Today’s Sermon: The Music of the Spheres

I had the privilege of preaching in my church today, and it was well received by all. Here it is in its entirety:

2 Peter 1: 2-11 (NIV):

2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters,[a] make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

This list is a recipe for spiritual growth, and could easily form the basis of a whole series of sermons, but I would like to focus on one small aspect of it, how knowledge of God leads to love for God.

The word translated as faith, pistis means a clinging to things we know to be true from the evidence, even when our emotions tell us to doubt. Goodness is self-explanatory, a long-term determination to seek the truth and do good, whether that is in the form of defending the innocent, standing up to evil, consoling the suffering or declaring the uncomfortable truth as best we can.

We all know the greatest commandment, from Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV):

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Some people really struggle to love God, they have it in their heads that love is a feeling, a mood you have to be in, but that is an unhealthy approach, a dangerous lie sold to us by advertisers and bad storytellers, that will not only lead us to an unhealthy, superficial and fragile relationship with God, but similarly disastrous and unsatisfying relationships with other people.

The attitude of “As soon as you stop entertaining me or make me uncomfortable, I’ll discard you” leaves you alone, shriveled and childish. Like goodness, love is an attitude, a determination and daily decision to seek the best for the object of your love in the long term, even when it is sometimes the last thing that person wants in the short term. It is the highest calling, and a difficult challenge.

Some would say that the key to loving God is gratitude for what He has done for us, for saving us, and they would be right. Gratitude is a cure for all sorts of evils, it helps us to see ourselves as we really are, a healthy motivation for all sorts of good things and a very important part of a loving relationship. However love is more than just gratitude, and gratitude can wear thin. An important part of true, deep love is really getting to know the one that you love, and delighting in who they are.

This is sometimes difficult with people here on earth, because we can discover unpleasant things about them, and this can spoil our impression of what God is like, but with God, who is perfect, we know that there will always be more and more wonderful things to discover and admire, that the greatest appeal of heaven is that we will be there with God, and see Him in His full glory and beauty with none of our own flaws and sins getting in the way.

Many people struggle to love God because they have a false impression of who God is, they imagine he is a cosmic Santa Claus, a magical grandfather who smiles, pats us on the head, gives us a treat and sends us out to play (and when they see the pain and suffering in the world, they start to doubt that He exists at all); others see him as a mean and strict sheriff, watching our every move so he can bring the full hammer of the law down on us the moment we step out of line.

Both of these images are wrong. God is more loving and generous as well as more powerful and just than both of these images.

Others see him as an engineer, who built his creation as a great machine, then left it to run, following its progress with interest and occasionally tweaking it or reprogramming to make sure everything is running properly and it does what he wants it to do, sometimes even stopping it and acting directly to rescue someone or tell his creations something important.

This one is a little better, but like all images of God falls far short of reality, He is far more involved and interested and foundational in His creation than this. No one image can capture God completely, He is far greater and more amazing than we can possibly imagine, but there is a much better approximation, and one that is far from a new idea. First, a quick look at Revelation 4:11:

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

Not just created, but also have their being. Not just crafted, activated and left to themselves, but actively maintained from moment to moment, from nanosecond to nanosecond. The idea from classical theology, the analogy for the relationship between Creator God and His creation is of a musician and the music that he plays. He is the source of all existence, and is actively involved in absolutely everything that exists, if he stopped actively supporting the existence of the universe, it would no longer exist, just like the music would end as soon as the musician stops playing. We don’t need to worry, the patterns, and harmonies that we know as the Laws of Nature are solid and dependable because God is solid and dependable. It is a powerful analogy that works on multiple levels, in that God’s creation is full of beauty, harmony, and repeating patterns, like well-crafted music.

In ancient times they used to call the motion of the stars and planets musica universalis, the music of the spheres. Even in modern physics, String Theory (which I don’t pretend to fully understand) has vibrating strings as the basis of all matter, with different vibrations like musical notes producing different particles, the notes with which God plays the music of the universe.

