I found the language of Francis Schaeffer’s True Spirituality: How to Live for Jesus Moment by Moment at times a little odd. There were the evangelicalese expressions like “I claim the completed work of Christ” alongside philosophical-sounding terms. I suppose some of the oddness of the language could be attributed to the fact that this book originated as talks–it does have that very personal tone, as if Schaeffer were sitting across the table from you.
Nevertheless, this is a good book with some great moments. The two that struck me most were in the first and last chapters. In the first chapter he speaks of two tests for covetousness, one in regard to God and the other in regard to man: “first, I am to love God enough to be contented; second, I am to love man enough not to envy.” He goes on to explain the first: “When I lack proper contentment, either I have forgotten that God is God or have ceased to be submissive to him.” To feel the force of this, start applying it to everything in your life–especially to all your disappointments. He brings the whole thing down to earth by calling us to a life of moment-by-moment gratitude to God–and gratitude is certainly the antidote to covetousness.
The last chapter is about our life in the church and the need for the church to demonstrate by its life–particularly by its relationships among the individuals in the congregation–the reality of Christ and his resurrection power. He came to change us, and if his resurrection has no visible impact on the way we relate to each other–that is, if we as the church are indistinguishable from any other human organization in the way we function and relate–then we fail in our primary purpose. In effect we lie about Christ.
He says it all much better, of course–even with his quirky language. So find a copy for yourself.
“…when I begin really to think and act as a creature, then I can turn outward, as an equal, to other men. Suddenly I am no longer mumbling to myself. Once I accept myself as an equal to all men, I can talk as an equal to other men. I no longer have to talk to myself centrally and finally. If I acknowledge that I am really not God, and that since the fall we all are sinful, then I can have true human relationships without battering myself to pieces because they are not sufficient in themselves, or because they are not perfect. The trouble with human relationships is that man without God does not realize that all men are sinful, and so he hangs too much on his personal relationships, and they crush and break. No love affair between a man and a woman has ever been great enough to hang everything on. It will crumble away under your feet. And as the edges begin to break away the relationship is destroyed. But when I am a creature in the presence of God, and I see that the last relationship is with an infinite God, and these human relationships are among equals, I can take from a human relationship what God meant it to provide, without putting the whole structure under an intolerable burden. More than this, when I acknowledge that none of us are perfect in this life, I can enjoy that which is beautiful in a relationship, without expecting it to be perfect.”
–from True Spirituality, Francis Schaeffer
As I gathered up things to take with me on a short family getaway to the High Tatras, I grabbed The Silver Chair off my shelf. I’ve been rereading the Narnia tales this year, and this one was up next. Today turned gloomy–rainy and windy, the sort of day the Puddleglum might fancy, if he could fancy any day–and I had a spare hour on the electric train that runs through the villages of the High Tatras, so I pulled Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole out of my backpack and followed them out of this world.
Often when I read the Narnia stories I think about the fact that, in a sense, as Lewis characterizes Aslan, he is (at least indirectly) putting words into Jesus’ mouth. That’s a tricky and dangerous business, in my opinion. A few years ago I read The Shack, in which the author incarnates the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in a creative catastrophe that I have trouble not calling blasphemous. It felt as authentic as a three-dollar bill. But as I reread Jill’s first encounter with Aslan, everything about Aslan rang as true and clear as could be–this was the Jesus of the gospels, the Lord of Glory himself, under the figure of the Great Lion. As I read it I drew closer to Jesus–and worshiped him.
But I wonder–if you care to comment–what you think about this. Does Aslan come off with sufficient glory, humility, wisdom to be a fit image of our Lord? And, if so, how could Lewis have pulled that off without cheapening Jesus–without turning him into a kitschy action figure you might find in a Christian bookstore?
One joy that Paula and I have shared for many years–as a couple and as a family–is reading great books together. I read, she works with her hands. In the last year we have completed The Canterbury Tales (every word) and (as of today) Anna Karenina. And now we turn to My Ántonia. Yes!
Paula and I have come to the end of another masterpiece in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I confess I feared the book would simply be the story of an unfaithful, unhappy woman. Of course I was dead wrong–and I’m glad I was. Tolstoy creates a world and peoples it with characters that mirror and expose our own–in ways humorous, embarrassing, fascinating, and even convicting.
As a sample I give you a brief passage from the last part of the book. Levin (the hero) has wrestled internally with his purpose in life and has been converted back from his agnosticism to his original Christian faith. He feels at once that everything will be changed immediately. And immediately he meets reality:
Levin got into the trap and took the reins. As though just roused out of sleep, for a long while Levin could not collect his faculties. He stared at the sleek horse flecked with lather between his haunches and on his neck, where the harness rubbed, stared at Ivan the coachman sitting beside him, and remembered that he was expecting his brother, thought that his wife was most likely uneasy at his long absence, and tried to guess who was the visitor who had come with his brother. And his brother and his wife and the unknown guest seemed to him now quite different from before. He fancied that now his relations with all men would be different.
