A Man Pursues Holiness

I have just finished reading J. C. Ryle’s fat book Holiness. Ryle’s style is a shade pompous for my taste, but he does pack a lot of richness in these pages. Here are a few quotes that leapt out at me.

A religion which costs nothing is worth nothing.

I wish to be as broad as the Bible, neither less nor more.

On sin:

Dim or indistinct views of sin are the origin of most of the errors, heresies, and false doctrines of the present day.

The more real grace men have in their hearts, the deeper is their sense of sin.

On death & resurrection:

Nothing, I am convinced, will astonish us so much, when we awake in the resurrection day, as the view we shall have of sin, and the retrospect we shall take of our own countless shortcomings and defects.

Most men hope to go to heaven when they die; but few, it may be feared, take the trouble to consider whether they would enjoy heaven if they got there. Heaven is essentially a holy place; its inhabitants are all holy; its occupations are all holy. To be really happy in heaven, it is clear and plain that we must be somewhat trained and made ready for heaven while we are on earth.

Death works no change. The grave makes no alteration. Each will rise again with the same character in which he breathed his last. Where will our place be if we are strangers to holiness now?

Nothing, surely, is so likely to prepare us for that heaven where Christ’s personal presence will be all, and that glory where we shall meet Christ face to face, as to realize communion with Christ, as an actual living person here on earth. There is all the difference in the world between an idea and a person.

Of all the things that will surprise us in the resurrection morning, this I believe will surprise us most: that we did not love Christ more before we died.

A Man is a List of Books to Read

Megan Whalen Turner, author of the excellent Queen’s Thief series, included a list of recommended books at the end of one of her novels. It’s easy, she says, to find lists of new books for young readers, harder to find lists of old. Her recommendations address that imbalance. I’m a sucker for recommendations and for lists of books, so I’ve reproduced MWT’s work here:

  1. The Eagle of the Ninth, Rosemary Sutcliff
  2. Warrior Scarlet, Rosemary Sutcliff
  3. Blood Feud, Rosemary Sutcliff
  4. Knight’s Fee, Rosemary Sutcliff
  5. Puck of Pook’s Hill, Rudyard Kipling
  6. The Enchanted Castle, E. Nesbit
  7. The Story of the Treasure Seekers, E. Nesbit
  8. The Railway Children, E. Nesbit
  9. Half Magic, Edward Eager (a favorite)
  10. Magic By the Lake, Edward Eager
  11. Seven Day Magic, Edward Eager
  12. Knight’s Castle, Edward Eager
  13. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken (another favorite)
  14. Black Hearts in Battersea, Joan Aiken
  15. Midnight is a Place, Joan Aiken
  16. Go Saddle the Sea, Joan Aiken
  17. The Green Knowe series, L. M. Boston
  18. The Return of the Twelves, Pauline Clarke
  19. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Time, Jane Louise Curry
  20. The Perilous Guard, Elizabeth Marie Pope
  21. The Sherwood Ring, Elizabeth Marie Pope
  22. The Changes trilogy, Peter Dickinson
  23. The Princess and Curdie, George MacDonald
  24. The Princess and the Goblin, George MacDonald
  25. Moccasin Trail, Eloise Jarvis McGraw
  26. Little Britches, Ralph Moody
  27. Minnow on the Say, Philippa Pearce
  28. Tom’s Midnight Garden, Philippa Pearce
  29. The Ides of April, Mary Ray
  30. The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper
  31. Three on the Run, Nina Bawden
  32. Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne
  33. Playing Beatrice Bow, Ruth Park
  34. The Crime of Martin Coverly, Leonard Wibberly
  35. A Chance Child, Jill Patton Walsh

A Man Feeds Excursively

He might, perhaps, have studied more assiduously; but it may be doubted, whether such a mind as his was not more enriched by roaming at large in the fields of literature, than if it had been confined to any single spot. The analogy between body and mind is very general, and the parallel will hold as to their food, as well as any other particular. The flesh of animals who feed excursively, is allowed to have a higher flavour than that of those who are cooped up. May there not be the same difference between men who read as their taste prompts, and men who are confined in cells and colleges to stated tasks?

