Mere Christianity – Book II (Summary)
You can look at my more detailed notes, but this is an overview of the content of Book II of “Mere Christianity”…
Chapter 1 – “Rival Conceptions of God”
Truth in other religions
If you are Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all those religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth…[However,] as in arithmetic – there is only one right answer to a sum…but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others
…these people think that long before you got anywhere near the divine point of view the distinction [between good and evil] would have disappeared altogether…
Pantheists usually believe that God, so to speak, animates the universe as you animate your body: that the universe almost is God, so that if it did not exist He would not exist either, and anything you find in the universe is a part of God…
If you do not take the distinction between good an bad very seriously, then it is easy to say that anything you find in this world is a part of God
…[these people believe in] a God who takes sides, who loves love and hates hatred, who wants us to behave in one way and not in another…
…God invented and made the universe – like a man making a picture or composing a tune. A painter is not a picture, and he does not die if his picture is destroyed
…if you think some things really bad, and God really good, then you cannot talk like that. You must believe that God is separate from the world and that some of the things we see in it are contrary to His will…a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on putting them right again
Evil and God
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line…I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that then my argument against God collapsed too – for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies
1. Why does Jack say that when he became a Christian he adopted the more “liberal” view?
2. Is it possible to affirm the truth of other religions while still holding to the absolute truth claims of Christianity?
3. Can you think of any religion completely devoid of ALL truth?
4. Into what two central conceptions of God does Jack say people hold? Do you think we could divide it up in a different way?
5. In what way do these conceptions of God and our attitudes towards the Moral Law and the Universe relate to each other?
6. Why does the very question of asking about evil in the world presuppose the existence of God?
Chapter 2 – “The Invasion”
…the view which simply says there is a good God in Heaven and everything is all right – leaving out all the difficult and terrible doctrines about sin and hell and the devil, and the redemption
Real things are complicated
…The table I am sitting at looks simple: but ask a scientist to tell you what it is really made of – all about the atoms and how the light waves rebound from them and hit my eye and what they do to the optic nerve and what it does to my brain…and…you will find that what we call ‘seeing a table’ lands you in mysteries and complications which you can hardly get to the end of…
Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed….it has just that queer twist about it that real things have…
If we ask for something more than simplicity, it is silly then to complain that the something more is not simple
The problem of pain
What is the problem? A universe that contains much that is obviously bad and apparently meaningless, but containing creatures like ourselves who know that it is bad and meaningless
…there are two equal and independent powers at the back of everything, one of them good and the other bad, and that this universe is the battlefield in which they fight out an endless war…
…one of them is actually wrong… But the moment you say that, you are putting into the universe a third thing in addition to the two Powers…the Being who made this standard is farther back and higher up than either of them, and He will be the real God
Evil’s dependency upon Good
…in real life people are cruel for one of two reasons – either because they are sadists…or else for the sake of something they are going to get out of it…
The badness consists in pursuing [good things] by the wrong method, or in the wrong way, or too much… Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness…[the “Bad Power] cannot supply himself either with good things to desire or with good impulses to pervert. He must be getting both from the Good Power. And if so, then he is not independent…
Christianity’ conception of evil
To be bad, [the Bad Power] must exist and have intelligence and will. But existence, intelligence and will are in themselves good….even to be bad he must borrow or seal from his opponent. And do you now begin to see why Christianity has always said that the devil is a fallen angel? …evil is a parasite, not an original thing
…it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel. …the rightful king has landed…and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going
1. What two philosophies does Jack claim are “too simple”?
2. Why should we not expect a “simple” religion?
3. Why is its lack of simplicity actually an argument in favour of Christianity? Have you encountered any other surprising motives for credibility for the Christian faith?
4. How can we explain a “bad” universe which contains creatures like ourselves?
5. What is dualism? Can you name any religions which are dualistic?
6. How does dualism naturally point to a greater Being, over and above to the “good power” and “bad power”?
8. In what way is evil “not an original thing”? How does this undermine dualism.
9. What kind of war does Jack say we are fighting?
Chapter 3 – “The shocking alternative”
All-powerful or all-good?
