Thursday, October 31, 2013

CSL, WWII, and Mere Christianity

 Just received: C.S. Lewis at War: The Dramatic Story Behind Mere Christianity. The set includes eight CDs. Two are of the radio program, well-produced, with an impressive cast including Jeremy Northam (Emma, The Winslow Boy) as Lewis and John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings, Raiders of the Lost Ark). The drama is intended to provide context for the creation of Mere Christianity and the remaining six CDs are an audio version of that book.

A non-dramatic account of the broadcasts that were the basis of Mere Christianity is Justin Phillips' C.S. Lewis In A Time Of War (2006).

"He will embrace me in His arms"

More pleasures, not fewer...

Randy Alcorn speculates on the answer to "Will we drink coffee on the New Earth? I think I recall C.S. Lewis writing that whatever Heaven is like we won't be disappointed — if it isn't what we expect, it will be better.
.... Coffee grows on Earth, which God made for mankind, put under our management, and filled with resources for our use. When God evaluated his creation, he deemed coffee trees, along with all else, to be “very good.” Many people throughout history have enjoyed coffee—even in a fallen world where neither coffee nor our taste buds are at their best.

God tells us that he “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17). Does “everything” include coffee? Paul also says, “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4-5). Again, does “everything” include coffee?

Given these biblical perspectives—and realizing that caffeine addiction or anything else that’s unhealthy simply won’t exist on the New Earth—can you think of any persuasive reason why coffee trees and coffee drinking wouldn’t be part of the resurrected Earth? ....

Those who for reasons of allergies, weight problems, or addictions can’t regularly consume peanuts, chocolate, coffee, and wine—and countless other foods and drinks—may look forward to enjoying them on the New Earth. To be free from sin, death, and bondage on the New Earth will mean that we’ll enjoy more pleasures, not fewer. And the God who delights in our pleasures will be glorified in our grateful praise. (more)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"...and the evening and the morning..."

Reposted from 2009:

At Evangel, David Wayne provides the complete text of a tract by Steve Carl that explains the origin of Halloween and its alleged pagan associations. In the course of doing so, he explains something about the biblical reckoning of a "day" that has been largely forgotten:
The festivities traditionally began the night before, because until recent times both Jews and Christians began their day at dusk. This is not the result of culture or superstition, but because God made them that way (”… and the evening and the morning, were the first day”, etc.). So, to the early Church the evening of a Saturday, for instance, was the night before, not the night after — Saturday began with Saturday-evening (what you and I would call Friday night). In fact, what we call “Christmas Eve” today, was originally the evening of/before Christmas-Day. The same is true of New Year’s Eve. Similarly, the Hallowed Day began with the “Hallowed Even’,” which was ultimately contracted to the “Hallowe’en” we know today. Today, we still begin our celebration on the evening before – what appears on our calendars as October 31.
Halloween Schmalloween » Evangel | A First Things Blog

Halloween is an occasion for joy, not fear

I've posted this several times in years past as Halloween has approached. I was reminded to do so again today by reading a post repeating the mythology about Druids:

As Halloween approaches it is useful for the more excitable among us to be reminded that the Evil One has already been defeated. From "Concerning Halloween" by James B. Jordan:
.... "Halloween" is simply a contraction for All Hallows’ Eve. The word "hallow" means "saint," in that "hallow" is just an alternative form of the word "holy" ("hallowed be Thy name"). All Saints’ Day is November 1. It is the celebration of the victory of the saints in union with Christ. The observance of various celebrations of All Saints arose in the late 300s, and these were united and fixed on November 1 in the late 700s. The origin of All Saints Day and of All Saints Eve in Mediterranean Christianity had nothing to do with Celtic Druidism or the Church’s fight against Druidism (assuming there ever even was any such thing as Druidism, which is actually a myth concocted in the 19th century by neo-pagans.) ....

The Biblical day begins in the preceding evening, and thus in the Church calendar, the eve of a day is the actual beginning of the festive day. (emphasis added) Christmas Eve is most familiar to us, but there is also the Vigil of Holy Saturday that precedes Easter Morn. Similarly, All Saints’ Eve precedes All Saints’ Day.

The concept, as dramatized in Christian custom, is quite simple: On October 31, the demonic realm tries one last time to achieve victory, but is banished by the joy of the Kingdom.

What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us. ....

Similarly, on All Hallows’ Eve (Hallow-Even – Hallow-E’en – Halloween), the custom arose of mocking the demonic realm by dressing children in costumes. Because the power of Satan has been broken once and for all, our children can mock him by dressing up like ghosts, goblins, and witches. The fact that we can dress our children this way shows our supreme confidence in the utter defeat of Satan by Jesus Christ – we have NO FEAR! .... (more)
Biblical Horizons » Concerning Halloween

Monday, October 28, 2013

And glory shone around

Via Brandywine Books, a collection of "early American carols, ...Southern Harmony hymns and Shaker spiritual songs," including a Southern Harmony version of the hymn from the text of which this blog takes its name:

Brandywine Books

Sunday, October 27, 2013

"In the midst of life we are in death..."

