Archive | History RSS feed for this section

Hans Frei’s Central Idea

Thanks to Patrick Schreiner for pointing to this essay, in which William C. Placher describes Hans Frei’s central idea:

Frei certainly never thought of himself as a “great theologian, ” but he did have a central passion, a central idea. That idea emerged through long study, in the 1950s and ’60s, of l8th- and 19th-century ways of interpreting the Bible. He grew convinced that nearly the whole of modern Christian theology, from the radical to the fundamentalist, had taken a wrong turn.

For many centuries before the modern age, most Christian theologians had read the Bible primarily as a kind of realistic narrative. It told the overarching story of the world, from creation to last judgment. Moreover, the particular coherence of this story made “figural” interpretation possible: some events in the biblical stories, as well as some nonbiblical events, prefigured or reflected the central biblical events. Indeed, Christians made sense of their own lives by locating their stories within the context of that larger story.

But somewhere around the 18th century, people started reading the Bible differently. Their own daily experience seemed to define for them what was “real, ” and so they consciously tried to understand the meaning of the Bible by locating it in their world.

They did that in — to overgeneralize — two ways. They saw the meaning of the biblical narratives either in the eternal truths about God and human nature that the stories conveyed or in their reference to historical events. The Bible thus fit into the world of our experience either as a set of general lessons applicable to that world or as an extension of that world developed by means of critical history.

Those two ways of interpreting the Bible remain prominent. Those who set out the moral lessons of Jesus’ teaching or focus on the insights provided by his parables believe that the real point of the Gospels lies in their general lessons for our lives. On the other hand, fueled by Wolfhart Pannenberg’s early arguments for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection and continuing scholarly efforts to establish which of the Gospel sayings were really spoken by the historical Jesus, some Christians still tend to treat the Bible as a historical source whose value lies primarily in its historical accuracy.

The whole is worth reading. I think this is basically right, and this is why I sometimes say that the aim of biblical theology is to get at the presuppositions of the biblical authors, to get into their world, and to stay there. We want to live in the world as the biblical authors conceived it.

As Placher puts it, summarizing Frei:

Frei’s theology is finally church theology: it first of all addresses the Christian community and invites that community to let the biblical narratives shape its vision of the world. To what extent parts of that community will respond to such invitations may be the most important unanswered question regarding Frei’s work.

See further Frei’s Eclipse of Biblical Narrative.

Comments { 0 }

Halton on the Human Element of History

Reflecting on a post entitled “The Spiritual Ground of History,” Charles Halton describes a poignant moment in his own research:

. . . as I was going through the cuneiform tablet collection that belongs to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. I was bogged down in trying to read from broken tablets and keep track of the accounts mentioned in the various texts when, as I held a 4,000 year old tablet in my hand, I saw a fingerprint. It was a powerful sign that reminded me that as I read the tablet I was not merely reading a “sheep text” but a record of the work of a real human being. Someone who probably enjoyed his work some days and other days found it difficult and frustrating. Someone with parents who loved him or was he abused? Maybe he had a wife and child at home and worried about feeding and clothing them and about buying a new house, and so on. This tablet was no longer just about sheep, it was about the humans who engaged in these tasks.

A few lines later he has this description of history from a novel:

in Julian Barnes’ new novel, A Sense of an Ending, in which this definition of history is attributed to one of the characters:

History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.

The whole thing.

Comments { 2 }

J. K. Rowling’s Harvard Commencement Address: Failure and Imagination

In 2008 Rowling gave a stirring address at the Harvard commencement on the benefits of failure and the importance of imagination. Some highlights:

by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.


Now you might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I personally will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.


Though I was sloping off to write stories during my lunch hours, I paid the rent in my early 20s by working at the African research department at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London.

There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.


Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places.

Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.


Read the whole thing here.

Comments { 0 }

R. C. Sproul and T. Lively Fluharty, The Barber Who Wanted to Pray

If you’re needing a little encouragement to do family devotions, or if you’re looking to spur someone in that direction, you’ll want to get your hands on The Barber Who Wanted to Pray by R. C. Sproul and T. Lively Fluharty. This book is a great encouragement to be reading the Bible, singing the Bible, and especially praying the Bible with our families. And it’s beautiful.

