What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”
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In his brilliant and thought provoking book, Deep Exegesis, Peter Leithart writes (167):
“In a book happily back in print, John Breck argues that chiasms are not ‘balanced structures, but instead are dynamic literary devices. He suggests that chiasms should be read ‘helically,’ moving not just from A to B to C to B’ and so on, but from A to A’, B to B’, C to C’, and so on. Read in this way, the text has a centripetal pull toward the central section. The corresponding sections, Breck argues, are related in the same ways that the strophes of a verse of Hebrew poetry are related. He says there is a ‘what’s more’ relationship between the corresponding lines: A and, what is more, A’.”
[the Breck book to which Leithart refers is The Shape of Biblical Language: Chiasmus in the Scriptures and Beyond]
This idea of reading a chiasm “helically” (from “helical: of or shaped like a helix; spiral”) is exactly right.
I have argued that chiastic structures function this way across the books of Revelation and Daniel, and in my forthcoming book on the theology of Daniel, I suggest that Daniel’s chiastic structure influenced the choices John made in structuring Revelation chiastically.
This helical function can also be seen in the chiastic structure of 2 Samuel 21–24 (see GGSTJ, 174–75) and is likely at work anywhere you find a chiasm in the Bible.
William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, scene 7:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
In a letter to Walker Percy, Shelby Foote exhorted Percy to get to work on his desire to write fiction, saying something that is true about any craftsman pursuing any craft:
“But the most heart-breaking thing about it is: the better you get, the harder youll have to work–because your standards will rise with your ability. I mentioned ‘work’–it’s the wrong word: because if youre serious, the whole creative process is attended with pleasure in a form which very few people ever know. Putting two words together in a sequence that pleases you, really pleases you, brings a satisfaction which must be kin to what a businessman feels when he manages a sharp transaction–something like that, but on a higher plane because the businessman must know that soon he will have spent the dollars he made; but those two words which the writer set together have produced an effect which will never die as long as men can read with understanding.
So much for execution. I cant even begin to speak of conception–it comes from God.”
Just in time for Easter, check out this creative lyric video from The Gray Havens:
We’re fans around here of Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga, and in the run-up to the real release of Book Four, The Warden and the Wolf King, we are reading back over the first three volumes. We just finished volume one, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, which includes this poem, “The Legend of the Sunken Mountains.” The rhyme scheme is clear, there are internal rhymes, and the meter is well paced and fits the message.
Along with its technical competence, this poem captures that haunting, suggestive quality. It’s a bit mysterious, hinting at a back story, tantalizing the reader with the suggestion of an old story high and beautiful. The poet novelist has intrigued us with his first three volumes, and we’re eager to read the fourth. Without further ado, here’s
“The Legend of the Sunken Mountains” by Andrew Peterson
Come forth from sunken mountain calls the sundered summer moon
The eyrie’s fallen dragon king hath groaned his grievous tune
The halls that rose in cloudy steeps now lie beneath the waves
And Yurgen’s fallen kingdom sleeps in bouldered ocean graves
Yurgen’s son, the dragon fair, met Omer son of Dwayne
And so the knight and Yurgen’s heir did battle in the rain
And lo, the dragon wounded lay from Omer’s mortal blow
The knight, in grief, did haste away to save his mortal foe
And Omer, bent with sorrow, bowed in Yurgen’s mountain hall
And told the ancient dragon how his only heir did fall
So Yurgen, mighty dragon king, atop his mountain keep
Asunder tore the glistening and rocky mountain steep
He summoned every dragon for to burrow through the ground
And find at last the fabled ore that makes the maiméd sound
But Yurgen’s heir was cold and killed, and buried in the mount
As dragons tunneled deeper still below the ocean fount
And then at last with thund’rous din the misty mountain climbs
Collapsed upon the beasts within the darkness of the mines
From ocean then did Yurgen rise to seek his dying son
But where his mountain once arrayed a half-moon golden hung
His dragon kingdom moldered, his dragon scion slain
King Yurgen’s sorrow smoldered and he sank away again
The halls that towered in cloudy steeps now lie beneath the waves
And Yurgen’s fallen kingdom sleeps in murky ocean graves
The summer dusk hath split in twain the gilded summer moon
And all who come shall hear again the dragons’ lonesome tune
Spencer Haygood shared this Dr. Seuss style poem with me for the Christmas season. I loved it, and he gave me permission to post it here. Enjoy!
