Category Archives: Books

C.S. Lewis’s Transposition

Recently I saw a reference to C. S. Lewis’s  “Transposition,”  which I couldn’t recall.  I found it in a collection of essays I have, C.S. Lewis The Weight of Glory.  As I read I remembered a lot of it.

From the Introduction:

“Transposition” was preached in the chapel of Mansfield College, Oxford–a Congregational institution–at the invitation of its Principal, Nathaniel Micklem (1888-1976), on the Feast of Pentecost, 28 May 1944.  It was reported in The Daily Telegraph of 2 June 1944 under the heading “Modern Oxford’s Newman” that “in the middle of the sermon Mr. Lewis, under stress of emotion, stopped, saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ and left the pulpit.  Dr. Micklem, the Principal, and the chaplain went to his assistance.  After a hymn was sung, Mr. Lewis returned and finished his sermon…on a deeply moving note.”

Lewis has probably accomplished as much as any modern writer, both in his fiction and in his sermons, to make Heaven believable.  My guess is that at sometime, but not necessarily in 1944, he may have felt that he had not succeeded as well as he might with “Transposition.”  Though he was quite ill during the spring of 1961 when…his publisher…was pressing him to edit a volume of his essays, something wonderful happened.  With a simplicity that is perhaps an instance of Heaven coming to its own rescue, Lewis was shown what glories are involved by the corruptible putting on incorruption, and there came from his pen an additional portion that raises that sermon to an eminence all its own.

That section is my favorite.  I tried to write a brief synopsis, but it just left too much out.  So I will share the beginning of that additional portion Lewis wrote later:

I believe that this doctrine of Transposition provides for most of us a background very much needed for the theological virtue of Hope.  We can hope only for what we can desire.  And the trouble is that any adult and philosophically respectable notion we can form of Heaven is forced to deny of that state most of the things our nature desires.  There is no doubt a blessedly ingenuous faith, a child’s or a savage’s faith which finds no difficulty.  It accepts without awkward questionings the harps and golden streets and the family reunions pictured by hymn writers.  Such a faith is deceived, yet, in the deepest sense, not deceived, for while it errs in mistaking symbol for fact, yet it apprehends Heaven as joy and plenitude and love.  But it is impossible for most of us.  And we must not try, by artifice, to make ourselves more naif than we are.  A man does not “become as a little child” by aping childhood.  Hence our notion of Heaven involves perpetual negations: no food, no drink, no sex, no movement, no mirth, no events, no time, no art.

Against all these, to be sure, we set one positive: the vision and enjoyment of God.  And since this is an infinite good, we hold (rightly) that it outweighs them all.  That is, the reality of the Beatific Vision would or will outweigh, would infinitely outweigh, the reality of the negations.  But can our present notion of it outweigh our present notion of them?  That is quite a different question.  And for most of us at most times the answer is no……[T]he conception of that Vision is a difficult, precarious, and fugitive extrapolation from a very few and ambiguous moments in our earthly experience, while our idea of the negated natural goods is vivid and persistent, loaded with the memories of a lifetime, built into our nerves and muscles and therefore into our imaginations.

Thus the negatives have, so to speak, an unfair advantage in every competition with the positive.  What is worse, their presence–and most when we most resolutely try to suppress or ignore them–vitiates even such a faint and ghostlike notion of the positive as we might have had.  The exclusion of the lower goods begins to seem the essential characteristic of the higher good.  We feel, if we do not say, that the vision of God will come not to fulfill but to destroy our nature; this bleak fantasy often underlies our very use of such words as “holy” or “pure” or “spiritual.”

    We must not allow this to happen if we can possibly prevent it.  We must believe–and therefore in some degree imagine–that every negation will be only the reverse side of a fulfilling.  And we must mean by that the fulfilling, precisely, of our humanity, not our transformation into angels nor our absorption into Deity.  For though we shall be “as the angels” and made “like unto” our Master, I think this means “like with the lines proper to men” as different instruments that play the same air but each in its own fashion.  How far the life of the risen man will be sensory, we do not know.  But I surmise that it will differ from the sensory life we know here, not as emptiness differs from water or water from wine but as a flower differs from a bulb or a cathedral from an architect’s drawing.  And it is here that Transposition helps me.

And his illustration is wonderful.  Read it all free here.

 

 

 

 

Reality

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Like many others, I am finding some time to read during our COVID-19 confinement.  I have been reading two books, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year.  (I am rather plodding through them).  Last week, on my shelves, I saw Marilynne Robinson’s collection of essays, The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought, and read the one titled “Facing Reality.”  It begins:

    Anyone who reads and writes history or economics or science must sometimes wonder what fiction is, where its boundaries are, if they exist at all.  The question implies certain distinctions, as between fiction and fact, or, more cautiously, between fiction and nonfiction.  I would suggest that, while such distinctions are real, they are also profoundly relative, conditional, and circumstantial.  Almost everything we have a name for exists in the universe of time and matter, and should, so it seems to me, be assumed to share certain of their essential qualities, two of these being ineluctability and profound resistance to definition.

