Category Archives: Religion

A Christian’s Final Rest

Today rebroadcast of Renewing Your Mind asks, “What is the blessed hope? Today, R.C. Sproul explains what we can expect when we reach our ultimate destination.”

UntitledFrom Ligonier’s Flickr Photostream (2010)

BTW, several short books by Dr. Sproul are still available for free for Kindle and audio. They are his Critical Question series, great tools for sound teaching that won’t overwhelm you. Titles include What is Repentance?, What is the Trinity?, How Can I Develop a Christian Conscience?, and Does Prayer Change Things?

R.C. Sproul Now Sees the Lord Face to Face

R.C. Sproul (1939-2017) passed away this afternoon at age 78. Go buy three or four of his books for yourself and family.

Stephen Nichols summarizes Dr. Sproul’s life in this post at Ligonier Ministries’ site.

R.C. Sproul was a theologian who served the church. He admired the Reformers not only for the content of their message, but for the way they took that message to the people. They were “battlefield theologians,” as he called them. Many first heard of the five solas of the Reformation through R.C. Sproul’s teaching.

R.C. often recalled his first encounter with the God of the Bible. As a new Christian and a freshman in college, he devoured the Bible. One thing stood out from his reading: God is a God who plays for keeps. The Psalms, the story of Uzzah, Genesis 15:17, Mary’s MagnificatLuke 16:16–17, and, of course, Isaiah 6—the drama of these texts captivated R.C. from the moment he first read them.

May the Lord bless us with 1,000 just like Dr. Sproul in our generation and the next, men and women who will lift up the cross by the power of His Spirit for the perseverance of His kingdom.

New release: ‘The Last Closet,’ by Moira Greyland

The Last Closet

Moira Greyland is the daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley, the late best-selling feminist sci-fi and fantasy author. A while back I passed along some published revelations about the abusive sexual practices Bradley and her husband indulged in, particularly in regard to their daughter. Just today, Castalia House has released Moira’s book, The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon, in a Kindle edition. [Reviewed here]

Here’s the blurb:

Marion Zimmer Bradley was a bestselling science fiction author, a feminist icon, and was awarded the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. She was best known for the Arthurian fiction novel THE MISTS OF AVALON and for her very popular Darkover series.

She was also a monster.

THE LAST CLOSET: The Dark Side of Avalon is a brutal tale of a harrowing childhood. It is the true story of predatory adults preying on the innocence of children without shame, guilt, or remorse. It is an eyewitness account of how high-minded utopian intellectuals, unchecked by law, tradition, religion, or morality, can create a literal Hell on Earth.

THE LAST CLOSET is also an inspiring story of survival. It is a powerful testimony to courage, to hope, and to faith. It is the story of Moira Greyland, the only daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley and convicted child molester Walter Breen, told in her own words.

Moira Greyland is a born-again Christian today. I bought her book within minutes of its announcement. This, in my opinion, could be just the book we need at this time in history. If not, it’s a good thing to set the record straight on any day.

‘Det lyser i stille grender’

I almost posted something about My Senator, Al Franken, tonight. But the more I thought about it, the less I had to say. In my opinion this is pretty much all political triangulation — on both sides. No actual repentance is apparent anywhere.

Christine Keeler, the “party girl” at the center of the Profumo Scandal which brought down an English Conservative government in my youth, died the other day, old and poor. I was reminded of Mark Steyn’s obituary on John Profumo, the disgraced politician in the case. Profumo gave up politics and gave his life to good works, working in soup kitchens, etc., for the rest of his life. I think we can be fairly sure Al Franken will not be doing that. Nor will Roy Moore (or, less likely, President Trump), if things should go so far.

Instead, here’s an old film clip of one of my favorite Christmas songs from Sissel — one that, for some reason, seems to have fallen off her Christmas repertoire. The song tells, very broadly, of how the light of Christmas spreads gradually over the whole earth on Christmas Eve night.

‘Authentic Christianity,’ by Gene Edward Veith and A. Trevor Sutton

Authentic Christianity

What [Reformation thought] meant in practice is that the “spiritual disciplines” moved out of the monastery into secular life. Celibacy became faithfulness in marriage. Poverty became thrift and hard work. Obedience became submission to the law. Most important, prayer, meditation, and worship – while still central to every Christian’s vocation in the Church – also moved into the family and the workplace.