Well-known authors of fiction have also famously made use of this imagery, such as C.S. Lewis in The Magician’s Nephew, when Aslan sings Narnia into being and into life, or J.R.R. Tolkein in the Silmarillion where Eru Illuvatar (God) and his Ainur (Holy Ones) together sing the world into existence, and Melkor (the greatest of the Holy Ones) out of pride and lust for power and influence corrupts his part in the music, causing disharmony and twisted, evil creatures, but in a musical battle Eru takes Melkor’s harsh and dissonant part of the song and adds his own higher music to transform the whole into something even more beautiful, and this is all reflected in the world and its history that is created, as Eru announces, “Behold your music!”.

In this analogy of the relationship between God and creation, miracles are not God stopping the music to rearrange the orchestra or fix a broken instrument, but flourishes, fanfares and improvisations that fit into and enhance the overall work.

We are part of that music that God plays, we are utterly dependent on Him in every way, there is nothing we are or have or can have that is not directly reliant on Him. Not only that, but He has given us life, a mind a spirit and the ability to choose to take part in and add to that harmony, joy and beauty, or work against Him and create disharmony, ugliness and suffering.

Many people, and many of His angels, have chosen the latter, resulting in the polluted and corrupted world we live in, causing many to see God as cruel and heartless. If we can look more carefully, past the flaws, we can see a dim reflection of His true nature, his beauty and harmony, his astounding generosity and his power.

We see it in the sunset and in the night sky; in the majesty of mountains, forests, seas and deserts; in the songs of birds and the graceful movements of animals; in the inventiveness of ingenious machines and devices; in the purity of a child’s eyes wide with wonder; in the paintings and music of true artists; in the faithfulness and kindness of true friends and loved ones, in the magic of the seasons.

The triune God who is perfect love, who loves us more than we can ever love him, who gives us all these things and more, who will right all wrongs at His appointed time, sacrificed himself to pay for our part in ruining His creation, and invites us to come and know him, for now in part, but when the time comes we will know Him clearly, perfectly and eternally.

One day He will sing a new song, transforming this song that we know into something better; a song that will never end and never go wrong; music that this current song makes possible, and he invites us to be part of it.

That is something to look forward to and be grateful for. That is who we have the honour of knowing. That is someone to love.

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Pentecost

I had the opportunity to preach yesterday on Pentecost, so of course that was the topic of my Sermon. I very nearly turned down the opportunity due to a persistent eye dryness problem that made it very difficult to prepare for it, but that has cleared up today, so I am grateful for all of your prayers for me on that issue.

Pentecost

The book of Acts is one of the greatest adventure stories in history, a small band of the faithful begins to overcome the most powerful empire the world had ever seen, but not through military force. There are spectacular reversals and transformations, of individual lives and of communities. Powerful men are humbled, captives are freed, there are riots and imprisonments, intrigues and conspiracies, shipwrecks, storms, journeys and spiritual battles. And miracles. Lots of miracles. All of this started with Pentecost, or rather it began with the crucifixion and resurrection, where Jesus paid for the sins of the world and proved once and for all that he was who he claimed to be—the Danielic Son of Man, Messiah of Israel and Eternal Son of God— but it was Pentecost that fully equipped and empowered the Early Church to begin the Great Commission.

The Jewish festival of Pentecost (otherwise known as the feast of weeks, since it was a week of weeks or 49 days after Passover) was a celebration of the first harvest of wheat, and over time also became a celebration of the giving of the Law to Moses, so was fairly significant in the Jewish calendar, though far less so than Passover, obviously. This meant you would have to be a particularly pious Jew to travel to Jerusalem for both festivals when they were only seven weeks apart. The crowd that witnessed the speaking in tongues that were from all over the known world, even beyond the Roman Empire, were mostly people who had permanently migrated to Jerusalem from those other countries rather than just visiting for the festival (though some were described as being visitors from Rome), so they most likely already spoke Aramaic or Greek and didn’t absolutely need to hear the message of God in their own language, though this no doubt had a great impact on them to hear God being glorified in their own tongue, indicating that God’s Kingdom was about to spread far beyond the borders of Israel and be just as present and at home in those other nations as in Jerusalem. Since the Christian Pentecost and giving of the Holy Spirit to the Church occurred at the Jewish Pentecost, which celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses, let’s quickly compare the two events.

First, from Exodus 19:5-6,16-25(NIV):

Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

 

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.

 

The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up and the Lord said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.”

 

Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, ‘Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.’”

 

The Lord replied, “Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the Lord, or he will break out against them.”

