Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Persuasions

A dream of reason meeting disbelief

Canon Press, 1989, 95 pages
by Douglas Wilson

In Pilgrim’s Progress, we follow the pilgrim Christian and see the people and problems he meets on his journey. The very first person is Evangelist, who tells him about a Celestial City, and sets him off on the path to it. Now in Douglas Wilson’s Persuasions, instead of following Christian, we stay with Evangelist, and listen in as he converses with the many other travelers who are on this road.

The people he meets are all heading in the wrong direction, away from the City and towards the Abyss, so Evangelist tries to make them aware of the peril by exposing to them the inconsistency of their beliefs.

These people each represents a worldview and the first one Evangelist meets is Randy, a young man who has made a god out of sexual immorality. When Randy finds out Evangelist is a Christian, he mocks monogamy: “Making love to one woman for life… That’s like buying one record and taking it home and playing it over and over and over again.” But Evangelist is quick to corrects him: “I’m afraid your analogy is a faulty one. It is not like buying one record; it is like buying one instrument and learning how to play it. If you are committed, boredom is not a danger.”

Evangelist doesn’t instantly convert Randy, but he does get him thinking. And in the encounters that follow he does the same for many others, including:

- an evolutionist
- a feminist
- an agnostic
- a liberal "Christian" scholar
- an Antinomian
- an atheist
- a woman who is dismissive, because of the hypocrisy in the Church
- a pantheist
- a Roman Catholic
- and a man troubled by the doctrine of Election.

There are 13 encounters in all, each of which is entertaining, and highly educational. I would recommend this book to any adult or older teen, but it would make a particularly good gift for anyone making their profession of faith.

I should also note one instance of a character using God's name in vain. It happens only once, but I find it curious that in Christians books it is not all that rare to find characters taking God's name in vain, and yet you will never find them using the F-word. The reason for that is clear - were they to use the F-word, Christian readers would protest, and write the author asking why he would use such language in his book. And yet when God's name is used in vain, we Christians are silent.

Curious.

I sent a query about this to the book's publisher (I couldn't figure out how to contact the author himself) and was sent back this link to a video of Pastor Wilson speaking about "cussing characters" - how Christian authors should deal with obscenity, swearing and vulgarity. I wanted to pass on the link, because I think it is a very helpful outlook on this general topic, even though it left me wondering how the pastor would respond if I could have asked him about the specific instance occurring in this book (I suspect he might today acknowledge it as a mistake).

To conclude, a remarkable book with this one mar.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Michael is "Right"

by Michael Wagner
Marnick Press, 2010, 180 pages

This is a book Christian parents in Canada should give to any of their college-bound kids, before they head off to campus.

In the interests of full disclosure I should note that Michael Wagner is a regular contributor to Reformed Perspective, the magazine I edit (and Michael Is "Right" was published by Marnick Press which is owned by Martin VanWoudenberg who has also written for RP!). About 100 of the 180 pages are articles that were first published in RP, with most of the rest from other publications, and a few written just for this book.

But the very same reason I keep publishing Mike is the very same reason I'm recommending his book - he writes well, about things that matter. His particular specialty is introducing readers to secular professors, writers and scientists - people with little regard for God - but whose research backs up the Bible. He also highlights pivotal secular types who have directly attacked the Bible, and then goes on to explain the faults in their logic.

The books 29 essays are collected in 6 chapters addressing:

1) Canada’s Christian heritage
2) Charter rights vs. Human rights
3) The Sexual Revolution
4) The Government’s attempts to be Big Parent
5) Christian political activism
6) Responses to liberal libels of God’s Truth

So while this title would make a great gift for almost anyone, it is an absolute must-read for any high school graduate heading off to university. For them it would serve as an effective vaccination against the odd, and perverse ideas they will be exposed to on campus.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Children of Hurin

by J. R. R. Tolkien,
edited by (his son) Christopher Tolkien
Del Rey, 2010, 320 pages

It is no accident that this is the darkest of the tales of Middle Earth. An expansion of one of the tales of The Silmarillion, it is Tolkien's response to the pagan elements that he believed formed the background of Anglo-Saxon legendry. This is not a story for children, but it is a tragedy suitable for adult Christians, who may see their own weaknesses in its tragic hero Turin - who, as one of the "children of Hurin," both suffers under, and brings about, the curse on Hurin's family.