What does the Church require to reclaim lost ground in the 21st Century? How can we answer postmodernism? What can unite the countless feuding – and dissolving – denominational groups into a force for reclaiming the culture? We do not lack for books offering answers to those questions. My friend Gene Edward Veith, along with co-author A. Trevor Sutton, maintains in Authentic Christianity that the perfect solution is one already in place – Lutheran theology. (I did not receive a review copy, for the record.)

The “star” of the book is a Lutheran philosopher of whom (I have to admit) I’d never heard – Johann Georg Hamann (1730-88). Goethe, we’re told, called Hamann “the brightest mind of his day.” A convert from Enlightenment thinking, Hamann deconstructed rationalism and insisted that reason was useless and destructive when separated from faith. According to the authors, he anticipated postmodernism in his critique of autonomous reason. He may, they suggest, have been the father of that linguistic analysis which so dominates modern philosophy. But for him this line of thought led, not to absurdity and despair, but to trust in Jesus Christ, His Word, and His Church.

Veith and Sutton go on to analyze the (self-destructive) thinking of the modern world, and they explain how Lutheran theology answers the inherent questions of our time and fills basic human spiritual needs.

The book works itself out as a systematic apologetic for Lutheranism, aimed at modern readers. If you’re looking for a stable church home, you could do far worse than reading this fresh and interesting book. Recommended.

‘Glade Jul’

I’m between book reviews tonight, so I thought, “Hey, I can post Christmas videos now.” And what do I discover on YouTube, but a Sissel video I haven’t seen before? This one’s a treasure, because it shows her just when she was beginning to be famous in Norway. You’ll recognize the song as “Silent Night,” as they sing it over there. “Glade Jul” means “Happy Christmas.”

This is the young Sissel I modeled the character of Halla after, in The Year of the Warrior.

Miscellanea of the day

C. S. Lewis

Today is C.S. Lewis’s birthday. He was born in 1898 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I didn’t commemorate the date of his death (Nov. 22, 1963) this year, as is my usual custom. This year, I’d rather think about births than deaths.

My debt to “Jack” Lewis, as a reader and a fan-boy, is beyond calculation. His work was an instrument of God’s to bring me to the faith I have today.

You may celebrate or mourn that, as you like.

How do I feel about all the sexual harassment allegations rising about us like zombies in a bad movie? I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there’s considerable schadenfreude in seeing one after another sanctimonious liberal, all of whom have excoriated conservative Christians as sexists for years, getting their sheep’s clothing yanked off their backs.

This, by the way (especially in Hollywood), is an ironic fruit of the long-standing blacklisting that has kept conservatives out of the business (unless they keep very, very quiet). It may be that conservatives would have acted equally badly if they’d had the same kind of power. But we’ll never know, because they were excluded at the gate.

I’d like to think that all this would bring a return to traditional, Judeo-Christian sexual morality. But it won’t, of course. What will happen is that feminists will gain increased power. More and more male executives will be edged out and replaced by women who, having no better values, will act exactly the same way. Men will find it increasingly difficult to get promotions, and will more and more be relegated to “menial” jobs. And the already draconian regime of the Human Resources sensitivity police will come to rival the KGB.

In closing, here’s an article from Mental Floss on how to treat your books. Guaranteed to flood you with existential guilt.

Peter De Vries

Peter De Vries

The other day I recalled – for no reason I can state – a movie I saw in my college days. It was Pete ‘n Tillie, starring Walter Matthau and Carol Burnett. Some friends and I saw it cheap at a second run theater somewhere in Minneapolis. I didn’t like it much.

And yet, having thought of it, I looked it up on Wikipedia. I discovered, to my surprise, that it was based on a novel called Witch’s Milk, by Peter De Vries.

And that reminded me of Peter De Vries. He was a prominent novelist back in those days. A Dutch Calvinist from Chicago, he had served in the OSS in World War II (very hush-hush), and eventually went to the work for the New Yorker, at the invitation of James Thurber.

His Wikipedia article quotes James Bratt, who called him “a secular Jeremiah, a renegade CRC missionary to the smart set.” However, this interesting article from Image Journal describes him as essentially an atheist.

De Vries dwelled in familiar settings because he wanted to dismantle the belief systems that struck him as too smug or self-sufficient. Religion was his enduring target, but he also mocked modern medicine, psychoanalysis, feminism, academia, and the advertising industry.

I’m not really qualified to pass judgment on him. I only read one of his novels, The Glory of the Hummingbird, which left a lasting impression on me, but did not inspire me to read more of his books. He was one of those authors I didn’t feel qualified to grapple with.

