Mere Christianity: a conversation

study outlines and discussion questions for groups

Wednesday, February 5, 2020


    C. S. Lewis’ classic, Mere Christianity, has been a challenging, interesting, and engaging book for both individuals and small groups for many decades. Whether a small group consists of Christians, a mix of Christians and non-Christians, or Christians of contrasting persuasions, Mere Christianity can be expected to focus the participants’ attention on the vital characteristics of historic Christianity, providing a fresh perspective for most and a sharp clarity for all. These study outlines and discussion questions are intended to stimulate and extend thoughts that spring from the book.
    Page numbers refer to a popular edition published by HarperCollins available since 2001. It can be identified by ISBN 978-0-06-065292-0. While neither the Preface nor the Foreword are outlined or discussed here, they are both worthwhile, and a small group leader should urge the members to read them both carefully.
    Feel free to log any notes or corrections here. A PDF format version of the entire text below is available here. If you have any questions, please write to me at
    Many thanks to the members of the Growth Group who worked their way through this with me and thus helped to improve and refine the discussion questions.
    RMA 2/6/20

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Book I: Right and wrong as a clue to the meaning of the universe

Chapter 1: The Law of Human Nature
Chapter 2: Some Objections
Chapter 3: The Reality of the Law
Chapter 4: What Lies Behind the Law?
Chapter 5: We Have Cause To Be Uneasy

Chapter 1: The Law of Human Nature

I. Consciousness of a rule of correct behavior is nearly universal.
    A. The rule is similar throughout the world and history.
    B. Unlike physical nature, obeying the rule is voluntary.
II. People often do not follow the rule.
    A. The failure to follow the rule often produces claims of exception or excuse.
    B. Claims of exception and excuses underscore people's consciousness of the rule's existence and force.
III. These ideas are the foundation for understanding the moral universe.

Discussion questions: (pp. 3-8)

    1. What evidence have you observed for the existence of the Law of Human Nature? (pp. 3-5)
    2. How does the Bible treat the idea of Natural Law, as in, for instance, Romans 2:14-16?
    3. Is the Law of Human Nature fairly uniform across time and cultures? (pp. 5-6)
    4. We expect others to keep the law, but do we keep it? (pp.7-8) Why not? Does this agree with Paul’s experience in Romans 7:21-23?

Chapter 2: Some objections

I. Objection 1: The Rule of Right Behavior could simply be one of our instincts.
    A. The Rule helps us to decide among conflicting instincts, which are not inherently right or wrong.
    B. The complete dominance of any given instinct over all others invariably leads to evil.
    C. Therefore, the Rule is not one of the instincts.
II. Objection 2: The Rule of Right Behavior could simply be a social convention.
    A. The Rule is learned but not arbitrary.
    B. The Rule’s existence makes moral progress possible.
    C. Therefore, the Rule cannot be merely a social convention.
    D. Moral progress is not the same as progress in knowledge.

Discussion questions: (pp. 9-15)
    1. Are instincts and impulses morally neutral? (pp. 9-11)
    2. Is it true that any instinct, under the wrong conditions, can lead to evil? (pp. 11-12)
    3. Extra credit: what is conscience?
    4. Why is the Moral Law not just a human convention? (pp. 12-13)
    5. Can you give an example of moral progress? Is Luke 6:31 such an example? (pp. 13-14)
    6. What does Jer. 31:33 tell us about the way that the Moral Law comes to us?

Chapter 3: The Reality of the Law

I. The Law of Nature is fundamentally different from the laws of physical nature.
    A. A law of nature may mean no more than "what nature, in fact, does."
    B. The Law of Nature describes what people ought, but often fail, to do.
II. The rule of correct behavior is not a means to something else, but a manifestation of a different kind of reality.
    A. The Law does not necessarily represent behavior that is useful or convenient for some other purpose.
    B. The Law does not necessarily represent merely those behaviors that, as individuals, a society, or a nation, would afford the best chance to live safely and productively.
    C. The Law is not made up.

Discussion questions: (pp. 16-20)
    1. How are the laws of nature different from the Laws of Human Nature? (pp. 16-18)
    2. How is the Moral Law, “Unselfishness is good,” transformed into “One ought to be unselfish”? What gives the Moral Law force? (pp. 16-19)
    3. Why is right action not always profitable? (pp. 19-20)
    4. Is there another, intangible reality in which the Moral Law exists? How can we know this?  Relate this to 2 Cor. 4:17-18. (p. 20)

Note on currency, p. 19: In the old British currency, there were 20 shillings to the pound; thus, the comparison in the text is between 30 shillings and 60.