Theodore Dalrymple visits an art exhibition and one of the portraits causes him to reflect on our tendency to avoid thinking about death:
.... Yesterday I went to an exhibition at the National Gallery in London called Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900. ....

The most moving work in the exhibition, for me as for many critics, was that of Egon Schiele, who drew his wife, six months pregnant, on her deathbed a few days before the armistice in 1918 and the Austrian Empire collapsed to the great detriment of Europe. It is of a woman alert but exhausted, scarcely with the strength to keep her eyes open, emaciated, turned almost reproachfully toward the viewer. For a moment I felt almost guilty at being so healthy at twice the age at which she died. What had I done to deserve so much more fortunate a fate?

Three days after he drew this sketch, the artist himself was dead, aged only twenty-eight, and of the same disease: the Spanish flu, the epidemic of which was to kill many more millions than the Great War itself. The question is whether anyone would have found Schiele’s sketch of his wife a fraction as moving if the context were unknown to him? I tried to imagine how I should have responded to the sketch in the absence of that knowledge, a task almost impossible: One cannot unknow what one knows, as the first story about human beings in the Bible informs is. ....

In their explanatory notes, the exhibition’s curators said that the deathbed portrait was a manifestation of a Viennese “fascination” with death (both Beethoven’s and Mahler’s death masks were also exhibited). The implication was that this “fascination” was in some way morbid or neurotic.

This persuaded me that the one thing we refuse to do in these supposedly multicultural times is to try to see the world, including ourselves, through the eyes of others, either in time or in space. Might it not be that those others would consider our own determination to push aside or avoid personal confrontation with death—which is, after all, still the inevitable dénouement of human life, technical progress notwithstanding—morbid and neurotic? Is our avoidance of all contact with death (except on video games) not a pretense that we shall live forever, that death is an aberration that we shall not fall into thanks to our healthy diet, our full health insurance, and our thirty minutes’ exercise a day, and that, while some people no doubt continue to die, it is really by their own fault or at their own insistence? Is not our revulsion from deathbed portraits—an old genre, after all, and by no means confined to the fin de siècle Viennese—more indicative that we wish to ignore the fundamental condition of our existence, even at the cost of forgetting our loved ones, so that we can get on with the business of life, which is to amuse ourselves? .... [more]
I was reminded of this from the burial service in the Book of Common Prayer:

MAN, that is born of a woman, hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery.
He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower;
He fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.
In the midst of life we are in death;
Of whom may we seek for succour, but of Thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased?
Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour,
Deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.
Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts;
Shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer; but spare us, Lord most holy,
O God most mighty, O holy and merciful Saviour,
Thou most worthy Judge eternal,
Suffer us not, at our last hour, for any pains of death,
To fall from Thee.

The Sketch Pad Near the Deathbed - Taki's Magazine

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Lord Peter

Dorothy L. Sayers was a Christian apologist and friend of several of the Oxford Inklings. Her fame, though, was due to authoring a series of very popular novels featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, amateur detective.

In an earlier post I wrote:
I first discovered the Sayers who wrote mysteries — only later the orthodox Christian apologist and playwright and friend of many of the Inklings. The mysteries featured the aristocratic amateur detective Lord Peter Wimsey, always assisted by his batman/manservant Bunter. The books are the kind you settle down in — best read, perhaps, on a long winter evening. Sometimes her variety of mystery has been called "cozy" in contrast to the more typically American "hard-boiled" thrillers.
Two of Dorothy L. Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey books, although still in print, have apparently entered the public domain: Whose Body? (1923) and Clouds of Witness (1926). Both are available at, free, in several electronic formats including those used by Kindle and Nook.

The description ManyBooks provides for Whose Body?:
Lord Peter Wimsey investigates the sudden appearance of a naked body in the bath of an architect at the same time a noted financier goes missing under strange circumstances. As the case progresses it becomes clear that the two events are linked in some way.
The fiancé of Lord Peter's sister, Lady Mary Wimsey, is found dead outside the conservatory of the family's shooting lodge in Yorkshire. Peter and Mary's elder brother, the Duke of Denver, is charged with capital murder and put on trial in the House of Lords.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Seventh Day Baptist history

The Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society announces that Don Sanford's A Choosing People: The History of Seventh Day Baptists is now for sale at Amazon in a Kindle edition. This is both a readable and accurate history of my denomination. I am content with my hardbound edition and so will probably not take advantage of this one, but it is there and almost instantly available.

A Choosing People: The History of Seventh Day Baptists (The James N. Griffith Endowed Series in Baptist Studies)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Why the gospels are gospel

J.D. Greear offers "Four Reasons the Gospels Could Not Be Legends." I would prefer "four reasons the gospels are extremely unlikely to be legends" but I do find the arguments persuasive. Greear pulls together some of the best historical arguments for the accuracy of the gospel accounts. Portions of the sermon:
1. The timing of the writing is too early for gospels to be a legend.

The books of the Bible were written around 30 years after the death of Jesus, with some of the main ones being as early as 20 years after. .... That is just too quick for a full-blown myth to spring up and displace the true story.

