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Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Ancient men marveled at the regularity of the movements of the heavens, which enabled them to predict the paths of the planets.  It was not until modern times though that we were able fully to appreciate just how mathematical are the laws that govern the operations of the physical universe—all of it, not just the visible parts.  Music is mathematics applied to pitch and time.  It is more than that, but not less.  So poets from Milton to MacDonald to Lewis and Tolkien have, in an appropriate metaphor indeed, portrayed creation as a song or a dance.  It was in Job all along: at creation the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy.

 

COMMENTARY, JOB 38:7

The Novas were the trumpets,

The Black Holes played the bass,

The Comets were the clarinets,

The concert hall was Space.

 

The Stars were violins,

The Angels sang in thirds,

The Planets danced a minuet,

Jehovah wrote the words.

 

And still they sing together,

And with the inner ears

The clear-souled man can listen yet:

The music of the spheres.

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

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CXLII

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

The Spenserian Sonnet, with its interlocking rhyme scheme, has a subtler movement than the Shakespearean, but still comes to rest in a decidedly final couplet.  Meanwhile, it encourages enjambment, not only of lines but of quatrains too.  I find it useful in writing about concepts too mysterious to be fit into the precise linear march of the Shakespearean form—not irrational (free verse for that!) but transrational, if we can coin such a word—for there is closure.  Let’s see if we can get form and content to merge in those terms here.

And God said, "Let there be light."

And God said, “Let there be light.”

CREATION

Here’s the marvel:  that the self-contained

And all-sufficient triple Unity

Which for untold eternities had reigned

Complete in His own pure simplicity

 

Should will unnecessary worlds to be.

And yet His mind was steel, His purpose flint:

He struck off sparks of flaming ecstasy

And called the stars by name.  The thing He meant?

 

To make His glory visible.  He sent

Forth pulsing space-time-matter-energy

Which danced in pirouettes as on it went.

Just one thing more was needed:  eyes to see

 

And skin to feel and mind to comprehend.

He called it Adam, and there made an end.

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Mission Report: Bulgaria 2015

Mission Report

BULGARIA 2015

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Church Planting International

From May 25-June 8, 2015, a team of five students and two faculty from Toccoa Falls College traveled to Bulgaria.  We had a dual purpose.  First, we participated in an international choir and orchestra that performed Haydn’s oratorio “Creation.”  (Imagine something like Handel’s “Messiah,” only dealing with Genesis 1 rather than with the coming and ministry of Christ.)  More importantly, we were there for ministry.  The students worked with local church music ministry teams during their time off from rehearsals, and I was privileged to work with local pastors and youth leaders and with local college student ministries in addition to preaching in two Evangelical churches.

BulgariaPosterCreation

Monday-Tuesday, May 25-6, was travel, a long ordeal involving four planes and five airports: from Atlanta to Charlotte to Paris to Sofia, Bulgaria (the capital city), to Varna, a resort town on the coast of the Black Sea where the international music festival was to be held.  Wednesday we jumped right into rehearsals.  Friday and Saturday, May 29-30, I left the group behind and traveled back to Sofia.  On Friday I met with my host, Pastor Avramov, who gave me a tour of the city and some background on the situation faced by Evangelical Protestants there.  The country is dominated by nominal Greek Orthodoxy.  Evangelicals account for only 1 % of the population.  Though the more serious time of Communist oppression is past, some persecution of Evangelicals continues.  The Orthodox church is fiercely opposed to competition and is not above having Protestant pastors arrested on trumped up charges.  On Saturday we had a seminar on apologetics attended by a dozen Evangelical pastors and youth workers.  They requested the topics of Theodicy (the problem of evil) and Post-Modernism.  The latter surprised me, as I had thought it more relevant to America than to them.  But they assured me that the challenge of a world view that denies any legitimate authority to texts, including the biblical text, was moving into their country as well.  It will be intensified for them by the cynicism which was the natural result of having been systematically lied to by the Communists for so many years.  I found them intelligent, well prepared, and fully engaged.  The Lord has a small core of good servants with which to reach this beautiful but spiritually needy country.

BulgariaSofiaCathedral

Orthodox Cathedral, Sofia

I got back to Varna after midnight on Sunday and was up early Sunday morning to preach at Varna’s Second Baptist Church on “The End of Salvation: the Glory of God,” from Ephesians 1.  We also participated in their worship service, with the students supplementing their worship team.  I met Pastor George again later that week at one of our cantata performances, and he told me that he was so impressed with the importance of what I had shared that he was going to turn it in to a series!  That is a pretty gratifying thing for a preacher to hear.

Preaching at 2nd Baptist, Varna

Preaching at 2nd Baptist, Varna

Monday, June 1, it was back to rehearsals, but I took a break from that in the afternoon to do a lecture at the International Students Center in Varna on “The Historical Case for the Resurrection of Christ,” sponsored by the local chapter of Agape (what we in the states call Campus Crusade for Christ).  They went all out to attract non-Christians, including making the beautiful poster you see here.  In the end they were disappointed that only two Atheists showed up, along with ten Agape members.  But the believers were strengthened and the atheists challenged.  Pray that the Lord will bring forth fruit.

