The Romantic Rationalist: A Strange Juxtaposition

Christianity-if-false-is

An interesting title for a book.  An interesting juxtaposition of terms to describe a person.  Yet I can think of no better description to fit the persona of C.S. Lewis.  Sure, he was many other things–a Christ-follower, an author, a professor, a friend–but all of those titles can be summed up in the way he approached life, in general.  And that was as both a romantic and a rationalist.

This compendium of sorts contains essays centered around ideas that C.S. Lewis espoused.  Or, rather, his thoughts on those ideas.  Not a history book, not an biography, but rather more a theological examination of the air that surrounds the words of Lewis.

The writings of C.S. Lewis had an integral impact on my mind and the process of coming to belief in God.  Opening “Surprised by Joy” was like reading my life.  Pouring over “Mere Christianity” was like coming home.  It would be fair to say that I would like to read pretty much anything that Lewis has written.  In fact, in The Romantic Rationalist, John Piper alludes to a collection of Lewis’ essays that I’d never heard of before.  Yes, I put it into my Amazon Wish List.  Yes, it is out-of-print and is selling, used for $263.15.  Yes, I contemplated selling platelets to get it.

So, I guess you could say that I kind of respect the guy.

Even with that enormous respect, though, there are a handful of times that I’ve read Lewis and thought “Hmmm.  I wonder why he says that?”.  The Romantic Rationalist helped me to sort out some of those instances.  For example, Lewis’ views on the inspiration and authority of Scripture.  This is a topic I’ve given much thought to.  And, if one thinks about it too much, it can become down-right baffling.  So I have to guard my mind against dwelling there for too long, because I can become spun up on it fairly quickly.  Meaning, I can give sway to doubts.  Too often, too quickly, too easily.  I have to fight doubt, consistently.  And, this is one area that fighting doubt plays a strong role, at least, in my mind.

Most evangelicals shy away from Lewis when it comes to discussing this topic.  I’ll invite you to read the book to find out why.  But I appreciate the authors of The Romantic Rationalist diving neck-deep into this and other areas where questions arise in regards to the theology of C.S. Lewis.  Theology is important.  Extremely so.  And, it bothers me to not get it “right”.  I want to practice sound theology.  I want to adhere to solid doctrine.  I want to participate in correct disciplines.  But, I am not always going to get it “right”.  Neither, necessarily, did C.S. Lewis, one of the most revered “thinkers” of our time.

There is some comfort in that.  For one, it reminds me that Lewis, like all men, are just that–men.  Fallible creatures.  I need not put him on a pedestal, any more than I should put any person on a pedestal.  Only God holds that status.  And, while the writings of C.S. Lewis are and always will be of extreme importance to me, the writings of Scripture can never be replaced.  No commentary, no essay, no brilliant work should ever overshadow God’s word.  And, all things must be checked through scripture.  Show me scripture.

Secondly, there is hope for me.  I am not going to get everything right, but I can’t stop striving to learn.  But we all must continually ask the questions that need to be asked.  We must continually present our thoughts before God and shine the light of truth upon them so that we can make adjustments where needed.  I think that is what C.S. Lewis strove to do; and, in doing so, we are privy to his honest thoughts, struggles, and wrestlings.  He has given us a front row seat, through his writings, and we are richer for it.

The Romantic Rationalist is not solely about issues of questions that arise in regards to Lewis’ theology–not by a long shot.  But, those sections that dealt with that were what stood out the most to me.  Why, I think an entire book could be written on each of the chapters presented in this volume.  There is even a chapter on food.  Well-played.

This is a book that I think I will turn to repeatedly.  An excellent book to have in one’s library–it opens up the discussion on key ideas and provides much fodder for further exploration and thinking.

*I received a review copy of this book from Crossway Publishers.

*Be sure to read the interview panel discourse at the end of the book, located in Appendix 2.

What is Family?

