Archive for May, 2015

Reading Ramblings – June 7, 2015

May 31, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 7, 2015

Texts: Genesis 3:8-15; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35

Context: We are now in the liturgical season of Ordinary Time, as distinguished from the festival and feast cycle from Advent through Easter. This second half of the Church year is less exciting than the first half, but allows us time for reflection on the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church as we await the return of our Lord.

Genesis 3:8-15 – Rebellion has begun. The forbidden fruit has been eaten. The serpent is cursed because it was in this form that Satan tempted Eve. Many people read these verses and wonder what the serpent looked like before it was cursed to crawl on its belly. Did it have legs? Did it look more like a dragon than a snake? Questions abound. Regardless of the answer, the snake now has a special adverse relationship with humanity. Our aversion to snakes is rooted in our final moments in the garden of Eden. Our enemy succeeds in luring humanity into sin – is it any wonder we still carry that primal distaste for snakes in the backs of our minds?

Psalm 130 – While Adam and Eve wait for God in fear, the psalmist waits for God differently, seeking him out so that forgiveness might be received. Mercy is all we can hope for from God, as creation is now riddled with the sin initiated in Eden, and we are not capable of earning God’s good will through perfect obedience to our created nature. So now we hope for mercy, a hope that is not disappointed but rather fulfilled in the incarnation of the Son of God, and his innocent death and glorious resurrection. What the psalmist could only hope for you and I are assured of in the empty tomb – we are forgiven! Our sins are not counted against us! We have been redeemed from our iniquities.

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1- The effects of sin are still at work within us, and we suffer the temporal penalty of that sin, death. Yet despite the fact that we decay and die, we hold on to hope. Our hope is in the resurrection of the Son of God, and his promise that by faith we too would be raised from death with him. Our suffering and mortality is transient and passing away, and will be replaced with eternal glory and life on the day our Lord returns in majesty. This is the source of our hope and comfort as we face the loss of loved ones and as we contemplate our own mortality.

Mark 3:20-35 – Jesus has two delegations making their way towards him based on the reports of his early ministry activities, which include healings and casting out demons. One delegation is his family in Nazareth, not too far from Jesus’ ministry base of Capernaum. While we cannot know for certain what his family understood of his nature and purpose, it seems clear that they are perplexed and alarmed by his public ministry, and assume that He is not thinking clearly. They seem intent on coming to get him and take him home to rest.

The other delegation comes from Jerusalem, far to the south of the region of Galilee. This delegation consists of scribes, experts in the Hebrew sacred text, the Torah (which we know as the Old Testament). The role of scribe develops during the Babylonian exile almost 600 years earlier. They may have started out as a subclass of priest, but by the time of Jesus they are not necessarily priests. In fact, they are itinerant, seeking to earn a living from patrons and by offering their services as textual experts to whomever is willing and able to pay. They are thus likely to have been hired to go and check out the strange reports that have come back from Capernaum. However their minds are already made up. But unlike Jesus’ family, who just assumes he’s a bit touched in the head, the scribes are already convinced – without having met Jesus or investigated things at all – that he is in league with Satan, a serious charge.

Jesus discredits the logic of their position. How would it be to Satan’s interest to invest Jesus with the power to cast out demons that already are firmly established in people? This is illogical, and results in a weakening of Satan by internal division rather than a reasonable ploy. Jesus then offers a more logical alternative. Someone (meaning himself) has come who is stronger than Satan. Satan is unable to stop Jesus from casting out his minions. Satan is already then shown to be helpless against Jesus, so that Jesus can do whatever He likes in terms of casting out demons.

Verses 28-30 have perplexed people for centuries, and there is much speculation about the unforgiveable sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Is this sin truly unforgiveable? Yes – so long as someone remains obstinate in their refusal to accept Christ, acknowledge God, or ask for forgiveness. In rejecting the Holy Spirit, in calling good evil and evil good, someone removes themselves intentionally from the sphere of grace that is characteristic of the Kingdom of God. Jesus has clearly been doing wonderful and holy things, yet the scribes insist that they are not holy and he is not holy, but rather evil. In their blindness they treat God as Satan and Satan as God, removing themselves from the reality of God and consigning themselves to unforgiveness.

