Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Book Review: A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War. Joseph Loconte. 2015. Thomas Nelson. 256 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: In the throes of one of the most destructive and dehumanizing wars in world history, something extraordinary occurred, never to be repeated. It happened on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1914.

Do we owe the existence of the Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings to World War I? Loconte argues in this one that we do. He writes, "It can be argued that these epic tales—involving the sorrows and triumphs of war—would never have been written had these authors not been flung into the crucible of combat." He goes on to say, "the Great War helped to frame the sensibilities of both authors, a fact that seems neglected by scholars and ordinary admirers alike...The story of the war’s impact on the creative outlook of Tolkien and Lewis can help historians better understand its moral and spiritual consequences for an entire generation."

A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18. It's not often that a title of a book is as long as your typical sentence. The title is an accurate description of the book in its fullness.

You should consider reading it if

a) you are interested in the life and works of C.S. Lewis
b) you are interested in the life and works of J.R.R. Tolkien
c) you are interested in how their friendship influenced each other
d) you are interested in learning what life was like BEFORE the war: the dominant ideas in society and culture in regards to morality, spirituality, psychology, etc. ("The Myth of Progress") (gospel of eugenics)
e) if you are interested in how religion mixed and mingled with the war. How did religion influence the propaganda of the war? Why did every single nation involved in the war claim that God was on their side?
f) you are interested in learning what life was like DURING the war: the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual impact of the war. How did war forever change those who lived and experienced it? What effect did it have on their personal lives when they returned?
g) you are interested in learning what SPIRITUAL effect did the war have on society and culture?
h) you are interested in learning what effect did the war have on the arts and sciences? How did the war impact or effect literature in the decades after the war? How did the war impact/effect how we view the world? our worldview and philosophies?
i) you are interested in the effect the war had on the mental health of nations and generations. How were people treated after the war? Did the war shape how we look at mental illness? Did the war provide opportunities for exploring that field and understanding how the mind works? Did it perhaps reveal how little we know or understand?
j) you are interested in how Lewis and Tolkien countered the culture with their works and views; how they were shaped by the war specifically.
k) if you love history

This book has SUBSTANCE. It is not a light, fluffy book, a gimmicky "cutesy" book. It is a scholarly book packed with detail. If you are interested in spirituality, sociology, history, literature, philosophy, or psychology this one has something to keep you turning pages. I learned SO MUCH by reading this one. It was PACKED with facts and details that I didn't know.

I will point out, however, that there was at least one mistake. He mistakenly says that in the opening pages of THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE readers meet "Jadis, “the last Queen,” a woman of immense wickedness." NO, that would be A Magician's Nephew.