We Watch Every Year!
B. Spencer Haygood, Jr
We all know the story, we’ve all heard it told,
of the Who’s down in Whoville, and the Grinch, bold and cold;
how the grouchy old Grump greatly hated their joys
and grinningly plotted to steal all their toys.
Oh, we watch every year, at least most everyone.
We watch, and we watch, as the dark deed is done;
as the Grinch takes the toys of the Who girls and boys
and away, on his sleigh, takes them all, without noise.
And up on a ledge, at the top of Mount Crumpit,
the meany old Grinch sits ready to dump it
all off the edge of the ledge to the pit
he means to dump it all, yes, all of it.
“For what could he do worse than this,” he surmised
“than take away all of these things that they’ve prized?”
But just as he’s ready to shove it headlong,
from the town comes a sound … “Oh no, it’s a song!”
A song, being sung, while the Who’s all hold hands
A song that now echoes throughout all Who-land
And a great celebration of life and its ways
of family and friend and fun holidays
And the grouchy and grumpy old Grinch-heart was stirred.
That heart two sizes too small had heard
something that made him see Christmas was more
than all of these “things” that were bought at a store.
And so he returned all the toys to the Who’s
And all they thought lost they didn’t really lose
So they all joined together at the grand Christmas feast
and the Grinch, you remember, carved the roast beast.
It’s all a good story, with a good moral, yes!
Life doesn’t consist in the things we possess.
But is that all Christmas is, an Enlightenment tale,
of peace and good will, beyond things for sale?
Is Christmas just time for family and friends,
a year-ending festival of food without end,
with check accounts empty, and credit cards full,
a few sincere wishes, and a whole lot of bull,
when presents are given—some are hers, some are his—
is that really all we believe Christmas is?
Oh, I know a story, a story that’s old
and of this story’s glory not the half has been told
of Paradise first, and then Paradise lost,
of the deepest rebellion, and the terrible cost,
of the entrance into “Ourville,” not of an old Grinch,
but of that ancient Serpent, and sin and its stench,
and how he stole, not some toys, but life from our race
leaving us with no hope, not even a trace.
But then the first promise of One who would come
and undo the undoing the Undoer had done.
From that moment on, as the story proceeds
everything points to this coming seed.
From Seth to Noah to Shem it flows
then to Terah and Abraham, it goes and it goes
on to Isaac and Jacob and then David the King
the line can’t be stopped, not by anything.
Finally to Christ everything leads
prophecies, promises, patterns, and seeds
the portrait grows clearer and clearer, till the day
He appears in “Ourville” who will take sin away.
How perfectly, perfectly the round is maintained
Paradise lost, now Paradise regained
The way to the tree of life that was barred
now opened in him once more, evermore.
It’s true, in the Garden the first Adam fell
and if that were the end … what a story to tell
but the last Adam came and took all our loss
stood all the test, endured the cross
paid what we owed, went to the grave
then rose the third day, mighty to save.
It’s the story of sacrifice, of changing of place
of love everlasting and infinite grace
of sweet mercy offered to us, due the worst,
now freely accepted, freed from the curse.
Oh, we watch every year, least most everyone
we watch, and we watch, as the great Deed was done
from the grandeur of heaven to the grime of the stall
comes the Lord of all glory, and the great King of all
who’s born there in Bethlehem that dark, starry night
for the purpose of making what’s wrong once more right.
We all know the story, we’ve all heard it told
this story of glory, and this good news of old
Oh, for the wonder and witness once more
of our voices, with angels, raised evermore,
singing, shouting, filling earth with the praise
of the glorious Gospel of God’s mighty grace.
Just yesterday I was asked: does the Bible teach that women are to do anything more than schlepp kids and keep house?
Proverbs 31 has lots to say about what wise women do, but this video turns the question on its head, capturing the profound majesty of mothering:
By recreating the image and replacing the apple with a Bible, this application fit so well with “discovering theology.” The author of this book’s intentions involve studying the Bible’s symbols and patterns–thus finding out what is behind the Bible. Everything hides something else, and theology is more than words on a page in a bound book.
You can read the rest here, where you’ll also find the process through which the photographer went, some background photos, and other info, all of which lend further insight into the development of this phenomenal cover–and I can say that because I had nothing to do with it!
I’m sure you’ve heard what J. K. Rowling said about Albus Dumbledore: “I always thought of Dumbledore as gay.”