People often respond by saying, “Well, maybe parts of the New Testament were written in the first century, but it was different than it is now. The divinity of Jesus and the resurrection were later additions.” The problem here is that the earliest records of Christianity all contain the resurrection teaching. So in 1 Corinthians (written around 54 A.D.), Paul quotes a hymn about Jesus’ death and resurrection. Less than one generation from Jesus’ death, and there are songs circulating popular enough for Paul to reference in one of his letters—songs about the resurrection.

Or think about the fact that the earliest Christians celebrated communion—not as a way of mourning their leader’s death, but as a celebration of victory. You don’t do that if you know that your leader was cut down in his prime. No, these Christians all firmly believed, from Day One, that Jesus really had raised from the dead.

2. The content is far too counterproductive to be a legend.

The gospels especially are full of things that you would not make up if you wanted a legend to beef up your authority. The apostles are constantly portrayed as buffoons. They get theology wrong. ..... If you were writing yourself into a legend, would you make yourself look that foolish? ....

The gospels record that women were the first ones to see Jesus after his resurrection. A woman’s testimony was not accepted in court during those days, so if you were making up stuff to establish the truthfulness of a claim, you would not have made women your primary witnesses. The gospel writers put women as the first ones to see Jesus because, well, that’s what happened.

3. The literary form of gospels is too detailed to be legend.

This is probably my favorite. The gospels have a lot of random details that wouldn’t be in a legend, since they aren’t part of the moral meaning. So in Mark 4, Mark mentions that Jesus was sitting in a ship and there were a lot of other little ships. The other ships have nothing to do with the plot; they were just there.

Later on, in the midst of a really serious reflection on the Garden of Gethsemane, Mark records a detail about a guy running away naked (Mark 14:51–52). Why? Because it doesn’t matter what story you’re telling: if a naked man runs by, that’s going to end up in it.

These days, people writing fiction add details like this to make a story sound more believable, but that form of writing never occurred before the 18th century. ....

4. The message was itself too costly to be a legend.

As Blaise Pascal said, “I believe witnesses who have their throats cut.” The message that Jesus was Lord and had risen from the dead didn’t gain the apostles any power or prestige. In fact, it lead to nearly all of them getting killed.
To say that the apostles fabricated these stories means that they decided to invent a religion knowing it would end in their painful, humiliating deaths. ....

I don’t believe in Jesus based on blind faith. I believe in Jesus for the same reason these first believers did: because I am convinced the testimony of the apostles is true, that Jesus really did resurrect from the dead. And if Jesus really is alive, that changes everything. [more, including a link to the entire sermon]

"You don't have a soul..."

Matthew Lee Anderson cites this indicating that C.S. Lewis is often credited with something he never wrote and probably didn't believe:
The statement “You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body” makes the rounds, in a seemingly cyclical pattern, on the internet and in print. ....

The quotation cannot be found in Lewis’ writing. While several sources ascribe it to Mere Christianity, more responsible writers concede that the primary source is unknown. Given the central themes of Lewis’ fiction and non-fiction, we can safely say that he would never intend to convey the belief that our bodies are simply temporary shells. Readers and fans know that the worlds he created are deeply physical. The trees are alive; the animals speak; a roaring lion appears most clearly to a small child.  And the gods will not meet us until we have faces. ....

Many who have suspected the Lewis reference to be apocryphal credit the quotation to A Canticle For Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller’s 1959 science fiction novel, in which one of the characters asserts, “You don’t have a soul, Doctor. You are a soul. You have a body, temporarily.”

The mystery does not end there, however. If we keep going back through the sources, it becomes clear that not only was the sentiment common before Miller’s Canticle made it to print, but the exact phrasing can be found in multiple independent sources. ....

...[W]e find the quote attributed to George MacDonald.
“Never tell a child,” said George Macdonald, ‘you have a soul. Teach him, you are a soul; you have a body.’ As we learn to think of things always in this order, that the body is but the temporary clothing of the soul, our views of death and the unbefittingness of customary mourning will approximate to those of Friends of earlier generations.”
This attribution to George MacDonald finally, perhaps, begins to unveil how C.S. Lewis came to be associated with the statement, given Lewis’ reverence for the Scottish minister. ....
Anderson adds
...[O]ut of context–which is how the legions of people who pass it around Facebook and Twitter generally see it–the quote really does express a stunted vision of the human person in light of the resurrection.  My own intuition is to say something along the lines of, “You are a body.  But you’re a soul too.  And your human flourishing is contingent upon being a soul-bodied thing.”

At any rate, if you’re a writer, pastor, blogger, or anyone who is looking to for a good C.S. Lewis quote to invest your work with a little more authority…you’ll now have to turn elsewhere.  You’re welcome, internet. .... [more]

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Variations on a theme

Jason Todd, at RELEVANT Magazine, on "Why We Need Denominations":
.... Denominations are beautiful. While some within the Church see them as schismatic and unhelpful, I see them as lovely, imperfect variations on a single, pure theme. ....

Paul reminds the Corinthian church that he preached to them the pure, unadulterated Gospel. The Gospel is of first importance to the Church (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).

