Nothing says “freedom in Christ” like consumerism!

So today is Reformation Day. Quite possibly, one of my favorite days of the year! Why? Because I’m a Protestant and I happen to take that very seriously. Today is the “birthday” if you will, of my faith. Although, I prefer to think of today as the day that the one, true, historic, apostolic, faith was “rediscovered.” A couple of Christian organizations are having sales in honor of the freedom in Christ we now have.

Dr. Timothy George, perhaps the most readable church historian currently alive, has written a brief piece reflecting on the Reformation for First Things. I’ve copied and pasted it here, since no one seems to click on my links.

“It was around two o’clock in the afternoon on the eve of the Day of All Saints, October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther, hammer in hand, approached the main north door of the Schlosskirche(Castle Church) in Wittenberg. There he nailed up his Ninety-Five Theses protesting the abuse of indulgences in the teaching and practice of the Church of his day. In remembrance of this event, millions of Christians still celebrate this day as the symbolic beginning of the Protestant Reformation. October 31 is not a day for the ghosts and ghouls of Halloween but a time to remember the Reformation, especially what Luther wrote in thesis sixty-two: “The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.”

But did this event really happen? Erwin Iserloh, a Catholic Reformation scholar, attributed the story of the theses-posting to later myth-making. He pointed to the fact that the story was first told by Philip Melanchthon long after Luther’s death. Other Luther scholars rushed to defend the historicity of the hammer blows of Wittenberg. In fact, the door of the Castle Church did serve as the official university bulletin board and was regularly used for exactly the kind of announcement Luther made when he called for a public disputation on indulgences.

But whether the event happened at two o’clock in the afternoon—or at all—is not the point. Copies of Luther’s theses were soon distributed by humanist scholars all over Europe. Within just a few weeks, an obscure Augustinian monk in a backwater university town had become a household name and was the subject of chatter from Lisbon to Lithuania. Today in Germany, Catholic and Protestant scholars alike are once again studying the Ninety-Five Theses and Luther’s lengthy explanations of them. This ecumenical study project is in view of the 500th anniversary commemoration of the Reformation in 2017.

It was not Luther’s intention to divide the Church, much less to start a brand new church. To the end of his life, he considered himself to be a faithful and obedient servant of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Though Luther renounced his monastic vows and married a former nun, Katarina von Bora, he never forgot that he had received a doctorate in Holy Scripture. His vocation was to teach the written Word of God and to point men and women to the Lord of Scripture, Jesus Christ.

On this Reformation Day, it is good to remember that Martin Luther belongs to the entire Church, not only to Lutherans and Protestants, just as Thomas Aquinas is a treasury of Christian wisdom for faithful believers of all denominations, not simply for Dominicans and Catholics. This point was recognized not long ago by Franz-Josef Hermann Bode, the Catholic Bishop of Osnabrück in northern Germany, when he preached on Luther at an ecumenical service. “It’s fascinating,” he said, “just how radically Luther puts God at the center.”

Luther taught that every human being at every moment of life stands absolutely coram deo, before God, confronted face-to-face by God. This led him to confront the major misunderstanding in the Church of his day that grace and forgiveness of sins could be bought and sold like wares in the market. “The focus on Christ, the Bible and the authentic Word are things that we as the Catholic Church today can only underline,” Bode said. The bishop’s views reflect the ideas of many other Catholic theologians since the Second Vatican Council as Luther’s teachings, especially his esteem for the Word of God, have come to be appreciated in a way that would have been unthinkable just a century ago.

The year 2014 marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Joint Declaration of Justification between the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church. Like The Gift of Salvation statement issued by Evangelicals and Catholics Together in 1997, the Joint Declaration represents a measure of convergence between Catholic and Reformational understandings of that article of faith by which the Church either stands or falls, to cite a favorite Lutheran saying. For example, the Joint Declaration asserts, “We confess together: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.”

But convergence on justification does not equal consensus on all aspects of the doctrine of salvation. The framers of the Joint Declaration itself were forced to add an annex to the document delineating unresolved differences on simul iustus et peccator, Luther’s idea that justified believers are at one and the same time sinful and righteous before God. How justification and sanctification are related in the life of the Christian still continues to be debated. On these and many other issues related to authority and ecclesiology, the way forward is not to smudge over deep differences that remain between the two traditions but rather to acknowledge them openly and to continue to struggle over them together in prayer and in fresh engagement with the Scriptures. The way forward is an ecumenism of conviction, not an ecumenism of accommodation.

