Categories
The End of Many Books

Taking God at His Word

Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me

by Kevin DeYoung

In Taking God at His Word DeYoung shows not only that the Bible is trustworthy, but tasty. As he says, this isn’t a book about hermeneutics and how to interpret Scripture, yet it is a delightful and encouraging book about why we should believe it and believe that we can understand it. Here’s a few questions he asks:

“Is God wise enough to make himself known? Is he good enough to make himself accessible? Is he gracious enough to communicate in ways that are understandable to the meek and lowly? Or does God give us commands we can’t understand and a self-revelation that reveals more questions than answers?”

DeYoung answers these thoroughly and throughout the book. In particular his chapter on “Christ’s Unbreakable Bible” is an excellent demonstration of how the incarnate Word viewed and used the inspired Word.

I was edified by reading this, and would highly recommend it for Christians who are young in age (junior high/high school) and certainly for those who are new in their discipleship to Christ. Get in the Word, and let it get in you (per Colossians 3:16).

4 of 5 stars

Categories
The End of Many Books

Forged from the Reformation

How Dispensational Thought Advances the Reformed Legacy

Edited by Christopher Cone and James Fazio

The “BUT WHO IS REALLY REFORMED???!” might be the most annoying, least productive discussion in Protestant and Calvinistic circles. So … LET ME ADD TO IT!!!?

I’m being playful, but I’m not really joking. It’s also not really my fault. I recently finished reading Forged from the Reformation: How Dispensational Thought Advances the Reformed Legacy. So let’s blame the editors, Christopher Cone and James Fazio. Why did they make me want to read this book?

The book begins with some history of the Reformation, especially focused on Martin Luther as the initial human spark-plug/lightening rod, followed by some history of John Nelson Darby as a similar character to Luther in his own place and time. After that most of the book defines the five solas and then argues—persuasively from my perspective—which group of Protestants have been most consistent in carrying on those Reformation solas. Spoiler: semper Reformanda belongs to the Dispies.

What?! How?! Dispies are usually defined as the hill-billy, bunker-building, rapture-theory, crazy second-cousins of the Reformed. So the “Reformed” are not actually the heirs of the Reformers?

Again, yeah, them’s fighting words. But, take sola Scriptura. If Scripture is the ultimate authority (over Roman Catholic Popes and Councils), then why would Christians be bound to confess some (very helpful but uninspired) documents written by some guys in West London in the mid 1600s? And if Scripture has clarity enough in translation to be read by the plough-boy (Tyndale’s conviction for which he gave his life), then why would you need to look through the lens of one (or three) extra-biblical covenants in order to understand the story of Scripture, especially when those extra-biblical covenants require eisegsis for (re)interpreting key words (like “Israel”)?

One thing I did not realize before reading Forged is the teleological distinctive between Covies and Dispies, namely that Dispies, especially since Darby, have consistently said soli Deo gloria includes God’s work of glory-getting on earth in time. Of course no orthodox, believing Presbyterian would deny that, but they tend to wrap up all the glory in God’s redemption of the one people of God. Anyway, it’s probably subtle, and easy to make a straw-man, but I can see it.

I’m only going to give this 4 of 5 stars. I’m taking two half points off for the following reasons. First, because there are over a dozen authors for various chapters, they all sort of write self-contained sections. It’s not that they contradict, it’s that there’s a decent amount of overlap; the book could be much less long. Second, as usual, I find “us Dispies” to maintain a dualistic worldview, which is really ironic, and stunting. Most Covies kick our butt when it comes to living and building, to equipping the saints for ministry and generational jealousability, liberal arts education and making beautiful things, and so on unto every square inch and stuff. My brothers, these things ought not, and don’t have to, be so.

Categories
The End of Many Books

English Literature in the Sixteen Century

excluding Drama

by C. S. Lewis

This is a book full of judgments. It judged me.

OHEL—the Oxford History of English Literature—is Lewis’ big boy book, his largest single volume, the fruit of his lifetime love and study of medieval lit. His Anglican light on the Puritans and the Reformers tries to be critical but ends up confirming things for Calvinists. His critic’s light on 16th century prosers and poets introduced me to many new names and many new ways to say negative things with droll pleasure.

So I learned a lot and also smiled a bunch.

I started to read it in 2019, and it got the better of me in a few weeks. I started again last August, trying to give it ten minutes a day, and I am better because of it. I definitely don’t think everyone needs to read this, but if you like Lewis and words, this book should be in your queue.