~James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson

What Boswell describes here of Johnson’s reading habits reminds me of Alan Jacobs’s praise of reading at Whim. (Lotta “ofs” in that sentence…)

A Man Read About Business

Here are short reviews of two books I read recently about Christian business.

Business for the Glory of God, Wayne Grudem

To his credit, Grudem argues that business, possessions, money, profit, competition, and all the rest are not evil or even morally neutral, but fundamentally good. As in, blessed by God. (Exempli gratia: the commandment against stealing implies private ownership; the Proverbs 31 woman is commended for earning profit.) Grudem admits that all created goods can be used for evil, but he goes to bat for them, which is commendable.

I part ways with him in two places. First, he says that the free market produces love of one’s neighbor because you have to get along in order to do business. I don’t think so. Quashing your hatred of the local mechanic so that he’ll fix your car is not a good thing. Your hatred needs to be dealt with. I do think that business and trade are good things that will flourish in a place full of confessing Christians. I just don’t think the causation works the other direction.

Second, Grudem has far too much faith in the free market to solve the world’s ills. He tells a story of firing a painter who botched the job of painting the Grudems’ living room. Don’t worry, he says, I did that man a favor. Eventually, market forces will tell him that he’s a terrible painter and he’ll find something else to do, something he’s good at. Listen to the market and the market will reward you. It will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.

Now, a businessman should not feel guilty for firing a bad employee. In some situations, it is a favor to everyone. But the way Grudem explains it here makes it sound like the best thing you can do for someone who’s struggling financially is tell them they need to work harder. That’s not always true. The market is not kind to everyone. People do get caught in the riptides and go under.

Works of mercy require more than telling someone what they’ve done isn’t good enough. Sometimes you have to step in and show them how to do better next time. And, sometimes, you just pay the man and repaint the living room yourself.

Acres of Diamonds, Russell H. Conwell

I read these books because I do not have a head for business. This one was useful in encouraging me to look for talents hidden in my own backyard, so to speak. He’s so positive about the fact that anyone (everyone!) can make themselves rich that you almost believe him.

On the negative side, I discovered an upstream tributary of Wayne Grudem’s book. Conwell (a Baptist minister) has this bizarre blind faith in the free market. Don’t leave an inheritance to your children, he says. They won’t experience the benefit of amassing wealth for themselves. Don’t give money to the poor. It will just make them lazier than they already are. Yeesh.

One last thing: he notes that ninety-eight out of one hundred rich men are honest. Being honest is what made them rich. I think he’s probably right about that. But that doesn’t mean that honesty and riches always go together. God’s world isn’t that cut and dry.

A Man Had a Thought About Tech-Wise Families

I started an online book group with a couple of friends, David K. and Jon B. The second book we read (just finished last week) was The Tech-Wise Family, by Andy Crouch. It was pretty good, holding the football steady so we could kick off a lively discussion. I’m not going to summarize or review it here. I just want to talk about something Crouch says in the section called “Shaping Space.”

He says that his one key recommendation, his if-you-only-remember-one-thing-from-this-book recommendation, is this: “Find the room where your family spends the most time and ruthlessly eliminate the things that ask little of you and develop little in you.” Good advice. Push yourself to become skillful in things. Pursue wisdom and gain courage. When I started to think about how I would apply this is my family, however, I immediately had questions…

My wife and I are sitting on the sofa in our living room right now, she reading, I typing this sentence. The wall opposite the sofa is mostly covered with books. To the left of the bookshelves is an electric keyboard, piled with sheet music. Above that hang two guitars. Now, this seems to pass the tech-wise assessment test. Books and musical instruments ask a lot of you and develop a lot in you, right? That may be true, but that’s not why we have them in our living room. We have the books because we enjoy reading. We have the instruments because we enjoy playing them. We hope that our daughter will enjoy both activities, too, of course, and so far, she does.

