In Book Four, “Beyond Personality: Or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity,” Lewis assumes that he has won over his audience and he moves onto some higher-level issues in Christian theology. Much of his writing is quite good here, and his metaphors begin to work. He’s almost pantheistic when he says:
Christianity thinks of human individuals not as mere members of a group or items in a list, but as organs in a body–different from one another and each contributing what no other could. (p.185)
I have little to say about Book 4. I don’t want to bury Lewis’ good writing, ignoring the times that I agree with him. It’s just that while much of Book 4 is well written and I believe correct, Lewis believes these broad truths are unique to Christianity, and this limits how much deeply he can investigate them. As such, there are better books for learning the lessons Lewis teaches here.
You’d think Lewis were a closet pantheist sometimes.
And that, by the way, is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: that in Christianity God is not a static thing–not even a person–but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance. (p.175)
If Lewis hadn’t tagged this beautiful passage “Christian,” I couldn’t have agreed more. By the time you get to Chapter 11, “The New Men,” you’d think Lewis were writing a New Age book.
So I don’t have much more to say about Book 4, and instead I’d like to sum up the entire book a bit. Lewis understood his audience: post-War Englishmen, mostly Anglicans, who he wanted to “wake up” to a more explicit understanding and practice of the religion they had perhaps grown complacent in. Among them might be the occasional poorly-considered Atheist, much like Lewis himself, but generally he was speaking to the faithful. They may have been rampant sinners, but they knew they were sinners and already understood that Christ was the answer to their problems. They just needed some kind words and the illusion of logic and intellect to make it OK to believe.
The illusion of logic and intellect is exactly what Lewis provides. He admits that he is no theologian, but his claimed ignorance of deep Christian theology is dwarfed by his unacknowledged ignorance of every other religion and philosophy in the world. Without understanding at least the basics of other belief systems, its impossible to explain why yours is superior. Lewis instead spends his time fighting the straw man of backslidden Anglicans. He does not speak to people who truly believe other things, only to people who have begun to doubt their Christianity.
Anthony Burgess of the New York Times said it best (and it’s printed on the back cover of my edition): “C. S. Lewis is the ideal persuader for the half-convinced, for the good man who would like to be a Christian but finds his intellect getting in the way.” Lewis certainly makes it easy for the willing victim to get intellect out of the way. I couldn’t agree more.
Start at the beginning with Book One.