Thinking Out Loud

March 21, 2017

C. S. Lewis’s Greatest Hits

C. S. Lewis certainly belongs in any list of the Top 10 Christian writers of the 20th Century, but for many his thoughts are more easily digested in sound bites rather than the reading of complete works. I was a little surprised when, with 2017’s season of Lent well underway I was offered an opportunity to review Preparing For Easter: Fifty Devotional Readings from C. S. Lewis, but I wasn’t about to turn down a chance to reconsider Lewis’ brilliance in a different format.

Really, the seasonal title of the book is unfortunate, a better one might be C. S. Lewis’s Greatest Hits, though the book is not limited to his apologetics but introduction makes clear that, “being a leading Christian defender of the faith would not be the only reason to explain Lewis’s posthumous popularity… [He] was also a pioneering explainer of the Christian life itself… Lewis’s apologetics are so powerful precisely because many find his vision of the Christian life so compelling and inspiring. It is this later role of Lewis’s, as a visionary prophet for how to follow Christ today, that this collection is concerned with.”

It’s also helpful to take the more more familiar passages; the Lewis-isms which have become soundbites, such as,

  • Aim at Heaven you will get earth ‘thrown in’: am at earth and you will get neither
  • If I find in my self a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
  • The dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.
  • I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

and read these, at least partially, in their fuller original context.

But there is also the more obscure, the sections in the various Letters… collections which I have never perused. I would have liked more of these, such as his take on pacifism — a view he describes as “recent and local” — as well as his picture of heaven:

The symbols under which heaven is presented to us are (a) a dinner party, (b) a wedding, (c) a city, and (d) a concert.

Equally helpful to me were the sections in books I had read previously but had somehow simply missed, which in these shorter, daily readings — most run four pages in a digest-sized volume — are brought into clearer focus, such as the excerpt I ran on Friday.

Not every word that Lewis wrote is gospel. Some of his ideas were his own opinions and perhaps a few were somewhat fanciful. But such is the nature of his writing. I don’t always get Song of Solomon, either, but it’s in the same volume that offers me the gospel of Luke or the epistle to the Romans.  Many passages are highly personal to Lewis, or perhaps the reader.

Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. I don’t agree at all. They afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ. (194)

Included with each of the 50 readings are references to selected scripture passages which enhance the devotional experience. The volume ends with a reading for Easter Sunday. Again, to repeat what I said earlier, this really ought to be a non-seasonal product. In the meantime however, it will well serve people charged with preparing material for the central season of the Christian year, or latecomers like myself who were able to binge-read it in several sittings.

HarperOne; 2017 hardcover; 214 pages; 17.99 US; 9780062641649. Material is suitable and helpful for all Christian traditions. Compiled by Zachry Kincaid. Thanks to Nadea Mina for a review copy.

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September 6, 2013

The All-Time Most Influencial Christian Books

I had this all set up to post on my book industry blog, but felt it really deserved the wider readership here also…

I found this rather awesome list at the blog James’ Mirror – Christian Discipleship Guide. I’d like to think that if I posted the link most of you would click through, but experience teaches me it’s better to reblog the item; however, I hope a few of you will give the author some traffic, and click through (click the title below) to read this at source.

Most Influential Christian Books

After a search across the internet for the most influential texts in Christian history came up empty, I decided to create my own. It is admittedly biased toward western, evangelical, Protestant books with a skew toward more recent publications. I’m sure there are a lot of gaps, so I’d love your ideas for how to improve the list. It’s ordered by date and includes texts such as creeds and Bible translations.