The Wikipedia article says all his books were out of print at the time of his death in 1993. I am happy to report that some are now available in Kindle form (like the works of that other brilliant but neglected author, Lars Walker). The Blood of the Lamb is the most famous.

The joys of home ownership

In my mind, it’s a great big crisis; high drama.

What it is, is that I agreed long ago to go along with my neighbor on a mutually beneficial property improvement project. And yesterday I signed the contract and cut a check, and the work will probably start this weekend.

My neighbor has been as amiable as he could be. I’ll be slightly in debt for a few months, but I saved a big chunk of money by scheduling at this time of year, so that’s OK.

Everything’s fine. And I feel like retiring to my fainting couch.

Is this what it’s like to be a grown-up?

And now, this:

Gene Edward Veith shared this “open letter” today, taken from a comment on his blog. It’s a letter to the next church shooter, inviting him to consider the writer’s own church.

And the whole “death” thing raises a very important point. Ours is a Christian church and death is a particular interest of ours. We think we have it figured out. As you enter our sanctuary, you won’t be able to help noticing that the most prominent feature displayed there is a large cross – an ancient Roman instrument of execution. It’s our teaching that it was a death, the death of God’s Son on a cross like that, that frees us from the fear of our own death. Don’t misunderstand – we’re not seeking death, but we’re not fearing it, either. Jesus demonstrated that if we followed Him through our own death, we would then follow Him into resurrection and eternal life. He demonstrated this for us and that demonstration was remarkably well-documented both in the Book He left for us and in the lives of His closest friends and followers, most of whom died rather than deny that Jesus’ resurrection had happened. Which to our way of thinking is a very strong endorsement.

Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2017/11/dear-next-mass-church-murderer/#Mu5vrWCFBfEv2QZ3.99

More fake Viking news

Not Kufic

It’s getting so there’s a new bogus, agenda-driven story about the Vikings every week or so. Not long ago it was the story about the “female Viking warrior,” which seems to have been far less than advertised. This week it was the name “Allah” “discovered” in a piece of Viking embroidery. From the English paper, the Independent:

The silk patterns were originally thought to be ordinary Viking Age decoration but a re-examination by archaeologist Annika Larsson of Uppsala University revealed they were a geometric Kufic script.
They were found on woven bands as well as items of clothing, in two separate grave sites, suggesting that Viking funeral customs had been influenced by Islam.

I was skeptical about this story from the git-go. In the first place, the pattern looked like a fairly standard geometrical pattern, very much like the kinds you get from tablet weaving, common in the Viking Age. Secondly, even if the pattern was derived from Muslim script, that does not imply belief. The Vikings had strong trade contacts with Baghdad, to whose representatives they sold thousands of slaves every year. Arabic silver coins (dirhems) are one of the most common objects found in Viking hoards, especially in Sweden. Arabic coins have no pictures, in keeping with Islamic law. Just the flowing, graceful Arabic script. It would be no surprise if the shapes of the letters might have inspired a Viking embroiderer. No religious motive should be assumed.

Now, as expected, there’s been a rebuttal, even more categorical than I expected.

…now a leading expert in mediaeval Islamic art and archaeology has disputed the claim and said the inscription contains “no Arabic at all.”

Stephennie Mulder, a professor from the University of Texas in Austin, said the error stems from a “serious problem of dating”.

She claims Kufic script did not occur until 500 years after the Viking age.

“It’s a style called square Kufic, and it’s common in Iran, C. Asia on architecture after 15th century,” she wrote on Twitter.

Listen archaeologists – I know you want to see your names in the papers. And I know it’s good for your careers to make the most exaggerated claims you can, in the service of multiculturalism. But stop trying to promote your causes by exploiting history.

That’s the job of historical novelists. Like me.

Tip: Dave Lull.

Looking for Missing Pieces

In the vein of the news we shared several days ago (“Worse Than You’ve Heard” ), Abby Perry writes about a few people who have provoked her over the years, teachers and singers who were “edgy” in different ways, and our responses to those people.

I knew my salvation was secure, but I wondered if perhaps the hollowness I’d sometimes felt in the conservative evangelicalism of my childhood could be filled by the fresh air this singing provocateur was breathing. Maybe this was the missing piece.

But, she says, maybe this desire for finding a missing piece is a significant problem that draws us away from our own families and churches.

“The church isn’t a static commodity—it’s a living thing, and living things often cause and experience pain.”

Self-Help and Help for Your Soul

When asked what kind of book he reads in secret, Jake Garrett replied, self-help books.

