Friday, November 21, 2008

Celebrating 100 years... Chesterton and Grahame

Halfway through this year, I remembered this was the year of a marked centenary. G. K. Chesterton penned Orthodoxy (he wrote The Man Who was Thursday the same year as a story illustrating the same theme).

I had heard of Chesterton prior to college, but I did not read him until then. Little did I know how influenced I was by Chesterton long before I knew the name.

In my struggle of feeling homesick at home, God curiously led me to three different men on my journey that spoke the very thing I thirsted to hear; ironically, none of them are clergy, but public speaker, author, and musician. They were men who "got it," or at any rate, they got me. They were those Professor Kirk talks about in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; that once you've been to Narnia, you don't need to talk about asking others if they've been there too. You'll see it in their looks.

It was in their looks, their words, their poetical suspicion of the world being at once beautiful and monstrous at the same time. They were men who saw the glory of earth in ruins, waiting to be re-united with heaven. Those men were C. S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, and Rich Mullins.

I've heard it said that Lewis has a Chesterton book opened next to him as he wrote a lot of his works. One glorious passage in Mere Christianity said, "God is like the sun; you cannot look at it, but without it you cannot look at anything else." I thought that was brilliant Lewis. Lo, it was in fact brilliant Chesterton. Actually, as I got more deeply into the classics, I discovered, that fine piece of prose was an alteration from Plato.

The humanities, lost in today's evangelical church (though cherished in some evangelical universities) and largely devalued in our modern and postmodern world, has been my source of strength and courage to pursue humanness as good. That's why they are called the humanities after all. Chesterton drew heavily on them.

Without imaginative, metaphorical, storied visions as these, deeply influenced by the Scripture, I would find life, at least my own life, dull. I would hardly know why I should follow Christ. I would find him, as many modern apologetics proclaim, as true. But without these prophetic visionaries who have beheld the beatific vision and shared it with the passion of a star, I would be left finding the good news of the kingdom at hand as a wasteland, devoid of the beauty that touches on the longing of my human heart.

One of my favorite talks by Ravi Zacharias is on the meaning of life, which he later put into Can Man Live Without God? Buried in the heart of his argument is a discussion of fairy tales and how the lessons they teach are completely consistent with the way life is lived today, and consistent with the gospels. This was borrowed from Chesterton. Once, sitting in Ravi's living room, petting his border collie named, "G.K.", I asked him about Chesterton's influence and he said he thought the "Ethics of Elfland" was one of the finest chapters of the 20th century. You'll find that chapter in Orthodoxy.

Rich Mullins also borrowed inspiration from Chesterton. His popular song, "Creed," resounds in the chorus with this pithy phrase,

I did not make it,
no, it is making me,
it is the very truth of God not the invention of any man.

This is Chesterton's Orthodoxy: "God and humanity made [orthodoxy], and it made me." Another poetic paradox of Chesterton shows up in Mullins song, "Growing Young."

We are children no more,
we have sinned and grown old
and our father still waits
and watches down the road
for those crying boys to come running back to his arms
and we're growing young.

Chesterton put it this way, "We have sinned and grown old and our Father is younger than we." This is from Orthodoxy. Mullins called it his favorite book.

Whether we know the name or understand the words of Chesterton, today's church is deeply indebted to this rotund man of mirth who is still as relevant today as he was 100 years ago. He "got it." And the philosophical battles he faced then are the same ones still strongly lingering now. One of my favorite ideas in Chesterton is the very last paragraph in Orthodoxy. But I will not give it away. Let it be your tasty dessert as you read the book.

Christianity Today just did an interview about Chesterton with Inkling scholar, Lyle Dorsett. It's a short interview but he puts it in a nutshell.

Dorsett mentions Malcolm Muggeridge at the end of the article as one of the only apologists since Chesterton to use humor. But Muggeridge, who I did my graduate work on, wasn't very influenced by Chesterton. He does retell the story as a young boy seeing this towering figure. But it was the recollection as young boy and that was about it. Muggeridge had his own journey to take, one more treacherous of a search than even Chesterton's who discovered his heresy was orthodoxy. Muggeridge was 5 years old when Orthodoxy was printed. Lewis was 10.

