In an increasingly complex world, simplicity is a prized commodity. Whether it is a smart phone, a new tablet or a hybrid car, the latest and greatest things in our lives always seem to have more features. Some of the features, like voice recognition, can actually simplify our interactions with technology. Unfortunately, however, many other very useful aspects of the technology are never used because they are just too complex or time consuming too figure out.
This past week, I spent time interacting with the lives and writing of two iconic evangelical figures of the last century. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the new biography of C.S. Lewis written by Alister McGrath. This engaging tome had some new and startling revelations about Lewis not previously included in other biographies. The biggest one was a challenge to the received wisdom of his previous biographers and dealt with the dating of his conversion. McGrath postulates that his study of the best available evidence from the source material now suggests that Lewis came to faith a year later than he stated in his own book Surprised by Joy.
C.S. Lewis and his book, Mere Christianity, had a profound influence on his generation of evangelicals and continues to do so to this day. I was deeply impacted by the message of this book in my high school years. His effective defense of the reasonableness of Christianity made so much sense to my inquisitive mind and my wandering heart. With great precision, his words did surgery on my skeptical soul.
In the years following World War II, when so many people were searching for answers to the biggest questions of life, Lewis spoke cogently of a hope in risen Christ. He became the most prominent intellectual voice for a robust Christianity and somehow did this outside of the denominationalism and factionalism that often defined the faith for outsiders. He believed passionately that there was a core set of beliefs that united all Christians that were non-negotiable and that when embraced were life transforming.
Ironically, at the very same time that this Oxford don was writing so effectively, a new voice was coming onto the scene across the pond. Billy Graham began his evangelistic career in the 1940’s and ultimately preached in person to more people than any other living human being. He widely embraced the use of technology and did everything he could to make his message relevant to the average person.
Near Charlotte, North Carolina, a fairly new facility houses the Billy Graham Library. The library is actually a highly interactive exhibit of the life and legacy of this simple man. I had the chance to visit it this past week and was reminded once again of the power of the gospel message. If Billy Graham did one thing right, it was to understand the power of a simple message and sticking to the script. For over sixty years, he preached one basic message of sin, judgment, wrath, forgiveness, love and hope. Every message pointed to the sufficiency of Jesus on the cross to save a lost and dying humanity. He was tempted on many occasions by the requests of others to address vital issues of his day and he resisted more often than not.
It is very interesting to note that the clear and simple message these men promoted had significant influence on the mainstream media of their time. Lewis came to prominence in part because of his widely appreciated radio broadcasts on the BBC. Graham was covered in newspapers, magazines, radio programs and television shows on a regular basis. They did not have to filter or water down the message and the clarity of the gospel was made known to millions as a result.
Today, we live in a time when there is far too much complexity to the message of Christianity that we present. Evangelical pundits often spend so much time arguing about tangential aspects of the faith that the average person gets lost in the conversation. We are in dire need of a return to the “Mere Christianity” of Lewis and Graham. I am not so naïve as to believe that this will change the perspective of the largely secular and skeptical main stream media. I do think, however, that a return to the simple gospel message has the potential to spark a revival in our generation. The result of this kind of massive turning to Christ in the post Christian West would certainly garner the interest of a watching world. Most importantly, it would result in untold millions finding their names in the Lamb’s Book of Life.