The message of the book is simple: pray the ideas in the Lord’s prayer, the ten commandments, and the Apostle’s Creed. This point is made through a poignant account of an encounter between Martin Luther and his barber, into whose hands Luther put his life. It’s only gradually revealed that Luther is the outlaw with the price on his head who sits down in the barber’s chair.

I read this book aloud to my older two sons, who have learned a little about Luther and are a little familiar with the reformation. When the moment of revelation came, they gasped aloud, exclaiming, “Martin Luther!” That reaction, for me, was the best part of us reading this book.

What will keep me coming back to this book, and what has me even now marveling at it, turning its pages slowly, are the works of art it contains. Don’t get me wrong: I believe in the importance of praying Scripture, and I love stories about Martin Luther. But the paintings by T. Lively Fluharty deserve more contemplation and consideration than can be given as a parent reads this book aloud to children who want to hear how things turn out.

R. C. Sproul has told a great story here, and T. Lively Fluharty brings it alive with lasting beauty.

If you’re looking for a good gift as we near the Christmas season, this would be a good book to put in the hands of anyone who has children, anyone who wants to pray, or anyone who might be drawn by great art to the God who works for those who wait for him.

If you like this one, don’t miss Fool Moon Rising by Kristi and T. Lively Fluharty (what a name that guy has!).

I don’t know if Fluharty has captured the historical circumstances, or if he just has a thing for cats, but judging from his paintings, Luther’s town was over-run by them. [There’s a mouse in the last painting, and that little guy is glad that these are Muggle paintings. If they were housed in Hogwarts, the cats from previous pages would be on the chase.]

Crossway is committed to truth, goodness, and beauty. You can see it in projects like this one. Praise God for Sproul and Fluharty, and praise God he has given us his own word to pray back to him.


Related: Biblical Theology for Kids!

Comments { 1 }

George W. Bush Sounds Like Lincoln on Prayer

The conclusion of this must read article:

I visited President Bush in the Oval Office one more time. I was thinking about doing a book about how Americans pray, and I had remembered that way back in Midland, he had advised me to read the Bible cover-to-cover, something I had done since then. He agreed to talk with me about his prayer life, and, for a final time, I journeyed to the Oval Office.

“I’ve thought about this conversation a lot since you asked … ,” President Bush said. “I’m learning and have been learning ever since 1986, really.”

That afternoon, only a few months before he would leave office, we sat beneath the famous Rembrandt Peale portrait of George Washington, and President Bush told me that he prayed daily in the White House. He prayed for spiritual insight—to “be more discerning of the Word of God.” He prayed that God keep his wife and daughters protected. He prayed that our soldiers and their families be given comfort and strength. He did not pray for good weather on his daughter’s wedding day, or that his father’s hip surgery go well, or that the stock market rise.

“Do you pray, ‘Dear God, let Congress get it right?’ ” I asked.


“ ‘Dear God, let Pelosi get it right?’ ”

“No, no, no, no, no, God is not the minority leader”—and then he laughed and corrected himself. “Majority leader. … Nor do I pray for a Republican victory. … I really don’t.”

He prayed before his presidential debates, kept a little cross in his pocket that he would squeeze: “ ‘Dear God, I pray that I speak clearly and bring calm.’ ” He prayed before his State of the Union addresses, alone in the little holding room: “ ‘Dear God, I pray that you shine through me today.’ ”

“And the prayers of the people,” he said, referring to those who pray for him, “this is where I get into a little shaky ground because I can’t prove it.” But Bush said he had actually felt the prayers of people asking God to comfort him. “And so the pop psychologists say, ‘Well, he’s grasping for affection.’ … I tell people all the time this—that the prayers of the people matter. And I do have a sense of calm.” Perhaps, he said, his prayers and the prayers of others are the reason. “I’ve been asked this some: ‘Do you think God wanted you to go to war?’ I didn’t ask in prayer. … I don’t think that’s fair to God to do that.”