“With my brother there will be none of that aloofness there always used to be between us, there will be no disputes; with Kitty there shall never be quarrels; with the visitor, whoever he may be, I will be friendly and nice; with the servants, with Ivan, it will all be different.”
Pulling the stiff rein and holding in the good horse that snorted with impatience and seemed begging to be let go, Levin looked round at Ivan sitting beside him, not knowing what to do with his unoccupied hand, continually pressing down his shirt as it puffed out, and he tried to find something to start a conversation about with him. He would have said that Ivan had pulled the saddle-girth up too high, but that was like blame, and he longed for friendly, warm talk. Nothing else occurred to him.
“Your honor must keep to the right and mind that stump,” said the coachman, pulling the rein Levin held.
“Please don’t touch and don’t teach me!” said Levin, angered by this interference. Now, as always, interference made him angry, and he felt sorrowfully at once how mistaken had been his supposition that his spiritual condition could immediately change him in contact with reality.
I made a Bible reading plan based on Francis Schaeffer’s practice of reading four chapters a day from different parts of the Bible. I evened things up as much as I could to make it a 261-day plan, so that you read four chapters plus a Psalm. You (more or less) read something from the Law, the Writings, the Prophets, and the Apostles, so it might help you to see connections across different eras of Redemptive History. Anyway, click here to download the PDF, and here to download a Microsoft Word version. I formatted it for printing on both sides of an A4 page so I could make it into a trifold bookmark.
It’s designed to be continuous–you don’t wait till January 1. Just start it and keep going through it over and over, so that over the next X years you’ll get through the Bible many times (depending on how long you live).
This is a tiny book–or rather booklet–in the series “Answers in an Hour.” I confess it took me more than an hour to read carefully–and it should be read carefully, by everyone, several times. In fact, it took half an hour to read the whole title: Why Ministers Must Be Men: A brief survey of the roles of men and women in the church.
Here’s why you need to read it, carefully, several times: although it lays out the clear exegesis of the relevant texts that address the issue of why ministers must be men, two-thirds of the way through the book you find out that the root cause of our problem accepting the biblical teaching isn’t really a matter of misinterpretation. And you’ll find out in those pages (41-50) that that fundamental fault is producing quite a bumper crop of debilitating issues in the church. It affects all of us–profoundly. I hope you will be moved to pray. And more.
By the way, if you’re not familiar with Doug Wilson’s writings, prepare yourself for his sharp humor, which he uses to expose the folly currently sitting on the cultural throne.
Why bother with creeds? Carl Trueman has plenty of good answers in his book The Creedal Imperative. Trueman, a fine (and often funny) historian, offers excellent historical background to Christian creeds and makes what I believe are several compelling arguments for using them. He also describes many many ways to use creeds, so in that sense the book is “practical” (for want of a better word).
Trueman also takes apart the position summarized by the slogan, “No creed but the Bible.” He shows its ironic inconsistency and dangerous shortcomings. I certainly agreed with all he said, but I found myself growing weary of his arguments, because he repeated them several times throughout the book. So even though the book is short (fewer than 200 pages), it could be a little tighter.
The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz is a film about injustice. It documents the brief life of the incredible genius Aaron Swartz–brief because Swartz hanged himself at age 26. He was a leader in opposing internet policies and laws that limit the availability of information to the public. He was also an inventor and developer of some key software technologies that help people get at information.
The laws (or the lawmakers) governing copyrights and how information is controlled on the internet are obviously unable to keep up with the rapidly developing new environment that the Internet has created and is creating. Just like the frontier West–or the former Eastern Bloc nations in the 90′s–this suddenly opened new world has been fertile ground for opportunists and corruption. Swartz exposed weaknesses and injustices in laws and was a catalyst for resistance.
The film of course focuses on the events that preceded his suicide, in particular the felony charges against him for his downloading of JSTOR documents. Ultimately there isn’t any resolution: no one knows what he planned to do with the documents, and as far as I could tell the film didn’t offer any real reason for Swartz to have ended his life: no doubt he was under tremendous pressure, but the trial hadn’t even started. I’ve seen movie reviews that suggested the “government” killed him in its pursuit of him. I don’t think the film ever said that, though it clearly believed that Swartz was being pursued in order to be made an example and a deterrent to others.
If you identify with Swartz’s story, as well as with his family and friends in the film, I think you’ll be left with the same unresolved grief over his death. The issues he confronted, though, remain.