PDF version - Credenda|Agenda


PDF version - Credenda|Agenda
“Things to be Done” Volume 14 /2
Fantastic Things
People Worth Reading
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud
to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in
anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold
with such nonsense.
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty,
wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor
yet a dry sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat:
it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. . . . This hobbit
was a very well-to-do hobbit, and his name was Baggins. The
Bagginses have lived in the neighbourhood of The Hill for time
out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not
only because most of them were rich, but also because they
never had any adventures or did anything unexpected.
Mr. Dursley was the director of a firm called Grunnings, which
made drills. He was a big, beefy man with hardly any neck,
although he did have a very large mustache. Mrs. Dursley was
thin and blonde and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck,
which came in very useful as she spent so much of her time
craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbors. The
Dursleys had a small son called Dudley and in their opinion
there was no finer boy anywhere.
The mother of our particular hobbit—what is a hobbit? I
suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they
have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. They
are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller
than the beared dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little
or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort
which helps them to disappear quietly and quickly when large
stupid folk like you and me come bludering along. . . . They are
inclined to be fat in the stomach; they dress in bright colours
(chiefly green and yellow); wear no shoes, because their feet
grow natural leathery soles and thick warm brown hair like the
stuff on their heads (which is curly); have long clever brown
fingers, good-natured faces, and laugh deep fruity laughs
(especially after dinner, which they have twice a day when they
can get it).
The Dursleys had everything they wanted, but they also had a
secret, and their greatest fear was that somebody would discover
it. They didn’t think they could bear it if anyone found out
about the Potters. Mrs. Potter was Mrs. Dursley’s sister, but they
hadn’t met for several years; in fact, Mrs. Dursley’s pretended she
didn’t have a sister, because her sister and her good-for-nothing
husband were as unDursleyish as it was possible to be. The
Dursleys shudderd to think what the neighbors would say if the
Potters arrived in the street. The Dursleys knew that the Potters
had a small son, too, but they had never even seen him. This boy
was another good reason for keeping the Potters away; they
didn’t want Dudley mixing with a child like that.
As I was saying, the mother of this hobbit—Bilbo Baggins, that
is—was the famous Belladonna Took, one of the three remarkable daughters of the Old Took, head of the hobbits who lived
across The Water, the small river that ran at the foot of The
Hill. It was often said (in other families) that long ago one of
the Took ancestors must have taken a fairy wife. That was, of
course, absurd, but certainly there was still something not
entirely hobbit-like about them, and once in a while members
of the Took-clan would go and have adventures. They discreetly
disappeared, and the family hushed it up; but the fact remained
that the Tooks were not as respectable as the Bagginses, though
they were undoubtedly richer.
When Mr. and Mrs. Dursley woke up on the dull, gray Tuesday
our story starts, there was nothing about the cloudy sky outside
to suggest that strange and mysterious things would soon be
happening all over the country. Mr. Dursley hummed as he
picked out his most boring tie for work, and Mrs. Dursley
gossiped away happily as she wrestled a screaming Dudley into
his high chair.
None of them noticed a large, tawny owl flutter past the
J.K. Rowling
By some curious chance one morning long ago in the quiet of
the world, when there was less noise and more green, and the
hobbits were still numerous and prosperous, and Bilbo Baggins
was standing at his door after breakfast, smoking an enormous
long wooden pipe that reached nearly down to his wooly toes
(neatly brushed)—Gandalf came by. Gandalf! If you had heard
only a quarter of what I have heard about him, and I have only
heard very little of all there is is to hear, you would be prepared
for any sort of remarkable tale. Tales and adventures sprouted up
all over the place wherever he went, in the most extraordinary
fashion. . . . All that the unsuspecting Bilbo saw that morning
was an old man with a staff. He had a tall pointed blue hat, a
long grey cloak, a silver scarf over which his long white beard
hung below his waist, and immense black boots.
J.R.R. Tolkien
“Things to be Believed” Volume 14 /2
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Douglas Wilson
Senior editor:
Douglas Jones
Managing editor:
Nathan D. Wilson
Contributing editors:
Chris Schlect, Jim Nance, Ben
Merkle, Duck Schuler, Jack Van
Deventer, Gary Hagen, Peter Leithart,
Patch Blakey, Joost Nixon, Gregory C.
Dickison, Jared Miller, Roy Atwood,
Matt Whitling.
Nancy Wilson, Woelke Leithart, Pogo
Technical editors:
Nancy Wilson, Paula Bauer, Charles
Judi Christophersen
Cover design and setup:
Paige Atwood
Original cover art:
Peter Bentley
Illustrations: Mark Beauchamp, Bekah
Lee Merkle
Scanner man:
Mike Lawyer
Semper constans, numquam praedici
Volume 14, Number 2
Thema: Most Real Fantasy
Douglas Jones makes faces at those who dismiss “fantasy” as unreal and explores the Christian categories
behind both the Tolkien and Potter stories.
“Harry Potter can’t be a threat. Wizardry doesn’t really work. And if your kids
are really tempted to join a coven, then it’s not a giant leap to say that you’ve failed
miserably as a parent.”
Poetics:: The Lord of the Rings
Douglas Wilson discusses both the life of Tolkien and the Christian mythopoeic themes behind his Middle
“When literature like The Lord of the Rings is criticized, it is often attacked for
being ‘escapist.’ This means we should ask a question. What is being escaped from?
As Tolkien once put it, the people who are so concerned about escapism do have a
name—we call them jailers.”
The Supporting Cast:
Verbatim: Quotations/ People We Like
Childer: Children and the Movies/ Douglas Wilson
Flotsam: Wanna Save the World?/ Nathan Wilson
Tohu: The Meaning of Magic/ Jared Miller
Stauron: Potter Knows Best?/ Gary Hagen
Recipio: Potter’s Magic/ Ben Merkle
Incarnatus: Knowing is Story/ Douglas Jones
Ex Libris: Reviews/ Woelke Leithart
Also Rans:
Sharpening Iron: Letters to the Editor/ You all
The Cretan Times: New News/Douglas Jones
Anvil: Editorials/ Douglas Wilson
Presbyterion: This is More of That/ Douglas Wilson
Musica: Liturgical Culture/ Duck Schuler
Husbandry: Sexual Grumbling/ Douglas Wilson
Femina: The Postpartum Mother/ Nancy Wilson
Poimen: Crocodile Tears/ Joost Nixon
Virga: Squinting Across the Simile/ Matt Whitling
Magistralis: Strange Gods/ Gregory Dickison
Liturgia: Do Not Forget the Levite/ Peter Leithart
Cultura: Potions?/ Roy Atwood
Doctrine 101: Helicopter Salvation/ Patch Blakey
Historia: Northumbrian Time Reckoning/ Chris Schlect
Meander: Chonklit Cake/ Douglas Wilson
Cave of Adullam: Mutterings/ Pogo Throckmorton
Eschaton: Amillennial History/ Jack Van Deventer
Footnotes: Our Wonderful Sources
Similitudes: Stone Cherubim/ Douglas Wilson
“ ‘Welcome to my home,’ the creature on the right side said. His voice sounded
deep, like black gravel.”
Pictura: Babylonian Bowling/ Ben Merkle
“Out in the fresh evening air of the summer she tried to collect her thoughts.
She lit a cigarette and drew deeply. Just then another figure emerged from the same
side door. It was Nergal-Sharezer, by far the quietest of the Babylonians.”
“Things to be Done” Volume 14 /2
Most R
eal F
Douglas Jones
SOMETHING IS desperately odd when, of all people, Christians
so easily call stories like The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of
Narnia, and even, shudder, Harry Potter, “fantasies.” The
assumption is that reality is pretty much what bare science
says it is, blocks of chemicals and cells of organisms pushing
off each other, everything visible and measurable. We take
“realistic” literature to be stories which stay put within these
quantifiable bounds; fantasy, by contrast, is typically described as taking place in “an imaginary world,” a “nonexistent realm” in which the characters have “supernatural
But this all gets turned upside down when we ask which
sort of fiction is actually closer to biblical reality. Closer is a
key term here. But even from a distance, fantasy is an easy
winner for realism. At its best, it offers a much more accurate
picture of the oddness of Christian reality, a reality packed
with weird invisibles and interlacing graces and dark evil.
These are a large part of the world around us, but they are
precluded from “realistic” stories; they can’t be measured.
The prophet Elisha presents an intriguing picture of this
reality. Elisha’s servant was troubled. He looked out and saw a
great army of Syrians surrounding the city (2 Kgs. 6:14).
Doom was sure. The facts were all in. They were grossly
outnumbered. The reality was visible. “What shall we do?”
was his cry to Elisha. In one of those rare occasions, we get
the surface-reality pulled back so that the thicker reality, the
fantasy-reality, shows through. Elisha tells him not to fear:
“for those who are with us are more than those who are with
them.’ And Elisha prayed, and said, ‘LORD, I pray, open his
eyes that he may see.’ Then the LORD opened the eyes of the
young man, and he saw. And behold the mountain was full of
horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kgs. 6:17,
18). The world was crammed with beings—flaming chariots—that a surface scan couldn’t begin to see. The servant’s
scientific vision was utterly unrealistic and narrow. The reality
was far more fantastic.
Similar biblical examples could be multiplied, all to the
sum that even in our day, Christian reality is much more
bizarre and magical than modern “realistic” eyes will allow.
So if a Christian wishes to write about real reality, what is he
to do? What sort of contemporary literature has the freedom
to include that larger reality?
But another problem quickly intrudes, a problem that
forces the need for fantasy. The problem is that we can’t just
start putting dialogue in the mouths of angels and demons at
whim. Their reality and psychology is beyond us; it would be
backhandedly blasphemous to write a tale that dictated where
these great beings went and said, what God did next, and how
the Holy Spirit answered a particular prayer. In short, we
“Things to be Believed” Volume 14 /2
can’t write about real reality without degrading it (“degrading” is the etymological root of the verb “to Peretti,” by the
On the one hand, we acknowledge that Christian reality
is full of weirdness and twisting shades but on the other we
can’t actually name them without blaspheming. Thus, fantasy.
Good fantasy (of which there is little) offers an intriguing
solution to the dilemma. It allows us to hint at the full magic
at work around us, but it calls it by another name, another
world. But it’s often a world much more akin to biblical
reality than anything modern realism offers. At one level, The
Lord of the Rings is a much more accurate depiction of metaphysical reality than any naturalistic story, but the names have
been changed to protect the storyteller. Even the Potter stories
are fun reminders of the unpredictable oddness of creation.
And yet, fantasy’s accuracy needn’t be absolutized. It
shouldn’t be taken as an argument against typically realist
literature. Not every story has to do everything. Typically
realist literature offers us a glimpse from our particularly
human angle: the one we primarily live in, walking by faith;
we see through a glass darkly. We rarely see all of reality. But
it’s nice to have some fantasy there once in a while to give us a
reminder of the weirdness of God’s world.
Too Real
But it is just this reality of fantasy that sets off other Christians. The modernist Christians targeted above “don’t want to
waste time on Tolkien” and end up with a shrivel of life. But,
let’s call them, Satanist-Christians fall the opposite way. They
think Satan is alive and well and sees evangelicalism as a threat
to him(!). They think Satan, having bound Christ, now rules
the earth and is intent upon using Harry Potter to set us up
for the Antichrist. That last clause is actually a quote.
These believers often fear Harry Potter and Tolkien’s
Gandalf because of a their tiny view of what happened at the
cross. They have no sense of The Triumph. No sense of the
defeat levelled against all things Satanic. We live in a new
world. In Tolkien’s terms, we live post-Mordor, and we have
come back to the Shire to clean up the minor skirmishes,
petty Satanisms lurking about after the war. But Christ’s death
and resurrection have made a new world. Satanist-Christians
deny the deep victory of the cross; they dismiss the biblical
declaration that, “Having disarmed principalities and powers,
He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in
it” (Col. 2:15). Satan is disarmed. He still causes petty
squabbles, but nothing like he did before the cross when he
locked all Gentiles in darkness. That world is dead.
Harry Potter can’t be a threat. Wizardry doesn’t really
work. And if your kids are really tempted to join a coven then
it’s not a giant leap to say that you’ve failed miserably as a
parent. Where is the ballast in your childrearing? How could
that even be an option? You obviously have much more to
fear from the subtleties of modern rationalism and individualism than from Potter.
The truth is that the Harry Potter series doesn’t pretend
to be great literature. It will be forgotten within fifteen years,
while Tolkien will be remembered beyond 500 years. But the
sad truth is that the Potter series is far funnier and
nonsentimental than the vast majority of evangelical children’s
works. Christians are such scowlers, and we try to inspire the
next generation with dark frowns, somewhat akin to starting a
Grand Prix from a tar pit—it’s much safer. And then, there
fly the Harry Potter characters having a great time, being
playful, heroic, earthy, unresentful, humorous, smart, masculine, risk-taking—all the things evangelicals fear most, all the
things that should properly characterize Christian life. In
these characters’ simplicity, their love of life on earth is much
more mature than evangelicals will understand for generations
to come. Certainly, the Potter stories know far more about
the shape of Christian living than the likes of Elsie Dinsmore
and Veggie Tales. This fits though, because historically the
Lord has loved to provoke His people to jealousy—“For the
sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than
the sons of light” (Lk. 16:8).
One of the most overlooked features of modern stories
like the Potter series is their implicit confession of the
triumph of Christianity. This compliment to Christianity is
not just the fact that the Potter stories are decidedly Christfigure stories—an elect son, threatened at birth, who sacrifices
His life for his friends and triumphs over evil in an underworld, even coming back from death for a feast.
Those narrative categories are complimentary enough,
but the deeper compliment is the story’s use of a Christian
psychology. In its generic sense, a psychology is just a
worldview’s characteristic way of interacting with life. There
is a distinctive Christian psychology, a hellenistic psychology,
a modernist psychology, a postmodern psychology, a wiccan
psychology, and so on. The Potter characters could have been
written with any of these. They could have acted like those
resentful infant-adults of the Iliad; they could have had the
psychology of ancient druids. But they don’t. Instead, the
Potter stories give us largely Christianized witches, witches who
have fully absorbed Christian ethical categories, love, kindness, hope, loyalty, hierarchy, community, and more. Plenty of
witchy stories use other psychologies, and they haven’t scored.
A Potter who thought like Achilles would have been yawned
off. Christian psychology makes for a far more interesting
clash of values and characters than other psychologies could
supply. But you couldn’t have pulled this off in ancient
Greece. They wouldn’t get the story. But it’s a great testimony
to the cultural triumph of Christianity in the West, even in
our brittle century.
Tolkien’s Maturity
Though Potter is fun and complimentary in its place, it only
scratches the surface of Christian psychology in the way many
other non-Christian stories already do.
Part of Tolkien’s genius, however, is his mastery of time,
especially the psychological feel of time. For all its positives,
the movie version of The Lord of the Rings can’t register this at
all; it is a typical cinematic rush that gives off a cartoonish air
when compared to the feel of time in the written version.
But it’s not just a thoroughly realistic sense of time
between narrative events that Tolkien captures so well. He has
also somehow magically been able to express the psychological weight of time, the weight of maturity. He has expressed
what communities experience which have carried forward an
abundance of history on their shoulders; he has expressed the
feel of tradition, the feel of thousands of years of sanctification and degradation, passed on from generation to generation. Americans can have no sense of this at all, not only
because of our minimal span but also because we are generational individualists, each disconnected from the prior.
Even more striking than communal time is Tolkien’s
expression of individual maturity in characters, such as that
found in the elves—elegant, mysterious, whole, richly
peaceful. Because Tolkien has written within Christian
categories, the feel of maturity that results is that of a
distinctively Christian maturity, a maturity found in someone
who has entirely absorbed Ecclesiastes and the Psalms.
Anyone who has been growing as a Christian over twenty
years knows at least some hint of the difference between the
weight of early and later Christian experience. Tolkien has
extended this feel and gathered it together to be expressed
through various fictional individuals. The literary effect is
quite astounding, but it takes time to grasp. Those who don’t
have any appreciation for that experience (largely younger
Christians or older Christians who have just put in the time
with no growth) are often put off by Lord of the Rings. They
can’t appreciate it because they lack the personal categories.
They have something to look forward to, though.
When Christians actually mature to the extent hinted at
in the trilogy, will they still find Tolkien great or thin? Will
real maturity match his picture? Or is he just an eschatological
tease for our less mature centuries? Fantasy most real.
“Things to be Done” Volume 14 /2
From Us:
Yes, it is we, predicate
nominative. We have
snapped under the
pressure and given in.
We are taking off the gloves. Finally, we
will speak our uninihibited minds, and
do as we feel. Until now we have been
restricted by the stifling flea and tick
collar of social convention. We have been
adding water to our wine. Now that
collar lies unused in the alley where we
scratched it off. We were born free, free as
the wind blows. Now we will act like it.
No more will we hold our peace in the
name of convention. We are coming
down off of our sunny rock where we
once basked. It is time to chase kids
around the park. It is time for play.
From Y
Dear Editor,
After reading “Raising Poofters” [C/
A, 13/5] and getting all fired up about it
and making the decision to compose a
reply, I had two main fears: one was that
Nathan Wilson wasn’t writing a serious
article, but was merely throwing out a
sort of ludicrously-colored bait, hoping
to reel in some fun letters to the editor—
and I was swallowing it, hook, line, and
sinker. My other fear was that he was
serious, and that there was actually a
group of people somewhere that
considered that piece of writing to be
cogent, thoughtful, and worthy of
publication (that is, worthy of public
consumption). Whichever the case may
be, I decided to go for it anyway.
Nathan begins by stating that
“Everything in our culture” is at war with
boys. Fine. I can handle this in an
opening paragraph—obviously, however,
I’ll expect some evidence. But in vain, as
Nathan doesn’t even pretend to address
the culture as a whole, but goes straight
for that part of it which, I assume, he
knows least about: the public education
system. (Or perhaps I’m wrong in
“Things to be Believed” Volume 14 /2
assuming Nathan hasn’t regularly
attended public school?) But OK, so
maybe he really wanted to talk only about
education and not the entire culture. I
guess that’s fine, just let me know first
next time. Onward. . . .
Rules cannot be equated with those
who happen to be the enforcers of them.
Indeed, rules transcend their enforcers
and if they are valid should be obeyed
regardless of outside personality conflicts.
And I know very few budding young
fourth-graders who resist authority on
the basis of conscience. School rules are
often designed to prevent injury and
misbehavior, and those other things
which disrupt the educational process.
Schools are not designed to turn boys
into men, they are designed to teach
children “reading, writing, and arithmetic.”
Perhaps boys do have a natural desire
to get knocked down, but it seems the
more prevalent desire is to knock
someone else down; to, in fact, be the last
one standing. The emotional need seems
to be to rule, not to lead (this is broadly
true of much of humanity, not just boys).
And this happens everywhere, including
schools: it’s called bullying. This is a need
that doesn’t necessarily need to be
encouraged, and certainly not at school.
Nathan now begins to bring us to the
climax, the real problem. It goes something like this: Christian boys are taught
to obey authority. Authority in schools
(again, are we to assume this is the only
authority in a boy’s life?) tells boys to
behave like girls (that is, as we’ve
previously noted, to obey the rules).
Strong boys can’t behave like girls. So
they come to despise authority. Then
they come to despise Christianity for
telling them to obey authority. Weak boys
(ah, finally, we learn what the mysterious
“poofter” is) obey the rules, and are thus
weak. The solution: for the strong boy,
change the rules so he can be as violent as
he is inclined to be (and strong boys are
inclined to be violent because when
violence rules, strength is power). For the
weak boy, let him get beat up, make sure
he’s in situations where he’ll get hurt if he
doesn’t hurt someone else first (and he
will get hurt because he’s, well, weak),
show him that physical weakness is for
losers and girls. It won’t take long before
you’ll have to stop him from doing
anything that pops into his head to keep
from being stepped on, including playing
dirty, using weapons, gunning down his
Quite the opposite of what you assert,
Nathan, there seems to be no lack of
testosterone in our culture. Turn the TV
on at any time and you’ll see men
battling each other in sports, often
violent sports. Athletes’ obscene salaries
betray the importance our culture lends
them. . . . Popular music includes profane
celebrations of violence by men against
both other men and women. You
know—men satisfying God-given
emotional needs. Enough pop culture.
What about us common folks and our
own lives? High school heroes aren’t
ballerina stars, they’re the best athletes,
and those who won’t let an insult lie but
beat the other SOB up for it. . . . Our
culture is awash in masculinity and always
has been. Certainly there are radical fringe
elements—perhaps even the intelligentsia—who are preaching the opposite, but
they will always be fringe. Because in our
fallen world, power always rules. The
strongest win. We may root for the
underdog, but we bow to the winner.
Fortunately for us, Nathan, you’re not
a leader, you’re a follower. A daddy’s boy,
still hanging on to Pop’s belt loops and
repeating his words. . . . God may be
masculine and all-powerful, but He
tempers his power with wisdom, and
wisdom is a woman.
