Thursday, April 30, 2015

Lewis and Perelandrian Gender

C.S. Lewis is not always graciously received in Gender-discussions. Feminists and Egalitarians dismiss him as a product of his time (ironically forgetting that the clock has continued spinning), and Complementarians blush when his example of the neighbor and the dog is brought up (see Mere Christianity).

It is true that gender debates will always occur in-context… so perhaps there is some wisdom in reminding ourselves that Lewis lived in a different era. And yet, that can’t be the whole story. Our examples include females in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean Gender discussion is moot, or that later generations will find nothing valuable in the way we think and discuss now… or else we are simply a species of chronological snobs. And so, I offer to you a piece from Lewis’ Perelandra which (I hope) can be received with goodwill.

Both the bodies were naked, and both were free from any sexual characteristics, either primary or secondary. That, one would have expected. But whence came this curious difference between them? He found that he could point to no single feature wherein the difference resided, yet it was impossible to ignore. One could try—Ransom has tried a hundred times—to put it into words. He has said that Malacandra was like rhythm and Perelandra like melody. He has said that Malacandra affected him like a quantitative, Perelandra like an accentual, meter. He thinks that the first held in his hand something like a spear, but the hands of the other were open, with the palms towards him. But I don’t know that any of these attempts has helped me much. At all events what Ransom saw at that moment was the real meaning of gender. Everyone must sometimes have wondered why in nearly all tongues certain inanimate objects are masculine and others feminine. What is masculine about a mountain or feminine about certain trees? Ransom has cured me of believing that this is a purely morphological phenomenon, depending on the form of the word. Still less is gender an imaginative extension of sex. Our ancestors did not make mountains masculine because they projected male characteristics into them. The real process is the reverse. Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental reality than sex. Sex is, in fact, merely the adaptation to organic life of a fundamental polarity which divides all created beings. Female sex is simply one of the things that have feminine gender; there are many others, and Masculine and Feminine meet us on planes of reality where male and female would be simply meaningless. Masculine is not attenuated male, nor feminine attenuated female. On the contrary the male and female of organic creatures are rather faint and blurred reflections of masculine and feminine. Their reproductive functions, their differences in strength and size, partly exhibit, but partly also confuse and misrepresent, the real polarity. All this Ransom saw, as it were, with his own eyes. The two white creatures were sexless. But he of Malacandra was masculine (not male); she of Perelandra was feminine (not female). Malacandra seemed to him to have the look of one standing armed, at the ramparts of his own remote archaic world, in ceaseless vigilance, his eyes ever roaming the earthward horizon whence his danger came long ago. “A sailor’s look,” Ransom once said to me; “you know … eyes that are impregnated with distance.” But the eyes of Perelandra opened, as it were, inward, as if they were the curtained gateway to a world of waves and murmurings and wandering airs, of life that rocked in winds and splashed on mossy stones and descended as the dew and arose sunward in thin-spun delicacy of mist. On Mars the very forests are of stone; in Venus the lands swim. For now he thought of them no more as Malacandra and Perelandra. He called them by their Tellurian names. With deep wonder he thought to himself, “My eyes have seen Mars and Venus. I have seen Ares and Aphrodite.” He asked them how they were known to the old poets of Tellus. When and from whom had the children of Adam learned that Ares was a man of war and that Aphrodite rose from the sea foam? Earth had been besieged, an enemy-occupied territory, since before history began. The gods have no commerce there. How then do we know of them? It comes, they told him, a long way round and through many stages. There is an environment of minds as well as of space. The universe is one—a spider’s web wherein each mind lives along every line, a vast whispering gallery where (save for the direct action of Maleldil) though no news travels unchanged yet no secret can be rigorously kept. In the mind of the fallen Archon under whom our planet groans, the memory of Deep Heaven and the gods with whom he once consorted is still alive. Nay, in the very matter of our world, the traces of the celestial commonwealth are not quite lost. Memory passes through the womb and hovers in the air. The Muse is a real thing. A faint breath, as Virgil says, reaches even the late generations. Our mythology is based on a solider reality than we dream: but it is also at an almost infinite distance from that base. And when they told him this, Ransom at last understood why mythology was what it was—gleams of celestial strength and beauty falling on a jungle of filth and imbecility. His cheeks burned on behalf of our race when he looked on the true Mars and Venus and remembered the follies that have been talked of them on Earth.