Opponents of denominations will argue that Paul is calling the Church to unite around the Gospel and forsake all other creeds and confessions. (“I’m not a (insert denominational label), I’m simply a Christian.” After all, denominations focus us on the secondary issues when what we need to focus on is the primary issue: the Gospel of Christ.

But rather than explicitly forbidding ecclesiastical denominations (a concept that didn’t even exist in the early church), Paul is reminding one local congregation in central Greece to focus on one thing as of first importance. He doesn’t say that other issues are not important. But he is reminding them of the overshadowing primacy of the Gospel.

The implied problem is that the Corinthians have forgotten to keep the main thing the main thing. ....

Within the realm of orthodox Christianity, denominations are the result of brothers and sisters disagreeing on secondary issues. Though we all rally around the preeminence of the Gospel (and are thus united), we differ on doctrines that are not of first importance. And so there are multiple expressions of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). There is one theme, many variations. And we can all learn to appreciate the varied tones of different voices. ....

.... Paul is condemning the elevation of a tradition or a human teacher above person and work of Christ. No one should be baptized into the name of Calvin, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

But if the Gospel is of first importance in a denomination, the Church will not be divided by denominations. The Church is a beautiful bride and she is adorned in many colors. Each color has as its base the blood of Jesus. And if she keeps her eyes on Him, the Church can dance to a hundred expressions of the same truth. [more]

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

If you've never read "Screwtape" ...

Casey Cep explains "Why Readers Love The Screwtape Letters", and why its fans are not limited to Christian believers:
.... Continuously in print since Lewis published it in 1942, the novel has been adapted into plays, made into a comic book, and recorded as an audio drama by John Cleese. Fox owns the film rights, and Ralph Winter, best known for blockbusters like “X-Men” and “Fantastic Four,” has said he will produce it. Three years ago, I saw one of the stage adaptations in New York, where it was shockingly difficult to get a ticket. I remember wondering then, as I have been again since Justice Scalia’s interview, why the novel is still so popular.

Its appeal, I think, comes from Lewis’s success in writing a theodicy of the everyday. .... “The Screwtape Letters” features a senior demon called Screwtape writing thirty-one letters of advice and encouragement to his inexperienced nephew, Wormwood, who is trying to win the soul of a nameless young man. ....

He wants nothing but the best for his nephew, an erring neophyte unversed in the finer methods of temptation. Screwtape is more than just a masterful theologian—he is a careful anthropologist. “When two humans have lived together for many years,” he tells his nephew, “it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other. Work on that.” Adultery seems excessive when furrowed eyebrows and dismissive tones can do the work of ruining relationships slowly: “Courtship is the time for sowing those seeds which grow up ten years later into domestic hatred.” ....

The greatest of these vice-for-virtue deceptions was achieved, Screwtape says, by “the admirable work of our Philological Arm in substituting the negative unselfishness for the Enemy’s positive Charity.” Couples are ideal for getting patients to resent the very individuals they most desired to show charity:
In discussing any joint action, it becomes obligatory that A should argue in favour of B’s supposed wishes and against his own, while B does the opposite. It is often impossible to find out either party’s real wishes; with luck, they end by doing something that neither wants, while each feels a glow of self-righteousness and harbours a secret claim to preferential treatment for the unselfishness shown and a secret grudge against the other for the ease with which the sacrifice has been accepted.
Another way of framing such failed virtues is to say that true temptation distracts from the present and directs to the future. Instead of appreciating your boyfriend’s preference for one television show over another or your wife’s desire to go for a walk instead of staying at home, you worry unsustainably about being the most unselfish of partners or scoring more points than your wife on the balance sheet of the relationship. “Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present,” Screwtape tells Wormwood, but “fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.” It’s perfect satire. ....

For believers, the letters are theology in reverse, teaching the love of God through the wiles of the Devil, but for all readers, regardless of belief, the letters frame human experience as a familiar sequence of trials, from how you take your tea and what parties you attend to the sort of person you choose for a partner and the sort of politics you espouse. As Justice Scalia said when he invoked “The Screwtape Letters,” “That’s a great book. It really is, just as a study of human nature.” The novel remains wildly popular because whether or not you agree with Lewis and Scalia that the Devil is real, the evils promoted by Screwtape—greed, gluttony, pride, envy, and violence—most certainly are. [more]

