Man, Myth & Magic Volume 1

Perambulations

When I first venture into a new library I like to peruse the shelves and just get a feel for where everything is and what gems lie in wait for me.

Recently I visited the Mary Jacobs Library in Rocky Hill, NJ. During my perambulations[1] through their facilities I stumbled across the ten volume encyclopedia Man, Myth & Magic.

Editions

John William Waterhouse's Magic Circle (Dec. 31, 1885).
John William Waterhouse’s Magic Circle (Dec. 31, 1885).

Originally published as a series of periodicals in 1970 it was compiled into an encyclopedia in 1983 and 1985 and had further revisions in 1995 and 1997. It is to this most recent edition I refer (unfortunately, there has not been any further updates to this series).

Quality

I wasn’t sure what to expect, volumes of this sort tend to vary widely in quality. Some are reliable, academic works while others are unsubstantiated ramblings. This volume falls more in the former than latter.

Contributors

Its contributors are widely varied and a fascinating lot in and of themselves. A few names I recognized:

  • Roland H. Bainton – Professor of Ecclesiastical History (Yale); author.
  • F.F. Bruce – Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis (Manchester); author.
  • William Sargant – physician in charge of the Department of Psychological Medicine, St. Thomas’ Hospital; author.
  • M.C. Tenney – Professor of Theology (Wheaton); author.

There are brief summaries regarding each author and editor in the book which I found delightful to read in and of themselves.

Bibliography

This first volume contains a bibliography-to-die-for covering the subject material of all ten volumes. A few volumes that stuck out to me at first glance as being potentially fascinating:[2]

  • E.M. Butler’s Ritual Magic (Cambridge University Press).
  • Joan Evans’ Magical Jewels of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Particularly in England (Gale).
  • C.G. Jung’s Psychology and Alchemy (Princeton University Press).
  • J. Read’s Prelude to Chemistry: An outline of Alchemy (MIT Press).
  • J.C. Baroja’s The World of Witches (University of Chicago Press).
  • H.C. Lea’s Materials Towards a History of Witchcraft (AMS Press).
  • Margaret A. Murray’s The God of the Witches (Oxford University Press).
  • Montague Summers’ History of Witchcraft and Demonology (Routledge & Kegan Paul).
  • H.R. Trevor-Roper’s The European Witch-Craze in the 16th and 17th Centuries (Peregrine).
  • Paul Boyer and Stephen Nisssenbaum’s Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft (Harvard University Press).
  • John Demos’ Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Early Culture of New England (Oxford).
  • R.E.L. Masters’ Eros and Evil: the Sexual Psychopathology of Witchcraft (Penguin).
  • Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudon (Harper & Row).[3]
  • St. Elmo Nauman’s Exorcism Through the Ages (Philosophical Library).
  • Paul Carus’ History of the Devil and the Idea of Evil (Open Court).
  • Richard Emmerson’s Antichrist in the Middle Ages (University of Washington Press).
  • F.R. Johnson’s Witches & Demons in History and Folklore (Johnson N.C.).
  • Jeffrey Russell’s Lucifer: the Devil in the Middle Ages (Cornell).
  • Jeffrey Russell’s Satan: the Early Christian Tradition (Cornell).
  • William Howard Woods’ History of the Devil (Putnam).
  • Reginald Thompson’s The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia (AMS Press).
  • A.L. Herman’s The Problem of Evil and Indian Thought (Orient Bk. Dist.).
  • Wendy O’Flaherty’s The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology (University of California Press).
  • Richard Stivers’ Evil in Modern Myth and Ritual (University of Georgia Press).
  • K. Amis’ New Maps of Hell (Arno).
  • R. Cavendish’s Visions of Heaven & Hell (Harmony/Crown).
  • Kaufman Kohler’s Heaven and Hell in Comparative Religion (Folcroft).
  • Jacques Le Goff’s The Birth of Purgatory (Chicago University Press).
  • John Macculluch’s The Harrowing of Hell: a Comparative Study of an Early Christian Doctrine (AMS Press).
  • Bernard McGinn’s Visions of the End: Apocalyptic Traditions in the Middle Ages (Columbia University Press).
  • James Mew’s Traditional Aspects of Hell (Gale).
  • D.L. Sayers’ Hell, Purgatory (Penguin).
  • H.B. Swete’s The Apocalypse in the Ancient Church (Macmillan).
  • Daniel P. Walker’s Decline of Hell: Seventeenth Century Discussions of Eternal Torment (University of Chicago Press).
  • David Aune’s Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World (Eerdmans).
  • A. Guillaume’s Prophecy and Divination among the Hebrews and Semites (Harper & Row).
  • E. Howe’s Astrology: The Story of its Role in World War II (Walker).
  • Wilhelm Wulff’s Zodiac and the Swatsika: How Astrology Guided Hitler’s Germany (Arthur Barker).
  • C.G. Jung and R. Wilhelm’s The Secret of the Golden Flower (Harcourt, Brace and World).
  • Carl Jung’s Synchronicity: an Acausal Connecting Principle (Routledge & Kegan Paul).[4]
  • F. Altheim’s A History of Roman Religion (Dutton).
  • Henri Frankfort’s Ancient Egyptian Religion (Harper & Row).
  • W.K.C. Guthrie’s The Greeks and their Gods (Beacon Press).
  • Georgia Pesek-Marous’ The Bull: A Religious and Secular History of Phallus Worship and Male Homosexuality (Tau Press).
  • L. Spence’s Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt (Harrap).
  • George W. Cox’s Mythology of the Aryan Nations (Kennikat).
  • E.A.W. Budge’s The Book of the Dead (Universal Books Company).
  • J.G. Griffiths’ The Origins of Osiris (Argonaut).
  • E.O. James’ The Cult of the Mother Goddess (Praeger).
  • H. Licht’s Sexual Life in Ancient Greece (Greenwood).
  • S.G.F. Brandon’s Creation Legends of the Ancient Near East (Verry).
  • S. Langdon’s The Babylonian Epic of Creation (Clarendon Press).
  • Joan O’Brien and Wilfred Major’s In the Beginning: Creation Myths from Ancient Mesopotamia, Israel, and Greece (Scholars Press).
  • Edward Westermarck’s A Short History of Marriage (Humanities).
  • Philippe Aries’ Western Attitudes Towards Death: from the Middle Ages to the Present (Johns Hopkins).
  • S.G.F. Brandon’s The Judgment of the Dead (Scribner).
  • John Hick’s Death and Eternal Life (Harper & Row).
  • J.M. Clark’s The Dance of Death in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Jackson).
  • L.P. Kurtz’s The Dance of Death and the Macabre Spirit in European Literature (Gordon Press).
  • Peter Armour’s The Door of Purgatory: a Study of Multiple Symbolism in Dante’s Purgatorio (Oxford University Press).
  • E.G. Gardner’s Dante and the Mystics: a Study of the Mystical Aspect of the Divina Commedia (Haskell).
  • R.D. Gray’s Goethe the Alchemist (AMS Press).
  • David Bindman’s William Blake: His Art and Times (Thames & Hudson).
  • Ronald Grimes’ The Divine Imagination: William Blake’s Major Prophetic Visions (Scarecrow).
  • Richard Carlisle’s (editor) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Mankind (Marshall Cavendish).
  • R. Cavendish’s King Arthur and the Grail: The Arthurian Legends and Their Meaning (Taplinger).
  • Sabine Baring-Gould’s Curious Myths of the Middle Ages (Oxford University Press).
  • K.M. Briggs’ An Encyclopedia of Faeries (Pantheon).
  • Basil Cooper’s The Vampire: in Legend, Fact, and Art (Robert Hale).
  • Basil Cooper’s The Werewolf: in Legend, Fact, and Art (Robert Hale).
  • Paul Newman’s The Hill of the Dragon: an Enquiry into the Nature of Dragon Legends (Rowman).
  • W.F. Albright’s Yahweh and the Gods of Creation (Eisenbrauns).
  • Alexander Heidel’s Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels (University of Chicago Press).
  • Donald Leslie’s The Survival of the Chinese Jews (Humanities).
  • James H. Lord’s The Jews in India and the Far East (Greenwood).
  • D.S. Bailey’s The Sexual Relation in Christian Thought (Harper & Row).
  • Lawrence Besserman’s The Legend of Job in the Middle Ages (Harvard University Press).
  • James Gaffney’s Sin Reconsidered (Paulist Press).
  • A.D. Nock’s Early Gentile Christianity and its Hellenistic Background (Harper & Row).
  • J.A. Phillips’ Eve: The History of an Idea (Harper & Row).
  • Norman Powell-Williams’ The Ideas of the Fall and of Original Sin (Longmans).
  • Bruce Vawter’s Job and Jonah: Questioning the Hidden God (Paulist Press).
  • I. Engnell’s Studies in Divine Kingship in the Ancient Near East (Allenson).
  • Heinrich Dumoulin’s A History of Zen Buddhism (Pantheon Books).
  • Mary Boyce’s (editor) Zoroastrianism (Barnes & Nobles Imports).
  • M. Anesaki’s History of Japanese Religion (Tuttle).
  • C.H. Gordon’s Ugaritic Literature (Argonaut).
  • M.P. Nilsson’s History of Greek Religion (Greenwood).
  • H.J. Rose’s Ancient Roman Relgiion (Hutchinson).
  • T.C. Allen’s The Egyptian Book of the Dead (Chicago University Press).
  • J.H. Breasted’s Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt (Peter Smith).
  • E.A.W. Budge’s Egyptian Heaven and Hell (Open Court).
  • J.C. Gibson’s Canaanite Myths & Legends (Attic Press).
  • Brian Branston’s Gods and Heroes from Viking Mythology (Schocken).
  • E.O. James’ The Ancient Gods (Putnam).
  • Gilbert Murray’s A History of Ancient Greek Literature (Folcroft).
  • Slater Brown’s The Heyday of Spiritualism (Hawthorn).
  • C.E. Hansel’s ESP & Parapsychology: A Critical Re-evaluation (Prometheus Books).
  • F. Pdomore’s Modern Spiritualism (E.J. Dingwall).
  • Morton Kelsey’s God, Dreams and Revelation: a Christian Interpretation of Dreams (Augsburg).
  • Leo Oppenheim’s The Interpretation of Dreams in the Ancient Near East (American Philosophical Society).
  • F. Fordham’s An Introduction to Jung’s Psychology (Gannon).
  • Erich Fromm’s The Greatness and Limitations of Freud’s Thought (Harper & Row).
  • E.J. Dingwall’s (editor) Abnormal Hypnotic Phenomena: a Survey of Nineteenth Century Cases (Barnes & Noble).
  • Stefan Zweig’s Mental Healers: Franz Anton Mesmer, Mary Baker Eddy, Sigmund Freud (Ungar).
  • Shane Leslie’s St. Patrick’s Purgatory (Burns and Oates).
  • J. Ancelet-Hustache’s Master Eckhart and the Rhineland Mystics (Harper & Row).
  • Edmund Beaman’s Swedenborg and the New Age (AMS Press).
  • Robert L. Moore’s (editor) Carl Jung and Christian Spirituality (Paulist Press).
  • F. Neilson’s Teilhard de Chardin’s Vision of the Future (Revisionist Press).
  • David Bakan’s Sigmund Freud and the Jewish Mystical Tradition (Schocken Books).
  • Ernest Bates and J.V. Dittermore’s Mary Baker Eddy: The Truth and the Tradition (Halsted Press).
  • Lawrence Foster’s Religion and Sexuality: Three American Communal Experiments of the Nineteenth Century (Oxford University Press).
  • Handbook of the Oneida Community (AMS Press).
  • H. Henson’s Oxford Group Movement.
  • Tom Driberg’s The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament (Knopf).
  • George R. Scott’s The History of Corporal Punishment: a Survey of Flagellation in its Historical, Anthropological and Sociological Aspects (Gale).
  • George H. Williams’ The Radical Reformation (Westminster Press).
  • Lynn Dumenil’s Freemasonry and American Culture, 1880-1930 (Princeton University Press).