5 of 5 stars

Categories
Every Thumb's Width

A Cup of Tea at St. Anne’s

Or, A Culture of Imaging and Imagination

Below are the notes from the talk I gave at the Equipping the Saints Conference a couple weekends ago.


Fairytales as Terrorism

It is really fun to be here, and to mutually encourage one another’s faith for building culture in hostile territory. We are in a non-fiction fight with the “principalities and powers and depraved hypersomatic beings at great heights” (as C.S. Lewis put it in Perelandra, 21), not to mention our reductionistic and materialistic earthly authorities. While we need faith to be strong in the Lord, He strengthens our faith through fellowship in truth, and I can testify that the Lord can and does strengthen our friendships through good fiction.

You may have seen that earlier this year a UK anti-terrorism group has identified reading books by C.S. Lewis (along with Tolkien, Huxley, and Orwell) as a possible sign of far-wing extremism and white supremacy (source). If you’ve ever imagined yourself enjoying a cup of tea and piece of cake at St. Anne’s, you are the enemy. Well done.

I’ve spoken about That Hideous Strength before, and for as amazing as my observations were (at least to me, ha!), I’ve often failed to appreciate how many of the people I’m talking to haven’t yet read THS; I might as well be speaking the solar language. Let me know: how many people am I’m going to be babbling in front of?

There are a lot of resources for basic character introductions and plot points for all three books in the Ransom trilogy; today I want to make a more particular appeal for expanding our imaginative coordinates in order to encourage our image-bearing culture-building.

More Literary Connections

Before I make my point, which is mostly drawn from THS, we shouldn’t fail to recognize that Lewis works back and forth between making his point in THS and The Abolition of Man. He explicitly references Abolition in the preface to THS; THS is the narrative ride of his prophetic thesis (“This is a ‘tall story’ about devilry, though it has behind it a serious ‘point’ which I have tried to make in my The Abolition of Man”). There’s also a lot of narrative overlap with his essay called “The Inner Ring” (here’s a reading on YouTube). But it’s not stepping out too far to say that the greatest connection to THS is the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.

I’d like to present a case that the Tower of Babel is the key to understanding THS, it is the key to fixing a critical misstep in Abolition, and it is the rallying point for us to fight the good fight better.

What’s in a Name

There are two obvious connections between THS and Babel Tower. First is the title, second is the easy climax, or the penultimate—not final climax, of the plot.

The name of the book, That Hideous Strength, is a line in a poem written by Sir David Lyndsay in 1555 (one of the first readers of William Tyndale’s translation of Scripture into English, also a supporter of John Knox and the Reformation in Scotland). Lyndsay’s line is: “when the building of the tower of Babel was abandoned the schaddow of that hidduous strenth was already six miles long” (glorious Old English spelling found in English Literature in the 16th Century Excluding Drama). Lewis uses the phrase, “the Hideous Strength”; each time H and S are capitalized, like a proper noun: Hideous Strength. It’s used three times in chapter 13 which is titled: “They Have Pulled Down Deep Heaven on Their Heads.” What is the Strength, and why is it Hideous? Those are essential terms to define.

Of course the other connection to Genesis 11 is the Banquet at Belbury (second to last chapter), when Merlin brings “the curse of Babel,” also capital B, and confuses their language, but not just into dispersing the party—they disperse alright—but into the chaos of killing and being killed. The disorder in language is only the beginning of the disarray and destruction and death. “Wither had once heard [Merlin’s] voice calling loud and intolerably glad above the riot of nonsense, ‘Qui Verbum Dei contempserunt, eis auferetur etiam verbum hominis.’” Meaning, “They that have despised the word of God, from them shall the word of man also be taken away.” The Babel curse conquered the NICE.

Back up to Babel

What is the deal with this Babel influence? The biblical story itself is only one paragraph, nine verses long at the beginning of Genesis 11. At this point in the biblical narrative we’re post flood by a few generations, not quite sure how many people were around, but likely in the tens of thousands.

The “whole earth had one language and the same words” (verse 1). They settled together in the same place, Shinar.

And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:3–4 ESV)

Attentive readers already see some problems, and the response of the Lord corroborates it. Three times they say “let us make…let us build…let us make.” That should sound familiar. In Genesis 1:26 “God said, ‘Let us make…’” Hmmm, and let us keep going. Building themselves a city is not necessarily bad, though it hints at premeditated refusal to “fill the earth” as the Lord mandated in Genesis 1:28. Their tower was to have “its top in the heavens,” none would be above them, and it would presumably be tall enough to protect them in case there was another flood. These projects would “make a name for ourselves.” They thought they could determine their place, their own limits.