 

So Moses went down to the people and told them.

Now Acts 2:1-24, 36-41(NIV):

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

 

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

 

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

 

“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

 

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

 

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

 

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

 

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

In both events, we have a public and spectactular show of God’s power, heralded by a great noise, God appearing in the form of fire and also the sound of a voice, and both were connected with the establishment of a new covenant between God and man. There are important differences, however.

In the giving of the Law to Moses, only Moses (and later Aaron) were allowed up the mountain, the ordinary folk were forbidden to approach. The great noise scared the people gathered there. God appearing as fire remained where He was, as one entity, undivided, and spoke with one mighty voice. The law and covenant that was set up established intermediaries between the ordinary folk and God (Moses, Aaron, and the priests).

At Pentecost, the noise drew people towards it. The fire split and rested upon everyone in the upper room, and the voices were many, that of the people present in that upper room giving all of them new languages to speak and glorify God, and everyone was given direct access to God through the Spirit.

This was like a temporary reversal of the Curse of Babel, where instead of people speaking new languages they’d never learned to prevent them from understanding each other and force them to disperse, people were speaking new languages they’d never learned so that everyone could understand the good news of God’s Kingdom and know they were invited to join and become part of God’s chosen people, no matter who they were or where they were from.

Some in the crowd joked that the disciples were drunk. We can’t tell whether this was a mean-spirited jibe meant to discredit them or just a playful jest at the joy in their hearts. What we do know is that Peter doesn’t take it personally, maybe even laughing along and responding with a little joke of his own. If he had been as concerned for his own honour as some of the chief priests and Pharisees of his day, he could have easily reacted with, “How dare you accuse us of drunkenness! We are holy men of God!” And immediately a barrier would be raised between speaker and listener, and genuine conversation would become more difficult. When we can laugh at ourselves, it disarms insults, whether intended or not, it brings us closer to people and we can move on to more important matters. It’s a very important skill (and attitude) to practice.

The passage that Peter quotes from Joel speaks of God’s spirit being given to those who would never be normally allowed to be priests, those who were too young or too old, girls and women, and the note that whoever calls on the name of the Lord being saved now carries extra weight. God’s kingdom is now not just for the Jews—everyone is to have access to God and to share His love and His Kingdom with the wider world. They really are becoming a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, just like God planned for Israel as he was giving the law to Moses.

It could have been easy for Peter to soften his message to avoid offending the crowd, but he didn’t hold back. He started with what the crowd themselves knew, since they lived in Jerusalem and had no doubt heard of Jesus and what happened to him, plus some of the rumours—a number of them had probably even heard Jesus teach. Peter then added what he and his friends had witnessed and learned, and led them to the logical conclusion, the harsh truth. In this the Holy Spirit was working, not giving him new knowledge, but guiding Peter in what to say, and the spirit was also working in the hearts of those listening, convicting them of their condition before God.

And three thousand were added that day. The church that Jesus builds, that the gates of hell will not prevail against, got going in earnest.

What about us? We aren’t personally surrounded by miracles, signs and wonders. What can we do to spread God’s Kingdom? We can tell the truth, even when it seems people will hate us for it. We can admit when we make a mistake or don’t know something or don’t understand something. We can keep learning, listen to people around us and start with what they know, trying to lead them to the full truth. When we hear a lie being spread, we can counter it. Maybe people won’t believe us, maybe they’ll want nothing to do with us afterwards, but it’s still the right thing to do.

The Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson is a very interesting individual. He’s not a Christian, but many of us think (and hope) that he is not far from becoming one. He often defends the Bible and Christianity and its part in Western civilization from attacks by Marxist activists, he gave a series of lectures on the Bible in which he highlights the healthy wisdom, deep spiritual truths, and good life advice it contains. Many young men have come to Christ through his lectures, despite the fact that he is not a believer himself. On the verse “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” he had this to say (I’m paraphrasing and combining with other comments, but I hope he’d agree that I’m not totally misrepresenting his positions):

What some people call courage is actually just being afraid of the right thing. Each time a person fears what people will think of them, deciding to not cause trouble by standing up to something they know is a lie, they shrivel a little inside. If this pattern continues, they grow old bitter and full of regrets and resentment. When you tell the truth in a given situation, then that will result in the best possible long-term outcome overall, even if the short-term outcome is very unpleasant, or the outcome for you personally is very negative. When lies are allowed to spread unopposed, then that leads to tyranny, to societies where everyone lies about everything all the time, and that is hell. I’m afraid of reaching old age, and looking back at all the times I could have stood up to evil and lies, but didn’t. That’s what I’m afraid of.

