- George Will
Evidently, he was asked to.
"I wish your project heartily well," wrote C.S. Lewis to Christianity Today, "but can't write you articles." Carl F.H. Henry, founding editor of the magazine, had invited Lewis in 1955 to contribute to the magazine's first issue. Lewis declined. Henry, was not, as the saying goes, "A day late and a dollar short." He was over a decade late, and no dollar amount would have mattered as Lewis gave the lion's share of his royalties to charity.This article got me thinking: which approach (or perhaps which mixture of approaches) is most needed now?
There was a time when Lewis would have said yes: when Nazi soldiers marched into Poland and threatened the stability of the world. Adolph Hitler's influence on C.S. Lewis' apologetics is an irrefutable fact. The Führer's evil campaign paved the way for the clear speaking Lewis to engage listeners through the British Broadcast Service. Even as bombs fell over London, Lewis' baritone voice could be heard on radios across Europe. His evangelistic approach was tailor-made for men at war.
Thus, Mere Christianity was born in the fullness of time. This classic work, though published in 1952, was taken from the transcripts of his broadcasts from the early 1940s. By the time the book was available in print, Lewis was already changing his approach. As Solomon said, "There is a time for war and a time for peace." Lewis modified his methods for both.
"But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world," Lewis later said of the power of fiction to present truth, "Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons?" Lewis thought so. And thus, his writing career focused on smuggling theology behind enemy lines. The enemies Lewis now faced were comfort and post-war apathy: He would strike at their imagination.
It would be easy for a young apologist to miss the brilliance of Lewis's creativity. Our day is marked by both war and peace, calling for a multifaceted and flexible line of attack. Herein the life and witness of Lewis provides many examples for evangelists today. While Lewis' articulation of the gospel took different paths, they all led to Christ. In so doing, he was able to take aim of both the head and the heart.
A "C.S. Lewis for the twenty-first century" must embody his apologetics in war and peace. As Lewis told one group of youth workers shortly before the end of World War II, "That is why we apologists take our lives in our hands and can be saved only by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments … from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself." If Lewis was falling back from his arguments, it could only mean one thing: Aslan was on the move.
This morning John Piper tweeted a Desiring God blog post by Tom Reinke, Top 12 books of 2012.
As I was perusing the list, I thought, It'd be wrong for Jared's book not to be on the list. Sure enough, here's number 10:
10. Jared Wilson, Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus (Crossway). Few young authors can drive the gospel into the modern life like Jared Wilson, and in 2012 he released what I think is his best book yet — Gospel Deeps. The title is taken from the writings of Puritan Thomas Goodwin (+10 points). This book, like its author, is endlessly tweetable: “If holiness makes you a sourpuss, you’re doing it wrong.” “If Christ is true, then boredom is a sin.” “We are saved from God to God by God through God for God. The godhead works in concert so that salvation will engulf you in God.” Any church with one of those removable letter signs will find all sorts of inspiration from this book. This is a serious book about the depths of grace in Christ, and it’s an edifying and enjoyable book on the rich delight of the gospel. Slowly reading through it two times are sweet memories I take from 2012.
That's what I'm talkin' about!
I already knew this when I saw two of my daughter's best friends in high school drift away from the Lord after reading The Fountainhead. I am a conservative in philosophy and voting patterns, but I get troubled by some of the Rand fanboy action going on in the (currently stalled) conservative movement.
Here's a Rand quote from our friend Phil over at the excellent Brandywine Books: Why Christians Should Stay Away from Ayn Rand. This is from an interview she did with Playboy:
Christ, in terms of the Christian philosophy, is the human ideal. He personifies that which men should strive to emulate. Yet, according to the Christian mythology, he died on the cross not for his own sins but for the sins of the nonideal people. In other words, a man of perfect virtue was sacrificed for men who are vicious and who are expected or supposed to accept that sacrifice. If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the non-ideal, or virtue to vice.The cross is a scandal, isn't it? So glad Christ sacrificed for non-ideal people like me.
That's how many hours are in a week. It doesn't matter if you're Bill Gates, President Obama, or a burger-flippin' teenager -- we all only have 168 hours per week.
I'm 36 years old. I've got a growing family (5 kids and the best wife ever!), a great job, a side business, 35 chickens, friends I like to spend time with, a newly begun ministry at church, and an insatiable desire to read. The more and more responsibility I get, the more I realize what a precious gift time actually is, and how easy it is to squander it. In fact, the most egregious sin in my life right now may be the way I routinely waste hours and hours of precious, God-given, irreversible time.