  • Tolkien would play a crucial role in Lewis’s conversion to Christianity, while Lewis would be the decisive voice in persuading Tolkien to complete The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Given the massive and enduring influence of their works, it is hard to think of a more consequential friendship in the twentieth century—a friendship that emerged from the suffering and sorrow of a world war.
  • Tolkien and Lewis were attracted to the genres of myth and romance not because they sought to escape the world, but because for them the real world had a mythic and heroic quality.
  • In an era that exalted cynicism and irony, Tolkien and Lewis sought to reclaim an older tradition of the epic hero. Their depictions of the struggles of Middle-earth and Narnia do not represent a flight from reality, but rather a return to a more realistic view of the world as we actually find it.
  • By the start of the twentieth century, attitudes about war and what it could accomplish were bound up with a singular, overarching idea. Let’s call it “The Myth of Progress.” Perhaps the most widely held view in the years leading up to the Great War was that Western civilization was marching inexorably forward, that humanity itself was maturing, evolving, advancing—that new vistas of political, cultural, and spiritual achievement were within reach.
  • “Whatever the local agendas, Christians in all combatant nations—including the United States—entered wholeheartedly in the spirit of cosmic war,” writes Philip Jenkins in The Great and Holy War. “None found any difficulty in using fundamental tenets of the faith as warrants to justify war and mass destruction.”
  • Unfortunately for the Church of England, many chaplains were out of sight and apparently out of touch during the war. Ordered to remain safely behind the lines, at hospitals or field ambulances, they often seemed incapable of relating to the men fighting for survival. “The key to the whole thing,” wrote Theodore Hardy, a chaplain who later won the Victoria Cross, was for ministers to serve in the combat zone: “If you stay back, you are wasting your time. Men will forgive anything but lack of courage.” Most Protestant ministers, however, followed orders and avoided the front. “There is only one Front here and few Chaplains ever get there, and then not during engagements,” complained David Railton. “It is a mistake on the part of the authorities which will cost the Church dearly.”
  • Thus the battle scenes in The Lord of the Rings possess a grim authenticity. When Tolkien describes the Siege of Gondor—where the “fires leaped up” and “great engines crawled across the field” and the ground “was choked with wreck and with bodies of the slain”—he delivers the realism of the war veteran. “Busy as ants hurrying orcs were digging, digging lines of deep trenches in a huge ring, just out of bowshot from the walls,” he wrote in The Return of the King.
  • Reflecting on his experiences years later, Tolkien acknowledged that his taste for fantasy was “quickened to full life by war” and that “the mythology (and associated languages) first began to take shape during the 1914–18 war.”46 Much of the “early parts” of his epic, he explained, were “done in grimy canteens, at lectures in cold fogs, in huts full of blasphemy and smut, or by candle light in bell-tents, even some down in dugouts under shell fire.”
  • Tolkien the soldier lived among these “ordinary men,” fought alongside them, witnessed their courage under fire, joked with them, mourned with them, and watched them die. Thus the “small people” who fought and suffered in the Great War helped inspire the creation of the unlikely heroes in Tolkien’s greatest imaginative work. Like the soldiers in that war, the homely hobbits could not have perceived how the fate of nations depended upon their stubborn devotion to duty.
  • Lewis insisted that war produced at least one benefit: it forced us to consider our own mortality. “If active service does not prepare a man for death,” he asked, “what conceivable concentration of circumstances would?”
  • In the years after the conflict, the cruelty and senselessness of the war—of any war for any reason—became the dominant motifs of a generation. The writings of authors such as Robert Graves (Goodbye to All That), Siegfried Sassoon (Memoirs of an Infantry Officer), Ernest Hemingway (A Farewell to Arms), T. S. Eliot (The Hollow Men), and Erich Remarque (All Quiet on the Western Front) reinforced these themes in the public mind.
  • Indeed, it can be argued that the Great War launched three of the deadliest forces in the history of the West. The first was Spanish influenza, which originated at a US Army base in Kansas in March 1918. Before it ran its course, upward of sixty million people—four times the number killed in the war—died from influenza worldwide. The second epidemic was atheistic communism.  The third epidemic was fascism. 
  • When Freud’s first psychiatric clinic opened in Berlin in 1920, it paved the way for his views about human nature, guilt, and God. Freud proved especially attractive to a generation struggling to find meaning in the war’s aftermath.
  • Tolkien never intended to write a trench memoir. Instead, he set his mind to create a mythology worthy of his beloved England.
  • Middle-earth is not, Tolkien insisted, an imaginary world, but rather our world—with its ancient truths and sorrows—set in a remote past. Indeed, any legends cast in the form of a supposed primitive history of this world, he said, must reckon with the tragic reality of human frailty.
  • Tolkien had long believed that the “fairy-story” was really a genre for adults and “one for which a starving audience exists.”
  • Tens of thousands were overwhelmed by shell shock. In Britain alone, four years after the end of the war, six thousand veterans were confined to insane asylums.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, April 23, 2018

Book Review: Are These the Last Days?

Are These The Last Days? (Crucial Questions #20) R.C. Sproul. 2014. Reformation Trust. 55 pages. [Source: Free download]

First sentence: In the middle of the nineteenth century, a serious potato famine struck the nation of Ireland. Facing starvation, multitudes of people fled to other countries to seek sustenance. Some boarded ships and sailed for the New World, with many finally landing in New York City. Among those immigrants was my great-grandfather, who came to the United States from Donegal in the northern province of Ulster.

Based on the title alone, readers might think this is a book about current events, about watching the news with Bible in hand looking for signs and clues and answers to when Jesus is coming back. But Are These the Last Days? is a commentary on the Olivet Discourse. Sproul seeks to unpack the meaning and relevance of Jesus' prophecy. Was the Olivet Discourse about the end of the Jewish age? Was it about prophesying about the destruction of the temple and the destruction of Jerusalem? Or was Jesus referring to END TIMES end times--the end of the world and the final judgment?

Sproul argues that "when Jesus spoke about “the end of the age,” I am convinced that He wasn’t talking about the end of the world, but about the end of the Jewish age." In other words, "It seems to me that the most natural reading of Matthew 24:29–35 would be that everything Jesus said would happen has already taken place in history. He was not referring to a yet-future fulfillment from our standpoint. He was referring to a judgment upon the nation of Israel that took place in AD 70."