And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” (Genesis 11:5–7 ESV)

Initially it might seem that the LORD is being petty, that He is threatened by what they’re doing. What is His concern?

This goes back to Genesis 1 and God’s creation of man and the nature of man and the mandate to man. God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28). They were made with the capacity for relationship and family. As they, and their offspring, filled the earth they were to subdue it and have dominion. They were made with the capacity for responsibility and rule as God’s stewards.

Isn’t that what the men in Shinar were doing? No one man, or family, could accomplish the city and tower enterprise. They were in a community, in relationship; they were trying to build culture. And certainly the tools and the plans and the construction were parts of demonstrating human ingenuity and creativity and responsibility.

But virtuous relationship and responsibility depend on God’s blessing (doing it the way God said to do it). The first part of Genesis 1:28 is key: “God blessed them” and then God said be fruitful.

And even more, the relationship and the responsibility were part of what it meant to be made in His image. Note the plural, “let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). While the doctrine of the Trinity is obviously not fully revealed here, God didn’t make humans in the likeness of Himself and angels, or in the likeness of Himself and lesser gods. Men are made as images of God, the imago Dei. In Babel, the LORD said, “Come, let us go down” (Genesis 11:7). That plural pronoun in God’s mouth is used in 1:26 when He purposes to make man in His image and only again in 11:7 when He sees men using His language without reference to Him.

A man is not a man in his own name or his own image. When the LORD said, “this is only the beginning of what they will do,” He was referring to the beginning of their abolition of man. They were running into self-sufficiency, autonomy, and attempts to live and master themselves as if God wasn’t necessary.

In the “shadow of that hideous strength” the tower symbolized or embodied the will and work of men. There is glorious strength in image bearing relationships and responsibility, but all the results are hideous as men try to define the image for themselves.

Back to Belbury – The Nice Guys

The setting for THS is on earth where the Macrobes have convinced men in the name of “Science” not just to ignore, but to destroy, what is human (how prescient was Lewis about our present culture). They were reimagining in order to reengineer the human race. But mirrors reflect a given shape, they can’t create their own shape. So by the end of the story Wither (think: Dr. Fauci) and Frost and Straik have lost even the love of their own flesh, their own lives.

The NICE, the National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments, the NICE guys are experimenting themselves right into vanity and dust in the wind. The story of Babel, and the story of Belbury, are Men, in the name of Man, ruining men and Man. This is the key to understanding THS.

The Tao < the Dei

I said at the beginning that Babel is also the key to fixing the misstep, or at least insufficient (and actually self-refuting) step, in the otherwise glorious The Abolition of Man.

I don’t know that I could read Abolition (or THS) enough. There’s barely anything in it that doesn’t edify me. If Lewis was alive to see our generation I’m sure he’d clarify that when he argued for men with chests, he wasn’t talking about big prosthetic boobs at the city library’s Drag Queen Story Hour.

And while I appreciate his setting, that he was giving academic lectures at a university, and while I am compelled by his success in showing the nonsense of objective claims that there are no objective realities, for my money I think he doesn’t quite go far enough.

What is needed is to recognize that the Dei (in the imago Dei) trumps the Tao; the Tao < the Dei. This is needful for two reasons. First, it’s not just that men must recognize objective values, they must reflect objective values as image-bearers. Second, the objective values we reflect as image bearers are personal, they are revealed to us in God, and the Triune God at that, Father, Son, and Spirit. We are made in the image of one God in three Persons.

This means that to be truly men we cannot be alone. So “the LORD God said, ’It is not good that the man should be alone’” (Genesis 2:18). (What is so gutting in the movie “Castaway”? It’s not mostly his lack of shoes, but his lack of companionship.) The Tao has a rhetorical value in exalting the real world, but it falls short of the glory of God.

Friendship at St. Anne’s

The “company” at St. Anne’s isn’t just literary detritus. Lewis uses “company” 29 times in THS and a couple of them are capital C. A company refers to the group of companions, from the Latin words “com-” meaning “together” and “panis” meaning “bread” so those who shared bread/meals together. The company at St. Anne’s wasn’t perfect, but it was powerful; it pulled Jane in.

(Jane:) “You keep on talking of We and Us. Are you some kind of company?” (Ransom:) “Yes. You may call it a company.”

St. Anne’s provides a true picture of image-bearing: singing, gardening, doing dishes, eating cake and drinking wine, having word play and making puns(!), dressing up, having a cup of tea.

