Tag Archives: Articles

Review: God in the Dock

Rating: ★★★★

Who: C. S. Lewis, British scholar and lay theologian.

Overview: God in the Dock: Essays in Theology and Ethics (1970) is a smorgasbord of Lewis’ short articles, mostly on theological topics. Many of them are responses to theological or literary controversies of the day, but they are written with the same cleverness and care for detail that he put into his other writings.

Meat: The strength of this book is that we can hear Lewis at length on topics that he loved, but were unworthy of a full book. Topics scattered throughout his writings come into full focus here. The essay, for example, on “Reading Old Books” is still particularly relevant and quoted often as an antidote to the worship of the “Idol of the Age.”

My favorite parts of the book, though, were Lewis’ thoughts on mythology scattered throughout. In short, Lewis believed that in Jesus’ resurrection was, in a sense, “myth became fact.” He mentions this in Perelandra, but he expounds it much more clearly in God in the Dock, especially in “The Grand Miracle” and “Myth Became Fact.” These two essays are the kernel of the book and are central to understanding to Lewis’ theology as a whole.

Bones: Some of the essays—a long-winded argument against ‘naturalism’ for example—may be opaque to modern readers. As the book goes on, some of the essays on ethical and critical topics, are for the most part yawn-inducing. (Some of the topics also have little or nothing to do with religion, by the way.) As a whole, it is definitely a book worth having, but I wouldn’t worry about reading it cover to cover.

An abridged collection, The Grand Miracle: And Other Selected Essays might be a quicker, more palatable alternative for less patient readers (and it looks like it has a closer focus on the Christian topics too).

Quotes: “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another a new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.” (“On Reading Old Books”)

“The Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left.” (“The Grand Miracle,” p. 80)

Related: Several similar (though shorter) compilations of Lewis’ articles have sprung up. Confusingly, there is a compilation called God in the Dock that is shorter than this full book; The Grand Miracle is also a kind of “best of” taken completely from God in the Dock. Lewis’ other books of essays and speeches, such as The Weight of Glory and The World’s Last Night, are unrelated to this one and do not overlap.

This book is available in print, digital, and audio formats.

Review: All Things Considered

Rating: ★★★★

Author: G. K. Chesterton was a devoutly Catholic journalist, poet and novelist of the early 20th century. His most apt nickname is “The Prince of Paradox.”

Overview: All Things Considered is a series of brief newspaper articles treating various topics of the day—and Chesterton is capable of treating the most serious topics with levity. We can’t read Leonard Ravenhill all the time; for this reason, God gave us G. K. Chesterton.

Meat: Good writers can point us to biblical truth; great writers, like Chesterton, can arrive at truth starting from any heading. “On Running after One’s Hat” is still one of his most famous articles. “The Modern Martyr” and “The Error of Impartiality” contain exactly the kinds of brilliant insights a reader comes to expect from Chesterton.

“Fairy Tales” (quoted below) is a fascinating explanation of the truth of children’s tales: we are hemmed in by conditions or laws, and there is no escaping the truth that our choices have consequences. In this sense, Chesterton says, fairy tales carry moral truth, or a truth about morality. (The same theme is explored in “The Ethics of Elfland,” a famous chapter in Orthodoxy, published in the same year.)

Bones: Some of the political debates here—doubtless scathing in their day—are lost on today’s reader, especially those who aren’t English. Other topics are downright trivial; but then, that is probably what makes reading them so fun.

Quotes: “One of the great disadvantages of hurry is that it takes such a long time.”

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” (“On Running after One’s Hat”)

“But the whole modern world, or at any rate the whole modern Press, has a perpetual and consuming terror of plain morals. … Our modern Press would rather appeal to physical arrogance, or to anything, rather than appeal to right and wrong.” Chesterton continues to say that if someone murders their grandmother, the press will call it “vulgar, disgusting . . . will accuse it of a lack of manners . . . Another school will say that it is an uneconomic waste of a good grandmother.  . . . The only real point that is worth mentioning is that the action is wicked.” (“The Boy”)

“If you really read the fairy-tales, you will observe that one idea runs from one end of them to the other–the idea that peace and happiness can only exist on some condition. This idea, which is the core of ethics, is the core of the nursery-tales. The whole happiness of fairyland hangs upon a thread, upon one thread. Cinderella may have a dress woven on supernatural looms and blazing with unearthly brilliance; but she must be back when the clock strikes twelve. . . . A promise is broken to a cat, and the whole world goes wrong. A promise is broken to a yellow dwarf, and the whole world goes wrong. . . .  A girl is given a box on condition she does not open it; she opens it, and all the evils of this world rush out at her. A man and woman are put in a garden on condition that they do not eat one fruit: they eat it, and lose their joy in all the fruits of the earth.” (“Fairy Tales”)

“Only the weak exhibit strength without an aim.”

You can read this book for free over at AmazonOnline-Literature, Internet Archive, or Project Gutenberg—better yet, listen to it for free at LibriVox.

On Racing Against Horses

The prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament complains to God that men in his hometown are plotting to kill him. He has had a difficult ministry towards unwilling people. You would think God would say something like, “that’s okay, Jeremiah, just trust in my grace.” Instead God says, in effect, “suck it up. It’s gonna get harder.”

If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses?
(God’s word to Jeremiah, Jer. 12:5)

At first, it does not sound encouraging. G. Campbell Morgan points out though, that Jeremiah had raced with men. God didn’t say he failed. He had done well in a ministry that was filled with conflict. He had already preached boldly in a temple to religious people who had missed the entire point of the temple. He had brought some brutal, yet God-sent words. The nation was in danger—not because of karma, but because God couldn’t allow himself to be misrepresented ad infinitum.

And it was going to get harder! Sometimes we expect God to set us up for success and affluence, but he sees all the chess pieces, and he knows what we can handle. He knows that he can ask us to face something that is more difficult. The logical inverse, though, is that God wouldn’t send Jeremiah to race horses when he hadn’t won against men. God knows what’s too hard for us, and the Bible says that he doesn’t ever send his children to a battle that they can’t fight with his help.

In connection with this, I have been asking, is it possible to race horses? The metaphor sounds fantastic, but there are at least two races that have pitted men against horses in long-distance running: one is a 22-mile race in Wales, and one is a 50-mile race in Arizona. In 2004, for the first time a man won the race in Wales. In Arizona, the horses have never lost, but the race is often close. In 2009, the race director said that the first man, Jamil Coury, clocked in just over seven hours for 50 miles of running, and could have beaten the first place horse if he hadn’t gotten off course.

So God’s question—how will you compete with horses? is not only relevant to long-distance runners. A man can’t compete with a horse over short distances. But it is possible for a human to beat a horse, if the human doesn’t quit. Maybe that was really God’s key to facing difficulty in ministry anyway.

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
(Paul to Timothy, 2 Timothy 4:5)