After verse thirty-five, Jesus shifts his focus from 'the end of the age' (the end of the Jewish age) to the end of all ages (the end of the world). The first half of the prophecy has been fulfilled. Readers can have hope that the second will be fulfilled as well. It was not for his disciples to know WHEN the end of the world is to come. And it is not for us to know today. I'm always skeptical of anyone--everyone--who makes claims to the specifics. (This day, this month, this year, this generation).

Does this teaching have relevance? YES. A thousand times yes. Generally speaking, every passage of scripture is in some way or other relevant. But specifically this passage is about how to live in light of the coming end of the world, in light of the coming again of our Lord and Savior?

Favorite quotes:
All of us are slaves of one sort or another. We’re either slaves of Christ or slaves of sin. There’s no other option for humanity.
The most serious and fatal self-delusion of the wicked is their belief that God will not judge them. The Bible tells us that God is long-suffering and patient. The reason for this kindness and mercy is to give us time to repent and turn to Christ. But we should never assume that God’s gracious patience means that He won’t call us to account.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Week in Review: April 8-21

NLT Beyond Suffering Bible:

  • Deuteronomy 26-34
  • Joshua
  • Judges
  • Ruth
  • 1 Samuel
  • 2 Samuel
  • 1 Kings
  • 2 Kings
  • 1 Chronicles
  • 2 Chronicles 
  • Ezra

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, April 21, 2018

My Victorian Year #16

This week I'll be sharing quotes from Charles Spurgeon's Morning and Evening and J.C. Ryle's Old Paths.

From Morning and Evening:

  • God’s people need lifting up. They are very heavy by nature.
  • By nature sparks fly upward—but the sinful souls of men fall downward.
  • There are three ways in which God’s people require to be lifted up. They require to be elevated in character. Lift them up, O Lord; do not allow Your people to be like the world’s people! The world lies in the wicked one—lift them out of it!
  • Moreover, believers need to be prospered in conflict.
  • We may also ask our Lord to lift them up at the last! Lift them up by taking them home, lift their bodies from the tomb, and raise their souls to Your eternal kingdom in glory!
  • We are safe from the destroying angel under the sprinkled blood. Remember it is God’s seeing the blood—which is the true reason for our being spared. Here is comfort for us when our eye of faith is dim, for God’s eye is still the same.
  • You must wrestle with your sin—but the major part of the wrestling must be done alone in private with God.
  • Beware of faintness in devotion; if Moses felt it, who can escape? It is far easier to fight with sin in public—than to pray against it in private. It is remarked that Joshua never grew weary in the fighting—but Moses did grow weary in the praying.
  • The more spiritual an exercise—the more difficult it is for flesh and blood to maintain it. Let us cry, then, for special strength, and may the Spirit of God, who helps our infirmities, as He allowed help to Moses, enable us like him to continue with our hands steady.
  • We are full of sin—but the Savior bids us lift our eyes to Him, and as we gaze upon His streaming wounds, each drop of blood, as it falls, cries, “It is finished! I have made an end of sin! I have brought in everlasting righteousness.” Oh! sweet language of the precious blood of Jesus!
  • The word AMEN solemnly confirms that which went before; and Jesus is the great Confirmer; immutable, forever is “the Amen” in all His promises. Sinner, I would comfort you with this reflection.
  • Jesus Christ said, “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” If you come to Him, He will say “Amen” in your soul; His promise shall be true to you.
  • He was a Priest to pardon and cleanse once, He is Amen as Priest still. He was a King to rule and reign for His people, and to defend them with His mighty arm. He is an Amen King—the same still.
  • He was a Prophet of old, to foretell good things to come, His lips are most sweet, and drop with honey still—He is an Amen Prophet. He is Amen as to the merit of His blood; He is Amen as to His righteousness. That sacred robe shall remain most fair and glorious when nature shall decay.
  • He is Amen in every single title which He bears; your Husband, never seeking a divorce; your Friend, sticking closer than a brother; your Shepherd, with you in death’s dark valley; your Help and your Deliverer; your Castle and your High Tower; the Horn of your strength, your confidence, your joy, your all in all, and your Yes and Amen in all.
  • O child of God, death has lost its sting, because the devil’s power over it is destroyed. Then cease to fear dying. Ask grace from God the Holy Spirit, that by an intimate knowledge and a firm belief of your Redeemer’s death, you may be strengthened for that dread hour.
  • Death is no longer banishment, it is a return from exile, a going home to the many mansions where the loved ones already dwell.
  • We are not far from home—a moment will bring us there.
  • Let us fight as if it all depended upon us—but let us look up and know that all depends upon Him!
  • A living Redeemer, truly mine—is joy unspeakable!