Chapter 4: What Lies Behind the Law

I. Science cannot decide between the two main explanations for existence.
    A. Materialist—all things exist for no reason and have produced us by chance.
    B. Religious—behind the universe is something that is most like a mind, with consciousness and purpose.
II. Neither view is much like the God of Christianity.

Discussion questions: (pp. 21-27)
    1. What prevents science from deciding between the materialist and the religious views of what the universe is and how it came to be? (pp. 22-23)
    2. Is the ultimate “why” answerable? How do “cause” and “purpose” differ?
    3. Lewis distinguishes “does” and “ought to do”. Does this mean that there is a Power outside our observable universe that informs us of right and wrong? (pp. 23-25)

Chapter 5: We Have Cause to be Uneasy

I. The best way to make progress is to correct past mistakes.
II. There are two pieces of evidence about the "Something" behind the universe.
    A. "Something" made the universe the way it is.
    B. "Something" made us and placed in us the knowledge of the law of correct behavior.
    C. We infer that "Something" is interested in correct behavior.
    D. But we have no basis for inferring that "Somebody" is good, forgiving, indulgent, or any other property.
III. We are on the wrong side with this "Something".

Discussion Questions: (pp. 28-32)
    1. Are we on the wrong road? (pp. 28-29) In what ways?
    2. Is God the only comfort and the supreme terror? (pp. 30-31)
    3. Is the realization of our true situation “the way back to the right road”? (p. 32) See Matt. 9:10-13.

Book II: What Christians Believe

Chapter 1: The Rival Conceptions of God
Chapter 2: The Invasion
Chapter 3: The Shocking Alternative
Chapter 4: The Perfect Penitent
Chapter 5: The Practical Conclusion

Chapter 1: The Rival Conceptions of God

I. Christians do not have to believe that other religions are completely wrong.
II. First division
     A. Atheists (minority)
     B. Theists (majority)
         1. Second division
             a. Pantheists
                 i. God is beyond "good and evil"
                 ii. God is part of the universe
             b. Monotheists
                 i. God is interested in "good and evil" and strongly committed to good.
                 ii. God is outside the universe and created it, typically monotheistic.
III. If a good God made the world, why has it gone wrong?
      A. An argument against God, who cannot be good if He created an unjust world
      B. The judgment that the world is unjust requires a notion of justice. But where can that come from, if not God?

Discussion Questions: (pp. 35-39)
    1. Some hold that the Old Testament stories of creation, the Fall, the flood, and the ethics of the Law are derived from a prior source. What would Lewis say to that? (p. 35)
    2. Are the divisions of religious views fair? Do you see any problems with it? (pp. 35-37)
    3. Is Christianity a "fighting religion"? (pp. 37-38)
    4. Can God be denied on the grounds that the universe is unjust? (pp. 38-39)

Chapter 2: The Invasion

I. Reality and Religion
    A. Reality is not simple; therefore religion cannot be simple.
    B. Reality is often odd and not neat; therefore religion can be odd and not neat.
    C. Reality is not what one would have guessed; therefore religion is not what one would have guessed.
II. The problem
    A. Reality contains the bad and meaningless.
    B. Reality also contains creatures like us who understand "bad" and "meaningless".
III. Two solutions
    A. Christianity describes a world gone wrong
    B. Dualism describes a world with two equal powers, one bad and one good, at war with each other.
        1. What is the implication of universal "good" and "bad"?
            a. If good and bad have universal meaning, then one is right and the other wrong.
            b. Then there is a standard higher than either by which to judge between them, promulgated by the true God.
            c. Then the "good" power is in the right relationship with God, and the "bad" power is not.
        2. What are the natures of "good" and "bad"?
            a. Goodness can be loved for its own sake; badness cannot.
            b. Badness can exist independently but can only exist as spoiled goodness.
        3. Dualism cannot work because the two powers are not independent; badness is dependent on goodness.
    C. In Christianity, the war between goodness and badness is a rebellion or civil war.
        1. We are in occupied territory.
        2. The good king has come in an unexpected way to lead the resistance.
        3. We are being actively attacked.