How much more should we who believe practice looking at our situation from the perspective of eternity, and consider what opportunities we’ll be ashamed to admit we didn’t take when we stand before the throne of God? It is an unsettling thought that should motivate us to action, a struggle that should accompany us our entire lives.

So let’s learn from our mistakes, learn from each other and learn together. Let’s be glad for the chance to laugh at ourselves. Let’s be filled with the spirit of Truth, overcome our short-sighted fears and tell people the truth, guide them from where they are towards the source of all truth, to the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Sorry, I Don’t Do Witch-Hunts

This is an unpleasant subject, and I will understand if many of my usual readers do not want to read about it (I don’t particularly relish writing about it), but as both an editor and contributor to Forbidden Thoughts it would be remiss of me to remain silent on the current situation with Milo Yiannopoulos.Forbidden Thoughts Front Cover

Just under a week ago, on a reddit message board someone announced that they had heard via a private mailing list that a major smear campaign was about to be launched on Milo, to destroy him with the label of pedophilia. On schedule, the next day a series of articles on major news websites announced that Milo appeared to defend pedophilia, with video evidence. (Immediately before doing so, some of those sites deleted some of their earlier articles that explicitly defended pedophilia, demonstrating that for them, the issue isn’t the issue). The video itself was deceptively edited, cutting out an explanatory segment (in which Milo expressly condemns pedophilia) and so splicing a question onto an answer to a different question so as to sound as evil as possible.

Imagine thousands of your conversations have been recorded and someone hostile to you can search through all of those recordings and clip together any question asked in your presence to any answer you gave to something completely different, or flippant remark you made in a different context. What are the chances any of us would come out of such a process without having “said” something inexcusably vile? Unless we never open our mouths, basically zero. That is the point of such a smear campaign – to silence its target.

Given the vast number of formal and informal conversations that a journalist with a grudge could choose an offensive comment from, Milo’s penchant for intentionally provocative taboo-breaking, sarcasm and gallows humour, the fact that the ones responsible for releasing this video felt the need to distort Milo’s words in this way to make their accusations speaks volumes.

Do I mean to say that what Milo said in the unedited video is fine? No, Milo himself admitted that in his recent press conference. He is not a promoter of pedophilia, he is a victim of it. He has frequently not just spoken out against pedophilia, but exposed three different pedophiles.

Critics who claim he should have named the names of those who he witnessed at a party with ‘very young boys’ fail to acknowledge the unfortunate legal reality. Simply naming names will lead to a defamation lawsuit from those he singles out and, especially if they happen to be powerful and well-connected individuals, to him being destroyed financially, as has happened in a number of past cases. It is a no-win scenario – to be destroyed for speaking up or condemned for not. He would need strong evidence to support such accusations, which he managed to acquire in the above three cases.

Combined with this is the shame that comes from admitting to being violated in this way and how a young boy can deal with it in the long term. Moira Greyland Peat, a victim of similar abuse by her predatory parents, provides some insight into the poor choice of words that Milo used as well as the counter-intuitive and distorted attitude towards his own abuse that he exhibited in the unedited interview.

http://superversivesf.com/2017/02/21/moira-offers-unique-insight-milos-words/

Sargon of Akkad provides a helpful summary of the wider context of these events

www.youtube.com/watch?v=KP7vi9oLk54

Milo’s very public explanation and apology for the things he said that were wrong can be found here.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABJo7w-efTA

In summary, then:

Do I agree with everything Milo said? No.

Would I have said the sorts of things Milo said? No.

Do I approve of Milo’s lifestyle choices? No.

I don’t need to, that’s what freedom and free speech means. Milo is a damaged and far from perfect man, and so am I, just in different ways. I don’t know how I would have coped with what he went through, and considering how fragile I turned out to be when the crunch came in my life, I cannot look down on him. What I can do and encourage other to do, is to pray for him to find true healing and the right path forwards. If he was guilty of a heinous crime, I would condemn him for it, but still pray for him and encourage others to join me in doing so.