From Old Paths, chapter 7, FORGIVENESS

  • THERE is a clause near the end of the Belief, or Apostle’s Creed, which, I fear, is often repeated without thought or consideration. I refer to the clause which contains these words, “I believe in the Forgiveness of sins.” Thousands, I am afraid, never reflect what those words mean.
  • Our need of forgiveness. Let me show, first of all, our need of forgiveness. All men need forgiveness, because all men are sinners.
  • It is the very A B C of Christianity, that a man should know his right place in the sight of God, and understand his deserts.
  • We take to sin naturally from the very first. No child ever needs schooling and education to teach it to do wrong. No devil, or bad companion, ever leads us into such wickedness as our own hearts. And “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23.) We must either be forgiven, or lost eternally.
  • There is not a commandment in all the ten which does not condemn us. If we have not broken it in deed we have in word; if we have not broken it in word, we have in thought and imagination,--and that continually.
  • Tried by the standard of the fifth chapter of St. Matthew, there is not one of us that would be acquitted.
  • Our faith, how feeble! Our love, how cold! Our works, how few! Our zeal, how small! Our patience, how short-breathed! Our humility, how thread-bare! Our self-denial, how dwarfish! Our knowledge, how dim! Our spirituality, how shallow! Our prayers, how formal! Our desires for more grace, how faint!
  • Sin is a burden, and must be taken off. Sin is a defilement, and must be cleansed away. Sin is a mighty debt, and must be paid. Sin is a mountain standing between us and heaven, and must be removed.
  • The first step towards heaven is to see clearly that we deserve hell. There are but two alternatives before us, we must either be forgiven, or be miserable for ever.
  • The way of forgiveness. Let me point out, in the second place, the way of forgiveness.
  • To-day’s sorrow will not wipe off the score of yesterday’s sins. It is not an ocean of tears that would ever cleanse an uneasy conscience and give it peace.
  • The Lord Jesus Christ, in great love and compassion, has made a full and complete satisfaction for sin, by suffering death in our place upon the cross. There He offered Himself as a sacrifice for us, and allowed the wrath of God, which we deserved, to fall on His own head.
  • He has provided a garment of righteousness to clothe us. He has opened a fountain of living waters to cleanse us. He has removed every barrier between us and God the Father, taken every obstacle out of the way, and made a road by which the vilest may return.
  • And faith, simple faith, is the only thing required, in order that you and I may be forgiven. That we will come by faith to Jesus as sinners with our sins,--trust in Him,-rest on Him,--lean on Him,--confide in Him,--commit our souls to Him,--and forsaking all other hope, cleave only to Him,--this is all and everything that God asks for. Let a man only do this, and he shall be saved. 
  • Afterwards he shall be holy. I call upon every reader of these pages to let nothing move him from this strong ground,--that faith in Christ is the only thing needed for our justification. Stand firm here, if you value your soul’s peace.
  • I know well that the natural heart dislikes this doctrine. It runs counter to man’s notions of religion. It leaves him no room to boast. Man’s idea is to come to Christ with a price in his hand,--his regularity,--his morality,--his repentance,--his goodness,--and so, as it were, to buy his pardon and justification. The Spirit’s teaching is quite different: it is first of all, to believe. Whosoever believeth shall not perish. (John 3:16.)
  • 3. Encourage all who wish to be forgiven. Let me, in the third place, encourage all who wish to be forgiven.
  • 4. Some marks of having found forgiveness. Let me, in the last place, supply the readers of this paper with some marks of having found forgiveness. I dare not leave out this point. Too many persons presume they are forgiven, who have no evidence to show.
  • a) Forgiven souls hate sin. They can enter most fully into the words of our Communion Service: “The remembrance of sin is grievous unto them, and the burden of it is intolerable.” It is the serpent which bit them: how should they not shrink from it with horror? It is the poison which brought them to the brink of eternal death how should they not loathe it with a godly disgust? It is the Egyptian enemy which kept them in hard bondage how should not the very memory of it be bitter to their hearts?
  • (b) Forgiven souls love Christ. This is that one thing they can say, if they dare say nothing else,--they do love Christ. His person, His offices, His work, His name, His cross, His blood, His words, His example, His day, His ordinances,--all, all are precious to forgiven souls.
  • The books which are most full of Him, are most pleasant to their minds. The people on earth they feel most drawn to, are those in whom they see something of Christ.
  • (c) Forgiven souls are humble. They cannot forget that they owe all they have and hope for to free grace, and this keeps them lowly.
  • (d) Forgiven souls are holy. Their chief desire is to please Him who has saved them, to do His will, to glorify Him in body and in Spirit, which are His.
  • (e) Forgiven souls are forgiving. They do as they have been done by.
  • All ideas of heaven in which forgiveness has not a place, are castles in the air and vain fancies.
  • Forgiveness is the way by which every saved soul enters heaven. Forgiveness is the only title by which he remains in heaven. Forgiveness is the eternal subject of song with all the redeemed who inhabit heaven. Surely an unforgiving soul in heaven would find his heart completely out of tune.
  • You believe perhaps, there is forgiveness of sins. You believe that Christ died for sinners, and that He offers a pardon to the most ungodly. But are you forgiven yourself? Have you yourself laid hold on Christ by faith, and found peace through His blood?
  • If ever your sins are to be forgiven, it must be now,-now in this life, if ever in the life to come,--now in this world, if they are to be found blotted out when Jesus comes again the second time.
  • We ought not to be satisfied with the same kind of hearing, and reading, and praying, which satisfied us in years gone by. We ought to labour every year to throw more heart and reality into everything we do in our religion.
  • To love Christ more intensely,--to abhor evil more thoroughly,--to cleave to what is good more closely,--to watch even our least ways more narrowly,--to declare very plainly that we seek a country,--to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. and be clothed with Him in every place and company,--to see more,--to feel more,--to know more,--to do more,--these ought to be our aims and desires every year we begin. Truly there is room for improvement in us all.
  • Let us count it a sorrowful thing to go to heaven alone, and let us seek to draw companions with us. We ought never to forget that every man, woman and child around us, will soon be either in heaven or hell.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, April 20, 2018

