Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Finding more in a book than the author intended

Commenting on novelists, C. S. Lewis writes,

He will find reviewers, both favourable and hostile, reading into his stories all manner of allegorical meanings which he never intended.  (Some of the allegories thus imposed on my own books have been so ingenious and interesting that I often wish I had thought of them myself.)*

Wendell Berry is not so charitable.  One finds this at the beginning of his novel, Jayber Crow:

Persons attempting to find a “text” in this book will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a “subtext” in it will be banished; persons attempting to explain, interpret, explicate, analyze, deconstruct or otherwise “understand” it will be exiled to a desert island in the company only of other explainers.

Googling for the Jayber Crow notice, I came cross this notice of Mark Twain's at the beginning of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
Per G.G., Chief of Ordnance.

Perhaps not all reviewers are as smart as they seem.  Perhaps all that's meant to be gotten from some good stories is a good story.

*The C. S. Lewis quote comes from Reflections on the Psalms, ch. X.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

50 times through the Bible in 5 years

Homer Inniger, 97, died Friday.  His funeral was yesterday.  He was my wife's paternal grandfather, her last living grandparent, my children's last living great-grandparent.  Those are a few of the bare facts. 

Homer Inniger, 97, read his Bible cover to cover around 50 times since the age of 92.  His family reported during the funeral that he was reading his Bible through each month!  I once read the Bible through in 4 months, reading 10 chapters a day.  My dad reads through the Bible twice a year.  But once a month?!?!  That's an average of almost 40 chapters a day.

Homer Inniger was a living illustration of Psalm 119:99: "I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes."  How could a man read his Bible through 50 times (and who knows how many total times through in his entire life?) and not breathe out and live out the wisdom of God's Word?  He did.  Number one testimony at the funeral from all the sympathizers who came to the viewing?  "He was the best Sunday School teacher I ever had."  Homer didn't make it past the 9th grade because he worked the family farm, but I would stack the wisdom of a Bible-trained man like Homer any day against that of a Ph.D who does not know Christ.

Homer never pastored, but he was a layman who made a difference--in his family, in his church, in his community.  He made a difference because he was saturated with the Word.  Because he studied it, he knew it, and because he knew it, he lived it; it was a part of who he was.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 NIV)

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV)

Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.  (Psalm 119:97 NIV)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Literary picture of life in North Korea not a pretty one

The Orphan Master's SonThe Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book details the life, sufferings, decision, and triumphs of a young boy in North Korea, following him into adulthood. In the process, one is given a picture of life in North Korea, and it isn't pretty.

Very few reviews center on the brutality of life and the constant fear in North Korea caused by the totalitarianism of the top leader (in the book, Kim Jong Il), but that is what gripped me most. I was both horrified and riveted. I had already known of the extreme poverty of the country and of the worship that is expected to be paid to "our dear leader." But I was not aware of the prisoner camps, where people are tossed on a whim, or because of association with others who have fallen out of favor with the dear leader. And I was very little aware of the tremendous torture and suffering and deprivation that takes place at these prisoner camps.

The lack of freedom is also depicted starkly in the way the government regulates the lives of its citizens; indeed, their very thinking, through public address systems even within individual homes. The government tells you even when to get up and when to go to sleep. And the government is not predictable. The fates of many rest on the whims of the top leader.

The protagonist, instead of submitting to the system, eventually bucks the system in order to help the one he loves escape. The story is well-told, and told from three different perspectives, which makes it interesting. There is some sexual content.

I would recommend this to anyone seeking to empathize better with those who live in Communist countries. It certainly helps me empathize with my Christian brothers and sisters in North Korea, and I am left speechless again at man's cruelty to his fellow man. How evil evil can be!

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Novel extols practical Christianity

That Printer of Udell's: A Story of the Middle West That Printer of Udell's: A Story of the Middle West by Harold Bell Wright
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Set in the early 1900s, That Printer of Udell's (first copyright 1902) is an entertaining tale of the churches of a small town, Boyd City, IL, having a reputation with outsiders as being generally unhelpful to society. They love to talk about theological points, but they don't offer any practical help to those who are down and out. The two protagonists of the book, Dick and George, are both lauded in some ways as more Christian than the Christians, though both resist Christianity and the Church, thoughtfully, because of the seeming hypocrisy and lack of compassion of the Church in general.

The key text of the novel is from Matt 25: Inasmuch as you have not done it unto the least of these, you have not done it unto me.

The book reveals the tension between loving Christ but not his imperfect Church. I appreciate the fact that the book doesn't completely abandon the Church, but shows that the Church can be reformed, and even in its impurer states, often offers more than the world.