Interesting Articles

Of the articles contained in this first volume I find the following particularly interesting:

  • Aberdeen Witches – Witches in Scotland, what is myth, what is fact, executions.
  • Agrippa – Involved in the occult.
  • Ahriman – The evil god of Zoroastrianism.
  • Aix-En-Provence Nuns – A group of nuns in the 17th century allegedly possessed by demons.
  • Alchemy – Attempts to turn base metals into gold and to perfect the individual.
  • Alexander the Great – The facts and the legend.
  • Angels – From Jewish and Christian belief.
  • Animals – All about their relationships with the spiritual – e.g., those that are sacred.
  • St. Anthony – Experienced apparent demonic attacks.
  • Aphrodite – Greek Goddess of love.
  • Apollo – Greek god, the oracle at Delphi was his.
  • Apple – It’s religious meaning goes far beyond Jewish/Christian thought.
  • Arthur: The Once and Future King – You know, King Arthur.
  • Asmodeus – A demon found in the book of Tobit.
  • Astarte – Queen of Heaven, regularly led Jews away from Yahweh, also known as Ishtar and Aphrodite.
  • Astrology – Predicting the future from the sky.

Grumblings

Overall I was happy with the Encyclopedia, but let me note two areas of disgruntlement.

The more minor involves the section on Astrology, which while decently long was still fairly confusing as far as how the system worked. I could have spent more time in it figuring it out, but I wasn’t that interested.

The more major one is the tendency of some secular historians to recast religious beliefs from their own perspective. I can’t remember where, but at least once (it may have been in angels) I noticed a significant disconnect from what those who practice Christianity would say about a belief and how it was presented.

This sort of playing loose and reinterpreting religious beliefs in a way that is outside what the practitioners of that religion would state as their belief is disconcerting. I don’t mind if it is done with a disclaimer and an explanation of how those within the religion would have viewed the matter, but when the external view is imposed without disclaimer it raises concerns for me – namely, how can I trust that you (the author) are providing me with a real account of other religions? If you cannot represent the beliefs of a major, well-known religion accurately, how do I know you have not misrepresented other, lesser-known religions?

This is a major concern – but it is something found in so many books that I can’t write the volume off for this reason alone – I simply take the article with a grain of salt…kind of like Wikipedia.

This trend seems to be most pronounced among scholarly authors (who, imho, sometimes get too big for their britches) but, thankfully, it appears to be a declining trend (from my subjective experience) – that is, academia seems more inclined to write objectively than it did for much of the 20th century when at least some authors felt the need to reinterpret instead of report.[5]

  1. [1]Yes, I used that word just because it was fun to do so. :P
  2. [2]Okay, I wrote this out largely for my own benefit…in case one day I think, “I really wish I could remember the name of that book on x I thought would be interesting to read.”
  3. [3]Okay, I’m just a sucker for Aldous Huxley.
  4. [4]If you haven’t noticed, Jung fascinates me.
  5. [5]Again, I have no issues with reinterpretation, I am interested in postmodern thought, etc., I only complain when the interpretation given is stated as if it where the de facto interpretation and thus the belief is significantly misrepresented.

