Monday, January 31, 2011

The Chronicles of Narnia: Some Thoughts

Twenty years have passed since I first read the Chronicles of Narnia, but I recently replaced a lost set and have started reading them again. I am halfway through book two, Prince Caspian, and will post reviews of each book as I go. Here are a few thoughts I have so far about the series as a whole.

These are short, easily read books. I have read through the Harry Potter series and the Lord of the Rings series within the last couple of years, and the Chronicles of Narnia are on an easier reading level than either of these. However, there is also a layered quality to the stories that make them enjoyable for all ages. Great books that will appeal to any age, intellect, or even religion . . . a very rare feat.

Overarching narrative, short metaphors. The ties to Christianity in Narnia are a little different than I thought they would be. Not only does Christianity provide the backbone for the fairy tale, but their are shorter metaphors interjected throughout the text. Lewis is a master at this . . . I'm already convinced that one can learn more about who God is and how He operates by reading the Chronicles of Narnia than by diving into thick theological tomes.

Seven short books . . .  but I don't believe that I finished the series when I read them last time. The climax of the first book will be hard to beat . . . after all, the entire history of our world hinges on the events that lie under the surface of The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe. Very interested to see how the rest of series plays out and if the suspense and narrative improves with each book, as it does in almost every other popular fantasy series.

Pick them up, and read them. Lewis is one of my favorite authors of non-fiction, and though I have read only one of his fictional works thus far I have no doubt that he will be one of my favorite fiction writers as well.

Also: attended a lecture by Alistair McGrath last December. He is currently researching and writing the definitive biography on Lewis and his works. Very excited to see this in print in the next couple of years.

Does Prayer Change Things?

"In short, no prayer of any human being ever uttered in history ever changed the mind of God in the slightest, because His mind doesn't ever need to be changed.

. . . prayer does change things, all kinds of things. But the most important thing it changes is us. As we engage in this communion with God more deeply and come to know the One with whom we are speaking more intimately, that growing knowledge of God reveals to us all the more brilliantly who we are and our need to change in conformity to Him. Prayer changes us profoundly."(R.C. Sproul, The Prayer of the Lord, 14)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Human Factor by Graham Greene

Graham Greene, an author who focused on contemporary political and moral issues of his day, was raised Catholic and each of his novels have Christian themes woven throughout. His realistic prose highlights the battle against evil in each man, and The Human Factor is one of his best works.

Maurice Castle, the protagonist of the story, is a conflicted spy. He goes to work each day, pushes papers at the office, and comes home to a loving family each night. The book focuses on family, patriotism, and race, but still has all of the great elements of a spy novel. In fact, many think that it is the greatest spy novel ever written.

This book will provoke you to think about things in ways that only fiction can do. Race, apartheid, loyalty, family, religion, Africa, and many other subjects are turned inside out in the space of just a few chapters. The Human Factor is an espionage novel that will grip you from the first few pages and one you will think about long after you have turned the last page. I highly recommend it.

Ms. Forgiven Sinner

"She [the church] is not in the business of telling the world what's right and wrong so that it can do good and avoid evil. She is in the business of offering, to a world that knows all about that tiresome subject, forgiveness for its chronic unwillingness to take its own advice. But the minute she even hints that morals, and not forgiveness, is the name of her game, she instantly corrupts the Gospel and runs headlong into blatant nonsense.

The church becomes no Ms. Forgiven Sinner but Ms. Right. Christianity becomes the good guys in her versus the bad guys out there." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 345)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

He's Got The Whole World . . .