I am exhausted.  Dead dog tired.  My back hurts, my feet hurt, my legs hurt, my head hurts.  I have absolutely poured sweat today, seasoned fish for the first time in my life, run around in the pouring rain, and have eaten zucchini pie.

It’s been a great day.

Today we had a picnic with our sister church, Rising Sun Baptist Church.  Our church, Seaford Baptist, was invited by Rising Sun Baptist to join them in their annual church picnic.  Last spring, I was asked to join two other friends from my church to join their committee to help plan this event.

I love my church.  And I love the people of Rising Sun.  And I love it when our churches come together.

But, I will admit that when I think of picnic, I picture a 2 hour event, 3 hours tops.  Eat some hot dogs, some hamburgers, some delicious desserts and go home.  How hard could that be?

Well, friends, what I found out during our first planning meeting was that Rising Sun does not have an annual church picnic.  They have an annual church PICNIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Meaning…….

Set up starts at 8:00 am.  Picnic starts at noon and goes to 6pm.  And, this isn’t just hamburgers and hotdogs.  No, we are talking that plus chicken, crabs, fish, wings, and more sides and desserts then you can even begin to fathom.  Plus an amazing D.J., music, tug-of-war (be sure to check out the video above!), Bounce Houses, give-aways, decorations, games, face-painting, kettle corn, and I seriously can’t think of all the rest of the list at the moment.

It’s been a great day.

Sure, it was hot and sticky, then wet and rainy.  But who cares?

Because we were with family.

At one point, I paused long enough to take in what was going on around me, and I was amazed.  I shouldn’t be, though.  Because what I was observing was family.  It was brothers and sisters, in Christ, working together, playing together, laughing together, and doing life together.

It was Romans 12:5, put into action:  So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

One body.  In Christ.  Brothers.  Sisters.  Family

I saw this clearly worked out my own, little family’s life this week, up close.  My oldest son has wanted to enlist in the Navy after high school from the moment he joined JROTC his freshman year.  After 4 years of this dream, it became a reality for him yesterday, when he traveled to Fort Lee, VA and was processed into the military.

When we first started down this road seriously, it was a bumpy ride.  Not knowing anything about the process or what was involved, I was of absolutely no help to my boy.  I drove him one day after school to the recruiter’s office.  Tim was so nervous.  He wore his JROTC uniform and was a wreck.  And it wasn’t a pleasant experience.  In fact, it was downright discouraging.

I was at a loss as to how to help my son achieve his dream and goal.

In stepped a Navy Master Sergeant from our church family.  This man not only advised us on what to do, he got involved, walking Tim through every step of the process.  We learned so much from him that we would have never known.  And, after Tim scored extremely well on his ASVAB test at school, this MSgt. accompanied Tim back to the recruiter’s office.  When we ran into a medical bump alone the way, he explained the reason behind it and encouraged Tim to keep going.  Once Tim was medically cleared and his date for processing was set, this gentleman took an entire day off of work, drove up to Richmond to the processing center early in the morning and patiently waited for Tim.  I couldn’t be there because of work; but I wouldn’t have been any use to Tim any way.  Tim’s mentor was able to advise Tim throughout the job assigning stage, he was able to ask questions that I wouldn’t have even known to ask, and he was able to see Tim all the way through to his ceremonial swearing-in.

And, he has assured Tim that he will follow-up with the recruiter to make sure things keep moving forward.  He helped my boy achieve his dream–his calling.

That, my friends, is what church family does.   When there is a need that can be met, they step up to the plate.  When there is someone hurting, they are cared for.  When there is something to rejoice over, they join in that rejoicing.

And when there is good food to eat, they do that together, too.

Seaford Baptist has been family to my family.  Rising Sun Baptist Church has been family to my family.  Zion United Methodist Church has been family to my family (we live in their parsonage).  And Yorkminster Presbyterian Church has been family to my family.  And other churches, too.  And I pray that I and my crew have been family to them as well.

And Christ has been the foundation of it all.

