Books! We wants them, yes, precious!

Let me bring to your attention two recent books that belong in the library of every Christian college, Christian school, and Evangelical seminary—and in the personal libraries of many of their professors of English literature and theology–not to mention hordes of their students!  Not to mention yours.

First is Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2016).  Diana Glyer says, “Williams has done the impossible: he has written a highly readable overview of C. S. Lewis’s theology.  He draws from the deep well of a lifetime spent studying literature and theology and Lewis.  My understanding has been greatly enriched; yours will be too.  This book is a marvel.”  Lewis was the greatest apologist and one of the most influential Christian thinkers and writers of the Twentieth Century.  Yet until now we have not had a study of Lewis’s theology that was both comprehensive and critical, asking, “What is the theology that lies behind the Narnia books, the Space Trilogy, and the popular apologetics, and what are its strengths and weaknesses as a guide to biblical truth?”  Clearly this book meets a critical need.

Then there is An Encouraging Thought: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of J. R. R. Tolkien (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2018).  Jim Prothero writes, “This book on Tolkien is not only readable, it is profound. The counter-culture movement latched onto to The Fellowship of the Ring more than a decade after its 1954 publication and never let go. The ultimate irony is that many of those young people were looking for alternative world-views to traditional values. And all the while, Professor Tolkien was a devout believer writing stories that reflected precisely traditional Christian beliefs and values. Donald T. Williams explores all the nuances of that irony here with humor and insight.”

Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was listed as the book of the century in three separate polls, and remains one of the most popular and beloved books of all time.  And it was built on the biblical worldview of its author, as he himself said, “unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.”  That grounding in the Christian worldview is less obvious and in-your-face than in his friend Lewis’s books, but Williams brings it into clear focus here.  Tolkien’s vision is a lens that lets us see the Gospel as true in the real world too.  Williams is a good guide to why that is true and to what difference it makes.

Donald T. Williams (M.Div., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, PhD, University of Georgia) is R. A. Forrest Scholar and Professor of English at Toccoa Falls College in the hills of NE Georgia.  The author of eleven books and countless articles, he is a border dweller, camped out on the borders between theology and literature, serious scholarship and pastoral ministry, Narnia and Middle Earth.  These books are most easily ordered from Amazon.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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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

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.

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.

WHY EVANGELICALS CAN’T WRITE, Part 1

WHY EVANGELICALS CAN’T WRITE,
And How Flannery O’Connor Can Help Us Learn Better

Donald T. Williams, PhD

A version of this essay appeared as “Writers Cramped: Three Things Evangelical Authors Can Learn from Flannery O’Connor,” Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 20:7 (Sept., 2007): 15-18. A fuller version appears in Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed., revised & expanded (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012).

C. S. Lewis’s writing desk. (He could write!)

There is a certain irony in the fact that I, an Evangelical, am now offering to you words I wrote down about why Evangelicals can’t write. Whether I am the exception that proves the rule, Posterity will have to judge (if the publishing industry ever offers it the opportunity). At the very least, the ironic presence of this essay on your screen is an opportunity for exegesis. It suggests that my title is not to be taken literally. Evangelicals obviously do write, and publish, reams upon reams of prose. What they have not tended to write is anything recognized as having literary value by the literary world.

 
What makes this failure remarkable is that our Protestant forebears include a numer of people who did: Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, John Donne, George Herbert, John Milton, and John Bunyan, to mention just a few. Equally remarkable is that near-contemporary conservative Christians–sometimes quite evangelical and even evangelistic, though not “Evangelicals”–have often done so. G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, Dorothy L. Sayers, T. S. Eliot, Graham Greene, Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor, Madeline L’Engle, and Annie Dillard are all recognized as important literary figures even by people who do not share their Christian commitment. Where is the American Evangelical who can make such a claim?

G. K. Chesterton
G. K. Chesterton

The people I have mentioned who are both great writers and great Christians are all from liturgical churches: Roman Catholic, Anglican/Episcopal, Orthodox. (Dillard, who started out as a Presbyterian, has recently converted to Catholicism.) The closest thing Evangelicalism has to a name that could rank with these is probably Walter Wangerin, Jr., who is not really a “mainstream” Evangelical but a Lutheran–again, from a liturgical tradition. Try to think of a Baptist (of any stripe), a Free or Wesleyan Methodist or a Nazarene, a conservative Presbyterian (OPC or PCA), a Plymouth Brother, a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, a Pentecostal, or a member of an independent Bible church who belongs in that company. While there may be one reading these words right now who is destined to join them, and to whom this rhetorical gambit is being grossly unfair, our experience up to now has been such that the mind is simply unable to suspend its disbelief and imagine any such thing. Instead, we get “Left Behind.” In more ways than one.

J. R. R. Tolkien
J. R. R. Tolkien

Why? Is there anything we can do about it? Is there anything we can do about it without compromising our commitment to our Evangelical distinctives? What are those Evangelical distinctives anyway?

 
These are the questions I will try to wrestle with–I won’t promise to answer–in this two-part essay. I do not want to overstate the case. No doubt someone could point out minor figures who are, or who have the potential to be, exceptions to the generalization which is my premise. I should be glad to hear of them, but as we are talking about general trends, they hardly overturn that premise. The liturgical churches foster a lot of schlock and kitsch of their own; but they are also communities that are capable of fostering and nurturing great writers and great writing. So far, we Evangelicals have not. In fact, one could make a case that we positively discourage “literary” writing as being of questionable spiritual value. I am just crazy enough to want to change that state of affairs.

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Too often people like Thomas Howard or Sheldon Vanauken have migrated Romeward (or, like Franky Schaeffer, at one point, to Byzantium), partly because their commitment to serious art could find no home in Evangelicalism. Some of them would deny that this was the major reason, but we would be naïve to think that it was not a factor. I want to say forthrightly that I do not see such migrations as a viable solution. For myself, I would define an Evangelical as a person committed to Nicene and Chalcedonian orthodoxy, to a high view of the authority of Scripture, to the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone, and to the necessity of personal faith in Christ (and therefore the importance for most people of a personal conversion experience, as long as we do not stereotype it) for salvation. If we must really give up any of that in order to learn to nurture serious artists and writers, then Evangelicals are prepared to let art and literature perish from the earth! But I cannot believe that the God who begot the incarnate Logos and whose Spirit inspired the Gospels desires, much less requires, any such thing. So let us find another way, and ask, “What can we learn from these great Christian writers that we, as Evangelicals, can apply in our own discipling communities?”

Let me attempt a beginning to an answer by examining one useful example: Flannery O’Connor.  What she can teach us will be our topic next week.

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Donald T. Willliams (BA, Taylor University, M.Div., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, PhD, University of Georgia) is R. A. Forrest Scholar at Toccoa Falls College in the Hills of N.E. Georgia. His books include Mere Humanity: G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien on the Human Condition (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006), Stars through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011), Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed., revised & expanded (Lantern Hollow, 2012), and Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lantern Hollow, 2012).

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Order Stars through the Clouds ($15.00), Inklings of Reality ($15.00) or Reflections from Plato’s Cave ($15.00) at https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.