Monday, October 21, 2013

Hymns in the Reformation tradition

Reformation Day approaches and in a post titled "Reformation Hymnody," "The Catechizer" at The Wittenberg Door contrasts the emphases of hymns of the 16th and 17th centuries with much of what is sung in worship today: "Informed by the recovery of the great truths of Scripture, hymns of the Reformation were Christocentric and theologically astute. They not only aided in worship, but they also acted as a teaching tool." He provides a table of examples of such 16th and 17th century hymns (I added the links):
Hymn and Author
All People That On Earth Do DwellLouis Bourgeois, William Kethe
All Praise to God, Who Reigns AboveJohann Schutz
Now Blessed Be The Lord Our GodScottish Psalter
Ye Holy Angels BrightRichard Baxter
O Come, Let Us Sing to the LordScottish Psalter
Let us, With a Gladsome MindJohn Milton
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of CreationJoachim Neander
With Glory Clad, With Strength ArrayedTate and Brady's
The Lord's My ShepherdScottish Psalter
A Mighty Fortress Is Our GodMartin Luther
Now Thank We All Our GodMartin Rinkart, Johann Cruger
O God, We Praise Thee; and ConfessTate and Brady's
Lord, Keep Us Steadfast In Thy WordMartin Luther
Whate'er My God Ordains is RightSamuel Rodigast
O Thou My Soul, Bless God the LordScottish Psalter
O Lord, How Shall I Meet Thee?Paul Gerhardt, Melchior Teschner
Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of All NatureMunster Gesangbuch
Wondrous King, All-Glorious, Sov'reign Lord VictoriousJoachim Neander
I Greet Thee Who My Sure Redeemer ArtStrasbourg Psalter
Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates!Georg Weissel
Comfort, Comfort Ye My PeopleJohannes Olearius, Louis Bourgeois
All My Heart This Night RejoicesPaul Gerhardt, Johann Ebeling
The Wittenberg Door: Reformation Hymnody

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Creating atheists

Tom Gilson, of Ratio Christi, has been posting a series about Peter Boghossian, author of A Manual for Creating Atheists. Today's entry argues that churches should do a much better job preparing believers to confront the arguments of atheists:
.... Some atheists seem to think that atheism is a sort of default position that requires no proof to support it. Both anthropological and human developmental research, however, indicate that belief in God (or gods) is the human’s natural position. It takes effort to make an atheist. ....

...[T]he way to create atheists is to cause Christians to question why they believe. ....

...[I]t’s simple: just ask believers where they get their beliefs from, and then question whether that’s credible. You’re bound to see at least some believers realizing their faith is built on a vapor, and just giving up on it. ....

.... It’s as simple as asking, “Do you believe x about the faith?” — for example, Do you believe Jonah lived three days in the belly of the big fish? And then following that up with, If so, how do you know?

More often than not, the answer eventually turns out to be, “Because I have faith,” or, “Because the Bible says so,” or something similar. The problem is, both those answers work just as well in in Mormonism, Islam, or any other religion; or I should say, they work just as poorly in all faiths. There’s no substance to them. They’re bad reasons to believe. ....

This is how we’ve helped create atheists: we haven’t asked ourselves those same kinds of questions. We haven’t searched out the answers for ourselves. We haven’t trained the next generations to do it either. We’ve left ourselves wide open to doubt, just because we don’t know how to answer, “why do you believe?” ....

...I know why I believe that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again from the dead. I know why that’s an historically credible belief, and how it helps make sense of all reality. The resurrection really is the point, after all. Suppose the Jonah story were just an allegory, or suppose no one had any idea why they believed it was true. The resurrection trumps all that. If Jesus really lived, died, and rose again—and if we can really know that he did so—that’s enough to establish the reality of Christian belief. ....

Atheists are made, not born. Solid, firm believing Christians...are born, then born again in the Spirit, then made by good training. They know their reasons to believe because they’ve been taught. They know how to handle questions because they’ve been trained. They’ve studied: they know their reasons for believing in God, Jesus Christ, the historical reality of Christ’s death and resurrection, the trustworthiness of the Bible, and more. ....

Churches that take this training seriously produce believers who will stand solid, no matter what strategy atheists might throw at them—because they will know the truth, they will know that it really is true, and they will know why they know it’s true. [more]

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Self-serving pomposity

Kevin DeYoung reconsiders the thesis of a book I read soon after its publication, Elton Trueblood's The Humor of Christ (1964):
.... Trueblood, who pays close attention to the gospel narratives and dialogues, makes a convincing case that Christ often used irony, purposeful exaggeration, and humorous parables, and knew how to engage in witty conversations where he gave as good as he got.

In particular, Trueblood argues, Jesus exemplified the great virtue of helping others to laugh at vanity. Because humans are given the gift of self-consciousness, we are prone to pride and vanity. But with this self-consciousness also comes the ability to laugh at conceit.
Christ was demonstrating one of the universal elements of His humor when He served the cause of true religion by exposing the pompous person whose profession far exceeds his practice....Vanity is a great weakness of mankind in general, but it seems especially ludicrous when it appears among the professionally religious. The contradiction between man’s humility before God and his strutting before men is a perfect opening for ridicule, and Jesus employed it to perfection in the twenty-third chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. (35-36)
Satire, sarcasm, irony, hyperbole–these are dangerous weapons, only to be wielded in spiritual warfare with caution and with great aplomb. But they are to be wielded at times. To poke fun at the oh-so-important, the perpetually offended, and the self-righteously sentimental can be good, godly work. When it comes to poking at the pretensions of the proud, laughter is often the best medicine. Vanity cannot be reasoned with, but it can be mocked. In the presence of overwrought solemnity and self-serving pomposity, Christ shows that a little humor goes a long ways.  [more]
And, of course, we are often (I am often) in the position of the one who needed to be mocked.

Another of Trueblood's books I appreciated was A Place to Stand.