And not just the foundation, but the cornerstone.

Ephesians 2:19-20:  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

The whole structure….being joined together….growing into a holy temple in the Lord.  A dwelling place for God.

That is family.

Together We Point to Christ.

Miracles: The Current Beneath—A Book Review

Wonder Working God

What are miracles, really? Sure, we read about them in the New Testament–the healing of the blind, the resurrection of Lazarus, the casting out of demons–all performed by Jesus, the Son of God. And yes, the are striking. Astonishing, actually. But they tend, at least for me, to raise more questions than answers.

Such as “Why did Jesus use spit on a couple of occasions?” and “Why did He choose to heal seemingly selectively as opposed to every person during that time who needed healing?” and the biggie–“Why don’t we see such astonishing acts today?”

Jared Wilson, author of The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles, does exactly what his title suggests–he shows us the glory of Jesus, the Son of God, through the miracles that He performed. And it is a brilliant glory. Nearly blinding, in and of itself.

I received this review copy of this book from Crossway Publishers. I was unsure of what I was looking for in reading it. I found out that I wasn’t looking for something–I was looking for someone.

Wilson walks us through, chapter by chapter, several miracles. Miracles that, if you are familiar with Sunday School, then you’ve probably heard before. But Wilson also dusts off the accumulated layers of time and repetitiveness to offer a fresh look at not only the actual event, but the underlying current that courses through each event. No, he doesn’t add extra-biblical insight into these wonders. Instead, he points us to see what is truly there: Jesus.

In fact, His last chapter, titled “The Singular Miracle of the Eternally Begotten” is about the greatest miracle of all. Jesus, Himself. And as I read that chapter, I was woefully reminded how often I forget–or rather, do not even comprehend–the fact that Jesus is a miracle. The greatest miracle. And if we can’t grasp that, then none of his other miracles make any sense.

Wilson’s writing didn’t answer my “biggie” question, of why we don’t see such blatant miracles today that we read about in Scripture. But, then again, in reading his book, that question of mine actually shrank just a bit. Scripture is truth. And so I found my “biggie” question slowly overshadowed by the sheer awe of who Jesus was and is today, and who He will continue to be in the future. He is the Miracle of the Eternally Begotten. And as such, I was deeply convicted by this paragraph in Wilson’s Conclusion:

“Our boredom at any time, then, is a sin. Sin is, at its essence, a failure of worship, and failing to worship is failing to be astonished by the presence and activity of God in the world. Sin is a failure to marvel at and be motivated by the miracle of the gospel.”

I do not want to fall prey to boredom, ever, in regards to the miracle of the gospel. Being reminded of who Jesus is, and that God is a Wonder-Working God, prods me to worship and marvel. As it should be.

Needing a Heart Transplant (Not for the Squeamish)

Heart of Flesh

It’s been a challenging week.

I’m not completely sure why.  Nothing major.  A growing to-do list that never seems to reach the “To-Done” state.  Anxiety over little things like bills, the upcoming school year, decisions that need to be made.  A foot injury that I stubbornly and obsessively am refusing to allow me to slow down in my quest for a healthier lifestyle marked by consistent exercise.  A readiness to see my crew back at school and being productive, instead of me getting frustrated that, as soon as their chores are done for the day, they instantly turn into slugs–as teenagers are prone to do.  You know, the little things that make up life.

And a maybe a few bigger items.  Like the realization that my amazing oldest girl will be 21 on Monday–and how much time has just flown by.  And the realization that it’s been exactly 5 years this week since Jack’s incarceration…and all the memories and thoughts that drudges up (5 years?  Really?  Where have I BEEN the past 5 years??  Where did the time GO??)  And, of course, the fight against skepticism and cynicism that has crept a bit more into my brain this week than usual.