In an earlier post, I said that I don’t do guilt by association. In my recent video, I promised to not abandon my allies, and Milo is an ally in the cause of free speech. As the title says above, I’ll add to that I don’t do witch-hunts, especially not ones based on vicious lies.

Forbidden Thoughts Goes Live on Amazon

You are not supposed to read this book.
You are not supposed to think about reading this book
In fact, just plain thinking at all is not allowed.
You have been warned…

Forbidden Thoughts Front Cover Continue reading

A Confession and a Motivation

As promised, I would like to expand on something I glossed over in my interview on Catholic Geek Radio, but now that I look back on it, played a much larger part in my motivations as a writer than I realized. It concerns how I moved from one university to another. It is not something I am proud of – instead it is something I am grateful for, since reminding myself of it is an effective defence against pride. This post will involve some painful memories, so please bear with me. Continue reading

In Defence of Motherhood

In stark contrast to the glowing review by Marina Fontaine, another review of Beyond the Mist appeared at the Publisher’s weekly website last week. The review contains a large number of spoilers and is a mixture of muted praise and sharp criticisms. Some of those criticisms claim that there are structural flaws in the storytelling and weak characterization. Perhaps those are justified, perhaps not, I am too close to the text to be able to be unbiased in that regard – I leave it to those who have read the book to decide if the reviewer is being fair. Other complaints seem to flow from political disagreements with the themes and concepts in the work. One issue in particular I would like to respond to without giving away too many spoilers. Continue reading

Today’s Sermon

I was preaching in church today (and translating myself at the same time, since there were a lot of Americans at the service). I thought I’d share what I said here, since it touches on the Superversive Literary Movement.

Colossians 3: 22-24:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

In this passage the overall principle is clear, and we in the West are far better off than slaves, even though on a particularly bad day we might briefly forget it. We have even more reason to obey this commandment, and less reason to complain. This doesn’t make it any easier to obey, but it helps to keep things in perspective when we realise who this commandment was originally given to. If slaves are to obey their masters sincerely and in reverence for the Lord, how much more are we to do so, knowing the heavenly as well as often earthly rewards we will receive for our efforts?

It can often seem that we are toiling and toiling away at something with no positive results to show for it, or we see results, but fail to see how what we are producing is of any value, of any wider spiritual benefit. At those times it can be easy to lose hope and just go through the motions. I’d like to look at this issue from a slightly different angle, beginning with a quote from the ever-awesome C.S. Lewis:

While we are on the subject of science, let me digress or a moment. I believe that any Christian who is qualified to write a good popular book on any science may do much more by that than by any directly apologetic work. The difficulty we are up against is this. We can make people (often) attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so; but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted. As long as that situation exists, widespread success is simply impossible. We must attack the enemy’s line of communication.

 

What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects — with their Christianity latent.   You can see this most easily if you look at it the other way round. Our Faith is not very likely to be shaken by any book on Hinduism. But if whenever we read an elementary book on Geology, Botany, Politics, or Astronomy, we found that its implications were Hindu, that would shake us. It is not the books written in direct defence of Materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books. In the same way, it is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian. The first step to the re-conversion of this country is a series, produced by Christians, which can beat the Penguin and the Thinkers Library on their own ground. Its Christianity would have to be latent, not explicit: and of course its science perfectly honest. Science twisted in the interests of apologetics would be sin and folly.

This is what I try to do as a writer, to create works that stand on their own merits alongside other books by people with very different worldviews (I leave it to the readers to decide how successful I am in that regard), while at the same time as a member of the Superversive Literary Movement to tell stories that encourage people to build rather than tear down, to persevere rather than give in to despair, to notice, value and be grateful for the beauty we see all around us in all its forms and provide glimpses of the great truths behind this universe.