In Don't Waste Your Life, John Piper calls TV “The Great Life Waster.” Is he wrong? I haven't read any Ray Bradbury, but according to a recent New York Times piece, Bradbury's nearly 60-year-old classic Fahrenheit 451 was, to say the least, prescient:
Most of all, Mr. Bradbury knew how the future would feel: louder, faster, stupider, meaner, increasingly inane and violent. Collective cultural amnesia, anhedonia, isolation. The hysterical censoriousness of political correctness. Teenagers killing one another for kicks. Grown-ups reading comic books. A postliterate populace. “I remember the newspapers dying like huge moths,” says the fire captain in “Fahrenheit,” written in 1953. “No one wanted them back. No one missed them.” Civilization drowned out and obliterated by electronic chatter. The book’s protagonist, Guy Montag, secretly trying to memorize the Book of Ecclesiastes on a train, finally leaps up screaming, maddened by an incessant jingle for “Denham’s Dentifrice.” A man is arrested for walking on a residential street. Everyone locked indoors at night, immersed in the social lives of imaginary friends and families on TV, while the government bombs someone on the other side of the planet. Does any of this sound familiar?
Not only is all of the above “vanity” (to borrow a word from the Preacher of Ecclesiastes), it's a case study in a society that values banality, superficiality, and, of course, a cultural zeitgeist that nurtures a deep lack of respect for a most precious non-renewable resource: time. Is the world of “Fahrenheit” much different from modern day America?
Of course, TV isn't a bogeyman. Wisely (and sparingly) used, TV can actually be a source of education, real information, and God-honoring entertainment. The same can be said for other time-wasting outlets: the Internet, smart phones, video games, pop fiction, magazines, etc.
I'm not an expert on this topic, but I'd like to suggest a few ideas on how to make the most of the time God has given us:
- Go to bed at a decent hour. Nothing good or productive happens after midnight. Back when I was a porn addict, 99% of my licentious surfing was done under the cover of darkness.
- Get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep. As antithetical as it may sound, skimping on sleep is one of the worst ways to waste time. God designed our bodies to need 7 to 8 hours of sleep on a consistent, nightly basis.
- Get up early and spend time in prayer and Bible reading. I typically get up about 6 to 6:15 a.m., and my time with Jesus in the morning is, without doubt, my favorite time of the day.
- Schedule your time. I'm horrible at this. I detest schedules and feel like a schedule is a slave master. I'm learning, though, that the best thinkers and most effective people in the world use schedules.
- Turn off the TV. Make it a point to keep the TV off for a week. In that time, seek God, pray, spend time with family and friends. You'll become addicted to real life, and TV will begin to sound like noise.
- Think about your funeral. Think about how you want to be remembered when you're six feet under. Do you want to be remembered as the gal who never met a sitcom she didn't like? As the guy who watched every inning of every MLB baseball season? (The incomparable Stephen Covey calls this, “Beginning with the end in mind.”)
- Ask yourself, “How can I glorify God today?” Just asking the question opens up a range of seemingly infinite possibilities.
Now go forth and live life.
“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
I'd like some recommendations on books dealing with entrepreneurship and/or leadership. I'd like to hear about paradigm-changing books – stuff that has changed your life. Either from a Christian or non-Christian point-of-view is fine, because, as Justin Martyr said, “All truth wherever it is found belongs to us as Christians.”
I'm looking for a talented illustrator for potential collaboration on a children's book for publication.
Story is urban-set and will be a simple gospel-shaped un-tidy tale of heartwarming awesomeness.
I am specifically looking for illustration style along the lines of Maurice Sendak, Pauline Baynes, or Wes Anderson films. Vivid, simple, whimsical, retro vibe. Please no anime or cartoons or computer-generated graphics.
If this might be you, email me at jared AT gospeldrivenchurch DOT com and please have samples you can message me or direct me to online.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss linked to the above article on Twitter this morning.
The only thing I know about the book is it's been #1 in the Kindle store for a few weeks now, usurping The Hunger Games a while back.
After perusing the linked article, I read the synopsis of the book on Amazon.com.
"Erotic, amusing, and deeply moving ..."
