Donald T. Williams, PhD
P.O. Box #800807
Toccoa Falls, GA. 30598


Will Vaus, Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C. S. Lewis. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Pr., 2004. ISBN 0-8308-2782-X. 266 pp., $20.00 pbk.

Was C. S. Lewis a theologian? He denied, rightly, that he was a professional theologian, and always addressed those who were with respect and deference (if sometimes also with biting criticism). He made a concerted effort to avoid being original, wishing only to explain and defend the common core of Christian belief shared by all historic Christian churches throughout the ages. Yet if we define a theologian as a teacher of Christian doctrine, then Lewis was arguably the most important theologian of the Twentieth Century, the man who possibly got more Christian thinking into the heads of more people than anyone other than Billy Graham, who concentrated more on decisions than on thinking. There have been books on Lewis's treatment of specific doctrines, but until now no one has tried to synthesize and evaluate Lewis's theology as a whole under one cover. Vaus's book therefore fills in a critical gap in Lewis studies.

Mere Theology then is attempting an important job. Its success in performing it is mixed. On the positive side, Vaus summarizes Lewis's thinking accurately and sympathetically. The best and most helpful feature of the book is that under each topic Vaus treats Lewis's writings in chronological order, so that we have an opportunity to see whether and how Lewis's thinking developed on that subject. Vaus critiques Lewis's theology from a standpoint of moderately conservative Protestant Evangelicalism. His own theological bias is neither hidden nor is it obtrusive. When he dissents from Lewis, he does so appreciatively and gently, suggesting (often helpfully, in my estimation) avenues or options in certain doctrines that Lewis might profitably have explored. Vaus admirably avoids falling into the temptation that has consumed so many students of Lewis: to try to make him over into their own image, to make him more Evangelical (or Fundamentalist, or Roman Catholic) than he really was.

Despite all these excellent qualities, I found myself getting impatient with the book. My only criticism could be stated in four words I often find myself writing on student papers: "less summary; more analysis!" People already familiar with Lewis's corpus will find themselves getting bogged down in interminable paraphrase, endless recasting of things Lewis already said better. They will skim past these pages to find at the end of the chapter often only a paragraph or two of analysis and critique, sometimes perfunctory and disappointing. People who are not already familiar with the Lewis corpus ought to reading it instead of Vaus.

Vaus says he wants his book to be able to serve as an introduction to Lewis for people who have never read him (17). Really, this is quite pointless. Give such people Mere Christianity or one of the Narnia books instead, and give those of us who are in a position to be devouring secondary works about Lewis a meatier study, for goodness' sake! But I fear I have spent some time on that particular hobby horse in these pages already, so let me get off it and summarize. Mere Theology is not bad; it is worth buying for its comprehensiveness, its balance and irenic tone, and its chronological treatment-but it could and should have been a more satisfying study than it is. Alas.

Updated Jan-25-2005