Hosannah Valentine
Seattle, WA
Dear Editor,
I appreciate and have benefited from
many of your written efforts to take every
thought captive, and to encourage the
saints in not being conformed to the
Cover image for C/ A ,13/1
world. Your “Sex and the Reformation”
issue contains several helpful articles
addressing a topic that is worthy of
serious (but reverently joyful) consideration. Particularly trenchant is Douglas
Wilson’s “Modest Daughters” piece that
opens with this statement: “Let’s be
frank. Immodesty is a very common
problem in the Church today.” This is
sadly a very true statement that was
commendably addressed by Mr. Wilson.
After reading this article, however, I had
to pause and take a second look at the
cover of this issue. And there before my
eyes was a picture that can only be
described as provocatively erotic. This
cover is not designed to provoke modesty
within the Church! (I showed this to my
excellent wife and she agrees with my
assessment). I for one would not want my
wife or daughter posing in such a
titillating manner. Sure, we don't see the
model's face, but the effect is still the
same, particularly on male viewers who
may have a problem with their eyes. So
keep up the good articles, but please
consider a bit more soberly the material
pasted on the cover. We are to provoke
one another, but only in a righteous
David Kincaid
Raytown, MO
Douglas Wilson replies: I guess this
situation reveals the importance of
context, and I suspect we
agree more than we differ. We believe
in the importance of modesty, as
argued in that issue. But we also
believe that the Bible teaches that a
certain measure of "eroticism" is
appropriate, so long as it follows the
patterns set by Scripture. We do not
believe that it is right to be
erotically provocative. At the same
time, what constitutes "provocative"
must be defined scripturally, and not
by the Victorians, the Muslims or the
neo-Amish. Perhaps the whole
photograph of my daughter Bekah will
provide the needed context.
Dear Editor,
I am writing in to suggest a problem
with Nathan Wilson’s “Flotsam: PoE”
(C/A, 13/6). Wilson has taken a heavy
apologetic wallop to what he names “the
problem of evil,” and has leveled the
strong charge of rebellion and foolishness
to those who see the problem of evil as
any real problem at all. Although this
kind of approach is many times appropriate, in “PoE” Wilson has attacked
unbelief just where sincere belief struggles
and becomes perplexed. This communicates a bit of simplistic apologetic
smugness over an issue that is usually
handled in a more pastoral fashion.
Wilson does not indicate any struggle
with evil or perplexity over the
unbeliever’s traditional argument
regarding the “problem of evil;” but he
should, for not only has he not taken in
consideration the problem that the
“problem of evil” posses for our true
belief, he has not sufficiently answered the
arguments furthered from unbelief in at
least two basic ways.
First, his reasoning that the argument
from evil does not take sufficient account
of the fall is irrelevant. The fall itself falls
into the problem for the unbeliever, not
merely the consequences of it. Dungeons
are sure proofs of a king as long as our
story does not speak of a king who must
make evil men to throw in them. The
problem is not that God responds
appropriately to evil men, but that evil
men are. The problem is the very possibility
of a fall. Second, Wilson’s examples of
“evil” are insufficient. He speaks of war,
civilian casualties, and the World Trade
Centers. There is a sense of dignity to
this sort of suffering and a possible feel
of the “justice involving evil in the
world.” But what if I run over my baby’s
head on the way to church? Shall we see
with believing eyes the authority and
justice? No, that is not obedience;
obedience is believing despite such things
that God is good.
But Wilson thinks that all evil will
make sense to us if only “we were to use
the heads He gave us.” This is false. God
did not make our noetic faculties for the
purpose of intellectually “making sense”
of dead babies. He “made us” pre-fall.
We are rationally perplexed, but we love
Him anyways. This is not to say that the
problem of evil rationally defeats our
Christian Belief, but we are being
dishonest if we don’t admit that it is quite
an argument.
Michael Metzler
Moscow, ID
Nathan Wilson replies: I appreciate
Mr. Metzler’s repsonse, but feel that
there is very little real disagreement
between us. To begin, I do not think
that the Fall in any way dismisses the
problem of evil. I do find it amusing
that pagans everywhere attempt to use
the p.o.e. to prove that God lacks
existence. There is no king because he
tossed me in the dungeon. I do believe
Mr. Metzler and I disagree when it
comes to my refusal to take the
problem seriously. I don’t think it is a
serious problem, or any problem at all
really, and I’m not being dishonest. It
all makes complete sense, but not
logic. We do not need to know why
God does a thing to know that His
authority allows for it. He rains on us,
and in the end He kills every one of
us. I am not puzzled, nor do I see a
problem. If we embrace Him, then we
embrace mystery, and mystery in the
transcendant makes sense.
“Things to be Done” Volume 14 /2
Muslim Extr
emists F
ess Up to Cultur
Last week, while in pursuit of Taliban
operatives in the Pamir mountain range,
a reconnaissance patrol of U.S. Marines
stumbled upon a vast and sophisticated
Muslim city. This city of New Beatisso
“had slick monorail transportation, art
museums, a nuanced cuisine, and a hightech sewage system like nothing I’ve
never seen back home,” said Lt. Ray
Peterson, leader of the patrol. “They
tried to distract us away from it by
faking Al Quaeda radio transmissions
from a nearby pit of a village. But we
knew something was up when our radios
picked up a live broadcast of what at
first sounded like a Mahler symphony,
then we realized it was completely new
music, a sort of Shostakovich, neoBaroque blend with a bit of an Eastern
The Marines called in air and
ground support before approaching the
laser wall surrounding the city. After
several hours of waiting, the initial
Marine patrol and two divisions of
backup were greeted sheepishly by a
council of twelve Mullahs dressed in
brightly colored Italian suits.
U.S. intelligence sources report
that the first words spoken by the lead
Mullah were “Oh Jeez (Praise Be
Upon Him), I can’t believe the Great
Satan finally found us.”
The Mullah explained that all of
the lame Muslim culture that the West
sees is a front. Muslim nations merely
pretend to be soulless, dull, and
conformist, all the while veiling their
true cultural riches in hidden cities like
New Beatisso. “We didn’t want
Westerners aping our arts ham-fistedly
and turning us into a weekly TV
series—‘Mullah’s Place’— or something. We let you pine away thinking
that only Trinitarians could produce a
culture. But here at New Beatisso you
finally see the wonderful depths of
Unitarian culture—interdependence,
free speech, empathy, love of body,
humane technology, and subtle irony.
Now leave us alone, you Trinitarian
Sergeant Brad Willis, one of the
first supporting soldiers at the city, said
he now better understood the Muslim
strategy of using terrorism to keep the
West away from finding great cities like
New Beatisso. Willis conceded, “We sat
in on several of their stage plays, and I
have to honestly say that their Mr.
Kafeel made Shakespeare look like a
fool’s boy. The textured layers of
contrasting Muslim emotions brought
me up short. All these years they tricked
us into believing they only had one-anda-third emotions.”
Douglas Jones
Cat Owners P
om Iditar
Prrotest Ban fr
annual Iditarod sled race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska, will face a legal
challenge this year from the National
Cat Fanciers Association. “The Iditarod
race has no right to discriminate against
sleds pulled by a team of cats. The
Iditarod committee still seems to be
blinded by the old prejudice that
assumes dogs are stronger and more
competent at sledding,” says Mary
Davis, vice president of the NCFA. “If
you say ‘sled’ they automatically picture
a dog. They need to join the twenty-first
The race trail extends between
1,049 and 1,150 miles and the current
race record held by Doug Swingley is 9
days, 2 hours. In 2002, the prize money
total of $550,000 was split between 30
The Iditarod rules state that “the
maximum number of dogs a musher
may start the race with is sixteen.” The
NCFA will argue that the rule only
“Things to be Believed” Volume 14 /2
constrains a maximum number of dogs
and does not explicitly exclude any
other mammals. “Only dogs are
limited,” says Davis. “A cat musher can
enter as many cats as she likes. We have
three teams ready to go. They’ve been
training for years as part of various
Snow Rescue Teams in the Yukon.”
The Iditarod Trail Committee
went public last month with statistics
showing the low-performance record of
the cat rescue teams. “People were
dying left and right, for Pete’s sake. The
cat teams would start off strong but
after a few yards they would become
totally indifferent to the plight of those
trapped. Other times they would start
to dig through the snow but give up
after a few inches and cover-up the hole
The NCFA disputes the statistics,
claiming that they are “from early in
the cats’ training” and that the methods
assume “the same feline stereotypes that
have held cats back from team sports
for centuries. Cats may not have the
same leg strength as dogs, but they have
trail smarts. For example, they never
chase their own tails like retards.”
The three planned cat teams are
made up of Persian, Himalayan, and
Siberian breeds whose genes have been
thoroughly acclimated to Alaskan
conditions. Each team is to be made up
of eighty to ninety cats each. Mary
Davis added that “the teams will feature
some of our strongest cats, especially
Brighty, Samantha, Mr. Moomoo, and
In response, Frank Durry, chairman
of the Iditarod Trail Committee, asked,
“Mr. Moomoo and Snuggles? I’m
worried that the Huskies will laugh
their dog sort of laugh, and some cat is
bound to get squished, and then the
whining will really start.” Mary Davis
appeared to hiss slightly and replied, “It
sounds like someone’s a little afraid of
real competition.”
Douglas Jones
Book of Chur
ch Or
der Causes Epidemic of R
ATLANTA, PA–Conservative
presbyterians around the nation were
found pumping their fists in the air over
growing reports that their various Books
of Church Order have spurred widespread spiritual revivals and reconciliations. “Critics have always whined that
spending hours of committee time
perfecting super-precise constitutional
language was pointless, but now we see
the payoff,” said Archie Alexander, a
midwest clerk of presbytery. “Legal
prose actually appears to prompt the
Holy Spirit’s work.”
One southern presbytery that had
faced a rash of church splits decided to
go after the problems by making pastors
and church members sit through public
readings of the Book of Church Order
and Robert’s Rules of Order. “The
results have been beyond our wildest
expectations,” said stated clerk Henley
Vos. “Not only have the church
divisions been totally healed, we have
documentation showing 457 healed
marriages and 904 apostate children
turning back to their parents. We’re
taking the BCO on a nationwide road
Other conservative presbyterians
quickly caught on and duplicated the
results across the country. After a
month of twenty-four hour readings
from the BCO, the entire town of
Radish, NM, population 45,000,
converted to presbyterianism. Pastor
Jade Maloney of First Providential
Covenant Church said, “The people
were drawn by the sheer mathematical
orderliness of our church government.
Then when we read to them from our
presbytery minutes, they told us that
they had not known life before such
careful procedural policies. Some
grateful teens started chanting ‘Necessary and Sufficient Conditions Forever’
to a Britney Spears’ tune.” Several towns
in New England are demanding
sermons and even Bible translations that
match the stirring precision of General
Assembly minutes. Zondervan wouldn’t
comment on rumors about a “Robert’s
Rules Bible” that fills in the all those
embarrassing procedural gaps in
Jerusalem Council types of passages.
Presbyterian theologian, Calvin
Turret of ETA seminary of the RPS
under the auspices of the CPR, explained that “We’re realizing that the
entire eschatological thrust of the New
Testament is toward increasing
bureaucratic precision and order. The
kingdom starts off as a little unseconded
motion, but it grows into an amended
overture that might get a 2/3 vote.”
The moderator of the RAF added that
“Presbyterians are really on the cutting
edge. The White House has ordered a
special printing of the BCO for use in
the Arab-Israeli conflict. When we
heard this at presbytery, we got so
excited we broke out in quiet handshakes.”
Douglas Jones
Face P
cings Make Others Star
division has arisen within the bodypiercing community between those who
want to be stared at and those offended
by all the staring. “I didn’t spend all that
money for a lip ring and five eyebrow
rings just so people would look at me
like some freak,” says Suzi Ricky, a
WalMart greeter. Tracy Zachary,
fourteen, explains, “I like did it to
express my individuality, to show like
control over my life. People just don’t
get it; it’s as if they’re staring at my
breasts. It’s such an invasion.”
Jake “The Spike” Theodore,
president of the newly formed Piercers
in Desperate Need of Attention
(PIDNA), says that piercers who
complain about people staring are
simply bringing shame upon the project.
“Staring opponents are just morons,” he
says. “Body piercings are supposed to be
uniforms for those of us who never got
enough attention as children. Our group
is proud of that symbolism, and we’re
trying to recoup that attention denied to
us as kids. If people stopped staring at
my tongue stud, then I’d have to
become an actor or a politician.”
Dr. Cynthia Newman of Southern
Coast Community College, herself a
double-nose ring bearer, has found
sociological support for the PIDNA,
reading through recent field studies.
“The face piercers we interviewed didn’t
directly invoke parental neglect, but
they did speak of their deep need to
conform with other nonconformists.
Some mentioned duplicating the
symbolism of piracy, and historical
research on pirates suggests that pirate
parents rarely read aloud to them.”
More research from the Vermont
Institute of Semiotic Studies suggests a
link between face piercings and the
longing for a primitive state, somewhat
akin to those tribes who put tea saucers
in their lips. The study suggests that
face piercings empower people with a
primitive spirituality that raises them
above technological impersonalism.
“But they still want to work the hightech deep fryers at McDonalds,” says
one Fresno employer who wished to
remain nameless. “They don’t have the
courage of their convictions.” Another
employer comments that “I am crippled
by trying to avert my gaze all the time;
it gives them an aura of holiness that
makes me weak in the knees.”
Suzi Ricky remains unconvinced.
“Look, I pierce my face to prove that I
have no long-term vision for the future.
I pierce to prove my dominion over my
own face. Self-centeredness is sexy.”
After a three-day PIDNA
roundtable-discussion evaluated various
proposals and research projects, the
panelists could only agree that face
piercings actually do cause little kids to
stare an awful lot.
Douglas Jones
“Things to be Done” Volume 14 /2
There is no sense in complaining about
the unfairness of it all—our adversaries
understand that we are in a war, and we
do not. They employ whatever they can in
that war, however they can, and they do
not mind that we like to stand around in
the middle of the battle, clueless.
The most recent egregious
manifestion of this very potent kultursmog
is the reaction of our illuminati to the
scandals rocking the American wing of
the Roman Catholic Church. The scandal
concerns Roman Catholic priests who
have been abusing their orders, along with
teen-aged boys, coupled with the
scandalous fact that the Church hierarchy
covered up and put up with all this in a
massive way.
While there is no sense complaining
about the double standard that is applied
in such situations, we should at least
understand it. And we should understand
Pimps and W
The savage wit of Ambrose Bierce has
quite a bit to teach us victims of the
cultural tempest in our particular little fin
de siecle teapot. In his Devil’s Dictionary he
left us a short little edifying story under
his definition of “valor”:
“Why have you halted?” roared the
commander of a division at Chickamauga, who
had ordered a charge; “move forward, sir, at
“General,” said the commander of the
delinquent brigade, “I am persuaded that any
further display of valor by my troops will bring
them into collision with the enemy.”
This kind of thing can happen for
two reasons. First, the troops may be
more than a little sympathetic with the
adversary. They don’t want to fight when
they could be friends. Or, second, there
may be true antipathy—but it is mingled
with cowardice. David’s brothers didn’t
like Goliath, but neither did they want to
actually go out there.
Theological liberals and moderates in
“Things to be Believed” Volume 14 /2
it well, because we have just now crested
the hill, and are only now picking up
Let us point out the obvious. These
are homosexual priests. Now we have
been told ad nauseam by our enlightened
rulers that homosexual teachers, and
homosexual Boy Scout leaders, and so
on, present no risks worthy of mention
to those young boys who are under their
authority and influence. Anyone who
thinks differently was probably born in
the ninteenth century, or eastern
Tennessee, or both.
But now we have glaring evidence to
the contrary. So what happened? All of a
sudden, poof, the word pedophilia appeared
from the clear blue sky. But these were
not little kids. By and large they were
teen-aged boys. And why were we not
referring to their seducers as gay priests,
or homosexual priests?
The Roman Catholic Church is
being accused of doing that which these
same accusers are simultaneously insisting
that organizations like the Boy Scouts
start to do.
Suppose the Roman Catholic
hierarchy in this country were not
corrupt (a big suppose) and had done the
right thing. Suppose they defrocked these
priests for being practicing homosexuals.
What then? Then the Church would have
been accused of a broad assortment of
hate crimes.
You can’t tell the players without a
scorecard. The Roman hierarchy has the
worst possible combination going; they
are simultaneously cowardly and corrupt.
The homo priests were simply acting
their part as brute beasts, and so we
understand their priestiality. And those
dogs who have taken this occasion to
howl at Christian sexual morality are
vicious and wicked. The sooner we learn
this, the less we will have to regret later.
our midst don’t like the antithesis and
don’t want a fight. They expend their
energies trying to make the Church
relevant to the world by making the
Church a third-rate copy of that world.
For the purposes of definition here, by
“moderates” I mean “liberals” who are
confused enough to think they are
evangelicals—which, incidentally, is now
the character of the tepid moderate water
of the evangelical mainstream. Just as
conservative Republicans today are far to
the left of the Democrats of forty years
ago, so contemporary evangelicals are to
the left of the theological liberals of
forty years ago—and all done with the
kind of serene ignorance that would
make the Buddha envious.
At any rate, this relevancy gambit is
taken up by all those who want to pimp
the bride of Christ, although they usually
like to use different verbs. And whenever
you hear the word relevance used in any
religious discussions, prepare for the most
astounding irrelevance to follow on hard.
But then there are those who don’t
like the bad guys—David’s brothers—so
they stand over on the Israelite side of the
line, vaporing helplessly with their
swords. They do have enough valor to
shout back at Goliath, something witty
along the lines of “Oh, yeah?” But any
display of valor beyond that would bring
them into a collision with the enemy.
I know that many will think that this
is an over-generalization, and they will
think of many individuals and organizations that are involved in our “culture
wars.” But this reputation for heroism is
largely undeserved. We are generally so
cowardly that we think yelling at the giant
is Bronze Star level behavior. Conscientious insiders in many of these organizations will tell you that there is a fatal rule
requiring hesitation and shrinking back.
They will tell you of many discussions or
board meetings where it was decided to
hold back “for fear that . . .”
And so the armor continues to sit in
Saul’s tent, with no one to wear it.
Douglas Wilson
Douglas Wilson
This is Mor
e of That
Douglas Wilson
IN our last installment, we addressed the importance of
typological interpretation in handling the Word. If Scripture is
sufficient for all things, then surely it must be sufficient to teach
us how we are to handle the text of Scripture. The writers of the
New Testament provide us with many examples of typological
interpretation from the Old Testament, and we have a prima facie
obligation to learn how to read Scripture the same way.
But a very important question was raised in that column
which was not answered in any detail. Where are the brakes on
this system of interpretation? How can we handle Scripture in
this way without flying off into fanciful or frivolous interpretations? The fact that other schools of interpretation have to
answer the same question does not mean that we have answered
So what prevents fanciful interpretation? How should we
begin our lessons in a sober and biblically grounded typology?
Perhaps an analogy can help. Consider the text of the New
Testament on a single sheet as an overlay for the Old. The Old
Testament is a single sheet underneath. Every place the New
Testament interprets the Old in a particular way, (metaphorically) drive a nail through both testaments. Let the New
Testament fix the meaning of every Old Testament passage it
What does this do to the passages that are not addressed
directly? The passages that we have fixed in place limit our range
of motion. Let me illustrate. To understand Adam as a type of
Christ is settled by the New Testament (Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15).
Adam had a wife named Eve (Gen. 3:20 ), and Christ has a
bride also—the Church (Eph. 5:25). If we were to call the
Church the last Eve, we are saying something that Scripture does
not explicitly say anywhere, but which Scripture does implicitly
require. Our fixed points of reference require this of us. We
cannot consistently deny that the Church is an Eve—she is
married to an Adam.
But if we were to say that Eve is a type of “Madeleine
Albright listening to the United Nations serpent,” then we are
exercising our imaginations, not interpreting Scripture. Our
interpretation amounts to little more than a common vocabulary exercise in elementary schools, where the students are told
to write a story using this week’s vocabulary words. Very few
objective contraints are put on the work of imagination. The
Madeleine Albright illustration is biblical interpretation only
because biblical vocabulary words, like Eve, are used in it. As
C.S. Lewis once said of fanciful interpretation, if the text had
had small pox, the sermon wouldn’t have caught it.
An exercise that could be very helpful to pastors in accomplishing this mindset is one that was instrumental in helping me
shake loose many of the unbiblical doctrinal assumptions I
picked up over the years. Most copies of the New Testament
mark citations from the Old in some way. The unfortunate
thing is that the reverse is not usually done—those places in the
Old Testament which are quoted later on in the New are rarely
marked as such. The thing to do is to fix the problem yourself
with marker pens. Look up every place in the Old Testament
which is quoted in the New and mark it with a highlighter.
Then off in the margin write down the New Testament
reference where it is quoted.
When this is done, it is time to read through the Old
Testament, together with all the reminders that the New
Testament contains authoritative teaching on the marked Old
Testament passages. For example, when you come to Psalm 2,
you are reminded at once that there is teaching on what the
Psalm means in multiple places in the New Testament.