The Magic Man in the Sky: Effectively Defending the Christian Faith: Book Review (Author: Carl Gallups)

On the 25th I wrote a number of books I picked up for the Amazon Kindle that were on sale. One of them was Carl Gallups’ The Magic Man in the Sky: Effectively Defending the Christian Faith. I used to be big into apologetics, but haven’t done much reading in this area recently – this had a humorous title, so I thought it might be a good / different read on the topic. I finished the book last night (the 28th), not b/c it was such an amazing read but b/c I only had seven days to return the book to Amazon (their return policy) and I wanted to return it…

The book has received overwhelmingly positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, so I’m the odd one out here, but I can only give it a 2/4 star rating – and I’m hesitant to give it that. Not because the book doesn’t have a number of good points, analogies, etc. but b/c to me apologetics books are held to an exceedingly high standard – and while I might suggest someone read a “good enough” book in other areas, I really want them to read the best when it comes to apologetics – and I want to read the best.

“So, Mr. Cranky-Pants, why didn’t you like Mr. Gallups’ book? Did it have any redeeming qualities?”

The book has a number of redeeming qualities – while it is not the humorous approach to apologetics I had hoped for, it is a lay man’s approach to apologetics – that is it is written to be understood by individuals who aren’t “intellectuals” so to speak. This sort of approach is needed – try reading Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict to see a more “intellectual” approach.

Gallups offers a number of “plain English” definitions of concepts and terms which are used within apologetics, philosophy, science, and theology which are quite clear and helpful. At the same time, sometimes when he engages science (e.g. abiogenesis) his explanations sound good, but don’t provide enough explanation or background to allow someone to really, intelligently talk about the subject. At least, I didn’t feel after reading these sections that I was equipped to talk about the subject.

Front cover of The Magic Man in the Sky: Effectively Defending the Christian Faith by Carl Gallups.
Front cover of The Magic Man in the Sky: Effectively Defending the Christian Faith by Carl Gallups.

I also regretted that while Gallup offered the initial stance of the atheist/agnostic and then provided a Christian rebuttal, he always ended with a “conclusive” answer proving the Christian perspective. In my opinion, this is rarely, the case. I want to know – now that I have offered a rebuttal – what will the individual say now? How will they counter this claim? I don’t think they are suddenly going to say, “Ohh, you know what? You are right. I’ve been a scientist for twenty years and built my work upon this concept and now you – a lay man (what I am in the sciences) – have come and exposed an obvious flaw that I didn’t notice for twenty years…”

I did enjoy Gallups quotations at the beginning of each chapter and also found various cultural references he made interesting – as I am entirely unfamiliar with them. For example, at one juncture he suggests that some people “call this self-centered condition of the human a viper in a diaper.” Really? I’ve never heard anyone say that! Its kind of funny, but really?

At times Gallups makes controversial statements which are unnecessary to his argument and thereby weaken the integrity of his overall argument. For example, he writes, “The secular worldview declares that homosexuality, fornication, and adultery are natural and, therefore, acceptable parts of the human experience…All the while, the devastating effects of each of these perverse activities have been observed and cataloged since time immemorial.” Granted, most individuals will readily acknowledge the detrimental effects of adultery – but the topics of homosexuality and fornication are much more controversial when one is speaking outside of evangelical Christian circles. Gallups raises these topics, which means his readers may as well, and then provides no substantive evidence for his arguments – thus rabbit trailing off the main topic (apologetics) and leaving himself and his readers exposed.

Some of Gallups statements about the secular individual seem simplistic and untrue – for example, Gallups states, “If you subscribe to the secular worldview, your life will be lived with its exclusive purpose being to survive.” I don’t think this is true – certainly not on an individual level – perhaps on a species level – but even there, it seems to me that individuals have a much wider and nobler range of motives than simple survival, as evidenced by their self-sacrificial acts, and those acts certainly aren’t exclusively committed by Christians.

Gallups explanation of the heavens and how these are to be understood theologically and scientifically is worthwhile – though I wish that he had provided some footnotes to back up his explanations on this topic. This is also one of the first areas where another real problem sticks out – Gallups is writing for the common man, but chooses to use the KJV when including Scriptures. This makes the reading rough (suddenly there are “shalt” and “thou” and so on spattered through an otherwise contemporary text) and forces him to explain Scriptures whose meaning would be clear if he had used a more contemporaneous translation.[1]

Gallups uses illuminating and humorously simple illustrations to explain certain concepts – the “fish in the pond” explanation for the reality of unseen reality (e.g. supernatural) is quite good…and it isn’t his only useful illustration of this type. For example, at one point he describes how fish might feel about the idea that there is a “supernatural” reality outside of their pond (believing instead that the pond is the limits of reality): “Those who have tried to penetrate the barrier above us either have seen nothing but blurriness or have not returned to us at all. To suggest there is anything more powerful outside of our world that has any fishy presence or power to it at all is…well…ridiculous.”

There is one section that really, really bothers me. Gallups suggests that we can prove (absolutely, irrefutably) the truthfulness of Scripture by the nation of Israel. He says that God explained through Moses before the people ever entered the promised land that they would fall away from him, be dispersed throughout the world, and then return again – and he takes this as occurring in the Babylonian exile and the return fulfilled in 1948 with the establishment of the Jewish nation.

I don’t disagree with Gallups understanding of Moses’ statements, but I do think the emphasis he puts upon this “prophecy” is disconcerting. The prophecy itself is so generic that it doesn’t seem that hard for it to be fulfilled, and to suggest we can know that God exists based upon its fulfillment concerns me. It essentially says, you will go here, be kicked out of here for being bad, and then you’ll be back.

What really concerns me though is that he suggests that Israel was not a nation after the Babylonian exile until 1948 – which greatly strengthens his argument – if it were true. He writes, “Keep in mind that by this time in history, called the Roman period, Israel had not been a nation since the Babylonians conquered them almost five hundred years earlier.” I’m not so sure about that…There were these guys called the Maccabees who overthrew the declining Seleucids (Greek) and established the Hasmonean Dynasty.

Gallups may have an explanation for this – but the fact that he glosses over this problem in his text without so much as a mention makes me feel as if he is “smoothing over” history to make it fit his preconceived notions – which is not what an apologist should do. I don’t think this was Gallups intent (Scripture calls us to believe/hope the best) but the passage does read that way, at least to me, and I’d guess to many agnostics/atheists who are familiar with biblical history as well.

At another later juncture Gallups writes, “Without a supreme reason, we have no supreme purpose to life, and we have no real answers to the deepest problems of life. Life becomes relegated to the survival of the fittest and nothing more. Furthermore, if we have no supreme purpose or reason, then we do not have supreme morality. Without supreme morality, humans are no different from any other kind of animal.”

Earlier in his work, Gallups explains a straw man, and complains throughout the work that atheists/agnostics oftentimes setup straw men against Christian arguments (which is, unfortunately, true), yet I feel at this and several other junctures that he sets up straw men as well. I know (though I have not read) that Richard Dawkins (whom Gallups is familiar with as he quotes him at several junctures) has written on this subject (how moral values and purpose for life exist for the atheist) and it is disconcerting to me that Gallups does not offer up at least a footnote acknowledging these explanations for life offered by atheists/agnostics.

Gallups also argues that this life is a “boot camp” in preparation for the next life. I know this is a popular Christian view, but someone has to show me the Scriptural support for this perspective – I’m not aware of it. I know that it makes sense, but I am hesitant to offer up as more than hypothesis ideas which make sense but aren’t explicitly in Scripture – since God could have done it that way, but He might have done it some other way – perhaps even some other way we haven’t yet thought of.

