Category Archives: Books

Need the Perfect CHRISTMAS PRESENT?

Need the perfect Christmas present for your book-loving friends and relatives?  Look no further. Have I got some answers for you!  All are books that I can recommend highly with the greatest confidence, having, er, written them myself.

BethlehemStar2

We lead off with my newest tome, literally hot off the press: Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2016).  What is the theology that lies behind the Narnia Books, the Space Trilogy, and the popular apologetics?  What are its strengths and weaknesses as a guide to biblical truth?  Where can we follow Lewis and where do we need to withhold our judgment or even dissent?  Why is he in the final analysis the great theologian of wholeness?  These are the questions this book will answer from the entire body of Lewis’s work.  Order from the publisher or from Amazon.

Book-CSLTheology-Cover

 

The other perfect gift for a fan of C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien:  Mere Humanity: G. K. chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien on the Human Condition (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006).  What a piece of work is a man (or woman)?  I set forth the strong biblical answer to that question given by these three Christian writers in their expository works, and then show how they incarnated in in their fiction.  In Lewis’s Space Trilogy you have hrossa, seroni, pfiffltriggi, and the Green Lady of Perelandra–rational and spiritual but non-human species that serve as foils to set off, by both their similarities and their differences to us, the essential characteristics of true human nature.  (Tor and Tinidril on Perelandra are humanoid, but not human, not being descended from Adam and Eve.)  In the Narnia books, Talking Beasts perform the same function.  In Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, elves, dwarves, and wizards play that role.  In the book as a whole you get both a strong defense of the biblical view of humanity that has traction against various modernist and post-modernist reductionisms, and also interesting explications of the popular fiction from that standpoint.  $14.99.  Order from the publisher or on Amazon.

C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis

Perfect gift for a lover of literature in general, especially high-school kids studying literature in home school or their parents, or those thinking of majoring in English in college and needing a biblical place to stand against the sterile winds of secularist literary theory in our day:  Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed. (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012).  Christians are a “people of the Book.”  What does this say about them and the place reading should have in their lives?  What should Christians read?  How?  Why?  Explore such questions as you watch some of the finest Christian minds wrestle with them through history.  Lewis and Tolkien and the other Inklings are not the primary focus of this book, but they play a major role in it–the pun in the title was made with benevolence aforethought.  $15.00.  Order from https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.

Inklings of Reality Donald Williams cover

Perfect gift for a lover of poetry:  Stars through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011).   Jim Prothero says, “Williams has returned poetry  to the writing of poetry.  Here you will find new life breathed into the great forms that graced English verse for centuries.  Owen Barfield insisted that poetry must cause the reader to undergo ‘a felt change of consciousness.’  That’s a tall order, but Don Williams achieves it.  Someone said reading C. S. Lewis ’caused one to grow in sanity.’  I find very few other authors of whom that may be said: tolkien, L’Engle, Frost–not many more.  But it can be said of the poetry of Donald Williams.”   $15.00.  Order from https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.

Stars Through the Clouds

Perfect gift for a person interested in theology, philosophy, and apologetics:  Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012).  From the introduction:  “Francis Schaeffer was right: In the Post-Christian world, lay men and women can no longer afford to remain ignorant of critical issues and questions that used to be the domain only of philosophy majors.  The biblical world view can no longer be taken for granted, even by Christians.  If we do not think in terms of world view, that is, think philosophically, we will be able neither to discern the biblical world view, nor to retain it, nor to disciple others in it, nor to communicate it to non-Christians.  Not only is the unexamined life not worth living, in is not even possible any more for  those who wish to be faithful Christians and faithful witnesses for Christ.”  $15.00.  Order from https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.

Interested in the case for God? For more on the Christian world view, check out Dr. Williams' book REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO'S CAVE, in the Lantern Hollow E-store.

In all these books I have tried to follow C. S. Lewis’s example and write in such a way that I combine substance and serious wrestling with significant issues with a writing style that is approachable for people who are not necessarily experts in those fields.  If I have succeeded only a little in that, then I can safely paraphrase Emperor Palpatine:  “You want them, don’t you.”  Yes, you do.

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Need the Perfect CHRISTMAS PRESENT?

Need the perfect Christmas present for your book-loving friends and relatives?  Look no further.  Have I got some answers for you!  All are books that I can recommend highly with the greatest confidence, having, er, written them myself.