"...the Fifty Shades Trilogy is a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever."
Today Justin Taylor highlighted a two year-old post from Phil Johnson, in which Johnson responds to a question about the process of turning a preacher's sermons into a polished book manuscript. Justin called Phil's post a "reality check," and it is. There is good, hard advice there to anyone interested in what it might take to do this sort of editorial work. But as one of the commenters in that old post pointed out, Phil didn't exactly answer the question: How does it work? So I'll be your huckleberry.
Over the last 6-7 years, I have worked on numerous book projects for pastors, some you're familiar with and some you aren't. I'm not new to the work. (Matt was just the first guy to put my name on the cover; I've never ever asked for that recognition.) I have worked on bad books and good books -- which is to say, I've worked with bad sermons and good sermons. So the level of work it takes sometimes to turn a sermon transcript (the word-for-word script of what a preacher said from the pulpit) into a book chapter (a polished work of composition suitable for submission to a publisher) changes from project to project, but the process itself is fairly standard. Here's sort of how it breaks down.
1. Know what good writing sounds like and how to produce it. This is the first hardest step, and there are a billion little details involved in getting there. Lots of guys write books who have no business doing it. And anybody with a basic grasp of grammar -- and plenty of people who don't -- can take a transcript and noodle it around to look like a book chapter. But it will sound less resonant than the original sermon, not more. I call this the "toaster manualization" of Christian literature. You know, when you pick up a book by a famous Christian preacher and it doesn't sound much like their preaching? And in fact, it doesn't sound like a particularly interesting book at all? And you're like, but I love this guy's preaching! Why is this book so . . . bland? It's because some guy with good technical writing skills but little familiarization with the white-hot furnace of essential speech (to paraphrase Lewis, natch) has hammered the sword into a ploughshare. That's why. He made a toaster manual. If that's you, you can probably eke out a good living doing it. That's the good news. But if that's not you, or if that's you and you stared at my toaster manual lines like a dog at himself in a mirror, it'd be equally awesome if you decided to do something else. We don't need any more toaster manuals.
Pardon the manifesto. Ahem.
2. Underneath the ability to write well, however, is the foundation of good mechanics. Could you turn out a decent toaster manual, if you had to? Know yeself some grammer, duh. Are your word processor's spell and grammar check functions your first line of defense? Then this work is not for you. If you're a good writer, you can fudge on this a little bit. For instance, I like to make words up. And play with sentence fragments. Et cetera. If you happen to be an excellent writer, you can even convince the publisher's editor(s) that that's okay. It's art, for Pete's sake! But as my 11th grade English teacher Mrs. Woolley once taught us when we objected to Faulkner's getting away with all the same stuff she marked up with her red pen on our papers, once you know what you're doing, you can not do it now and then. But you gotta know the laws before you can play around with them. And knowing them means knowing which ones not to play with. Like, for instance: Its/it's. Their/there/they're. What commas do. What semicolons do. What exclamation points do. (That last one was a trick question. Don't use exclamation points!)
3. Take the transcript and delete any "church business" or prayers that appear in the introduction or conclusion. You may have to also delete the entire introduction and conclusion, because preachers don't often introduce or conclude sermons the way book chapters are introduced and concluded. The guys who tend to manuscript their sermons often do; but most guys don't. If the transcriber is a legalist, you'll also have to delete a bunch of "uh"'s and "um"'s. But most transcribers know not to include those.
4. Listen to the actual message, perhaps several times, to get an ear for the fellow's voice. This is less necessary if you're already familiar with his preaching voice. As an example, I only listened to a couple of the audio versions of the messages Matt preached that became The Explicit Gospel. I've been listening to Matt's preaching for several years now, so I hear him when I read him already. And some of the material in the book, as others have noted, is not new to those who are familiar with the theme of his ministry. A couple of other guys I worked for I had never heard or even heard of, so it was a lot more work. But knowing the preacher's voice will help you find the holy grail of this entire process: making the sermon read like a quality book while simultaneously sounding like the preacher, not the editor. So find some fairie dust or scrounge up some magic beans if you need to, but get into the preacher's voice as best you can.