Several years ago I was asked to endorse a book by my friend Mark Noll called Is the Reformation Over? I responded by saying that the Reformation is over only to the extent that it succeeded. In fact, in some measure, the Reformation has succeeded, and more within the Catholic Church than in certain sectors of the Protestant world. The triumph of grace in the theology of Luther was, and still is, in the service of the whole Body of Christ. Luther was certainly not without his warts, and we do no justice either to history or to his legacy by glossing over his faults and failures. (Remember: simul iustus et peccator!) But the question Karl Barth asked about him in 1933 is still worth pondering this Reformation Day: “What else was Luther than a teacher of the Christian church whom one can hardly celebrate in any other way but to listen to him?” ”

 

Tea, Earl Grey, Hot.

If you happen to have access to Netflix, I’d recommend you watch the documentary Print the Legend. Recently, I had the joy of getting to watch it. Print the Legend is a documentary following several 3D printer start-up companies, most notably MakerBot. I’ve been fascinated with 3D printers ever since I read the Great North Road. The author really did a good job of imagining the possibilities of 3D printing in that book. After watching the documentary I must say: I’m excited about 3D printing technology. Heck, if I had the money I think I’d buy one. I mean look at all of the sweet things you can print with your own 3D printer!

I couldn’t help but think we are on the cusp of replicator technology–ya know, the replicator that creates food and drinks in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Although maybe, even that isn’t that far off.

 

 

The Magicians: A Review

The Magicians by Lev Grossman: A Review.

**Spoiler alert** this is not a cliffhanger review, this is an actual book review.

Close your eyes for a minute. Closed? Okay, good. Now, I want you to imagine what happen if C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling and Frederich Nietzsche decided to collaborate on a literary project. What are you seeing right now? What you should be seeing is The Magicians by Lev Grossman. What an odd, perplexing, depressing, engaging and entertaining work of fiction. This story is literally the love child of the Chronicles of Narnia, Hogwarts and Nihilism. Quentin Coldwater is the main protagonist. He belongs to an upper middle class family and is exceptionally smart. The story starts out with him on his way to an interview to get into an ivy league school.  Though he is of advanced intelligence, he is obsessed with the fictional fantasy land of Fillory.

Fillory is the fantasy land featured in five children’s novels by Christopher Plover. They follow the Chatwin children who (are you ready?) live in England during the Great War. The children are sent off to the country side to live with their aunt and uncle because their father is off in Belgium, fighting the war and their mother has gone insane and has been committed. Over the course of the five novels they enter Fillory via various portals (such as inside a Grandfather clock) and go on various quests; befriend talking animals; become royalty; grow and age and then return to England only to discover that little to no time has passed. Sound familiar?

Quentin is eternally unsatisfied because, to him, life appears meaningless. He longs for the world of Fillory; he longs to be transported there and find adventure and heroism and escape from the sad reality that is every day life in New York City. Lucky for him, Quentin gets invited to an entrance exam at Brakebills. Brakebills is a magical prepatory school in Upstate New York. It is a lot like Hogwarts only the teenagers do the things you’d imagine teenagers would do when their parents are away. Quentin passes the entrance exams and is invited to study magic. He can’t believe it: there really is a magical world after all!

Unfortunately for Quentin, the initial excitement of this new world eventually wears off and he once again becomes depressed. He graduates school and moves to New York City with his girlfriend where he promptly enters a serious hedonistic lifestyle of sex, drugs and alcohol.  This descent into depravity only halts when Penny, an old acquaintance from Brakebills shows up with an incredible announcement: Fillory is real and he can take them there.

This news transforms Quentin as it appears that finally, he has found meaning to his life. He and his friends assemble and begin planning their grand adventure into the magical land of Fillory. Meanwhile, Quentin’s most important relationship (with his girlfriend Alice) falls apart because of infidelity. And so now, more than ever, Quentin urges the group to enter Fillory. They arrive in the land to discover something is seriously amiss. The local animal population quickly enlists them to travel deep into a mountainous cavern to retrieve the royal crowns and become the next kings and queens of Fillory. Then and only then, will everything be made right. They are even given fighting guides.

They finally get to their destination and serious, bloody fighting ensues. People get grievously wounded and some even die (I won’t give away all the details). The “good” guys win and reclaim the crown but no one wants it. It turns out the allure of the fairy tale proved too grisly even for the hedonists. Quentin awakes in a monastery run by Centaurs and takes a long time to recover from his energies and then spends more time learning and mastering his magical abilities.

Why he does that is still somewhat puzzling. Perhaps because he is still seeking meaning and purpose to life? Finally, he gets out of Fillory, returns to NYC and takes a cushy job at an investment firm that is run by Magicians. This means, he takes a meaningless job, doing no work, taking high pay and losing himself in the “multifarious meaningless entertainments and distractions with which the real world supplied Quentin. Video games; Internet porn; people talking on their cell phones in bodegas about their stepmothers’ medical conditions; weightless supermarket plastic bags snagged in leafless trees…It was all he had left, and it would have to be enough” (395).