The first thing that will become apparent is that Jesus and
His apostles had favorite books and passages. Anyone who
wants to grasp the teaching of the New Testament has to master
Genesis, Deuteronomy, Psalms, and Isaiah, which are quoted in
the New Testament constantly. And the way to learn these Old
Testament books (and all the others) is to learn what the New
Testament says about them. But this is rarely done. Any preacher
who uses commentaries when preaching through Old Testament
books can testify how rare it is for the apostolic interpretation
to be taken into account by the commentator as he seeks to find
the meaning of the text before him. Surely this should be a cause
of astonishment.
The modernist approach to the text is to interpret it
according to certain modernist rules, and to the extent the
apostolic teaching is referenced at all, it provides anachronistic
embarrassment. Once, while taking a class on hermeneutics at
an evangelical seminary, I heard the instructor say that Paul was,
and I quote, “wrong” in his handling of Hagar and Sarah. But
this instructor never would have dreamed of saying that the
academic experts were wrong about Genesis because they didn’t
see two covenants in these women.
Some might still be suspicious of reasoning “by good and
literary consequence” from fixed reference points. In the
abstract, it can sound scary, but it is still academic. Most of us
could spend several profitable years discovering how thoroughly
typological the New Testament handling of the Old Testament
actually is in all the “fixed” places. Even if we never take a step
beyond that, we will still find ourselves with a much richer
understanding of the Word than we currently have.
And if we do take the next step, as we should, we will simply
be following dominical and apostolic leadership.
“Things to be Done” Volume 14 /2
gical Cultur
Duck Schuler
MUCH HAS been written on the different kinds of existing
culture: folk, high, and popular. An especially fine work on
this subject is Ken Myers’ All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes
in which Myers compares these three cultures from a
Christian viewpoint and draws some insightful and deeply
profound conclusions about the value of each of these
cultures. As I have thought about music and culture from the
perspective of a church musician, I have contemplated these
categories of folk, high, and popular culture, with regard to
music performed in worship, and have come to the conclusion
that there is perhaps another category of culture–liturgical.
The difficulty with categorizing liturgical culture is
figuring out how it relates to the other three. The Bible begins
its discussion of culture in Genesis 1:26 and continues it fully
in chapter 2. Genesis 2:5 tells us that “there was no man to
cultivate the ground.” One of man’s purposes was to cultivate
ground. As in the English, the Hebrew root for the word
“cultivate” carries a variety of connotations in its meaning,
including such ideas as plowing, working, fatiguing, working
as a slave, serving, being honored, and worshiping. When man
was made, God placed him in the Edenic garden-sanctuary in
order that he might “cultivate (dress–AV) it and keep it”
(2:15). This verse is preceded by a discussion of the rivers
which flow out of Eden through the garden and into the
world where Adam will be able to find gold, bdellium, and
onyx as raw materials to dress the garden.
The garden was the place where Adam was to meet with
God; it was a place where Adam found food; it was a place of
worship and communion. Adam was charged to make the
garden-sanctuary more glorious than it already was and at the
same time keep (guard) it. He was to guard it from the wiles
of Satan and keep it for the glory, worship, and service of
God. Notice that God places Adam first in the garden and
not in the land of Eden. As he cultivates and keeps the garden,
he is taught the skills necessary for taking dominion of the
land and eventually the whole world (1:26). The lessons are
learned in the sanctuary before dominion of the world takes
place. God’s plan for cultivating man is to have him in His
presence in worship, to bring glory to God, and to learn what
it means to made in God’s image. Only as a true image bearer
will man be able to take dominion properly. How we
worship, then, determines how we live our lives.
Watch a child who has a good relationship with his
parents and you will see that the child imitates the parent.
You’ll find a young boy mowing the lawn with his toy mower
when Dad is mowing the lawn, or shaving with his toy razor
while Dad is shaving. He wants to be like Dad. In the same
way we learn to be image bearers by observing and imitating
our heavenly Father. This is best done in the presence of God.
“Things to be Believed” Volume 14 /2
When He calls us into the throne room, He teaches us how
to be kings by His own perfect rule. When we hear His
Word, He teaches us how to live our lives according to that
Word and how to share the Word with others. When He
shows us how He sacrificed His own beloved Son, we learn
how to give our lives in thanksgiving and spiritual sacrifice.
Image bearers want to be like their Father, and this is learned
most keenly in worship.
In a biblical model, folk, high, and popular culture flow
out of and are formed by our liturgical culture. If our
liturgical culture is glorious, we would expect to see the
standard of culture in the world becoming more glorious; and
likewise, if the liturgical culture is full of stench, culture at
large will come to have the same stench.
An unbiblical model of liturgical culture works in the
opposite way. Instead of learning from God by imitation and
then teaching the world by taking dominion, the culture
would imitate the world and attempt to dominate God
through manipulation. In general, that is the way culture is
working today. The Church has abdicated its responsibilities
as salt and light in the culture. It borrows all the worst of our
stinking culture, brings it into the sanctuary, and attempts to
manipulate God through the saccharine sentimentalism of a
narcissistic culture.
Liturgical culture therefore is the fountain and source for
the other kinds of culture, whether it follows a biblical model
or an unbiblical model. An example of the musical outworking of this in culture is the oft-used paradigm of using love
songs and bar tunes as a source and model for music in
worship. Those who want to look to the world for their
imitation of music will cite the Reformers and in particular
Martin Luther as an example of one who borrowed the best
love tunes of his age for singing in the Church. This technique of adding liturgical texts to secular songs was called
making a contrafactum and, although practiced by the Reformers, it was rarely done. But even though it was done, the
musical borrowing was still different than the contrafacta
techniques today. Because the Church had a strong influence
on the culture, secular love songs of the Middle Ages and
Renaissance often had the character and influence of the
Church. So when a contrafactum was made, the musicians were
not borrowing but taking back what already belonged to
Today, the Church no longer has a strong influence on
culture. When it borrows, it no longer borrows in imitation
of God but imitation of the world. Who we imitate makes all
the difference.
Sexual Gr
Douglas Wilson
A GOOD MARRIAGE is characterized by an ability to talk about
anything. This does not mean that it is easy to talk about
everything, but rather that any subject can be addressed in a
way that is profitable.
One area where talking can be difficult is in the area of
sex—particularly in discussing the sexual temptations which
come at the relationship from outside. Because sexual
discussion between husband and wife can be difficult for
many reasons, there are a number of things that a husband
should remember as he takes responsibility for undertaking
such risky business. At the center of everything is his duty of
Christian contentment.
First, a husband should be clear in his mind that he is
talking about his temptations, not giving way to them. In
short, talking should be honest talking, and not a form of
discontented manipulation. He should understand what his
temptations actually are, and what they are not. His wife
should be able to help him resist those things which are
temptations to sin. But if he doesn’t believe something is sin,
but talks to her as though he is “struggling” with it, he is
actually trying to manipulate or corrupt her, not talk with her.
More than one man has “confessed” certain things to his wife
when he was actually trying to corrupt her with them.
Another issue is that honor and praise always edify every
aspect of a relationship, including sex, while grumbling is
destructive and tears down. Many men are chronic sexual
complainers, and Scripture forbids complaining (Phil. 2:14),
and requires contentment (Phil. 4:11). Further, the Bible says
that men are to honor their wives (1 Pet. 3:7), and this
includes expressing honor to them for their sexual attractiveness. Godly contentment is closely related to an undefiled
marriage bed (Heb. 13:4–5). Put another way, many men
think they are tempted by lust when they are really tempted
more by a discontented and critical spirit.
In many cases, they wouldn’t dream of complaining
about their food-life the way they complain about their sex
life. But complaining always tears down. A man who complained about the food all the time is unlikely to see an
improvement in the cooking. It is the same in the bedroom—
a man who constantly complains about sex is unlikely to see
improvement in the cooking there either. This remains true
even if all his complaints remain unspoken. Complaining is communicated in countless ways.
Complaints can be divided into three categories. The first
is that a man’s wife does not look like other women. We may
call this the adulterous complaint. A man is told to be
satisfied with his wife’s breasts (Prov. 5:19), and this excludes
the common practice that many men have of getting their
appetite abroad while eating at home. An undiscriminating
man who has a steady diet of movies and television shows he
shouldn’t have is going to grow increasingly discontented
with his wife’s appearance.
He might respond that he would be happy to be satisfied
with her breasts, but that she won’t let him near them, which
leads to the second kind of complaint—not the way she looks
to him, but the way she responds to him. Because her behavior
is under her control, men sometimes assume that they have a
right to complain here if they do not appreciate something.
What these men do not realize is that a woman’s sexual
responsiveness flourishes, as a luxuriant green plant in the
garden, in direct correlation to how it is nourished and
watered. Many men complain that their wives are too
embarrassed to be as responsive and hot as the Shulamite, but
they are too embarrassed to praise her as the Shulamite’s
husband did. And so we may call this the complaint of the
The third complaint occurs when a wife is actively
sinning against her husband, either through infidelity, gross
lack of submission, refusal to have relations with him, and so
on. If a woman is sinning in this way, a husband does not
have the right to overlook the problem. If he cannot bring the
situation around, then he is responsible to get help from the
outside. If he refuses, but still complains, it is the complaint
of a coward.
If a man knows that his desire to talk with his wife does
not proceed from discontent, then a talk about all these things
can be quite helpful. He should remember that a husband is
responsible to help his wife respond to him correctly as he
talks with her. Many women have gotten themselves into a
trap—they are offended when their husbands keep things
back from them, but then they are offended in a different way
if their husbands tell them any details about their temptations.
In short, they penalize honesty and penalize dishonesty.
When wives do this, a man can’t win for losing, and so he
frequently winds up clever and dishonest. He needs to become
wise and honest. It is all well and good to say that a woman
shouldn’t respond this way, but the husband is the one
responsible to help her work through this. She is given to him
as a helper, and one of the things he needs help with is sexual
fidelity (1 Cor. 7:2). And marriage is a help with this in other
ways than simply providing physical sexual release. Godly
conversation is an important part of it.
But in order to provide true help, the foundation of all
discussion between a Christian husband and wife must be
contentment. A contented man and woman can strive to
glorify God still more in what they learn sexually. But if the
striving is built on discontent, then everything they learn how to
do will only exacerbate that discontent.
“Things to be Done” Volume 14 /2
The P
ostpartum Mother
Nancy Wilson
“The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the
everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27)
WHENEVER I ADDRESS a topic related to child birthing, it is a
very delicate operation indeed. Women have strong loyalties
and views, as well as birth stories and experiences that may
conflict with what I say, and I do not want to give offense
needlessly. So in this article I hope to encourage and edify,
not discourage or offend.
In all things related to pregnancy, childbirth, and the
postpartum mother, a Christian woman is called to think and
act like a Christian. In our day, as in every other generation,
the secular community is eager to give its input and make
disciples. Most modern books about pregnancy and childbirth
espouse secular, nonChristian, or sometimes anti-Christian
views. The Christian woman must gather her information
with great care and wisdom as though she were picking
flowers in a dangerous minefield.
What are some of these dangerous ideas? Here are a few
samples. Often the pregnant woman is told to expect to be
angry during birth. She will probably yell at her husband, and
that is okay because labor pains are in fact pains. She may not
even like her baby at first because of the trouble the child has
caused her in birth. And after birth she may plunge into a
depression that may last for weeks. These statements imply
that a woman has no control over her own feelings and
What is wrong with this sort of preparation for childbirth and mothering? It can be frightening to a godly woman
who fears she will be a disgrace to her God and her husband.
Or it can give the weak Christian an excuse for all kinds of
ungodly behavior. This mentality that makes provision for sin
speaks nothing of duty and does not account at all for the
promise of grace and strength from Christ.
Though many things relating to childbirth fall in the
category of things indifferent, some things do not. What do I
mean? These are examples of things indifferent, things that
are not moral issues: birthing at home vs. the hospital,
midwives vs. doctors, pain medication vs. natural,
breastfeeding vs. the bottle, schedule vs. demand feeding. But
some things are moral issues, and these include the demeanor
of the new mother. Christian women (whether childbearing
or not) are required to be patient in affliction, to cast their
cares on the Lord, to trust Him in all their ways, to honor
and respect their husbands. These are moral issues that matter
to God.
As the Christian woman approaches childbirth, she
should endeavor to prepare herself spiritually as well as
physically and mentally. She should pray that God would give
her a gentle and quiet spirit as she enters into labor. She
“Things to be Believed” Volume 14 /2
should seek to glorify God throughout the process, both in
the preparation and the actual delivery. She should reject false
ideas about her personality suddenly changing in labor,
turning her into a sharp, nasty woman who is biting people’s
heads off. This is a lie. If she is normally quick to be angry,
certainly labor will just be another opportunity to sin. But if
she is normally a kind-hearted woman, she will continue to be
so even under the provocation of labor. The world wants to
excuse sin and does so by calling things “syndromes.”
Childbirth is something women are equipped by God to do.
He has promised to keep His people, and He will certainly
not abandon His children at a moment when He is bringing a
new covenant-child into the world. The everlasting arms are
something a new mother can trust eternally. In this, as in
everything, the Christian has a tremendous advantage over the
unbeliever: ours are the promises! Christ will never leave us or
forsake us. He wants to bless us and provide for us in all
conditions. Our business is to rest in Him.
At the same time, we are flesh and blood. He knows our
frame. We are not to see ourselves as cartoon bionic women
who can do anything: no drugs, no doctors, no problem. We
may become frightened. We may grow weary. We may
wonder why we are shedding tears. We must remember that
He is sanctifying us; we are all at different places in this
supernatural process. So we must be kind to one another and
bear one another’s burdens. If a weaker sister “loses it” in
childbirth, then we gently instruct her and forgive her and
pray better things of her next time. If she becomes “depressed” after childbirth, we must seek to help her. It may be
hormones. What isn’t? It may be that she thinks she is
expected to have a bout with the postpartum blues, and so she
is doing her best to do what she has been told. She may not
know what is causing it. But we must encourage her not to
give way to it. The blues are a common thing. We must not
indulge ourselves at this point. Our feelings must in this case
be ignored. Yes, it is common for some women to feel blue
after birth. For some it is a passing thing of but a few
minutes. For others it may persist longer. And for some, they
cannot imagine feeling blue after such an exhilarating event.
But for those who do lose heart, we must cheer them on, and
exhort them to resist the temptation to stop and analyze what
is going on. There is too much work to be done!
Birthing is such a glorious privilege and high calling. We
must embrace it with wisdom and hardheaded obedience. We
ought to stay away from reading stupid stuff or listening to
foolish women. We should determine before God, by the
grace of God, to make our husbands proud of us as we do our
hard work of bringing children into the world. We don’t
want our husbands or our God to be ashamed of us by
forgetting who we are or in Whom we trust. The eternal God
is our refuge at all times, particularly as we fulfill our calling
by bearing children.
en and the Movies
Douglas Wilson
IT USED to be possible to say that a child’s formal schooling
was—after the influence of the child’s parents—the most
important formative influence in the life of that child. But I
have come to the conviction that in most instances, formal
schooling has dropped to third place. Parents still occupy
first, if for no other reason than for what influences they
allow to follow after them. But in most cases that second
place has been taken up by pop culture.
In referring to the effects of pop culture, I mean all the
influence exercised by top-40 radio, CDs, movies, videos,
book crazes like Harry Potter, television shows, fashion
crazes, athletic fads, and so on. Children may be taken to
church, educated in a Christian school or homeschooled, but
the gaseous nature of pop culture still makes it possible for it
to fill up every available crack. From that position, filling
every void, pop culture exercises an enormously destructive
influence. But it does not do this automatically. The destructiveness
always requires a certain kind of naive simplicity on the part
of the victims.
Let us consider just one aspect of this—children and the
movies. If parents are grounded in certain basic principles,
they can ensure that their children learn to acquire those same
principles. But if the parents are not so grounded, or they
refuse to apply what they know as they teach their children,
then those children are going to be discipled by the culture of
The first principle concerns discrimination and the
amount of movie-watching. The natural tendency of “much
movie-watching” is to blur and smudge the mind. It is always
difficult to smell the atmosphere you breath. If you grow up
near the railway, you can’t hear the trains. Now it is not
necessary to smell the atmosphere you breathe, provided it is
healthy. But if you live downwind of the paper mill, the fact
that you can’t smell anything anymore is not a good sign. In
order to maintain perspective about movies, it is necessary
that children be unable to say that in movies, they live and
move and have their being.
As our children were growing up, one of the house rules
was that there was to be no video (television or movies) on
school nights at all. An occasional show or movie was
permissible on the weekends. It is important that children
grow up being aghast at the fellow in line at the video store
with a stack of ten for “tonight and tomorrow.”
A corollary of this is that parents should discourage in
their children the desire to watch “a movie, any movie.” A
movie should be seen because there are good a priori reasons
for wanting to watch it, and not because the adolescent viewer
has a need to be watching something. Mom asks, “Why do you
need to get a movie?” “I’m bored.” Such an one should clean the
A second principle is closely related, and that is a
humility of mind which does not reject centuries of sanctified
nervousness out of hand. Parents should recognize that the
historic Christian church has had a long (although not
unbroken) tradition of nervousness over drama, theater, and
all such kindred arts. From the early church fathers on down,
“plays” have consistently been regarded with strong suspicion.
With the Reformers Martin Bucer and Theodore Beza, I do
believe such an across-the-board rejection is misguided. But at
the same time, because I want to respect my fathers in the
faith, I want to honor the heart of their concern, which is
legitimate. Paraphrasing Chesterton, some errors are too
ancient to be patronized. If I were in an debate with John
Chrysostom about the corrosive effects of “theater,” the
overwhelming majority of young people I know who are into
movies would supply his case with a good deal more evidence
than they would mine. This second principle is simply that
the burden of proof lies with the one who calls loudly for
entertainment—will this also be edifying? Is it pure? Noble?
The application of this in the home works this way—
worldview thinking in this whole area has to be positive, not
negative. In other words, most parents get turned around
backwards in discussions with their children about this. Let us
say that the parents have said, “We do not want you to go
with your friends to see Stupid in Seattle.” The kid then asks,
naturally, “Why not?” and the burden of proof is now on the
parents to show why they have made the prohibition, and so
off they go to screenit.com to count the hells and damns. But the
inculcation of a biblical worldview means that children
should be taught to do everything they do as Christians, and
they should be required to interact with their world intelligently as Christians. So let us say that they were allowed to go
to see Stupid in Seattle. When they return, they are asked, “How
was it?” The natural answer invariably comes back—it was
not unacceptable. But parents should not be content with this.
They should want to hear from their children a distinctively
Christian review of it—something more than what they could
get from a review in Time or Newsweek. If the kids cannot do
this, they are not to be trusted to watch any movies by
themselves, not even Bambi Among the Smurfs. And when a
question about the next movie arises, the parents should say
they are making no claims about the movie; the concern is
that their children do not yet view or review movies like
thinking Christians. The issue is not any alleged “evil” of the
director and producer, but rather the lack of wisdom in the
teen-aged viewer.
Someone who can’t handle a handgun shouldn’t walk
across the city at two in the morning with $500 in his wallet.
“Things to be Done” Volume 14 /2
Wanna Save the W
Nathan D. Wilson
WHEN you read Tolkien’s trilogy, which characters, if any, do
you relate to? Do you want to be Tom Bombadil? Do you
have a lot of things in common with Fanghorn? Aragorn?
Tolkien crafted his story in a very Christian way. The
heros are unrelatable. Not for all people, but for most. One of
the modern complaints that movie makers had to work
around in producing their film is the completely unrelatable
character of Arwen. She is the pure, immortality-sacrificing
elf maiden who cannot marry any mortal lower than a king of
all of the West. She doesn’t have much in common with your
average female viewer.
But Eowyn. She’s got it. She is the shield maiden with a
longing for greatness. She reaches for Aragorn but falls
beneath him. She has angst, discontent, drive, and desire. She
disobeys her king to fight with the men. She’s human. She
also is nothing like the modern theater-going female. But she
is a character that watching girls could claim to be like. They
would love to think they are of the same mold. Why doesn’t
she get Aragorn? She’s so much cooler than Arwen.
And so, in the film, Arwen needs a greater role. She needs
to compete with Eowyn. The modern American teen needs to
be satisfied when she gets the guy, and the modern American
boy needs to be more attracted to her than to Eowyn.
Otherwise how will he be satisfied when he is pretending to
be Aragorn and ends up with the one he didn’t like? What’s
he doing relating to Aragorn in the first place?
One of the truly Christian beauties of Tolkien’s stories is
their hierarchy. He paints a picture of the world as Scripture
does. There are those in the story who mirror the angelic, or
are Christ figures. There are those who are the lords of men,
there are the faithful servants of various degrees, and unfaithful servants.
We are not meant to relate to Aragorn or Arwen. We are
not meant to relate to Gandalf, Bombadil, Elrond, or even,
quite possibly, Frodo. They are our superiors. We are meant
to view Aragorn as a lord, Gandalf and Elrond as angelic, and
Bombadil as an odd Adamic-Christ figure. We are not meant
to fall in love with Arwen because she is our queen. We are
not meant to view ourselves as the one called up to carry the
burden of the world, because we are not meant to be arrogant.
We are the Sams, the Eomers, the Beregonds and
Faramirs. We are Pippins and Merriadocs. We are even
Boromirs, but we are not Aragorns. We may love Eowyn
because she is beneath the king, meant for his faithful steward
Faramir. We can strive to be like Legolas and Gimli, but
never Galadriel and Celeborn.