BethlehemStar2
Perfect gift for a fan of C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien:  Mere Humanity: G. K. chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien on the Human Condition (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006).  What a piece of work is a man (or woman)?  I set forth the strong biblical answer to that question given by these three Christian writers in their expository works, and then show how they incarnated in in their fiction.  In Lewis’s Space Trilogy you have hrossa, seroni, pfiffltriggi, and the Green Lady of Perelandra–rational and spiritual but non-human species that serve as foils to set off, by both their similarities and their differences to us, the essential characteristics of true human nature.  (Tor and Tinidril on Perelandra are humanoid, but not human, not being descended from Adam and Eve.)  In the Narnia books, Talking Beasts perform the same function.  In Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, elves, dwarves, and wizards play that role.  In the book as a whole you get both a strong defense of the biblical view of humanity that has traction against various modernist and pos-modernist reductionisms, and also interesting explications of the popular fiction from that standpoint.  $14.99.  Order from the publisher or on Amazon.

C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis

Perfect gift for a lover of literature in general, especially high-school kids studying literature in home school or their parents, or those thinking of majoring in English in college and needing a biblical place to stand against the sterile winds of secularist literary theory in our day:  Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed. (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012).  Christians are a “people of the Book.”  What does this say about them and the place reading should have in their lives?  What should Christians read?  How?  Why?  Explore such questions as you watch some of the finest Christian minds wrestle with them through history.  Lewis and Tolkien and the other Inklings are not the primary focus of this book, but they play a major role in it–the pun in the title was made with benevolence aforethought.  $15.00.  Order from https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.

Inklings of Reality Donald Williams cover

Perfect gift for a lover of poetry:  Stars through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011).   Jim Prothero says, “Williams has returned poetry  to the writing of poetry.  Here you will find new life breathed into the great forms that graced English verse for centuries.  Owen Barfield insisted that poetry must cause the reader to undergo ‘a felt change of consciousness.’  That’s a tall order, but Don Williams achieves it.  Someone said reading C. S. Lewis ’caused one to grow in sanity.’  I find very few other authors of whom that may be said: tolkien, L’Engle, Frost–not many more.  But it can be said of the poetry of Donald Williams.”   $15.00.  Order from https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.

Stars Through the Clouds

Perfect gift for a person interested in theology, philosophy, and apologetics:  Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012).  From the introduction:  “Francis Schaeffer was right: In the Post-Christian world, lay men and women can no longer afford to remain ignorant of critical issues and questions that used to be the domain only of philosophy majors.  The biblical world view can no longer be taken for granted, even by Christians.  If we do not think in terms of world view, that is, think philosophically, we will be able neither to discern the biblical world view, nor to retain it, nor to disciple others in it, nor to communicate it to non-Christians.  Not only is the unexamined life not worth living, in is not even possible any more for  those who wish to be faithful Christians and faithful witnesses for Christ.”  $15.00.  Order from https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.

Interested in the case for God? For more on the Christian world view, check out Dr. Williams' book REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO'S CAVE, in the Lantern Hollow E-store.

In all these books I have tried to follow C. S. Lewis’s example and write in such a way that I combine substance and serious wrestling with significant issues with a writing style that is approachable for people who are not necessarily experts in those fields.  If I have succeeded only a little in that, then I can safely paraphrase Emperor Palpatine:  “You want them, don’t you.”  Yes, you do.

No Cheap Answers

ANONYMOUS CORRESPONDENT:  My faith seems very impractical and fanciful, as though it exists in one reality and my life in another. What I experience day in and day out seems to be empty of anything but the temporal, and I am only talking myself into believing in the eternal as there is really no proof for it besides half-guesses. Most Christians use Christianity for their own purposes, particularly myself. I find myself thinking things like, “This is all based on authority with no proof of anything.  I could believe it if it actually worked in someone’s life; but it doesn’t. Instead, I’m supposed to bank everything on another, invisible world that I may get to some day, at which point everything will then be okay.”

I find this hard to share with many people because it would make them uncomfortable. Any books I get my hands on seem to not get close to touching this part of me that feels like it is dying.

A lot of it has to do with de-toxing from six terrible years in _____ with a lot of people who were very mean and ugly to one another.  I find myself asking, “All my life I’ve built everything around this belief . . . and it really hasn’t gotten me anywhere.  In fact, in some ways I’m just more hurt from believing it.” I find myself living practically like an agnostic. God doesn’t speak to people; God doesn’t make everything okay; we don’t really know if we’re eternal beings; and yet this God demands we limp through each day believing anyway.  I’m not sure I have the energy to do that; in fact, trying to do it actually makes me a much gloomier, more short-tempered person.

Then I look at the person of Jesus and think, how lovely!  Everything He said is so true of how we should treat one another, of how life should look.  He spoke like no one else . . . and I find it hard to believe a bunch of guys just sat around and made that stuff up and organized themselves and were martyred for it just to fool everybody. And I find myself caught in the middle once again.

Words of wisdom?

Part of the Answer:

Part of the Answer?