"If God wanted to destroy the world, he wouldn't have to do anything; he would have to stop doing something. god is not only the initial cause of the world at its beginning; he is the present and immediate cause of the world at every moment of its being." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 329)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Jewels Under The Rug

"The rule in theology is: When you've got two truths that you can't hold in harmony, you don't solve the problem by letting one of them go. You hang on tight and hold them both in paradox. At least that way ou don't end up sweeping jewelry under the run gin the name of compulsive neatness." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 317)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Too Human

"The human race is, was, and probably always will be deeply unwilling to accept a human messiah. We don't want to be saved in our humanity; we want to be fished out of it. We crucified Jesus not because he was God but because he blasphemed: he claimed to be God and then failed to come up to our standards for assessing the claim. It's not that we weren't looking for the Messiah; it's just that he wasn't what we were looking for. Our kind of Messiah would come down from a cross. He would carry a folding phone booth in his back pocket. He wouldn't do a stupid thing like rising from the dead. He would do a smart thing like never dying." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 314)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Three In One

"The Word and the Spirit, as we said, are in on the act of creation, and Christ is in the Old Testament, and the Spirit of the Lord is in Isaiah, and Jesus is before Abraham was, and he had glory with the Father before the world existed. And as far as the church is concerned, whatever "three Persons in one God" means, it cannot mean three parts or three divisions or three separable anythings. There is only one divine individual." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 310)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Faith is Interesting

". . . the theologian's real work is not to prove that the Faith is true, only that it's interesting. Decisions about truth are, necessarily, the province of the faithful." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 309)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Hunt for the Mystery

"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)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Instant Physicist: An Illustrated Guide by Richard Muller

This short book follows a long line of other works that have attempted to break down complex science questions into easily consumed bite-sized bits. The cartoons that are on every other page are unique to books of this sort that I have seen, and help make the read more entertaining. The physics in the book and the explanations are more in depth than you would expect. Each entry takes up no more than a page, and in a succinct manner the author is able to convey a healthy dose of science. It was an enjoyable read that accomplished its goal - I now know some useful physics facts. There were many things I liked about the book, as well as some I did not. 

* The energy explanations were great. If you want to gather some quick facts about why the electric car is so far behind the gas-guzzler's, this is a great place to start. 
* The short bit on the carcinogens in organic food . . . 
* In general, the science was well balanced for the casual reader. 
* Timely book - many of the the topics are well suited for today. 

* References to scholarly works by the author were out of place in a book like this. 
* Some of the science did not have enough background. In a book of this size, this may be unavoidable, but it would be nice to include some other recommendations to follow up on. 
* Too short. Once you remove the cartoons this book clocks in at under 70 pages. 

If you are an avid non-fiction reader looking for an entertaining book on physics, this book is both timely, helpful, and recommended.

Thy Will Be Done

"If the cross teaches us anything it should be that the cup doesn't pass from us, and that agony, bloody sweat, and the pain of being forsaken on a dark afternoon are the true marks of having said, Thy Will Be Done." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 276)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Enthusiasm for Lobsters

"You will be interested in God's existence only if, in advance of proof, you care about the subject. And that depends on more than mere existence. What does it matter to you if I can prove that lobsters exist, if you're not interested in seafood at all? The theologian's real job should be to work up your enthusiasm for the Lobster Himself. Only after that can he talk about the Unlobstered First Lobster without putting you to sleep." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 254)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Vocation of the Church

"The upshot of all this is to refocus our attention on the church's true vocation. Perhaps it's time for it to retire from most of the plausible business it has been in for years and to start thinking about its real work as the sacrament of the Mystery of the Word. Perhaps it ought to stop justifying its pretension that it is the world's finest question-answering machine and the human race's chief of moral police, and accept the fact that things are a little more obscure and tricky than the Roman Curia, the Episcopalian Mini-Vatican, and the New York Conference of the United Methodist Church have so far seemed willing to admit." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 230)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

More Than A Chicken

"It's memory, you see, that puts the sting in our knowledge of badness. God is lucky: he never loses a thing. The chickens are equally lucky: they lose everything. but we are just enough of a mixture of God and chicken to be able to hang on to the worst of both worlds." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 218)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Last Trump