The characters we are meant to relate to are also vastly
our superiors. But they are set up for us as models of imitation. If you were to strive to be like Faramir, you would do a
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good thing. But if you want to get inside the head of Aragorn
(unless you are a king yourself, and called to that breed of
typology) then you do an unhealthy thing. We are called to
mirror Christ as best and as faithfully as we can, as Faramir
does Aragorn, but not to pretend to be Christ, or try to get in
His head, or marry His bride. We love ours in imitation of
His love for His.
This is also true for Lewis’ Narnia. While boys are happy
to pretend to be lions, you generally won’t find them pretending to be Aslan. The stories don’t lend themselves to such
This is not true for the Harry Potter stories. The
difference is substantial. It is also not an evil. The Harry
Potter stories should not be chucked because you relate to the
main character. This is a stylistic literary difference which
betrays both Lewis’ and Tolkien’s wisdom and Rowling’s
In Tolkien all the relatable characters surround the hero.
In Rowling the only relatable character is the hero. We don’t
relate to Hagrid the half-giant, or Dumbledore the wizard.
We don’t relate to Harry’s friend Ron (generally), though
Hermione is thrown in there to give girls something to
pretend. The only head we get inside, and this is quite literal,
is Harry’s. We constantly dwell in his thoughts, and very
rarely (I can’t remember an instance) in any other characters’.
In all of the stories, Harry serves as the Christ figure. He
is the messiah of this particular world. He is also the one
whose head we are all in. While it is evil to try to get into the
head of Christ, passion plays and Jesus films included, it is
not evil to try and get into the head of a Christ type. We read
the Psalms and see more of David than we ever do of
Aragorn. We read of Samson and want to understand him.
But Harry Potter and Aragorn exist for different reasons.
Aragorn exists in a conscious attempt to paint truth and
reality in the most effective and accurate way possible, faithful
service and lordship. Harry Potter exists to give kids an
interesting hero in an interesting world and a reason to read.
Harry Potter is fluff when compared to the depths that
are plumbed in Narnia and Middle Earth. And Rowling was
not aiming for depths, she was aiming for a pop story. She
emphatically got one, and lots of money besides.
Harry Potter is a not a healthy diet for children if they
live on it exlusively, and it creates their imaginative paradigms.
If they are fed only dreams of being the most magical of all
the little boys and girls, and mixing up potions, then you are
killing them. But if your children have been fed on dreams
marinated in Lewis and Tolkien, they’ll have no trouble
surviving a corndog from Potter.
The Meaning of Magic
Jared Miller
THE PRACTICE and description of magic does not alarm me;
more alarming is the fact that we possess a category for “magic”
in our heads and don’t have the foggiest idea of what it means.
If the use of magic in literature is to become a bone of
contention in Christian circles, we at least had better know what
we are talking about.
Perhaps we could think of it as any means of control or
knowledge which makes use of “supernatural” beings or forces.
Necromancers consult the dead; witches conjure familiar spirits;
special words, objects, or substances exert mysterious influences.
Such an idea is as problematic as the idea of “supernatural”
itself—we so often assume that nature is an inflexible, frictionless atom billiard-table, cheerfully banging away until some
observing spirit (possibly a human spirit) doesn’t like what he
sees and intervenes, causing a brief jumble until the machinery
takes over once more. If this is the case, as Lewis once pointed
out, you would be performing magic every time you move your
hand or think a thought. The Christian, who believes in
concurrent Providence, must also admit on this definition that
everything is magical, because all events and causes are a direct
exertion of the power and will of a supernatural God—but
what good is a term that denotes “everything”? Furthermore,
how can this view distinguish “magic” from “miracle”?
We might escape these difficulties by excluding actions of
the human spirit (though we can’t escape having it initiated by
human will), conveniently ignoring Providence (ultimately, of
course, God does it all), and by stipulating that magic involves
only evil spirits or dead souls. In other words, magic is nothing
more than “a miracle done by the wrong sort of person.”1
Though this seems rather artificially ad hoc, it is at least more
clear. Unfortunately the term has not been consistently used in
such a narrow sense in the corpus of history or literature, as
medieval romances and folk-tales are full of beneficent magic,
and many instances of recognizable magic do not involve
personal supernatural beings at all. It still does not escape the
problems of generality and the supernatural. Prayer to an idol is
a prayer to demons; such prayer is a means of power; so then is
all wrong worship to be construed as magical; or conversely,
does any use of magic reduce simply to idolatry or heterodoxy,
rendering the extra terminology useless? And a rigid nature/
supernature distinction reveals that we have already swallowed
the billiard-table nature, rather than accepting the seamless
organic unity of all creation and insisting only on the more
biblical Creator/creature distinction.
Let us then free ourselves from supernaturality in magic; it
turns out to be at best vague and superfluous, and at worst
unbiblical. Magic must be defined as the use of impersonal
occult (read: hidden or secret) forces in order to obtain
knowledge or power. Such is the well-known “sympathetic
magic” of aboriginal cultures (popularly described as “voodoo”—objective transference of symbolic actions), and the
phenomenon of magical words, objects, or substances in the
ancient and medieval Western world. But a brief examination
renders this definition, too, hardly satisfactory. Consider the
premises: there is some kind of force in the world; it is understood only by a small group of initiates; it is morally neutral
except in application; it is harnessed by the human will in a
predictable and repeatable way, by means of procedure and
apparatus. It is, in fact, no different from our modern science.
What is the difference between “sympathy” and electromagnetism? Incantations and equations? The scientist would reply
that magic was primitive science which, lacking a rigorous
logical and experimental foundation, “didn’t work.” Magic in
fiction may reduce to a higher science, but in history it reduces
to scientific heterodoxy, just as in our earlier definition it
reduced to religious heterodoxy.
Any use of the word magic to refer to historical phenomenon is thus extremely problematic, and depends heavily on the
reigning orthodoxy. Jesus himself was a magician in the eyes of
ruling-class Judaism, being to them the “wrong sort of person”
to perform miracles, although the people accounted Him a
prophet.2 I would argue that we can only really think of magic,
in a historical sense, as a heterodox liturgy of power, whether it
depends upon what we call “natural” or “spiritual” forces, and
entirely relative to whatever the current orthodoxy and heterodoxy might be.
This is all very well, but what of magic in fiction? As one
might expect, much of the magical phenomenon in literature is
merely a reflection of the culture’s perception of magic in the
historical sense: thus Faust and the clichéd Shakespearean witch.
But we also find misfits: fairies, elves, Merlin, Galadriel—
representatives of an earthy, personal sort of power over matter
and spirit, proceeding from both something good in itself but
capable of corruption, something intuitive, creative, and artistic,
which is neither a supernatural intrusion nor a mechanical leverpull. It is something like a creaturely imitation of God’s
creation, providence, incarnation, and efficacious grace. Tolkien
and Lewis took great care to distinguish it from “magic,” and we
should pay them the complement of believing them. They are
not describing heterodox sources or means of power; they are
translating orthodoxy into another realm, consistent within
itself, so that we might experience it afresh. Their worlds, as
symbol, remain orthodox, but benefit from the expressive range of
magic. Only clunky literalism has a problem with middle-earth.
In short, in Christian fantasy we find a stunning paradox: the
magic of orthodoxy.
“Things to be Done” Volume 14 /2
Potter Knows Best?
Gary Hagen
IS HARRY Potter lawful entertainment for Christians? Yes.
And no.
Far from equivocating or trying to have it both ways,
such an answer is an application of fundamental biblical
wisdom. But some Christians are quick to hyperventilate over
the ubiquitous sorcery, witchcraft, necromancy, divination,
and spells in Rowling’s books and the movie spin-off. This
list of abominations is roundly condemned in Scripture and
forbidden by God.1 The prohibitionists point out that the
biblical sanction for these acts was the death penalty and
eternal hellfire. All true, and a hearty Amen. But none of that
prescribes a wooden phobia in the way many modern legalists
would like to have it.
Take another sin: idolatry. Scripture minces no words on
the evils of whoring after strange gods. Not only is idolatry
forcefully forbidden in the Ten Commandments, but it leads
the list. The pollutions of this spiritual adultery are repeatedly
driven home with rather graphic, some might say obscene,
language, such as that used by the prophet Ezekiel.2 The
point is that idolatry is every bit as much an abomination to
God as sorcery.3 And both can offer connections to the
occultic realm of demons.4
Now most of us are familiar with Paul’s discussion
regarding meat offered to idols. But notice that those
Christians were eating the sacrificed steaks right there in the
idol’s temple. It is worth noting that Paul did not devolve into a
scolding (as we would today) about temple restaurants and
how stupid Corinthians trashed their testimony, much less
swam in occultic waters. Rather, Paul’s caution was to take
care not to stumble weaker brothers.
At first glance, temple T-bone seems about as relevant to
Harry Potter as Paul’s muzzled oxen5 are to pastoral W-2
forms. Exactly.
We have much to learn from Paul about Potter. A
biblical response by the evangelical church is as elusive as a
golden snitch. Why? Because many believers are functionally
illiterate on two counts: theology and culture.
Tolkien discouraged an allegorical view of his Rings
trilogy. Nonetheless, he reflected at the close of On Fairy Stories
that “the distinctive joy that is the outcome of successful
fantasy is ‘a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real
world’ so that it may even enable us better to understand the
true gospel.” 6 But he warned that this reflection, this echo of
the gospel, could just as easily be corrupt: “Myth and fairy
story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements
of moral and religious truth (or error).”7
Therefore, the point about Potter is not simply one of
whether to countenance fantasy literature. It’s a deeper
question of what that literature says and is it true? Or, as
Tolkien put it, is it an erroneous reflection of the gospel. This
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kind of discernment is not always simple, but it is available to
those willing to chew on adult food (Heb. 5:14).
As to the issue of fantasy literature, a cursory survey finds
superficial parallels between Harry Potter and Christian
fantasy literature such as Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and C.S.
Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. Wheaton College English
professor Alan Jacobs has “argued for a slippery slope from
Tolkien and Lewis to Rowling, suggesting that Christians
who accept Tolkien and Lewis but object to Rowling are
being inconsistent or hypocritical.”8 But an analysis of the
hedges employed by both Lewis and Tolkien to create a gulf
between real-world occult practices and fantasy magic very
adroitly refutes views like Jacobs’.9 But other writers have
shown the clear trend of modern authors such as Rowling
toward a neopagan worldview and their inversion of historical
Christian symbolism in recent fantasy literature.10
It is this neopagan worldview, and not so much the
surface fantasy trappings, that spells potential for trouble in
Potter. Like the Pauline admonition about eating meat,
viewing or reading Potter can be harmless—if the spiritual
maturity level is present. Our problem is its pervasive absence
in the modern church.
Many Christians are unwittingly steeped in the same
Gnostic worldviews that permeate Potter. We need look no
further than the best-seller reception of The Prayer of Jabez.
Chasing after “hidden formulas” to successful prayer betrays a
shallow Gnostic-leaning Christianity.
Man’s first sin in Eden involved a desire for secret
knowledge and power. Potter quests for these through the
magical arts. While just an infant, aided by his mother’s love,
he defeated the powerful Darth Vader character, Lord
Voldemort. Like Skywalker, Potter has awe-inspiring raw
power. “The Force is strong with this one” almost echoes in
the background. Wizards, witches, and students all alike fawn
with giddiness at meeting him. But like Skywalker, Potter’s
innate potential must be honed with secret knowledge. Hence
The Hogwarts School is portrayed as Gnostic guardian
of esoteric knowledge that will save mankind from evil. Harry
becomes the savior-elect and trains in the hidden arts. Later,
Harry again vanquishes Voldemort, but collapses. After three
days he revives. By volume four, we learn that his blood has
resurrection powers.
Second-century Gnostics distorted the gospel. Gnostics
“save” themselves with secret knowledge. But with Paul, we
must determine “not to know anything …except Jesus Christ
and Him crucified.”11
ocodile T
Joost Nixon
WHEN PETER concluded his sermon at Pentecost, the
conscience-smitten Jews asked, “Brethren, what shall we do?”
To which question Peter replied, “Repent . . . and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). But what is repentance? The question is a
weighty one indeed. Hell is teeming with men who have
answered it carelessly—according to their own fancy, and not
the Word of God.
What is repentance? One answer identifies repentance
with strong religious feelings, feelings of guilt and remorse,
feelings of sorrow over sin. This guilt can come from a
number of sources. Perhaps your slumbering conscience has
been roused by some particularly wicked act you’ve committed. Or maybe some itinerant preacher, warning of judgment
day, has conjured up the smell of brimstone (2 Thess. 1:7–8).
Whatever the source of religious feelings, they cannot be
equated with repentance, and some of them, in fact, have only
a baneful and hardening effect. One pastor wrote over 150
years ago:
Many ardent professors seem too readily to take it for
granted that all religious feelings must be good. They
therefore take no care to discriminate between the
genuine and the spurious, the pure gold and the tinsel.
Their only concern is about the ardour of their
feelings; not considering that if they are spurious, the
more intense they are, the further will they lead them
astray. In our day there is nothing more necessary than
to distinguish carefully between true and false
experiences in religion.†
Satan has filled the earth with his counterfeits, thus all
religious feelings are not good, and even the best cannot save in
and of themselves. The Apostle Paul tells us, “the sorrow that is
according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to
salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10).
There is a good sorrow, a sorrow that leads to (but is not
equated with) repentance and life. There is also the sorrow of
the world, an ungodly sorrow that brings death. Worldly
sorrow is sorrow at being caught, sorrow at feeling bad,
sorrow about the consequences of sin, sorrow about anything
and everything except the offensiveness of sin to a loving and
holy God.
Miss Smith calls in for “religious counseling.” She is
quite forthcoming in explaining that she is laboring under a
crushing load of guilt from a recent abortion, and she seeks a
remedy. Of course, you are happy to tell her that Christ, and
Christ alone, can throw off such a burden. But when she
understands that He requires her to “go and sin no more”—
that her steamy one-night stands are over—she balks. “You
can take away the guilt, God, but don’t You dare infringe on
my sex life.” There is a sorrow that produces death.
Others wrongly identify repentance with various religious
acts. Repentance, they think, is responding to an altar call,
praying “the prayer,” signing a card, or getting baptized.
Repentance is walking to Dubuque on one’s knees or flogging
oneself with celery greens. But God has words for those who
reason so foolishly. He declares all our whitest deeds to be
nasty and putrescent—they are to Him like menstrual rags
(Isa. 64:6, Hebrew text). And if this is His opinion of our
righteous deeds, how much more vile our unrighteous ones?
Salvation, the Bible declares, is “not a result of works” (Eph.
2:9) and “by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified”
(Gal. 2: 16; cf. Rom. 3:28). So our only conclusion can be
that nothing we do saves us—not repeating the sinner’s prayer,
not selling our possessions and giving to the poor, not getting
on the wagon, not anything. It’s all filthy rags. Only God saves.
Only God.
Repentance is not a feeling, though it is often preceded
by feelings. Repentance is not a work of the flesh, though
Christians will work at repentance until the day they see God.
So what is it? Repentance, simply put, is turning from sin and
to Christ. It is a change of mind that leads to a corresponding
change in action. It is giving up rule of yourself, and willfully
submitting to God’s rule. But if repentance is “turning” and
“changing” and “giving up” and “submitting,” aren’t these all
works? On the surface it appears we may have been chasing
our tail. But only on the surface. From a human perspective,
all one need to do to repent is to stop pursuing sin, turn
around, and start pursuing God. But because of the debilitating effects of sin, the very act of turning from it is not
possible. Man is “dead in his trangressions and sins” (Eph.
2:1), and dead men can’t do much. Certainly they cannot
repent. Hence, the only reason anyone is ever saved is that the
God of mercy intervenes and bestows repentance as a gift.
“And the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome,
but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with
gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps
God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the
truth.” (2 Tim. 2:24–25).
In closing, it should be noted that repentance has a
Siamese twin sister whose name is Faith (Eph. 2:8–9, with
2:10; Mark 1:15, etc). Faith and repentance cannot be viably
separated without killing both. Faith without repentance is
dead faith (James 2:17). And repentance without faith is dead
works (Heb. 6:1).
“Things to be Done” Volume 14 /2
Squinting A
oss the Simile
Matt Whitling
BLACK NIKES chirp on the desktop tearing a math paper in
two–the book had already hit the carpet, and the entire class
went up in effusive laughter. Ervin lay on the floor in the fetal
position, clutching his kidneys and undulating in an uncontrollable fit of delight. One swift bound and there he was, the
other one, standing on the desk adjacent to the podium.
Another predictably bedlamourous day in Basic Math. The
bent figure at the front of the room, the one with the tie on–
supposedly in charge–gripped the podium in anticipation of
the next leap. Too young for heart attacks, he simply
gasped. It happened. More pencils and papers
cascaded to the floor. Ervin’s friend leaped from
desk to desk until he landed next to the door,
Nikes first. Ervin still lay jiggling on the floor,
prostrate now. The bent one with white knuckles
must have spoken, his lips were moving at least,
but it’s at this point that a deep fog invades the
Many teachers and parents want pointers when it
comes to disciplining their kids. When my son says, (you
fill in the blank), what should I say back? When my students
do ... how should I respond? One lesson that Ervin’s friend
should teach us is that when it comes to discipline, it’s wisest
to deal with the principles first. Naturally, the individual cases
must be addressed along the way, but unless there is a solid
foundation to rest upon and go back to, we are starting from
scratch each day. This foundation does not consist of
pointers, helpful hints, or trouble-shooting techniques.
God’s Word sets the paradigm for discipline, both in the
classroom and at home. And in His Word we find a number
of comparisons between the way that God disciplines His
covenant people and the way that fathers should discipline
their own children. “Thou shalt consider in thine heart, that, as a man
chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee” (Deut. 8:5). In
this simile the children of God are commanded to consider
two pictures. The first is that of a father chastening his son,
and the second is like it, the Father chastening His children.
We are told that the relationship between the two is similar.
It would be ludicrous for us to assume that God imitates man
in the way that He disciplines His covenant children, and
Ephesians 5:1 makes clear that God the Father sets the
paradigm for all earthly fathers to imitate. Therefore be imitators
of God as dear children.
Similes like this are figurative circus-mirrors, used to
reflect a particular face in an atypical way so that it can be
seen and understood more clearly. Because human fathers find
themselves and their sons in this simile, it is only natural that
they should squint across the chasm at the opposing mirror
and learn from it. Whatever godly discipline looks like, it can
“Things to be Believed” Volume 14 /2
be seen between God the Father and His children. In other
words, God the Father dictates how earthly fathers should
discipline their children by showing them His example. Of
course this is nothing new, fathers always teach their children
by example, and children always learn by imitation. These
principles clearly point to the fact that godly discipline is
dependent upon the disciplinarian knowing God. Apart from
a knowledge of God, there is no faithful paradigm to imitate.
Given this context, it should be no surprise that those in
the Christian church today, especially her leaders, are lousy
disciplinarians. The way that we discipline our children is
simply an echo of what we believe we
see on the other side of the simile.
Smith thinks that God’s call is
ineffectual, it follows that Smith’s
call in his home is ineffectual as
well. He believes that God is soft,
mild, and impotently detached,
and in like manner he bathes his
children in the same sludge. He
believes that God loses sheep from
his flock regularly, and therefore
Smith is not surprised when he loses his
own children. After all, it’s up to the sheep to stay in the
flock. What’s a shepherd to do when one or two wander off,
but shake, worry, and dribble on himself over the hard luck
that has befallen them. “We did everything we could.” Fathers
need to look across the simile and repent of the idol they see
staring them in the face. Without a clear understanding of
who the Father is, we are left to our own disfigured imagination of whom to imitate.
The “bent one with the tie” wanted some sort of magic
wand (or other projectile) that he could wave over these
students in order to make them behave. Like him, many
teachers and parents are after some sort of technique that will
guarantee success with or without a foundation to stand on
and build upon. Ervin eventually gained ballast and crawled
back into his desk, moist nostrils and flushed face all aglow.
However, it was only moments before he joined Nate at the
door. Two good friends laughing their way to the SRC
(Student Responsibility Center)–that special room which
conveyed upon all who entered the golden virtues of responsibility, respectfulness, and a hoot’n good time tooling leather
and playing “The Stock Market Game.” Those shoes will be
Strange Gods
Gregory C. Dickison
Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. 1 Sam. 8:5
WHEN SAMUEL was old, he made his sons to be judges over
Israel. The Israelites were unhappy about the prospect of
being judged by Samuel’s sons. Joel and Abiah did not walk
in the ways of their father, who never defrauded or oppressed
anyone, or perverted justice. Rather, they judged according to
who was the highest bidder. But instead of asking for
different judges, Israel threw the baby out with the bathwater
and asked for an entirely new, and foreign, form of government. After centuries of being ruled by God through judges
and priests, Israel asked for a king.
Asking for a king went beyond asking for a different
bureaucratic structure. The demand for a king was a theological shift, an act of rebellion and idolatry. In telling Samuel to
acquiesce to their demand, God says to Samuel that “they
have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I
should not reign over them” (1 Sam. 8:7). From the day they
came out of Egypt, Israel had been seeking other gods, and
this was more of the same (1 Sam. 8:8).