Book Review: Lewis on the Christian Life

Lewis on the Christian Life: Becoming Truly Human in the Presence of God. (Theologians on the Christian Life). Joe Rigney. Edited by Stephen J. Nichols and Justin Taylor. 2018. Crossway. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence from the introduction: The best way to learn about Lewis “on the Christian life” would be a book club. If I had my druthers, every person reading this book would join me in a small group (about ten or so individuals) to read and appreciate what Lewis can teach us about the life of faith.

First sentence from chapter one: “Begin where you are.” This little phrase, tucked away in one of the letters to Malcolm, is the right place to begin our exploration of Lewis on the Christian life. Lewis calls this a great principle, and it is implicit in almost everything he writes. Again and again, he wants to bring us back to brass tacks, to awaken us to the present reality, to help us feel the weight of glory that presses on us even now. This is the real labor of life: “to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.”

Crossway publishes a series titled Theologians on the Christian Life. Lewis on the Christian Life by Joe Rigney is one of the books in that series. It examines the life and works of C.S. Lewis. Rigney purposefully chooses not to focus on the main works of Lewis: Mere Christianity, the Chronicles of Narnia, and Screwtape Letters. He chooses instead to draw inspiration from his other books, the books that readers are less likely to have read and reread.

Rigney writes: In everything he writes, his aim is to remind us that we are here and now, that God is here and now, that this God makes total demands of us, and that therefore we must choose to bow the knee or to bow up, to surrender and join our wills to God’s or to resist his will and insist on our own way. In short, Lewis is ever and always attempting to clarify for us the nature of the Choice.

I have a love-hate relationship with C.S. Lewis. I love all but one of the Chronicles of Narnia. I DESPISE The Last Battle. I love the Screwtape Letters. Mostly. I like some chapters of Mere Christianity. Some of the ideas in Mere Christianity are true--biblical. Other ideas found within Mere Christianity are not biblical...at all. Lewis can quite honestly be quite mistaken and just plain WRONG on doctrines of the Christian faith. Every Lewis quote is--in my opinion--to be weighed carefully and thoughtfully in light of the Word of God. Anything that disagrees with the revealed word of God--no matter how lyrical, no matter how appealing--is to be rejected.

Lewis believed in purgatory. This book discusses Lewis' ideas on purgatory. It doesn't seek to correct Lewis' flawed theology. It just presents it as Lewis' own idea not drawn from scripture. Lewis' views on hell also appear to be STRANGE.