Furthermore, I find the illustration itself disturbing – yes,  a drill sergeant works folks hard, they suffer pain, it is horrific sometimes – but they come out the other side…and those who don’t make it through are sent home – not shuffled off to eternal hell.

He comments in the same section, “Therefore, when you reach the point in your walk with the Lord where you can say in all honesty that you do not care if He ever blesses you again or answers another prayer–you will serve Him anyway–then you are well on your way to graduating boot camp.” This statement makes me feel sick. It does remind me of Romans 9, but I insist that Romans 9 must be read in conjunction with 10 and 11. God could demand our obedience simply due to his position and power – but I don’t think He does – instead He shows off His beauty and we are attracted to it and it is unfading and unchanging. For more on this subject see John Piper’s Desiring God.

Gallups offers a chapter up on the problem of evil which I found little comfort in…but then again, the problem of evil is the greatest intellectual/theological struggle I have ever faced – it haunts me since my childhood and I expect will haunt me till I die.

Then there is how Gallups sometimes puts Christians in an undeservedly positive light, for example, he writes, “On the other hand, in the preponderance of Christian schools and/or home school coursework, the students are taught the in-depth proposals of evolution theory along with the theories of Creation and Intelligent Design. Rather than being indoctrinated, the student who is taught both theories of origins and life is receiving an honest education.”

Yikes! I spent much of my education in private Christian schools and homeschooled…and no, the curriculum was not an even-handed presentation of the two perspectives…and yes, I used several of the most well-known, respected, and popular Christian curriculums.

Evolution is presented, but only in order to be refuted by Creationism. Evolution is never considered a viable option for the believing student within these curriculums. If a Christian curriculum really wants to convince me they are being even-handed, let an evolutionist write the part on evolution and a creationist on creation and then let each write a rebuttal to the other and let the students make up their own minds.

One statement he made that kind of blew me away (in a good way) regards the anthropic principle (the universe’s seeming fine tuning to man’s existence), “Consider this: What would happen if all the saltwater systems were removed from our earth? In time, we would die. What if all the freshwater sources were removed? The answer is the same. What if all the animals were removed or if all the insects were gone or if all the plant life disappeared? Again, we would eventually die. Now think about this: What if humans and only humans were removed from the planet Everything would continue. The ecology is perfect. The system would sustain itself without us.” I don’t find this particularly convincing evidence for the anthropic principle – but it is fascinating to me that so many variables (many beyond those he lists) could result in the death of life on the world – but the removal of earth’s ruling class (humans) would not result in any such detriment (in fact, we could say things would probably get exponentially better for the planet).

I should not that while I have taken Gallups to task at various points for failing to offer up legitimate counter-arguments from atheist/agnostic proponents, it does appear at many junctures that he attempts to do just that – quoting from an evolutionary author to prove his point but then adding, “To be fair…” and explaining how the individual would explain his material to support rather than contradict evolution and so on.

Finally, I’m going to skip to the end a bit, and just remove that the End Times section is especially frightening to me. He again centers his argument around the reconstituted nation of Israel and then also throws in a list of nations (including Iraq and Libya among others) that will be part of this end time scenario. This sort of specific prediction and claiming of the end times has always concerned me. Gallups acknowledges that Christians have believed in every generation that the end was coming during their lifetime – but Gallups still insists that this generation is different – that now conditions are right. I believe Jesus could come back any time – maybe today, but maybe ten thousand years from now. I think making predictions like this (even without a date) opens Christians up to unnecessary criticism.

To summarize/conclude – the book has a number of interesting facets, it attempts something which should be done (a common man’s approach to apologetics) but it fails in the fairness of its presentation at some junctures and rests upon unstable premises at other junctures. Finally, and I didn’t mention this before, the book is almost completely lacking in footnotes or bibliography. I understand this was written for the common man, and probably end-notes would make more sense so that the reader doesn’t feel overwhelmed – but the number of claims made without any substantive proof (even though I know from reading elsewhere, that Gallups is correct in at least some of these) scares the dickens (Charles Dickens? What are you doing in there?) out of me.

I returned the book to Amazon for a refund. I wanted to like it and at times I did – but overall, I just couldn’t sell it to myself. Sorry.

  1. [1]sorry, I’m not a KJV-only advocate. I am a KJV advocate in the sense that I think it is a worthwhile translation to read alongside other translations…and I have spent some significant time in both the KJV and NKJV.

Christianity Today’s Grappling with the God of Two Testaments

I subscribe to Christianity Today and recently my subscription arrived in the mail. I was immediately taken with the cover consisting of an intermixing of 1 Samuel 15:2-3 (Old Testament) and Luke 6:27-31 (New Testament):
This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘But I tell you who hear me: love your enemies,” I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel do good to those who hate you, when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Bless those who curse you, now go, attack the Amalekites pray for those who mistreat you. And totally destroy everything that belongs to them. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. Do not spare them; if someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Put to death men and women, children and infants, give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

A powerful and visual contrast of the apparently conflicting messages of the Old and New Testaments. Christianity Today endeavors to provide an explanation and reconciliation of the profound differences apparent in the OT and NT article in this edition (July / August 2013).

Their endeavor consists of a brief and honest note from CT editor Mark Galli. This is followed by Mark Buchanan’s pastoral response entitled “Can We Trust the God of Genocide?” Then Phillip Cary argues “Gentiles in the Hands of a Genocidal God” and Christopher J. H. Wright’s article “Learning to Love Leviticus” and sidebar “Sex in Leviticus.”

I was saddened that CT didn’t take the opportunity to cover this topic even more extensively – I would have loved to see the entire magazine dedicated to the subject for this issue. Still, the articles are fairly interesting.

Mark Galli’s Editorial

I appreciate Galli’s honesty in acknowledging that there are really difficult passages that trouble Christians. He also provides us with several titles for further research on the topic including Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster?, David T. Lamb’s God Behaving Badly, and Eric A. Seibert’s The Violence of Scripture.

Can We Trust the God of Genocide?

Massacre of the Innocents painted by Peter Paul Rubens, ca. 1610-1612.
Massacre of the Innocents painted by Peter Paul Rubens, ca. 1610-1612.

Mark Buchanan offers a ‘pastoral’ response to the troubling texts involving genocide in the Old Testament. A ‘pastoral’ perspective as I commonly understand it is one which spends more time expressing empathy for the emotional components present in individuals’ difficulties with Scripture rather than a more intellectual/philosophical approach (at least, that is what I mean when I attempt to explain something in a ‘pastoral’ manner).

He aptly notes the difficulty we face, “What’s not easy is explaining what appear to be deliberate acts of divine cruelty. God’s virulent rage. His hair-trigger vindictiveness. His apoplectic jealousy. Why would God make women and children pay for the sins of despots or the apostasy of priests? God’s behavior at times appears to the skeptic, and even to the devout, as mere rancor, raw spite. There are passages in Scripture that make God look like a cosmic bully throwing a colossal tantrum.”

He suggests this raises the question “Can the Bible be trusted?” Which is really a more personal question, “Can the God of the Bible be trusted?” And finally, the real heart of the question, “Jesus, is that really you?”[1]

Buchanan provides an interesting analysis of Hosea 13:16 and its relation to John and James desiring to call fire down from heaven – and this along with his explanation of the problem are probably the strongest portions of the article.

From here on, I found the article less satisfying. Buchanan argues that, “But he’s the same God. Indeed, here’s a surprise: The road is even steeper now, the judgment of God sterner, and the cost of refusal greater…Jesus opens a new way to the same God. But Jesus, rather than lessening the stakes, heightens them. His blood speaks a better word than Abel’s, or any other’s, but his message is only an intensified version of what God has always said: Do not refuse me when I am talking to you.”