Judges and kings are fundamentally different. A judge
resolves disputes by applying the law given to him by the
king. His office is not that of a sovereign, and it is not the
judge’s job to make up new laws. The king is the lawmaker.
He makes the law the judge is to apply. The king is sovereign,
and can do as he wills.
God gave Israel the law when they were wandering in the
wilderness, explained by example how the law was to be
applied, and commanded the appointment of judges to
implement the law. We would call it a common-law system.
The law did not lay down expressed and detailed rules for
every situation, but it did provide comprehensive principles
which would guide the judges in any decision they would be
called upon to make. The judges were expected to apply the
law to the situation within the broad outlines given.
For example, houses were to have battlements on the roof
to keep people from falling off and being killed (Deut. 22:8).
This was an example of the application of the commandment.
The example did not limit the judge to battlements. If an
Israelite had blood on his house because he did not make his
house adequately safe for his neighbor in some other way, he
could be held accountable. At the same time, he was free to
love his neighbor in the building of his house as God led him,
and not as the local building inspector decreed.
In giving Israel a law, God was demonstrating that He
was Israel’s King. When Israel asked for a king, they were
asking for a lawgiver apart from God. In asking for a king
“like the other nations,” they were asking for a civil religion.
God commanded Samuel to warn the people what the king
they wanted would do. He would demand a tithe—just like
God. He would demand their service—just like God. He
would take the best of their land, their belongings, and their
children for himself—just like God. In other words, the king
would effectively declare himself to be a god. But unlike God,
the king would not return a blessing to those from whom he
demanded worship. Because a king would be a child of Adam
like themselves, Israel would “cry out in that day because of
your king which ye shall have chosen you.” (1 Sam. 8:18).
Yet, because God was merciful to His chosen people,
even in the midst of their rebellion, He put conditions on the
kingship. The king had to be an Israelite of God’s choosing, a
member of the covenant. And he had to write out his own
copy of God’s law, that he would follow it and not his own
(Deut. 17:14–20).
There can be no law greater than God’s. No law of man
can bestow wisdom, greatness, and righteousness on a nation
like the law of God (Deut. 4:6–8). God says that only His
law can make a nation great. But rebellious men reject God’s
law, and try to be great without Him. Men can never rebel
just a little; they must needs go whole hog.
Look at what comes of rejecting God as king and setting
up a king of our own, one who does not keep covenant, and
who does not follow God’s law. He takes more of our
substance than God ever demanded, and he gives it to our
enemies. We own our land and our homes only at his
pleasure. He claims our children, and demands that they be
taught the ways of his gods. He is threatened by right worship
of the living and true God, and declares it hostile to freedom
and liberty. He carefully screens judges to make sure they will
be just as faithless as himself. He multiplies tedious rules and
regulations, which have nothing to do with loving our
neighbors as ourselves, but which require that we love false
gods with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths.
The solution is not, as some would have it, and as
worldly wisdom would suggest, to replace the bad king with a
good one, or to rebel against his office. God has not made the
world that way. In any reformation, God starts with the small
things. He uses the weak to overthrow the strong, and the
foolish to confound the wise. He begins at home, in His own
house. Every Bible story of God’s deliverance begins with one
simple command: put away your idols from among you, put
away the strange gods, prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and
serve Him only.
“Things to be Done” Volume 14 /2
Do Not F
get the Levite
Peter J. Leithart
THE OFFERTORY has long been a crucial part of Christian
worship, but it hasn’t always been a monetary offering. Placed
at the beginning of the liturgy of the sacrament, the offertory
in early liturgies was the offering of the eucharistic elements
themselves. According to Gregory Dix’s classic The Shape of the
Liturgy, “In the West the laity made their offerings for
themselves at the chancel rail at the beginning of the Eucharist
proper. Each man and woman came forward to lay their own
offerings of bread in a linen cloth or a silver dish. . . held by a
deacon, and to pour their own flasks of wine into a great
two-handled silver cup . . . held by another deacon. When the
laity made their offerings, each man for himself, the deacons
bore them up and placed them on the altar.”
Other gifts sometimes accompanied the bread and wine.
Joseph Jungmann writes that “from various churches we gain
the information that other foodstuffs and other articles were
also offered, especially those that might be of use for the
divine service, like oil, wax, candles, church implements; and a
part of these gifts was used for charity.”
By the fourth century, however, there was growing
discomfort with the presentation of alms during worship. As
a result, Jungmann continues, “regulations were issued that in
future bread and wine and other things necessary for worship
be brought to the altar as heretofore, but that all other gifts be
handed in elsewhere. It was understood that through the gifts
of bread and wine, all the other things which the faithful
wanted to give were symbolically represented and conjointly
offered up.” The offertory was thus limited to the offering of
bread and wine.
Offering alms in worship never completely disappeared,
but at the Reformation, offering money became more
widespread. Thomas Cranmer, following Lutheran liturgies,
included a monetary offering before the Supper in both the
1549 and 1552 editions of the Anglican Book of Common
Prayer. Behind these liturgical shifts was Cranmer’s desire to
undercut any notion that the offering of the eucharistic
elements was a sacrifice, an idea that had found support in the
traditional offertory. Rather than dispense with the offertory
entirely, Cranmer decided it was better to turn it into a
monetary gift. Given this historical background, it’s not
surprising that contemporary church practice is all over the
map. Some biblical reflections will help cut through the haze.
In the Old Testament, offerings for the ministry and
ministers of the sanctuary were integral to every act of
worship. “Tribute” offerings (what most Bibles call “grain
offerings”) accompanied the daily offerings (Num. 28:1–8)
and also the individual sacrifices and burnt offerings of the
people (Num. 15:1–10). Of the grain presented by the
worshiper in the tribute offering, only a handful (a “memo22
“Things to be Believed” Volume 14 /2
rial” portion) was burned on the altar, while the rest was
given to the priests (Lev. 2:2; 6:14–18).
Though all offerings represented the worshiper’s labor to
some degree (sacrificial animals had to be fed and cared for),
the tribute offering is more closely connected with labor than
the animal offerings. In the animal offerings, the worshiper
brought the animal in its natural state; he did not butcher or
roast the animal. Tribute offerings, however, were never
presented in a raw state. The grain was always at least roasted,
and was normally ground to flour and baked into a cake of
some sort (Lev. 2). When an Israelite brought a tribute
offering, he was symbolically offering his labor to Yahweh,
and also to the priests of Yahweh.
Animal offerings followed a similar pattern. Apart from
the “ascension” offering (what most Bibles call a “burnt
offering”), a portion of sacrificial meat was nearly always
given to the priest (Lev. 5:11–13; 6:24–30; 7:7–8; 7:11–18).
Deuteronomy reiterates that Israelites were to provide for the
Levites at the annual feasts (12:12; 16:11, 14). Every act of
worship in Israel involved bringing gifts to be handed over to
the priests and Levites.
Paying the preacher, in short, was integral to the sacrificial ritual. The command, “Don’t come empty-handed”
(Deut. 16:16) means “Bring something to offer to Yahweh.”
It also means “Bring something for the priest.” And, since we
continue to offer a “sacrifice” of praise, we should continue
the biblical practice of presenting gifts.
Including an offertory also has the important practical
benefit of manifesting the proper connection between work
and worship, between money-making and meeting with God.
Since the tribute offering was specifically associated with the
ascension offering, the offering of the fruits of our labor
should be in the “ascension” portion of the service, which
begins after the confession and absolution, and continues
until the beginning of the Eucharist. We complete our
ascension by offering ourselves and our labor to God in
response to the preached word.
When we have offered our labor to God in the offertory,
He offers a portion of the earth back to us in the bread and
wine. Thus there is a connection between the offertory and
the Eucharist. The Eucharist sets the pattern for the church’s
use of all its wealth: As the bread and wine are gathered only
to be distributed for the nourishment of the whole people, so
the financial gifts are gathered only to be distributed for the
common good and common ministry of the church.
Tying the offertory to the Eucharist does not cheapen the
Eucharist; instead it puts our economic lives in eucharistic
perspective. It shows us that Christian economics is eucharistic economics, that all our economic pursuits should be
infused with thanksgiving and generosity, that all our
wealth-creation is to be an act of worship.
Stone Cher
Douglas Wilson
WHEN ANDREW opened his eyes, he was still in a garden, but
it did not look like the same one he had been in before. He
looked slowly around and saw he was lying on the grass, next
to a low stone table. He did not remember the previous
nightfall. Rising quickly to his feet, he walked out to the front
gate to see if the dragon was still there. He knew this did not
make any sense because if it were a different garden, why
would it have the same dragon? But still, he needed to check.
There was no dragon.
There was a gate, just like before, and a sloping lawn of
grass running out to a boulder-strewn drop off. The same
mountain range he had seen yesterday from the first garden
was still across the deep valley. Andrew walked out to the
edge of the jagged cliff and looked down. The cliff was not
straight up and down, but was nevertheless too steep to walk
down. An expert climber could do something with it, but
Andrew turned away. But just as he did, he noticed something—a small patch of green far below him. Staring at it, he
finally decided that it was another garden, either the one he
had come from, or yet a third garden. He turned around and
looked up. He was clearly farther down the slope than he had
been the day before. It looked as though there was a line of
gardens running down the slope of this enormous cliff. The
bright orange glow of an approaching daybreak spread along
the sky along the opposing range of mountains.
He turned back and walked slowly toward the gate of the
garden. He was coming up to the garden when a flash of some
quick motion caught his attention. Andrew looked up,
startled, and standing in the gate, on four tawny legs was a . . .
I don’t know what to call it. Andrew told me later that it was
really hard to explain. You could never look at it straight on
and see what kind of animal it was, but it was still clearly an
animal. It flashed past the gate on the inside, and then leapt
up on top of the wall on the right side next to the gate.
Andrew looked quickly over to the left side and was surprised
to see another of the creatures sitting there, silently, as though
he were waiting.
“Welcome to my home,” the creature on the right side
said. His voice sounded deep, like black gravel. At first
Andrew thought the creature small, because of how quickly he
moved past the gate, but now he could see that it was quite
large, bigger than a lion. Two enormous wings swept back
over its haunches, and its legs were more like a lion’s than a
bull’s, but they were identical to neither. Even that was a
guess, because it was hard to tell—it seemed that the creature
was moving at a frightful speed just to remain where it was. It
was hard to focus on any part of it, but looking at the head
was particularly difficult. At first, the head looked like a bull,
but it kept changing, or Andrew kept changing his mind
about what it was—he was not sure. After the bull, he
thought it was an eagle, and after that, it seemed like a man.
Andrew looked off to the side so that he would not have to
decide what he was seeing. He was terrified, at least in his legs
which felt like pillars of stone, but his mind remained calm.
“Thank you,” Andrew said. “What are you?”
“I am the guardian of gardens. I have even walked in the
garden of God.”
“Are you a servant of God?” Andrew asked.
“I do not guard my gardens by answering questions. I
pose them. I ask my questions. Those who answer my riddle
may enter, and those who do not are therefore given to me.”
Before he had been inside, and the dragon was out. All he
had to do was say no. But now, he was outside and had to do
more than simply make a decision. “What do you do with
those who are given to you?”
“I devour them.” The creature did not say this as though
it were angry, or hungry. It just said it.
“And suppose I do not choose to answer your riddle?
Suppose I do not play the game?”
“Those who are cowards are given to me as well.”
Andrew’s mind was still calm, although he didn’t know
why. “Ask your riddle then.”
The creature threw its head back and in a strange
chanting said the riddle, as though it were a holy thing.
What falls but never breaks?
What breaks but never falls?
Andrew turned and walked back to the edge of the cliff.
He had no doubts that the creature could catch him if he
tried to climb down. Neither did he doubt that it would
devour him if he failed at the riddle. What was curious was
his confidence that the sphinx would abide by the rules he
had propounded. Still Andrew was confident that if he
answered correctly, he would be allowed back in the garden—
which is where he assumed he was supposed to be. The
creature seemed rebellious and evil, without having rebelled
against its own nature, and its nature seemed to need to
chance everything on riddling.
As Andrew stood contemplating these things, and
meditating on the riddle, the sun slowly came up over the
great mountains across the way. As a shaft of sunlight crept
across the lawn, Andrew suddenly smiled. He turned around
and walked back to the cherubim. “What falls more often
than night, and yet remains whole? What breaks more often
than day, and yet never falls?”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Andrew saw
that the creatures were carved statues on either side of the
gate. He pushed it open, and walked through.
“Things to be Done” Volume 14 /2
Roy Atwood
hepatitis, and venomous snakes. In the nineteenth century many
missionaries didn’t make it off the boat alive once they arrived.
Eventually their replacements began the long journey to the
“MAY I MAKE you a potion that will protect you against knife
Ivory Coast better prepared, traveling with their own coffins as
wounds and bullets?” our new friend asked in polite West
African French. At first we thought he was joking. He wasn’t.
Initially, the officer had generously offered to make us
Dressed in his finest embroidered native gown, the offduty police officer and sometime security guard had come to the a balaphone to bring back to the States, but our stay was too
brief and our luggage, smaller than a coffin, wouldn’t handle
home of our missionary hosts, Csaba and Lisa Leidenfrost,
early in the morning to thank us all for visiting him the previous such a large gift. In a world where death and illness are constant
companions, the next best gift he could think of was his knifeevening at his hut on the other side of the rural village in the
stopping, bullet-deflecting potion. Csaba politely responded in
remote southwestern corner of Cote d’Ivoire. He offered the
French that our God, the Triune God of the Bible, was more
potion as a thank-you gift to show his appreciation for the
powerful than any potion, and He
honor of our visit to his home. But the
would protect us all the days He has
honor was ours and his music had been
determined: no more, no less. The
gift enough.
Fr ed’s W
d Study
officer jumped up smiling, and shook
Through one of the
In the Greek NT the noun kairos
our hands, each in turn, in his massive
Leidenfrost’s Burkinabe workers, Janvier,
means a limited time, a short
grip. He affirmed the truth of what
we’d heard that the police officer was a
season. Examples: “The kairos is
Csaba had said, even though he still saw
master of the “balaphone,” a marimbafulfilled, and the kingdom of God is
the world through the fatalistic eyes of
like instrument of hard wooden bars
at hand.” “And having completed
an animist.
and gourd resonators held together by
every temptation, the devil departed
from him until a kairou.” In II Tim.
We returned to Idaho without
rough hemp cords. The officer and two
4:2, Paul uses the related adverb
balaphone or potions a few days later,
young apprentices had given us an
but modifies the word to give
but we soon received news from the
impromptu concert on their large
emphasis to timeliness: “Proclaim
Leidenfrosts that the balaphone man
instruments under the thatched
the word, be ready eukairos or
had been shot—nine times—shortly
overhang of his mud hut. Small beams
akairos.” the prefix eu generally
after our departure. Apparently the
from our flashlights were the only light
means well, good, rightly; while a
village across the road had had several
by which to see the blur of hands and
expresses want or privation (in
armed robberies during the previous
sticks striking the balaphone in the
English, “un”). Paul is telling
month, so the villagers wanted to hire
darkness. Electricity only recently came
Timothy (and us) to proclaim the
him to patrol the area. The night he
to the village and many cannot afford
word with a sense of urgency, in
started work someone on the other side
the wiring or the bulbs. Beyond the trio,
season or out of season, convenient
of the village emptied his gun in him.
fifty or more curious villagers looked on
or inconvenient, when we feel like it
Nine bullets. Somehow he lived. The
from the shadows. At first they’d been
and when we don’t feel like it.
Leidenfrosts report that he is doing
attracted by the white faces of the local
pretty well and the incident is now
missionary family and their American
being treated as attempted murder. The
guests, but then by the pounding
gunman is in jail awaiting trial.
rhythms of the balaphone. Before long many were dancing in
Csaba visited our new friend, and found him seated on
the dark on a bare patch of red earth between the huts.
The officer, whose name beyond “Balaphone man” we his mat surrounded by family and well wishers, as is the custom
there. Csaba offered him a gift of a cell phone. It’s such a strange
never learned and whose skill on the balaphone was amazing,
world: no running water, no indoor plumbing, no electricity, but
was a large man with huge hands. He wore seed-pod bracelets
cell phone technology in the hands of a maker of potions.
that rattled with each stoke of the balaphone to enhance the
Balaphone man and his family were so pleased. And so were
percussive effect of his music. For our benefit, he explained that
the songs told of lazy young men learning the value of work, of Csaba and Lisa for the opportunity to tell them about the real
Magic, not the kind of potions and sorcery, but the kind which
courtship, and parental concerns for their children. The music
spoke of village life in West Africa where the span between birth gives sight to the blind, heals the lame, gives hearing to the deaf,
and death is among the shortest on the planet. Life here is short, and raises the dead—even those who were as good as dead from
the wounds of nine bullets.
hot, and difficult. The region has long had the reputation of
being “the missionaries’ graveyard,” according to Csaba, because
so few missionaries survived the malaria, yellow fever, cholera,
“Things to be Believed” Volume 14 /2
’s Magic
Ben Merkle
AN AMUSED DJ on a local classic rock station reported on a
pastor in New Mexico who had organized a Harry Potter
book burning. Apparently the pastor had claimed that the
books taught children to do magic. How accurate the DJ
was being in his representation of the event is probably
questionable, but the existence of the event points out how
typical it is for evangelicals to grab the entirely wrong end of
the stick. The DJ rushed to Potter’s defense, pointing out that
the books were fun and that they didn’t teach children to do
magic, but rather they taught kids to read. However, the DJ’s
defense points out from the start that Potter is not a significant threat. If the only power the book has is that of fighting
illiteracy in the public schools, then what reason do we have
to worry about it? It must be impotent. The book must be a
fun read, but little more.
Of course, nothing is that simple.
To say that Harry Potter wasn’t written under the
inspiration of demonic powers (the way “Hotel California”
was) is not the same thing as saying that there is no danger in
reading it. The book has some wonderfully developed
characters and several clever twists. But to grant this doesn’t
mean that the reader doesn’t need to approach the book with
a discerning eye. And this should be nothing new. Readers of
Henty books and the Elsie Dinsmore series need just as much
discernment (and sometimes more) to weed out all of the
To attempt to dismiss the Potter books merely because
they contain the category of “magic” is about as thick-headed
as dismissing Moby Dick because it contains the category of
“ocean.” Of all people, Christians ought to know that magic
is every bit as real as the ocean and therefore ought to be
featured in books as prominently as the ocean. The mere
existence of a reference to magic in a book ought not to
demand our condemnation. The problem is not with the
existence of the category. The problem is what is said about
that category. Does Moby Dick tell the truth about the ocean?
Does Harry Potter tell the truth about magic?
Most of the defenders of the Potter books attempt to
defend them by arguing that they are more or less “harmless.”
And this is where the real problem with the book comes in.
For the most part, the book is harmless. Not only that, but,
for the most part, the magic is harmless. The magic of Potter
is frequently a cheap mimicry of modern technology. Little
magicians covet the latest model of flying broom (the
Nimbus 2000), eat Jelly Beans that taste like ear wax, and
agonize over their homework for courses like Levitation 101.
In the Potter books, an encounter with magic is not an
encounter with the transcendent, but merely a mimicry of the
This is where the book becomes dangerous. Magic is
anything but pedantic. Magic is a brief glimpse of the
otherworldly, the transcendent. It, in some small part, pictures
the Incarnation, the moment when the Light of Light walked
among us. As Tolkien put it, “It is magic of a particuliar
mood and power, at the furthest pole from the vulgar devices
of the laborious, scientific, magician. There is one proviso: if
there is any satire present in the tale, one thing must never be
made fun of, the magic itself. That must in that story be taken
seriously, neither laughed at nor explained away” (“On Fairy
Tales,” p. 114). But this is exactly what the magic in Potter
tends towards.
Potter’s magic is a magic for materialists. It is a magic
that comes from nowhere and leads to nowhere. It attempts to
make magic a neutral category that can be approached
however one wishes. Everyone gets a degree from the same
school and does with it whatever he or she deems fit. But the
magic itself is impersonal. Sure there is a hero and an archvillain. But they both draw from the same neutral force. And
it would seem that this impersonal force could probably care
less whether either of them existed, let alone which one of
them was to win.
This is one of the things that Tolkien did well. His
magic is always personal. The Forest of Lothlorien feels the
way it does, because it is under the power of Lady Galadriel.
Mordor feels the way it does because it is under the power of
Sauron. One can’t use magic in Middle Earth without
immediately orienting oneself to cosmic powers. Every spell is
biased. It comes from somewhere and leads to some ultimate
purpose. Although Tolkien is never quite explicit in the text,
he is always deliberately describing a Christian world, created
by the Christian God.
So Potter’s harmlessness is really its biggest flaw. But this
is no different than most books that Christians allow their
children to thoughtlessly read. How many authors write as if
trees are neutral? How many parents let their children go on
reading stories about porcupines that presuppose the myth of
neutrality? How often do we watch the ocean and miss the
cosmic implications?
Consequently, Harry Potter doesn’t need to be burned,
unless of course we are going to burn the bulk of our
literature collections. He’s a fine read for a Christian, so long
as we pity all the things that the book is missing.