“Have you prayed, ‘Dear God, if I was wrong about this, forgive me’?”

“No, no, no. First of all, I don’t believe I’m wrong about it. I don’t believe it’s wrong to confront evil. And I don’t believe it’s wrong to give people the opportunity to live in a free society. … I don’t want to bring God down into a presidential debate over ‘yes’ or ‘no’ into Iraq.”

“Do you have compassion for your enemy?”

“I have yet to forgive Osama bin Laden, and, frankly, haven’t prayed [for him] because I think he needs to be brought to justice in order to prevent him from killing other people.”

“Isn’t it possible to pray for Osama bin Laden and also want to bring him to justice?”

“I’m not sophisticated enough in prayer, evidently, to be able to pray for Osama bin Laden and at the same time go hunt him.”

Early the next morning, my hotel phone rang me out of bed.

“The president would like to talk with you,” a pleasant voice said.

In a moment, President Bush was on the line. He said he didn’t want to leave me with a wrong impression: he did pray regularly for forgiveness. He just wanted to be sure I knew that.

I thanked him for the call.

“Well,” he said with a laugh, “now you can tell your friends that the president of the United States gave you a wake-up call.”

Comments { 1 }

Fascinating Article on President George W. Bush

I haven’t even finished this article yet, but I find it riveting, informative, and inspiring.


Comments { 2 }

Perseus Classics Free for Logos

The Perseus Collections will be released from Logos on September 30, 2011. If you pre-order them, you get them free.

You read that right – free if you pre-order.

Tony Reinke writes:

The collection is a library in itself of over 1,100 ancient Greek and Latin titles and includes many corresponding English translations and helpful commentaries. Authors include Aristotle, Cicero, Homer, Plato, Plutarch, Sophocles, Demosthenes, and many others.

The release of this massive collection is significant step for New Testament studies since many of the Greek titles are referenced in technical Greek reference works and lexicons like TDNT, BDAG, and EDNT. The folks at Logos have announced on their website that over time they plan to add lemma tags to all the Greek books and add hyperlinks to the lexical reference to correspond to the original books in the Perseus Classics Collection. So when you see a reference in TDNT to, say, Aristotle’s Metaphysics, the reference will be hyperlinked and a click will land you in Aristotle’s work to read the context for yourself.

Skilled Greek exegetes will benefit from the collection because of the tags and hyperlinks, but what about those who want to engage the classic Greek works on a less technical level? Most of the books are available as English translations. With these English translations the collection is quite accessible to all readers and offers many key books that can help sharpen your communication skills.

I downloaded Perseus classics and the Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri. I’m still amazed this stuff was free!

Thanks to Logos for serving us in these ways. You can pick the ones you want to pre-order here.

Clarification: I’ve just heard from Logos that they’ve decided this material will always be free, so even if you don’t pre-order it, the price won’t change.

Lots of info here.

Comments { 3 }

Review of Paul Barnett’s “Paul: Missionary of Jesus”

Paul: Missionary of Jesus. After Jesus, vol. 2. By Paul Barnett. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008, xvi + 240 pp. $18.00 paper.

Published in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 15.1 (2011), 112–13.

In this book Paul Barnett asks whether the mission and message of Paul the Apostle was the mission and message of Jesus of Nazareth. Having introduced the question, Barnett devotes a chapter that surveys both those who have driven a wedge between Jesus and Paul and the information about Jesus in Paul’s letters. He then takes the reader on a chronological flyover of Paul’s life, concluding that “He was from an aristocratic Diaspora family and a Roman citizen by birth, yet conservatively Jewish in nurture (in Tarsus) and education (in Jerusalem); he was an eminent younger Pharisee, yet bilingual and an accomplished scholar of the Greek Bible” (44). Barnett then asks why Paul persecuted the church, when his teacher, Gamaliel, advised against it (Acts 5:33–39). Barnett argues that the combination of the conversion of numerous priests and Stephen’s preaching that touched on the role of the temple and the law (Acts 6:7–13) catalyzed Paul’s violent opposition, forcing him into action in spite of Gamaliel’s earlier advice (48–49). The significance of the Damascus event in Paul’s life and thought is examined next, with Barnett arguing that “the core elements of Paul’s doctrines that he was to preach were formed in Damascus” and that what happened there “represented a complete relational and moral turnabout that was accompanied by a radical new vocation” (75).