5. Know what to add and what to subtract. We're talking editing now. Many good sermons have decent illustrations but books require better ones. And documented ones. This is probably the chief work of actual writing I do. There is also the fleshing out of existing points and the shaving down of unnecessary tangents. Preaching and writing are related arts, but they are also quite different. What may fly from the pulpit may not from the page, and vice versa of course. Sometimes you've got an extraordinary bit of preaching that sings extra well from the page -- I felt that Matt's "Jesus wants the rose" bit was like that. I didn't want to mess with that too much. It was near-perfect as it was, plus it had the added benefit of being so iconic, so widely-recognized that to mess with it seemed anathema. This is why it's an art, not a science. But you will also need to know the science of research. Sermons don't often come with documented quotes or lengthy passages from secondary sources. In most respects, this process is about making the sermon better -- not as a sermon, but as a message. You're allowed more length, so there's more room to develop engaging narratives in illustrations, defend claims with research, do more exegesis, and the like. You also have to work at weaving into every chapter a continuity that often doesn't exist in individual sermons, even if they're in the same series. Many times, the preacher's attempts at creating continuity between sermons in a series are just plain clunky in a book. The continuity is more explicit in a sermon; in a book you want to get into the "narrative" of the work. Even non-fiction books tell a story. That's what you want to find and ride like a hawk on thermal wind. When you get better at this, you can take a 4-page sermon transcript and a 14-page sermon transcript and turn them both into subsequent 20-page book chapters without losing the preacher's voice or adding too much of your own.
6. Don't ghostwrite unless you want to feel dead inside. I define ghostwriting as actually writing a book or most of a book for somebody who then contributes little more than their name to the project. Ew. If you're fine with ghostwriting, you're probably already dead inside.
That's a start, practically speaking. Go revisit Johnson's piece for the Scared Straight version. Phil says this work is "literally harder" than writing your own material from scratch. That isn't always true in my experience, but it is at least equally hard. And many times, the actual physical labor in this work is less time-consuming than writing my own stuff, but the emotional toll is heavier. As a writer, it is wearying trying to write in someone else's voice.
... though I've never met them.
1. C.S. Lewis. I feel like the man is my brother. When I read his work, I'm mentally transferred to the man's family room, pipe in hand, shoes kicked off, ready to bask in his intelligent warmth. I truly feel love for Lewis -- a strange, beautiful feeling.
2. John Piper. Here's another man who I love dearly, though I've only known him through his sermons and writings. If Lewis is like a brother to me, Piper is like a father. His wisdom resonates through my soul, and his prophetic voice convicts me and forces me to cheer, because the world -- especially the Christian world -- needs prophets like John Piper.
3. Bono. I dare say he's the greatest poet of his generation. His voice, mind, and pen have provided the soundtrack for my life. He's not a moral giant and he's not a preacher, but in his own realm his voice is prophetic. I love him like a brother, and hope to meet him one day.
For all of the men mentioned above, the feeling I have for them really is love. That's what makes them more than just, in my mind, good writers, preachers, or musicians. They're like dear friends.
1. Spending quality time with family, close friends, or the Son of God.
2. Reading. It's by far the best use of non-relational leisure time. Drop the video game controller. Turn off the boob tube. Pick up a piece of literature. :-)
From my infancy I was passionately fond of reading, and all the money that came into my hands was laid out in the purchasing of books.
-- Benjamin Franklin
3. Playing chess.
Four daughters, one clueless dad, and his quest to win their hearts.
"Let's be honest. I am completely unqualified to write an advice book.Thus begins the prologue to Daddy Dates, and it is in this vein that Greg Wright launches into his book. While I may differ with him on his qualifications, I like the tone. He is not a person who would normally be writing an advice book. Greg Wright is a professional coach, speaker, and - from all indications - all around regular guy from Austin. But in my opinion he is imminently qualified to have written this book because he's a dad who obviously loves his four daughters dearly.
This book had me at hello, mainly because I'm a huge fan of what we also in my family call "Daddy dates". I'm a dad of two daughters and two sons. Though both my daughters are out of the house now - one is married and one is away at college - I have treasured memories of many, many Daddy dates with Molly and Bethany.
Wright gets the importance of dating your daughters. The epiphany came to him, as he writes in his chapter "the tree and me", early on. As he sat under a tree, trying to make sense of his mission as a dad of four daughters, he began thinking about what he did when he met his wife.