Buchanan does find the key to our interpretive paradox, “My pastoral instinct is that this all resolves at the Cross. All talk of God must filter there. All views of God must refract there. All theology must converge there. At the Cross, God’s own wrath falls on God. The God of the Old Covenant meets himself in the Christ of the New Covenant, and in a way superior to everything that has come before, he enacts a deep and lasting reconciliation.”

But he then suggests, “But here’s the strangeness of it: The Cross is mostly God’s defiance of himself. God erects a nail house against his own wrath. What the Cross defies, what the Cross defeats, what the Cross pushes back, is as much the wrath of heaven as it is the power of hell.”

I found the nail house to be a distracting illustration – but more importantly, I find this picture of the meaning of the cross as God’s defiance of himself as inadequate. It is perhaps a natural corollary of  penal-substitutionary atonement, which I believe in but also believe is inadequate to describe the fullness of Christ’s sacrifice (thus why the NT writers use so many different analogies and terms to describe what Christ accomplished).

I’ve written somewhat of a pastoral/personal reflection which focuses on the cross here.

Gentiles in the Hands of a Genocidal God

Of all the articles present in CT on this topic, I was most disappointed by Phillip Cary’s article. While it provides a good explanation of herem (the Hebrew term for genocide) and hesed (a Hebrew term for lovingkindness). Cary’s article might be summed in this statement, “How then shall we read the Canaanite genocide? I would say: as Canaanites, prone to lead Israel astray, yet blessed by the faith of Abraham. This is a faith shared by Rahab in her lovingkindness toward Israel, and offered to Gentiles in Jesus Christ who is, as his genealogy attests, the son of Rahab as well as the son of David (Matt. 1:5–6).”

In my humble opinion, Cary punts the ball. He argues that the genocidal commands of God should result in us being thankful we have been spared rather than upset that God would command such genocide. But I’m not sure (okay, I’m certain) that being the recipient of a genocidal command in any way changes the morality of the genocide.

I understand what Cary is saying, I just wish he had taken us a little farther down the road.

Learning to Love Leviticus

The article and sidebar (“Sex in Leviticus”) by Christopher J. H. Wright are my favorites on this topic. Wright provides an interesting, reasonable, and understandable explanation of how the OT applies to our lives now. Statements such as this are representative of his sentiment, “To imagine that ‘living biblically’ means trying to keep as many ancient rules as possible just because they are in the Bible misses the point of the law in the first place. Old Testament law was not just about rules but also about relationship with God, founded on God’s grace and redemption, and motivated by the mission of living as the people of God in the world, so that the world should come to know the living God.”

Wright’s explanation of why we no longer follow the sacrificial and dietary laws of the OT are especially helpful. He concludes with a series of questions we can utilize when trying to connect the ancient laws of Israel with our current context which are insightful and extremely practical.

Overall, his article reminds me of Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton’s Old Testament Today: A Journey from original Meaning to Contemporary Significance – which I’d highly recommend as being a more extensive guide to understanding the OT.

Wright’s sidebar on love (hetero/homo) is interesting, controversial, and far too short. He takes the traditional position on homosexuality (it is sinful) based on Genesis 2:24 but qualifies by noting, “that the Bible has far more to say about all forms of disordered heterosexual sexual activity, including nonmarital and extramarital, than its prohibition of same-sex intercourse.”

Concluding Thoughts

Overall, CT provided a good introduction to the topic. I think there are a few things CT could have done to strengthen their coverage of the topic besides those noted above, specifically:

  1. Where was the historical perspective from Mark Noll? This could have provided an overview of other understandings of the atonement (ransom theory, Christus Victor, moral influence, satisfaction, and penal substitution) as well as traditional understandings of the cohesiveness between the OT and NT (for example, some inkling of the allegorical understandings of the early church fathers).
  2. Where was the more liberal perspective? If not providing it from a liberal author, at least a summary of this perspective would have been helpful (John Shelby Spong as an example).
  3. While the articles regularly mention that there are difficult passages in the NT on a similar level to those in the OT, there could have been article specifically dedicated to this topic. I’d especially like to see something looking at Jesus as portrayed in Revelation in contrast to Jesus in the Gospel and in comparison to the OT difficulty passages.
  1. [1]Which reminds me of Malcolm Boyd’s Are You Running with Me, Jesus? Whether this allusion is intentional on Buchanan’s part, I don’t know.

Book Review: Eros Defiled (Author: John White).

Cover of Eros Defiled
Cover via Amazon

Warning: This post contains a review and discussion of White’s book Eros Defiled. As such it includes some fairly frank discussion of sexual sin and is inappropriate for some younger audiences. The book itself is much more frank than this post and should be read by the discerning and mature reader. White has no desire to titillate but writes with a medical doctor’s frank honesty and clarity about numerous topics which we frequently keep behind closed doors.

Introduction

I loved Dr. John White’s classic book on depression entitled the Masks of Melancholy and so when I saw a copy of Eros Defiled in a used bookstore for $.50, I had to buy it. It is a small volume – 169 pages in length – but one that is packed with honesty, controversy, and humble thought and reflection upon the dilemmas of human sexuality and the Christian.

This is one of those books that feels like a surgeon’s knife cutting through the soul. At turns White comforts, exposes, and confronts our deepest beliefs and natures. It is the pain which one both cringes from and at the same time recognizes as the conduit of healing. These are the sort of books I love to read – the ones that challenge me to grow and respond, that tear apart my false beliefs and force me to admit my inability and God’s ability.

White’s book is divided into three parts: “Sin, Sex & You”, “Sexual Sins”, and “The Church & Sexual Sin.” In the following sections I’ll provide a brief overview of each along with some running commentary, but let us begin with a few challenging quotations from White’s introductory materials:

Introductory Materials

  • “Nothing so liberates a man from the grip of sin as the intoxicating discover that he is freely accepted and forgiven. We have an altogether unscriptural fear that easy forgiveness makes a man think lightly of sin. God’s forgiveness is not ‘easy,’ it cost the death of his Son. It costs the sinner the admission of his own guilt and helplessness. Mediated by the Spirit through a helping brother or sister, a grasp, a dawning awareness, of that forgiveness sets a man free to be holy.” – Introduction, pg. 10.
  • “Pleasure, as C. S. Lewis once pointed out, is God’s invention, not the devil’s.” – Introduction, pg. 10.
  • “We do not marry in order to copulate. If this were so, marriage would indeed be ‘legalized prostitution.’ Marriages founded on physical sex quickly pall. We marry to make an alliance of mutual help and service, as an expression of love. Intimacy in such a context is the seal of commitment.” – Introduction, pg. 12.

Part I: Sin, Sex & You

In Chapter 1: Sex, Science and Morality Dr. White looks at the three lenses through which we can view sexuality: science, society (law), and religion. In general, science is the most general in what it considers normative and acceptable behavior (as it is based upon statistical analysis rather than moral rules), society is generally more restricted, and it is in religion that the strictest confines for appropriate sexual practice are outlined.

In Chapter 2: Your Urges & How You Experience Them Dr. White attempts to separate our physiological urges from sin. That is, he explains physiological urges as being part of God’s natural created order, which can be brought forth at the wrong time due to the presence of sin in the world – but that are yet given of God. He suggests that the physiological should not result in guilt or shame, but the decision to act inappropriately upon these desires.

Part II: Sexual Sins

In Chapter 3: Sex on a Desert Island White tackles the subject of masturbation. He suggests that while masturbation should be avoided that the guilt and shame which have been associated with this behavior is of much graver concern and causes much more severe damage than the behavior itself. White notes the silence of Scripture upon the topic and uses general principles from Scripture to derive his position on masturbation – finding the text itself to be silent on the matter.