    Yet we have put together among ourselves a rigidly simple account of life in the world, which we honor with the name Reality and which, we now assure one another, must be faced and accepted, even or especially at the cost of those very things which societies we admire are believed by us to value, our example education, the arts, a humane standard of life for the whole community.  Science fetches back from its explorations mystery upon mystery, yet somehow we feel increasingly sunk in a world of mere things, in a hard-edged Reality that disallows imagination except to exact tribute from it, in portraits which assert its own power and ferocity, or in interludes and recreations which concede by their triviality that only Reality matters.  Our present model of the world is a fiction, based on notions of objectivity and of the character and implications of science which are a hundred years out of date.  It is based on the flotsam and detritus and also the floor sweepings of all disciplines–psychology, penology, economics, history, all of them.  From them it takes its important tone, helping in magnifying any present obsession.  For many of us it is true to say, Reality marks our ballots, even rears our children.  It is such a poor contrivance that we would not believe in it for a minute if we did not want to.

And this:

    As a fiction writer, I feel smothered by this collective fiction, this Reality.  I do not admire it or enjoy it, this work of grand minor imagination which somehow or other got itself acknowledged as The Great Truth and The Voice of Our Time because of rather than despite its obvious thinness and fraudulence.  So I will give it a bad review…

There is so much more, and it is all very good.  I particularly liked her extended discussion of anxiety.

Here is a nice review of the book.

Lent: A Time for Humility and Repentance

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I have returned to Robert Webber’s The Book of Daily Prayer, for Lent.
From the introduction to that section:
    We have now come to a season of the Christian year that differs significantly from Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.  Before we can think about our spiritual pilgrimage during this season, we need to have some understanding of how the Lenten season differs from the preceding seasons.
    Lenten season is the time when we especially identify with the sufferings of Jesus.  During Lent we walk the way of the cross.  In Advent we longed for the coming of Christ, at Christmas we celebrated his birth, and after Epiphany we encountered Christ in his many manifestations.  Now in Lent we share in the rejection Christ felt when the religious leaders and others turned from him, rejected him, and plotted his death.
    Because we identify with the sufferings of Christ during Lent, Lent is chiefly a time for repentance and renewal.  What we want to accomplish during Lent is the opposite of what the Pharisees, the mockers,  and doubters did.  They rejected Jesus.  They were proud, haughty, and confident of their righteousness.  Lent is the antithesis of those attitudes.  Lent is a time to fall at the feet of Jesus and admit our sinfulness and our need of him.  Lent is a time to confess, to cry “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”  Lent is a time for humility and repentance.  It is a time to get on our knees and get right with God.

Reading a Book

Over the years I have acquired a small library of books that interest me.  Some I’ve read, many I have re-read,  but there are too many I have not read at all.  So I am going to try to not buy [too many] any books for a while and read some that I already have.

I thought about finishing up all the books I have started and not finished first, especially Ron Chernow’s Grant, and Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend by Robertson.  But then I spied a book I gave Dad a couple of years ago.  I doubt he was able to read it, but I think I will read it now.  Compared to the books I just mentioned it is a short story, so I should be able to get one book read in no time.  I hope it is as interesting as I think it will be.  The book:

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Vindication vs. Intercession

In an entry of Oswald Chambers’s My Utmost for His Highest titled “The Distraction of Contempt” my father underlined this:

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Recently I have been thinking about the meaning and causes of “having a critical spirit” so this caught my attention (and it is November 23 today).

I have at least three thoughts on this.  One is that Christ followers are called to take up their cross and follow Jesus.  Just as he was misunderstood and maligned I can expect that too.  So as much as I want to make sure I am understood and correct misconceptions, I need to accept that is not always possible, especially when there is a world view divide.  Secondly, and more importantly, I think, is that ultimately it is God who convicts and corrects, not me.  But I have been taught to intercede so that needs to be my primary response.

Crying Out For Myth and Parable

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After reading this essay, I want to read Bradley Birzer’s book:

Myth, Tolkien thought, can convey the sort of profound truth that was intransigent to description or analysis in terms of facts and figures, and is therefore a more powerful weapon for cultural renewal than is modern rationalist science and technology.[11] Myth can emphasize the beauty of God’s creation as well as the sacramental nature of life.[12] “Our time, sick nigh unto death of utilitarianism and literalness, cries out for myth and parable,” American novelist and political philosopher Russell Kirk explained. “Great myths are not merely susceptible of rational interpretation: they are truth, transcendent truth.”[13] Tolkien believed that myth can teach men and women how to be fully and truly men and women, not mere cogs in the vast machine of modern technological society.

