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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CCVII

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.”

Gerard Manley Hopkins

THEODICY

Hopkins knew the Lord was just, yet pled

The justice of his own request for rain.

ThePsalmist’s echoed accents make it plain,

It wasn’t the first time such words were said.

Even Jesus wondered as he bled

Why God had turned His back upon the pain.

The Spirit’s calculus of loss and gain

Cannot be quickly figured in your head.

 

So when like Job we groan and question why

And plead our case, but seem to plead in vain,

We might remember that the Lord’s reply

Was simply a refusal to explain,

And then a pure, white Lamb who lived to die.

It is enough:  We follow in His train.

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

CLIV

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.”

 

Theology can’t be all serious!  Let’s see, how many rhymes can I find for “divinity?”

TrinityDiagram2

DITTY FOR SEMINARIANS

 

A scholar of divinity

Was studying eternity,

And since he had a minute, he

Sat down to write a paper.

But e’er that he could pen it, he

Found that he must begin it; he

Met Despair, and in it, he

Got lost as in a vapor.

For eternity’s infinity,

Though open to the Trinity,

To Man’s soul is a mystery,

And always will escape her.

(Well—if it seemed hard to begin it, he

Should have tried to end it!  He

Would still this very minute be

A-working on the paper.)

 

The "Trinity Knot": Three in One

 

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, due out Sept. 1, 2016, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

CLI

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 greatest explanation of why poetry matters is Sir Philip Sidney’s magnificent “Defense of Poesy.”  Sidney defends poetry against those who could see no place in the curriculum for “lies.”  The end of learning, he says, is virtuous action.  The Philosopher writes about the ideal, but does it so abstractly, is so “misty to be conceived,’ that “a man may wade in him until he be old before he find sufficient reason to be honest.”  The Historian, by contrast, writes concretely and tells a story we can relate to—but he is limited to what actually has been.  He cannot talk about what ought to be, the ideal, without departing from his expertise as a Historian.  “But now doth the peerless poet perform both”:  Like the Historian he speaks concretely and tells a story, but like the philosopher he is not limited to what has been but is free to talk about the ideal.  Here I try to add the Theologian to Sidney’s framework.

The Poet
The Poet

DEFINITIONS

Tending to Show that Theology

Is Indeed the Queen of the Sciences

I

Philosopher:  a man who tries to shave

With Ockham’s Razor by the flickering light

That shines behind his back in Plato’s Cave.

He’ll know that’s what he’s doing if he’s bright;

He may take Pascal’s Wager if he’s brave

(Fides quaerens intellectum), and he might

Thus feel his chains fall off and leave that place

And know the sunlight full upon his face.

William of Ockham
William of Ockham

II

Historian:  He deals in documents,

And what he cannot find there he invents.

As long as it fits in with and makes sense

Of what we have of solid evidence,

It’s called “interpretation,” and he prints

It up.  In this there is no vain pretence

As long as we can tell the difference.

 

III

The Poet is a wielder of that Word

Which clothes the unformed thought and makes it seen,

Which sings the silent thought and makes it heard,

Which tells us how to say the thing we mean.

Sir Philip Sidney said it long ago

In his divine Defense of Poesy:

Philosophy’s business is to seek to know

Not just what is, but that which ought to be,

Truth in its very essence, plain and bare

(Though he may leave it hanging in the air);

History can tell us how, below,

The truth has fared and still is apt to fare;

The Poet’s language teaches us to care.

A Theologian
A Theologian

IV

The Theologian has to be all three:

The logos, the divine philosophy

Which was incarnate in our history

Must still be fleshed with words to make men see.

The Theologian simply has to be

All three.

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, due out Sept. 1, 2016, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Book-CSLTheology-Cover

PHILOLOGY THE HANDMAID

As this blog post appears, I will have just gotten back from a week at Snow Wolf Lodge near Pagosa Springs, Colorado, teaching about the place of literature and literary study in the Christian world view and the Christian life for Summit Ministries.  Literature?  In most treatments of the Christian world view the subject of literature never even comes up.  If I am successful in this post, you will realize that this omission is a serious problem.

Snow Wolf Lodge at Sunset in the Rockies
Snow Wolf Lodge at Sunset in the Rockies

Christians believe that the only way we can know God is that He has revealed Himself.  He has done so in nature, for “the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His handiwork” (Ps. 19:1).  He has done so in history, by calling into existence the nation of Israel, redeeming it from slavery in Egypt in the Exodus, and preserving it as a nation.  Supremely He has done so by sending His Son into the world.  The miraculous birth, sinless life, authoritative teaching, atoning death, and glorious resurrection of Christ show us who God is more profoundly and more clearly than anything else.

The classroom at Summit Semester
The classroom at Summit Semester

There yet remains a problem.  Nature is fallen.  As such it still shows us God’s power and His intelligence, but it no longer reflects His majesty perfectly.  History by itself contains no rubrics to point out the core redemptive history of Israel as being special or significant.  Christ is no longer with us in the flesh.  Therefore, nature, history, and Christ need to be presented to us in a way that reports, points to, and interprets their revelatory significance reliably and authoritatively.  The provision for this need is a book, the Bible.  It is the lens that brings the rest of revelation into focus, the Rosetta Stone that interprets it for us and renders it intelligible.  Our access to revelation therefore depends on our ability to read in such a way that we can receive the ancient message, let it speak to us for what it is, and humbly and obediently hear in the Text the Voice of the Spirit who inspired it.

Elmer the Elk Surveys his Domain: the Snow Wolf Lodge Dining Hall
Elmer the Elk Surveys his Domain: the Snow Wolf Lodge Dining Hall

So faithful reading is required if we are profitably to receive God’s revelation and know Him.  “How do we do that?” becomes a critical question.  Part of the answer is to realize that the Bible is made out of literature.  It is not (mostly) systematic theology.  It has some (Romans, Ephesians), but it is mostly history, poetry, prophecy, parable.  The theological message is fleshed out most basically on the skeleton of a Story—the story of our creation, fall, redemption, and restoration through Christ.  So if you don’t know how poetry works, if you don’t know how stories work, you will be handicapped in receiving God’s revelation of Himself.  You will be handicapped in knowing Him, enjoying His salvation, and following His will for your life.

Echo Canyon, Containing the Classroom
Echo Canyon, Containing the Classroom

In other words, Theology is the Queen of the Sciences, and Philology is her Handmaid.  I said Philology, not Philosophy.  Philosophy is a Handmaid too, but Philology is the Head of the Handmaid staff.  Note the difference in spelling.  Philology is the love (phileo) of words (logoi), the loving study of language and literature.  Any version of the Christian world view that leaves literature out of account leaves its disciples hamstrung in trying to understand anything else it wants to teach them.  I spent a week on this with my Summit students, and we were just getting started.

"Theology is the Queen of the Sciences, and Philology is her Handmaid."
“Theology is the Queen of the Sciences, and Philology is her Handmaid.”

I’ve written a whole book on this topic:  Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed. (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012).  To order it, go to  https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.

InklingsofReality5c