Barnett then takes a close look at what can be known about the so-called unknown years, from the time of Paul’s conversion at Damascus (Acts 9) to his first westward mission starting from Antioch (Acts 13). He notes that the details from Acts and from Paul’s narration in Galatians agree in the sequence of locations (77). In chapter 7 Barnett asks what he considers “the most critical question of all”: “Was Paul’s mission to the Gentiles according to the mind of Jesus and an authentic extension to his own ministry in Israel?” (99). He shows that a two-stage “Israel first, then the nations” trajectory can be seen in Mark and Matthew’s portrayals of Jesus. This matches Paul’s to the Jew first and also the Gentile mentality. Further, Paul regarded himself as seized by Christ, and leading apostles confirmed Paul’s call to preach to the Gentiles (114–15). Interacting with Donaldson and Sanders, Barnett discusses the way that “Paul appears to have regarded himself and his life’s work in fulfillment of a number of OT texts” (118).

Barnett’s final chapters deal with Paul’s mission and what he calls the countermission. He writes, “Paul’s mission immediately provoked the rise of a Jerusalem-based countermission in churches that insisted Gentile believers be circumcised. This countermission was active throughout the decade of Paul’s mission in the provinces, and it was the major problem Paul faced during those years” (135). Barnett holds that most of Paul’s letters come in the decade of AD 47–57. Though there is no mention in Acts of Paul being imprisoned in Ephesus, Barnett posits an Ephesian imprisonment and claims that Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians were written while Paul was imprisoned in Ephesus it in AD 55 (136­–37, 215–17). Barnett suggests that apocalyptic ferment, the hardening of Israel, and the political stability under Claudius opened the door for Paul to move beyond the God-fearing Gentiles in synagogues to the intentional evangelization of Gentile idolaters. Barnett sees this as a paradigm shift that provoked a Jewish countermission (137–42). The only evidence he has for this is Paul’s letters, and in my judgment he over-reads that evidence at several points. For instance, somehow he knows that as Paul was laboring on the collection of funds for the poor in Judea, the difficulties culminated “in the revelation in Corinth of a Jewish conspiracy for a shipboard interception of the money” (154). Perhaps Barnett is drawing an inference from Acts 20:3, but he gives no scripture references and cites no other evidence for this event. He also over-reads the evidence when he makes a bizarre suggestion about why Paul wanted to collect money for the famine-struck poor in Judea in the first place: “Implied, perhaps, is the underlying motive that the Gentiles sent such gifts to secure a place in the covenant in lieu of circumcision” (155). So now a financial gift in time of need is something like a bribe? Calling this grace-based does nothing to ameliorate this problematic suggestion. Barnett continues his foray into fiction when he writes of how this bribe was received, “So far as we can tell, the collection was not successful in fulfilling Paul’s hopes. His cool reception from the elders of the Jerusalem church suggests that, initially at least, his hopes for strengthening the fellowship between Jews and Gentiles with consequent recognition of the Gentile churches were not realized . . . . In short, they are unimpressed with Paul’s Gentile companions and their money!” (155–56). I think this is a total misreading of the texts that rehearse this situation, and I doubt very much that Paul would have countenanced the suggestion that he was using a financial contribution to smooth the way for his law-free gospel. Barnett writes, “the collection . . . was to secure unity within the new covenant people of the Messiah” (158), but Paul sees the gospel, not monetary gifts, as securing that unity (cf. Rom 14–15; Eph 2:11–22).

There is more over-reading of the evidence in Barnett’s discussion of the relationships between Apollos and Paul and Peter and Paul as reflected by the Corinthian correspondence (166–70), culminating in this totally unwarranted statement: “We infer that Cephas prompted questions about Paul’s apostleship but that Paul did not reciprocate regarding Cephas” (170). This is little more than slander directed at Peter! The book concludes with a chapter arguing that Romans was Paul’s comprehensive answer to the Jewish countermission, a final summary of “Paul’s Achievement” (198), and appendices on Paul’s name, Acts and Paul’s letters, how Paul made decisions, the provenance of Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians, and Paul’s names for Jesus.

