alliance. There are different interpretations of Scripture, different beliefs about what Scripture even is. These profound differences mean that the potential for cooperation is limited. Someone who believes that the basis for opposing evolution must be Scripture’s clear teachings against such an idea cannot partner with someone who simply believes that God may have used evolution to create.

As we have pointed out in Did God create over billions of years?, the issue of timescale is as important as the fact that God created, because of the Gospel implications of believing in an old Earth. So it is not enough to simply affirm that God is the Creator; we must affirm that He created as Scripture asserts.

Charity, but clarity

We should not unnecessarily claim that people who have a deficient doctrine of creation aren’t Christians at all, but neither should we minimize the important differences in doctrine. We must not dilute the foundational doctrine of creation in order to cooperate with others, but rather we should seek to win them over by showing how the biblical doctrine of creation is sufficient and superior to counter evolutionary philosophy. Both real science and the Bible affirm it.

References and notes

  1. Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity, Introduction, digital edition, HarperCollins, 2009. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

W. Wade S.
What Lewis accomplished with “Mere Christianity” (along with his other magnificent opuses — e.g., “The Screwtape Letters”, “The Problem of Pain”) was to introduce rational, reasonable, valid reasons for searching skeptics, materialists, and “Whateverists” of varying stripes (those who believe in “something, nothing, anything, everything — ‘Whatever’” — as long as it’s not the Biblical God, or the Truth of Jesus Christ) to entertain the “propositional truth” (c.f. Dr. Sarfati) of the Bible, and of doctrinal Christianity. The latter being succinctly summed up in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. Just as the Bible is 66 books, by 40 authors, that are AGREED TO across the spectrum of Christian tradition and denominationalism as being authoritative and inspired; so Lewis presents the core of Christian doctrine that ALL believing Christians accept, while avoiding the internecine squabbles of, e.g., Calvinism vs. Arminianism. His massive intellect and repository of knowledge, expressed with a warm and engaging style, has brought untold numbers of programmed secularists to the “Door” (pun intended) of Salvation. I number myself among them.

Lewis, from my extensive reading of him, appeared to be an “old earth” compromiser. His notion that the Fall might have been so dimensionally and catastrophically “seismic” that it contaminated the past, as well as the present and future, is the best compromise position I have encountered. I like to think, however, that if he’d had access to the info available through CMI — especially with regard to the geologic and fossil evidence for The Flood; an understanding of the irreducible complexity of DNA; and the solutions theorized in regard to the distant starlight problem — he would have become a YEC.
William H.
1 John 5:12 "He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life"
King T.
There are those Christians who keep on believing in evolution even after being shown that it means death before sin and that such a belief contradicts or nullifies the reason Christ came to die. Now, These people claim that they are pursuing the truth and that a 6 day creation is not true given the facts uncovered by scientists. So having adopted the evolutionary belief, they are forced to also accept abiogenesis. They cannot now claim that "God did it" since there isn't any scientifically acceptable proof or support for that idea. It doesn't make one iota of difference that life cannot arise spontaneously by itself from the ground via random physical/chemical means. Or that evolution itself is not true(they dispute this, of course). Hence they start mangling the text in Genesis and elsewhere so as to keep on believing in evolution whilst also believing in God as well.

It really is frustrating to see people go about demolishing their own belief in Christ step by step as they slowly add their own new meaning to the biblical text where it clearly contradicts the evolutionary belief system. They are slowly evolving away from Christianity and begin to embrace the world's humanistic religion, whether they realize it or not.
Gary Bates
I'm not sure that it is correct to say that some who subscribe to long ages or cannot fathom the theological implications of death before the Fall must accept abiogenesis (although I do understand what you mean). There are many different varieties of theistic evolutionism. Some subscribe to the idea that God created per the classic evolutionary method, i.e. a total acceptance of the secular evolutionary model. Some, suggest that when it came to man that God did indeed create him supernaturally. Some, like Hugh Ross and His Reasons to Believe ministry, promote a progressive creation view that suffers from multiple mistakes in this regard. But you are totally correct that the text gets mangled either way. And that's because none of these ideas start from within the text itself, but rather outside views that are brought to the text. Some much for biblical Christianity!

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