The main human characters struggled as image-bearers. Mark wanted relationship with the wrong set, Jane wanted responsibility according to her terms. Mark avoided true responsibility, Jane avoided true relationship.

I’d argue that the climax of the story happens after “The End.” Not only are Mark and Jane converted, they are unified. The end should remind us that the first word of THS is “matrimony.”

“Matrimony was ordained, thirdly,” said Jane Studdock to herself, “for the mutual society, help, and comfort that the one ought to have of the other.” (Location 54)

She repeats it a few paragraphs later: “Mutual society, help, and comfort,” said Jane bitterly. (Location 620)

The last sentence in the book, as Jane stood outside the lodge: “Obviously it was high time she went in.” Here are image-bearers, male and female, about ready to be fruitful and multiply. And their fellowship is only the beginning.

Winning the Good Fight

Lewis wrote:

No Christian and, indeed, no historian could accept the epigram which defines religion as “what a man does with his solitude.” (“The Inner Ring”)

Today, this conference, talking about culture building, is part of the good fight. It’s not the only part, but those who fight alone on the right side only understand half of what it means to be on the right side.

We don’t read THS to become “Athanasius Contra Mundum,” we are like the little company of St. Anne’s contra mundum simul, against the world together. We do not love the world or the things in the world, but we do love one another and sharing these stories keeps us from being solo soldiers. You don’t have to read in a group, but you better read for the group, not to isolate yourself from it. It is our fellowship in receiving good gifts from God, including our flesh and blood relationships, as hard as they may be, that make us jealousable salt and light.

May the Lord of heaven and earth, one God in three Persons, bless us to be fruitful as we multiply our reading of good fiction that we would fight the good fight of faith with broader imaginative coordinates and stronger connections.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Jesus and Us

Because of the Trinity, One God in three Persons, we can appreciate that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Our theology proper teaches us about God’s nature, so as His image-bearers we reflect God as we love Him and one another.

Because of the Gospel, that Christ died for us while we were still sinners, we can appreciate that such a sacrifice is how “God shows His love for us” (Romans 5:8). The center of history, the death of Jesus on the cross, demonstrates God’s love, so He calls us to love one another just as He loved us (John 13:34).

Because of our Lord’s command to remember His death in the ordinance of communion (Luke 22:19), and because our weekly liturgy as a church includes the sharing of the Lord’s Supper, we regularly eat and drink in remembrance of Christ’s love.

Doctrine/truth drives our doing/obedience. We love the truth about God’s love and the truth about His love continually works on us and in us and out of us into love for one another.

So individualistic communion is ironic at best and impious at worst. Though our salvation is personal, it’s not mostly about “me and Jesus” but about “Jesus and us.”

Eat and drink the signs of love. Put on the clothes of love, it binds everything together in perfect harmony (Colossians 3:14). Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

The Opposite Sex and Sanctification

When we communicate we don’t just say words at a target, we share meaning through the words. Communication starts with what’s common between persons, what is shared. Even the phrase “speaking the same language” does double duty, not only in reference to using the same dialect but also to working with the same definitions. Conflicts often happen because the parties have a verbal disagreement; each person thinks differently about the same word.

In pre-marital counseling I always encourage couples to read a book or listen to a series about finances, not because I think they need to slavishly put all their money in envelopes, but so they learn to share the same vocabulary. What does it mean to be generous? Is $1.00 given out of every $10 more than she’s ever thought about giving before, or does generous mean only keeping the $1? The discussion gets them on the same spreadsheet, so to speak.

In a Christian community we share Christ. In Christ we live and move and have our being. That said, we not only have different gifts to serve one another as part of His Body, we have different expectations, different perspectives, different backgrounds, and different ideas about some community practices.

Our church community thinks marriage and family is great. We generally want our young men and young women to look forward to, and prepare for, if/when the Lord would bless them with those responsibilities. And yet, the community is made up of many families, and not all fathers talk the same way or share the same vision for getting their kids hooked up in covenant (which, even that phrase, means something different to a pagan these days).

There are a variety of approaches to the leave and cleave process, and spectrums from narrow to loose. And yet there are some principles that we should all know and agree on. When it comes to knowing God’s will, more than finding His will for your (or your child’s) spouse is recognizing His will for your (and your child’s) sanctification. “This is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). We’re supposed to share a desire to please God in our walk (1 Thessalonians 4:1).