Dividing into Ten

Christians divide the Ten Commandments differently resulting in a misunderstanding that there are different lists. Polemical antagonists are apt to suggest that Christians are arbitrary in the choice of commands, not understanding our own beliefs. Actually the differences are without significance. The Catholic who blogs as The Lonely Pilgrim explains:
  • The listings of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 do not even state that there are ten of them; it is only elsewhere (cf. Exodus 34:28) that they are called the Ten Commandments. Taken by themselves, there are actually about fourteen imperative commands given by the Lord to Moses on Mount Sinai.
  • When the Church Fathers received this unnumbered, undivided lump of fourteen-ish commandments, it was up to them to formulate them into a list of “Ten,” grouping some commands with others to which they seemed to be related. And different Fathers arrived at different lists.
  • The Catholic Church follows the tradition of numbering established by St. Augustine — and has been since long before anybody numbered the verses. The Lutheran churches follow the same tradition. The Reformed, I suspect just to be contrary and anti-Catholic, were the ones who “changed” the Ten Commandments, adopting the numbering established by Eastern Christianity.
  • Rather than dividing “You shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not make for yourself any graven image” into two separate commandments, as do the Reformed and Evangelicals, Augustine saw that “making for oneself an idol and bowing before it” (Exodus 20:4) was but an elaboration of having other gods before God, and grouped the two into one commandment. In Catholic catechetical formulae, the “graven images” part is often omitted — not because we are abridging Scripture, but because it is easier for kids to memorize that way, and the part about “graven images” is pretty much redundant. Augustine instead divided “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house” and “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” into two commandments. .... [more]

Monday, October 14, 2013

"I note with grave displeasure..."

Not having read The Screwtape Letters in years, but remembering how much I enjoyed the book, I ordered The Screwtape Letters: Annotated Edition. It has come and I am reading. The annotations assume almost complete ignorance and, although I am possessed of only incomplete ignorance, I appreciate them, knowing that some readers will benefit more than I shall. I am enjoying the letters. 

From Letter 2:
My dear Wormwood,

I note with grave displeasure that your patient has become a Christian. Do not indulge the hope that you will escape the usual penalties; indeed, in your better moments, I trust you would hardly even wish to do so. In the meantime we must make the best of the situation. There is no need to despair; hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a brief sojourn in the Enemy's camp and are now with us. All the habits of the patient, both mental and bodily, are still in our favour.

One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. ....
The Screwtape Letters: Annotated Edition

Saturday, October 12, 2013

On October 10, 732 AD....

At NRO Raymond Ibrahim describes one of those consequential turning point events in history. Once upon a time every school child would have known of Charles Martel and the Battle of Tours:
Precisely 100 years after the death of the Prophet Mohammed in 632, his Arab followers, after having fought across thousands of miles and conquered lands from Arabia to Spain, found themselves in Gaul, the territory that would become modern-day France, facing a hitherto little-known people, the Christian Franks.

There, on October 10, in the year 732, one of history’s most decisive battles took place, demarcating the extent of Islam’s western conquests and ensuring the survival of the West. ....

...[T]he battle-hardened Frankish ruler, Charles, aware of their intentions, had begun rallying his liegemen to his standard. Having risen to power in France in 717 — the same year a mammoth Muslim army was laying siege to Byzantium — Charles appreciated the significance of the Islamic threat. Accordingly, he intercepted the invaders somewhere between Poitiers and Tours. The chroniclers give amazing numbers concerning the Muslims; some said as many as 300,000. Suffice it to say, the Franks were greatly outnumbered; most historians are content with the figures of 80,000 Muslims against 30,000 Franks.

The Muslim force consisted mainly of cavalry and was geared for offensive warfare. The vast majority being of Berber extraction, they wore little armor, though their elite Arab overlords were at least chain-mailed. For arms, they relied on the sword and the lance; arrows were little used.

Conversely, the Franks were primarily an infantry force (except for mounted nobles such as Charles). Relying on deep phalanx formations and heavy armor — reportedly 70 pounds for each man — the Franks were as immovable as the Muslims were mobile. They also appear to have had a greater variety of weaponry: The shield was ubiquitous, and arms included swords, daggers, javelins, and two kinds of axes, one for wielding and the other for throwing....

Writes an anonymous Arab chronicler: “Near the river Owar [Loire], the two great hosts of the two languages and the two creeds [Islam and Christianity] were set in array against each other. The hearts of Abd al-Rahman, his captains, and his men were filled with wrath and pride, and they were the first to begin to fight. The Muslim horsemen dashed fierce and frequent forward against the battalions of the Franks, who resisted manfully, and many fell dead on either side, until the going down of the sun.”

According to the Chronicle of 754, much of which was composed from eyewitness accounts, “The men of the north stood as motionless as a wall, they were like a belt of ice frozen together, and not to be dissolved, as they slew the Arab with the sword. The Austrasians [Franks], vast of limb, and iron of hand, hewed on bravely in the thick of the fight; it was they who found and cut down the Saracens’ king [Rahman].” ....