Lev Grossman is a talented writer. His prose is beautiful and the imagery he creates is captivating.

Consider this description of Quentin trying to avoid thinking about his problems: “His mind was an icy pond constantly in danger of thawing. He trod on it only lightly-its surface was perilously slick and who knew how thin. To break through would mean immersion in what was below: cold, dark anaerobic water and angry, toothy fish. The fish were memories. He wanted to put them away somewhere and forget where he’d put them, but he couldn’t.” (373)

Or Grossman describing the power of words: “He’d started that little speech speaking normally and he ended it shouting. In a way fighting like this was just like using magic. You said the words, and they altered the universe. By merely speaking you could create damage and pain, cause tears to fall, drive people away, make yourself feel better, make yourself feel worse.” (334)

The book ends a bit unexpectedly with his friends reappearing and inviting him to return to Fillory. An invitation he accepts.

This was a hard book to read. I don’t want to say it was good, and it definitely doesn’t pass the Philippians 4.8-9 test. I felt a bit like I was reading a serialization of Breaking Bad. Reading this book, while engaging, was depressing. The main theme of this book was existence and meaning. Quentin is depressed because he cannot find any purpose to his life. When he spends a holiday with staying with his girlfriend Alice’s parents we see that this is a problem haunting everyone. Alice’s father spends his time redesigning their home. Currently, it is modeled after a Roman villa. Quentin compliments the authenticity of the home and Alice’s father responds, “‘It took me three years to put it together,’ he said. ‘Three years. And you know what? I’m already sick of it after two months. I can’t eat the food, there are skid marks on my toga, and I have plantar fasciitis from walking around on these floors. What is the point of my life?’ He looked at Quentin furiously, as if he actually expected an answer, as if Quentin were concealing it from him. ‘Would someone tell me that, please? Because I have no idea! None!'” (203)

This is the true quest of the Magicians: the search for meaning. It is what propelled Quentin to pursue Brakebills. Time and time again, Quentin does something believing that it is now he will find meaning. While his friends debate entering Fillory we experience Quentin’s internal dialogue, which once again, circles around meaning. “Quentin lay back on the rug and stared up at the ceiling. He needed sleep, but this was no time for sleep…He tried to focus on Fillory, to make the good feelings come back. This would change everything. Yes, his universe had just expanded times a million, but Fillory was the key to it all. That creeping infectious sense of futility that had been incubating in his brain even since before graduation had met its magic bullet. Alice didn’t see it yet, but she would. This was what they’d been waiting for. This is what her parents had never found…But this, this was everything. Now the present had a purpose, and the future had a purpose, and even the past, their whole lives, retroactively, had meaning. Now they knew what it was for.” (263)

But, Quentin never found meaning and ended up accepting that fact.

I enjoyed this book because it effectively showed us what the world looks like when you believe that there is no purpose to existence. Honesty is missing in too often. Years ago I met an atheist who was depressed. I saw their and watched his wife try to cheer him up and he literally responded, “I just can’t bring myself to care. There’s no point to all this anyway.”

Another thing missing in this book is faith. Midway through the book, a dinner part is thrown. Richard comes and we learn that Richard is “in a quiet way, an observant Christian.” (232) But this is not true. Richard is a classical Deist. As the dinner moves forward, Richard begins to speak about faith. ” ‘Magic,’ Richard announced slowly, flushed, ‘is the tools. Of the Maker…There’s no other way of looking at it. We are dealing with a scenario where there is a Person who built the house, and then He left.” (233) That is the text book definition of Deism. But, whatever. Richard’s choice to bring up the existence of a deity gives Eliot, the homosexual of the group, the chance to launch into an angry tirade about God, especially judgment and morality. Eliot concludes, “No one gets punished for anything. We do whatever we want, and that’s all we do, and nobody stops us and nobody cares.” (235)

Unfortunately, Eliot is wrong. You may do whatever you want but there are consequences and even punishments. Later that evening, Eliot, Quentin and Janet engage in a menage a toi and as a result, Quentin ends up losing Alice, the only person who has ever made him happy. Actions have consequences and life does indeed have meaning.

Alas, iIf there is no God and thus, no purpose to existence then people are left with two options: accepting that there is no meaning and lose all hope or make their own meaning. This book shows Quentin trying to make meaning where there is none but realizes this is futile and then loses all hope as he accepts that there is no meaning and he cannot make meaning. It is clear that religion is not even an option for finding meaning and fulfillment and even joy for the characters.

Ultimately, I’d recommend this book to a discerning reader. The overall depravity of the characters is not too insulting because it isn’t graphic. The lack of graphic description makes some of the events all the more shocking. If you are tired of traditional fantasy, this is probably one of the most innovative plot lines I’ve come across in a long time. If you appreciate a well written story with a tight plot, this is a good book to read. But if you want something that, when finished, will leave you with a happy feeling–this is definitely not the book for you. This book is many things, but hopeful isn’t one.