And then it struck me that when I met my wife, I didn't know anything about her either, but I was lovestruck and did what a guy does when he thinks she's "the one." I made it my mission to find out what she liked so I could be her hero. (Or at least have a shot at being one.) I decided to discover who she really was and what she loved and feared and wanted in life. I pursued knowing her with gusto and wound up with the woman who gave me the greatest gifts of my life.This book is a chronicle of Wright's pursuit to really know his daughters. He is a creative guy, and obviously one who thrives on relationships, but the book is not a systematic approach to dating your daughter. In fact, though he offers many very good and creative ideas that any dad who is in earnest about this can use to build a better relationship with his daughters, Wright continues to reinforce the basics:
So here's the core list. Do call her up and formally ask for the date. Do hold the door for her. Do tell her she looks nice. Do have her choose the music in the car. Do give her a flower. Do talk to her. But more important, listen and ask follow up questions and share some personal - but appropriate - things about yourself.Later, in the chapter "tweening", he writes:
And snap a few photos once in a while. You don't want to forget how she smiled at her daddy, especially in a pretty red dress with roses on it.
- From the chapter "good to go"
The whole point of a Daddy Date is not so she'll experience your world, but so you will experience hers. If she hates bowling, then don't take her any place with ten pins and bad chili. If she doesn't like wings, don't go to Pluckers. If she doesn't dig your music, then don't play it.The book is a quick read, often funny, and, though it is organized, sort of, into, chapters that progress through the eras of a daughter's life, it is casual and conversational in tone. You can read it in a day.
You can torture the family with all that stuff in a group.
If you're the dad of a daughter, you should read it. This book resonated well with me. Greg Wright knows what he's talking about, not because he's read research on this subject, but because he's lived it. I've seen it myself; as someone who has worked with students for many years, I can tell you that there is a tremendous - and heartbreaking - difference between a girl whose father not only loves her, but knows her and has pursued that knowledge and has cherished and protected and honored her, versus the girl who has been denied that type of father.
I highly recommend Daddy Dates.
It took me awhile to realize that parenting isn't a business, though, and after I drafted pages and pages of lofty language, I finally drilled my Dad Mission Statement down to three simple words.
Don't screw up.
Yeah, that works.
- final paragraph of the chapter "the tree and me"
[Full disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Daddy Dates for review from Greg Wright's publicity assistant]
These aren't all 2011 releases, as you will see, but they are the ten best books I read this year.
(Honorable Mention: Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I'm 2/3 of the way through it, and it would easily be on this list if I finish it before the end of the year.)
10. In the Woods by Tana French
When I first finished this novel, I wanted to throw it across the room. I tweeted what a ripoff it was and several other readers agreed with me. Then I couldn't stop thinking about it. And now I'm convinced that the thing I thought the book didn't reveal was actually revealed, only hiddenly in the book. In any event, no book this year has provoked such disgust in me and at the same time kept me hanging on, searching it out, chewing on it.
9. Reclaiming Adoption edited by Dan Cruver
Short, but comprehensive and powerful. This collection of essays by Cruver, John Piper, Scotty Smith, et.al. show us the shape of God's heart for us and the outline of the Christian heart for orphans.
8. Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis
Not anywhere close to Lewis's best work, I nevertheless profited from his writing here as I always do. He is faithful to present with awe and insight the "anatomy of the soul" (Calvin) held in the biblical Psalms.
7. Future Men by Douglas Wilson
I don't have boys, but I really enjoyed this book on raising them. I used it off and on in our church men's group, and together we alternately fought with Wilson's ideas and nodded our heads in vigorous agreement with them. If I had boys, I'd find this book invaluable. And Wilson can flat-out write, of course.
6. The Bookends of the Christian Life by Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington
The truth about the Christian life -- how the gospel works, how we work in the gospel -- put simply and succinctly. I would recommend this to every believer. It's like a hundred books on idolatry, gospel-centrality, and sanctification condensed into one readable little companion that replaces them all.
5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I've read this classic twice before but wanted a refresher before the latest movie adaptation debuts next year. Fitzgerald at his coy, rhythmic, biting best. I also read his This Side of Paradise this year (for the first time) and found it dreadful -- dull and bothersome. I find it hard to believe, actually, that the same guy who wrote that navel-gazing tribute to ennui wrote this insightful indictment of (basically) idolatry. One of a few genuine American masterpieces.
4. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Speaking of American masterpieces, we could talk about the serious Huckleberry Finn, but I prefer the whimsical, engrossing Tom Sawyer. I've loved this book since I was a little boy and as I re-read it this year, I found myself transported not just to the Mississippian stomping grounds of scamps and scoundrels but to the floor of my boyhood home and the couch of my grandmother's house, two places I vividly remember drinking in the adventures of Tom, Huck, Polly, Becky Thatcher, Injun Joe, Muff Potter, and the whole gang. Twain plays on the frequency my imagination is tuned to.
3. Jonathan Edwards on Revival
This is actually the publication title given to this volume containing three of Edwards' works: "A Narrative of Surprising Conversions," "The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God," and "An Account of the Revival of Religion in Northampton 1740-1742." I first read this book while going for jury duty in Houston, Texas, in about 1995. At that time I was a youth minister for a Willow Creek model church; I was interested in theology and wanted to be interested in Edwards, but I had no mental nor spiritual framework for the material in this book. Nevertheless I have held on to it for all these years. Now I'm in New England and wondering what it might take for God to grant the favor of revival to this land again. Edwards' book is stirring for the desperate.
2. The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders
I consider it brilliance when someone says an old (but uncommon thing) in fresh ways, and this is what Sanders has done. For all those who believe in the Trinity but can't for the life of them see how it might be practical. And for those who think "making the Trinity practical" can't possibly come out to anything deeply theological. Oh, read the thing. It's fantastic. Read it in February and thought, "I won't read a better nonfiction book this year, I bet," and I was right.
1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
My lands, y'all. To my shame, I'd never read this before. I laughed and cried. Literally. In public.
Turn aside the burning blush
let the fire settle from thy smothered eyes.
Let grace like silent snow fall
and cool thy singed soul.
This is truth and grace abundant
that in the midst of despair
is the gentle hand, the turning sound,
the path made straight again.
Step away from the immolation
shame is not your birthright
You are a new generation
and the dawn is a gentle light.
On this day in 1963 the world lost C.S. Lewis. (Aldous Huxley also died the same day, but both deaths were overshadowed by the assassination of President John Kennedy.) Every year on this date, I've run some variation of a tribute to the greatest Christian writer of the twentieth century, but this year a little something different. A list of what Lewis has taught me over the years:
1. Wonder. My first introduction to Lewis was not the Chronicles of Narnia, actually, but as a child, Out of the Silent Planet. It was completely weird and wonderful. When I got to Narnia shortly thereafter -- I was about 8 or so, probably -- I consumed each book one after another lustily, like a compendium of Turkish delight. Lewis' space capsules and English manses and wardrobes and attic spaces grabbed ahold of me, broadcasting where my neurons were tuned, man. I was the kid who saw a treasure map on the back of a box of Cap'n Crunch cereal and was convinced it led to buried valuables in my Brownsville, Texas neighborhood. Reading the Space Trilogy (well, the first two books when I was little, the third well into high school) and Narnia was like warp speed.
2. Reason. Even Lewis's fiction is chock-full of logic. "Don't they teach that in schools any more?" the Professor says to the Pevensies when they don't believe Lucy's fantastic story. Lewis's faith was full of wonder but was, also, entirely reasonable, and in the 80's when the apologetic industry was dominated by Josh McDowell and burgeoning creation science (Lee Strobel hadn't hit the scene just yet), I was ingesting The Abolition of Man and Mere Christianity. And probably the most influential non-fiction work of his for me is his collection of essays named after "God in the Dock." The article "Myth Became Fact" is one of my all-time favorite short pieces, fiction or non, and offered a complementary weight to one of my favorite lines in Perelandra, which I quote probably way too much in all the stuff I write. (Ransom understood that myth is "gleams of celestial beauty and strength falling on a jungle of filth and imbecility.") Lewis helped me make sense of this polytheistic, pluralistic world. His classic trilemma in Mere Christianity just made sense. His own logic and reason is not airtight of course, but he approached Christianity not just as a worshiper but as a thinking worshiper, and he therefore becomes an invaluable asset for relentlessly scrutinizing young men and women who are sorting out their faith.