Discussion Questions: (pp. 40-46)
    1. How has reality's complexity affected you? (pp. 40-42)    
    2. "God did not invent religion; it is God's statement of quite unalterable facts about Himself." How do you react to that? (p. 41) 

    3. What defect undermines dualism? Is evil always dependent on good? (pp. 43-45)

Chapter 3: The Shocking Alternative

I. Free will.
    A. Even as God is all-powerful, the conditions in the world are contrary to His will.
    B. Free will makes evil possible.
    C. Free will makes love possible.
    D. God made it possible for man to be evil.
II. How the Devil went wrong.
    A. Satan wanted to be the center instead of God.
    B. Man wanted to be independent of God.
        1. Man wanted to find or create happiness apart from God.
        2. There can be no happiness apart from God.
III. A fatal flaw develops in the best institutions of man.
    A. God sent us conscience.
    B. God sent us "good dreams".
    C. God selected the Jews to reveal His nature to.
        1. There is only one God.
        2. God cares about conduct.
IV. God sent Jesus
    A. The shocking claim that Jesus is God.
    B. The claim to forgive sins.
    C. The claim that He is humble and meek.
    D. Jesus cannot be described as a "great moral teacher" unless His other claims are granted.

Discussion questions: (pp. 47-52)
    1. How free are we? (pp. 47-49)
    2. Is there happiness apart from God? (pp. 49-50)
    3. Utopia is hopeless in life. why? (p. 50)
    4. Is the assessment of Jesus, that he can be either insane, a demon, or Lord, fair? How can He be a great moral teacher? (pp. 51-52)

Chapter 4: The Perfect Penitent

 I. The Purpose of the Incarnation
    A. Teaching
    B. Death and Resurrection
II. The Atonement
    A. The essential belief: Christ's death makes it possible to be right with God.
    B. Theories of the Atonement
        1. The fact more important than the theory
        2. The theory of substitutionary punishment
        3. The theory of paying our debt
III. Repentance
    A. Man is a rebel who must lay down arms.
    B. Humiliation and a kind of death
    C. Only God can help with repentance.
    D. Repentance requires the Incarnation.
    E. An absurd objection
IV. If theories of Atonement are not helpful, abandon them.

Discussion Questions: (pp. 53-59)
    1. What is the essential belief about the Atonement? (pp. 54-55) See John 1:29 and Matthew 20:28.
    2. What is the debt? (pp. 56,58) See Romans 6:20-23 and Colossians 2:13-15.
    3. Why is repentance like a kind of death? Why is it both essential and impossible without God's help? (pp. 57-58) See Titus 2:11-14 and Hebrews 2:14-18.

Note for pp. 54-55: Sir James Jeans (1877-1946) and Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington (1882-1944) were well-regarded British physicists and mathematicians who wrote (the former particularly) on physics and cosmology for the general public.

    Chapter 5: The Practical Conclusion

    I. New life via biology
    II. Acquiring the Christ-life
        A. Via baptism, belief, and Holy Communion
        B. True on Jesus' authority
            1. Authority is the most common source of knowledge.
            2. Authority is necessary to life.
    III. Imitation of Christ the main means
        A. Baptism, belief, & communion are useful but not sufficient.
        B. Christ-life enables repentance.
            1. Christ-life is not the same as trying to be good.
            2. Christ-life is the source of good.
        C. "In Christ" and "Christ in you"
            1. Believers constitute the physically present body of Christ.
            2. Christ operates in the world through this body.
    IV. What about the heathen?
        A. None can be saved except through Christ.
        B. No information on those who do not know Him by name.
        C. This uncertainty is no reason to reject His salvation.
    V. Why does not God simply defeat Satan and the wicked, and just clean up the whole mess?
        A. He will, but we don't know when.
        B. He is granting more people the opportunity to join His side voluntarily.
        C. When He does come, the time for voluntarily joining His side will be over.

    Discussion Questions: (pp. 60-65)

        1. If belief is a means of acquiring the Christ-life, how do we acquire belief? (p. 61) See Romans 10:4.
        2. Are there abuses of arguments from authority? (p. 62) How can we distinguish them from valid ones?
        3. Can you think of other obstacles to faith, such as, the divisions in the church, or the seeming contradictions between the Bible and science? What would Lewis's response to them be?

    Book III: Christian Behavior

    Chapter 1: The Three Parts of Morality
    Chapter 2: The Cardinal Virtues
    Chapter 3: Social Morality
    Chapter 4: Morality and Psychoanalysis
    Chapter 5: Sexual Morality
    Chapter 6: Christian Marriage
    Chapter 7: Forgiveness
    Chapter 8: The Great Sin
    Chapter 9: Charity
    Chapter 10: Hope
    Chapter 11: Faith (1)
    Chapter 12: Faith (2)