Words to Ponder

I am currently reading an excellent work called Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich. I would absolutely recommend this work to anyone who is interested in the Second World War, or the amazing intricacies of everyday life in Nazi Germany or someone who is interested in the confessing church or the Holocaust (or probably some other topic too). Anyway, this quote grabbed me the other day:

“The abstruse doctrine of Original Sin, whence the need of salvation is said to arise, the Fall–and indeed the whole notion of sin as set forth by the Church, involving reward or punishment in a world beyond–is something intolerable to Nordic man, since it is incompatible with the ‘heroic’ ideology of our blood.” ~Schutzstaffel (Journal for the SS)

So guess what this means! If you feel that Original Sin is Augustinian (re: made up) or you feel the Fall was theoretical and not literal; if you happen to feel that human nature is basically good and not cursed; if you dislike the idea of sin (that is, moral truth) and finally, if you do not believe in the idea of a God who metes out eternal reward and eternal punishment then guess what: you’re in good company.

The Nazis agreed with you too.

The economics of space empire

From everything I have read, unless some serious new technology is discovered (or something like a wormhole) we probably will never truly experience a “space” empire age. That being said, they sure are fun to read about. So imagine my joy when I came across this article on 10 Science Fiction books where the space empire might be economically feasible. The best part about this list is that the #1 book listed is the Vorkosigan Saga–which happens to be my absolute favorite series of books.

Also on the list are some other classics I have enjoyed, such as the Foundation by Asimov and Dune by Frank Herbert. The Alliance-Union series is on the list as well, which is exciting since that series is coming up on my reading list. Yay for books!

Ice cream, books and beer

A few updates and thoughts to share with you, my very small audience. 

 

Ice Cream:

        I made gluten free Cookies and Cream ice cream the other day. It turned out even better than I imagined it would. Sooo good. 

Beer:

       So I haven’t brewed any beer in a while which has resulted in a lack of posts. The simple explanation is that I have more than enough right now. Probably at some point in the early winter I’ll brew another dark beer but right now, what I have is sufficient. I plan on visiting Auroch’s Brewery this month and I’ll probably pick up a growler there and my brother-in-law has a 6 pack of Woodchuck Cider’s Belgian White waiting for me in Ohio which means I’ll have even more and not need to brew any more. 

…That being said since Fall is approaching us I’ll probably make some sort of cider. It just seems like the right thing to do this time of year. 

Books

    I put reading The Drunken Botanist aside so there will be no formal review forthcoming. I do recommend the book if you are interested in botanical history or the history of alcohol or appreciate a good writer. The book is a wonderful resource and I stopped reading it because I decided it would better serve me to purchase it and not check it out from the library. That way, I can make annotations and write in the margins. 

   On Facebook I notice a number of people “challenging” other people to list the 10 most influential books they have read. No one has challenged me to that but I thought it looked like fun so I’ll list them here. In no particular order:

  1. The Bible by God the Spirit
  2. The Leap of Faith and the Limits of Reason by Soren Kierkegaard (without this essay I wouldn’t be a Christian)
  3. The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
  4. The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen 
  5. A Time of Gifts/Between the Woods and the Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor (okay, technically those are 2 books but..)
  6. The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham
  7. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
  8. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton (especially chapter 4)
  9. The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  10. Beau Geste by P.C. Wren

Books and more books (2014)

Vanity of vanities I am vain! And one area where I am vain is I like to keep a running tab of books that I have read. So I think I may have this post here for myself (and for anyone else interested in what I’m reading) and update it as I complete a book.

Non-Fiction

The Heart of a Servant Leader by C. John Miller

Who’s Your Father? by Robert Bernicker

Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen

The Presbyterian Conflict by Edwin Rian

Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor by D.A. Carson

The Theology of the Westminster Standards by John Fesko (on-going)

The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart (on-going–did not end up finishing this as I think it would be better to buy and read as needed).

Exponential: How to Accomplish the Jesus Mission (had to return to the library before I could finish it.)

Communicating for Change by Andy Stanley

How to Communicate: Mastering the Art of Active Listening

Fiction

The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey

Trading in Danger, Marque and Reprisal and Engaging the Enemy, Command Decision all by Elizabeth Moon

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Emissaries From the Dead by Adam Troy-Castro (On-going)

Devotional

Abide in Christ by Andrew Murray

A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D.A. Carson

Hiking Through by Paul Stutzman

Death by Living by N.D. Wilson

All of Grace by Charles Spurgeon

The Mortification of Sin by John Owen (on-going)

Preaching In Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich ed. by Dean Stroud