"At other times, in other places, and for his own reasons, Jesus does all of the things the Devil suggests. Instead of making lunch out of rocks, he feeds the five thousand miraculously - basically the same trick, but on a grander scale. Instead of jumping off the Temple and not dying, he dies and refuses to stay dead - by any standards, an even better trick. And finally, instead of getting himself bogged down in a two-man presidency with an opposite number he doesn't really understand, he aces out the Devil on the cross and ends up risen, ascended, and glorified at the right hand of the Father as King of Kings and Lord of Lords - which is the best trick of all, taken with the last trump." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 193)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Divine Party

"This world is fundamentally unnecessary. Nothing has to be. It needs a creator not only for its beginning but for every moment of its being. Accordingly, the trinitarian bash doesn't really come before creation what actually happens is that all of creation, from start to finish, occurs within the bash: the raucousness of the divine party is simultaneous with the being of everything that ever was or will be. If you like paradoxes, it means that God is the eternal contemporary of all the events and beings in time." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 177)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Problem of Evil

"The problem of evil is not that there is so much of it that we can't see the good, but that there is so little of it - and yet it still wins." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 137)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Marriage Forest

"We enter marriage as we enter a wood: with purpose, with hope, with direction. We continue in marriage as we continue in a wood: confused, haunted, and imminently lost. And we survive marriage as we survive a wood: by a combination of dumb luck, faulty knowledge, and helpless goodwill - and at the price of coming through with no thinnest skin left upon a single tooth in our heads. It's a great hike when it's over, but the campfires at which its praises are sung are seldom the ones we light in the forest." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 124)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Priestly Offering of Beards

"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)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Body & Soul

"Set down here, therefore, the fact that orthodox Christianity has nothing against the body, and everything for it. First, God made it. Second, God loves it. Third, God took it to himself in the womb of Mary. Fourth, he walked the earth in it, not with disdain but with enough obvious pleasure to acquire a bad reputation in the eyes of fussy people. And finally, he died, rose, ascended into heaven, and reigns forever as the incarnate Lord - in a body - with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man's nature. The problems raised by orthodox Christianity are anything but Oriental. They are embarrassingly - shockingly - fleshly. The current age, if it hears the true doctrine at all, finds it not too spiritual but too material for its tastes. It is not God who is too refined for us. It is we who find God's announced way of doing business slightly . . . vulgar." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 104)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Bitter Bondage

"The dieter is condemned to bitter bondage, to a life that dares not let food in. But the faster is someone preparing for a feast. His Lent leads to an Easter, and to mirth and weight of Glory." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 100)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Prayer of the Lord

R.C. Sproul is one of my favorite authors. His book The Holiness of God shaped my Christian life more than any other book that I have read besides the Bible. I own around 15 of his books, and the one downside to his books is that there is a lot of repetition from book to book. The Prayer of Lord breaks this mold and is one of his most original works, not to mention one of the best books on prayer that I have read.

The Prayer of the Lord focuses on how to pray in the same way that Jesus prays the Lord's prayer. The first chapter focuses on how we should not pray, which is very helpful. Following that, each chapter zooms in on a part of the Lord's Prayer and explains how we should apply the lessons to our own prayer life. For such a short prayer, it is a refreshingly rich book, and you will be blessed by reading it. 

One chapter that I thought was particularly good was the "Give us this day our daily bread" chapter. Praying for daily provision is something that is easy to forget in our society. We tend to pray for security over the next 30 years, or pray only when we hit a rough patch. Praying daily for provision is humbling and it helps enable you to see how God is working in your life.

The book is excellent by itself, but it also includes an appendix on why we pray to a God that is in complete control. Many make the mistake of praying as if they are informing God of something that he did not already know in hopes of changing his mind. Many others mistakenly discount prayer as largely unnecessary - we can't change God's mind after all. Sproul expertly dismantles both of these views and presents a profound, Biblical view on prayer.

It would be a mistake to assume that this small book belongs in the gift book section or that it is "Theology Lite." It is an excellent treatise on prayer and a great read as well.