For your pleasure, I've recorded part of chapter 1 from Orthodoxy. Listen to Chesterton's paradoxes, how he holds our experiences in tension--like "romance." His definition of "romance" is not like ours today, but is the more historical, Western idea that we are losing daily in the age of unreason. Let his metaphor about the yachtsman discovering England work into your meditation today.

Orthodoxy, Introduction in Defense of Everything Else (mp3, 8 min)

But there's another book celebrating 100 years, another book important to the Christian imagination. This book is in the same tradition as the deeply human Chesterton. Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows is a celebration of human experience personified in the animals: the intelligent Rat, the faithful Mole, the impetuous Toad, the wise Badger, the chatty Otter, and many others. Disney stripped Toad's "wild ride" from the book, leaving children with a paltry imaginative glimpse into a deeply imaginative tale.

Jonalyn and I are reading the Wind in the Willows before bed these nights. Well, I've been doing the reading aloud; she's doing the listening. It's a cleansing of the soul after a long day of work. Wind in the Willows as a title holds a deeper meaning than a mere discription of nature brushing against river plants.

As a taste, I've recorded a section from the book where they meet Someone. They hear flute playing in the distance as they are looking about for Otter's son. Sunrise is nearly upon them. And they follow the music... Let the words and desciptions play in your soul. And I think you'll also note a similar "feel" and description here that I'm sure Lewis borrowed for Aslan. Grahame is subtle in his storytelling; a real master.

Wind in the Willows, excerpt from chapter 7 (mp3, 15 min)

I'm glad there is a God to be thankful to (a Chesterton idea) for my gratitude pours out that these two works were made for the generations to help us see ourselves and our world for what it is--frail yet good, with a Master of Ceremonies always busy behind the scenes.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

What are the biblical roles of husbands and wives?

Here is a classic complementarian position of the roles of husbands and wives. Understand it well.

Notice how emphatic he is at the beginning that this issue is 'clear.'

Notice how he automatically connotes the meaning of the metaphor, 'head.'

Notice the emphasis of the husband to be a tie-breaking vote (when Paul's point to the husbands is on love). You will frequently hear the 'tie-breaking vote' argument used by complementarians. I think there's another way to break ties, but this argument often persuades people into a complementarian model.

Notice how he says men shy away from leadership (is this the nature of men historically or a 21st century construction?)

Notice how he calls his relationship with his wife a 'team,' but then limits her voice to mere 'input' (is there teamwork in the final decision or only teamwork in consultation?).

Notice how he misquotes Eph 5:22 later in the video by attaching 'submission' to the husband is like the church's 'submission' to Christ. The verse doesn't say that.

Notice how, at the end, it is the husband's duty to sanctify his wife.

What are your thoughts?

For my thoughts on Ephesians 5, see "The Mystery of Submission" in the August archive.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

What exactly is this "Living with Questions"?

I'm glad you asked. I've been getting this question in a variety of ways so I thought I'd lay it out for the record.

When you spend a long time writing a book, you'd hate to see people who are looking for a book like yours miss the opportunity to read it because they just didn't know. There is so much in Living with Questions that covers a wide array of other books on the Christian book shelf. Give this one a look. You may find yourself getting a lot more than you paid for (and save yourself some money too!).

Living with Questions is not your typical apologetics book.

If you like Lee Strobel's "The Case for..." books, you'll like Living with Questions. Strobel's books give you interviews on various topics on the book cover. Living with Questions gives you tools so you can be an apologist too and not just find yourself quoting other people. So if you've read Strobel, consider Living with Questions next. Plus you get more topics in less pages. Strobel is not the only Christian writer who was set against the church and found themselves landing squarely on Jesus. As someone who grew up in the church, I knew many reasons to reject Christianity and, if not for intellectually sane and emotionally healthy reasons to follow Jesus, I could have easily walked away. Living with Questions is born out of that kind of journey.