The table of contents:

  • Introduction
  • The Choice: The Unavoidable Either-Or
  • The Gospel: God Came Down
  • Theology: A Map to Ultimate Reality
  • The Gospel Applied: Good Infection and Good Pretending
  • The Devil: The Proud and Bent Spirit
  • The Church: Worshiping with Christ's Body
  • Prayer: Practicing the Presence of God
  • A Grand Mystery: Divind Providence and Human Freedom
  • Pride and Humility: Enjoying and Contemplating Ourselves
  • Christian Hedonics: Beams of Glory and the Quest for Joy
  • Reason and Imagination: Truth, Meaning, and the Life of Faith
  • Healthy Introspection: The Precarious Path to Self-Knowledge
  • The Natural Loves: Affection, Friendship, and Eros
  • Divine Love: Putting the Natural Loves In their Place
  • Hell: The Outer Darkness
  • Heaven: Further Up and Further In
  • Orual's Choice: Discovering Her True Face
  • Conclusion

Did I like the book? No. Yes. No. Maybe. I enjoyed some chapters more than others. Some chapters were more accessible and straightforward than others. All the chapters were packed full of quotes by C.S. Lewis. But not all Lewis quotes are supported or drawn from Scripture. The book seemed--in my opinion--to be more about Lewis' theories and imaginative ideas than biblical doctrines.

At times the book provided much food for thought.
Our little decisions, when gathered together, turn out to be not so little after all. We are always sowing the seeds of our future selves. Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. 
Death is both a punishment for sins and a mercy that delivers us from the hell of our own gnawing self-centeredness. 
Real forgiveness means not only forgiving someone seventy times for seventy offenses but also forgiving someone seventy times for a single offense. 
“As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing, but learning to dance.”  The best worship service is one in which our attention is fixed on God, not on our steps.  
I just finished reading Lloyd-Jones on the Christian Life. The two books couldn't be more different from one another, perhaps because these two men couldn't be more different from one another.

Lloyd-Jones worldview seems--upon some study--to be drawn solely from the Word of God. Lewis' on the other hand seems to be drawn from a broad variety of sources in addition to the Bible: mythology, philosophy, sociology, literature, his own imagination. One source doesn't seem to carry more weight or authority.

Lloyd-Jones was a preacher for the people--for the common people. He spoke with conviction to be understood by the masses, wanting every man, woman, and child to come into the kingdom of God. Lewis, on the other hand, was an academic, a scholar, a man who embraces complexity rather than simplicity.

To read Lloyd-Jones on the Christian Life is to have central doctrines of the gospel clarified, amplified, expounded for the glory of God. To read Lewis on the Christian Life, on the other hand, is to have the gospel--the central doctrines of the Christian faith--muddied and confused.

“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.” ~ C.S. Lewis 
(1) You are here and now; (2) God is here and now; (3) God demands all of you. These three facts yield a fourth: (4) Every moment of every day, you are confronted with a choice—either place God at the center of your life, or place something else there. Either acknowledge the way the world really is, or attempt to live in a fantasy of your own devising. Either surrender to your Creator and Lord, or rise up and assert your own independence. Reality, Lewis says, “presents us with an absolutely unavoidable ‘either-or.’” ~ Joe Rigney 
There is no question that we will have ideas about God; the only question is whether those ideas will be true. “Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones—bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas.” This is one reason why good theology exists: “because bad [theology] needs to be answered.” ~ Joe Rigney and C.S. Lewis
Our tempters encourage us to make claims of ownership without realizing we are doing it, the only evidence of these claims being our constant sense of frustration and righteous sense of injury. The devils persuade us to say “my own” about all sorts of things that cannot really be ours in any ultimate, possessive sense—time, our bodies, people, positions, prosperity, even emotions like happiness and bliss. Our tempters obscure the different senses of the possessive pronoun so that all uses of my become the my of ownership. And the more successful they are, the more vaguely aggrieved we become, living with a perpetual sense that our rights and privileges have been violated by we-know-not-whom. ~ C.S. Lewis (I think) 
Words are anchors for our prayers. They are the conductor’s baton that orchestrates the music of our devotion. Or, to switch the metaphor again, they channel our worship or penitence or petition in particular directions so that our prayers don’t become wide and shallow puddles. ~ Joe Rigney (I think) 
Our individuality demands that we address God as ourselves and no one but ourselves. We must bring before him our concerns, our situations, our needs and desires, our blessings and comforts. ~ Joe Rigney
The world would have us believe that God is the great forbidder, the cosmic killjoy. It is the devils who try to lead us into pleasures, in order to ensnare our souls. God calls us away from pleasure to self-denial and fasting. But Screwtape (and Lewis) know better. The fasts and vigils and renunciation are only a facade; they are not the deepest reality.  God is a hedonist. He made the pleasures, invented every last one of them. There is no such thing as a fundamentally diabolical pleasure. Hell has not been able to produce one. All demons can do is to twist legitimate pleasures by tempting us to enjoy them at times, or in ways, or in degrees that God has forbidden. ~ C.S. Lewis (and maybe Joe Rigney)
Whatever else Christian love may be, it is not safe from sorrow. Love demands vulnerability. Apart from such vulnerability, our hearts grow hard and stiff. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. We will not preserve our love for God by suppressing and resisting all love for creatures. The road of safety first, the road of no risk of tragedy, leads only to damnation. 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Book Review: What is the Relationship Between Church and State

