Monday, January 14, 2019

Two Ways to Get Out There

Out of the Saltshaker and into the World:
Evangelism as a Way of Life
by Rebecca Manley Pippert - 188 pages / 1979

Between Heaven and Hell:
A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death
with John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley
by Peter Kreeft - 115 pages / 1982

If there is anything Reformed churches and Reformed believers (including myself) need to work on, it's evangelism. These two books are really good reads on ways to reach out to non-Christians.

Rebecca Pippert's Out of the Saltshaker shows us how to not just proclaim the truth, but to demonstrate the truth of the gospel in our relationships. As the One who Himself is the truth, Christ showed both the truth of God's love in His healing ministry and the truth of God's justice in His teaching. Both of these, Pippert shows, are necessary in our engagement with a rebellious, but also sorely troubled, world. She shows how we must start by first knowing Jesus as the Good News and also as Lord. Three chapters deal with how Christ's message was radically different from the preoccupations of the Pharisees, and how we need to understand both the darkness of our own hearts and the grace of God to really have good news to proclaim. She then shows how our relationship with Christ deepens our love for others, and gives us practical ways, in that love, to talk with others about our faith. Her conclusion stresses that the greatest witness to the reality of Christ is (though she does not use the term) the communion of saints.

Pippert spends only a short chapter on apologetics, but that is Peter Kreeft's focus in Between Heaven and Hell. He uses a fictional encounter just after death of C.S. Lewis with two men who (in real history) died on the same day - John F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley. Kreeft uses Kennedy as the exemplar of "modernistic or humanistic Christianity" and Huxley as the representative of "Orientalized or mystic Christianity." Strictly speaking, neither is Christian at all, but both are our world's of responding to (and minimizing) orthodox Christianity. Kreeft has Lewis respond to Kennedy by defending the divinity and resurrection of Christ, and to Huxley by demonstrating the orthodox understanding of what it means that Christ is divine. Kreeft's book is a superbly dramatized summary of much of C.S. Lewis defense of both the truth and the meaning of the gospel account of Christ's divine mission.

These two books together give great guidance in both why and how to show Christ's divine love and truth to the non-Christians in our lives.

Cautions: The following issues will trouble Reformed readers:
  1. While Pippert urges that people get their friends into a church, her book does not focus on how churches can bring people into the pew to hear the faithful preaching of the word. Her references to the gospels sometimes paraphrase the account of Christ's work in ways that are too informal. She also speaks of Jesus not taking away our freedom, and while even the Canons of Dort say something similar (about believers), the phrasing is uncomfortably Arminian.
  2. Kreeft is a Catholic philosopher. His Catholicism does not enter much into the discussion, but the book ends with the possible "after-death" conversion of Kennedy and Huxley. I am sure that Kreeft is not suggesting that such a last chance actually exists, but he does imply that reason is the vehicle that (at least potentially) brings people to God. While reason can be used to demonstrate the irrationality of unbelief, Reformed apologetics and evangelism relies (as it should) on the power of God's word and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Still intrigued (despite the cautions above)? Use the following links if you think that Pippert can help you get out of the salt-shaker, or that Kreeft can help you present the choice between heaven and hell. Canadians can find Pippert's book here and Kreeft's book here.




Monday, January 7, 2019

Harvey Kurtzman's Marley's Ghost


by Charles Dickens
adapted by Harvey Kurtzman, Josh O'Neill, and Shanon Wheeler
illustrated by Gideon Kendall
129 pages / 2017

This is a fantastic and faithful graphic novel adaptation of Charle's Dickens' A Christmas Carol using much of the story's original dialogue, with only the lightest (and very helpful) bit of modernization.

The revisions are limited, with the biggest probably being a change of the Ghost of Christmas Past from an old, child-like, man, to now being a waif-like girl. Not sure why the change was made, but it doesn't impact the story. Then there is also the general abridgment, with the comic coming in at probably half the text of the original story.

The original has some problematic spiritual content – ghosts of various sorts, including those of Christmas Past, Present, and Future – and this adaptation shares the same. So if you disliked the original for that reason, you won't like this one either.

But I'd argue that is a mistake, as this story isn't meant to teach anything about ghosts or the afterlife. Dickens lesson is entirely about the here and now – he wants us to understand that money brings cold comfort – Scrooge treats gold as his god, and this deity only brings him misery. What's actually problematic is the alternative "god" Dickens proposes. While the God of the Bible is made mention of (less in the comic than in the original) He is not the source of happiness in this story. The god here – in both original and adaptation – is generosity. If you are generous, then you will be happy and your life will have meaning.

Oh, Dickens, so near and yet so far!

Still, with that shortcoming understood, this classic can be appreciated – Christmas is made much of, and if we remember what this day commemorates then we can see Scrooge's transformation as a small reflection of the generosity and humility Christ showed in coming down to earth.

Cautions

This book has a loose connection to Harvey Kurtzman, a cartoonist most famous for his work with Playboy and Mad magazines. However, the comic is not written or drawn by him but is only based in part on a treatment he produced, so this connection is really rather irrelevant. I only mention it to note that as good as this book is, his other work isn't.

Other cautions would be limited to the unnecessary additions of two words – "bugger" and "bloody" – to Dickens' original text. Would that this bit of "modernization" had been forgone!

Conclusion

If this loyal and inventive rendition was available in print, I would have already ordered a copy, but, alas, you can only get it in a digital edition. That said, if you have a large tablet, this will be a treat, and you can get it at Amazon.com here.