If and when they come to their senses and seek forgiveness, that forgiveness will be granted because of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Son of God. But until that point, they themselves bar their receiving of forgiveness because they refuse to see their need for it.

Jesus does not have such harsh words for his family. Unable to get past the crowd and into the house where he is seated with his disciples, word is sent to him to come out to them. Jesus does not, however. His family seeks him without understanding his work. Yet he is surrounded by disciples and others who have sought him out specifically because of his work. His family seek to put an end to whatever nonsense Jesus is getting himself into. The crowds come to him in order that they might be blessed by his words and power.

Jesus’ teaching here is not meant to dishonor his family (breaking the Fourth Commandment), but rather to indicate that He has a much larger family than his mother and siblings contemplate. This family is the Church, those who seek him because of who He is and what He has done and will do, who receive his blessings in terms of forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. Baptismal water becomes thicker than blood, a surer sign of a family bond than our typical way of understanding family.

This is the first of three times when Jesus’ family relationships will be redefined in terms of those who receive him for his words and works. Jesus will celebrate his last supper not with his family from Nazareth, as might be expected, but rather with his disciples. And on Easter morning, the angel sends the women who come to the tomb not to inform the rest of Jesus’ blood family of his resurrection, but to tell his disciples.

Through faith in the identity and work of the Son of God incarnate, we become brothers and sisters of the Son of God, and therefore heirs of eternal life with him. This is based on faith, not on bloodlines and geneaologies. It is available to anyone who will receive it!

Declaration of Dependence

May 29, 2015

While there are many passages in the Bible that challenge us, perhaps the one that we are most unabashedly in conflict with is Romans 13.  We may not always like what the Bible says, but we generally (as Christians) will concede that it is true and we need to work at conforming our attitudes and words and actions to be more consistent with it.  But Romans 13 is perhaps the one section of Scripture that the most fundamentalist, conservative, and traditional Christians will openly balk at.

No, it doesn’t have to do with sex or marriage or loving our neighbors.  Instead it deals with our obligation as Christians in how we conduct ourselves as  subjects of a civil authority.  What does it mean for a Christian to be a citizen?  It means that we are to be subject to the civil authority.  This may not sound like a very difficult proposition, but I think it is one of the most difficult Scriptural admonitions for American Christians.  When we come to this passage, our immediate reaction is not yes, Paul is speaking truth inspired by the Holy Spirit of God and I need to give thanks for and seek to be subject to my civil authority in every possible way.  The reaction I run into over and over again – including in myself is what is the loophole?  What’s the boundary where I can in good faith reject my civil authority?

I think this is an issue of premises.  As 20th/21st century Americans, we are raised on the understanding that government should be of the people, by the people, and for the people, a phrase made popular by Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address just over 150 years ago.  In other words, I am in control of the government.  The government is answerable to me.

But St. Paul in Romans 13 asserts something radically different – God is in control of the government, at least in a broad sense and sometimes in very particular ways.  Government is ultimately a tool in God’s hand for maintaining civil order and safety.  Government is therefore not answerable to me as a citizen, but to God.  A government might function well or poorly in this role as divine agent, but this is its appropriate role.

These are very contradictory positions.  My education as an American strongly conflicts with St. Paul’s assertions, leading me to seek a way out from St. Paul’s words.  Surely there are limits.  Surely there are points at which the civil authority must be so manifestly wrong and contrary to the will of God that I am justified in rebellion.  And that may be the case, but Paul doesn’t deal with that issue in Romans 13.  He simply asserts that our goal is to live peaceably and obediently to civil authority, and that when we do not, we rightly should expect – and even rightly deserve – civil punishment.

