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Virtue and Vice
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C.S. Lewis was a rare individual. One of the few non-clerics to be recognised as a theologian by the Anglican church, he put forth the case for Christianity in general in ways that many Christians beyond the Anglican world can accept, and a clear description for non-Christians of what Christian faith and practice should be. Indeed, Lewis says in his introduction that this text (or indeed, hardly any other he produced) will help in deciding between Christian denominations. While he describes himself as a 'very ordinary layman' in the Church of England, he looks to the broader picture of Christianity, particularly for those who have little or no background. The discussion of division points rarely wins a convert, Lewis observed, and so he leaves the issues of ecclesiology and high theology differences to 'experts'. Lewis is of course selling himself short in this regard, but it helps to reinforce his point.
This book derives from several of his works: 'Mere Christianity'; 'Miracles'; 'The Problem of Pain'; 'The Great Divorce'; 'A Grief Observed', and even 'The Screwtape Letters'. This book is set up as a kind of glossary of terms that are common to the Christian experience and common to Lewis' writing - it is a very useful text to have handy while reading other of Lewis' work. The terms here can be theological or secular, philosophical or mundane. For example, there is an entry on 'Money' - this leads to a discussion on poverty, economy, and true wealth. There is an entry on 'Despair' that begins in the words of the demon Screwtape. One finds entries on both 'Peer Pressure' and 'Perfection, Attainment of...', 'Sinfulness' and 'Forgiveness'.
This is a good, thought-provoking book. While not really done in a narrative style, it can be read straight through (indeed, should be read through) as each self-contained definition and exposition leads to a further understanding of the other terms - like true dictionaries, it is self-reflexive and self-referential, with each term working to help clarify and refine the other terms.
Lewis probably surprised the listeners of his radio broadcasts by starting a statement, 'When I was an atheist...' Lewis is a late-comer to Christianity (most Anglicans in England were cradle-Anglicans). Thus Lewis can speak with the authority of one having deliberately chosen and found Christianity, rather than one who by accident of birth never knew any other (although the case can be made that Lewis was certainly raised in a culture dominated by Christendom). However, Lewis is not writing exclusively for Anglicans - his writing is meant for the wider Christian audience; in one book, he states that those looking for help deciding between one denomination and another will find little help in much of his writing.
This particular book carries an editor's name: Patricia S. Klein (some of the volumes of this series have no editor specified). In this volume, Klein produced an introduction that sets the stage for the reader of the terms in the glossary, explaining a bit about how Lewis uses language and meaning. This book is part of a pocket-book series being produced by Harper SanFrancisco, several books that highlight the key points of C.S. Lewis' religious/theological writing. Less than 100 pages, with plenty of white space and good-sized print, these books are easily read, but invite contemplation far beyond the scope of their diminutive size.
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