Friday, December 31, 2010

The Romance of the Word

Wow. If I had to summarize this book in one word, I don’t think I could do any better than that. The Romance of the Word is the first Capon book I have read, but I will almost definitely read the rest of his books now. It is easily the most entertaining and well-written theological book I have ever read.

If it doesn’t sound odd to describe a book on theology as “entertaining,” is should. I heard small pieces of Capon quoted by some of my favorite theologians, but always in hushed tones and with bashful qualifications. Now I find myself in the same boat. Capon is a brilliant writer, the best Christian writer I have read in terms of prose, but he is also hard to pin down doctrinally. I knew this going in, but the introduction to The Romance of the Word starts things off with a bang. His answer to whether or not he is a universalist is, “Yes and No.”

He may be hard to pin down, but at the same time he is thoroughly Christian. His descriptions of grace will make you laugh, weep, cringe, and smile. His love for humanity because of Christ is humbling. Despite my initial misgivings, I found myself carrying around the book and pointing out passages to friends, memorizing pieces I liked, and enjoying every word on every page.

The Romance of the Word is really three books in one. An Offering of Uncles is on the priesthood of all believers, The Third Peacock is on theodicy, and Hunting The Divine Fox on theological language. They are all worth the price of the book alone, though The Third Peacock was the weakest of the three. The last chapters in each book are masterful – the way Capon ties everything together is breathtaking. I have the entire last chapter of An Offering of Uncles highlighted because it was just too good to pick and choose.

Because his writing can speak for itself, I have included just a few of many gems in the book below.

"Grace is wildly irreligious stuff. It's more than enough to get God kicked out of the God union that the theologians have formed to keep him on his divine toes so he won't let the riffraff off scot-free. Sensible people, of course, should need only about thirty seconds of careful thought to realize that getting off scot-free is the only way any of us is going to get off at all. But if all we can think of is God as the Eternal Bookkeeper putting down black marks against sinner - or God as the Celestial Mother-in-Law giving a crystal vase as a present and then inspecting it for chips every time she comes for a visit . . . well, any serious doctrine of grace is going to scare the rockers right off our little theological hobbyhorses." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 11)

"Culture - civilization - is the sum of our priestly successes, the evidence of the fulfillment of our vocation. The life of Adam - of every human being - is parks and plazas, and houses worthy of our priesthood; it is falling in love with the hinted garden in the world and lifting it into a paradise indeed. Though unjust kings and queens, we are royalty still though we have failed our priesthood, we remain priests forever. History has been our glory, and history has been our shame, but the shaping of creation into the City of God remains our obsession." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 54-55)

"To the question "Why do you have a beard?" seventeen answers are possible. They are as follows:

(Simple): I like it.
(Taciturn): I just do.
(Sheepish): Lots of men have beards.
(Rude): None of your business.
(Cowardly): Oh? Don't you like it?
(Confident): It is manly.
(Overconfident): It keeps women away.
(Practical, in repectu causae efficientis): Because I don't shave."
(Agnostic): I don't know; I stopped shaving and it grew.
(Theological, but cautious): You will have to ask God.
(Practical, propter incommoditatem rasurarum): I was tired of cutting myself every morning.
(Devout): It is a gift of God.
(Practical, pro bono prolis): I look more paternal with one.
(Meditative): It would be ungrateful to dies without having seen it.
(Practical, sed propter vanitatem): It hides my weak chin.
(Theological, propter causam finalem): God meant man to have one.
(Practical, ad placendam uxorem): It tickles my wife."
(Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 110-111)

"Theology, therefore, is a hunt for the Mystery - and the theologians are primarily hunters: even though they know that as long as they live they will never get even one clear shot at the Beast, they are happy enough keeping their guns oiled and tramping through the woods." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 307)

This book is a must read for any discerning Christian. It will frustrate you, it will challenge you, and it will probably anger you – but most of all, it will bless you. I can’t help but think that if all theology was written this well, there would be many more Christians.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Collision DVD Review

Collision is a powerful documentary that highlights two of the smartest men alive going head to head in a fierce debate. It is aptly titled Collision to describe the lives of these two men that are opposed clashing, and this film captures the sparks between them for our edification and entertainment. There are things that I really enjoyed about this documentary as a Christian, and some that I did not.

First of all, the debate and the debaters are both top notch. Though I have not read anything by Hitchens yet, Wilson is one of my favorite authors and he does not disappoint here. It is clear that both Hitchens and Wilson possess copiousness, to borrow a term from the film, and they draw on a wide variety of sources to make their points. This in itself was very refreshing. Neither party uses straw men or cheap debate techniques to prove their point. From an objective viewpoint apart from the subject matter, the debate itself is inspiring - rational, composed, thoughtful argumentation does still exist.