If it is [in accordance with God’s will], He is a strange God, you will say: and if it is not, how can anything happen contrary to the will of a being with absolute power?
You make a thing voluntary and then half the people do not do it. That is not what you willed, but your will has made it possible…
Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. …free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having…
A cow cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a child better and worse still; an ordinary man, still more so; a man of genius, still more so; a superhuman spirit best – or worst – of all…
Selfishness and unhappiness
The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first – wanting to be the centre – wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race…[to] invent some sort of happiness for themselves…apart from God…
…out of that hopeless attempt [for happiness apart from God] has come nearly all that we call human history – money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery – the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy…
A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else…God design the human machine to run on Himself… God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself because it is not there…[we] are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans.
God’s rescue mission
…He left us conscience…and all through history there have been people trying (Some of them very hard) to obey it
…those queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again…
…He selected one particular people and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was – that there was only one of Him and the He cared about right conduct
Jesus’ claim to divinity
Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God… Among Pantheists…there would be nothing very odd about it. But this man, since He was a Jew, could not mean that kind of God. God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world, who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else. And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips…
[He] told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was… the person chiefly offended in all offenses…
Christ says that He is ‘humble and meek’ and we believe Him; not noticing that, if He were merely a man, humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute to some of His sayings
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell… Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse…
You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us”
1.Why does the presence of evil in the world pose a threat to the belief in a omniscient, omnibenevolent God?
2. In what way does free will go a long way to explaining much of the evil in the world?
3. Jack says he can’t imagine a creature which has free will but no possibility of going wrong. Do you think this is a reasonable statement?
4. Do you find Jack’s argument concerning the illogic of arguing against God comforting at all?
5. How does Jack explain why the great evil of humanity doesn’t show that God made us “out of rotten stuff”?
6. Why do our attempts to find happiness without God fail?
7. What are the different ways in which God has started the process of rectification of the human race?
8. Don’t the “good dreams” of dying and rising gods just prove that Christianity is a fabrication?
9. What evidence is presented for Jesus making divine claims? Why is forgiving the sins incomprehensible if Jesus wasn’t God?
10. Why does Jack say we can’t just say that Christ was a great moral teacher?
Chapter 4 – “The Perfect Penitent”
The purpose of Jesus coming
…as soon as you look into the New Testament or any other Christian writing you will find they are constantly talking about…His death and His coming to life again. It is obvious that Christians think the chief point of the story lies there
Theories of the atonement
The central belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter… Theories about Christ’s death are not Christianity: they are explanations about how it works… We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself…. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed.”
People at their dinners and felt better long before the theory of vitamins was ever heard of: and if the theory of vitamins is some day abandoned they will go on eating their dinners just the same… A man can eat his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him. A man can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works…
…[we are] let off because Christ has volunteered to bear a punishment instead of us… If God was prepared to let us off, why on earth did He not do so? And what possible point could there be in punishing an innocent person instead?
…there is plenty of point in a person who has some assets paying it on behalf of someone who has not….it is a matter of common experience that, when one person has got himself into a hole, the trouble of getting him out usually falls on a kind friend
Rebellion and Repentance
He had tried to set up on his own, to behave as if he belonged to himself…fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms
This process of surrender – this movement full speed astern – is what Christians call repentance… It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousand of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death…
The Repentance Dilemma
Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person – and he would not need it.
We mean God putting into us a bit of Himself, so to speak. He lends us a little of His reasoning powers and that is how we think: He puts a little of His love into us and that is how we love one another… We love and reason because God loves and reasons and holds our hand while we do it
What the incarnation makes possible
…we now need God’s help in order to do something which God, in His own nature never does at all – to surrender, to suffer, to submit, to die. Nothing in God’s nature corresponds to this process at all… God can share only what He has: this thing in His own nature, He has not
…supposing God became a man – suppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with God’s nature in one person – then that person could help us. He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and He could do it perfectly because He was God. You and I can go through this process only if God does it in us; but God can do it only if He becomes man.