I have noted several things with which I strongly disagree, and those concerns registered, the historical perspective makes this is a stimulating book. Barnett rightly argues for the historical reliability of Acts and for a harmonious reading of Luke’s narrative and Paul’s letters. In view of the way he sometimes slides into the writing of historical fiction, readers will want to test Barnett’s claims against the actual evidence, holding on to what is good.

Comments { 1 }

Be on Guard: The Point of Mark 13, with some thoughts on ‘this generation’

Mark 13 is not in the Bible to provoke debates about when all things will be consummated – what Jesus meant by “this generation.” Mark 13 is in the Bible to prepare disciples of Jesus against deception, fear, sleepy inattention, persecution, and uncertainty.

In Mark 11 Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt to cries of Hosanna. He then cursed the fig tree and cleansed the temple. In Mark 12 he gave a narrative interpretation of Israel’s history in the parable of the wicked tenants, which culminated in the murder of the son of the owner of the vineyard. He escaped the traps set by Pharisees and Sadducees, answered an honest question about the greatest commandment, and then taught on the Christ, hypocrites, and sacrificial giving.

In Mark 13 Jesus teaches his disciples about the end of the world.

Jesus warns his disciples not to be deceived by those who will come claiming to be him (Mark 13:5–6).

All false religions and all mythological accountings for the world—from materialistic evolutionary darwinistic atheism to moralistic therapeutic deism—all of them—from the ancient Near Eastern fertility cults to the Greco Roman Pantheon, all forms of animism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam—all are Satanic imitations of Christianity. All offer some other path to some other heaven under some other god.

As Paul says in 1 Tim 2:5, “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Do not be deceived by gurus offering some snake-oil remedy for your problems. Do not deceived by politicians promising Utopia.

Jesus will bring in the Kingdom. He’s the only one who can. Hold out for him.

He tells his disciples that they will be persecuted in Mark 13:9.

Jesus spoke these things to those who follow him so that they would be able to tell the difference between the real gospel and satanic false promises made by those who want to “change the world” into a Utopia where Jesus is not Lord—a dream world where the good news is not that Jesus died and rose to bring us to God, but that people are now healthy because the messiahs have fixed the health care system, differences reconciled because the thought police enforce correct speech; peace in our time, world hunger ended, and third world debt relief accomplished: kingdom come without Jesus.

To all these false hopes Jesus says: don’t be deceived. These people are going to go on starting wars with each other; don’t be surprised when that happens (Mark 13:7). Further, the fact that you don’t worship the false messiahs is going to prompt them to persecute you. Be prepared for that (Mark 13:9).

Mark then presents what Jesus says about the rise of the antichrist and his own coming (Mark 13:14–27).

What does the coming of Jesus mean?

Here is the consummation of all pomp and circumstance. Here the realization of everything anticipated by armies marching in formation on the parade ground. Here the true arrival. Here the moment when all will rise to honor the one who comes, when the one to whom every knee will bow will make his entrance.

Every attempt at greatness eclipsed. Every notion of the meaning of the words conqueror, hero, deliverer, savior, messiah, king, lord enacted—all these words will then be understood.

Have you heard the word “doomsday”? Have you heard that the generals and the kings and the slaves and the captains will call for the mountains and rocks to fall on them to hide them from the wrath of the Lamb? Have you heard that there’s a glory to which our sufferings are not worth being compared?

Consider what we will feel on that day: we will wish we had loved more, given more, studied the Bible more closely, spoken more earnestly to those who will face the wrath. We will wish that we had thought of the glory of Christ when we were tempted. We will regret the cheap baubles that we took to please ourselves as we betrayed him. We will rue the harsh words we spoke, the days we gave up, quit, stopped hoping, believing, watching.

O lift up your eyes, church, your redemption draws nigh. O bride pledged to thine husband, he will come. With power and great glory he comes. He will gather all his own.