3. Artistry. Homeboy could flat-out write. And when he wrote, he exulted. In his own words:
"when the old poets made some virtue their theme, they were not teaching but adoring, and . . . what we take for the didactic is often the enchanted."When I was in the first grade, my class filled out these little booklets that chronicled our favorite subjects, foods, games, etc. and one of the questions was "What do you want to be when you grow up?" My six year old hand wrote Author in that blank, and through a series of adolescent aspirations and a call to vocational ministry I have never not wanted to be a writer of books. Lewis threw gasoline on that childish ambitious fire, and he showed me over and over again what words can do. His writing was show and tell for me, displaying in so many beautiful, confident ways how literary pursuit is worship.
Below are some excerpts from Parchment and Pen's C Michael Patton: Why Do We Love C.S. Lewis and Hate Rob Bell?.
First of all, no one hates Rob Bell (or at least they should not). But, speaking for myself, I am very comfortable handing out C.S. Lewis books by the dozens while I don’t keep a stock of Bell books on hand. There is not a book that Lewis wrote that I don’t encourage people to read and grow from. Even A Grief Observed, where Lewis attempts to retain his faith in God, questioning everything, in the middle of the crucible of doubt and pain, is one of my favorite books to give to people who are hurting. But I doubt I would ever recommend one of Bell’s works to establish someone in the faith. In fact, I might only recommend them for people to see “the other side.” Let me put it this way (and I must be very careful here): While I fully embrace and endorse the ministry of C.S. Lewis, I do not endorse or embrace the ministry of Rob Bell.The comments thread is also quite interesting.This post reminded me of some earlier conversations in this space regarding why so many of us are willing to enthusiastically accept C.S. Lewis while disdaining works by guys like Bell. I think Patton has done a good job defining the differences. I love the analogy of the chorus versus the stanzas.
You see, while C.S. Lewis has a great deal of theological foibles, his ministry is defined by a defense of the essence of the Gospel. The essence of who Christ is and what he did are ardently defended by Lewis, saturating every page of his book. His purpose was clear: to defend the reality of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. All other things set aside, this is what you leave with every time you read Lewis. The problematic areas are peripheral, not central. One has to look hard to find the departures from traditional Protestant Christianity. They are not the subject of his works and do not form the title of his books.
However, with Rob Bell, the essence of who Christ is and what he did seem to be secondary. One has to look for them as they weed through his defense of non-traditional Christianity. Whereas Lewis’ ultimate purpose is to define and defend “mere” Christianity, Bell’s “mere” Christianity is but a footnote to a redefined Christianity. Bell’s focus is to challenge, question, change, reform, and emerge from traditions that bind us. Traditional apologetics, orthodoxy, and foundations are brought into question from beginning to end. Christ’s reality, deity, exclusivity, and the hope of the Gospel proclaimed receive an occasional footnote (if at all) with Bell.
Another way to put this is to say that in the ministry of C.S. Lewis the central truths of the Christian faith are the chorus of his song with an occasional problem in the stanza. However, with Bell, the chorus of his song is filled with challenges to tradition Christianity and if you listen really close to the stanza, you might get an occasional line of orthodoxy.
. . .
And it is not just Rob Bell that is at issue. There are dozens of popular writers, pastors, bloggers, and authors who are singing the same chorus. They give lip service to the essence of Christianity, but from their platform it is only peppered in here and there. I think that this is the core problem with what is/was known as the “emerging church.” It was not that we are against rethinking, reimagining, reforming, or any other “re”, it is that this became the central focus of the movement. Christ, the cross, sin, righteousness, and all other elements that create the essence of who we are became the subject of challenge or mere lines in the song. This is why I distinguish between, say, Brian Mclaren and Dan Kimball, who both, early on, were considered part of the “emerging church”. Dan Kimble, like C.S. Lewis, though he challenges some things here and there, is committed to the essence of the historic Christian faith. Truth, doctrine, love, and righteousness are found in everything he does. They are the chorus. Whereas with Mclaren, traditional Christian belief and practice form more of (what seems to be) an embarrassing afterthought that are proclaimed only under duress.
This is why I don’t like the comparison of C.S. Lewis with Rob Bell. There is no comparison.
For my part, I've always thought the comparison between Lewis and modern emergent writers to be silly. As soon as one of them can produce a work rivaling Mere Christianity or Perelandra, we'll talk.
First of all, yesterday was Thinkling Phil's birthday! (You may know him as Shrode.) Happy (belated) Birthday, Phil!
My new book Gospel Wakefulness is now available. (Apparently Oct. 31 was a "soft" street date.) It is now for sale via Amazon, B&N, LifeWay, etc. Cheapest price I've seen lately is at WTS Bookstore. It's also available in e-versions.