Theologians struggle with this passage just as much.  Was it sinful then, for the colonies to revolt against Great Britain?  Some theologians say yes.  Others say no.  Was it sinful to initiate resistance to the Nazi government?  Some theologians say yes, others say no.

Each of us may be confronted in the course of our Christian life with a crisis of conscience.  I think St. Paul would have definitely agreed with St. Peter’s statements in Acts 5:29, that when we are forced to choose between obedience to God and obedience to man, we must choose obedience to God.  But this is a far different matter than disagreeing on public policy.  My government may legitimize things that I know to be contrary to the will of God, such as abortion or the arbitrary redefinition of marriage.  However insofar as I am not required personally to get an abortion or to marry multiple people or people of the same gender as myself, I must remain obedient to the government.  Civil resistance is not something I should be focused on until I am personally forced to choose between the dictates of man and the dictates of God.  And even then, I should not necessarily expect that my resistance is justified and should be respected by the authorities!  What it means is that if necessary, I should be willing to endure imprisonment or even execution rather than renounce my faith.  This is wrong, and those who are part of the civil authority responsible for these actions will be held accountable and responsible for them – but not necessarily by me.  They will have to answer to God.

St. Paul was writing to the Christian community in Rome in the mid-50’s AD.  This is a community whose Jewish converts were well aware that it was in recent memory that Jews had been banned from Rome.  This is a community who shortly would face arrest and execution in the Coliseum under the rule of Nero.  Yet I’m not aware of any Christian teaching – Biblical or otherwise – that exhorted Christians to active resistance to these things.  Hope was not to be found in public vindication, but in the promise of eternal life beyond the reach of secular abuses.

How different from our concepts of representative democracy!  Which makes Romans 13 very confusing.  I believe we can and should exercise those rights accorded to us by our government.  We are free to protest and lobby and vote and organize and campaign.  All within the legal framework accorded such activities.  We are free to organize and lobby on behalf of those we feel are unjustly imprisoned, or against laws that limit our freedom of religious expression.  But in all things our attitude should be one of obedience to the civil authority as a gift from God intended to facilitate peace and good order.

How does that sit with you?

A Word of Hope

May 28, 2015

An acquaintance on Facebook posted that a beloved pet passed away recently.  She lovingly uploaded a series of photos of her dog over the years, including the obligatory cute puppy photo.  Having loved and lost several pets over the years, I know that pain.

I started to write how good it was that she had so many fond memories.  But then I realized that this is what everyone says.  Anybody, whether they believe in God or Allah or nirvana or nothingness – they would all agree that we have beautiful memories that help sustain us in our moments of grief and loss.  And I didn’t want to post something that would have the assent of every single person no matter what their belief was.  Surely, as a Christian, I have something more and better to offer, don’t I?

Of course I do – so does every Christian!

We have hope.  Hope that this life is not the end.  And hope sounds nice and anybody can say hopeful things, but we have hope predicated on a historical reality – the resurrection of a man who also claimed to be the Son of God.  My hope is not just wishful thinking or idle speculation or what makes me feel good, it’s an assurance based on that empty tomb.  And the assurance is that my tomb will one day be empty, too.  And while not all Christians would agree with me in this, I would assert that this means animal tombs will one day be empty as well.

I look forward to seeing my dogs some day.  We talk about this with our kids as well.  We love our dogs dearly but they won’t live forever.  We love each other dearly but we won’t live forever.  And our hope is not simply to accumulate enough memories and pictures and videos of one another to console ourselves at our time of loss, but our hope is that we’ll have new memories to create and enjoy when our Lord returns.

There are those that feel animals don’t have souls and therefore won’t share in the resurrection.  I think this is a very limited view of creation, and I can’t find much Scriptural evidence one way or the other.  But I tend to believe that if God went to all the trouble to populate creation with such myriad and wonderful critters, He intends for them to enjoy the afterlife as much as us.  That’s good news – feel free to share it!