In his inimitable way, Chesterton once wrote that

imaginative does not mean imaginary. It does not follow that it is all what the moderns call subjective, when they mean false. Every true artist does feel, consciously or unconsciously, that he is touching transcendental truths; that his images are shadows of things seen through the veil. In other words, the natural mystic does know that there is something there; something behind the clouds or within the trees; but he believes that the pursuit of beauty is the way to find it; that imagination is a sort of incantation that can call it up.[14]

Besides offering an essential path to the highest truths, myth plays a vital role in any culture because it binds together members of communities. “It is quite easy to see why a legend is treated, and ought to be treated, more respectfully than a book of history. The legend is generally made by a majority of the people in the village, who are sane. The book is generally written by the one man in the village who is mad,” Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy.[15] Communities “share symbols and myths that provide meaning in their existence as a people and link them to some transcendent order,” political theorist Donald Lutz explains. “The shared meaning and a shared link to some transcendent order allow them to act as a people.”[16] The man “who has no sympathy with myths,” Chesterton concluded, “has no sympathy with men.”[17] One cannot, it seems, separate men from their myths.

….For Tolkien, however, even pagan myths attempted to express God’s greater truths. True myth has the power to revive us, to serve as an anamnesis, or way of bringing to conscious experience ancient experiences with transcendence. But, Tolkien admitted, myth could be dangerous, or “perilous,” as he usually stated it, if it remained pagan. Therefore, Tolkien thought, one must sanctify it, that is, make it Christian and put it in God’s service.

Faith Based on Evidence

I’ve been reading Sinclair B. Ferguson’s “Know Your Christian Life”  and really enjoying Ferguson’s clarity and gentleness.  He is a wonderful teacher.  He is careful to be true to his subject and he woos the reader.  At least he does that to me.  J.I. Packer’s comment on the book is telling:

Knowing is for living, especially Christian knowing and Christian living.  This principle permeates Sinclair Ferguson’s theological introduction to the Christian life.  Knowledge about God is not mere information to be stored in our brains.  It is truth to be acted on.

 With clarity and contagious enthusiasm, Ferguson expounds key biblical themes: grace, sin, faith, repentance and many more.  “Christian doctrines are life-shaping,” he explains.  “They show us the God we worship.”

…Here is theology ; but don’t be frightened.  Dr. Ferguson is an accomplished divine in the best tradition anywhere….What he presents to us is biblical theology and in its conclusions reformed theology, of the older, riper, wiser, deeper sort.”

From the chapter “Faith in Christ”:

What is Faith?

    Faith is a great biblical word, but its currency has been taken over, unfortunately, by religious language in general.  As we have seen, in Scripture faith is generally the living personal trust in Christ.  But it is common to hear other religions today described as ‘other faiths’ even although faith in the biblical sense may have no part to play in them.  Biblical faith is a much richer and fuller notion altogether, and consists of several elements.

(i) Knowledge

           Faith is dependent on what can be known about God.  Even more significantly, in the New Testament faith involves us in coming to knowledge of God himself.  This is the great joy which Christ shared with his Father in the High Priestly Prayer of John 17: ‘This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent’ (Jn. 17:3)….

    All trust is ultimately dependent on knowledge.  The problem we have in allowing complete strangers to take possession of our belongings is just that we do not know them well enough to trust them!  But the knowledge involved in faith is not merely intellectual baggage, because true knowledge in the Bible invariably involves personal fellowship….This kind of knowledge does not mean that we analyse its object from a distance, scrutinizing it objectively and dispassionately.  It is the kind of knowledge that brings us into immediate contact with God himself.  There is no greater privilege open to man than knowing God and this is what is held out to us through faith.

(ii). Assent

    ….Believing in Christ means assenting to the truth about Christ as well as coming to know him.  In fact there is a sense in which we may come to believe against our wishes!  It was so with Saul of Tarsus and has been with multitudes since that they have come to faith despite their unwillingness, because the evidence which has persuaded them has proved to be so overpoweringly strong. We speak in ordinary life about a man being so trustworthy that we would be compelled to trust him against our will.  So B. B. Warfield wrote: ‘The conception embodied in the terms “belief”, “faith”, in other words, is not that of an arbitrary act of the subject’s; it is that of a mental state or act which is determined by sufficient reasons.’ ….and John Murray adds to Warfield’s suggestion:

Faith is forced consent.  That is to say, when evidence is judged by the mind to be sufficient, the state of mind we call ‘faith’ is the inevitable precipitate.  It is not something we can resist or in respect of which we suspend judgment.  In such a case faith is compelled, it is demanded, it is commanded….

I love that last paragraph.   The chapter closes with:

(iii)  Trust in Christ

This is the heart of faith….Faith means abiding in Christ (Jn.15:1-11); it means receiving Christ (Jn. 1:12) and therefore embracing him in total trust.

           Such trust is always a costly thing because it involves us in surrendering our lives to Christ.  That is why in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) Jesus does not speak simply of ‘faith’.  He speaks about following and about carrying the cross.  He does this to emphasize what faith involves.  It means the practical recognition that Jesus is the Lord of our lives.  It means forsaking everything for his sake.  It means sacrifice and service.

I think you can buy the book here.