Transitional History

"If the past is important only as a transition to the present, then the present is important only as a transition to the future: the much-touted evolutionary meaning of history turns out to be one that never arrives." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 68)

Friday, January 7, 2011

Unjust Kings & Queens

"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)

Theological Library

If I had one wish, it would be that there would be a library near Brenham that held only theological books. I want it to be less than an hour from Brenham and, for good measure, I want it to hold 150,000 books. I also want it to have wood floors. Mahogany bookshelves. Host lectures from the best theological minds around the world. It would be great if there was a kitchen nearby, and maybe a chapel. Impossible, right?

This is the now one of my favorite things about living near Houston. This library has all that I described and much, much more. It is a wonderful gift to the pastors and writers in the Houston area. A local Houston lawyer graciously built this library and has opened it up to anyone who wants to use it for study. I heard Alistair McGrath give a lecture there just last month and am looking forward to the future guests they have already scheduled to come in. If you are in the Houston area, or even around just for a visit, it is something you have to schedule time for. It was just finished a couple of months ago and they are still organizing and adding books to the shelves every day.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

2011 Faith Based Predictions

Ran across this post on CNN's Belief Blog - 2011 Faith Based Predictions.

Don Miller's post is interesting, but too vague to understand if it is his opinion or not. Pyromaniacs has an interesting take on his post in the form of an open letter.

However, I thought the most provocative post was written by Orson Scott Card. He is a Mormon and also an excellent author. I finally got around to reading Ender's Game last year and it is a great book, one of the best I have read in my limited library of science fiction. His post is below:

7. Mormons have delivered the vote for Republicans year after year, but the GOP would be wise to remember that Mormons don't actually belong to them. We noticed and will not forget Mike Huckabee's viciously anti-Mormon mockery of Mitt Romney during the 2008 campaign. If Huckabee is the Republican nominee for president, look for substantial numbers of Mormons to defect or abstain. Mormons are the key to Republican victory in many Western swing states; if Huckabee actually wants their votes, he'd better start mending fences now.
Orson Scott Card, Mormon author whose books include "Pathfinder"

After a quick internet search, the only thing I came up with was that Huckabee made the statement that Mormon's believe Jesus and Satan are brothers in 2007. Huckabee has since apologized to Romney face to face and to the public in general. While Mormons and Christians may seem to share some beliefs, the reality is that key differences in Orthrodox Christianity and Mormonism should often lead these groups to vote differently. 

It will be interesting to see how Christians vote in the next election. It seems that the best Republican choice for President is Mitt Romney, a Mormon, and that the loudest (prophetic?) Conservative voice these days is Glenn Beck. Should Christians vote the traditional party line? Or are there real differences between Christianity and Mormonism that deserve closer examination?

Places, Time, & History

"We like to believe that we see ourselves as living in places, as acting in time, as the protagonists of real history. But we seldom get near the realities: it is the abstract substitutes, the mental counters, that our minds fasten on." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 46)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

ESV For Free

The best translation of the Bible - great balance of readability and accuracy - available for free online.

From the Crossway Blog

When we released the English Standard Version of the Bible in 2001, we immediately made it available online, for free. Eager to get the Bible into as many formats as people will read, we’ve released the ESV as an iPhone/iPad appAndroid app, and as an eBook for your Kindle or Nook.
Prefer to listen to Scripture?  You can stream it at ESV Online. We’ve worked with our friends atFaith Comes By Hearing to offer several audio versions of the Bible, for free. Another set of audio files is available on YouTube.
For our technologically savvy friends, we’ve even made the API to our ESV Bible text and ESV audio available free of charge for non-commercial use.
Why make this content available for free digitally? Because the Lord has been generous to us by entrusting his Word to us, which is able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15). As we are able to by God’s grace, we want to make it easier for people worldwide to access this inexhaustible treasure.
The barrier is low; you’re but a few clicks away from being able to engage the very word of God.


"Humankind cannot stand very much reality: the strongest doses of it are invariably dismissed as silliness." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 46)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

5 Tips For Choosing Books To Read

1. Ask your friends. Ask them why they liked or disliked it, where it ranked compared to other books, if they would read it again, etc. Once you find a friend or two with similar taste in a specific genre, you can really narrow down which books you should read.