Wet Bar Wednesday – Bad Daddy/Kids Drinks

May 27, 2015

Perhaps I’m being a bad father, but my kids have grown to be just as excited about happy hour as I am.  Not because I make them cocktails, but because it’s another element of ritual and routine to the day.  Something they can anticipate, and something they know makes me happy.  Our youngest has gotten into the routine of wanting to help as I make drinks, and though he’s only recently nine, he’s getting the idea that this can be a fun and creative activity and wants to make some for himself.

Routinely we have sparkling cider (non-alcoholic) on hand for the kids to enjoy a drink while we have more grown-up drinks.  But my son has been wanting to create his own.  Fortunately, this is really easy to do.  All you need is fresh fruit on hand and some club soda.  Have your kids decide what fruits they would like to juice or blend up, and then after the juicing or blending, add club soda to add some sparkle to the drink.  My son has so far experimented with a kiwi/orange mixture that was pretty tasty, and a watermelon/kiwi mixture that was tasty, but very pulpy from the watermelon (which my daughter didn’t care for).

This is a fun way to do things with them and make sure that they are part of the afternoon/evening festivities. Enjoy!

Great Idea!

May 25, 2015

I really really really really really really really hope that this works.

Living in one of the poorest neighborhoods in St. Louis for three years, we saw firsthand the lack of good food options for people trying to survive on very little money and government assistance.  Aside from the discussion of food stamps and whether or how they should be provided, if we’re going to provide them at some level, there ought to be options for decent food for people, and hopefully this idea will work really well and expand into other markets.

I particularly like the idea of having inexpensive prepared meals.  Frankly, most of what we saw people buying in St. Louis was snack food – things you didn’t have to cook, but which also provided almost zero nutritional value.  For a single mother who is working, the prospect of getting a home-cooked meal on the table at the end of the day can be daunting.  Having nutritious and affordable pre-prepared meal options seems like a fantastic alternative.

However like most things, it’s going to take a while to change habits, and I hope that Daily Table can hang on long enough to begin helping to change those habits for the people it hopes to serve.

Reading Ramblings – May 31, 2015

May 24, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Holy Trinity Sunday (First Sunday in Pentecost) – May 31, 2015

Texts: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Acts 2:14a, 22-36; John 3:1-17

Context: For roughly 700 years the Western Church has formally celebrated the first Sunday after Pentecost as Holy Trinity Sunday. It was a long disputed topic. The controversy of Trinitarian teaching reached an apex in the fourth century with Bishop Arius of Alexandria, who denied that Jesus was eternally equal with God the Father in an effort to make the faith more rationale. But the Church resisted creating a particular feast for the Trinity, arguing that the Trinity was honored and exhalted in the daily offices of the Church. It is traditional on this Sunday to read the Athanasian Creed, the longest and least familiar of the three ecumenical creeds. It deals specifically with the nature of the Trinity, insofar as we are able to describe it, seeking to eliminate confusion that can result when we try to say more than has been revealed about the nature of the Trinity.

Isaiah 6:1-8 – The first five chapters of Isaiah are laments and declarations of judgment and reassurances of God’s preserving power and ultimate glory, but chapter six details Isaiah’s call as a prophet of God. This reading emphasizes the power and majesty and holiness of God the Father. Note that there is no physical description of him even though He is described as enthroned. Rather, what is described is is majesty, with the result that Isaiah despairs. He knows that as a sinful man he cannot abide in the presence of the holy power of God. Yet God enables him not only to remain, but to be fitted for service as his prophet. What fits him for this service is forgiveness.