Mark 13:28–37 shows Jesus applying these things to his disciples lives, telling them how they should live.

Jesus says everything he has described will take place before “this generation” passes away. What does that mean?

Some take “this generation” to refer to the historical generation of people alive at the time of Jesus, and those who take this view are forced to one of two conclusions. One conclusion is that Jesus was wrong. He didn’t return during the lifetime of that generation. The other conclusion is to see the fulfillment of what Jesus describes in AD 70.

I think there’s a better solution. I think “this generation” should not be taken to refer to the historical generation alive at the time of Jesus. Rather, “this generation” refers to the generation of the end. Both the generation of the flood (Gen 7:1) and the generation of the wilderness (Num 32:13) are types of the end time generation on which God’s wrath will fall. And the biblical authors can also speak of “the generation of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob” (Ps 24:6).

So there is an evil end time generation that will face judgment, and there is a righteous generation that seeks God’s face. I take this statement of Jesus, then, to be typological. It does not deal with the next 20–40 years of a historical generation.

On Sunday, June 12, it was my privilege to preach Mark 13, “Be on Guard,” at Kenwood Baptist Church.

The whole block lost power near the end of my sermon, so the recording ends in the middle of my comments on “this generation.” Basically what I’m arguing is that Jesus is talking about the “end time generation” the same way that there’s a flood generation and a wilderness generation. There is a typological relationship between these earlier generations on which judgment fell, and the generation that will experience the typological fulfillment of those earlier judgments. Jesus means that the generation from which Peter urges people to be saved (Acts 2:40), “on whom the ends of the ages has come” (1 Cor 10:11), the “crooked and twisted generation” in which his followers will “shine as lights in the world” (Phil 2:15) is the one that will not pass away before all that he has prophesied comes to pass.

I learned this view from the excellent book by Evald Loevestam, Jesus and ‘this Generation’: A New Testament Study.

Comments { 6 }

Whittaker Chambers on C. S. Lewis

As I read Whittaker Chambers’ Witness, at several points the story drove me to look things up online, where I found a page that links to many of Chambers’ other writings. Somewhere I read Solzhenitsyn say that his writing resulted from his having been thrown headlong into hell and attempting to describe the experience. Chambers’ experience with communism gives his writing that quality. He writes as a man who knows that the souls of men and the destinies of nations turn on the ability to love truth, goodness, and beauty, while evil forces try to present cheap knockoffs that steal, kill, and destroy.

Here are some gems from a piece Whittaker Chambers wrote on C. S. Lewis:

Lewis leaving class

“The lecturer, a short, thickset man with a ruddy face and a big voice, was coming to the end of his talk. Gathering up his notes and books, he tucked his hornrimmed spectacles into the pocket of his tweed jacket and picked up his mortarboard. Still talking—to the accompaniment of occasional appreciative laughs and squeals from his audience—he leaned over to return the watch he had borrowed from a student in the front row. As he ended his final sentence, he stepped off the platform.

The maneuver gained him a head start on the rush of students down the center aisle. Once in the street, he strode rapidly —his black gown billowing behind his grey flannel trousers—to the nearest pub for a pint of ale.

Clive Staples Lewis was engaged in his full-time and favorite job—the job of being an Oxford don in the Honour School of English Language & Literature, a Fellow and tutor of Magdalen College and the most popular lecturer in the University. To watch him downing his pint at the Eastgate (his favorite pub), or striding, pipe in mouth, across the deer park, a stranger would not be likely to guess that C. S. Lewis is also a best-selling author and one of the most influential spokesmen for Christianity in the English-speaking world.”

Lewis on sex in heaven

“Sex in Heaven? Bachelor Lewis is no man to be afraid of that one either: “The letter and spirit of Scripture, and of all Christianity, forbid us to suppose that life in the New Creation will be a sexual life; and this reduces our imagination to the withering alternative either of bodies which are hardly recognizable as human bodies at all or else of a perpetual fast. As regards the fast, I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure, should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer no, he might regard absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him that the reason why lovers in their carnal raptures don’t bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing that excludes it. We are in the same position. We know the sexual life; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in Heaven, will leave no room for it.””