“Things to be Done” Volume 14 /2
Helicopter Salvation
Patch Blakey
SOME CHRISTIANS view salvation in terms analogous to a
helicopter rescue. I recently heard one Christian gentleman
make such a comparison. The unsaved sinner was pictured as
a man hanging by a branch on the side of a cliff, about to fall
to his death when a helicopter arrives with a rope dangling
down for him to grab and be rescued.
Such an illustration presumes that the man being rescued
has all of his wits about him, that he recognizes the danger,
and that he is aware of the help offered. But, does this analogy
agree with the biblical description of our spiritual state? Of
course it is difficult to depict an accurate illustration which
adequately describes our spiritual situation, but is there a
similar picture that possibly presents a better analogy of our
spiritual condition than the one above?
The Apostle Paul described our spiritual condition as
being dead in our sins, “And you hath he quickened, who were
dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). “Even when we were
dead in sins, He hath quickened us together with Christ, (by
grace ye are saved)” (Eph. 2:5). How well can a dead man
know what is going on around him? He can’t see, he can’t
hear, he can’t cry out for help, and he can’t reach and grab any
aid that is proffered. He has no knowledge of his situation or
condition. How then would a man be described if he were
spiritually dead?
The Apostle John wrote, “But he that hateth his brother is
in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not
whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes”
(1 John 2:11). Also, “He hath blinded their eyes, and
hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes,
nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I
should heal them” (John 12:40). Man’s spiritual eyes are
blinded so that he cannot see spiritual truth.
With regard to hearing, Scripture says, “And it shall come
to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall
be destroyed from among the people” (Acts 3:23). Also,
“According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of
slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they
should not hear” (Rom. 11:8). Hence we know that the
ungodly cannot hear spiritual truth.
How about the ability of the spiritually dead to call upon
the Lord? Isaiah wrote, “For your hands are defiled with
blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken
lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness. None calleth for
justice, nor any pleadeth for truth: they trust in vanity, and
speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity”
(Isa.59:3–4). And the Apostle Paul said of sinners, “Their
throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used
deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is
full of cursing and bitterness” (Rom.3:13–14).
“Things to be Believed” Volume 14 /2
As for the ungodly reaching out for God, Wisdom said,
“Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my
hand, and no man regarded” (Prov.1:24). Paul quoting Isaiah,
said, “But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched
forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people”
(Rom.10:21). Rather than reaching out for God’s deliverance,
the godless will cry out instead for their own destruction,
“And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich
men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every
bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and
in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and
rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth
on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:15–
In fact, those without God in the world cannot even
recognize spiritual truth to be able to respond to it. “But the
natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for
they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them,
because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). And
even if they could recognize it, they still wouldn’t receive it,
“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not
subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7).
So we see that those who are spiritually dead are no more
capable in and of themselves of responding to God’s mercy
through the gospel than a dead man can respond to an offer
for aid. They are both as detached from the reality that
surrounds them as is possible.
The fallacy committed by many Christians is to think that
because a man is physically alive, then he must be spiritually
alive to some degree as well. But what if we were to reverse the
situation and say that a physically dead man needed to call
upon the Lord to be saved? We would all get a hoot out of
such a preposterous idea. Yet biblically, this is a close
comparison to the spiritual condition of the unregenerate.
With the Scriptures in mind, a better analogy using the
idea of a helicopter rescue would be to have the man lying
dead at the bottom of the cliff, and then have the helicopter
fly down, pick him up, and revive him, apart from any action
on his own. This would demonstrate the biblical teaching that
salvation is a work of God alone, and leave no room for
man’s persistent pride. Anything less would be to suspend the
truth and fly in the face of Scripture.
Knowing is Stor
Douglas Jones
GRADUATE PHILOSOPHY seminars are often library quiet, with
whispered disagreements over domesticated ideas. I remember
one where a mild conflict between two skinny British students
turned oddly loud. The prof encouraged the discussion, and
pretty soon one of them was standing and shouting from the
chalkboard, drawing. The other then joined him, yelling at the
top of his voice, scribbling contrary diagrams with thick lines.
They were in each other’s faces, all red, all over a thin Saul
Kripke implication. Finally the prof’s laughter filled the room.
“This is too great!” he said. “If only we could get a picture of
this in the philosophy prospectus—a real philosophy fist
That event stands out over everything else in the class
because it was a dramatic little narrative, a story. I only wish
more of that class had been in narrative form. Outside of
most classrooms and sermons, we almost always talk in story.
Just listen around. We tell stories to explain, bond, defend,
entertain, and sin.
Whether they are simple and mundane narratives about
what happened to us at the gas station or multi-layered epic
novels, stories are characterized by particular details and
events embedded in time. Where more logical, mathematical
modes most often seek to rise above such time and detail,
stories relish in them. Jerome Bruner contends that “a good
story and a well-formed argument are different natural kinds.
They differ radically in their procedures for verification.”1
The story mode “strives to put its timeless miracles into the
particulars of experience, and to locate the experience in time
and place,” whereas the logical/scientific mode “seeks to
transcend the particular by higher and higher reaching for
abstraction, and in the end disclaims in principle any explanatory value at all where the particular is concerned.”2 A
Christian-take on knowing doesn’t disdain everything general
or abstract, but we would seek to find such kinds and patterns
grounded in the created order itself. This appreciation for
time and particulars, instead of the desire to escape them, lies
at the heart of narrative thinking (and poetic knowledge in
general). That’s why our modern drive to count as knowledge
only those things that can be put into timeless lists of truths,
like so many Presbyterian sermons, is so odd. It’s so unlike
human life. God has set us amid constant rhythms of time—
weather, celestial, bodily, social, and more. We live in
constant time, designed time. This sort of talk frightens us in
our day because so many radical nominalists in postmodern
garb invoke time to try to undo objective reality. But in a
biblical perspective, time is not some impersonal, autonomous
box dictating its own course. Time is the pace of change, and
the Holy Spirit is He who shapes change throughout the
created order. He is not time, but change is sculpted by His
hand. And you can’t get any more objective, true, and
beautiful than the Triune God. We needn’t fear time.
Stories live and move and have their being in time. Just
like our experience, a narrative connects events, particulars,
and points in a causal sequence, one thing produces another in
a story; events grow organically. A logical list has no sense of
time and growth; it seeks to move by timeless connections—
so unnatural to our basic mode of life. That’s part of the
answer as to why we can remember narratives so much better
than discrete logical points in a lecture.
Though we didn’t need artificial-intelligence theorists to
point out what is so clearly assumed in Scripture, it is
interesting to hear the likes of Roger Schank explain that
“humans are not really set up to understand logic.”3 After
decades of picturing human and computer intelligence as
logical problem solving, Schank now urges us to see knowing
and intelligence as characterized by stories. He uses the notion
of scripts to explain part of how knowing uses stories: “A
script is a set of expectations about what will happen next in a
well-understood situation. . . . They serve to tell us how to act
without our being aware that we are using them . . . You don’t
have to figure out every time you enter a restaurant how to
convince someone to feed you. All you really have to know is
the restaurant script and your part in that script.”4 New
experiences of the same type get bundled together, and the
script adjusts over time as we mature and learn new angles.
Though we each have thousands of personal scripts from the
mundane to the odd, they needn’t be exactly the same; just
similar enough for an overlap of understanding. In the end,
Schank suggests that “knowledge is experiences and stories,
and intelligence is the apt use of experience and the creation
and telling of stories.”5
Scripture itself assumes that stories are central to our
daily epistemology. As Eugene Peterson notes, “Story is the
primary way in which the revelation of God is given to us.
The Holy Spirit’s literary genre of choice is story. Story isn’t
a simple or naive form of speech from which we graduate to
the more sophisticated ‘higher’ languages of philosophy and
mathematics. . . . The biblical story comprises other literary
forms—sermons and genealogies, prayers and letters, poems
and proverbs—but story carries them all.”6
Earlier installments in this poetic-knowledge primer
pointed to the centrality of image and imagination within
knowledge. In one sense, a story is an image stretched and
projected through time.
This, too, is reflected in the Incarnation. Christ, the
Image came in time, and His image isn’t static; it extends
through history and church by the Holy Spirit.
“Things to be Done” Volume 14 /2
d of the Rings
Douglas Wilson
J.R.R. TOLKIEN had an objection, which he shared with C.S.
Lewis, to those people who tried to understand works of
literature as mere extension of the author’s biography. While
this is reasonable, we cannot simply dismiss the outline of
someone’s life as irrelevant to the work they do. An author is
more than a simple pipeline or conduit for inspirations from
the Beyond. How Tolkien lived his life, what his worldview
was, what influenced him, are all relevant in seeking to
understand this wonderful work of literature.
Tolkien was born in South Africa in 1892, the son of an
English banker, in the town of Bloemfontein. His father died
in South Africa when Tolkien was four years old—while his
mother was visiting England with him and his brother. After
this, he, his mother, and brother remained in England. Earlier
in Africa, when he was first beginning to walk, he was bitten
by a tarantula and ran terrified to a nurse who sucked out the
poison. He said this left him with no particular fear of
spiders, but perhaps it left him with a peculiar awareness of
them. It ought to have. Biographical details do make a
difference. Tolkien and his brother were once chased out of a
field by a farmer they called the “Black Ogre,” who was
displeased at their picking of his mushrooms. A nearby
inventor of cotton-wool dressing was named Dr. Gamgee, and
so cotton wool was called gamgee.
Tolkien grew up without a father, but under the influence
of a gracious, cultivated mother. The small family was not
wealthy, but his mother knew Latin, French, and German, and
was artistic in her gifts. Tolkien, as we all know by now, was
brilliant, and had the kind of upbringing which could
frequently leave him alone with his own thoughts—including
in his case, invented languages. He loved the sounds of words.
In 1900, his mother was received into the Roman
Catholic Church. This caused great tension in her family, and
Tolkien blamed her early death on the treatment she received.
He considered her a martyr, and this helps explain his wholehearted devotion to the Roman Church. Personal loyalties are
not always a matter of rational calculus.
At school, Tolkien developed a friendship with Christopher Wiseman, a son of a Methodist minister. They were
both gifted in Latin and Greek, and were both what we
Americans call jocks; they were fierce rugby players. Tolkien
made his acquaintance with Anglo-Saxon—a language which
combines in a strange way the familial and the remote, both
characteristics of Tolkien’s writing.
He met Edith Bratt at this time, his future wife. They
were separated for three years before Tolkien could pursue his
interest. He was her Beren; she was his Luthien, an identification which Tolkien had inscribed on their tombstones.
Let one anecdote suffice for this time in his life. “There
was a custom at King Edward’s of holding a debate entirely in
“Things to be Believed” Volume 14 /2
Latin, but that was almost too easy for Tolkien, and in one
debate when taking the role of Greek Ambassador to the
Senate he spoke entirely in Greek. On another occasion he
astonished his schoolfellows when, in the character of a
barbarian envoy, he broke into fluent Gothic; and on a third
occasion he spoke in Anglo-Saxon.”
Tolkien married Edith just before he shipped out to fight
in the First World War. The war is significant in understanding Tolkien for various reasons, but one of the great ones is
what Tolkien saw as the Mordor of modernity. Tolkien never
forgot what he called the “animal horror” of trench warfare.
The modern age clanks, grinds, and devours.
After the war, Tolkien got his first academic position at
Leeds. He helped put the English department there on the
map. But when a position opened at Oxford in 1925, a
professorship of Anglo-Saxon, Tolkien applied for it and was
accepted. It was at Oxford that he met C.S. Lewis. The two
men were wary of one another at first. Lewis wrote in his
journal, “No harm in him: only needs a smack or so.”
England had no mythology, unlike the Scandinavian
nations, and unlike the Mediterranean nations. Tolkien’s
avowed aim was to write one. But “inventing” for him was
more a matter of “finding out.” “Is all this true?” he was once
asked. “One hopes,” he replied. According to Tolkien, the
writer does not bring things into existence; he finds. When he
finds, he assembles. But as a sub-creator, under God, he never
creates ex nihilo.
Without a doubt, Lewis was Tolkien’s closest friend over
the course of his lifetime. When they met, neither was a
stranger to the world of close emotional and intellectual
friendship, but at the same time, they were particularly suited
to one another. Because of this, we can learn a great deal
about each from the other. The friendship began in earnest in
1927 when Tolkien recruited Lewis into the Coalbiters, a
group he established so that the members could learn
Lewis, though brilliant, was still a generalist. Tolkien,
though a lover of the forest, was a scholar close enough to see
the trees. Lewis was not a perfectionist, and Tolkien was. As
Lewis put it in a comment on how Tolkien reacted to
criticism of his writing—“Either he begins the whole work
over again from the beginning or he takes no notice at all”
(Tolkien, p. 161).
These differences are notable in their production. Lewis
could simply crank it out. Tolkien’s production was painstakingly slow—The Lord of the Rings being produced over many
years. As is evident in his letters, Tolkien agonized over
making sure that the phases of the moon were not contradictory in the chronologies. Lewis would sit down, lick his
pencil, and Io! Triumphum!
Their shared love of myth was at the foundation of their
friendship. It was also the basis of Lewis’ conversion to the
Christian faith. One night Tolkien and Hugo Dyson had a
lengthy talk with Lewis in which they showed him that
“myth” need not be equated with “false.” As a result of this
talk, Lewis came to see that the story of Christ was true myth.
But this introduced an important difference between the men.
Lewis rapidly became an apologist for the Christian faith, but
he did so as a Protestant. Lewis had been brought up an
Ulster Protestant—his nurse had once warned him against
stepping in a puddle full of “wee, nastie popes.” As Lewis
grew and matured in his Christian life, he grew increasingly
committed to the Protestant faith. What had been his default
position became a matter of deep conviction. Tolkien later
said, “He would become again a Northern Ireland Protestant”
(Tolkien, p. 168).
Let’s turn to Tolkien’s great work, The Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien argued in multiple places that while all of life has
allegorical elements, his story was by no means formal
allegory. Such distinctions were very important to both
Tolkien and Lewis. The Pilgrim’s Regress by Lewis is allegory. The
Great Divorce is symbolism. But The Lord of the Rings and the
Narnia stories are subcreated and mythopoeic realms, not
However, the mythopoeic themes of The Lord of the Rings,
although not allegorical, did involve certain key meanings. In
developing this world, Tolkien attributed it to linguistics, his
passionate love for growing things, and “the deep response to
legends (for lack of a better word) that have what I would call
the North-western temper and temperature” (Letters, p. 212).
In other words, we have a world made up of words, life, and
northern nobility. The combination was and is potent. Lewis
put it this way: “Here are beauties which pierce like swords or
burn like cold iron; here is a book that will break your heart”
(“On Stories”).
With this said, what connections can we make within the
story? “Elves and Men are represented as biologically akin in
this ‘history’, because Elves are certain aspects of Men and
their talents and desires, incarnated in my little world . . .”
(Letters, p. 189.). In short, Tolkien saw them as the incarnation of nobility—beauty, sorrow, wisdom, authority. They
represent “beauty and grace of life and artifact” (Letters, p. 85).
They are a representation of a part of human nature (p. 149).
If “I were pressed to rationalize, I should say that they
represent really Men with greatly enhanced aesthetic and
creative faculties, greater beauty and longer life, and nobility”
(Letters, p. 176).
Another important theme in Tolkien’s work is the
relationship between art and machinery. A very interesting
contrast is found here. True magic for him was not a matter
of wizards who “chirp and mutter,” to use Isaiah’s taunt.
According to Tolkien, Gandalf was an angelic being, one of
the lesser Valar, not a wizard in our sense. For Tolkien, the
machinery that clanks and smokes was always wicked. And
power-seeking magic did the same. Frictionless technology
was not really magic, not science, but rather art. Authority and
dominion in the world through art was noble, and domination through machinery and raw power was ignoble.
The whole point of magic is the manipulation of matter
in order to acquire power, which is the lust that makes
magicians and other assorted alchemists do what they do. But
the world of The Lord of the Rings is the reverse of this—if
anything, the good guys represent a photo-negative of this
kind of magic. The ring of power is the ultimate symbol of
magic in the traditional sense, and the whole point of the
book is to destroy it, resisting all temptations to use it.
Some Christians are troubled by the apparent absence of
God. Part of the problem that Tolkien had with the
Arthurian stories is that they were explicitly set within the
Christian era, and this made the “remoteness” which he
wanted for dramatic reasons impossible. The long-ago-ness and
far-away-ness would not have been long enough ago, or far
enough away. But God was not excluded because of any
embarrassment. At the ultimate level in the mythology (in the
Silmarillion), God necessarily fills the place that only He can
fill—and His name is Illuvatar. He is the only Creator. And
this is why, as one said, that God is nowhere mentioned in The
Lord of the Rings, but everywhere present—although Faramir
does say grace once.
Mankind is represented in a realistic and complex way,
and clearly bears the imago Dei. Recall that Elves “represent
really Men with greatly enhanced aesthetic and creative
faculties, great beauty and longer life, and nobility—the Elder
Children” (Letters, p. 176.). They are biologically one with
men, which is why they can and do intermarry with men. And
this means that Orcs are corruptions of Elves (Letters, pp. 178,
191, 287), representations of man’s potential for sin. Tolkien
goes so far as to say that many men “to be met today” are as
horribly corrupted as the Orcs are (p. 190). The hobbits are
also men. “The Hobbits are, of course, really meant to be a
branch of the specifically human race” (Letters, p. 158). This is
why they can dwell with the Big Folk at Bree. For Tolkien,
they represent the sturdy heroism of ordinary men. The only
“children” of middle earth who are not men in some way are
the dwarves.
No virtue (or fault) is ever found in a transitive verb. We
do not know if someone is virtuous simply because they
“love.” What do they love? Or that they are wicked if they
“hate.” What do they hate? When literature like The Lord of the
Rings is criticized, it is often attacked for being “escapist.”
This means we should ask a question. What is being escaped
from? As Tolkien once put it, the people who are so concerned
about escapism do have a name—we call them jailers.
“Things to be Done” Volume 14 /2
Northumbrian Time R
Chris Schlect
“IN THE year of Rome 798 the Emperor Claudius, fourth
after Augustus, wishing to prove that he was a benefactor to
the State, sought to make war everywhere and to gain victories
on every hand. So he made an expedition to Britain…. He
brought this war to an end in the fourth year of his reign, that
is in the year of our Lord 46.”
Writing from the hinterlands of the known world, Bede
explained how the gospel transformed his remote land. He
wrote early in the eighth century. Or the sixteenth century, if
we reckon time as the Romans did. Bede’s scheme of timereckoning had been devised in 532 by Dionysius Exiguus. Or
should we say that Dionysius developed his scheme in 1284
the year of Rome? Or in 1307 the year of the Olympiad? Or
1260 years before the French Republic? In Bede’s day—
whatever year it was—years were named from the founding
of Rome, or the regnal year of an important Caesar. It was
Bede’s stature that influenced the Christian West to reckon
time as Dionysius Exiguus had—in terms of Jesus Christ,
Lord of time and Lord of history.
How we label time affects how we think about time.
Because Jews and secularists understand this better than many
of us Christians, they reportedly live in the year 2002 C.E.
(“common era”), rather than in 2002 anno Domini. They know
that names matter. And like all naming, naming time is a valueladen assertion about reality.
We see this in the problematic name “Renaissance.” In
anno domini 1860 the Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt
published The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. Since then we
have grown accustomed to gathering out of chronological
space one clump of time, setting it apart from the rest, and
calling it “Renaissance.” So we impute a sharp contrast
between “Renaissance” and the time that came before it,
which was not Renaissance. (One accidental result was the
invention of the “Middle Ages.”) Is “Renaissance” a name
that faithfully represents chronological reality? Consider:
Why is there so wide a variety of proposals about when the
“Renaissance” began or ended? And if “Renaissance” denotes
a change from the Middle Ages, then why do so many
historians now speak of a “Northumbrian Renaissance” in
Bede’s England of the mid-700s, a “Carolingian Renaissance”
at the turn of the ninth century, and a widespread “Twelfthcentury Renaissance”? Why do we find in Petrarch and Dante
and Boccaccio, whose achievements are indeed remarkable,
such continuity with what preceded them? Why do most
historians trace the rise of the modern state back to the
eleventh and twelfth centuries? Why do economic historians
see a “Commercial Revolution” beginning at around 950,
which led to a Genoese named Columbus and the Medici of
“Things to be Believed” Volume 14 /2
Florence? The answer to these questions may have something
to do with the fact that the idea of “Renaissance” was
formulated by scholars who were enamored with the attainments of the modern world, but who did not want to give
credit for these attainments to the gospel-permeated “Age of
Faith,” that “Dark Age” that lasted a millennium beyond the
fall of Rome.