As night fell, the Muslims and Christians disengaged and withdrew to their tents. With the coming of dawn, the Franks discovered that the Muslims, perhaps seized with panic because their emir was dead, had fled south during the night — still looting, burning, and plundering all and sundry as they went. ....

...[A]ny number of historians...would go on to say that the Battle of Tours “must ever remain one of the great events in the history of the world, as upon its issue depended whether Christian Civilization should continue or Islam prevail throughout Europe.” .... [more]

Friday, October 11, 2013


The words of several of my favorite hymns were by William Cowper. Barton Swaim thinks it regrettable that Cowper isn't taken more seriously as a poet:
.... Cowper ought to be better known, but he won’t be. For one thing, his biography doesn’t hold one’s attention easily. Apart from his conversion to evangelical Christianity, friendship with John Newton, and three major bouts with depression and madness, his life passed without event; he lived in quiet seclusion for the bulk of it; indeed, apart from the hymns he wrote in 1771 and 1772, he didn’t even begin writing poetry in a serious way until he had reached his fifties. ....

.... It was Newton who concluded that Cowper needed something to do, and he urged him to write hymns. The result was a collection of sixty-seven hymns—the Olney Hymns, named for the village where Cowper lived at the time—that are among the best in English. Hymns are no longer taken seriously by literary scholars. (I once asked a highly regarded academic why the great hymn writers are ignored by scholars of English literature; his answer was that hymns are “committed,” as if a poem’s commitment to anything invalidates it.) But hymns have just as much right to be treated as poetry as the works of Shelley or Yeats. They are, for one thing, harder to write well than other forms because the poet doesn’t have the luxury of veering from the meter even by a syllable.

Cowper’s hymns, like those of Watts and Wesley, have a natural, fluid sound despite the confinement of the form—and often despite the presence of highly conceptual language. From “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”:
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill;
He treasures up his bright designs
And works his sovereign will [...]

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

When God seems silent

Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent by Ben Patterson is one of those books that significantly affected my understanding of why difficult things happen to believers in this life. From his introduction:
I write this book out of one central conviction: that at least as important as the things we wait for is the work God wants to do in us as we wait. The apostle Paul says we Christians are people who "rejoice in the hope of the glory of God" (Rom 5:2). Amazingly, the "glory of God" he refers to is the people we will have become when Christ returns, for it is God's good pleasure to one day reveal his glory in us. In fact, the pains of waiting are really the pangs of childbirth—our birth (Rom 8:18-23). Paul says we can therefore even rejoice in our sufferings, the things we must put up with as we wait, "because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Rom 5:3,4). In other words, God is doing a good work in us as we wait, producing in us things like perseverance and character and hope (see Jas 1:4).

The apostle Peter is more colorful. He compares our faith to gold that must be purified by fire. As we wait we suffer, but this happens so that our "faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Pet 1:7). Gold refined by fire: that's what the waiting is about. ....

To wait with grace requires two cardinal virtues: humility and hope. Humility comes from being very clear on the fact that God is God and we are merely his creatures. We are his beloved creatures, the crown of his creation, but we are still just creatures. Humility recognizes that we exist for God's sake, not he for ours. "From him and through him and to him are all things" (Rom 11:36). Only the humble can wait with grace, for only the humble know they have no demands they can lay on God and his world. Only they know life is a gift, not a right. Being humble is not the same as having a low self-esteem. On the contrary, It is having a sober and clear-headed grasp of the place we occupy in God's world. ....
Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent

Monday, October 7, 2013

Lewis at war

Before my parents bought a television we listened to radio drama. It provided voices, sound effects, and music, requiring our imaginations to supply the action. Radio drama has largely disappeared except for Focus on the Family's Radio Theater. Justin Taylor provides descriptions and links to many of their productions including a new one, C.S. Lewis at War: The Dramatic Story Behind 'Mere Christianity.'" Anyone who knows my interests will not be surprised to know that I have ordered the CD set, available on November 1. The Amazon description:
Mere Christianity, one of the greatest Christian books of the twentieth century, was created as a series of radio broadcasts in a time of great conflict and adversity. England had gone to war with Germany. Injury and death impacted everyone. Day-to-day living was immensely difficult. Children were evacuated from London and sent to other parts of the country (Lewis himself took in a few). It was a time of strain, heartbreak, and weariness.

The leaders at the BBC knew the nation needed a moral underpinning to face the crisis and embarked on an aggressive program to provide it. So they commissioned some of the greatest Christian minds to step up. Dorothy Sayers and Lewis agreed to help. From Sayers came the classic radio series Man Born To Be King and from Lewis the now-famous Broadcast Talks that became Mere Christianity. This behind-the-scenes drama integrates the ideas Lewis explored in Mere Christianity with the very real impact of living out a Christian life in a period of trauma: the conflicts pressed hard against the times of grace, compassion, the love of Christ shown to neighbors, and the reasons to trust in God when the world screams otherwise. This Radio Theatre production also touches on the essentials the faith and worldview, not merely as an academic exercise, but as a true life experience.
One of the cast members is John Rhys-Davies, familiar to those who have seen the Indiana Jones and  Lord of the Rings movies.