BulgariaLect

I said that while I believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures, I was not going to appeal to them in that way but simply treat them for the sake of argument as historical documents.  What are the criteria that historians use to evaluate testimony?  Multiple attestation, proximity to the event, basic consistency in reportage (but not too consistent, or you suspect collusion—you want discrepancies but not contradictions), hostile witnesses supporting the testimony, testimony that is embarrassing to the witness (for people generally spin stories in their own favor rather than otherwise).  On all the criteria the Gospels and the Epistles pass with flying colors.  They are all within one generation of the events, you have discrepancies (one angel mentioned or two?) but not contradictions (only one angel versus two), Paul and James were hostile before their conversion, and the disciples portray themselves as clueless cowards.  So if we have to take the testimony seriously, we are left with four facts that virtually every serious historian accepts:  Jesus was crucified, he was buried in a borrowed tomb, the body was missing Sunday morning, and almost immediately his followers were claiming that he was alive and they had seen him.

So what are the possible explanations of these facts?  All of them but one have fatal flaws in attempting to explain the data.  The only problem with the one that does explain it is that you have to believe a miracle happened.  Ok.  But this is not some random dude in some miscellaneous place we are saying rose from the dead.  This was a man whose coming had been prepared by Providence and predicted by prophecy for two thousand years.  This was a man whose friends kept asking, “What manner of man is this?” and feeling compelled to answer that question in theistic terms.  This was the reassertion of the life of a man who had already shown himself to be sovereign over life and death.  If ever there were a man about whom we could believe such a thing, it is this man: it is Jesus of Nazareth!

Resurrection

Tuesday-Thursday saw intensified rehearsals and then “Creation” was performed twice, In Dobrich on Friday, June 5, and in Varna on Saturday the 6th.  We prayed that the Lord would make His Word fruitful in that medium.  Then I preached on Sunday, June 7, at the Evangelical Pentecostal Church of Varna, using the same sermon I had given the Baptists.  If the primary purpose of salvation is our benefit, then we must find the suffering and heartache of living in a fallen world a defect in our redemption leading to doubt; but if we see that the primary purpose is God’s glory, then we are set free from that doubt to live boldly for the glory of God.

Preaching at Evangelical Pentecostal Church, Varna

Preaching at Evangelical Pentecostal Church, Varna

My hearty thanks if you supported us with your prayers or your funds.  Keep praying that the Lord will make the ministry fruitful; for unless He builds the house, we labor in vain.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

R. A. Forrest Scholar & Prof. of English, Toccoa Falls College

President, International Society of Christian Apologetics

 

“To think well is to serve God in the interior court.”

For more on apologetics by Dr. Williams, check out his books at Lantern Hollow Press:  Inklings of Reality, Stars Through the Clouds, and Reflections from Plato’s Cave.  To order, go to

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

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.

The Language of Middle Earth

“In the beginning was the Word.”

LANGUAGE AS THE FOUNDATION OF MIDDLE EARTH

If you are not yet sufficiently awed by the profound depths of which the human mind is capable through the mystery of human creativity, ponder the fact that you have just successfully read this sentence. It has quite a complex structure, with an independent clause and three subordinate clauses, plus four prepositional phrases. It contains thirty different words used thirty-seven times.  The odds that you have ever seen them before combined in precisely that order are, for all practical purposes, zero. I could spend a whole chapter just analyzing that one sentence without taxing my own patience (yours is another matter). Yet I created the sentence effortlessly, and most of you probably understood it with little or no conscious effort.  Both of those facts are just plain stupefying.  And usually we do not even waste the adjective creative on expository prose of the kind I am writing now!  But without this almost indescribable human capacity for creativity, language could not work.  Without consciously doing any of the formal analysis (until after the fact), I spontaneously created a structure that allowed you to recreate with some accuracy in your mind the fairly complex and sophisticated meaning I was attending to in mine.

Where Shakespeare learned his grammar

Where Shakespeare learned his grammar

Where does this astounding ability come from? Man’s creation in the image of God is the source of the difference between us and the rest of the animal creation.  But what is the imago Dei (image of God)?  Is it our amphibious nature combining matter and spirit, our rationality, our moral (or immoral) nature, our capacity for relationship with God, or is it simply the position we occupy as His regents, representing Him as stewards and governors of creation?  None of these attributes is irrelevant to the imago, but neither is any of them its essence.  Theologians can spend interminable pages debating the details to no purpose, because they have never bothered to read Genesis for its narrative flow in context.  When we do, the answer is very plain.