Psalm 29 – This psalm emphasizes the power of God, and the worship and glory due to him as the Creator and Master of all things. Similar to many psalms, it begins with a call to worship (vs.1-2), describes the content of worship (vs.3-10), and ends with a prayer based on the content of the worship (v.11). Unlike the other psalms though, this one calls not mortals to prayer and praise but heavenly beings. As such, it unifies the worship of God’s people here on earth (who are speaking or singing this psalm responsively) with the worship of God that occurs in the heavenly realms. This psalm is also unique in how extensively it describes the voice of God in relation to natural phenomena. While never commiting the sin of calling us to worship thunder, it maintains that it is the voice of God that powers the thunder. He is the creator and master of these phenomena, and so they attest to his power and glory.

Acts 2:14a, 22-36 – We continue the reading of the first Pentecost account that we started last Sunday. For those who wish to asser that Trinitarian doctrine was a later innovation of the Church, it is clear from this, Peter’s first sermon, preached within a few weeks of the resurrection, that Trinitarian thought was already present, particularly in verses 32-36. Peter clearly asserts that Jesus reigns with God, a thought that would be anathema both to Peter and his hearers as faithful Jews who assert the Shema, that there is only one God. Peter sees no discrepancy between asserting that God is one, yet God consists of more than one aspect. God the Father, God the Son, Jesus, who reigns at his right hand, and God the Holy Spirit who is now present and at work in creation.

John 3:1-17 – Once again Trinitarian language figures prominently in the reading (not surprising, given the theme of the day!). This time Jesus himself speaks of God as having three aspects or persons. God is the Holy Spirit, by whom one is born again in faith as a citizen of the kingdom of God. God is the Son of Man, Jesus’ term for himself drawn from Daniel 7:13 and a reference to the promised Messiah. It is this Son of God that has come down from heaven, has become incarnate, and through this Son of Man that hope and life is offered to the world.

How is this hope and life offered? Through forgiveness of sins. The Son of God is the one who grants forgiveness, an attribute exclusive to God as the Isaiah reading attests to. To offer forgiveness of sins authoritatively indicates a freedom from sinfulness, and a power and glory commensurate with God. Nobody but God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7).

Christians confess what God has revealed – a single God, but a God comprised of three distinct aspects or persons. God the Holy Spirit is God, God the Son is God, and God the Father is God. Each is unique and distinct. It is not merely God the Father changing clothes, so that He appears as the angry God of the Old Testament, the huggy hippy God incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth, and now the invisible, pervasive Holy Spirit. This is another ancient heresy called modalism. Rather, the ministry of Jesus clearly demonstrates that God is all three persons simultaneously. Jesus’ baptism is a fantastic demonstration of this – God the Holy Spirit descending, God the Father speaking from above, and God the Son in the water. Jesus makes the unparalled assertion that He and the Father are one (John 14:1-14).

No Jew could make such a claim, or accept this claim from another – it was blasphemy. Either Jesus was crazy in making this statement, or He was an evil man deliberately lying, or He was exactly who and what He claimed to be. The resurrection is the proof that He was who He said He was – the promised messiah and also the divine, incarnate Son of God.

This is no less an outrageous statement in our day and age than it was 2000 years ago. It violates not our capacity for spirituality – people believe a stunning variety of things, some mutually incompatible! Rather it violates our understanding of reality, asserting something that we have no other experience for or with. To me, this is one of the most compelling things about Christianity. It describes God in terms I can understand (to a point) but that I cannot duplicate or emulate or relate to. I have no way of creating such a God on my own. God is wholly other from me in this respect, and will always be so. While it makes it difficult at times to describe God to others without sounding crazy, my faith is grounded in a God too unlike me to be a creation of my own imagination or the imagination of someone else.

Wet Bar Wednesday – Good Tutorial

May 20, 2015

Belatedly, I know.

I tend to be a rather casual bartender at home.  I haven’t spent much money on gadgets and gizmos (which leaves me more money for alcohol – woohoo!).  However if you want a good primer on better bartending basics, this article is one of the better ones I’ve found.