C. S. Lewis, Perelandra, EPub Edition., vol. 2, Space Trilogy (HarperCollins Publishers, 2012), 171–173.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Book Review: Blind Spots by Collin Hansen

Collin Hansen presents the Christian world with an helpful, new book that seeks to honor the individual strengths God the Spirit has given his church—highlighting the need for courage, compassion, and commission in a full-orbed, multi-facetious reality rather than a truncated and limited one-ism which esteems a single strength and derides the remaining two. “Not a balance,” Hansen says, but the fullness of each applied in the appropriate circumstances. Indeed, Christ was compassionate! But he also chastised the unrepentant sinner. Yes, Christ was bold! But he also presented the gospel in communicable stories. Christ was Prophet, Priest, and King who knew precisely how use his head, heart, and hands in whichever fashion the individual needed.

Book Thesis:

“This book is about seeing our differences as opportunity. God created us in splendid diversity of thought, experience, and personality. And when these differences cohere around the gospel of Jesus Christ, they work together to challenge, comfort, and compel a needy world with the only love that will never fail or fade.”

Hansen further explains his motivation for this next installment in Crossway and TGC’s Cultural Renewal Series:

“I wrote this book because my arguments stopped working. I pointed to Bible verses. I appealed to reason. I turned to church history. Nothing changed with my opponents.”

And he did not write it in order that

“You would find popularity with the world or make peace with one another at the expense of the revealed truth of God’s Word,”

But rather that we all

“Might learn to compare [ourselves] more to Christ than to other Christians.

By entrusting ourselves to Jesus, we need to be willing to reposition and repent wherever necessary.

Does he accomplish all he set out to do? I think he certainly makes an excellent start. In truth: this book is short: a mere 128 pages from cover to cover, and although I think its brevity is one of its strengths, there is an inherent trade-off. Collin gets the ball moving, nudging it over the hill, but what happens thereafter will be the result of people incorporating its truth into their lives and churches.

I wanted him to tease out some of the implications on church life; I wanted him to provide exposition/case studies of NT periscopes; I wanted him to relate it to the Christ-and-Culture dialogue; I wanted more than this project was meant to accomplish. And so I have to state that it did accomplish its goal. (And indeed, isn’t it better to have been left wanting more than trudging exasperated to the finish line?)

I found myself evaluating my own strengths and weaknesses, holding up a mirror and seeing some real blind spots, thinking “You tell ‘em!” only to be confronted with being told. But more importantly I was shown Jesus and I was encouraged in the task which he has given us. I was shown the reality of our world—one of tragedy AND hope, not full of excessive pessimism or optimism; I was strengthened in faith in the King who is reconciling the world to himself and will return to renew and judge the earth. I was given greater appreciation for my church and the individuals within it who are skilled and impassioned, many times in different ways than I am. I was able to see beauteous harmony in diversity, and challenged to develop those areas in my life that I forget Jesus also perfected through his incarnation.

The picture Hansen offers of the regenerate church on mission is an exciting possibility—and I pray that countless Christians engraft his passion to end the sex-slave trade; that the courageous, the compassionate, and the commissioned rise up together to shine light in one of the darkest corners of our world today.

I hope that this book becomes a source of study for small groups across the church, that a grass-roots revival of unity might tremor from the bride of Christ through the world, indeed as Hansen states:

“The world can ignore another special-interest group. They can ignore another awareness campaign. They can even ignore another law. But the world cannot ignore churches united around this vision, Christians who put this compassion into action. We don’t even need a political majority to act….You can do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God even if you can’t claim an ally in the White House.”

I rate this book 5/5 stars with hopes for supplementary material to come.

I recommend this book to all Christians young, and old, immature or mature in faith; and I hope especially to see this book in church contexts.

This book might be compared to Dennis Hollinger’s Head, Heart & Hands, Thabiti Anyabwile’s The Life of God in the Soul of the Church, Steve Timmis and Tim Chester, Total Church, as well as some other books that focus on unity of character & church.

I received this book from Crossway Publishers as part of their Launch Team to introduce Blind Spots into the world.

This review is crosslisted on Goodreads and Amazon

Friday, April 17, 2015

Frost on Friendship [and Gospel Partnership]

I came across a poem on friendship, partnership, and beauty in its own right. In the poem Frost recounts an aspect of farming life, and finds in it a deeper camaraderie—one that arises from seeing the means as an end in themselves. And only when the moment is seen with clarity are his eyes opened to the whole, and he who thought himself alone discovers that unity is found in diversity and partnership found in tasks separated by millennia.

And so, as I consider my friends and family in faith who are harvesting the fields, and even when I feel at times alone in prayer—or they alone in field—I am comforted, knowing that I pursue my task, and recognize the beauty  found in the task itself; not the end only. And soon we will sit beneath the tree of life and reminisce on life which Grace has carried us through.