We all name time, but such naming is not worldviewneutral. Consider our timelines. As good sons of modernity,
we make politics the baseline into which everything else must
relate in order to make chronological sense out of it. For
example, we tell the story of England in terms of Alfred the
Great, William the Conqueror, Henry II, Richard the
Lionhearted, Magna Carta, Richard III, Wars of the Roses,
Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, James I, George III, Queen Victoria,
Winston Churchill, and so on. Now imagine an alternative
way of telling England’s story, in terms of the Church—even
Archbishops of Canterbury. In 597 Augustine effectually
preached to the King of Kent, bringing orthodoxy to the
island. Cuthbert (740–760) and Dunstan (960–988) were
the great men of their ages, and led revivals of learning and
piety. It was Robert of Jumieges (1051) who promised the
English throne to William, Duke of Normandy. And as king,
William appointed Lanfranc of Bec to the see of Canterbury
(1070–1093); it was Lanfranc who sowed the good seeds of
independence from the crown. Lanfranc’s pupil and successor,
Anselm (1093–1114), challenged royal meddling in the
Church, explained the procession of the Holy Spirit better
than any Westerner during the East-West Schism, and whose
nominalism and covenant gospel are high-water marks in
doctrine and philosophy. Thomas Becket (1162–74) was
martyred for his courage against royal encroachments upon
the Church, and Chaucer sent his pilgrims to Becket’s shrine.
Stephen Langton (1207–29) helped the barons with Magna
Carta, and undermined Pope Innocent III’s attempt to nullify
it. Thomas Cranmer (1533–59) advanced the Reformation
that still persists among Presbyterians and evangelical
Anglicans. Cranmer was succeeded by a scholarly giant in an
age of learned men, Matthew Parker (1559–76); for his
preservation of manuscripts we are still thankful. And in spite
of himself, William Laud (1633–60) inspired the
Westminster Assembly. Would that the name Anselm were as
familiar as William the Conqueror, or that we knew Becket as
well as Richard III! When we tell England’s story through her
archbishops, we notice the political trends we are used to
seeing, but we also see the more profound trends that the
modern storyteller tends to obscure.
Bede thought deeply about history, and about the little
things that make all the difference in it, like our names for
time. For him, England’s story was one of gospel advance
against paganism, spanning years. The years of the Lord.
Chonklit Cake
Douglas Wilson
to be the Truth? We would do the same thing we did the first
time—crucify Him.
A NEW PUBLISHING outfit down southeast of here, way past
Idaho Falls, called Reformed University Press, (how’s this for
a sentence?), has released a good book on the priority that
Christians should give to the Church. Entitled The Enduring
Community, and written by Brian Habig and Les Newsom, it is
addressed primarily to college-aged kids whose natural
inclination is to neglect their duties as church members. The
book does an outstanding job of anticipating objections to
“church” and answering them in a way helpful to such folks.
Ordering information can be obtained from RUP, 618
Briarwood Drive, Suite A, Jackson, Mississippi 39211.
We have a regular temptation to sacrifice one portion of our
required obedience for the sake of another. Fathers neglect
their families so that they can stay at work to all hours to
provide for them. Mothers deal sharply and impatiently with
their children over a messy room, because a messy room is not
honoring to God—as though Mother’s irritation were not
equally messy. Children obey one command from their
parents when they were given three, and they defend themselves with what they did do. But we must never forget that
partial or selective obedience is disobedience. Saul killed some
of the Amalekites, but that is not what he was told to do. To
obey is better than sacrifice.
Instead of setting obedience against sin, we set obedience
against obedience. We profess with our mouths that we honor
God, but actually in our hearts we are simply making room
for our preferred sins.
The push is already on. In the aftermath of the September 11
tragedy, and in the wake of the impressive American military
action in Afghanistan, we are hearing different voices calling
for a domestic intolerance of every form of “intolerance.”
Conservative Christians will find themselves under increasing
pressure to deny the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. We will be
allowed to keep a tiny jesus, but not permitted to affirm that
He is King of kings and Lord of lords. Any claim to uniqueness on behalf of the Christian faith will be called (as it has
already been called) an American form of Talibanism. The
reasoning goes this way: the thing which made these Muslim
fanatics so dangerous is not that they believed a lie (as we
would hold), but rather that they thought they knew the
truth. To these folks, truth is clearly the enemy. Truth is the
adversary. Truth flies planes into skyscrapers.
What would our nation do if a man came to us, claiming
If your tastes in music are truly eclectic, let me recommend an
album of contemporary artists doing covers of old Hank
Williams songs. The album is named Timeless, and the price of
the CD is worth the experience of hearing Sheryl Crowe
yodel. Which she does well.
Theodore Beza was born in 1519 and died in 1605. He was a
friend and associate of John Calvin at Geneva. He was trained
for the law (like Calvin) but preferred literature. Because he
adhered faithfully to the doctrines of grace recovered in the
Reformation, he is consistently characterized as a narrow,
tight-lipped theological engineer. But in reality he was one of
the most urbane men of Europe. He was one of that century’s
great poets, and before his open embrace of the Reformation
in 1548, he published a volume of erotic Latin poetry which
established his literary reputation. Before this is dismissed as a
youthful indiscretion, it should be noted that he had it
republished again near the end of his life in Geneva, in 1597.
We need many more men like Beza today. While we certainly
need a recovery of the great truths of the Reformation, we
need them in a certain way. We most emphatically do not
need a resurgence of pietistic Calvinism.
I have profited greatly from Pat Buchanan’s latest book, The
Death of the West. For anyone who can do math, the book
presents a clear-headed and frightening prospect ahead of us.
The population bomb, it turns out, is the kind that implodes. A
long generation of a narcisstic use of contraception and ready
abortion has decimated us. The peoples of European descent
are steadily committing sexual suicide. In 1960, we were one
fourth of the world. In 2000, we were one sixth. In 2050 we
will be one tenth, and we will be the oldest tenth.
A number of years ago, Credenda did an issue we called
“Bad Moon Rising” on the coming crack-up of the U.S. For
a number of reasons, we have no reason to change our tune.
Right on schedule.
“Things to be Done” Volume 14 /2
Some Books
Woelke Leithart
Harry Potter and the Bible
Richard Abanes, (Horizon: 2001)
THE HYPE has died down somewhat, but don’t expect the
reprieve to last long. Before too many more months have
passed, the Harry Potter publicity machine will have begun its
work. The next book is coming. Should that scare us or please
us? Richard Abanes votes for the former.
It was perhaps inevitable that what are arguably the most
popular children’s books of all time would generate controversy. As the latest in a series of books examining how
Christians should react to the Potter phenomenon, Richard
Abanes’ book Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace behind the
Magick offers a critique of the books by J.K. Rowling.
For the uninitiated, Harry Potter is a young wizard who
attends a boarding school at Hogwarts’ School of Witchcraft
and Wizardry in Northern England. He and his friends, in
between classes about potions, divination, and spell-casting,
manage to save the school from some unspeakable evil just
about every year, in every book.
Abanes’ book goes through and outlines, in detail, the
action in each of the books. He lists the objectionable items
in each book, and then questions their suitability for children.
He has three main objections against the books. First, they
treat magick (the word refers to the occult, different from the
sleight-of-hand sort of magic) and sorcery as worthy pursuits,
things which the Bible expressly condemns. Second, Harry
and his friends constantly (indeed, every few chapters) break
the rules of the school. Everything turns out all right in the
end, but this is after the lying, cheating, and sneaking out at
night have already occurred and been forgiven with no
destructive consequences. Third, Abanes dislikes the way that
cursing (i.e., profanity, not spells) is used, though infrequently, as the books become more and more adult in
content, containing violence and, Abanes argues, sexuality.
Abanes is right in his first criticism. The Potter books do
treat sorcery and witchcraft as worthy pursuits. And if a child
is going to read these books and seriously decide to become a
witch, then the child shouldn’t be reading these books. But
this is an issue not of the book but of the maturity of the
reader. If a child is not mature enough to realize that witchcraft is an empty worldview with no hope of salvation, then
he is not old enough to read Harry Potter. Abanes makes this
point quite well. To any discerning and mature reader,
however, the Potter books offer no temptation in this regard.
Indeed, they offer about as much information about witchcraft as Lewis or Tolkien. Anyone with a propensity toward
sorcery could be just as easily led astray by misusing those
Abanes’ second problem with Rowling’s books is that,
“Things to be Believed” Volume 14 /2
morally, they present a relativistic worldview. The message is
that the ends justify the means. Abanes is right: Harry and his
pals break lots of rules without suffering the consequences.
But while he addresses this aspect well, he fails to point out
that a mature reader should have as much problem with
Harry’s worldview as with Homer’s. The ancient view of
honor and warfare is not one we would want to emulate or
praise, yet we continue to read them nonetheless. Don’t get
me wrong; I don’t want to say J.K. Rowling is another
Homer. But though both paradigms are wrong, Christians
seem more willing to throw out the newer.
Lastly, Abanes takes issue with the rising level of language
in the books and the way they are gradually becoming more
adult in content. Like the former two problems, I would agree
that this is a concern, but only if the books are being read by
young children. Only discerning minds should read them, just
like many other good books. It takes discernment to read that
sort of material.
Personally, I have read and enjoyed all four of the Harry
Potter books, and I plan to read the fifth upon its publication.
They’re not great literature–I agree with Roger Sutton, editor
of The Horn Book, a seventy-five-year-old children’s literary
digest, that as literature, the Potter books are “critically
insignificant” and “nothing to get excited about.” [Roger
Sutton, quoted in Elizabeth Mehren, “Wild About Harry,”
Los Angeles Times, July 28, 2000, available online at
www.latimes.com] They’re not even great fantasy. But they’re
still fun to read.
There’s a lot of good in Harry Potter and the Bible. Richard
Abanes has written an excellent critique of the series, one
which I will turn to if I’m curious about whether a particular
spell is grounded in fact. He also offers a decent analysis of
the works of Lewis and Tolkien. I also agree that young
children shouldn’t read the Harry Potter books unless they’re
old and mature enough to handle it. But I failed to find one
reason why a mature Christian shouldn’t read them, and enjoy
The Death of The West
Patrick J. Buchanan, (Dunne: 2001)
Our nation is doomed. That, at least, is the thesis of Pat
Buchanan’s latest book, The Death of the West: How Dying
Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and
Civilization. In fifty years, the United States will no longer be a
superpower, and nations now considered “Third World” will
have taken over the central makeup of the world.
Buchanan sites four reasons for this change: “the first is a
dying population.” According to the statistics he cites, every
country in Europe, with the exception of Muslim Albania, has
a birthrate too low to maintain current population levels. In
Russia, the average number of children per family is so low
that there will be more than 40 million fewer Russians in
2050. The average number of children in the United Kingdom is a mere 1.66 per family, a number which Buchanan
claims will not sustain them much longer. America’s European population is also in decline.
The next reason “is the mass immigration of people of
different colors, creeds, and cultures, changing the character of
the West forever.” While the populations of Europe and
America decline, the population of countries like India,
China, Iran, and Egypt are exploding. These people need
somewhere to go, and America and Europe will not be able to
resist them. The number of illegal aliens in the United States
alone, Buchanan claims, is equal to the populations of Rhode
Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut combined. In fifty
years, the West will be overrun by the rest of the world.
“The third [reason] is the rise to dominance of an antiWestern culture in the West, deeply hostile to its religions,
traditions, and morality, which has already sundered the
West.” This includes the recent attack on such historical
symbols as the Confederate flag, the rewriting of textbooks
without key historical events, and the slave-reparations debate
(in the latter case, Buchanan makes the interesting point that
the West did not start slavery, but it did end it). Buchanan
also credits what he calls “the revolution” with the demise of
traditional values in the West and the downturn of Christianity. This, too, will be instrumental in the fall of the West. His
fourth reason is “the breakup of nations and the defection of
ruling elites to a world government whose rise entails the end
of nations.” In this, Buchanan has institutions such as the
United Nations, the European Union, and NATO in mind.
He sees these and their consolidation of governmental powers
in one location as a threat to the freedom of Christendom.
Buchanan packs a great deal of information into his 300page book, and the numbers he has are irrefutable. Even
allowing a margin of error merely delays the effects another
twenty-five years. But wanting to avoid Malthusian prediction, there is another reason to be wary of The Death of the West:
Christianity. Although a Roman Catholic, Buchanan does not
take into account that with the fall of the pantheistic Western
governments, Christians, and not Third World Muslims,
Hindus, and Buddhists, will be in the position to take
Another problem with the book is Buchanan’s solution to
the problem; it is largely political. To boost populations, he
recommends tax incentives for having more children. To fix
the immigration problem, he proposes strict regulation of
borders. To fix the world government problem, he suggests
political opposition. To fix our governmental system, he
wishes to restructure the Supreme Court. And to fight the
culture war, he calls for boycotts, referenda, and “countering
hate crimes with truth.” This is not the way to fix our
country. Much like the Ring in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings,
using the other team’s guns will not get us anywhere, even if
we win. The answer to saving our culture is to turn to God
and beg forgiveness for our sins. No matter how many
boycotts, no matter how many good people we send to
Washington, as long as God is against us, no one is for us.
Perhaps in fifty years the West will be dead. But unless
our nation and culture undergo a massive revival and reformation, no one will miss it.
The Mysterious Island
Jules Verne, (Modern Library: 2001)
The great European languages all have their tales of men
cast-away on deserted islands. English has Robinson Crusoe.
German has Wyss’ Swiss Family Robinson. And in 1874, French
received her addition to the canon with The Mysterious Island,
written by the father of science fiction, Jules Verne. Most of
us know Verne as the author of such adventure stories as
Around the World in 80 Days or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but
few know him as the author of such works as From Earth to the
Moon. Sadly, and undeservedly, The Mysterious Island has fallen
into the generally unknown.
Unlike most castaway novels, the five men in Verne’s tale
are blown off their course in a balloon, rather than a ship.
They have escaped from being held prisoner in Richmond,
Virginia, by the Confederate Army toward the close of the
War in 1865. Though intending a quick journey across
enemy lines, they are blown thousands of miles until landing
in the South Pacific. With nothing but the clothes on their
backs, the five men are forced to live off the land. As they
explore, they realize there is more to the island than meets the
eye (hence the title).
As the first major desert-island survuval novel written
after the publication of Origin of Species and Rousseau’s “noble
savage” ideal, Verne does an admirable job of steering clear of
any evolutionary tendencies, an easy analogy to make when
writing such a book. In addition, though the book is not as
explicitly spiritual as Robinson Crusoe or The Swiss Family
Robinson, it is certainly not anti-God as was the recent movie
Cast Away, and the characters frequently give thanks to the
Almighty for their provision.
Although some may take issue with what they see as a deus
ex machina, it is important to note that there are very few ways
to end a desert-island tale, none of which involve anything
but the use of such a device. It comes with the territory.
All in all, The Mysterious Island is very well written and
enjoyable to read. As a bonus, it is thoroughly suitable to
being read to children, though certainly not at one sitting.
“Things to be Done” Volume 14 /2
Pogo Throckmorton
Pumpkin Liturgy
We got this flyer, like what gets sent through the mails,
and it promotes holiday paraphenalia for the promotion of
piety. One of the items for sale was a bookmark that had
“The Pumpkin Prayer” to help the liturgically inept with
their pumpkin carvings. “Dear God, As I carve my pumpkin help me say this prayer.” Cut the top of the pumpkin: “Open
my mind so I can learn about You.” Clean out the inside:
“Take away all my sin and forgive me for the bad things I
do.” And lots more.
And then count the seeds and ask yourself if these are also inside
your head, causing all the trouble.
A Day of Prophecheesy
Dr. Tim LaHaye and Dr. Ed Hindson spoke at Thomas
Road Baptist Church on February 2, and it was slated as
“A Day of Prophecy.” The topics addressed were “Bible
Prophecy and the War on Terrorism,” “Is the Antichrist
Alive Today?” and other recycled hits.
Our dispensational future-meister brethren have created a
completely new approach to this subject. In Deuteronomy 18, a prophet
was to be rejected if he got anything wrong. In today’s eschatofrenzy, a
prophecy expert can only maintain his credentials by getting everything
Thomas Kinkade, master of the eerie glow, has really done
it now. Kinkade, known in some circles as the Painter of
BlightR, manages to get his name and work to adhere to
anything with a reasonably flat surface. He licenses
collector plates, La-Z-Boy recliners, wallpaper, mugs, you
know the deal. But now he has authorized the development
of “The Village, a Thomas Kinkade Community,” where
homes modeled after his gingerbread style, will start in the
$400,000 range. As Kinkade put it, “We are every bit as
ambitious as the people who developed the Martha Stewart
brand 10 years ago.”
The only real difference is that Martha Stewart, for all her faults,
has some aesthetic sense.
Waiting on the Red Letter Edition
Everybody knows about it, but we have not commented on
it in this space before—The Prayer of Jabez is available now
in leather binding.
Isn’t that like putting a baloney sandwich under glass?
“Things to be Believed” Volume 14 /2
A Helpful Reader
An encouraging reader sent along a submission for the
Cave—it was a sermon outline from a modern evangelical
church. One of those TULIP sermons.
T—Total Dependency (of man upon God for
salvation and realized purpose).
U—Unconditional Love (with which the Creator
longs for all mankind).
L—Limited Availability (for saving love is solely
found in Christ and in this life).
I—Invitational Grace (extending “the day of God’s
favor” to “whosoever will”).
P—Personal Security (in the forgiveness and peace
promised to all who believe).
But there is a bright side. If modern evangelicalism starts adopting
the use of the tulip, the Reformed can drop it—and high time—and we
can look forward to future theological developments around this theme.
T is for Total Theological Naivete. U is for Ugliness in Liturgy. L is
for Limited Liability, because all the trained counselors on staff are
insured. I is for me. And P is for Popsicle Stand, which seems to fit in
According to The American Enterprise, a magazine of some
note, the Thorupgaarden Nursing Home in Copenhagen,
Denmark “now offers its elderly residents erotic magazines,
pornography on a videochannel, and the services of
Over There and Otiose
The Guardian of London reported that eleven British
secondary schools turned down the gift of a library of
classic books worth 3,000 pounds because they were “too
difficult” for the students. Herodotus for example, according to one teacher, was “far too boring.” The texts were
rejected because they had “too much text, dull covers and
too few bright visual images.”
Forget the lack of bright images. What about the lack of bright
Sah . . . moking
Montgomery County Council in Maryland approved a
measure making it illegal for people to smoke in their own
homes if the smoke in any way escapes from their property
and somebody complains, which someone is sure to do in a
state full of such whiners.
Somebody needs to go through the Maryland state song again and
find that line about the despot’s heel.
Amillennial Histor
Jack Van Deventer
SEVERAL YEARS ago I came across an article on the Web by
Kim Riddlebarger that, among other things, touched on the
history of amillennialism. What struck me was Riddlebarger’s
difficulty in tracing amillennialism’s history. That was odd, I
thought, since amillennialists often claim their position traces
back to the early church. Why would it be that difficult?
Indeed, after checking several church history books at the
university library, I found a noticeable absence between
“Allegorization” and “Anabaptist.” Amillennialism is
nowhere to be found. Riddlebarger wrote, “[T]he term
amillennialism, as we will see, was not used in the nineteenth
century, and the origin of the term is shrouded in mystery.
Accordingly, Gaffin asks the poignant question in this regard,
‘Who coined the term amillennial?’”1 Gaffin continues,
“What prompted the invention of the word amillennial?”2
Since the word postmillennial was already in common use before
the word amillennial, it’s safe to assume that amillennialism
represented a departure from postmillennialism. And, it was a
recent departure.
Amillennialists agree that the term amillennialism is of
recent origin.3 Strimple wrote, “The term amillennialism has
been widely current since sometime in the 1930s, although
when it was first used remains a mystery.”4 O.T. Allis
referenced a 1943 article by amillennialist Albertus Pieters
stating that Abraham Kuyper coined the term. (Kuyper died
in 1920.) Allis was unsure whether or not Pieter’s claim was
true.5 Peiter’s 1937 book was less specific, “Recently, those
who take this view have begun to call themselves, or to be
called ‘amillennialists.’”6 No attribution to Kuyper was made
and it remained unclear who originated the term,
amillennialists or their opponents.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) had no
reference for the word amillennialism in its 1915 and 1929/
1930 editions. However, a premillennial document in 1915
made reference to postmillennialists and “antimillennialists.”7 A 1921 pamphlet entitled Non-millennialism
vs. Pre-Millennialism stated that “Post-millennialists [were]
rapidly changing to Non-millennialists,” where the nonmillennialist position was certainly the doctrine that would
later be called amillennialism.8 Erickson wrote that large
numbers of postmillennialists changed their positions to
amillennialism.9 This shift was large enough to prompt a
book by dispensationalist Charles Feinberg called
Premillennialism or Amillennialism? in 1936. This is the earliest use
of the term I’ve found so far.10
Amillennialist Louis Berkhof was defensive when the
position’s historicity was questioned. He wrote (apparently in
1938 or earlier), “Some Premillenarians have spoken of
Amillennialism as a new view and as one of the most recent
novelties, but this is certainly not in accord with the testi-
mony of history. The name is new indeed, but the view to
which it is applied is as old as Christianity.”11 Adams, with
similar hyperbole, wrote, “Augustine strongly advocated
amillennialism, and it was the exclusive view of all the
Reformers.”12 Since several amillennialists claim Augustine
as one of theirs, it’s important to quote R. Bradley Jones
refutation of his amillennial colleagues: “Some writers speak
of Augustine as an Amillennialist. This is hardly accurate. He
can more correctly be classified as a Postmillennialist.”13
Moreover, Bahnsen’s historical survey of leading reformers
demonstrates the amillennial claims above to be groundless;
rather the reformers were predominantly postmillennial.14
J. Marcellus Kik believed amillennialism began with the
writings of Geerhardus Vos who wrote extensively on
eschatology from 1911 to 1930 and later. Kik wrote, “It was
not till the advent of Geerhardus Vos that the amil position
was introduced. I am personally sorry that the remarkable
talents of Vos were diverted from the historic Princeton
position.”15 Kik lamented that the postmillennial heritage of
Princeton, represented by theological greats such as Archibald
Alexander, Joseph A. Alexander, Charles Hodge, A.A. Hodge,
and B.B. Warfield, had eroded. Vos’ doctrines were a
departure from postmillennialism such that the new theological perspective warranted a new term for identifying it. The
terms anti-millennialism and non-millennialism were used
until the word amillennialism eventually stuck.