Fightin’ Words

May 19, 2015

A Facebook acquaintance posted a link to this blog post commenting on this fascinating little news story from near my home town.  It’s regarding several churches of various denominations in a ritzy area of town that are all doing a specific sermon series to help differentiate Biblical Christianity from Progressive Christianity.  I could make comment on the blogger’s post, but that’s really less interesting than diving into the details of the actual story.  I’ll simply say that the blogger’s aghast horror that people who call themselves Christians might not think that others who want to call themselves Christians really are Christian  is very, very unBiblical.  Departures from the historic faith as described in the Bible is hardly new, and the early Christians understood just how very, very important it was to stay focused and unified around the witness of Scripture (which was only the Old Testament initially) and the testimony of the life of Jesus as passed on orally and in written form by those who had been closest to him (or, like St. Paul, had encountered him divinely).

So it is that St. Paul can say with vehemence:  “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.  For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?  Or am I trying to please man?  If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-10)

Them’s fightin’ words, for certain.

The question becomes whether or not the blogger’s horror is justified because what is at stake is not the gospel, or whether the blogger – and many, many, many, many other Christians, need to be reminded that “not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)   And citing one example of religious violence from seven years ago as a “history of violence directed at liberal churches” seems more than a bit extreme to me.

The story itself is fascinating.  Eight pastors in Fountain Hills is banding together to offer the same sermon series at each of their congregations.  Included is an LC-MS pastor, in addition to Baptists, Charismatics, and Presbyterians, according to this letter to the editor.  The sermon series purports to differentiate between historic, Biblically-based Christianity and “progressive” Christianity.  This in itself is rather curious but also exciting.  Churches of various denominations and backgrounds uniting around something they share between them – an insistence on the Word of God as the normative definition of the Christian faith.  The series addresses three major questions – how are progressive and Biblical Christianity different, do these differences matter in our cultural climate of relativism, and how can someone discern the proper Christian belief.  This sounds fantastic!  What a timely and necessary topic!  I think that I’ll look into this to find out if I can get material to offer it to my congregation!

But things get interesting because there is a Methodist church in the area that considers itself progressive, and is viewing this coalition as an attack.  Curious, since this congregation is mentioned nowhere in the letter to the editor.  Nor could I find any other documentation – other than the Methodist web site and the blogger – where this connection is made.  I find it fascinating that the Methodist church can feel free to advertise their openness to various beliefs and practices, and yet this is not considered an ‘attack’ on the other congregations in the area who don’t believe and do the same things.  However other congregations who assert their beliefs are viewed as being aggressive.  Is it the number of congregations involved?  Would it not be an attack if it was just one, or only four?  I don’t get it.

The news story is fascinating.  The Methodist pastor asserts that these other churches are trying to “discredit one other way of thinking”.  Isn’t that what he and his congregation are doing by teaching a radically different doctrine?  How are their stances not offensive?

Who controls the word progressive and its meaning?  This is not the name of the Methodist church, and nowhere on their home page do they make use of this term other than in a link to a group they are associated with.  Yet clearly they feel that they are progressive, and that the other congregations are not, and therefore that this is an attack on them.  How is it that the Methodist pastor can assert that non-progressive Christians (again, what does that mean?) necessarily “deny science”, “hate their gay neighbor”, and “abandon their rational mind” and this is not an attack on these congregations?

At best, perhaps this should be a wake up call for the Methodist congregation.  I will presume their pastor is fairly set in his beliefs and isn’t open to reviewing them.  But I pray that the members (and the pastor) will begin to question what they preach in light of Scripture.  This is not an isolated prayer – every congregation, every pastor needs to constantly question and analyze what they preach and teach in light of Scripture.  Challenging one’s Biblical interpretation is not an act of war – or at least it shouldn’t be.  Ultimately it should be an act of love, of concern that a brother or sister has received a “different gospel” that could prove dangerous to them.  Or perhaps, that we ourselves have, unwittingly.