Tolkien saw the stories of Beowulf, the Grendel-killing and dragon-slain hero of Anglo-Saxon literature, as essentially pagan, even though they mention God and feature descendants of Cain as Beowulf's opponents. In Tolkien's tales, the proud boastfulness of a Beowulf (even if God is given some credit for his success) can only lead to disaster. In this story, as Turin becomes more and more proud, his arrogance eventually leads him to oppose the Valar themselves - the chief servants of Illuvatar, the creator of Middle Earth.

Turin's sin is what the ancient Greeks called hubris - raising himself to the level of God (or for the Greeks the gods). In Greek tragedy, when human beings are guilty of hubris, they experience divine wrath - a fate that, like Oedipus's in the plays of the ancient Greek playwright Sophocles, is worse than death. Turin's sin is also very much like the first sin of Adam and Eve - seeking to be like God. Tolkien shows how such sin inevitably leads to destruction - pride going before a fall, as Solomon warns us in Proverbs.

At the same time, Turin is a warning for all of us, for he is more than just an arrogant superhero/antihero who gets taken down in the end. His pride also sometimes takes forms that even the humblest of us are sometimes guilty of - self-pity and whining. The tale helps us see that even these less prominent sins involve setting ourselves up as judges of, and therefore demeaning, God.

The Children of Hurin is for mature readers who can stomach seeing the bitterness of the conflict of the races of men, elves, and dwarves (somewhat like the racial and ethnic conflicts of our own time); the cruelty of a cunning and powerful dragon very much like Smaug in The Hobbit; and the destruction of a tragic hero. Most recent editions, including the paperback linked to by this post, feature illustrations by Alan Lee - who contributed his artistic skills to the Lord of the Rings film trilogy - that skillfully complement the somber nature of this tale.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective

by Donald J. Sobol
Puffin Books, 1963, 88 pages

Idaville is a small town with a very impressive record - no one, absolutely no one, gets away with breaking the law. Most of the credit goes to Police Chief Brown, but if people would believe it, he would let them know that the town's most puzzling crimes are solved at the Brown's dinner table by his ten-year-old son Leroy! His son, known as Encyclopedia by his friends, also runs his very own detective agency, charging 25 cents a case, plus expenses.

The Encyclopedia Brown series are great books that each include 10 mysteries for readers to solve right-along-side our pint-sized detective. In this, the very first one, all the information needed to solve the mystery is included in the story, and the solution is found in the back. And though the mysteries are simple enough that boys and girls in the 9-14 range will be able to solve many of them, they are still subtle enough to present a challenge to adults (I have to admit I has to peek at the back to figure out 2 of the 10).

As you might guess from Encyclopedia's pay rate, this is an old book. It was first published back in 1963, so even though many more books have followed, with the 29th and last published in 2012 (a year after the author’s death) the whole series has an old-fashioned feel and appeal to it. For example, Encyclopedia often has run-ins with the Tiger gang, but this is very much a 1960s sort of boys' gang - they run minor scams, try to trick kids out of their allowance, and might even start a tussle or two, but the very worst that would result is a black eye, or fat lip.

I read these as a kid and loved the mini-challenge of each mystery. I was happy to see the series was still in print, and that new ones were being written, but I did notice when I checked out one of the latest ones, Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Secret UFOs, that two of the ten mysteries required the reader to know a little something that wasn't included in the story (for example, "The case of the giant shark tooth" could only be solved if a reader knew that sharks constantly replace their teeth). So the earlier titles are just a bit better than the most recent - no outside knowledge needed.

All the main characters, but one, are boys, so these are basically boy books, but they are great for anyone, boy or girl, who likes wrestling with problems. And dad might enjoy it too.