Dumbledore is a hero, one of the good guys through all seven novels. Unlike the way he is portrayed in the movies, Dumbledore is neither bumbling nor weak. He is commanding, authoritative, strong, sure, and only defeated by superior forces, never inferior ones. Dumbledore didn’t die because he made mistakes or because he absentmindedly mismanaged some magic. He died because he laid down his life, playing his appointed part in the outworking of a grand providential plan into which he had remarkable insight.
How do we deal with the information that Rowling has given us? How do we respond to her declaration that she thought of him as gay?
This calls for wisdom.
We should ask, I think, at least two questions: (1) what does Rowling show us of Dumbledore’s conduct as it relates to homosexuality/same-sex desire, and (2) what is it that makes Dumbledore a hero? Let’s start with the second first.
Is Dumbledore a hero because he has decided that the desires he feels must be right? Has he concluded that his appetites are to be gratified? Has he chosen what he wants over what he deems right? Has he chosen what is easy or what is true and good? Has he done whatever he wanted to do without concern for how it affects other people? Does he advocate that his impulses, his freedom, and his right to do whatever he wants to do matter more than any consideration of traditional morality or societal standard? Does he demand the right to throw off moral norms and be considered righteous by everyone?
The answers to these questions are obvious to anyone who has read the fabulous Harry Potter stories. Dumbledore is a hero not because he has thrown off Christian morality and Christian conceptions of what is good and true and beautiful but because he has embraced them. Dumbledore is a hero because he selflessly opposes evil—moral evil—and the definition of moral evil in the Potter stories corresponds to the definition of moral evil in the Bible. Dumbledore is heroic because he is Christ-like.
There is a character in the Harry Potter stories who has moved beyond traditional morality, who has decided that his appetites are to be gratified, that what he deems right is what must be true, that what he wants he will have without respect for the way it harms others. This character says that there is no good and evil, only power. There is a character who chooses that path, but his name is Voldemort not Dumbledore.
I would suggest, then, that Dumbledore’s same-sex attraction does not take away from our conception of him as a hero but adds to it because it shows us one more way in which Dumbledore has crucified evil, selfish, fleshly desires for the sake of what is morally true, ethically right, lovingly beautiful, and in every way good.
Skeptical of my interpretation of Rowling’s intentions? Need proof? Let’s move from the second question to the first: what does Rowling show us of Dumbledore’s conduct as it relates to homosexuality/same-sex desire. We’ll answer this question at two levels: on the surface, then under the surface.
On the surface, Rowling shows us nothing of Dumbledore’s same-sex attraction. That’s why people were shocked when she announced it. Observe: Dumbledore never overtly declares that he is gay. He never says or does anything to identify or define himself in those terms or by his own desires. Dumbledore never evidences a desire for a day when people’s conception of what is “moral” will be different so that he can pursue his impulses without social stigma. Dumbledore never encourages anyone to “transcend” moral norms of acceptable sexual orientation. In fact, I contend that Dumbledore would view that not as transcendent but as transgression, and this is precisely what makes him heroic.
Had Rowling not told us Dumbledore was gay, we would never suspect it. We would have seen Dumbledore as the self-sacrificial, wise, good hero that he is. And we would be right. Now let’s move from the surface, from what we can know from reading the novels for ourselves, below the surface, to what we might suggest about what Rowling shows in the novels now that she has given us this tidbit about her conception of Dumbledore.
I want to make three suggestions here: first, Dumbledore seems to have chosen a life of celibate singleness. Second, Dumbledore seems to take steps to protect himself and others from his own harmful impulses. Third, Rowling is therefore implicitly presenting Dumbledore as a heroic model for how those who struggle with same sex attraction can nevertheless be good and true.
First, Dumbledore has no partner. Rowling indicates that he had a dalliance in his youth, a dalliance that involved a plan to raise up a new world order, likely extending to a redefinition of sexual morality. While Rita Skeeter and other slanderers use Dumbledore’s youthful mistakes to call his character into question, the characters in the novel who see the truth understand that while Dumbledore may have forayed into those waters in his youth, he fled them and spent the rest of his life fighting those floods. Dumbledore seems to have learned from his own past, and he seems to view his youthful involvement with Grindelwald as a mistake. As a result of his own mistakes and his awareness of his own weaknesses, he is prepared to extend mercy, to give second chances to the likes of Rubeus Hagrid and Remus Lupin. He even trusts Severus Snape. Dumbledore is a great man not because he looks at people’s wickedness and trusts them anyway. He is a great man because though aware of people’s past wrong choices, he is willing to give them new chances to make the right choices. I would add that Dumbledore is fully prepared at all times to accept responsibility for his mistakes, for his own wrong choices, and he confesses them and repents. His desire in giving second chances is a desire for others to recognize their own wrongs, turn from them, and do right in the future.