In Chapter 4: The Freedom That Enslaves the subject of sexual freedom is discussed – particularly in the context of fornication. White suggests that the creation of rules around premarital sexual behavior have been misguided. That a hand hold can be erotic and thus that one must aim at not creating “rules” demonstrating how far is acceptable behavior but rather addressing the heart intents of the individuals involved in a relationship. White is firmly opposed to premarital sex, yet at the same time expresses a deep concern that the focus on premarital sex is unhealthy – that there needs to be a more general concern for the sexual integrity of individuals in romantic relationships.

Chapter 5: The Scarlet Letter addresses two topics, first that of marital infidelity (adultery) and secondly that of divorce and remarriage. While at times Dr. White’s positions are less strict that those found in evangelical and conservative Christianity, in this case we find his beliefs more strict than those currently held in most areas. To Dr. White remarriage after divorce is never acceptable (though he leaves open that he may be wrong in this matter). White takes time to explain what leads to the infidelity within marriages and also why he believes that remarriage is not an option for the Christian after a divorce.

Chapter 6: Two Halves Do Not Make One Whole contains a fascinating discussion of homosexuality. It is somewhat dated in some areas of terminology and science, but it becomes extremely fascinating b/c of the then-current diagnosis within the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of homosexuality as a mental disorder. White approaches the topic from this orientation. His language is at times cringe-worthy, as the phrases he uses are now generally associated with degrading implication, but it is evident that this is not his intent and that he writes with great compassion for those who have homosexual attractions.

White includes his personal struggle with homosexual feelings and attractions after having been abused as a child/teenager by a Christian mentor and youth leader and in this way brings a deep honesty and integrity to a difficult chapter.

Chapter 7: Deeds Done in the Dark is quite brief but touches on a number of aberrant forms of sexual behavior including exhibitionism, voyeurism, pedophilia, sadism, incest, and necrophilia. He is not interested in providing detailed descriptions of these but instead desires for there to be more compassion within the church towards even those who commit these sins. He concludes the chapter in part by saying, “I have yet a third purpose in mentioning what is so rarely mentioned in Christian books (except the Bible). I want to defend the victims I have been addressing, to defend them from the Christian public. Such people need Christian forgiveness, acceptance, compassion and professional help. We must insist that they get the latter and we must do all in our power to see they get a Christian friend, with whom they can come clean and with whom they can pray, who can be their trusted entree into Christian society. For such men and women, more than any of us, need both the discipline and the support of the church. They need around them people who know them and love them….Christians tend to react altogether inappropriately when they encounter bizarre sexual sin. Their reaction is not to the gravity of the sin. Rather it is that they fear what they cannot understand…Look at the person through the eyes of Christ and not through the filter of sexual behavior that frightens you. The man or woman before you is not a leper. And even if he were, Christ would have you reach out and touch him. This is what Christian love is all about.” (pg. 146)

Part III: The Church & Sexual Sin

This final portion consists of a single chapter entitled “The Discipline That Heals” and discusses the necessity for the church to not only preach truth and provide the sacraments but also to provide godly and loving discipline. Dr. White believes this is an area in which the church is most grievously failing its duties and brings forth the writings of some Anabaptists upon the topic of discipline as exemplary of his own thoughts. It is a challenging and convicting passage of Scripture which convicts us all of our failures to love well – which includes a faithful and loving discipline.

Review

Dr. John White’s book is a bit dated, it was originally published in 1977 which in terms of psychological theory on sexual behavior is ancient. Yet, his sincere searching of the Word, admission of his own faults and struggles, tackling of the then-current science, and honest and heart-felt recommendations make it a book well worth reading. I am not sure I would recommend it as a first read – there are probably more current books on the subject that would be more helpful…but it is a deep read.

It is the sort of book one might want to use in a men’s or women’s group to foster discussion. One does not have to agree with Dr. White’s ideas to be challenged by them to think through one’s own beliefs about human sexuality.

At the same time, Dr. White’s book is certain to upset conservative, progressive, and liberal Christians. Dr. White at turns take positions represent his commitment to personal honesty which will offend all. His controversial comments include on the topic of abortion, appropriate sexual behavior within the marriage covenant, and the origins and drives of sexual behavior.

Addendum

Dr. John White is a fascinating individual on a personal level. He was a missionary, a psychiatrist, a pastor. He wrote numerous books for InterVarsity Press, a respected and academic Christian publisher. He became associated with the charismatic movement particularly through the Vineyard Churches, something which was a shock and a controversy within his traditional circles. There is an interview, the veracity of which I cannot prove, by Julia Loren available here. As with Eros Defiled, one will find some topics insightful, but there is much which will be deemed strange and somewhat frightening by many evangelicals. I particularly want to highlight that in one section of the interview he repudiates this book – feeling that it was far too much based in psychological theory. I am still researching Dr. White, his works, and his life…I’d like to understand more about the eventual positions he adapted and so on – and whether he did repudiate this volume…I know it is still available from IVP…

Patriotism and the Church.

Memorial Day Poster
Image by Beverly & Pack via Flickr

[This article is currently in process, but I wanted to share what I’ve gathered thus far…]

Each year we have three holidays which are oftentimes celebrated within the church and which focus on national pride (patriotism) – Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day. For some these holidays mesh together, so lets break out the idea behind each holiday:

  • Memorial Day – A day to remember and honor those who have died in combat.
  • Independence Day – Celebration of the American Colonies declaration of independence from Britain.
  • Veterans Day – A day to honor those who have served in the armed forces.

One contentious issue within the church is patriotism. What role should patriotism play within the church, if any? The answer usually depends on the demographics. If we are talking to folks under thirty, patriotism has no place within the church service, but if we are talking to folks over sixty the idea of separating patriotism from our church services may be akin to heresy!

At Calvary (where I attend and am an elder) we traditionally celebrate each of these holidays in our service. One can scrape away the vestiges of patriotism from Memorial Day and Veterans Day – but there is no way to get around the patriotism associated with Independence Day. So, what should we do?

As I write this I don’t have an answer, nor am I convinced in my heart one way or the other…but as is my habit, when I am studying a topic and believe that my research could be of interest and user to others who may desire to ponder this topic I create a post providing the resources and thoughts I have, so here it is…

Articles About Patriotism and the Church

We’ll start with a survey of some of the better materials I’ve found delineating positions within the church on patriotism. Each of these is a thought provoking read and I have curated out the worthless articles so this should be a best-of-breed list. Please let me know if I’ve missed any important discussions on this matter and I’ll add them as appropriate.

  • Colson, Charles W. “On Waving Flags and Washing Feet.” Jubilee, June 1986. – Colson provides a thoughtful and balanced consideration of the role of patriotism in a Christian’s life admitting his own struggles with the seeming tension and the decisions he personally arrived at.
  • Reed, Frank L. (article) and Harold S. Martin (editorial). “Patriotism: An Anabaptist Perspective.BRF Witness, May/June 2003, Vol. 38, No. 3. – Martin comes from a strong traditional Anabaptist position on the topic of patriotism – in other words, Christians should have no part in it. The article provides several good Scriptural references though the arguments are not detailed enough to be convincing, it is a good jumping off place for further research. Most helpfully, Martin notes that this controversy has been the topic of debate between James Dobson and D. James Kennedy (pro-patriotism) and Cal Thomas and Jerry Falwell – all of whom are well respected within the evangelical community.
  • DeYoung, Kevin. “Thinking Theologically About Memorial Day.The Gospel Coalition. May 26, 2011. – DeYoung attempts to provide a moderate position on the patriotism debate, suggesting that patriotism is not evil but should not be part of worship services. Randy Alcorn agrees with DeYoung’s stance.
  • Gushee, David P. “What’s Right About Patriotism.” Christianity Today. 7/01/06. – Gushee provides a philosophical argument for Christians to participate in patriotism.
  • Is Patriotism in the USA Dead?Christianity Today. Originally 1969, reposted 6/29/10. – An old article reposted on the CT website, argues strongly for American patriotism but on an emotional level.
  • Tennant, Christy. “Patriotism and the House of Worship.Conversant Life. 4/4/10. – Tennant offers a heart-felt moderate conversation about patriotism in worship. She reflects on personal qualms about patriotism in the church but at the same time stops short of calling it wrong.
  • Jeter, Jill. “Church and Patriotism.Jill’s Blog. 4/5/10. – Jeter comes from a much more conservative background and is shocked when her Presbyterian church quavers at the thought of singing God Bless America within the service. Provides a good feel for how those who believe patriotism should be part of the service feel when it is not included.