This principle not only applies to books, but to every kind of useful work, every productive industry. What if whenever someone wanted to find a good handyman, a good lawyer, a good engineer, a good doctor, a good researcher, the best options available to him, the most capable, the most trustworthy, were always Christians? What effect would that have on that someone, on the society as a whole? Wouldn’t it open up tremendous new opportunities for the Good News to spread? This is the context of Peter’s instruction to the believers in his first epistle:

1 Peter 3:13-16

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

In the culture in which this was written, pure altruism was unheard of. If you helped someone in some way, they were then literally in your debt, since honour and shame was a much more powerful motivating force than it is today. This sometimes made people reluctant to accept help, since they didn’t know what sort of return favour would be asked of them. So when a Christian helped a stranger and didn’t want anything in return, as Jesus commanded, the recipient of that help would be suspicious. They’d think, ‘Oh, they must be holding out for something really big from me’, and this would be the opportunity for the Christian to explain that they were expecting a heavenly rather than earthly reward for their efforts. It opened up a door to share that hope.

The two greatest commandments are to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, strength and love our neighbour as ourselves. With all of our strength and our mind includes the work that we do, so it would be appropriate to say that we should love the Lord with all of our work. So let’s work on ourselves, educate ourselves, improve, become the best we can be at what we do. Let’s honour God, make his world a better place and bless others through our work.

 

God likes to work through us, to use us to achieve his purposes. Jesus said that he came that we may have life, and have it abundantly. Let’s be part of that abundance that God has planned for others, and through our work give them a little glimpse of the abundance that only he can give. Sometimes this will open up an opportunity to share some of His good news, other times it will be enough to simply be that blessing for others, and give them a tangible foretaste of His kingdom.

 

This is a great challenge, one not to be taken lightly. I’d like to close with the closing instruction Paul gave to the Phillippian church:

Phillippians 4:8

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Why is it important to think about such things? Because what we feed our mind on forms our character, transforming us and our behaviour from the inside, so people can watch us and see the Gospel at work. If we can provide true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy things for other people to think about (as the Superversive Literary Movement tries to do), all the better.

If you want to sample some of my efforts in this regard, click on the images below:

all cover_f1_v13_frontsmall

Selected Verse - Heroes and WondersSelected Verse - Faith and Family Beyond the Mist

 

 

 

 

* After the sermon, someone came up to me to ask where I got the C.S. Lewis quote from. I had to explain that I went looking for a Czech translation of God in the Dock, in the end finding one, only to discover that it was a translation of a selection from that essay collection and the passage in question was not included. I ended up translating the passage myself together with my wife in preparation, and handed him the copy I had printed out for the sermon. For my tens of Czech readers, I provide it below:

 

Když už mluvíme o vědě, udělám malou odbočku. Věřím, že jakýkoliv křesťan, který je kvalifikován napsat dobrou popularni knihu z jakékoli oblasti vědy, tím dosahne daleko více než skrze čistě apologetické dílo.  Problem je v tom, že lidé budou často naslouchat křesťasnskému pohledu na věc třeba půl hodiny – ale jakmile odejdou z naší přednášky nebo odloží náš článek, jsou ponoření zpět do světa, kde se opačný postoj považuje za samozřejmost. Dokud tato situace trvá, nějaký dalekosáhlý úspech je prostě nemožný. Musime napadnout nepřítelovy komunikační kanály.

 

To, co chceme, není více knížek o křestanství, ale vice knížek křesťanských autorů o jiných předmetech, v nichž je křesťanství skryté, v pozadi. To lze nejlépe pochopit, když na to podivame z druhé strany. Naší vírou těžko otřese nejaká kniha o Hinduismu. Pokud bychom ale četli nějakou základní knihu o geologii, botanice, politice či astronomie, a jeji závěry by poukazovaly k hinduismu, to by námi otřáslo. Moderního člověka nedělají materialistou knihy napsané na obhajobu materialismu, ale základní materialistické předpoklady ve všech ostatnich knihách. Stejně tak nebude nijak zvlášť znepokojen knihami o křesťanství, ale bude zneklidněn, když kdykoliv bude chtít koupit levnou populárně naučnou knihu v nějakém vědním oboru, zjistí, že nejlepší dílo na trhu napsal nějaký křesťan. Prvním krokem k znovuobrácení tohoto národa je série knih napsaných křesťany, které mohou porazit sekularni alternativy na jejich vlastním hřišti. Křesťanstvi těchto knih by muselo být v pozadi, nevyslovené, a věda samozřejmě naprosto poctivá. Překrucovat vědu v zájmu apologetiky by byl hřích a pošetilost.