Second, think of the way that Dumbledore protects himself and others from his own weaknesses. In chapter 37 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore explains to Harry that he distanced himself from Harry to keep Voldemort from exploiting any perception that their “relationship was—or had ever been—closer than that of a headmaster and pupil.” Dumbledore explains that had Voldemort known of his love for Harry, Voldemort would have used Harry against Dumbledore. There is nothing in the book at this point that would lead anyone to the conclusion that Dumbledore might have felt inappropriate, perverse desires mixed with his appropriate love for Harry, but the passage takes on deeper, unstated meaning in light of what Rowling has told us about Dumbledore’s inclination. In fact, what Rowling has told us enables us to see Dumbledore as more heroic, not less. There is not the slightest hint that Dumbledore used his position as headmaster of Hogwarts to gratify his own desire. There is every indication that Dumbledore recognized ways that magic could be used in the service of illicit pleasures and he opposed all such use of magic—think of the way that Dumbledore warned Harry of the temptation presented by the Mirror of Erised.
All this leads me to think that what J. K. Rowling is celebrating is not homosexuality but virtue as traditionally conceived. Virtue is not the redefinition of sexual morality away from biblical norms, away from the dictates of nature. Virtue is the rejection of wicked desire, desire that would lead us away from biblical norms. Virtue is choosing the true, the good, and the right, even if—precisely when!—what we want is the false, the bad, and the wrong. Albus Dumbledore is heroic because he is virtuous, because he is Christ-like, because he is a celibate single who refused and repudiated his own immoral impulses.
In reaction to Rowling’s declaration, “One blogger wrote on a fansite: ‘My head is spinning. Wow. One more reason to love gay men.’” But Rowling herself contrasts Dumbledore with Bellatrix Lastronge. She said of Dumbledore, “he met someone as brilliant as he was and, rather like Bellatrix, he was very drawn to this brilliant person and horribly, terribly let down by him.” (source). This comparison is instructive: Bellatrix is evil because rather than repudiating what attracted her for the sake of what was right, she abandoned what was right and chose what she desired. Dumbledore did the opposite. Rather than indulge his desire though it was wrong, he crucified his desire and chose to do what was right. That blogger misunderstood. Rowling’s declaration is not “one more reason to love gay men” but one more reason to celebrate and admire those who—whether repentant traitors or werewolves—repudiate their own evil impulses and choose what is good and right instead.
Postscript: I haven’t read Jerram Barrs’ book yet, but I just saw on Justin Taylor’s blog that Barrs has an appendix in his forthcoming Echoes of Eden entitled “The Outing of Dumbledore.” I’ve been thinking about what Rowling said about Dumbledore since it was first brought to my attention, and seeing that Barrs has an appendix on it spurred me to finish this post. I don’t know what Barrs will say, but this is my take on Rowling’s declaration that in her conception of Dumbledore he felt same-sex attractions.
This post originally appeared at Christianity.com.
H. B. Charles set the chapel on fire today at SBTS. I recommend you watch rather than simply listen:
What’s with the cover of What Is Biblical Theology?
You might find the image vaguely familiar, though it was new to me when Crossway suggested this cover. Turns out it’s a relatively well known piece by the Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte entitled “Son of Man.” I was really impressed when, showing the proposed cover to Mark Coppenger, he immediately recognized it, named the painter, and referred to several other works by Magritte. You can get a rundown of pop-culture references to this painting on the Wikipedia page.
Magritte did a number of paintings of men dressed this way, black suits, bowler hats, and apparently this one was intended as a self portrait.
I’m no art critic, but on the basis of what Magritte himself said about the painting, the imagery used, and its title, I hazard the following thoughts.
The painting is entitled “Son of Man,” which obviously evokes the Bible. Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man, and the Scriptures constantly refer to people as “son of man,” “sons of men,” or “children of men.” Magritte was probably aware that the first man’s name, “Adam,” is simply the Hebrew word for “man.” This adds the connotation of “son of Adam” to the phrase “son of man.”
