Continuing in the preface to Mere Christianity…
As I said last time, the preface establishes a few helpful details at the outset.
- The background
- He aims to contend only for “mere” Christianity
- How he will use the term “Christian,” especially in reference to Book Three, on Christian Morality
Use of the Term “Christian”
After telling us that he is trying to take a similar “mere” sort of approach to morality or ethics, and that he does not write on areas that he has little experience with or pastoral authority (and therefore obligation) to address, he discusses his use of the term “Christian.” He writes: “Far deeper objections may be felt—and have been expressed—against my use of the word Christian to mean one who accepts the common doctrines of Christianity. People ask: ‘Who are you, to lay down who is, and who is not a Christian?”
Lewis acknowledges that he understands the reason for the objection on the one hand. But on the other hand, he denies the usefulness of loosening up the definition of the word “Christian” to include people who act “in the spirit of Jesus” even if they don’t believe the Christian doctrines about him. But, Lewis objects, “We simply cannot, without disaster, use language as these objectors want us to use it.”
He explains the problem with the example of the term “gentleman.” Originally, the term “gentleman” meant something concrete and observable—a man with “a coat of arms and some landed property.” You were neither complimenting a man by calling him a gentlemen, nor were you insulting him by saying he was not. You were only describing him (coat of arms? landed property?). It was a description of fact. Once it was transitioned into the realm of designating a subjective value or quality, it became just one more word that showed one person’s approval for another.
Lewis points out that using the word “Christian” as a way of making judgments about who is living nearer in the spirit of Christ may smack of arrogance. And using it as a way to describe someone as “good,” robs the term of its particular meaning. We would do better to say someone is not a very good Christian, or quite a good Christian, rather than claim they are not a Christian at all.
Next up: Book One, “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe”