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