We have a winner! Out of our original bracket of 64 books, one book has been chosen by Emerging Scholars Network members as the Best Christian Book of All Time.
Confessions by Augustine has defeated Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis 50–43.
Why Confessions Won the Title
From the beginning, I thought Mere Christianity would win the competition. It seems to be the book mentioned most often when people are asked to name their favorite Christian book in an open-ended question, and it received the most nominations of any book. Once it became clear that Mere Christianity would be facing Confessions, however, I thought that Augustine would likely come out on top.
What makes Confessions the best Christian book of all time?
Its blend of the personal, spiritual, and theological. At its core, Confessions is Augustine’s story about himself and God’s pursuit of him. As I noted yesterday, many consider Confessions to be the first autobiography. If you’ve read much ancient literature, Augustine’s transparency about his own life is striking. Further, it’s not narcissistic, like so many contemporary memoirs. Augustine examines his life in light of God’s truth, bringing Scripture and theology alongside his own story.
Our ability to relate to Augustine. Confessions could be the story of someone of our generation:
- A bright young man rejects his mother’s faith in God in order to follow his own desires.
- He seeks influence and power through academic pursuits, but finds no satisfaction.
- He lives for years with a woman he’s not married to and has a son with her. Later, even as he realizes the mistakes he’s made, he loves his son dearly and values him as one of the treasures of his life.
- His conversion comes as an adult, after trying many other philosophies of life and finding all of them lacking.
The power of Augustine’s witness. Augustine not only affirms that God loves all of us, regardless of our mistakes, but also lives out that truth. His story — finding God in mid-life, then becoming one of the most important figures of the Church — gives us hope that God can redeem the most fallen among us.
The status of Confessions as a classic of world literature. The place of Confessions in the Western canon can’t be ignored, either. In the Norton Anthology of World Literature, Confessions is the only work included by one of the Church Fathers, and the only work of Christian literature included between the New Testament and the Koran. I would wager that, for many college students, Confessions is the only ancient Christian literature that appears on any of the syllabi of their general education classes.
Parallels between Augustine and C.S. Lewis
On our Facebook Page, during the match-up between Mere Christianity and Augustine’s City of God, occasional ESN contributor Kevin Birth noted that both Lewis and Augustine were writing during the decline of an empire — Lewis during the last decades of the British Empire, Augustine amidst the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
As I thought about Kevin’s comment, other parallels between Augustine and Lewis occurred to me:
- Both were born in provinces of an empire — Augustine in North Africa (modern-day Algeria), Lewis in Ireland. I’m not sure if we, as modern Americans, appreciate how much of an outsider each of them were in their day.
- Both Augustine and Lewis had mothers from Christian families. Augustine’s mother, Monica, was a Christian married to a pagan, while Lewis’s mother, Flora, was the daughter of an Anglican priest.
- Both rejected Christianity as young men and pursued non-Christian philosophies, Manichaeism and scepticism for Augustine, atheism for Lewis.
- Both lived for years with women outside of marriage. Augustine never tells us the name the mother of his son Adeodatus, but he spent 13 years with her until his conversion. Lewis, meanwhile, lived with Jane Moore, the mother of his best friend Paddy (who was killed in World War I), for more than 20 years.
- Not only were both academics of the highest caliber before their conversion, but both rose to the most prestigious academic positions in their respective empires — Augustine to Rome and Milan, Lewis to Oxford and Cambridge.
- Both became Christians at the age of 33, after long periods of philosophical reflection and close relationships with Christians.
- After their conversions, both became prolific authors of Christian literature, and both became highly visible spokesmen for Christianity. While Lewis remained a layman, Augustine was ordained as a priest, and both were recognized as important Christian authors and speakers during their lifetimes.
- The conversions of both of them involved Christians who were famous in their own right — Lewis’s conversion was heavily influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien, while Augustine was baptized by Ambrose, archbishop of Milan and his fellow Doctor of the Church.
- In addition to being prolific writers, they were also diverse writers. Each produced books of high intellectual ambition (e.g. City of God for Augustine, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama for Lewis), but also many works for popular audiences as well. There is no record, however, of Augustine writing children’s novels with talking animals or any science fiction.
Thank you to everyone who voted, nominated books, and offered their opinions during this exercise. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
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What are your thoughts about the tournament? Do you feel like the best book won? Which would you have picked?
- I do note that, in the latest edition, a poem by Boethius is also included. ↩
- City of God, in fact, was written partly to defend Christianity against the charge that it was responsible for the sack of Rome in AD 410. ↩
- There is debate about the exact nature of Lewis’s relationship with Moore. Alister McGrath, in his recent biography C.S. Lewis: A Life, argues that Lewis and Moore were lovers, as do A.N. Wilson and George Sayer in their biographies of Lewis. Others believe that Lewis and Moore’s relationship, while unusual, was not sexual. ↩