Secondary Articles:

These articles are either on secondary topics or of secondary value in the discussion of patriotism in the church, yet they deserve mentioning.

Reimagining Church (Chapter 1) (Frank Viola) – An Interaction (Part 2).

A Painting by Bernt Notke
Image via Wikipedia

You can find introductory material and the introductory/preface interaction here. Without further delay…

Chapter 1. Reimagining the Church as an Organism.

  • “The church we read about in the New Testament was ‘organic.’ By that I mean it was born from and sustained by spiritual life instead of constructed by human institutions, controlled by human hierarchy, shaped by lifeless rituals, and held together by religious programs.”
    • The Christian church is most certainly organic, but the early church also shared many institutional aspects with the Jewish religion – particularly in its utilization of the temple and synagogue.
    • Rituals are meaningful or meaningless according to the assignment they receive from the individual. Communion and Baptism can be meaningless – unless they are imputed with meaning by remaining true to their inspiration in Scripture. While these rituals have a Scriptural mandate, other rituals are not necessarily evil – though they may become lifeless.
  • “To put it in a sentence, organic church life is not a theater with a script; it’s a gathered community that lives by divine life.”
    • Amen! Though I think the existence of a community that lives by divine life does not remove the possibility or even necessity of script within practice. A community is intentional and can be fostered or inhibited by a good script (especially if the script is flexible to the realities of life – which are not scripted).
  • “The biblical teaching of the Trinity is not an exposition about an abstract design of God. Instead, it teaches us about God’s nature and how it operates in Christian community.”
    • I do think that the Trinity is an archetype for human community, though this actually lends itself against Viola’s suggestion that church is non-hierarchical. While there is not a relationship of superiority/inferiority within the Trinity, there is a relationship of submission and roles.
  • “Properly conceived, the church is the gathered community that shares God’s life and expresses it in the earth. Put another way, the church is the earthly image of the triune God (Eph. 1:22-23).”
    • No disagreement from me here…nor do I think from most others I know?
  • “There’s an absence of passive spectatorship. There’s an absence of one-upmanship. And there’s an absence of religious rituals and programs.”
    • The spectator nature of traditional church and the politics of church are both disturbing realities of gathered community – they happen. We strive to live by grace in the Spirit, but we fail often, and this is the result. I agree with the removal (as far as is possible) of these elements from the church – but I do not see how the organic church has any stronger position in this battle.
    • I am hoping later on Viola will describe more of how one has an organic church without rituals and programs…and perhaps a more precise definition of what classifies something as a “ritual” or a “program.”
  • Viola highlights several different church philosophies:
    • “Biblical Blueprintism” – The Scriptures contained detailed instructions as to how the church should operate, we just have to correctly find these instructions and extract them. This is not the underlying concepts, but rather particular modes of expression, program, and ritual.
    • “Cultural Adaptability” – Suggests we must make the church relevant in the cultural in which the church exists in a specific time, place, and situation.
      • Viola wisely cautions, “Overcontextualization eats up the biblical text to where it disappears entirely. And we are left to create the church after our own image.”
      • I appreciate that while Viola thinks the church is not as it should be he also cautions that, “The early church was not perfect. If you doubt that, just read 1 Corinthians. So romanticizing the early Christians as if they were flawless is a mistake.”[1]
      • “The great difference between present-day Christianity and that of which we read in these [the New Testament letters] is that to us it is primarily a performance; to them it was a real experience. We are apt to reduce the Christian religion to a code, or at best a rule of heart and life. To these men it is quite plainly the invasion of their lives by a new life altogether.” – J.B. Phillips.
        • I want this invasion of new life altogether in my life!
    • “Postchurch Christianity” – The church as a formal entity ceases to exist, it is only spiritual and organic, it occurs over coffee in the grind of life.
      • Viola argues against this position on the basis that, “The first-century churches where locatable, identifiable, visitable communities that met regularly in a particular locale.”
    • “Organic Expression” – This is the philosophy Viola advocates.
  • Viola outlines four “DNA” elements to the true church:
    • “It will always express the headship of Jesus Christ in His church as opposed to the headship of a human being.”
    • “It will always allow for and encourage the every-member functioning of the body.”
    • “It will always map to the theology that’s contained in the New Testament, giving it visible expression on the earth.”
    • “It will always be grounded in the fellowship of the triune God.”
    • I don’t particularly see any of these being an issue for me, in fact they all seem to be in line with my heart – and with most other minister’s I know…again, the implementation appears to be where the difference lies.
  • “Yet despite the incredible power of God’s Word, there is one thing that can stop it dead in its tracks. That one thing is religious tradition.”
    • I could object to this, on the grounds that God is able to accomplish His will – there is nothing that can bar its advance, but this would be arguing for only one side of the coin. Better to live with the paradox of reality – God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.
  • “Whenever we see the word pastor in the Bible, we typically think of a man who preaches on Sunday mornings. Whenever we see the word church, we typically think of a building or a Sunday-morning service. Whenever we see the world elder, we typically think of someone on a church board or committee.”
    • Yes, some of us think this way, but many of us do not…and our ability to think outside of “the box” is not dependent on our dedication to the particular implementation Viola proposes. Rather, I have seen “out of the box” definitions of all these terms operative within the “traditional church.”
    • The pastor is much more than a preacher, though preaching is an important responsibility of the pastor.
    • The church is certainly not the building, and while I’d love to move away from calling buildings “churches” and to something else (“meeting house” or “chapel” perhaps?) I think this is more a matter of semantics, and helping individuals with a limited view of church (as the building) understand the dual aspects of the word – as a cultural word we use to denote the building in which the organic body congregates.
  • Viola highlights the use of ‘proof-texting’ as a significant issue and suggests that it allows us to read back in our current cultural traditions and rituals into the New Testament. I don’t disagree. Proof-texting is a dangerous method of Scriptural interpretation when misused…though I do think it can be utilized properly.

Summary Thus Far:

In general, I find myself agreeing with Viola’s criticisms of the institutional/traditional church, but disagreeing as to the necessity of completing revamping the church in order to achieve a truer vision of the church. I think that most leaders and ministers are on the same page with Viola – cognizant of the issues Viola is raising. Viola has proposed good ideas in theory, but I always find my theories smash to pieces when they hit the pavement of real life…but I’m looking forward to hearing and exploring Viola’s practical application of these ideal visions.

  1. [1]Steve Brown has an interesting article fleshing out this concept called The Ugly Bride.

His Dark Materials Trilogy Book Review (Author: Philip Pullman).

I’m Impressed

Philip Pullman is a master in the literary genre. I have rarely read novels with such beauty and depth. His Dark Materials is a trilogy of works including the books The Golden Compass[1], The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. These works are rather recent but already deserve to be considered among the classics fantasy genre (alongside J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia).