ME:  You already hit on the key.  Look at the person of Jesus.  Jesus, exactly.  Jesus, more.  Jesus, not me and (especially) not those folks you’ve been around.   Either He was more than just a martyr or there is no hope. You see the alternatives quite clearly. It’s Jesus or nothing. Pascal’s wager is still the best bet.

I know this sounds pretty empty when what you really need is not intellectual answers but emotional support, and it doesn’t seem like God is giving you any, and why not if He is actually there and all that loving? Do I have it about right?  [I did.]

OK, then, it’s not a question of what is true but of what you are able to feel. I don’t have answers for that. Why we feel the way we do is often very complicated.  You may have cut yourself off from God’s normal means of supplying emotional support by choosing to cast your lot with a group of legalists; it may have been abundantly available but you had made yourself incapable of receiving it (like C. S. Lewis for a time  in A Grief Observed).  I don’t know.  I can only say that lots of saints have had the same struggle at various times (including me). I would just hug you if I could. Cyber hugs aren’t good enough, but it’s all I can give you today. And encourage you to start every day by reading the scene in The Silver Chair where Puddleglum stomps the fire and makes his speech about following Aslan. I don’t know what I would do without dear old Puddleglum. He’s my patronus.

Portrait-Puddleglum1

Puddleglum

And think about this: Could Lewis have written that scene if he, the greatest apologist and Christian intellectual of the 20th century, was not able to relate to where you are coming from? We are in good company, dear sister. Lift up your head!

[This seemed to help my friend.  Will it help you?  Only you can tell.]

For more unconventional apologetics from Dr. Williams, see his book Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy and his other books from Lantern Hollow Press.  To order, go to

https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.

If you are interested in the case for God or more on the Christian world view, check out Dr. Williams' book REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO'S CAVE in the Lantern Hollow E-store.

If you are interested in the case for God or more on the Christian world view, check out Dr. Williams’ book REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO’S CAVE in the Lantern Hollow E-store.

Review: Jackson’s “Battle of the Five Armies”

HobbitCover

After finally watching Peter Jackson’s THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, I was pretty much unmoved, either to admiration or to anger. I was surprised by that, because there was plenty of both to report about all the earlier films. The truth is that there is really nothing left to learn from one more Jackson film about either Middle Earth or Jackson’s version of it. The parts that were good and the parts that were unnecessarily stupid and lame were pretty predictable from the first two Hobbit films. Jackson’s Middle Earth is what it is, and there really isn’t anything left to say about it that I have not said before.

Except one thing: I am never left unmoved by re-reading Tolkien.

OK, what are some of the things I had said before?  Now that Jackson’s entire interpretation of the legendarium is complete it might be worthwhile to revisit some of them.  If you want them in full versions, they can be found here:  https://lanternhollowpress.com/2013/02/04/review-the-hobbit-part-1-directed-by-peter-jackson/;   https://lanternhollowpress.com/2013/02/11/9196/;   https://lanternhollowpress.com/2014/02/03/review-the-desolation-of-smaug/.  For now, I will sum up:

HobbitHole

Skipping the obvious (the visuals are mostly authentic and usually breathtaking), I understand that the change to a new medium requires changes to the story.  So I’m not a purist.  I didn’t mind, for example, Bombadil being dropped or having the characters of Arwen and Glorfindel conflated.  So saying that “It’s different from how Tolkien did it” is not, by itself, a valid criticism.  There are even a couple of changes to the legendarium that are actual improvements.  [I pause for all the Tolkien fans who know me to gasp in horror.]  First, it actually makes more sense for Narsil to be in a shrine in Rivendell than it does for Aragorn to be carrying a useless sword around with him in the wild.  Anybody who has done any serious backpacking knows that dead weight is the last thing you want with you.  Aragorn is the most experienced outdoorsman in Middle Earth.  I rest my case.  Second, it makes sense for Aragorn to have kept the Army of the Dead with him through the end of the Battle of Pellenor Field.  His little band of thirty Dunedain plus an elf and a dwarf, however good they might be, would not have been enough to turn the tide.

TolkMistyMountains

I object to two things:  Changes that are just dumb and changes that alter the basic meaning and philosophy behind the work.  First, the dumb.  OK, it’s a movie, and we have CGI now.  There is still a difference between an epic and a video game.  This became most pointedly evident in the first two Hobbit installments, where people fall down five-hundred-foot cliffs and get up and walk away as if nothing had happened, dwarves randomly fall out of a tree onto Eagles’ backs who just happen to be passing below at the right time instead of being plucked from them (Nobody is that lucky, even if you add the phrase “if luck you call it”), and two ninja elves double-handedly kill more orcs than Saruman and Sauron put together ever bred.  Tolkien added the laws of magic to Middle Earth, but he did not allow himself to break the laws of physics.  All the physical feats performed are physically possible.  Not in Jackson’s Middle Earth.  Even in a movie, it makes the art less serious.