It’s probably no coincidence that a painting entitled “Son of Man” features an apple in front of a man’s face. The Bible does not specify that the one verboten was an apple tree, but those who comment on or symbolize the forbidden fruit pervasively depict it as an apple.
About this painting entitled “Son of Man,” featuring an apple in front of a man’s face, Magritte said, “we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us.”
The painting shows the way that forbidden fruit becomes an object of curiosity and desire. For the man depicted in the image, the forbidden fruit stands between him and the world. That prominent fruit is so close to him–or he has drawn so close to it–that it will dominate his perception, influencing all he sees. For us, looking at the picture, the apple obscures our ability to see the man’s face. Instead of seeing the features of his face, we see the forbidden fruit on which he is so focused.
For the “Son of Man” in the painting, the world is perceived only in relationship to the forbidden fruit. This captures something profound about our experience as human beings, and that something is what makes this image so appropriate for the cover of What Is Biblical Theology?
Our desires affect our perception. In our fallen condition, we are so distracted by forbidden experiences–knowledge of good and (especially) evil–symbolized here by the apple, that we cease to behold the glory of the world around us, even if we are standing before something so magnificent as the sea.
Glory, beauty, life brims all around us, and we are like the man in the painting so close to the apple he can see little else. Evidently he doesn’t care to see anything else. Nor can he be seen, and one aspect of our tragedy is that often when others look at us, rather than seeing our faces, they mainly see our sin.
Consider the two images together:
In Magritte’s painting, the son of man’s perception is controlled by his fascination with forbidden fruit. In the cover image, the son of man’s perception is controlled by the Bible. The Bible has become for this man like a frontlet between his eyes (Deut 6:8), his fascination is not with what is forbidden but with the words of life, and his perception is dominated not by desire for evil but defined by the teachings of Scripture.
What is biblical theology? I define biblical theology as the attempt to understand and embrace the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors. We want to understand how they interpreted the Bible and life, and we want to follow in the footsteps of these followers of Christ whom God inspired to write the Scriptures.
We want to read Scripture the way the biblical authors read it. We want to see the world as they saw it. We want the Scriptures to control our perception of the world. When people look at us, we want them to see the Bible being lived out in what we do and how we see.
The gospel is the power of God for salvation, and that power extends to the ability to see the world in a new way.
Do you want to look at the Scriptures and the world the way the biblical authors did?
I invite you to consider this attempt to answer the question What Is Biblical Theology?
My oldest son drew this picture of Janner after we watched the kickstarter video on the new book.
This kickstarter is the most successful one I’ve ever seen (not that I’ve paid that much attention to many others), and I think it’s a tribute to the way Mr. Andrew Peterson serves us all with beautiful and edifying stories.
May his tribe increase.
You can still contribute to the cause, and if you’re looking for books to read to your kids or for them to read, we like these:
Thanks to Tim Challies for the link to this video, which explains how God programmed the leaves to change color:
While Halloween can often be a time associated with ghosts, devils and darkness, this video is designed to share the good news that Jesus is the light of the world!
We are making this film available for free and encourage you share it with your friends via social media as well as showing at church events. Please feel free to download the video for use however you like.
This is the script used on the video:
Vast armies undead do tread through the night and
In hordes march towards hapless victims to frighten.
They stumble in step with glass-eyes on the prizes;
Bunched hither, hunched over in monstrous disguises;
In sizes not lofty but numb’ring a throng;
To unleash on their prey the dreaded DING DONG.
Small faces with traces of mother’s eye-liner,
Peer up to the resident candy provider.
And there to intone ancient threats learnt verbatim;
They lisp “TRICK OR TREAT!” Tis their stark ultimatum.
Thus: region by region such legions take plunder.
Does this spector-full spectacle cause you to wonder?
Just how did our fair festive forebears conceive,
Of this primeval practice called All Hallows Eve?
The answer, if anyone cares to research,
Surprises, it rises from old mother church.
On the cusp of the customary All Saints Day
The Christ-i-an kinsfolk made mocking display.
These children of light both to tease and deride;
Don darkness, doll down as the sinister side.
In pre-post-er-ous pageants and dress diabolic,
They hand to the damned just one final frolick.
You see with the light of the dawn on the morrow,
The sunrise will swallow such darkness and sorrow.
The future is futile for forces of evil;
And so they did scorn them in times Medieval.
