From Mere Christianity, To Merest Christianity

January 2000

There’s a fine magazine by the name of Touchstone, which, on its cover, calls itself “A Journal of Mere Christianity” — the term Mere Christianity coming from a book of that name by C.S. Lewis. Touchstone’s editors and readers constitute a kind of popular front of traditional Christians — conservative Episcopalians, orthodox Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and evangelical Protestants. Here’s an ecumenism worthy of serious attention.

But in its September-October 1999 issue there appears a letter from a disgruntled reader, a Presbyterian minister, complaining about the magazine’s negative commentary on the ordination of women. He cites Lewis’s definition of Mere Christianity in the Preface of Lewis’s book: “the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” Excluding women from the ordained ministry would fit that definition, but only until recent times, for of late more and more Christian ecclesial bodies — including conservative ones — have been ordaining women.

So if you’re really going to uphold Mere Christianity, says the letter-writer, you’ve got to stop knocking women’s ordination: “Carping” about that is “sectarian” and it “divides” Mere Christians, who are supposed to articulate only what they share in common. Well, he has a point, doesn’t he? — that is, if your journalistic standard is that minimalist, historically contingent, and dubious thing called Mere Christianity.

The Executive Editor of Touchstone replies that Lewis himself was against ordaining women. Happily, that’s true, but that’s quite irrelevant to the concept of Mere Christianity. Lewis said in his Preface that he did not want to “put forward as common Christianity anything that was peculiar” to himself, and also that Mere Christianity is not the same thing as “my own position.”

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New Oxford Notes: January 2000

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