The truth remains that Christians assert, on the basis of the Bible, that Truth exists.  Our attitude or awareness of that Truth does not alter or eliminate it.  We may not like the Truth, but the Truth is not changeable based on our feelings.  I may not like the fact that fire burns me when I stick my hand into an open flame, but this does not prevent the reality of the flame from burning my hand.  Christians are charged with sharing the most wonderful, incredible Truth the world has ever known.  We did not create this Truth, and we are not capable of altering it – only distorting or misrepresenting it.  Because we are broken and sinful and finite, this is inevitable to a certain degree, and we trust in the grace of God to welcome us into his arms whether our understanding of the Eucharist is more or less accurate.

But there are some teachings that set one outside the pale of Christianity.  We may not like it when someone tells us that, but it remains true, and our duty is together to seek to cling as tightly to the Truth that has been revealed to us by the Word of God in Scripture and the Word of God made flesh as possible.  To reject this effort, to claim exemption of it for any reason, is not simply unBiblical it is very, very dangerous.  I pray that those eight congregations go about this process in genuine love and concern for their own members and for other Christians as well as those being brought into relationship with Jesus Christ.   Being right is just as damaging as being wrong if it isn’t conditioned by love!

Random Stats

May 18, 2015

Here are some statistics on home-schooling in the United States.

Overall, the trend is that more children are being home-schooled now than 12 years ago.  More of these children are in larger families where there are two parents present and where only one of the parents works.

Any other interesting data anyone feels like pulling from this?

Book Review – Myth, Allegory and Gospel

May 18, 2015

Myth, Allegory and Gospel

Bethany Fellowship, Inc. 1974

Yet another on the reading list for this.  I was looking forward to this because of my appreciation of both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.  But as a whole, I’m disappointed.

This book follows a series of lectures in 1969-1970 sponsored by DePaul University.  Each lecture dealt with a different author (J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Charles Williams) and how that author presented through good literature a retelling or echoing of Christian and Biblical themes.  I haven’t had the opportunity to read Chesterton or Williams yet, so their essays were rather superfluous and I pretty much skimmed them.

There were two chapters devoted to C.S. Lewis.  The first had to do with the broad theme of whether Lewis and his imagining of other planets in his Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength) was rendered obsolete by the recent moon landing.  In other words, would people still find value in reading books that posited (loosely!) certain things about other planets in our solar system as our scientific knowledge extended to render those ideas null and void.  It was a fine essay for this rather specific point, the upshot being that no, these books retained value because their value and beauty was not bound to scientific details but rather to what was conveyed through those details.

The second essay was a summary overview of the Narnia series and how each of the books in the series is part of Christian allegory.  This was somewhat helpful, though mostly summary.  The latter part of the essay dealt with the appropriate age for reading these books, so that both the adventurous nature of them as well as the allegorical elements could both be appreciated.

I was most looking forward to the essay on mythic and Christian elements in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Long a fan of these books, I am aware of Tolkien’s own position that these books were not to be understood as Christian allegory, despite the reality that there are many individual elements within the books (and the extended lore found in The Silmarillion) that do reflect or could be interpreted along Christian or Biblical lines.  I found this essay rather disappointing.

Half of the essay is dedicated to a definition of myth and what makes something mythic.  The other half of the essay asserted that, despite Tolkien’s protests, the books really could be seen as Christian allegory.  However rather than presenting a cohesive defense of this position, the author basically pointed out bits and pieces here and there that match Christian and Biblical themes.  While a Christian would be inclined to recognize these already, somebody not familiar with the Christian faith or the Bible might be equally compelled to say that they merely represent traditional mythic elements and themes in many if not all good vs. evil myths.  I had hoped for some more enlightening, comprehensive assertions about the allegorical nature of the books and the author did not provide this.

If you like these authors, then you may find these essays interesting insights into the men and their works.  If you’ve done thinking and reflecting and re-reading of these works enough, however, I’m not sure there is enough new insight in these essays to warrant the time.  Frankly, it would have been exciting and fascinating to have attended the lectures themselves!