Returning to Gaffin’s question regarding the invention of
the word amillennial, one is left wondering what prompted the
development of the doctrine behind the invention. Clearly
pessimism had permeated the Church from 1880 to 1920.
Premillennial pessimism with its emphasis on Armageddon,
Antichrist, ruin, and rapture had become the buzz of the day.
Postmillennialism was viewed as unrealistic given the
increased apostasy, liberalism, wars, etc. that were viewed by
many as the signs of the nearness of Christ’s coming. Having
become convinced of history’s downward spiral, yet having
rejected dispensationalism as unbiblical, presbyterian, and
Reformed people were in need of their own theological
rationale for pessimism. Not wanting to be left behind, they
apparently believed they needed a theological basis for
abandoning their traditional postmillennial doctrines of
gospel success, historical optimism, and conversion of the
nations to Christ. The amillennial solution was to reassign the
biblical victory passages to the heavenly or spiritual realm.
The kingdom of God was allegorized, spiritualized, and
explained away as other-worldly, another spiritual dimension,
a land beyond time and beyond our grasp. The prophecies of
doom and destruction, of course, were retained and applied to
the earthly realm. In other words, keep the curses, discard the
blessings. Although a younger doctrine than dispensationalism, amillennialism met the same need and fit the mood of
the day.
“Things to be Done” Volume 14 /2
Quotations in Or
der of Appearance
1. Rowling, J.K., Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (New York:
Scholastic, 1997).
2. Tolkien, J.R.R., The Hobbit (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966).
1. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, chap. 4; Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the
Wardrobe, somewhere; Lewis, That Hideous Strength, chap. 9; Tolkien, The
Fellowship of the Ring, bk. II, chap. 7.
2. Further Reading (Just for kicks)
Frazer, Sir James G., The Golden Bough, chap. 3, 4
Mauss, Marcel (Robert Brain, trans), A General Theory of Magic.
Russell, Jeffrey, A History of Witchcraft: Sorcerers, Heretics, and Pagans.
Kieckhefer, Richard, Magic in the Middle Ages.
Meyer, Marvin, and Smith, Richard, eds. Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic
Texts of Ritual Power.
Chesterton, G. K., Orthodoxy, chap 4.
1. Deut. 18: 10–14. See also Lev. 19:31, 20:6, 27; 2 Kings 21:6, 23:24;
2 Chron. 33:6; Isaiah 8:19, 19:3; Galatians 5:19–21; Rev. 21:8.
2. Ezek. 16:25–26, 23:19–21. Reading in an interlinear version will be
an eye-opener.
3. Deut. 7:25
4. Lev. 17:7; 2 Chron. 11:15, 33:6; Ps. 106:36-38; I Cor. 10:19–20;
Acts 16:16.
5. See the next chapter, I Cor. 9.
6. Tolkien, A Celebration. ed. Joseph Pearce. p. 124, 138. London: Harper
Collins. 1999.
7. Ibid. p. 140. Remarks quoted in footnote 6 from The Inklings: C.S.
Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and their Friends. p. 144.
8. Greydanus, Steven D. “Harry Potter vs. Gandalf: An in-depth analysis
of the literary use of magic in the works of J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, and
C.S.Lewis.” (2001). <http://decentfilms.com/commentary/
magic.html> 4 Dec. 2001. Greydanus, although writing as a Roman Catholic,
here provides useful insight into seven hedges employed by Lewis and
Tolkien (pp. 7–8). Rowling saw no such need for hedges (p. 8).
9. Ibid. p. 6–8.
10. O’Brien, Michael D., A Landscape With Dragons. San Francisco:
Ignatius, 1998. O’Brien’s book does not directly address the Potter series, but
it provides very useful perspectives for analyzing Tolkien and Lewis’ works
and especially those of recent non-Christian fantasy writers. The reader is
cautioned, however, that O’Brien, like Greydanus, at times clearly writes from
a Roman Catholic theology.
11. I Cor. 2:2
1. Archibald Alexander, the founding professor of Princeton Seminary,
Thoughts on Religious Experience (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1844,
1987), p. xviii.
1. Jerome Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1986), 11.
2. Ibid., 13.
3. Schank, Roger, Tell Me A Story: Narrative and Intelligence (Evanston, IL:
Northwestern Univ. Press, 1990), 15.
4. Ibid., 7,8.
5. Ibid., 16.
6. Eugene Peterson, Leap Over a Wall: Reflections on the Life of David (San
Francisco: Harper Collins, 1997), 3.
1. Kim Riddlebarger, Princeton & the Millennium, A Study of American
“Things to be Believed” Volume 14 /2
Postmillennialism, 1996.
2. Richard B. Gaffin Jr., “Theonomy and Eschatology: Reflections on
Postmillennialism,” in William S. Barker and W. Robert Godfrey, eds.,
Theonomy: A Reformed Critique (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House,
1990), pp. 199–201, p. 198, 200.
3. G.L. Murray, Millennial Studies, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House,
1948) p. 87. Jay E. Adams, The Time is at Hand (Greenville, South Carolina: A
Press, 1987), p. 7. Russell Bradley Jones, What, Where, and When is the
Millennium? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1975), p. 10.
4. Robert B. Strimple, “Amillennialism,” in Darrell L. Bock, ed., Three
Views of the Millennium and Beyond (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House,
1999), pp. 83–129, p. 83.
5. Oswald T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey:
Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1945), p. 286.
6. Albertus Pieters, The Lamb, The Woman and The Dragon (Grand Rapids:
Zondervan Publishing House, 1937), p. 326.
7. Timothy P. Weber, Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming (Grand
Rapids: Academie Books, 1983), p. 32.
8. C.E. Putnam, Non-Millennialism vs. Pre-Millennialism, Which Harmonizes the
Word? (Chicago: The Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1921), p 3.
9. Erickson, Contemporary Options in Eschatology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker
Book House, 1977), p.76.
10. Though the term amillennialism is new, it’s clear that many who hold
the position don’t like the term for it. Here is some commentary about the
term amillennialism by those who subscribe to that position. Jones says the term
“is of recent origin and is unfortunate and is often misunderstood.” Adams
called it an “unhappy term” that causes “unfortunate misunderstandings” and
proposed the phrase “realized millennialism” as an alternative. Hoekema
agreed “the term amillennialism is not a very happy one” but thought Adams
alternate terminology “clumsy.” Cox said it was an “unfortunate term.”
Pieters: “The word is not well compounded, as it uses a Greek prefix for a
Latin word, but it is the term now in use, and we cannot help it.” Given the
disdain that amillennialists have for the term amillennialism, one has to
wonder if the term was coined by their premillennial opponents.
11. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,
1941), p. 708. Capitalization and italics appear as in the original. Berkhof’s
work was printed in August 1938.
12. Adams, The Time is at Hand, p. 7.
13. Jones, What, Where, and When is the Millennium? p. 11.
14. Greg L. Bahnsen, Victory in Jesus, The Bright Hope of Postmillennialism
(edited by Robert R. Booth; Texarkana, AR: Covenant Media Press, 1999),
p. 115.
15. J. Marcellus Kik, An Eschatology of Victory (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian
and Reformed Publishing Company, 1971), p. 6.
Call Me Ner
Ben Merkle
IT HAD BEEN the most unusual season that Sara had ever seen.
First, the registration form had arrived. The other sixteen teams
merely dropped off their registration forms themselves. This
was customary since all of them lived within walking distance
of the bowling alley. But a curious registration form arrived by
mail the day of the deadline. Not only was the method of
delivery out of the ordinary, but the strangeness of the letter
itself immediately attracted Sarah’s attention as she carried the
bundle of envelopes back to the alley from the post office. Both
the postage mark and the return address were printed in some
strange and illegible foreign script. And, if that wasn’t already
enough to arouse the entire league’s attention, the fifteen dollar
registration fee was paid, with neither cash nor check, but rather
a small tarnished silver coin shaped in the outline of a zigorat,
covered in that same illegible script. They registered under the
cryptic name, “Team Babylon.”
Sarah knew that this summer was to be a crossroads in her
life. It had been three years since she had finished high school.
All of the classmates that went on to college had fairly well cut
off their ties to the hometown. At first they had come home for
the summers and holidays and everyone had pretended that
nothing had changed. But they had all slowly lost their rural
roots. Roots that had once been a badge of honor. Sarah, bitter
at first, had finally admitted that she didn’t blame them. Rather
she envied them. But for her, all roads seemed to lead back to
Edgartown, Nebraska. Not even her upcoming graduation from
beauty school seemed to offer any hope of a ticket out of town.
She had been in the midst of rolling her plight over in her
mind when she picked up the mail that day. The postmark
caught her eye immediately. With all those strange figures
stamped all over it looked like the trunk of a world traveller.
This was the sort of thing that might fall out of J. Peterman’s
coat pocket. Oh, to have visited just one of the stops that this
letter had made. She held it close to her nose and drank deeply
of those wild scents. Finally handing it over to the Manager of
the alley took all the strength she could muster.
It had been quite a while since the town’s bowling community had drawn attention from the oustide world. Not since
Bobby Gibbson had risen from their midst had the humble
people of Edgartown had any real contact with the bowling
community at large. But here was proof that the world still
looked to Edgartown as a proving grounds for bowling greats.
By the evening of the deadline, the whole town was aflame with
the news of the newcomers. The next morning at beauty school
Sarah was bombarded with questions. She dismissed them all
with what she hoped looked like mild indifference. As the other
students argued about the odds of the newcomers being married
or single, Sarah busied herself sorting the dye kits by color. But
any close observer would have noticed by the way she haphaz-
ardly placed the Summer Berry with the Golden Honey that her
mind was not on her work.
After several weeks of tortuous anticipation, Team Babylon
arrived. However their arrival brought more questions than
answers. They showed up a week before the tournament in a
rented van, and immediately reserved a lane for themselves for
the entire week as well as the most expensive room that the
Motel 6 had to offer. The four of them spent the entire week
bowling from noon to closing. Their practice sessions were a
spectacle that drew the attention of the entire town. Dressed in
linen tunics reaching to their sandaled feet, with long hair,
elaborate turbans, and always smelling heavily of spice and oil,
Team Babylon brought out the strangest blend of animosity and
hero-worship in the citizens of Edgartown.
For Sarah it was as if that sense of wanderlust that had
been slowly growing inside of her had suddenly come into
bloom. No longer could she put on airs of indifference. Deep
spoke to deep. Everything about Team Babylon seemed to sing
of a world that Sarah had always dreamt of, but never spoken
about. Sarah was not alone in her admiration. Many of the
locals felt an unexplicable kinship to Team Babylon. The
strangers had such an aura of the unknown, the foreign and
exotic, sophisticated and metropolitan.
On the third day after they had arrived, most of the town
crowded into the alley to watch the team practice. Initially, Sarah
had joined the crowd, elbowing her way through the thronging
mass to where her slight five-two frame could observe the four
Babylonians. But after the first hour she began to feel rather
ashamed of herself. To be twenty years old and still susceptible
to this sort of idol worship was embarrassing. She pushed her
way back through the crowd and slipped out a side door.
Out in the fresh evening air of the summer she tried to
collect her thoughts. She lit a cigarette and drew deeply. Just
then another figure emerged from the same side door. It was
Nergal-Sharezer, by far the quietest of the Babylonians. He
began walking towards her.
“Could I get a light?” he asked.
Sarah didn’t bother trying to find words. She held out her
lighter. He took it and nodded appreciatively. Sarah studied
closely every line of his face lit by the glow of the flame. It was
a youthful face, bright-eyed and round. As he handed back the
lighter she noticed that he wasn’t much taller than herself. Was
that why he was so quiet around the other Babylonians? Did
they intimidate him with their size? Sarah forced herself to
strike up a conversation.
“You’ve got good lift,” she hazarded.
A smile rose over his face. He had the sort of smile that
demanded every square inch of face participate. But he quickly
bowed his head, as if embarrassed by his rambunctious smile.
“Thanks,” he whispered.
“Really,” Sarah began again. “You’ve got the most graceful
“Things to be Done” Volume 14 /2
approach I’ve ever seen. And your lift is unbelievably smooth.”
“Thanks,” he repeated.
It was going well, so Sarah pressed on. “My name is Sarah.”
She extended her hand. “I work at the alley part-time. You can
let me know if you need anything, more chalk or something.”
“I’m Nergal. Nergal-Sharezer. But everybody calls me
Nergal,” he replied while shaking her hand.
“Hey, if you want someone to show you around town or
something let me know. Ya know, I’d be happy to give you the
tour.” She was getting more daring than she had ever been in her
entire life.
“That’d be cool,” said Nergal. “But I’d have
to ask Hammurabi.”
“Is he kind of the boss?”
“Yah. But he’d probably let me out
sometime. How do I get a hold of you?”
“I’ll be around, but I could give you my
“Yah, yah. That’d be cool.” He seemed to
be as new at this sort of conversation as she
was. He fumbled in his pocket and brought
out a scrap of paper and a complimentary
half pencil, then handed them both to Sarah.
She scribbled quickly and returned his goods
with a smile. He smiled a bit sheepishly.
“Well, I gotta go.”
“Okay. Well, give me a call whenever.”
“Yah, yah. That’d be cool.” And with that
he dropped his cigarette butt, turned, and
slipped back into the alley.
The next day found Sarah once again
elbowing her way through the growing mass of
Team Babylon’s fans. This time she felt she had a
bit more justification. She wasn’t just a random fan. She was an
aquaintance. The crowd was larger today. Wild stories fed by
unrestrained speculation had stirred the collective curiosity of
the town.
Nergal was chalking up and waiting for his ball to return.
Apparently, he had just left a seven-ten split, which had sent
Hammurabi into a wild tyrade. Hammurabi’s face had turned a
bright crimson, set off nicely by his white turban. He was
screaming, inches from Nergal’s face, what the entire audience
took for a stream of obsenities, in a tone which not even the
language barrier could mask. Nergal stood, unmoved, focusing
on the two remaining pins, as Hammurabi’s spittle misted his
face. After retrieving his ball, he stood on his mark where he
seemed to drop into a deep trance. A silence fell over the crowd,
which only Hammurabi failed to observe. His screams only
intensified as Nergal began his approach. But despite
Hammurabi’s screams, the movement of Nergal’s approach
brought the deepest sensation of peace across the entire
“Things to be Believed” Volume 14 /2
audience. He seemed to have switched from bowling to ballet as
he crossed the floor. But suddenly, as he reached the foot faultline, the ballet exploded from grace to amazing power, as his
arm whipped down, rocketing the bowl forward. The ball
crossed the lane diagonally and reached the right gutter two
thirds of the way down, where the powerful spin held it,
teetering on the brink of the gutter. At the last second, the spin
pulled the ball slightly back onto the lane where it launched the
ten pin into the seven. The crowd errupted with cheers, and a
silenced Hammurabi found his seat.
However Nergal, rather than returning to his seat,
began elbowing his way through the crowd and
made for the back door. Sarah followed as
inconspicuously as possible. She found him out
back, where they had first met. He smiled when
he saw her emerge.
“Hey, I was just looking for a pay phone to
call you,” he said.
“Yah, Hammurabi said I could go out for a
bit tomorrow night. If you’re still free you
“That’d be great. Should I pick you up?”
“Yah. I don’t think Hammurabi would let
me use the van. Could you get me at seven?”
After the details were established, Nergal
quickly excused himself, explaining that if he
wanted to get out, he would need to stay on
Hammurabi’s good side.
The next evening found Sarah in an
emotional malestrom. Had she put herself too
far forward? Was she moving too fast? But all of
her fears were relieved when Nergal climbed into
the car. He was dressed casual—a faded denim shirt,
untucked, Khaki cargo pants, and and a well-worn pair of
hiking boots. His hair was still damp from the shower. And
despite the slight fragrance of the shampoo, there was no trace
of cologne. Sarah was relieved with this discovery. Everything
about his attire testified to the category of the evening. It was
casual. “We’re just casual,” she told herself again and again. “It’s
not a date. We’re just hanging out. I’m showing him around
town.” She checked for cologne again with a subtle sniff in his
direction. Nothing. She smiled her approval at him. It was so
nice of him to not force anything on her.
Sarah could not have imagined the evening going smoother.
Nergal quickly broke out of his timid shell and the two were
soon engrossed in one another’s conversation. Sarah took Nergal
to the diner, the ice cream shop, the park, and many other local
landmarks. They talked about bowling mostly at first. Then
conversation to their childhoods, careers, dreams, and more. It
seemed like before the evening had begun it was time to take
Nergal back to his hotel where they said good-bye with the
warmth and conviction of deep friends.
The next morning the sun rose on an Edgartown boiling
over in excitement at the prospect of the coming tournament.
By noon the alley was full of various bowling team members
and their spectators. Sarah finally saw Nergal waving to attract
her attention and motioning to a seat down on the floor by
himself. She pushed through the crowd and slipped into the seat,
just in time to see Hammurabi mark up for his first frame.
The tournament lasted the better part of the afternoon.
The presence of the Babylonians raised the competition to a
new level. But despite the improved performance of the locals,
Team Babylon held a steady lead throughout. Nergal was
bowling a nearly flawless game. Even Hammurabi seemed to be
relaxing. He had only had one real outburst of wrath and that
hadn’t even been directed at his teammates, but rather at the
waitress who forgot to hold the onions on Hammurabi’s
chilidog. By the end of the sixth frame, members of Team
Babylon had begun to give autographs in between frames.
Rabmag had even thrown his chalkbag into the surrounding
crowd of fans. As the tournament was winding down, Nergal
mentioned to Sarah that he would be free that evening if she
was able to slip away, and the two began debating whether
Mexican or Chinese sounded best.
Then it happened. It took some time before Sarah
understood that a change had come over the crowd. It came like
a shift in the tide, slow and gradual, but steady and unstoppable.
It began with several glances in the other direction—anxious,
uneasy, darting glances. Then a slow murmur began to grow.
Finally, a chorus of gasps burst out across the alley. Sarah,
oblivious to the shift until now, finally turned to see what was
happening. As soon as she saw it, she added her own horrified
alto to the growing symphony of terror. Three lanes down she
saw it. Above the lane, on the white screen, floated a hand
gripping a short pencil, scribbling on the wall three lanes down
a message of judgment and doom. From the tip of the pencil
streamed a series of menacing Xs. Strike after strike. Every
member of the team had turkeyed in the tenth.
“Who is that?” whispered Nergal to Sarah.
“That’s the Cyrus Carpet Factory team,” she whispered
back. “I didn’t know they could bowl. They just moved here last
“Where are they from?”
“They’re Arabs or something. I only talked to them once. I
think they said that they were from Iran.”
Nergal reeled. His whole spirit fell. “Persians,” he muttered
in a horrifed voice, as if he was revealing the identity of the
Hammurabi turned to him. “What is the matter Nergal?
Why are you shaking?”
Nergal motioned toward the Cyrus Carpet Factory score.
“Persians.” His voice hardly made any noise, but after seeing the
sillouette of the hand on the wall above, Hammurabi quickly
grasped the significance. Turning white, Hammurabi fell back in
his seat, rolled his eyes to the heavens and went limp. Rabmag
and Evil-Marduk both gave a similar performance when Nergal
mouthed the word “Persians” to them.
Before Sarah knew what was happening, the Babylonians
had begun gathering their things and making their way to the
door. The fickle crowd had already abandoned the Babylonians
and had formed up around the Carpet Factory team where the
victorious Persians were signing wristbraces and throwing
chalkbags to the crowd. Nergal cast several pleading glances over
his shoulder at Sarah, as Hammurabi hurried his team to the
exit. But Sarah was still immobilized, unable to grasp what was
happening. Before she was able to find words or the strength to
move, the four Babylonians were passing through the door into
the parking lot.
Sarah finally woke from her stupor and began pushing her
way through the crowd, trying to make her way to the exit. But
by the time she reached the door, the rental van was already
leaving the parking lot. The hotel was a mile and a quarter walk
from the bowling alley, which Sarah began at a brisk pace.
Fifteen minutes later found Sarah reaching the motel—five
minutes too late. The Babylonians had packed and checked out
in seconds flat, explained the pimple-faced boy at the desk. He
assured her that they had left no clues as to where they were
She sat down on the curb outside the hotel, resting her
head in her hands. She was no longer just a beautician, but
another victim of the Persian conquest.
“Things to be Done” Volume 14 /2

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