Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Words that changed the Church

Last fall Christian History magazine published an issue listing "25 writings that changed the church and the world." (A free pdf of that issue is available.) The editors consulted "over 70 of our past authors" in selecting the works that made the list and that issue of the magazine is composed of articles about their choices. The list:
  1. Augustine, Confessions (c. 398)
  2. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Thaologiae (1265-1274)
  3. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536)
  4. Augustine, City of God (413-426)
  5. Martin Luther, 95 Theses (1517)
  6. John Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress (1678)
  7. The Nicene Creed (325, revised 381)
  8. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952)
  9. Athanasius, On the Incarnation (c. 319)
  10. Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (c. 1418-1427)
  11. Benedict, Rule (c. 540s)
  12. The Book of Common Prayer (1549)
  13. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (1937)
  14. Martin Luther, Freedom of a Christian (1520)
  15. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics (1932-1962)
  16. Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy (c. 1308-1320)
  17. Anselm, Why God Became Man (c. 1095-1098)
  18. Augustine, On Christian Teaching (397-426)
  19. Augustine, On the Trinity (c. 400-428)
  20. Westminster Confession (1646)
  21. lrenaeus, Against Heresies (c. 175-185)
  22. John Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection (1777)
  23. Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections (1746)
  24. Pope Gregory I, Pastoral Rule (c. 591)
  25. Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans (c. 1515-1516)
I was pleased to see Mere Christianity among the books selected. C.S. Lewis, Barth and Bonhoeffer are the most recent listed. The article about Lewis is by David Neff, a retired editor of the magazine. He concludes with what he believes the legacy of the book:
First, Mere Christianity itself—"mere" not in the contemporary connotation of "lowest common denominator," but in older meanings: "genuine," "pure," "nothing less than." To avoid any hint of denominationalism, Lewis asked four prominent clergymen—Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic—to vet the talks. He got four thumbs up. Bles published the book in 1952. It went on to sell over 200,000,000 copies in 30 languages. It also changed lives.

Second, Lewis helped to create a genre of Christian publishing marked by informed simplicity, clarity, and imagination. Eric Fenn guided Lewis not only in writing to a specific length, but also in speaking in short, unadorned sentences for radio, addressing the experiences of common folk.

Third, Lewis's broadcast talks proved that an intelligent, informed layperson could expound historic Christian orthodoxy without kowtowing to ecclesiastical or academic gatekeepers.

Finally, Lewis demonstrated the power of the imagination combined with rational analysis. Either one without the other creates lopsided Christians. Together they prepared Lewis's contemporaries to cope during wartime. Today, more than 70 years after Lewis's last radio broadcast, his unique blend of imagination and analysis continues to speak.