2. Find out what your favorite authors read. I have found great books this way and been introduced to some of my favorite authors. For instance, I probably never would have picked up a book by Dave Barry but one of my favorite authors said he was the funniest writer he had read. I tried reading some and have since picked up almost all of Barry's books. Hint: Search your favorite author's websites or blogs for info on who they read.

3. Always read the worst reviews on Amazon. More often than not, it is the one star reviews on Amazon that help me choose what to read more than the five star reviews. A positive review tends to be general, while a negative review almost always dives into specifics. You almost invariably learn much more about a book this way.

4. Use the best books lists. Use the lists online at Amazon, use the countless other lists online, and use the lists in your favorite bookstores. I love bookstores that have the employees choose their favorite books and write a short paragraph about why they liked it. You can find tons of great books like this. My favorite bookstore for finding new books is BookPeople in Austin, Texas. Tons of reviews, tons of lists, and great recommendations.

5. Use Amazon to its fullest extent. Amazon is an amazing online store, but it is much more than a store. Even if you never use it to order books, use it for recommendations. Rate the books you have read, tell it which books you own, read about the books it recommends to you. A lot of the books that Amazon recommends to you will be out of left field, but with a little bit of sorting you can find some hidden gems using Amazon's ranking system.

Of course there are many ways to find books to read that you will like, but I use the above 5 more than any others these days.

Live First

"Men who have lived nowhere are buried nowhere.
No Monument shall mark his head; no local roots clutch his breast.
Richmond and Kew have not undone him; Syracuse and Albany have not destroyed him.
No place wore him away, and nowhere receives him at last.
He shall return no more to his house; neither shall his place know him anymore."
(Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 41)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Historical Jesus

"For my money, the only historical Jesus there is, for better or worse, is the Jesus the Holy Spirit has disclosed to us on the pages of the New Testament - every word of which, one way or another, represents something the Spirit thought supremely worth mentioning about Jesus." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 14)

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

About 80 years ago, there was a man who gained unparalleled power in the modern era. He was literally worshipped by many around the world, going so far as to change church creeds to include his name. He was a brilliant military leader, controlled most of Europe, and was thought to be the German Messiah by many, sent to restore German power and prestige.

There was another German man who preached sermons, lectured at Berlin University, and ran underground seminaries that taught a handful of men what it meant to follow Christ. He wrote a few books during his short life and discipled a few men. He renounced what little power he had and served God with his whole heart. He spent the last years of his life in prison, and died behind prison walls.
From this snapshot of history, it would be hard not to conclude that Hitler would be remembered as a great military leader and Bonhoeffer would be largely forgotten. But Deitrich Bonhoeffer understood God’s power often came from quiet servitude. He studied and wrote about the Sermon on the Mount for much of his life. He knew that the meek would inherit the earth.
In the end, Hitler is remembered as a madman, whose legacy is a black mark on all of human history. Bonhoeffer’s legacy is immense. His concepts of cheap grace and his influence on key Christian leaders over the past 80 years have helped to shape history.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been reduced in Christian history as the pastor who was a part of the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. Metaxas fleshes out this narrow description of Bonhoeffer and shows him to be a pastor whose intellect and sharp thinking are matched only by his pastoral heart and his devotion to God.
From sermon excerpts to historical narratives, this book is much more than a fascinating account of an assassination attempt. It is the story of a man of God growing up in one of history’s darkest periods. It is a story of Christianity versus paganism. It is the story of hope amidst desperation. It is the story of triumph through death, victory through martyrdom.
Bonhoeffer’s legacy is enduring, and it is my prayer that this book propels his work back into the must-read lists of Christians everywhere. Bonhoeffer is easily the best book that I have read in 2010. It’s a must read for every Christian and anyone who has even the slightest interest in World War II.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Scot-free Grace

"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)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Sinning Ministers

"Fuss long enough with running sinners out of ministerial employment, and you'll knock all the crockery of grace off the church's shelf." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 6)