The Golden Compass Summary

The first volume, The Golden Compass introduces us to Lyra in a world parallel to our own. In this world a Roman Catholic-like church rules with a dictatorial grip and the scholars are a rebellious yet subdued group. There are witches, armored bears, and all sorts of fantastical creatures – including the presence of daemons – visible creatures which accompany each individual throughout their life in a visible manifestation and represent the human spirit. Lyra becomes entangled in grand adventures and must liberate a friend from a secret group that is separating children from their spirits.

The Subtle Knife Summary

The cover of the book The Subtle Knife.
The cover of the book The Subtle Knife. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The second volume, The Subtle Knife brings a grander scale to the tale (one might thing of Tolkien’s The Hobbit in comparison to his Lord of the Rings trilogy) and introduces our second main hero – a young lad named Will Parry. Eventually our two heroes’ tales intertwine and we follow as they explore not only their own worlds but many parallel universes.

The Amber Spyglass Summary

In the third volume, The Amber Spyglass, the tale becomes epic in scope and the story is of a grand battle between good and evil – except it is the religious, the god who is evil and the usurper who is good.

[Okay, I really didn’t reveal much there, you’ll have to read it to find out. I am afraid that this book is marred by the urgency of the polemic Pullman offers.]

Why It Is So Good

What makes these works so amazing? First is the quality of the writing. Pullman has a way with words. He can make them sound so beautiful and describes in such vibrancy an entirely other world. But words alone do not make a story. No, the quality of his tale is deep and rich, the light of the world shines bright and one’s imagination easily pulls out the vivid pictures he draws with words. But even beyond this, it is the theories and the mysteries which he throws at the reader which draw this book above the masses of quality reads and enters it into the realm of classics. His discussion of daemons and dust and angels all are worthwhile and offer a philosophical as well as entertaining read.

But Aren’t You A Christian?

With that said, some may be amazed to hear me sing the praises of Pullman. My personal belief system is Protestant Christian and yet Pullman is an outspoken agnostic[2]. In fact, while his first work is extremely subtle, and the second slightly more outspoken, by the third work it is evident that Pullman intends to undermine many of the basic beliefs of Christianity[3]. Pullman has made no attempt to hide his aims and the work is as much entertaining fiction as it is a philosophical treatise.

So why would I read it? First, it is partly because it is a theological/philosophical treatise that I read it. When I speak to others about my belief systems it is with an eager desire for them to honestly consider my ways of thinking and why I believe as I do and the evidence I offer to support my beliefs. How can I offer any less of an open and listening ear to those who believe differently from me? As such, I find great value in understanding and being able to intelligently interact with Pullman’s beliefs.

Secondly, the book offers wonderful insights into the majesty of God. As Pullman discloses pictures of angelic beings, portrays the complexity of the universe, and contemplates the scientific topics that boggle the minds of modern scientists he unwittingly offers insight and wisdom which a Christian can well utilize[4].

I cannot recommend these three volumes highly enough. The first two are relatively light reads, but the third becomes highly dense though still extremely readable and seems the size of at least both the previous volumes. I cannot speak to the UK volumes, I have only read the US volumes and am aware that Pullman’s works have been censored in the US editions to remove some of Lyra’s sexuality which plays a small but core role in the third volume. But, to the US editions, I give my praise…and hope that some day Pullman will willingly use the skills he has been given by God in the defense of God rather than maligning Him.

P.S. For those interested in learning more about this trilogy, take a look at Wikipedia’s article on the subject.

  1. [1]Recently made into a feature film which does no justice to the work. This is mainly due to its less-than-epic nature. It needed Peter Jackson’s treatment and willingness to push the boundaries of acceptable movie length. It was simply too short to express the richness of Pullman’s vision
  2. [2] An agnostic believes we cannot know God (if there is one) while an atheist believes that God does not and cannot exist
  3. [3]While the attacks seem somewhat more focused on the Roman Catholic and similar hierarchical churches as compared to many of the less organized forms of Protestantism, the underlying principles attacked extend across all denominations.
  4. [4]I especially think here of his portrayals of angels and dust

Hotel Rwanda Movie Review (PG-13).

Hotel Rwanda Movie Review

DVD box cover for Hotel Rwanda
DVD box cover for Hotel Rwanda (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hotel Rwanda stars Don Cheadle as a hotel manager in Rwanda (during the horrific national genocide in 1994) who also happens to be Hutu (the tribe in power at the time that led the genocide). Cheadle’s character, based on a real man – Paul Rusesabagina – refuses to participate in the genocide and rather than idly stand by begins to offer Tutsis (the tribe then being murdered wholesale) refuge within the walls of his hotel.

This is a gripping, frustrating, saddening, heart-wrenching drama about the genocide. It raises real and deep questions about the nature of the human condition and the responsibility of the world in light of localized evil.

If you haven’t seen this film yet, it is a must see. Take the time to bring others together to watch it with you and discuss the political, religious, and individual implications of the film.

Localized Evil?

When I say “localized evil” I mean evil which occurs in a specific geographical region, which does not directly (immediately, visibly, emotionally) affect us.

Pertinent examples include the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, the Darfur, and the Holocaust throughout Europe.

Some would suggest we have a moral obligation to intervene in these situations but none other. Others would suggest our responsibility to stop “localized evil” extends to situations such as Syria and Mexico.

Others suggest we have no responsibility. That we cannot remedy the world’s ills so we need not try.

I believe we do have a moral responsibility to intervene – not only where human violence arises but where nature takes its toll. But who cares what I say? What will I do! What will I do!

Book Review: Metamorpha (Author: Kyle Strobel)

Cover of Kyle Strobel's book Metamorpha
Cover of Kyle Strobel’s book Metamorpha.

Coming in with Low Expectations…

I am a voracious reader and my interests cover a variety of topics. One of my specialties, so to speak, is books on Christianity. I enjoy a number of Christian authors and am constantly expanding my interests.

Not too long ago I received a promotional copy of a new book by Kyle Strobel entitled Metamorpha: Jesus as a Way of Life. Promotional books oftentimes aren’t of the greatest quality and when I saw that this was, in fact, Lee Strobel‘s son (Case for Faith, Case for Christ, Case for a Creator) I was underwhelmed. I had tried Strobel’s Case for a Creator and while the volume had grasped my interest initially, I became discombobulated and bored as the volume continued.

I felt like Lee’s writing skills as an investigative journalist didn’t carry over well to full-length volumes and this challenge for journalists seemed to be confirmed by David Aikman‘s The Delusion of Disbelief. In any case, my skepticism was high, but I began to plunge ahead – and I was pleasantly surprised.

But Pleasantly Surprised…

Kyle Strobel writes with clarity, honesty, and wisdom I have seldom encountered except among some of the greatest authors. I can rank him without hyperbole alongside C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity, Chronicles of Narnia) and George MacDonald (Diary of an Old Soul, Unspoken Sermons). The quality of his writing is superb, the content is clear and concise, the depth of his knowledge is impressive.

Strobel is young. Very young. But his work deserves the attention not only of this generation but also of the elder generations. With the wisdom of Solomon he carefully examines the faults of the elder and younger generations. Unlike so many contemporary writers who are blinded by the faults of the other generation Strobel is careful to pull the plank out of each generation’s eye as he seeks to unfold a clearer vision of following Christ.

Read If…

If you are looking for visionary insight into following Jesus,
Or you desire to deepen your walk with God. Or even to understand who this God is and why you should care,
If you find yourself in conflict with those of other generations,
Or are simply looking for deep, heart-wrenching, intellectual, theological stimulation – get ready to take a wild ride.