If you would like to pre-order C.S. Lewis at War: The Dramatic Story Behind Mere Christianity (Radio Theatre), ordering through this link would benefit me slightly.

Do you believe in Heaven and Hell?

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia says what orthodox Christians believe but are often reluctant to say these days. From his conversation with a New York Magazine interviewer:
You believe in heaven and hell?
Oh, of course I do. Don’t you believe in heaven and hell?
Oh, my.
Does that mean I’m not going?
[Laughing.] Unfortunately not!
Wait, to heaven or hell?
It doesn’t mean you’re not going to hell, just because you don’t believe in it. That’s Catholic doctrine! Everyone is going one place or the other.
But you don’t have to be a Catholic to get into heaven? Or believe in it?
Of course not!
Oh. So you don’t know where I’m going. Thank God.
I don’t know where you’re going. I don’t even know whether Judas Iscariot is in hell. I mean, that’s what the pope meant when he said, “Who am I to judge?” He may have recanted and had severe penance just before he died. Who knows?
Can we talk about your drafting process—
[Leans in, stage-whispers.] I even believe in the Devil.
You do?
Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.
Every Catholic believes this? There’s a wide variety of Catholics out there …
If you are faithful to Catholic dogma, that is certainly a large part of it.
Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?
You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.
It’s because he’s smart.
So what’s he doing now?
What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.
That has really painful implications for atheists. Are you sure that’s the ­Devil’s work?
I didn’t say atheists are the Devil’s work.
Well, you’re saying the Devil is ­persuading people to not believe in God. Couldn’t there be other reasons to not believe?
Well, there certainly can be other reasons. But it certainly favors the Devil’s desires. I mean, c’mon, that’s the explanation for why there’s not demonic possession all over the place. That always puzzled me. What happened to the Devil, you know? He used to be all over the place. He used to be all over the New Testament.
What happened to him?
He just got wilier.
He got wilier.
Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?
You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.
I hope you weren’t sensing contempt from me. It wasn’t your belief that surprised me so much as how boldly you expressed it.
I was offended by that. I really was.
I’m sorry to have offended you!
Have you read The Screwtape Letters?
Yes, I have.
So, there you are. That’s a great book. It really is, just as a study of human nature. ....

Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Bless our land..."

Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in Thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
[The Book of Common Prayer (1928)]

Friday, October 4, 2013

Metric theology

Kevin DeYoung summarizes a chapter by Harold Best explaining the value of the hymnbook in worship. "He explores eight reasons why 'the best hymnbooks are treasure troves of theology, prayer, Scripture, song, hymnic information, stylistic variety, and liturgical opportunity.'" Some selections from DeYoung's excerpts from Best:
1. The hymnbook is a servant of the Word of God. “The hymnbook is, in its own way, a comprehensive exegetic work; it is metric theology. Over centuries of thought and practice, hymn writers have virtually left no topical or theological stone unturned. ....

3. The hymnbook is also musically diverse. “Two thousand years of musical evolution are offered: chant, psalmody, carols, folk tunes, ethnic tunes, curving Welsh ballads and hearty English melodies, Germanic stoutness, French clarity, early American forthrightness, gospel tunes (both black and white), nineteenth-century sweetness, twentieth- and twenty-first-century freshenings and asymmetries." ....

6. The hymnbook is a working history of the church’s response to God in worship. “As the Word of God is read in a worship service, the hymns in that same service talk back to the Word and onward to God in faithful concord. In this sense, congregational song joins prayer and homily in prophesying: It speaks up, speaks out, and speaks truth." ....

8. The hymnbook is scholarly and surprisingly flexible. “One of the joys of going through a good hymnbook is to peruse its Scripture readings and lectionaries, stories, prefaces, indices, creedal statements, and devotional commentaries, suggested orders of worship, and prayers...."

The bottom line: “Therefore, with the Word as the center of all church song, the hymnbook as its singable exegetic companion, and a significant body of hymn-related church music, we have a living organism that is virtually without parallel in the life of the church.” [more]

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Screwtape Annotated

HarperOne's C.S. Lewis Blog describes a book I really want, to be published in about a week, The Screwtape Letters: Annotated Edition:
Have you ever wondered if the patient in The Screwtape Letters could actually see Bus #73 from the British Museum? Remember? It's when Screwtape distracted him away from his curiosity toward the things of God. How about the name Wormwood? Is there a reason for it? ....

The annotated edition of The Screwtape Letters is wonderful–and not only for the triviality mentioned above–but also because it does what the introduction says it would do: (1) it places the author's work in its historical context; (2) it helps to illuminate themes and ideas that would be explored in other works by Lewis; (3) it helps an American audience, especially, realize the meaning of English phrases or words that are not common–then or now–in the States. ....

I want to add three additional reasons: (1) the pointers to Scripture and the references to Anglicanism; (2) the careful citing of literary works that Lewis gleaned from or mentions in passing; (3) the many references that point to Lewis's other works and letters, which help to round out the idea in Screwtape. ....

So much is compressed into this edition, with the annotations nicely placed in red alongside the Lewis's text. I encourage you to pick up this edition whether you have Screwtape or not. .... [more]