If you're so inclined to buy it, thank you and I hope you like it!
Long time blog-friend Scott Roche of Spiritual Tramp is offering to give away a copy his YA scifi novel Ginny Dare: Crimson Sands * to the winner of a competition/drawing here on Thinklings. Here's how this will work:
I am resurrecting the idea behind one of our most heavily commented posts from back in the day: Blog-free Association post. It's very simple; I am going to seed the comments thread with a single word. Feel free to comment with whatever word my word brings to your mind. Then the next person can free-associate off of your word. **
We'll do a drawing in one week to see who wins the book. The drawing will be random but weighted based on how many comments each person leaves.
* You can read the first couple of chapters of Scott's book online, here
** Yes, this is me shamelessly jonesing for a very large comments count.
What are the essential American novels?
Thinking of books not just by American authors but that capture a significant aspect of the American experience relative to the author's historical place.
The Scarlet Letter by Hawthorne
Moby Dick by Melville*
Huckleberry Finn by Twain
Intruder in the Dust by Faulkner
To Kill a Mockingbird by Lee
The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck
Blood Meridian by McCarthy
The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald
The Rabbit Angstrom Novels by Updike
White Noise by DeLillo
American Pastoral by Roth
The New York Trilogy by Auster
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay by Chabon
What would you add? Go.
* I confess to not having read this one but plan to soon.
From Sarah Vowell's engaging history of the Puritans, The Wordy Shipmates:
When John Cotton's grandson, Cotton Mather, wrote his Ecclesiastical History of New England in 1702, he told a story about [John] Winthrop that I would like to believe is true. In the middle of winter, Boston was low on fuel and a man came to the governor complaining that a "needy person" was stealing from his woodpile. Winthrop mustered the appropriate outrage and requested that the thief come see him, presumably for punishment. According to Mather, Winthrop tells the man,"Friend, it is a severe winter, and I doubt you are but meanly provided for wood; wherefore I would have you supply yourself at my woodpile till this cold season be over." And Winthrop then merrily asked his friends whether he had not effectually cured this man of stealing his wood.
Justin Taylor shares fantastic words on what words can do in service of our Savior:
In an address on Christian eloquence John Piper wrote:The attempt to craft striking and beautiful language makes it possible that the beauty of eloquence can join with the beauty of truth and increase the power of your words. When we take care to create a beautiful way of speaking or writing about something beautiful, the eloquence—the beauty of the form—reflects and honors the beauty of the subject and so honors the truth. The method and the matter become one, and the totality of both becomes a witness to the truth and beauty of the message. If the glory of Christ is always ultimately our subject, and if he created all things, and if upholds all things, then bringing the beauty of form into harmony with the beauty of truth is the fullest way to honor the Lord.John Calvin is an exemplary model of this. His beautiful and arresting prose, saturated with biblical truth, can capture the mind and heart more than prosaic prose which clunks to the ground.
For example, consider this section of his preface to Pierre-Robert Olivétan’s 1535 translation of the Bible.
“To all those who love Christ and his gospel,” Calvin writes:Without the gospelOr consider this section from Institutes 3.16.19, where he explains that “We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ [Acts 4:12]. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else.”
everything is useless and vain;
without the gospel
we are not Christians;
without the gospel
all riches is poverty,
all wisdom, folly before God;
strength is weakness, and
all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God.
But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made
children of God,
brothers of Jesus Christ,
fellow townsmen with the saints,
citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven,
heirs of God with Jesus Christ,
the poor are made rich,
the weak strong,
the fools wise,
the sinners justified,
the desolate comforted,
the doubting sure, and
The gospel is the Word of life.If we seek salvation
we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is “of him.”
If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit,
they will be found in his anointing.
If we seek strength,
it lies in his dominion;
in his conception;
it appears in his birth. For by his birth he was made like us in all respects that he might learn to feel our pain.
If we seek redemption,
it lies in his passion;
in his condemnation;
if remission of the curse,
in his cross;
in his sacrifice;
in his blood;
in his descent into hell;
if mortification of the flesh,
in his tomb;
in newness of life,
in his resurrection;
in the same;
if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom,
in his entrance into heaven;
if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings,
in his Kingdom;
if untroubled expectation of judgment,
in the power given to him to judge.
In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain and from no other.