I also enjoyed Wilson's candor. His answer for the top reason he is a Christian is absolutely honest and truthful, but we rarely hear other Christians make the same confession. There should be no embarrassment that the main reason you are a Christian is because you came from a Christian family that raised you in the way of the Lord. Indeed, the Bible instructs us to raise our children like this. Most Christians are embarrassed to admit that they did not embrace Christianity after a careful study of every major religion and concluded that it was the best way. I affirm Wilson's honesty and integrity and confess that the same is true for me. I have since "tested the faith" and found it absolutely true, and like Wilson can point to clear, rational arguments for its validity above all other religions. But that's not why I am a Christian. I am a Christian because God saved me, period. All the rational argument in the world will fall on deaf ears unless God moves. Powerful, needed words from an accomplished Christian speaker.

Another part of the movie that I enjoyed, to my own surprise, was Christopher Hitchens. He is an atheist, in fact he goes so far as to say that he is an anti-theist, but he is a likable one. Extremely intelligent and well read and a brilliant debater. It is hard to imagine someone presenting stronger opposition to Christianity than he does, and yet he ultimately, tragically fails. His arguments are crushed by his own rationalism, yet he dogmatically holds to them, reminiscent of a fundamentalist clinging to his own beliefs. Yet, he is also honest and more open-minded towards Christianity than I expected. Three times in the movie, he responds to Wilson's arguments with a fresh look at Christianity. He even states that it is rare that he comes up against a new idea in a debate, but Wilson manages to bring up new ideas three times at least. The pair of them are a great match for each other, and the movie showcases both of them admirably.

There were also a couple of things that I thought the film could have done better. First, the production value and editing were uneven throughout the film - some of it was done really well, some was amateurish. Still the best documentary I have seen of its type, but could have been better. Secondly, almost all arguments for Christianity were defensive rather than offensive. While that was the nature of the debate because it arose from Hitchens' attack, it still would have been nice to see Wilson present positive arguments for Christianity.

One thing that I gained from watching this besides a better understanding of the arguments themselves is a desire for "copiousness." Wilson defines it as being well read across a broad spectrum, something you prepare for your entire life. Watching these two men debate made me realize how far behind I am on the copiousness scale and I am anxious to catch up.

This documentary is recommended for anyone who has more than a passing interest on either side of this debate. It is well done, very fair, and guaranteed to be worth your time at least once through, if not multiple times.

Friday, May 28, 2010


Tactics is a great book on an apologetic approach that you will actually use. Gregory Koukl has done a great job outlining a plan that is easy to use and very effective.

Most apologetic books outline arguments that you commonly run into, but very little is said about style and presentation. This book takes the opposite approach and focuses on style and asking questions rather than detailed arguments. The approach is perfect for today's world, where the "Hand Out Tons of Tracts" and the "Beat People With The Bible" philosophies of old have ceased to work. 

Some of the things I really appreciated about this work includes the personal anecdotes and the care that the author takes to exhort the reader to present himself well. Very well thought out book and highly recommended to any Christian, especially pastors, evangelists, and small group leaders. 

On a side note, this book is also an excellent approach on dealing with fellow Christians when discussing secondary (or tertiary) doctrine issues. Would be very helpful for anyone engaged in this type of argument to heed the advice in this book.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

4-Hour Workweek

I have read more than my share of business books, most of which seem to repeat the others in new, less-interesting ways. The information in these business books is valuable, but repetitive and, ultimately, less rewarding the 18th time you read the same thing by a different author. The 4-Hour Workweek, on the other hand, was completely original, fresh, and even groundbreaking with some of the ideas presented. It is one of the best books I have ever read on business and probably the first one I will recommend to any one asking me for advice on a business book. It is excellent and 90% of what is talked about can be used right away.

Tim Ferris, after taking the traditional route in business and coming up wealthy but empty, reshapes his thinking about business and calls it Lifestyle Design. The entire concept is revolutionary for many readers, but is breath of fresh air in a society obsessed with work for work's sake.

Some of the key concepts that I took away from this book:

  • The 80/20 Rule in Life - 80% of what you do is unproductive, so get rid of it.
  • Focus on quality of work, not quantity.
  • Enjoy life. Take a vacation.
  • Rethink technology. Are the constant Blackberry interruptions necessary?
  • Spend time doing what you love.
  • Take a long vacation.
  • Create jobs for others. Doing everything yourself is bad for everybody.
  • Rethink retirement. Work and vacation should be a rhythm set throughout the course of your life.
As a Christian, all of these are great ideas, all things that I definitely support. This will be the first business book I recommend to others with two caveats in mind: One, recognize the goal is not cut your work down to where you have more time to waste. The goal is to have more time to be more productive, doing fulfilling work. Two, work is not a bad thing. Work is a gift from God, given to man pre-curse, not post-curse. Work elimination should not be the goal, but rather work redistribution. You can be much more effective and stop wasting time, period.

On a side note, I think this book would be really interesting for Christian Missionaries to read. The ideas of long-term international travel and how it is accomplished could easily be applied to missions and create more independent, sustainable organizations.