  • Antiquities of the Jews (94) – Josephus
  • The Didiche (~100)
  • Against Heresies (180) – Irenaeus
  • On the Incarnation (318) – Athanasius
  • Nicean Creed (325)
  • Life of Antony (360) – Athanasius
  • Confessions (400) – Augustine
  • Latin Vulgate (405) – Jerome
  • City of God (413-426) – Augustine
  • Creed of Chacedon (451)
  • The Rule of St Benedict (530) – Benedict
  • The Philokalia (400-1500) – Various
  • On Loving God (1128) – Bernard
  • Book of Sentences (1150) – Peter Lombard
  • Summa Theoligica (1273) – Thomas Aquinas
  • Revelations of Love – Julian of Norwich
  • Imitation of Christ (1418-1427) – Thomas a Kempis
  • Gutenberg Bible (1456)
  • 95 Theses (1517) – Martin Luther
  • Bondage of the Will (1525) – Martin Luther
  • German Bible translation (1522, 1534) – Martin Luther
  • Commentary on Galatians (1535) – Luther
  • Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536) – John Calvin
  • The Divine Comedy (1555) – Dante Alighieri
  • Acts and Monuments (aka Foxe’s Book of Martyrs) (1563) – John Fox
  • Dark Night of the Soul (1584) – John of the Cross
  • Spiritual Exercises (1522-1524) – Ignatius
  • Book of Common Prayer (1549) – Thomas Cranmer
  • Heidelberg Catechism (1563)
  • King James Bible (1611)
  • Westminster Confession (1646)
  • Death of Death (1647) – John Owen
  • Reformed Pastor (1657) – Richard Baxter
  • Pensees (1669) – Blaise Pascal
  • Pia Desideria (1675) – Philip Jacob Spener
  • Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) – John Bunyan
  • Institutes of Elenctic Theology (1679-1685) – Francis Turretin
  • Attributes of God (1682) – Stephen Charnock
  • New England Primer (1687)
  • Body of Divinity (1692) – Thomas Watson
  • Practice of the Presence of God (~1700) – Brother Lawrence/Joseph de Beaufont
  • Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1728) – William Law
  • Religious Affections (1746) – Jonathan Edwards
  • Diary of David Brainerd (1749) – Jonathan Edwards
  • Plain Account of Christian Perfection (1766) – John Wesley
  • Missionary Travels (1857) – David Livingstone
  • Holiness (1877) – JC Ryle
  • Systematic Theology (1871) – Charles Hodge
  • Diary of George Muller – George Muller
  • In His Steps (1897) – Charles Sheldon
  • Lectures on Calvinism (1898) – Abraham Kuyper
  • Orthodoxy (1908) – GK Chesterton
  • The Scofield Study Bible (1909) – Cyrus Scofield
  • The Fundamentals (1910-1915) – RA Torrey
  • Christianity and Liberalism (1923) – J Gresham Machen
  • My Utmost for His Highest (1924) – Oswald Chambers
  • Church Dogmatics (1932 – 1967) – Karl Barth
  • Cost of Discipleship (1937) – Dietrich Bonheoffer
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950) – CS Lewis
  • Christ and Culture (1951) – Richard Neibuhr
  • Mere Christianity (1952) – CS Lewis
  • Late Great Planet Earth (1970) – Hal Lindsey
  • Knowing God (1973) – JI Packer
  • The Celebration of Discipline (1978) – Richard Foster
  • Desiring God (1986) – John Piper
  • The Purpose Driven Life (2002) – Rick Warren

…So what did you think? Anything you would want to add? How many of these have you read?

September 25, 2011

Lord of My Possessions, Friendships, Comforts, Reputation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:02 pm

Last week Trevin Wax posted a poem/prayer by A. W. Tozer.  The name may be unfamiliar to you, but Tozer was a major figure in the Christian  & Missionary Alliance movement and church denomination.  (Like the Salvation Army, the C&MA was/is both a mission and a church.) Gospel Light Publishing has recently released a series, “Never Before Published,” containing some of Tozer’s commentary/study on books of the Bible that several people I know have begun reading.

Here’s a Tozer quotation from my Christianity 201 blog, followed by the poem, followed by another quotation…

Satan’s first attack on the human race was his sly effort to destroy Eve’s confidence in the kindness of God. Unfortunately for her and for us, he succeeded too well. From that day, men have had a false conception of God, and it is exactly this that has cut from under them the ground of righteousness and driven them to reckless and destructive living…

…The God of the Pharisee was not a God easy to live with, so his religion became grim and hard and loveless…

…The truth is that God is the most winsome of all beings and His service on of unspeakable pleausre…

…How good it would be if we could learn that God is easy to live with. He remembers our frame and knows that we are dust. He may sometimes chasten us, it is true, but even this He does with a smile, the proud tender smile of a Father who is bursting with pleasure over an imperfect but promising son who is coming every day to look more and more like the One whose child he is…

from the The Best of Tozer, Baker 1978 edition, pp. 120-122

O God, be Thou exalted over my possessions.
Nothing of earth’s treasures shall seem dear unto me
if only Thou art glorified in my life.

Be Thou exalted over my friendships.
I am determined that Thou shalt be above all,
though I must stand deserted and alone in the midst of the earth.

Be Thou exalted above my comforts.
Though it mean the loss of bodily comforts and the carrying of heavy crosses
I shall keep my vow made this day before Thee.

Be Thou exalted over my reputation.
Make me ambitious to please Thee
even if as a result I must sink into obscurity and my name be forgotten as a dream.

Rise, O Lord, into Thy proper place of honor,
above my ambitions,
above my likes and dislikes,
above my family,
my health and even my life itself.

Let me decrease that Thou mayest increase,
let me sink that Thou mayest rise above.

– A.W. Tozer

Found this at the blog The Narrow Path where it appeared under the title, Our Life in Christ.

Certainly not all of the mystery of the Godhead can be known by man–but just as certainly, all that men can know of God in this life is revealed in Jesus Christ! When the Apostle Paul said with yearning, “That I may know Him,” he was not speaking of intellectual knowledge. Paul was speaking of the reality of an experience of knowing God personally and consciously, spirit touching spirit and heart touching heart. We know that people spend a lot of time talking about a deeper Christian life–but few seem to want to know and love God for Himself. The precious fact is that God is the deeper life! Jesus Christ Himself is the deeper life. And as I plunge on into the knowledge of the triune God, my heart moves on into the blessedness of His fellowship. This means that there is less of me and more of God–thus my spiritual life deepens and I am strengthened in the knowledge of His will.