Living with Questions is not just for teens. The marketing is toward students. So are some of the interior graphics. But it was written for everyone, especially those who want to share their faith with smart people and find 'apologetics' just too 'deep' or 'academic' or 'heady.' Living with Questions is gentle entry point into the world of understanding your faith more deeply, how it stands up to reason, and how you can confidently share your faith with others. Though the book is built around student questions, we'd be dishonest to say those same questions are also not adult questions. The reviews on Amazon for Living with Questions are from college graduates. In fact, Living with Questions should be found in the youth section of the book store (because they have so few books that really address their earnest questions) as well as the adult section beside all the other popular apologetics books of the day. It has that kind of cuturally savvy insights you don't find in many other apologetics books.

Living with Questions is doing what postmoderns say can't be done: doing apologetics for a postmodern audience. Yes, contrary to emerging beliefs, postmoderns still value reason, many just don't know it. They value truth, but not for its own sake, but for the sake Jesus gave us: to make us free. Today's kids are a mix of modernism and postmodernism, and neither one is deeply helpful for having a rounded view of the world. C. S. Lewis showed us that. In an era where the most vocal forms of apologetics are more academic and heady, Living with Questions draws more on the imaginative tradition of C. S. Lewis while still using the academic in the background. Living with Questions takes not just the mind and emotions into account, but the whole person, validating every square inch of being human, the ways God equipped us to reach out to him and to each other. I would use any of the arguments in this book on a university campus. In fact, I have. These are test and helpful and not just more "Christianese."

Living with Questions is reflective. It's full of stories and perspectives to chew and mediate on. The last three chapters are my favorite, painting a picture of life, love, and goodness, of the restoring of beauty in the universe as God intended. Hint: it's not what you typically hear in church but is deeply Biblical.

Living with Questions helps students own their faith so they are ready for college and the challenges ahead. It works great for the student who is seeking as well as the student who doesn't realize he/she should be seeking (because they don't quite know they are alive, human, and purposed in this world yet). Many have already used Living with Questions and found it effective. (See study guide drawn up by a youth leader along the right side of my blog.)

Living with Questions helps the reader get out of 'religious' talk and into real life, a need many express when it comes to "Christian" literature.

Living with Questions answers a lot more questions than the chapters indicate. Inside every chapter are aspects of every question like "Why does a good God send people to hell?" and "Can I be a Christian and an evolutionist?" and "Am I loved?" and "How do I know I can trust the Bible?" and "How do I know which religion is right?" and "CAN religion be 'right or wrong'?" and "What is faith?" The book also mentions diversions and addictions many face, including busyness, music, and cutting. Not only are interesting questions embedded in each chapter, but each chapter gives you tools on how to think about questions. So you don't just get my explanation. You get to go exploring and come up with your own. This is very important if we are to OWN our faith.

The only way to adequately OWN our faith is to have the freedom to DISOWN our faith. Living with Questions gives that freedom.

Living with Questions is also for those who are not Christians. I get emails from secular college students who say they've really enjoyed the book and gave them good things to think about. Many "Christian" books are not written for the non-Christians. If you've been looking for a book to give to a non-believing friend, Living with Questions is also for them.

Living with Questions is not a dogmatic, in your face approach to truth-telling. The title of the book says it all. We live with questions so we can live into answers. Many questions and answers are understood a little now and understood more later. Some questions just need perspective. Some questions need encouragement. Some questions need information. Some questions need to be reframed. Living with Questions offers all of these.

So if you're looking for a book to discuss in your youth group, a book to hand out to college students, a book to assign to your classroom, a book to read on the airplane, a book to understand our world a little better and how today's generation approaches life, if you're looking for tools to navigate life better rather than having to quote someone else, then Living with Questions is the book you're looking for.

Soon available on audio too.