So…a few challenges.  But, in the grand scheme of things, they are just that:  Challenges.  These challenges—-along with the joys of spending time with my crew, worshiping with my church family, anticipating celebrating my girl’s birthday with her, seeing good results in the exercise and healthy eating choices I’m making, and rewarding work in areas that I’m passionate about and that God has called me to—–all of it combined is what this life is made up of.  Joy, sorrow, challenges to overcome, challenges to face, meaningful relationships to relish and enjoy, good books to read, grief to experience, pain to endure.  There is so much to life.

So much to experience.  So much to feel.  And “feeling” can be terribly frightening.

Feeling hurts some times.  Even joy can be painful–the joy of watching your sweet babies grow up can leave a hint of pain in your life.  But other pain is much deeper than a hint–other times pain can be gut-wrenching.  Terrifying, even.  When a loved one is sick and there are no answers.  When a child makes wrong choices in their lives and you hurt deeply for them.  When your marriage crumbles.  When heinous crimes are committed, destroying families.  When racial tension threatens to undo an entire city, such as Ferguson, MO.  When Kurdish Christians are forced to flee or face death for not converting to Islam.

When our questions about God and pain and suffering become almost too much to bear.

And so we react, by not feeling.  We react by becoming automatons.  We react by returning to a heart that is stone cold.  A soul full of skepticism, because we fool ourselves into thinking that skepticism is oh, so much easier.  And way more intellectual.  The smarter choice.  Because if I choose to not feel, then I can’t get hurt.  Not only can I not get hurt, I become completely absolved of any responsibility of doing anything to try to alleviate the pain that I see others around me in.  I become completely absolved of praying for or caring for those who are hurting in Ferguson.  Or in Iraq.  Or next door.

And I can use my skepticism as a fancy, trendy tool to justify my doubt.  To justify my cold heart.

How can I say all of this?  Because I’m the queen of skepticism.  I’m the queen of using doubt to push away both joy and pain.  I’ve got a doctoral degree in holding on to my cold, stone heart, when God clearly longs to give me a heart of flesh.

In fact, He did give me a heart of flesh.  It says so in scripture.  And scripture is truth.  In Ezekiel 36:26 we read:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

How did God do this?  Through salvation.  Through the sacrificial death of his Son on the cross.  Through forgiveness of my own heinous sins.  Through His tremendous love for me.

So why, why, why do I try to return to that cold, stone heart time and time again?  Why do I do that, when that heart of stone is gone.  It is gone.  It was dead, and now it is alive.  I was dead, and now I am alive.  Why would I want to return back to skepticism, to cynicism, to coldness?  To protect myself from pain?  To not have to do something about the suffering I see in the lives of those around me?  To absolve me of responsibility to pray, and then to act?

Because if that’s why I do it, I’m a fool.  I’m a fool, because in doing so, I miss out on the joy of watching God’s grace pour out time and time again both in my own life and in the lives around me.  I miss out on the wonder of who my God is.  And I do nothing to protect myself from feeling pain, because–no matter how much I try to return to the world of skepticism and cynicism, the truth is, God has performed the miraculous in my life.  The heart of stone is gone.  What beats in its place is a heart of flesh.  One that feels, deeply.  One that sees.  And one that is called to act, not live a sheltered life under a thick skin of un-feeling.  A thick skin of disbelief.  A thick skin of not caring.

N.T. Wright, a new Testament scholar and brilliant thinker has said “It’s time to be skeptical of our own skepticism.”  There is great truth in that statement.  I know it full well in my own life.  It is time for me, to be skeptical of my own skepticism.

I’m including a video below.  It’s of a complete cardiac transplant.  It’s bloody and gory, hence the disclaimer in the title of this blog.  But it’s fascinating, too.  Especially around minute 5:11, if you want to skip to there.  Because it is at that moment that the transplant becomes complete.  And the patient who previously was suffering from a diseased heart (dead) all of a sudden is the recipient of a new heart.  A heart of flesh that is healthy, and alive and beating.  Amazing.  But no more amazing than the truth in reiterated in Ezekiel 11:19-20, which tells me:

 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.