Christian Literature: Pro and Con
Both Nathan Brown ("Living in Vernacular," Dec. 8, 2005) and Gary Swanson ("A Lesson from the Narnia Chronicles," Adventist Review Online) quote Scripture to affirm the value of Christian fiction. But neither Brown nor Swanson expresses any cautions about the limitations or potential downside of uninspired, imaginative literature.
Adventists affirm the central importance of propositional, historical truth (recent fiat creation; global flood; real angels in a real lion's den; virgin birth; bodily resurrection; imminent, visible return of Jesus), and we should be more cautious than we are about embracing imaginary stories that purport to be "true" without being factual. If Narnia and Aslan are at the same time mythical and "true," what's to keep the next generation of Adventists from believing that Genesis 1-10 can be both mythical and "true"? Or that Revelation 21 and 22 describe spiritual reality, not necessarily a real, factual heavenly home and new earth? Do we really want our kids to equate John's vision of the open gates of heaven to some imaginary trap door in a closet?
Perhaps even more to the point, are we doing young Adventist readers (and older ones) a favor when we encourage less-visionary Lewis copycats to publish a growing array of "Christian fiction?"
Some will no doubt quote Ellen White's endorsement of Pilgrim's Progress as evidence for the value of The Chronicles of Narnia. Granted, C. S. Lewis, like John Bunyan, was a powerful literary advocate for the gospel. That, however, does not warrant gilding all of Lewis' work with the patina of heaven. Nathan Brown informs us that, unlike Bunyan, Lewis was writing--in this case at least--as a novelist, not as an evangelist.
"What is the chaff to the wheat" (Jer. 23:28)? Ellen White wrote: "There are books that are of vital importance that are not looked at by our young people. They are neglected because they are not so interesting to them as some lighter reading" (Messages to Young People, p. 287). I pray the day will soon come when we will have so many true stories to tell, in both print and electronic media, about the real-time, miracle-laced exploits of flesh-and-blood end-time men and women of faith that we won't need to resort to someone's imagination for our "Christian entertainment."
I just read the article by Gary Swanson regarding C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. I am more than a little disturbed by the fact that Swanson seems to encourage the reading of the book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
On my tenth birthday I was given a copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Did it teach me anything about Jesus? It whet my appetite for science fiction at an early age. Soon I was on to more intense books, such as The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings. I eventually read all of David Eddings' books, filled with sorcery and witchcraft. The door was flung wide open for me to become more deeply involved in these things. Before long I was a spiritual healer in the new age movement.
A little truth in a quagmire of fiction does not make for appropriate reading for any member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We are too late in this earth's history to be wasting time reading material that may point some to an underlying (unintended) Christian theme.
"Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth," was Jesus' prayer for us (John 17:17). We are warned to watch and pray, and we have been blessed with the testimonies of Ellen White. It is time for us to prepare to meet our Lord. Will The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe prepare us to meet Christ? Or will a "thus saith the Lord" prepare us? "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isa. 8:20).
I found the articles by both Nathan Brown and Gary Swanson about C. S. Lewis' Narnia books reflect my own thoughts (although mine weren't so well put together). I've been reading the series because my daughter, 11, has read them all, and I thought it was time for me to check them out.
Lewis describes simple observations of human nature that are very real, while using the vehicle of the story to teach. I wholeheartedly agree with everyone re-examining and studying these stories for the enduring themes they portray. A catalyst to spark a discussion about Christianity has to be a good thing.
Chetwynd, British Columbia
In Need? Or in Greed?
Responding to Karl Haffner's online column, "Gagging on Fork Casserole," I wonder if he considers it greedy to need (or want) money for healthy food, to pay for medicine, rent, car repairs, clothes, education, or to help others with food or help keep someone off the street?
Everyone's need (or want) of money does not have to be for "things." It's what a person does with their money, what they want it for, that makes them greedy. There is a difference. It hurts to have a child in need or see others in desperate need and not be able to help them
The Review Online looks fantastic. I imagine a lot of readers will go this route. Once again, I enjoyed Karl Haffner's column. He is down-to-earth, relevant, and has something to say that makes sense to the average Christian in today's world. He is truly refreshing.
Kudos for Prayer Issue
The Life of Prayer issue (Nov. 17, 2005) was excellent. We sometimes need to be reminded of God's blessing. What excellent examples of answered prayer. I know we all have similar experiences, but it is good to be reminded. Thanks!
The only problem I had with the issue (maybe because of age?) is that multiple colors in the printing makes it hard for me to read the Review.
Like so many writers and readers, my wife and I read every word of every Review. It's like the kinds of ice cream, all are good, but some are better.
I identified with Gloria Jean Harbison in her article, "The Appointment," (Nov. 17, 2005). She wrote: "Prayer, along with the paddle, had a very effective influence on us, and worked much like a rudder on a boat." Only in my case my mother didn't do a lot of praying that I ever knew, but the paddle was effective.
I think it was Dennis Fakes who said, "Any child can tell you that the sole purpose of a middle name is so he can tell when he is in real trouble." My mother used my middle name (Jackson) so often that my friends agreed to call me Jack for short, and it has stuck all these years.
