Over at The Gospel Coalition, Justin Taylor interviews George Marsden about his new book C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: A Biography (Princeton University Press, 2016). Marsden’s book is part of Princeton’s “Lives of Great Religious Books” series.
Here is a taste of the interview:
You write in the book that you were not influenced at an early age by Mere Christianity, as so many Christians in the academic world have been. Can you tell us a bit about your own relationship to Lewis’s work?
In the early 1950s, when I was a boy, my father (who was an Orthodox Presbyterian minister) suggested that I read The Screwtape Letters. I enjoyed that and was impressed that such a well-educated writer still believed in the supernatural beings. But I don’t remember encountering Mere Christianity before I was in my twenties. Then I would run into other young Christians who were very enthusiastic about it and others of Lewis’s works. I cannot remember when I first read Mere Christianity and, although I had a good impression of it and others of Lewis’s works, I do not think I read Mere Christianity very carefully. But I was well aware of its soaring reputation. So when, Fred Appel, the Princeton editor, asked me if I wanted to contribute to his series, I suggested writing on that. I had written a couple of books on Jonathan Edwards, and I was looking for a subject that would be similarly inspiring to work on. And I was well rewarded. Almost everything of Lewis is edifying and a pleasure to read.
For Americans in the 21st century, it may be perplexing to know that the origin of this work was as radio addresses for the British Broadcasting Company. How did it come about that a Christian professor was able to give unabashed talks on the truth of Christianity over the public airwaves?
That is an interesting aspect of the origins of the book. The BBC was a noncommercial company serving the British people under a royal charter. It included a substantial religious dimension. Great Britain was officially a Christian nation, and the company leadership took that more seriously than did most of the British public. For instance, until World War II, Sunday programming not only included church services and religious programs, but also had to be tasteful, so that there was no jazz or comedy shows on Sundays. During the war, when the BBC had a monopoly on broadcasting, those rules were relaxed a bit for the sake of the troops. But the religion department oversaw quite a few weekday religious programs as well as Sunday broadcasts. Lewis fit their purposes well. Because of the war, they did not want anything controversial. And Lewis’s talks could be of interest to people of all sorts of Christian backgrounds.
Read the entire interview here.