But let’s imagine that we had on the wall of our living room, not books, but a giant TV (like we do in the bedroom, ahem…). And let’s imagine that, after reading Tech-Wise, my wife and I agreed to ruthlessly eliminate the TV and replace it with a complete set of Britannica’s Great Books of the Western World. Would we grow apt to pull a volume down and flip through it? I don’t think so. Far more needs to change than the furniture.

I still think Crouch’s advice is good. (And you should still read the book.) The architecture and layout of your home will affect how you spend your time there. But I think we need to spend more time thinking about the role enjoyment plays in all of this. I can all too easily imagine a father and mother who, determined to ask more of their family, make their home a place where nobody wants to be (including the two of them). If you are really trying to wean yourself off your TV or smartphone or Netflix subscription, start with something small and enjoyable. Instead of the Great Books, replace your TV with a bunch of Tintin and the Complete Calvin and Hobbes.

 

A Man Follows Up on a Previous Post

My take on Spufford’s book Unapologetic got me thinking. I don’t deny the value of an emotional defense of Christianity. (See Nate Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl for a great one.) But Spufford specifically says that he wants to explain what it feels like to be a Christian, and there’s something curiously lacking from his explanation. For most Christians, being a Christian is primarily about interacting with other Christians. Another Christian raises you, befriends you, challenges you, teaches you, extends you grace, or all of the above. No one—and I mean no one—becomes (or stays) a Christian by themselves.

The more I think about it, the odder this absence is. What about Spufford’s relationships? How did he find his way back to the faith after a long absence? His book may have been stronger if it had been more autobiographical, in the vein of Surprised by Joy.

A Man Makes No Emotional Sense

Francis Spufford is a talented novelist. He has won prizes for his non-fiction. So I was interested to read his “non-defense” of Christianity, Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense. Apart from a few paragraphs here and there and one chapter (“Yeshua,” for those with the table of contents in front of them), it was, in the words of Christopher Hitchens, “not great.”

The problem, as I see it, is that Spufford is trying to have it both ways. He both does and does not want to defend his Christianity to other smart Brits. He does, because he doesn’t like being mocked by them (understandably so). He doesn’t, because he doesn’t really like formal apologiae, defenses of Christian belief. They are, he would say, not true to the actual experience of being a Christian. The question he wants to answer is “what does it feel like to be a Christian?” He’s going for “emotional sense.” Does he manage it? Sort of.

The book is laid out in a definite order, if not quite an argument. Spufford starts with what he calls the “human propensity to f*** things up” (HPtFtU, for short), which he assumes we will all recognize. Given that HPtFtU, especially as it applies to one’s own personal life, it makes sense that the next emotional (not logical) step is to peer into every corner of the universe in search of help. Many people find no help at all. Some people, Spufford among them, find, somewhere at the back of things, a kind of intuitive sense of all-powerful goodness. He sits in a quiet church, closes his eyes, and lets his thoughts roam freely. His insignificance washes over him. His utter helplessness. His wish to make things right. And, Descartes-like, he realizes that his very wish for goodness is a sign that goodness must be out there, somewhere. Despite his crookedness, he remains alive, though small beyond comprehension. Something larger and better than him consciously keeps him going. Throwing himself on the mercy of that large, good thing seemed like the best course of action. As an acquaintance of mine likes to say, “Why is there something rather than nothing? Looks like it’s time to worship!”