Rejecting the gift
If [a child] rejected [the adult] because ‘it’s easy for grown-ups’ and waited to learn writing from another child who could not write itself (and so had no ‘unfair’ advantage), it would not get on very quickly
…a man who still has one foot on the bank may give me a hand which saves my life…That advantage – call it ‘unfair’ if you like – is the only reason why he can be of any use to me. To what will you look for help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself?
1.What is the difference between the Christian belief about Christ’s atonement and the theories surrounding it?
2. How might we understand substitutionary atonement in terms of a criminal and also as a debtor?
3. How does Jack explain the atonement in terms of the “the perfect penitent”?
4. How does Jack respond to those who say that Jesus’ sufferings, since He was God, would have been easy?
Chapter 5 – “We have cause to be uneasy”
A new kind of life
People often ask when the next step in evolution – the step to something beyond man – will happen. But in the Christian view, it has happened already. In Christ a new kind of man appeared: and the new kind of life which began in Him is to be put into us
We derived [our old life] from others…without our consent – and by a very curious process, involving pleasure, pain, and danger… We must be prepared for it being odd too. He did not consult us when He invented sex: He has not consulted us either when He invented this
Getting the new life
I am not saying there may not be special cases… [However], if you are trying in a few minutes to tell a man how to get to Edinburgh you will tell him the trains: he can, it is true, get there by boat or by a plane, but you will hardly bring that in
Anyone who professes to teach you Christian doctrine will, in fact, tell you to use all three… Do not think I am setting up [these]… as things that will do instead of your own attempts to copy Christ
Belief from authority
Do not be scared by the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy… I believe there is such a place as New York. I have not seen it myself. I could not prove by abstract reasoning that there must be such a place. I believe it because reliable people have told me so…
…the Solar System, atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood…
Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada… We believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them.
A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life
Protecting the New Life
Your natural life is derived from your parents; that does not mean it will stay there if you do nothing about it…. You have to feed it and look after it: but always remember you are not making it, you are only keeping up a life you got from someone else… even the best Christian that ever lived is not acting on his own steam – he is only nourishing or protecting a life he could never have acquired by his own efforts
A live body is not one that never gets hurt, but one that can to some extent repair itself. In the same way a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, abut a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again… because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (tin some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ Himself carried out
…the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it
The Bodily Nature
…the whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts
…but by bodily acts like baptism and Holy Communion… There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God.. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it
Those who have not heard
…God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him
…if you are worried about the people outside, the most unreasonable thing you can do is remain outside yourself… If you want to help those outside you must add your own little cell to the body of Christ who alone can help them
Christians think He is going to land in force; we do not know when
…we can guess why He is delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. I do not suppose you and I would have thought much of a Frenchman who waited till the Allies were marching into Germany and then announced he was on our side
1. Jack describes salvation in terms of a new life. Can you think of Scripture passages where this motif is taken up?
2. How does Jack contrast the old life and the new life, particularly with regards to its strangeness and its mode of reception?
3. What are the primary ways in which Jack says the new life are communicated? On what basis? Do you agree with all these? Is this an exhaustive list? What other ways do you think there are?
4. How does Jack feel about believing something based on authority?
5. What light is shed on the Christian experience by understanding salvation in bodily terms?
6. How does Jack respond to those who complain about the exclusiveness of Christianity?
7. How does Jack reply to those who complain about God’s subtle, elusive action and who would much prefer he “invade in force”?
I also listened to the Mere Christianity podcast where a group of evangelical Christians discuss the book in quite some detail. I didn’t always agree with everything they said, but it was certainly thought-provoking and made a five-hour round-trip to LA much more enjoyable 🙂