On a sidenote, President Reagan read That Printer of Udell's at age 11, which prompted him to declare his faith publicly by means of baptism.  In a letter to Mrs. Wright (the author's widow, I presume), he acknowledged that Dick served in many ways as a role model to him.
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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Did God create evil?

A friend of mine was recently told by the person to whom she was witnessing, "Since God created everything, including Satan, then God created evil."  Is that true? 


God didn't create Satan.  He created the cherub that became Satan.  (And when I say "cherub," please don't picture a pudgy child in a diaper and wings.  Cherubim are magnificent awe-inspiring creatures.) 
God gives us free will, and the angels also have free will.  The cherub that became Satan became Satan when he exalted himself above God (note the 5 "I wills" of Isaiah 14:12-14).  Satan, and the evil angels who followed him, were not made evil by God.  They were made beautiful beings to be his servants (see Ezekiel 28:12-17).
Satan of course tempted Eve, and evil entered into our universe when Adam and Eve first sinned, for when they fell, all of the physical creation fell as well.  Adam and Eve also had the choice to listen to Satan or to listen to God.  They chose ... poorly.
God didn't create evil.  Did he know it would come about?  Yes.  Did he know that particular cherub would shake his fist in rebellion at him?  Yes.  Did he know Adam and Eve would choose poorly?  Absolutely!  But that's a far different thing than creating the evil itself.
And if at some point we struggle with why God would create the universe if he knew evil would result, we might possibly say something like ...
  • Some things are worth doing even though there will be trouble, than not doing it at all.
  • In the end God will triumph over all evil, the good results far outweighing and eclipsing all that evil accomplished.
  • He's God, and we're not, and we can understand his ways and his plans about as much as a 2-year-old can understand all that her parents do.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Rhetoric in the Apostle Paul's day

As I was reading Anthony Thiselton's introduction to 1 Corinthians (1 Corinthians: A Shorter Exegetical & Pastoral Commentary), a light bulb went off in my head (so to speak).  I am close to the end of leading a midweek Bible study through 2 Corinthians, and one of the issues that surfaces occasionally is reference to Paul's speaking ability.

The situation in Corinth when Paul was writing 2 Corinthians: There are some new Christian teachers in Corinth (whom Paul labels "false") who are all the rage, for they speak well, apparently.  And Paul is seemingly disparaged by these teachers and consequently by at least some of the believers for his lack of ability when it comes to public speaking.  For example, he is unimpressive in person "and his speaking amounts to nothing" (10:10).  Paul readily admits that he is not "a trained speaker" (11:6), but he refuses to yield ground to the polished professionals--he is not "in the least inferior to the 'super-apostles'" (12:11).  Neither is anything he teaches less than the truth (cf. 4:2; 6:7; 11:6).

The question that came up in my Bible study was about Paul's speaking ability.  Was he that bad?  My response was that it could be he wasn't that good of a public speaker, but the truth of the gospel came out, and people were saved.  (Wasn't Spurgeon saved under the ministry of a preacher lacking in eloquence but who nonetheless held aloft Scripture truth?)  But (I told my class) I leaned more toward the idea that Paul was a good speaker--his sermons recorded in Acts seem persuasive and able--but that he didn't abide by the standards of rhetoric in his day.

What I learned from Thiselton is that there were two forms of rhetoric in Paul's day.  There was the classical tradition, and there was the Sophist form, prevalent in provincial centers and especially in Corinth.  The classical tradition (Aristotle, Seneca, Cicero, Quintilian) focused on persuasion and the effective communication of truth, whereas the Sophist tradition was more about sounding good; truth was not the critical element.  Seneca complained of the Sophist style that often the goal was "to win approval for yourself, rather than for the case."

No wonder Paul could not and would not accommodate himself to such a style as wowed Corinth.  His was a concern for the truth and for Christ as opposed to winning approval and acclaim for himself, for, "We do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake" (4:5).

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The moment of salvation

The moment of conversion for one young man is described in the novel, That Printer of Udell's, by Harold Bell Wright:

As he stood there, the audience was forgotten.  The past, with all its mistakes and suffering, its doubt and sin, came before him for an instant, then vanished, and his heart leaped for joy, because he knew that it was gone forever.  And the future, made beautiful by the presence of Christ and the conviction that he was right with God, stretched away as a path leading ever upward, until it was lost in the glories of the life to come, while he heard, as in a dream, the words of his confessed Master, "Follow thou me."

(end of ch. XIV)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Routine reveals

The insignificances of daily life are the importances and the tests of eternity because they prove what spirit really possesses us.

Andrew Murray, Humility, ch. 6