Delivered from the steep descent

“When he was about 18, Lewis bought a book called Phantasies, by George Macdonald, a Scottish Presbyterian best known for his Princess & Curdie and other children’s fairy tales. In the introduction to his recent anthology of Macdonald’s work (TIME, June 2), Lewis confesses the importance of that day’s purchase: “I had already been waist-deep in Romanticism; and likely enough, at any moment, to flounder into its darker and more evil forms, slithering down the steep descent that leads from the love of strangeness to that of eccentricity and thence to that of perversity. Now Phantasies was romantic enough in all conscience; but there was a difference. . . . What it actually did to me was to convert, even to baptise . . . my imagination. It did nothing to my intellect nor (at that time) to my conscience. Their turn came far later and with the help of many other books and men.””

Reaction of unbelieving colleagues

“Outside his own Christian circle, Lewis is not particularly popular with his Oxford colleagues. Some resent his large student following. Others criticize his “cheap” performances on the BBC and sneer at him as a “popularizer.” There are complaints about his rudeness (he is inclined to bellow “Nonsense !” in the heat of an argument when a conventionally polite 25-word circumlocution would be better form). But their most serious charge is that Lewis’ theological pamphleteering is a kind of academic heresy.

On this score, one of Lewis’ severest critics insists that his works of scholarship, The Allegory of Love (on Spenser), and A Preface to Paradise Lost, are “miles ahead” of any other literary criticism in England. But Lewis’ Christianity, says his critic, has brought him more money than it ever brought Joan of Arc, and a lot more publicity than she enjoyed in her lifetime. In contrast to his tight scholarly writing (says this critic), Lewis’ Christian propaganda is cheap sophism: having lured his reader onto the straight highway of logic, Lewis then inveigles him down the garden path of orthodox theology.”

The whole thing is definitely worth reading, not least for references to the possibility of revival and the comments on Dorothy Sayers and others.

Comments { 0 }

Whittaker Chambers on James Joyce

In the conclusion of his review of Finnegan’s Wake, Whittaker Chambers wrote this telling description of James Joyce,

“Nono. In appearance Joyce is slight, frail but impressive. He stands five feet ten or eleven, but looks as if a strong wind might blow him down. His face is thin and fine, its profile especially delicate. He wears his greying, thinning hair brushed back without a part. Joyce reads and writes sprawling in bed or on a couch but he does not like it known. He is very formal in public, in restaurants prefers straight-back chairs in which he sits bolt upright.

He dresses with conservative elegance, never goes out without a slender walking stick, which he manipulates expertly, accenting the delicacy of his beringed hands (he has a passion for rings). His voice is soft, rich and low with a gentle, melancholy brogue. He is rather vain of his tenor, which he likes to join with his son’s bass at small family celebrations.

Joyce’s curious glasses give him a somewhat Martian appearance. The left lens is so thick it is almost a hemisphere, and to focus it is necessary for him to throw back his head slightly when looking at people. Ten years ago, Joyce could not see with his left eye at all, and a cataract was beginning to form on the right eye. Every operation on the left eye caused a hemorrhage. Finally Dr. Alfred Vogt of Zurich succeeded in making an artificial pupil for the left eye, set in below the position of the normal pupil. The cataract on Joyce’s right eye has meanwhile developed. He has had eleven major operations on his eyes, all without anesthetics, faces another soon. But he sees far better than he did ten years ago.

The Joyce family consists of amiable Galway wife Nora, née Barnacle; a son, Giorgio, 33; a dancer-illustrator daughter, Lucia, thirtyish. Giorgio, who married American Helen Gastor, has one son, Stephen James, lives in a Paris suburb where Joyce and his wife frequently visit him. Grandson Stephen is adored by his grandfather, calls the author of Ulysses “Nono.”

Among Joyce’s closest friends are Eugene Jolas (editor of transition), Paul Léon, his secretary, and Stuart Gilbert, who wrote an exhaustive exegesis of Ulysses. With Eugene and Maria Jolas, the Joyces dine every Saturday night.