“Ten years ago, when I worked at a small bookstore in downtown Vancouver, I would look askance at people that came in and asked for these books. What happened in their life that led them to this moment? I thought as I guided them to the self-help section, speaking softly and smiling as if anything more would break them.”

Now, he is that person.

I’ve benefited from a good self-help myself, but far better help can be found in scripture and good biblical writing. For instance, here are 6 Things Christ Does With Your Sin. Also this, God Is Bigger Than Our Immaturity.

‘Katharine von Bora: The Morning Star of Wittenberg,’ by Jenna and Shanna Strackbein

Katherine von Bora: The Morning Star of Wittenberg

In the spirit of the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, I have received a free review copy of Katharine von Bora: The Morning Star of Wittenberg, by Jenna and Shanna Strackbein, with illustrations by Emily and Jenna Strackbein.

This is a book for children — intermediate readers, I’d estimate. It narrates the life of the woman who became Martin Luther’s wife, from her childhood to the early years of their married life. The text is clear (with German pronunciations provided, which is a nice touch), and there’s a glossary in the back, as well as a timeline. The colored pictures are numerous and lively.

The story is addressed from a Lutheran theological point of view, so non-Protestants – or even some Reformed – may not appreciate parts of it. But it’s pretty handsome.

Speaking of Vikings…

Sorry about not posting yesterday. It was a day like no other, remarkable in its occurrences. There was no time, or energy, for blogging.

I don’t think I mentioned it before, because the event was a closed one, but I was invited to speak – twice – at a retreat for the pastors of my church body. They wanted me to first do an afternoon presentation on the Vikings, and then give a sermon to the pastors at the evening banquet.

Even I thought this rash, and probably ill-advised.

But I prepared my talks, and I was on the spot at the appointed hour. First I spoke about the conversion of Norway in the Viking Age, rehashing Fridtjof Birkeli’s revisionist arguments that the whole business was more peaceful than the saga writers suggest, and that Haakon the Good has been unjustly underrated by historians. I wondered whether any of the pastors would care about this, but in fact it turned out to be the first standing room only crowd I’ve ever addressed. The question and answer session afterwards was thoughtful and fun, and it ran overtime.

In the evening I gave a sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:12-20, where St. Paul describes the church as being like a body, in which every member has a function to carry out. I related this to our church body’s history, and to its emphasis on lay participation back in the days when it was still a debatable question whether a layman would be allowed to lead a prayer in the pastor’s absence. I stressed the risks involved in this way of doing church, and urged them to become risk-takers. (Easy for me to say; I’m not a pastor.) It went over very well, and the response was positive.

Oh yes, the food was delicious, too. We bachelors don’t get that many really good meals that we can afford to overlook them.

Then I drove home (depending on my GPS to get me around a bridge under repair), a shell of my former self, because that was about all the human contact I could handle in one day.

‘The Conversion of Scandinavia,’ by Anders Winroth

The Conversion of Scandinavia

It’s a little disappointing, after my glowing review of Anders Winroth’s The Age of the Vikings (reviewed a few inches south of here), to deliver a less than enthusiastic review of his earlier work, The Conversion of Scandinavia. Of course it’s ridiculous for me, an amateur historian and fantasy novelist, to challenge a scholar of Winroth’s stature. But this is my area of interest, blast it, and I’m going to defend it with whatever flimsy weapons I’ve got.

The thesis of The Conversion of Scandinavia is fairly easily stated. In Winroth’s view, the conversion essentially never happened – not in the way we’ve been taught. All those cultural clashes and crusader atrocities are just the fancies of Icelandic storytellers. What actually happened (in this view) is that various chieftains and kings realized that Christianity offered both prestige and (in the Church) a bureaucratic model that could be expanded and adapted to solidify their own power. The kings were baptized, and their kingdoms declared officially Christian. Other than that, the changes were few, but the people gradually adapted to the new religious order.

One thing that immediately struck me was that Winroth completely bypasses the institution of the Things, the Viking democratic assemblies that balanced and limited royal power. He writes of the Scandinavian kings as if they were autocrats, ruling by decree. Although he doesn’t explain this omission, I imagine he considers the idea of the Thing another invention of Icelandic saga writers – and in his view (apparently) the very fact that a saga writer says it is conclusive proof of falsehood. He does not recognize the recent work of scholars in the field of folklore studies, who argue that useful information can be preserved in pre-literate societies for three centuries or more through traditional mnemonic devices, before being written down. Continue reading ‘The Conversion of Scandinavia,’ by Anders Winroth