What is the Relationship Between Church and State? Crucial Questions #19. R.C. Sproul. 2014. 47 pages. [Source: Free download]

First sentence: A few years ago, I was invited to be the keynote speaker at the inaugural prayer breakfast for the governor of Florida.

R.C. Sproul examines an important, ever-relevant question in this booklet. The question? What is the Relationship Between Church and State? Other questions posed and answered include: what is government? where does government get its authority? what is the church? where does the church get its authority? are the purposes of the government and church the same or different? where did the phrase 'separation of church and state' originate? what did the phrase mean originally? how has the meaning changed through the centuries? what is religious freedom and why is it important? Not all questions receive equal treatment. It is a very short booklet, after all. But it is a thought-provoking one.

I would recommend this one!

In the United States, we often hear the phrase separation of church and state, but it should be noted that this phrase does not occur in the country’s founding documents. It is not found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights. It comes from a remark made by Thomas Jefferson about the principles that he believed were implied in the founding documents of the United States. But it has now become perhaps the only remaining absolute in American culture: the absolute principle of the absolute separation of church and state. 
Government is a structure that is endowed legally with the right to use force to compel its citizens to do certain things and not do other things.
Saint Augustine made the observation that government is a necessary evil, for in this world among fallen human creatures, you will never find a morally perfect government.
All governments, no matter what structure they manifest, are representative of fallen humanity because governments are made up of sinful people.
Therefore, the first task of government is to protect people from evil and to preserve and maintain human life. Another role that government fulfills is protecting human property. Many people seek to violate other human beings by stealing, abusing, or destroying their property. A final role for government is regulating agreements, upholding contracts, and ensuring just weights and balances. God created government in order to protect humanity—but not just humanity. Government is to protect the world itself as well.
Every single law that is passed restricts someone’s freedom. Some freedoms are good to restrict—such as the freedom to murder—and others are not. This is why we have to be exceedingly careful every time we pass a law.
There is a fundamental obligation of the Christian to be a model of civil obedience.
Every time I sin, I participate in the revolt against God’s perfect rule.
It is the function of government to enact laws, and those laws are designed to promote justice. God never gives the state the right to do wrong. The state does not exercise its authority autonomously, as a law unto itself, but is subject to the ultimate government of God Himself.
An important thing to note is that the power of the sword is not given to the church. The mission of the church does not move forward through coercion or military conflict. The emblem of Christianity is the cross.
The church was called to pray for the state and to be supportive of the state. The state was called to guarantee the liberty of the church and protect the church from those that would seek to destroy it.
There was to be no favoritism to any particular denomination or group of believers. This is the root of the principle of separation of church and state. 
As Christians, we need to form our viewpoints from the Word of God, so that we gain a clear understanding of how the church is supposed to function, what its mission is, and how that mission is different from the role of government.
The church is called to be a critic of the state when the state fails to obey its mandate under God.
When the church complains about the abortion laws in America, the church is not asking the state to be the church. The church is asking the state to be the state. It is simply asking the state to do its God-ordained job.
Among the longest words in the English language is antidisestablishmentarianism. However, this word is not merely a bit of trivia; it is key to understanding the relationship between church and state.
Establishmentarianism is when a church is supported by taxes from the state and has exclusive rights over its competitors. Such a church, called an established church, enjoys the particular favor and protection of the government; historical examples include the Church of England, the Lutheran church in Germany, the Reformed church of Scotland, or the Swedish Lutheran church. Disestablishmentarians believe that establishmentarianism should be repudiated. Antidisestablishmentarianism—the double negative makes it a positive—means that you’re opposed to disestablishing a church. This view looks with favor on an established church.
One of the unfortunate consequences of this foundational principle is the common assumption that all religions are not just tolerated but are equally true and valid.
The law does not declare who is right and who is wrong. All it says is that those disputes should not be dealt with in the civil arena. Instead, those are religious and ecclesiastical matters and are to remain outside of the scope and the sphere of civil government.
In today’s culture, separation of church and state has come to mean that the government rules without taking God into consideration. That is not the way this nation was founded.
The United States was founded on the principle of both church and state being under God. But today, we hate the concept of being answerable to God. We want to have a government that is free from the moral taint of theism. That’s not the original intent of the First Amendment or of the original articles that established our nation.
The kingdom of God is not built by an edict from an emperor or the might of an army. It is built through one means alone: the proclamation of the gospel.
The principle of civil obedience is that we are called to be in submission to authorities ruling over us—and not only when we agree with them. Indeed, Christians are called to be model citizens. Does that mean we must always obey? Absolutely not. There are times when Christians are free to disobey the magistrate, but there are also times when we must disobey the civil magistrate. If my boss told me to cook the books so that he could be protected from the charge of embezzlement, I would have to disobey. If a governmental authority told you that you had to have an abortion, you would have to disobey because you obey a higher authority. If the authorities say we’re not allowed to distribute Bibles or preach the Word of God, we have to do it anyway because we have a mandate from Christ to disciple the nations. This is why the free exercise of religion is so important. It gives the right to act according to conscience, but unfortunately, this right is currently being eroded in the United States.
God has established two realms on earth: the church and the state. Each one has its own sphere of authority, and neither is to infringe on the rights of the other. And as Christians, we are to show great respect and concern for them both.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Book Review: Strawberry Girl