What is Paul? What is Apollos? Are they not servants? One plants, the other waters, but God gives the growth.

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers few... Therefore, pray.

I have some sheep that are not of this fold.

I must go to another city to preach, for this is why I came.

How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news.

I thank God for you always when I pray.

I plan to visit you on my way to Spain.

Behold I have retained a remnant who have not bowed down their hearts to Baal.

And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Samaria, and all of Judea even to the ends of the earth.

(As with all poetry I recommend reading it once through at a normal pace, and rereading it leisurely that the Spirit might encourage your hearts, lo even with the words of mere men.)


I went to turn the grass once after one
Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.

The dew was gone that made his blade so keen
Before I came to view the levelled scene.

I looked for him behind an isle of trees;
I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.

But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,
And I must be, as he had been,--alone,

“As all must be,” I said within my heart,
“Whether they work together or apart.”

But as I said it, swift there passed me by
On noiseless wing a bewildered butterfly,

Seeking with memories grown dim o’er night
Some resting flower of yesterday’s delight.

And once I marked his flight go round and round,
As where some flower lay withering on the ground.

And then he flew as fast eye could see,
And then on tremulous wing came back to me.

I thought of questions that have no reply,
And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;

But he turned first, and led my eye to look
At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,

A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.

I left my place to know them by their name,
Finding them butterfly weed when I came.

The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
Leaving them to flourish, not for us,

Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him,
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.

The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,

That made me hear the wakening bird around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,

And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone;

But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;

And dreaming as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.

“Men work together,” I told him from the heart,
“Whether they work together or apart.”, 

Robert Frost, "The Tuft of Flowers" in Robert Frost's Poems (with an introduction and commentary by Louis Untermeyer), New York: Henry & Holt Company, 1971.


In connection with unity in diversity, be sure to check out Crossway’s forthcoming book Blind Spots by Collin Hansen.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

CH is for Worship

You should not approach your church or church group on Sunday mornings and midweek expecting to learn something new… in fact, you should hope you don’t! That’s the way heresies begin (Heb.13.7-9). Now… that is a bit of an overstatement, but let me explain.

You ought to approach such gatherings expecting to hear something in accord with the gospel that has been handed down from generation to generation and proclaimed even to you… the very gospel you believed!

If you’ve been a follower of Christ for more than a few years… you ought to have heard it all before. The disciples only had three years to hear the teachings of Jesus. They had years to learn the OT stories beforehand. And they had the Holy Spirit after Jesus ascended, but the revelation of the Son of God is complete… and has been for two thousand years. If you’ve not learned at least an introductory grasp of all Scripture… it’s your fault, and no one else’s… especially in such a world as today. Biblical illiteracy is a choice.*

The author of Hebrews chastises the church because they “should already be teachers” but instead they have to “return to the basics”—that is “Who is this Jesus guy again? What did he do? Why does it matter?”** In other words, if you can’t point to Jesus and show who he is, what he’s done, and why it matters… you haven’t even mastered the alphabet yet. Righteousness comes after understanding how Jesus is the focal point of Scripture (Heb.5.11-6.8). Indeed, it comes only when we understand Jesus as the focal point of life (Heb.10.26). The ‘Great Commission’ in Matthew 28 burdens every follower of Jesus with “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” Which can be summed up in “Love God… love others.” Notice that the object of teaching isn’t the recent medical/psychological theory about autism and vaccines; the object of teaching is obedience to the King: “Behold all authority on heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore: Go, and make disciples [by] baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.” Jesus rules, therefore reorient your entire life under his Triune glory (baptism), and love him and others (obey) and know that he is near (behold).

Don’t Get Me Wrong

I do learn things I didn’t know before… sometimes it’s small details like “His father was” so-and-so; other times it’s a pretty significant reality I never quite grasped myself… like the reality that Jesus took our sinful flesh, east of Eden, inborne with all the same bent toward rebellion and sin I have, and marched to Golgotha and put that flesh to death, not simply an Adamic-clean flesh, but my own. But hopefully when I say something like that, you agree with me that the truth isn’t new… and even the basic concept isn’t new. If anything is new it should be in the detail. I shouldn’t have to explain to anyone who calls themselves a Christian that Jesus is the GodMan, though I probably need to explain what that entails. I shouldn’t have to explain that Israel sinned against God or that the Spirit is coeternal and equal in power and glory with the Father and Son, though perhaps I need to remind people of the truth they already know, or explain that it does matter for true life. I shouldn’t have to defend my argument that our Triune God is all deserving of glory or that worshiping idols is false and life-killing, though perhaps I need to draw connections between Isaiah 48 and John 17 or Deuteronomy 6 and Matthew 28 or Genesis 1-2 and Luke 23-24. Perhaps these are things that are ‘new’ and something I’ve ‘learned.’ But really, isn’t it just looking at the diamond from a different angle, or perhaps holding a mirror to it in order to see what it looks like in its own reflection?

The facts we learn are only valuable when they help us know God.

The reality is Jesus. The truth is Jesus. And all of Scripture points to Jesus. And every sermon should show you Jesus. And if you are begging to be taught something new, then maybe just maybe you’ve forgotten your first love. Or maybe just maybe you’ve never seen him anyway. You want instruction for marriage? I’ll give you Christ the perfect bridegroom who loves you and made covenant with you. Obey him in love. You want a new Greek phrase to tout? I’ll give you Christ, the Alpha and Omega. Obey him in love. You want to know how to get ahead in your job? I’ll give you Christ the King who took a servant’s cloth and lay down so others could walk on top of him. Obey him in love. You want an Akkadian myth to relate to the flood account? I’ll give you Christ, the one who endured the flood of God’s wrath and delivers you on the other side. Obey him in love. You want to know how to parent? I’ll give you Christ who says that he will care for you, Christ who says you’re evil, Christ who obeyed the Father perfectly, and the Father who gave his Son in death for your sake. Obey him in love. You want the latest study on gender in society? I’ll give you Christ who calls people to deny themselves and to follow him; who breaks down barriers between gender and country and reconciles them to himself. Obey him in love.

I will not give you something new. I will not give you relevant sermons. I will give you Jesus until you fall in love with him. And Jesus will give you life.

Love and outworking of righteousness come only through being overcome by the glory and love of Christ. In other words, the “do” is the natural result of the “done.” The “be” is the response of the “is”—or more appropriately, the “I Am.” You will only do once you see Jesus. You will only be once you see Jesus. And yes: this probably means an insight from Scripture colors the picture a bit, but it should never be something which is ‘new.’

And so…
You can be illumined to understand Scripture in a different way, or its significance might be increased this time you hear that passage because God has created you as a dynamic human being, and you’ve come with a new load of experiences on your back. Or maybe the pastor will bring up a recent scholarly article that gives more context to the passage in question. Cool. All well and good. Even relatively necessary for us who are forgetful people, but the primary purpose of Church is not learning, but worship.

CH is for Worship

The sermon should remove the fog from our sinful eyes; it should present us with Christ, whose Spirit removes the noetic effects of the fall. But you have been baptized in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and therefore your life has been reoriented to the life, death, and resurrection of the Son who is the Truth, the Way, and the Life. You now conform to him… anything ‘new’ is only on your part: a new sin you must confess, a new child you must sacrifice, a new job you must give thanks for. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But you aren’t. Sunday after Sunday you must come and give yourself to him and his people. Church is more than the sermon. In fact, that’s only the mouth doing his job. But the Church worships in love, performing its task for the body. The ears listen to the sorrowful, the hands work for the good of the body, the feet return from their week of taking the gospel to the world and bring report to its body, the blood courses through bringing oxygen and strength to the weary, the tongue encourages. And all do so in the grace of God for the love of others—and that is worship. Each act of worship should be participated in. And perhaps if we focus on the many different expressions of worship in our church on Sunday, we’ll be less disgruntled when the sermon doesn’t give me what I want. Even this picture of esteeming Christ alone in the sermon isn’t a common experience for many churches, for which I grieve, and for which you should too. But let that draw us into prayerful dependence on Christ the chief shepherd who cares for the lilies of the field… who died for his bride… what then would he not give us if only we ask?

Unfortunately, like most of life, we expect that church should give us something without a reciprocal demand. But when has that ever been true? We need to start remembering that church isn’t built for us. We are simply a stone in the edifice! Built for the glory and presence of God. Perhaps if you start performing your role in the church, the body will get out of the couch and start feeding you, exercising you, and cleaning you.

As Trevin Wax recommends, let’s change the questions from “What did you learn at church?” to “How was worship this morning?” And a whole-natured full-spectrum worship… not a sad, isolated segment of music and familiar songs.

*This is an indictment against peoples in the ‘modern west,’ and not a statement against the unreached/unengaged people groups… who in fact are a second indictment against us.

**I take some liberty in this paraphrase, and it’s because I understand that the author is specifically referring to how all the Scriptures point to Jesus.