Portrait-Tolkien-line-Murray

The Professor

 

Much more problematic are changes that alter the moral meaning of Tolkien’s tale.  Here the prime example (there are many others) is Faramir.  How do you get from “I wouldn’t pick this thing up if I found it lying in the road” to “Tell my father I send him a powerful weapon?”  There is no logical path from the one place to the other.  The reason so many of Tolkien’s characters have to be “complicated,” some, like Faramir, to the point that they are unrecognizable, is that Peter Jackson lacks the moral imagination to believe that virtue is believable to a modern audience.  Tolkien has evil characters (Sauron, Saruman by the time of LOTR), he has morally compromised characters (Gollum, Theoden, Denethor, Thorin) in whom either good (Theoden, Thorin) or evil (Denethor, Gollum) finally triumphs, and he has good characters with integrity (Aragorn, Faramir, and many others).  We meet more people in the middle category in real life, true.  But Tolkien believed that we need positive portraits of integrity to feed our moral imaginations on.  Jackson either does not understand or rejects as impossible that belief.  It is that difference in philosophy that makes his movies, for all their brilliance, ultimately unsatisfactory to people who truly love and understand Tolkien’s work.  For more on this point, see my article “The World of the Rings: Why Peter Jackson Was Unable to Film Tolkien’s Moral Tale,” Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 26:6 (Nov.-Dec. 2013): 14-16).  To see it online, go here:  http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=26-06-014-v.

The Professor

The Professor

The last installment of Jackson’s Hobbit adds nothing new to this account.  Jackson’s Middle Earth is what it is, and there really isn’t anything left to say about it that I have not said before.

Except one thing: I am never left unmoved by re-reading Tolkien.  I hope some of the things I have said above help to explain why.

To see more of Dr. Williams’ writing, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams, Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed., or Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy:  Poems and prose in pursuit of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty!

 

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.

 

 

THE BREADTH OF THE HAIR: A Review

Brian Shelton, Prevenient Grace: God’s Provision for Fallen Humanity. Anderson, IN: Francis Asbury Press, 2014. xi + 283 pp., n.p., pbk.

John Wesley famously cracked that Calvinism was “within a hair’s breadth of the truth.”  One would not get any such impression from listening to either contemporary Calvinists or Arminians, who have been practicing polarization with great diligence ever since the passing of their respective masters. Toccoa Falls College VP for Academic Affairs Brian Shelton makes Wesley’s pronouncement plausible again with a much-needed study of Wesley’s doctrine of Prevenient Grace.  Strangely neglected by contemporary Wesleyans, this doctrine is actually their strongest response to Calvinist critiques of their theology.  Shelton treats it exegetically, historically, and theologically in a winsome book that deserves attention from people on both sides of the controversy.  The book concludes with a very useful FAQ section called a “Synthesis of a Case for Prevenient Grace.”

John Wesley

John Wesley

Prevenient Grace is the proverbial hair’s breadth from the corresponding Calvinist doctrine of “Effectual Calling.”  Both deal with the problem that in the Gospel faith and repentance are demanded of people who are incapable of rendering any such response, because they are dead in their trespasses and sins and the natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit.  It will be news to many Calvinists that there is an Arminian theology that takes this problem as seriously as they do and offers a similar solution: the enablement of the Holy Spirit is a necessary prerequisite to that response.  The breadth of the hair lies here:  Does the Spirit give that enablement to all men and women who hear the Gospel, or only to those who actually respond?  Does He overcome all men’s sinful indisposition to the truth just enough so that they are able to make a free choice, or does He “call” those whom God foreknows so effectually that we can say that “whom He foreknew . . . He justified . . . and glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30)?

John Calvin

John Calvin

The exegetical section is the key.  There are of course passages that can be taken as supporting either view (I’ve given one I think is on the Calvinist side above).  Shelton shows what a responsible Arminian reading of them looks like.  I think that in several of them the words can be taken either way, depending on the assumptions we bring to the text.  In the end my own moderate reformed view remained intact.  But I think Shelton has shown that constructive dialog between Evangelical Arminians and Gospel Calvinists needs to continue, and that both sides will profit from making this doctrine—and Shelton’s fine treatment of it—central in that discussion.

Bigger on the Inside . . .

Bigger on the Inside . . .

Scripture, as I said, seems to say (or at least imply) both Prevenient Grace and Effectual Calling.  That is a sign that we need to live inside the hair.  If that seems a rather narrow and constricted space, remember: Like the Tardis and a certain Narnian stable, it is bigger on the inside than the outside.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

For more writing by Dr. Williams, visit https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams, Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy, or Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of  Letters, all from Lantern Hollow Press:  poems and prose in pursuit of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty!

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.