Strawberry Girl. Lois Lenski. 1945. 208 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: 'That goes our cow, Pa!' said the little girl.

Premise/plot: The Boyer family has newly moved into the community. Most make the family feel welcome. Not so their nearest neighbors the Slaters. From the start these two families clash. Birdie Boyer, for example, clashes with Shoestring. The Slater mother has a love-to-hate, hate-to-love relationship with the Boyer mother. She tends to think that the Boyers are uppity SNOBS because they have (relatively) nice things. The two fathers, well, that's simpler. They can't stand each other--at all.

Can the Boyer family live out the teaching LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF? Or will the Slaters' hateful actions prove too much to bear?

This pioneer novel is set in the early twentieth century in Florida. Irritable neighbors aren't the only difficulty they face on the farm.

It was written and illustrated by Lois Lenski. It won the Newbery in 1946.

My thoughts: I really ended up loving Strawberry Girl. I wish I'd listened to my mother decades ago when she tried to encourage me to read it.

I wasn't expecting such a spiritual message in Strawberry Girl. I was pleasantly surprised by the themes of redemption and grace. The last chapter was giddy making.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48
For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:14-15
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34-35
"Glory hallelujah!" cried Sam Slater, throwing his hat in the air. "I'm a changed man! A happy man for the first time in my life!" "Brother Jackson shore is a powerful preacher," said Mrs. Boyer."To touch the heart of a hardened sinner like me," added Slater.
"I mean no offense..." began Mrs. Boyer.
"But hit's true ain't it?" said Slater gently. "My heart was hard as a rock. Now 'tis soft as mud. I'll never the same again, thank God."
"How did it happen, Sam?" asked Boyer. "Tell us about it." Sam Slater grew thoughtful, then he spoke: "When I come home and found my wife and young guns had been lying' at death's door, I begun to think. Did I not have kind, forgivin' neighbors, they'd a been dead. Then the very next night I got sick myself, and thought I was fixin' to die. So I decided I'd better start livin' different. But it was Brother Jackson who pointed out the error of my ways. He told me the harm of drinkin' liquor, and of swearin' and backbitin', gossip and anger. So when the spirit come upon me, I was ready. My heart was changed. I'm fixin' to lead the good life right on."
"Praise God!" cried the women.
"Glory be to God!" added the men.
"You won't never get drunk no more, Pa?" asked Essie.
"And shoot the chickens' heads off, Pa?" asked Zephy.
"No young guns, I won't!" said Sam Slater. He took the two little girls in his arms and held them close. "And I hope to be a good neighbor right on, too. A good father and a good neighbor." (185-86)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible