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.”
THOUGHTS FROM ST. SIMONS
The peace of Christchurch, the old oak
Beneath whose branches Wesley spoke;
The Spanish Moss, like wisps of smoke.
Here once flew the Union Jack;
The Redcoats kept the Spaniard back.
Now glass protects the artifact.
Beneath the sun, Frederica Town:
The tabby walls have all come down—
Foundations gaping in the ground.
The walls are tall, without a breach
In children’s castles on the beach,
But all within the high tide’s reach.
The sound of surf, the seagull’s cry,
The crab that passes sideways by,
And endless question asking why.
The tracks that grass makes in the sand,
A seashell nestled in the hand,
The endless quest to understand.
The circling sea, gray-green in hue,
White sails against a sky of blue;
The Good, the Beautiful, the True.
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
I have said this here before. It needs saying again. Someday I may repeat it yet a third time. It is that important.
As I look at the current scene, I see a church in desperate need of three great movements of God:
A recovery of the life of the mind. An increasingly illiterate generation is harder to reach with a faith founded on the message of a Book; an increasingly illiterate church is incapable of experiencing full-orbed Christianity based on the whole counsel of God revealed in the Text of that Book. Electronic inundation keeps us perpetually distracted. From a cultural (rather than a technical) standpoint, we may well be entering a new Dark Ages. The original rebirth of learning and culture that we call the Renaissance started with a recovery of interest in reading classical literature in the original languages using grammatico-historical exegesis to recover its original message to its original audience. God used that movement with its motto of ad fontes, “back to the sources,” to make the Reformation, the recovery of the pristine Gospel of the New Testament, possible. Martin Luther recognized this: “Whenever God wants to break forth truth anew out of His holy Word, he prepares the way by the rise of languages and letters, as if they were John the Baptists.” The renewal of languages and letters: That was the Renaissance! If history repeats itself, a new Renaissance just might lead to a new . .
A recovery of sound doctrine. When the new learning of the Renaissance, the ad fontes tradition, was applied to Scripture, the original documents were enabled to speak again with their own voice. This led to a recovery of sound doctrine in five areas: Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone, interpreted in context in the original language by grammatico-historical exegesis, is the only infallible and inerrant authority and final court of appeal; Sola Gratia, salvation is by grace, God’s unmerited favor, alone, apart from works; Sola Fide, salvation is received by the empty hands of faith alone; Solus Christus, Christ alone is the only Mediator between God and men; Soli Deo Gloria, God’s glory alone is the end of salvation and the purpose of all of life. All these truths are in danger of being lost again. We therefore need a new Renaissance leading to a new Reformation. Otherwise, we will continue to gorge ourselves on spiritual junk food while the great truths of the faith slip through our fingers. But if God would grant us Renaissance and Reformation again, they just might lead to . . .
A recovery of vital spirituality. The great error of our generation is to believe that this recovery is possible apart from the first two. Biblically and historically, it is not. We have seen that Martin Luther recognized the debt the Reformation owed to the Renaissance, and his words are worth repeating: “Whenever God wants to break forth truth anew out of His Word, he prepares the way by the rise of languages and letters, as if they were John the Baptists.” And the leaders of the First Great Awakening, the great Revival of the Eighteenth Century in England and America, saw themselves as continuing the work of the Reformation. If Christianity is true, then only the faithful preaching of the pure Gospel of the New Testament (Reformation) can give us the genuine spirituality and real Christian lives that Revival is all about. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone! Without Renaissance and Reformation, all our zeal for Revival is vanity and striving after wind.
- Do not stop praying and working for Revival. But do start praying and working for the Renaissance and Reformation without which no true revival with lasting impact is possible.
Donald T. Williams, PhD, is R. A. Forrest Scholar at Toccoa Falls College. For more of his writings, go to the Lantern Hollow estore and purchase his books, Inklings of Reality (a Christian approach to reading), Stars Through the Clouds (his poetry), and Reflections from Plato’s Cave (Evangelical essays in pursuit of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty).
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.”
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)?
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.
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!
No event is more paradigmatic for Evangelical identity than the First great Awakening of the 18th century. We’ve forgotten some of its lessons. Remembering them will be important if we desire to be fully faithful cultural and intellectual witnesses for Christ in the 21st century.
The religious situation in the early 18th century reminds one a lot of today. Deism (parallel to our theological Liberalism) ruled the established church (compare our mainline denominations) and the conservatives were in small dissenting churches marginalized and arguing with each other. Parallel to our drug culture you had gin creating a permanent underclass in the slums of the cities. (The English have always been great beer drinkers, but the more powerful distilled liquors were a new thing to them.) In the place of our abortion industry you had the slave trade–both dependent on the ability to arbitrarily dehumanize a segment of the human race.
Biblical Christianity had less of a voice then than it does now. And yet, seemingly out of nowhere came the First Great Awakening. We should not be discouraged to the point of giving up. God is not constrained to save by many or by few. Things look bad now, but they looked worse then. The same God is still on the throne.
Why was the First Great Awakening such a life-changing and world-changing revival? It combined a new emphasis on conversion as a personal and life-changing experience with an equally strong emphasis on the objectivity of Christian truth and the consequent importance of the life of the mind. We are familiar with that first emphasis: John Wesley found his “heart strangely warmed” as he listened to Luther’s commentary on Galatians, and felt the assurance that “my sins, even mine” had been forgiven. The other second emphasis has been forgotten. But Isaac Watts, the great hymn writer, wrote a textbook on logic. Robert Raikes started the Sunday School movement to teach literacy to inner-city kids. And Wesley edited a 50-volume Christian Library, books he recommended that every Christian read (even poor and uneducated ones), that included Milton’s Paradise Lost. Their teachings stress the importance that emotional reactions be subordinate to and flow from clear biblical exposition.
These emphases have since been separated. If we want to see another revival like that one, we had best get them back together.
It is inevitable that the church will be influenced by the culture that surrounds it, for good and for ill. What we should look for is evidence of integrity that comes from the power of the Gospel. When the leaders of the First Great Awakening emphasized what they called “heart religion” it was a counter-cultural move, because their society was afraid of passion; and they combined it with a strong emphasis on the life of the mind. That took insight and courage. To focus almost exclusively on emotional responses when you are surrounded by a culture awash in subjectivism is a very different thing. It is neither insightful nor courageous, and the “heart religion” it produces will be an anemic shadow of what our ancestors knew.
To be faithful witnesses with insight and courage in our own day is what we at Lantern Hollow Press want to do!
To read more of Dr. Williams’ analysis (and poetry!) check out the Lantern Hollow Press store on this website. To have him speak to your church or school, contact him at email@example.com.