For the next few weeks we’re going to consider sanctification in community relationships between the opposite sex. This is a subject for all of us, whether you’re in a dating relationship or wish you were, or you fancy yourself a matchmaker, or you’re a friend to a courting couple, or you have a father’s responsibility. “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.” Amen.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Essential Cup of Blessing

We do not know what tomorrow will bring (James 4:14), profit or persecution. Our plans must be put in perspective before God’s purpose and providence, so we ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” Amen.

And, if the Lord wills, we will not be submitting to rulers who say we cannot assemble as the church, and/or who say we cannot gather around the Lord’s Table and share the body and blood of Christ.

We listened to them and followed their directions in 2020 (not as long as others, but—knowing what we know now—also still too long). Thankfully they made their own hypocrisies known publicly and somewhat quickly. They said wine stores were essential, but they said believers were not allowed to participate in “the cup of blessing” (1 Corinthians 10:16). Our governors gathered without masks or distancing for their parties, posting pictures of themselves, while prohibiting us from gathering together for worship of God the Father in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

There are rumors of renewed (medically useless against coronaviruses) mask mandates and possible (authoritarian, as in anti-legislated) lockdown orders. And when we hear of wars and rumors of wars, we must not be alarmed (Matthew 24:6). We “do not know what a day may bring” (Proverbs 27:1), and so we do not want to boast about tomorrow, nor boast about disobedience.

But as we’ve considered the purpose of government in Romans 13, and as we’ve tested and attempted to distinguish the solid food, we cannot submit on this point and agree to forsake our assembling according to their threats and brainwashing about viruses. They might try to shut us down, but we will not do it for them. Our Lord Jesus Christ has ordained the Supper, and we will eat and drink in obedience to Him.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Political Firsts

Benjamin Warfield once wrote:

“Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. ‘What!’ Is the appropriate response, ‘than ten hours over your books, on your knees?’”

Yes, pray. Yes, read, study, meditate, while praying.

Let me apply this across spheres, and exhort us that prayer must not be assumed. We must be devoted to prayer while doing politics.

We’ve been spending time in Romans 13 for the last month. Does the Lord care about earthly authorities? Does He care about government, about rulers and rules, about how nations run and citizens are protected? He most definitely does. While we consider the laws of our land, we see that the Lord has been gracious to give us at least some liberty to choose our representatives and to make our voice known on some decisions. Are we allowed by the Lord to care about how we are governed? He expects it.

Our interest and involvement as Christians is not idolatry, nor is it necessarily worldly, as in, done with sinful motives. And yet it is easy to slip into ten hours over news reading/scrolling/watching, or even political activism, without praying.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1–2 ESV)

This is not an exhortation to pietism, a private retreat to “thoughts and prayers” instead of work. But it is an exhortation: why would God bless our efforts if we don’t even ask Him to? We can do a lot of things with prayer, but we ought to do no thing without it. “First of all, then,” pray.

Categories
A Shot of Encouragement

The Golden Rule of Reading

The “Golden Rule of Reading” – however you want others to read what you’ve written, so read what they’ve written. At least start by considering their claims to be true. This isn’t immature, it’s loving. Love believes all things, it doesn’t doubt all things.

This applies to all sorts of material, but maybe most to what has been written in Scripture. At least when starting out:

Read carefully, not assumingely.

Read charitably, not critically.

Read acceptingly, not suspiciously.

For even more mental marination, Joe Rigney wrote “Do Unto Authors – Four Principles for Reading Well” in which he talks about Golden Rule Interpretation.

And with confirmation from Isaac Watts in 1741:

“Lastly, remember that you treat every author, writer, or speaker, just as you yourselves would be willing to be treated by others, who are searching out the meaning of what you write or speak.”

On the Improvement of the Mind
Categories
A Shot of Encouragement

A Clear and Concise Demonstration of the Divine Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures

John Wesley wrote “A Clear and Concise Demonstration of the Divine Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures” in 1789. It’s GOOD.

“I beg leave to propose a short, clear, and strong argument to prove the divine inspiration of the holy Scripture.

The Bible must be the invention either of good men or angels, bad men or devils, or of God.

  1. It could not be the invention of good men or angels; for they neither would nor could make a book, and tell lies all the time they were writing it, saying, ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ when it was their own invention.
  2. It could not be the invention of bad men or devils; for they would not make a book which commands all duty, forbids all sin, and condemns their souls to hell to all eternity.
  3. Therefore, I draw this conclusion, that the Bible must be given by divine inspiration.”

Based on what is in the Bible, the Bible is TRUE/right or FALSE/wrong, it can’t be just a “good” book.