Joyce is constantly jotting down overheard phrases, is especially interested in dialects, Midwestern American, British colonial, newspaper jargon. He speaks Italian as smoothly as English, flawless French, fluent German, knows some dozen other tongues, including outlandish Lapp. At present Joyce is not writing. His wife is trying to get him started on something, because when he is not working he is hard to live with.

Though he has been away from Ireland since 1904, returning only briefly in 1912 to start a motion-picture house, the Volta, which quickly failed, Joyce has an unrivaled knowledge of Dublin and its current life, keeps his recollections green by subscribing to Dublin newspapers, pores over their gossip and chitchat.

But no observer of his life and works can fail to note that James Joyce is a typical Irishman. Born in Dublin, he remains as Irish in Paris or Trieste as he was in the city of his birth. His friends believe that nothing short of a European war could drive him back to the “little brown bog” and the haunting Liffey.”

The Whole Thing.



Comments { 0 }

Have You Read “Unbroken”?

What a book! Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken is a “true tall tale” (AP) powerfully told.

At 19 in 1936, Louie Zamperini “was the youngest distance runner ever to make the [U. S. Olympic] team” (27). The 1940 Olympics were cancelled because WWII had begun (44). Zamperini was drafted and became a bombardier (45). May 27, 1943, his plane went down in the Pacific ocean. Of the eleven man crew, only three rose to the surface after the plane crashed. In the debris from the crash two of the life rafts had surfaced. The three men, including Zamperini, would drift for 47 days over 2,000 miles on a current in the Pacific Ocean, washing ashore on the Japanese occupied Marshall Islands. Sharks constantly circling the life rafts. One of the men died on the raft, starved and exhausted. The two survivors, Zamperini and the pilot, Russell Allen Phillips, became prisoners of war. They were beaten, enslaved, degraded, starved, tortured, and eventually subjected to a deranged madman named Mutsuhiro Watanabe, nicknamed “the Bird.”

Somehow Zamperini survived the war, and though at the time they might not have called it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, coming home he had it with a vengeance. He met a beautiful girl, and after two weeks had convinced her to marry him. Haunted by nightmares of the vicious cruelty of the Bird, Zamerpini was a drunken disaster. Having a nightmare of the Bird using his belt as a whip and lashing his temple with its buckle, Zamperini attacked the bird and began to throttle him. He woke to find himself on top of his wife with his hands around her throat. He was strangling his pregnant wife. Soon after the baby was born, she decided to file for divorce and left him (367).

Then in September of 1949 Billy Graham arrived in Los Angeles (369–70). As Zamperini was making plans to find his way back to Japan to murder the Bird, his wife returned to LA to arrange the divorce. She went to the Graham crusade and believed the gospel (371). She talked Zamperini into going to the crusade the next night, and when Graham gave the invitation, Zamperini marched out furious. Why did he go back the next night? The nightmares and exhaustion caused him to relent under his wife’s coaxing, and at the end of the second night Zamperini trusted Christ. He poured out his alcohol, threw away the girlie magazines and cigarettes, and never had another nightmare about the Bird (376).

He began to minister by sharing his testimony (377). He traveled to Sugamo Prison in Japan, where the war criminals who had abused him were now imprisoned. He forgave them (379). Back in California, he opened the Victory Boys Camp for troubled young men. He has carried the Olympic torch at the opening of five Olympic Games (383).

You won’t regret reading Unbroken.

Comments { 5 }

Ghandi Was a Good Person?

Somebody knows this? For certain?

See this article, which begins like this:

“Joseph Lelyveld has written a ­generally admiring book about ­Mohandas Gandhi, the man credited with leading India to independence from Britain in 1947. Yet ‘Great Soul’ also obligingly gives readers more than enough information to discern that he was a sexual weirdo, a political incompetent and a fanatical faddist—one who was often downright cruel to those around him. Gandhi was therefore the archetypal 20th-century progressive ­intellectual, professing his love for ­mankind as a concept while actually ­despising people as individuals.”


Comments { 5 }