–A.W. Tozer

April 7, 2011

Paging Eugene Peterson… Mr. Peterson…

When you think of all the medical advances of the past few decades, and then read the gospels and consider that Luke was a doctor, you have to ask a couple of questions.  First of all, what did he know?  In other words, since he didn’t have the information that modern science now has available, how did he go about treating people?

The second question would be:  Is there any information that he had which has gotten lost over time?  In other words, did he know things about what we, in our sophistication, would call “alternative medicine” — things about roots and berries etc. — including knowledge we’ve misplaced?

And then I think about spiritual knowledge.

I love today’s modern Christian writers.  In 2009 and 2010 I finished reading more Christian books than at any previous time in my life.  (Though there’s been a bit of a slowdown recently that I partly attribute to a shortage of titles that intrigue me.)  As the (capital C) Church, we need new writers who will teach the scriptures to our own generation.

But then I start working my way through Christian classics, and I keep feeling that, like Luke’s medical knowledge, perhaps certain things are getting lost.  Maybe you’ve had this experience.

The problem however, is that the language is awkward.   Those writers wrote in lengthy sentences with multiple subordinate clauses.  The paragraphs were long and flowing.  The syntax was different.   Sometimes, the word usage is embarrassing, such as the use of “intercourse” where we might be better advised to avoid associations and go with “interaction.”

Where is The Message version of some of these classics?  The late Keith Green did a few updates in his newsletters, and you probably have a copy of James Reimann’s update of Oswald Chambers’  My Utmost for His Highest on a shelf.

But lately — he said, creating yet another paragraph, something older writers would never do — I’ve been reading the lessons in Andrew Murray’s With Christ in the School of Prayer and wondering how they would look with a Eugene Peterson treatment.

Here’s just a couple of paragraphs I posted at Christianity 201 earlier in the week.  He’s writing about our tendency to separate the “sacred” parts of life from the “secular”, whereas in true Christianity no such division exists:

Our daily routines, our life “out there” in the world at large is the test of our interaction with God in prayer.  So often a Christian, when he or she comes to pray, will try to cultivate a certain “prayer frame of mind;” to try to “get into the zone” so to speak because he things that this will please God.

This forgets that life doesn’t consist of fragments in which we can simply set one aside and pick up another one.  Life is a whole and the supposed “piety” of a “prayer time” is judged by God in the context of the ordinary activities of life of which the prayer moments are but a small part.

It’s not about the spiritual energy that I try to summon, but the level of spiritual focus that has been part of my life all that day.  That’s how God does his assessment of what I’m really all about, and what my true desires are.

My “getting together with God” is just one piece of my interactions with other people and with creation itself.  A failure in one area will bring about failure in the other.  It’s not just about when I’m aware of anything wrong between me and my neighbor, but more about the general flow of my thoughts and reasoning, the less than loving things I say without even noticing; these can really hinder my prayers from being effective.

The kind of prayer that gets results comes out of a life given over to the will and the love of God.  It’s not about what I try to be while I’m praying, but what I’m all about when I’m not praying.  That’s the context in which my “incoming prayer” is received and dealt with by God.

~my own paraphrase, taken after With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray; lesson fourteen, “When you Stand Praying, Forgive.”

If you’d like to read more at Christianity 201, here’s a few of this week’s articles:

April 1 — Joanna, A Disciple of Jesus — In a 2005 piece, Jeff Lucas looks at this disciple mentioned twice briefly in the NT.

April 2 — The Discipline of Walking in the Spirit — Paul Steele unpacks a phrase that we might toss around without considering its meaning.

April 3 — Jesus’ Attitude Toward the Divorced — Kevin Rogers notes that in even talking to the woman at the well in John 4, Jesus was somewhat identifying with her situation.

April 5 — When You Converse with Jesus — Jon Swanson avoids the formulaic approach to Christian living, but suggests it’s more like an ongoing conversation, and notes some things you can expect to happen as you talk.

Here’s a couple of bonus links:

March 27th — Pastors, Tell us the Truth — Rachel Held Evans encourages pastors when they’re wrestling with theological issues, or are just plain burned out.

March 26th — Most Mis-Applied Bible Verse — Chris Brauns suggests that the verse, “Where there is no vision, the people perish;” isn’t about your church having a mission statement in the weekly bulletin.

April 6th — Random Notes — Thinking out Loud readers already know a bit about our family devotional life, but C201 readers don’t really get to know me.  But somewhere in the writing, this random notes piece turned into a tribute to the vast body of Bible commentary by American pastor Warren Wiersbe.  (Actually Warren W. Wiersbe, after whom the “www.” in internet addresses is named.)

…If you’ve seen paraphrased sections from classic writers such as Andrew Murray let us know where the treasure is buried.

Better yet, write one of your own.  It’s informative to slow down and ask yourself: What is this writer truly saying, and how might I say that today?

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