From there, Spufford reaches the problem of pain. (If there’s some all-powerful goodness at the back of things, why do I hurt?) His answer to the problem of pain is to throw up his hands and say, “No idea. All the explanations are bollocks. Christians just move on.” Okay… Moving on is part of it, so let’s do that now. Next up, a man in ancient Israel, a man who is that all-powerful goodness and yet fragile and time-bound and utterly human. Spufford’s description of Jesus’s ministry and death is the strongest part of the book by far. Nearly all of the “emotional sense” of the book is contained in this one chapter. The resurrection passes in a blink, then there’s a sort of muddle while he goes through all of the bad things Christians have supposedly done. His treatment of tradition is pretty poor, as is his understanding of the Bible. He has very odd ideas about morality, especially sexual. But he stalwartly declares his union in the body of Christ with undesirables such as Sarah Palin, whom he personally finds horrifying, so I have to admit that, yes, Francis Spufford is a brother in Christ. Christ, check. Church, check. Grace and peace, brother.

I may have mis-remembered bits and pieces of the book in my summary since I don’t have it in front of me. That’s entirely appropriate, since Spufford did no research for his writing, either. I did admire his willingness to admit that he could be wrong about things, but he was far too willing to distance himself from uncool intellectual positions. “Not all Christians believe thus-and-such” was his favorite line.

More than anything, the book affirmed my belief that, when Christians waffle on Scripture, they waffle on everything. Spufford pegs the early chapters of Genesis as a quaint myth. The Old Testament testifies to the Hebrews’ slow understanding of monotheism. The gospels were assembled decades after Christ’s ministry. (Yeah, right. These were Jews, Francis. They wrote down everything.) I may be one of the “really stubborn Americans” he mentions several times in the book, but I’m convinced that we have to treat the Bible as God’s Word, no matter what uncomfortable situations that may put us in (including defending creatio ex nihilo). There is no defense, emotional or otherwise, of Christianity that is not grounded in Scripture.

So does the book defend Christianity’s emotional sense? It defends a shaky truce between Christianity and acceptable British intellectual culture. But who says British intellectuals have their emotions in order?

A Man is Fit to Burst

Rachel Jankovic’s second book on raising kids, Fit to Burst, had some really good sections that I, as a part-time stay-at-home dad, want to remember. And, as the wise man said, blogging something is the best way to remember it.

In Christian circles there is constant talk about free salvation. It is free, thank God. But it is only free to us. God paid a great price for it. Jesus paid with His blood. It is free to us because someone else paid a great deal. And this is why we do not work out our salvation by never doing anything that might be hard or difficult to us. We imitate Christ, and we make sacrifices for others. We do things that are hard, that cost us much, because we want our gifts to be free to others.

It can be tricky to walk the line between “by grace you have been saved” and “work out your own salvation.” Why try to do good works when salvation is given freely? Rachel gets right at the heart of it here. Salvation is given freely, but that’s only possibly because Jesus paid for it dearly. Rachel ties this to parenting by making the point that the gifts your children receive may be free to them, but they most likely came at a heavy cost to you (straining the budget, staying up late, long days at work). Like God, we joyfully pay the price so that others can receive freely.

Lord willing, your kids pay it forward.

You would like to see your kids taking what they were freely given and turning it into still more free giving. This is because God’s story is never little. He works in generations, in lifetimes, and He wants us to do the same.

I love how Rachel emphasizes the generational scope of God’s promises. Good stuff.

Another:

Good leadership is engaged and involved the whole time. It is clear about expectations and consistent about consequences. But good leadership always starts with the leader. It always starts with what you expect of yourself. If you are engaged in disciplining yourself, your children will know.

One way children learn self-discipline is by seeing their parents act it out. Someone (I forget who) used the analogy of the new recruits who think the drill sergeant is being harsh when he drags them out of bed at five in the morning. The recruits forget that the sergeant had to drag himself out of bed at 4:30 in order to give them their unwelcome wake-up call. Leaders are held to a higher standard. That’s as it should be.

One more:

In our house, we make a point to discipline only when we have a biblical name for the offense, because we want our children to know that what we are doing is enforcing God’s law. So they would know they are being disciplined for disobeying their parents, not splashing in the sink.

Just a good rule of thumb: if you can’t name the sin, don’t discipline for it. You can make a rule against splashing in the sink if you want to, but then the kids will be disciplined for breaking the rule, not for their overexuberance.