Wednesday, April 30, 2008

C. S. Lewis says...

This is a great passage from the opening of his A Preface to Paradise Lost (a little book that is, may I point out, dedicated to old Charles Williams); I think it may also be a selection in The Business of Heaven. Lewis is of course saying all this in introduction to a critical analysis of Milton's masterpiece, though I'm certain that this is also how the man would approach the scriptures (on a critical level, that is)--which is only proper. While the study of scripture isn't usually undertaken as a study of it qua "workmanship", this initial consideration, of what a thing was meant to be, is still of the utmost importance in looking at any text. All the talk of genre with the scriptural texts is necessary today simply because so many people are trying to ignore this first and most obvious step in critical thinking.
The first qualification for judging any piece of workmanship from a corkscrew to a cathedral is to know what it is--what it was intended to do and how it is meant to be used. After that has been discovered the temperance reformer may decide that the corkscrew was made for a bad purpose, and the communist may think the same about the cathedral. But such questions come later. The first thing is to understand the object before you: as long as you think the corkscrew was meant for opening tins or the cathedral for entertaining tourists you can say nothing to the purpose about them. The first thing a reader needs to know about Paradise Lost is what Milton meant it to be.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Father Stephen gives an ontology lesson

Father Stephen at Glory to God for All Things recently questioned a billboard that boldly affirmed that "HELL IS REAL", by "simply" asking: is Hell real?

This blog post is the finest thing I've read all day... and considering I've been reading John Milton all day, that's pretty good. Of course I hear echoes of Charles Williams's Descent into Hell in this post, but justifiably, as Father Stephen is a fan of the novel. I'm also reminded of what N. T. Wright said about Hell in Surprised by Hope, but, again, there I can only say 'read that book!' 
And if you have time, read this blog post first. 

Saturday, April 12, 2008

book review: Surprised by Hope

I wrote a brief review of N. T. Wright's latest on Amazon. The Internet Monk recently reviewed the book as well.

It looks like the last book review I posted on wardrobe was also Wright, but I promise I've been reading other things in the meantime.
Other things aside, though, Surprised by Hope is quite a piece of work.

In the way of a brief summary: Wright opens the book with a condensed version of his arguments for the bodily Resurrection of Christ (with frequent reference to the ever-intimidating The Resurrection of the Son of God); he then proceeds to explain why this Resurrection hope should be seen as the center of the New Testament teachings and how its implications weigh in on every aspect of the Christian life. Along the way he challenges most of the popular eschatology of the church today. Brief summary.

One thing that is hard to express in a review is simply how brilliant this book is. Wright's exegesis is powerful, and, backed by his keen delineation of the cultural, historical, and textual contexts of the New Testament and its writers, his conclusions, while seemingly revolutionary, are overwhelmingly sound. 
These conclusions will seem familiar if you've read any of Wright's other works: he has a great deal to say about new creation and about the Kingdom of God. In fact, this work seems to me to really give the reader a holistic view of Wright's theology. The new creation that he understands Paul to be talking about in 1 Corinthians 15 (among other places) weaves in and out of everything else in Wright's mind, and really holds the whole New Testament together--Christology, eschatology, vocation, they're all tied to this theme. And so far from simply expounded doctrine, the final section of the book is entirely devoted to defining the practicalities of this theology of new creation, so far as it relates to prayer, the sacraments, evangelism, social justice, and more. 

I could recapitulate Wright's work for sometime here... so I'll stop here.
Personally, I found the whole thing refreshing. The picture of the New Earth that is drawn out is much more Biblically sound in my mind than the popular language about heaven. The picture of Hell reminded me immediately of Charles Williams. His epistemological concerns and suggestions are fascinating (and surely their brief handling in the book represent only the tip of the iceberg on his thought here). The "inaugurated eschatology" that he encourages the church to embrace just seems to be that very vocation that the scriptures exhort the church to receive. And all the while you can read clearly Wright's earnest hope for this reality, and especially by the end of the book you begin to feel how much the bishop has poured himself into this.

The one real draw-back to Surprised by Hope? The book jacket is designed to match Simply Christian, book the two books aren't the same height. As Rob Bell said, this is N. T. Wright at his best.

There's only so much a review can say--beyond that, well, just read this book.