For this is the nature of shadow and gloom;
In the gleaming of glory there can be no room.
What force is resourced by the echoing black?
When the brightness ignites can the shadow push back?
These ‘powers’ of darkness, if such can be called,
Are banished by brilliance, by blazing enthralled.
So the bible begins with this fore-resolved fight;
For a moment the darkness…. then “Let there be Light!”
First grief in the gloom, then joy from the East.
First valley of shadow, then mountaintop feast.
First wait for Messiah, then long-promised Dawn.
First desolate Friday and then Easter Morn.
The armies of darkness when doing their worst,
Can never extinguish this Dazzling Sunburst.
So… ridicule rogues if you must play a role;
But beware getting lost in that bottomless hole.
The triumph is not with the forces of night.
It dawned with the One who said “I am the Light!”
HT: Ross Shannon
The more senses we involve in an activity, the more we learn. I am delighted that Christian Focus has posted three “coloring pages” from The Bible’s Big Story. Here’s hoping these will bring tactile delight and result in deeper awareness of the world’s true story, a story of sin, promise, and triumphant redemption.
We print coloring pages from the web all the time in our house. Now you can print the following three pages, and your little ones can work some crayola magic on them:
Douglas Wilson has translated Beowulf, and a few years back he wrote an essay for Touchstone on it: “The Anglo-Saxon Evangel: The Beowulf Poet Was a Shrewd Christian Apologist.”
Though a heroic poem about pagans that never mentions Christ, Beowulf is the opposite of syncretistic compromise. It is written to highlight the treachery as a way of life that afflicted these pagan societies from within, and the greed and plunder as a way of life that afflicted them from without (whether they were the marauders or the victims).
Our poet shows us this pagan hopelessness in a period of history just before their conversion to the Christian faith. He is recounting the testimony of his people, and, just as with modern testimonies, the sin is highlighted. But it is art to conceal art, and he leaves us hanging just before the explicit moment of conversion. His original listeners knew exactly what was going to happen next.
The poem shows how necessary was this sequel, and in this lies its shrewd apologetic. Many generations of roistering pillagers had not thought any other way of life either possible or desirable. In Beowulf, this pattern of raids and counter-raids, of vengeance accomplished and vengeance thwarted, is a way of life on its last legs.
The people are (most of them) heartily sick of it, and they keep trying to find ways of fixing the problems created by their cycles of blood vengeance. Their vain attempts to weave peace through arranged marriages, and their frustrated attempts to stay the violence with the wergild (or man-price, a compensation for murder) show that they know they have a serious problem.
Their long-established way of doing things gives them all the civilization-building power of a biker gang. It is hard for us to imagine Viking angst,but the author of Beowulf is delivering us a vision of exactly that.
The rest, including a beguiling suggestion that the poet has created paganism at its best, as it never existed anywhere, is here. Vintage Wilson, with much insight into Beowulf.
If you’re looking for some inspiration, to say nothing of a fascinating history lesson, an instance of one master of the English language writing about another, and an all around mind-widening read, I commend William Manchester’s biography of Winston Churchill for your reading or listening enjoyment. I’m in the first of three volumes on Audible, highlighting diamonds in the hard copy as I have opportunity.
In World War I Churchill argued that Britain should take Constantinople, and when the operation failed he became the scapegoat and had to resign. He continued to believe that he was in the right and that the operation would have succeeded if it had been carried through according to his instructions. He was probably right, but someone had to suffer the political consequences. On this occasion it was Churchill’s head that had to roll. Manchester writes:
“as was customary when ministers stepped down, he made a personal statement in the House of Commons . . . He said: ‘You may condemn the men who tried to force the Dardanelles, but your children will keep their condemnation for those who did not rally to their aid.’ In his peroration he cried: ‘Undertake no operation in the West which is more costly to us in life than to the enemy. In the East, take Constantinople. Take it by ships if you can. Take it by soldiers if you must. Take it by whichever plan, military or naval, commends itself to your military experts. But take it; take it soon; take it while time remains.”
That is a closing statement worthy of imitation!
HT: Douglas Wilson.
Hitchcock said a good story was life with all the boring parts taken out. That’s what N. D. Wilson summarizes in this powerful clip:
I’m looking forward to reading Death by Living.
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- Three Objections Enns Makes to Mohler: Apparant Age, Authority, and World-Picture November 4, 2011
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