Where Lewis and Tolkien practiced grammar

Where Lewis and Tolkien practiced grammar

The first statement that God intends to create Man in His own image occurs very early, in Genesis 1:26.  We are in the first chapter of the first book of the Bible.  So let us start from scratch.  So far we have only seen two attributes of God in action; they are all that has been revealed to this point, hence all we know of Him.  First, He is creative; second, He is articulate.  And these two facts are related:  He uses language as the means of His creativity, first declaring things into existence and then giving them both form (separating light and darkness, water and land, etc.) and value (it was very good). 

And God said, "Let there be light."

And God said, “Let there be light.”

So if we are then told that Man is going to be “like” God, one would think that this likeness must refer to the only attributes that have so far been introduced into the narrative.  Man too will be creative and articulate. And this reasonable assumption is confirmed by the story.  Adam is the first creature to be personally addressed by God’s speech; after a long string of third-person “let there be’s” he is called “thou.”  And he immediately starts talking back.  His first official act is to create the first human language:  God brings the animals before him, and whatever Adam calls each one is its name. So Man, like God, is creative because he is articulate. The core of the imago Dei is language.

Calvin abuses the gift of language.

Calvin abuses the gift of language.

Language allows us to contemplate things not immediately present in the physical environment and then to manipulate them in our heads.  It is therefore the foundation of our capacity for abstract thinking and reason. Language allows us to render an account to God of our stewardship of His creation.   It is therefore the foundation of the fact that, in a manner not true of the other animals, we are accountable for our actions, i.e., have  a moral nature.  That accountability allows us to function as His regents, the stewards of creation. We see then that all the major facets of our uniqueness that have traditionally been related to the image of God find their unity in language; it is the characteristic we share with Him that makes all the others possible.  Like Him, we are creative and articulate, articulately creative and creatively articulate.  We are language users because we are language makers, made in the image of the Word.

One who used the gift of language well.

One who used the gift of language well.

It is therefore no accident that the greatest story teller of the Twentieth Century, who propounded as well as practiced the theory of Secondary Creation, began the creation of the most believable, consistent, and compelling imaginary world ever known with the ultimate act of human creativity:  the endeavor to create a language.  Tolkien discovered that in order for Elvish to have a convincing sense of reality as a language, it required a people to speak it, a world for them to live in, a history and a mythology for them to remember, and other languages (spoken by neighboring peoples, who would have all the same requirements) to be related to.  And that is both how we got Middle Earth and one reason why it is so convincing.

Tolkien-Sam'sSong

For more on the gift of language and how we may best thank the Giver by using it well, see Dr. Williams’ book Inklings of Reality, available in the Lantern Hollow E-Store!

InklingsofReality5c

The Best of LHP – On Writing: A Lesson in Vulnerability, Part Two

This post was originally published May 2013, a week after I graduated with my master’s degree in English. 

This post is primarily a follow-up on my post at the beginning of the month. This gives me a chance to respond to readers collectively and to develop some additional thoughts from their comments. 

At the beginning of the month, I discussed a valuable lesson I learned from reading Stephen King’s On Writing: the importance of revision and the necessity of peer-reviewed criticism. These two elements of writing spring from the writer’s willingness to be vulnerable to the reviewer’s critiques and suggestions.

Many readers responded to the post in two ways. First, some alluded to the general hesitation we have has writers to share our work because we fear exposure. Indeed, as we write, we show the world our thoughts and creative abilities, an offering that can often leave us feeling, well, vulnerable. A friend in my fiction writing class this last semester told me she feared giving the teacher her story because it spoke so much about her as a person and an artist. While I’m not a huge fan of psychoanalysis, I do think stories reveal our personalities and our perception of the world and the people around us. Paul in the epistle to the Romans alludes to the Creator’s own divine attributes displayed in creation, and John calls Christ the Word of God, the Maker’s very expression of himself. Like our Creator, we reflect our personality and worldview through our art. Basically, it shows the world us, an aspect we must learn to accept and share if we are ever going to be good writers.

Second, one astute reader mentioned the wisdom we writers need to distinguish between constructive criticism and negative criticism. The former affords us the chance to grow, change, and embrace relationships; the latter tears us down and discourages us from pursing our goals and desires. Further, we also need to distinguish between good constructive criticism and bad constructive criticism. I have watched my students struggle with this distinction, but they soon discovered that learning the difference requires practice and patience. While we must have a certain openness to criticism, as this reader pointed out, we must cultivate a certain level of wisdom needed in revision to separate the helpful from the harmful or the hurtful.

Our willingness to share our stories show we also understand the relational nature between the artist, the work, and the reader: the artist has to be vulnerable to give his work to the world either in editing or in publishing. Withholding our story from our readers does not show our love for writing; it shows we operate in a vacuum, hoarding our creative minds and our perspective on our world from other people. When our Maker created this world, he did so with the intention of sharing it with man out of love and desire for fellowship, and this relational element in creation behooves us as artists to reflect such a purpose. Therefore, we need to be vulnerable enough to share our stories with our readers for them to enjoy the work and rejoice with us in our creative abilities.