All posts by Phil W

The Ruined Soul

We should be very sure that the ruined soul is not one who has missed a few more or less important theological points and will flunk a theological examination at the end of life. Hell is not an ‘oops!’ or a slip. One does not miss heaven by a hair, but by constant effort to avoid and escape God. ‘Outer darkness’ is for one who, everything said, wants it, whose entire orientation has slowly and firmly set itself against God and therefore against how the universe actually is. It is for those who are disastrously in error about their own life and their place before God and man. The ruined soul must be willing to hear of and recognize its own ruin before it can find how to enter a different path, the path of eternal life that naturally leads into spiritual formation in Christlikeness.

— Dallas Willard (1935- ), The Renovation of the Heart

Reading Literature for Life and Freedom

[Originally posted May 24, 2003] The Atlantic has published a great interview this month (available by subscription) called, “The Fiction of Life: Azar Nafisi, the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, on the dangers of using religion as an ideology, and the freedoms that literature can bring.” It’s about how the Western Canon of literature educated and provided emotional release for many Islamic women in Tehran. I was drawn to it by part of the subtitle, “the dangers of using religion as an ideology.” As I understand the words of that phrase, I could reword it like this, the dangers of using a system of beliefs about God as a system of beliefs about life. Shouldn’t our religion form the basis of our ideology, if they aren’t the same thing? Conversely, if our beliefs about God have nothing to do with our beliefs about life, then as St. James said, how can we prove that we really hold those beliefs about God?

But that’s not how the article uses “ideology.” It means the Iranian government’s way of shunning opposing ideas and demanding outward conformity. What Author Nafisi describes as ideology is a set of Islamistic political rules which aren’t open for debate, rules which are based in Islam or worded in religious language, but are not the natural outworking of the faith. It’s tyranny wrapped in the Islamic language. As such, her comments on freedom and the life-giving qualities of fiction apply to any tyrannical society, those cloaked in religious language and those opposed to it. (But then, even secular tyrannies define themselves in religious terms. God is not non-existent; the state has just taken his place.) Nafisi praises the freedom of ideas, saying that Western literature, such as Austen and Nabokov, exposes readers under oppression to inconceivable stories of freedom and hope.

Welcome to the New Brandywine Books

Brandywine Books sealI’m having a hard time blogging in present due to a loud recording of me reading an abridged Alice in Wonderland to my sweet children. They have left the room now, but the recording still plays. But enough on the personal life.

Welcome to the new Brandywine Books. In case you are brand, spanking new to this blog, let me explain that we are not affliated in any way with the Brandywine Valley in Pennsylvania and Delaware or the rare and used bookseller by the same name in Winter Park, Florida. Brandywine Books is a blog name of my own creation, inspired by the river in east Hobbiton where Meriadoc Brandybuck’s family makes their home.

This is the second home of this blog. The first is on the blogspot servers, where I hope it will stay for a while in order to maintain the integrity of the Internet (or something). I will repost some of the old posts, if they are still interesting, and soon a list of popular posts will appear in the sidebar.

Let us know what you think of the new blog. Have a good weekend.

Jonathan Edwards

Today, October 5, 1703, the great Jonathan Edwards was born in East Windsor, Connecticut. He became one of the great preachers and thinkers of the Christian church, ranking up there with Charles Spurgeon, John Calvin, Martin Luther, and St. Augustine. He is probably the best Christian minister America has ever nurtured. In an article for World Magazine, Cultural Editor Gene Edward Veith writes,

“Edwards’ influence went beyond theology. His understanding of the beauty of nature and its connection to its Creator bore fruit in the magnificent landscape paintings of the Hudson River artists. His awareness of the limits and the sinfulness of human nature is evident in the fiction of Hawthorne and Melville, with its awareness of the darkness that dwells in the human heart. His rehabilitation of Locke and other Enlightenment thinkers made them palatable to the American Founders, who used them, in a Christian way, to forge the constitutional republic.”

This fact may be what has endeared me to Edwards since I was in high school. I’ve often thought that I would be blessed if I understood little more than Edwards’ life and teaching. I’m not sure that I’ve thought this for more than a few minutes at a time, especially since I’ve done nothing to back it up. Similarly, I’ve admired Nathaniel Hawthorne for years without a fully developed reason, that is, without a reason I can articulate. I guess I’m just a poser, a pseudo-intellectual, a plebian.

Doubtless, the sermon included in many American literature anthologies, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” is beautiful. “The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at [the unbeliever’s] heart and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with [the unbeliever’s] blood.” Goodness! Edwards’ delivered that kind of language in an even, quiet tone.

But that certainly wasn’t his only message. In my barely readable anthology (I don’t think the publishers of my two-volume set seriously believed buyers would read them; encyclopedias are more readable than this), the sermon prior to the one above is “God Glorified in Man’s Dependence,” which is, as I understand Edwards, the essential message of his ministry. John Piper said it this way, “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.”

Ah, that is refreshing. Not politically correct, not egocentric, totally unacceptable in today’s colleges, but wonderfully relevant and fulfilling.