I liked Harbison's article best because it told me a lot about her as a person. Her sentence, "You may know someone sitting in darkness, some weary traveler who may have temporarily lost their way on the road to ultimate victory. Or someone who is hurt and can't find closure and forgiveness from a past disappointment." How often, it seems, we encounter people who are experiencing more than their share of life's reversals, and very few people give any evidence of care or concern.
We could use more like Gloria in our world; people who care and convey the message that they care.
The Great ID Debate
Although the restrained language of Roy Adams' editorial, "An Evolving Storm" (Oct. 27, 2005), is a vast improvement over the shrill debates raging about Intelligent Design (ID) between creationists and evolutionists, his reasoning has flaws.
First, Adams' argument, if carried through, creates a strange paradox. On the one hand, he, and those who promote his position, seem to be reasonable in merely calling for "fair play" in the treatment of both theories. But this overlooks a salient fact: Intelligent Design is necessarily religious. Indeed, the irony is that the very reason Adams and other religionists want to inject ID into public school science curriculum is to promote God. They can't then turn around and say it's just another theory worthy of "equal treatment." Intelligent Design postulates a Creator. That's religious, pure and simple.
Theologians for centuries have been using the so-called argument from design to "prove" God. But it cannot accomplish that goal as a logical matter. Anything observed in the world is finite, but the conclusion that religious people want to draw from these finite observations is the existence of an infinite being--and therein lies the illogicality. You can't get there from here through logic or science.
While I agree that Intelligent Design may be taught in public schools, it should be done in a cultural studies or world religions course--not in science. Science functions by looking for causes within nature, and ID, by definition, asserts a cause outside of nature. They are not alternative explanations with the realm of science. ID requires one to step away from the chain of finite causes.
But perhaps of most concern is Adams' quick dismissal of the "separation of church and state" argument against teaching ID. In fact, this is one of the most practical reasons for keeping these lines of inquiry separate. We live in a religiously pluralistic society, and each religious group has the benefit of the First Amendment. If ID is taught as another scientific explanation in public school, what about Buddhism (the Buddha rejected the question of origins as being unanswerable and religiously insignificant), or Hinduism (creation is eternal and souls are embodied repeatedly), or other religious views held by vastly diverse student populations?
This is not a controversy between the "religion" of God and the "religion" of atheism. That distinction improperly mixes concepts. Modern science is a method that operates in the context of this-worldly explanations. Some religious people may conclude that God is the best explanation of the finite matter we see around us. But that is a religious conclusion, not a scientific one. God does not stand at the end of a mathematical equation or in the "gaps" of geology or biology. Religious people may see Him in those places, but that is what makes them religious; it is not what makes them scientific.
In the public school arena, keep religion of any sort, including ID, out of the science classroom. God is not a "conclusion" of scientific inquiry. Let science do its work without God. Equally, let religion do its work, but outside the science classroom. Adventist schools, by contrast, can blur the distinctions without concern. After all, the ability to bring religion into science, and vice versa, is one of the reasons our religious educational system exists.
Stories About Struggles Appreciated
Thanks for including first-person accounts, such as "In a Panic" (Sept. 8, 2005), by people who are coping with mental illness and trying their best to live a life of faith. I applaud these individuals for their vulnerability and perseverance. I'm glad that mental illness is not being ignored, covered up, or called a sin. So much mental illness has a hereditary or biological basis that it cannot be blamed on the sufferer.
But I wonder about those who do not write in; those who once attended our churches but have fallen away largely because of their mental illness. I am sure that our great God in heaven knows the hearts of each one and the extent to which each is capable of understanding His plan of salvation.
Herein is the problem for those of us who lack divine insight. Just how far can one hold someone with a mental illness responsible for his or her actions? It seems to me that the long slide into oblivion often begins with a turning away from God (or is that just the first symptom?). I know my evidence is purely anecdotal, but I would like to see this issue addressed in a future issue.
Surprised by Spirituality
While reading the article, "How Can We Be Spiritual in the Modern World?" (Oct. 27, 2005), I was reminded of what I think of as a spiritual experience.
At our 2005 Ohio Women's Retreat, I decided to skip a meeting and work on a quiet project in the loft area above the lobby. While I was writing, a little girl, hand-in-hand with her grandfather came up to the loft, sat in front of the fireplace, and proceeded to play a child's game. It was fun to hear the delight of the little girl.
I'm sure the meeting missed was excellent. However, the unscheduled time in a quiet area is one I will treasure. The beautiful snapshot presented by that grandfather and granddaughter is one that will stay with me. Before they left, I spoke to the gentleman and told him what a lovely memory they had made for themselves and for me as well.
When I picked up the Review with the story about Rickey Smith, "Finding His Religion" (Sept. 8, 2005), I was eager to read a conversion story of a former rock star. How disappointing it was to find it promoting the life of an entertainer. Far more joyful is a life serving our Master than that of being a star on American Idol.
Jesus is coming. Many don't know of the blessed hope of His soon return. Christians, especially Adventist young people, should turn their gaze higher than being on worldly television. Being a teenager in this generation is hard, but I find the greatest happiness and fulfillment in joining hands with Christ and His angels in the work of soul-saving. If we, the army of youth, were to turn from pleasure seeking to serving Jesus, how quickly would the gospel be spread.