More About the S Word

What does it matter that today’s western culture believes Man’s nature is good? A great deal, as it turns out. This tenet is the linchpin of humanism. It is the belief that releases Man from a need to believe in God.

If there is no original sin, then Man’s problems aren’t really his. They are society’s or a lack of education or a bad home life or (this is a favorite of atheists such as poor Christopher Hitchens) religion’s fault. Of course proponents of this position never offer an explanation for how society, the home, or even religion became tainted, since clearly, if Man was good from the beginning, then what he produced should have been good too.

If you could pin down someone who holds this “Man is good” view, I suspect he’d backpedal pretty fast to a “Man is neutral” position. Babies are blank slates, waiting to be written upon. This view fits nicely with postmodern philosophy (not a new belief at all, but co-oped from 19th century thinkers) that says truth depends on your “situatedness.”

So a baby born in South Africa is imprinted with the culture and values of his home and community. What he believes about God is true for him. Whereas a person born in the US to a Christian is imprinted with his family and church values. What he believes about God, though it may be radically different from the South African (or Ecuadorian or Chinese or Libyan), is just as true for him.

Of course this “Man is neutral” view also means that harmful ideas can be written upon the innocent—harmful, such as the concept that Man is born sinful. This belief, so the thinking goes, tears down a person’s self-esteem and causes him to expect the worst, not the best. It loads him up with guilt, and guilt is the great evil of our generation. We are all, haven’t you hear, not guilty. Just ask the judges across the nation.

But I’ve strayed from the point. Without the belief in original sin, Man has no need for God because we are not the problem. Consequently, we don’t need God to save us because we have nothing to be saved from.

If we don’t need him to save us, them we might retain him as a crutch or as an opiate for the masses, but we’d be better off unshackling from the constraints of religion (and its nasty guilt).

Ultimately the “Man is good” position becomes a refrain: “Anything god can do, Man can do better.” Until, one day someone saying he is a Christian wonders whether or not he is perhaps nicer than god.

Much of my original impetus for writing the blog post originally under discussion (the ‘Is God a Recovering Practitioner of Violence?’ post) was because of several years of heart-stirrings following a lifetime of reading Scripture. Namely, the question that continually came up in prayer, in reflection, and in life, is “Am I somehow ‘nicer’ than God?
– Mike Morrell, Comment #64, page 1, “Attacks on God from Within”

Published in: on August 31, 2010 at 5:09 pm  Comments (18)  
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Is Sin Original? A look at history

Announcement: August 31 is the LAST DAY to vote for the Clive Staples Award – Readers’ Choice.

– – –

Well, that post subtitle probably chased away about half the regular visitors. 😉 Of course I could change it, but I like history and I think it’s important to learn from history. So today, a look at history. Tomorrow, perhaps some discussion of the implications.

The evangelical, Bible-believing Christians I know ascribe to the doctrine of original sin. The idea is that Man was created in God’s image, for communion with Him, but sin changed his condition permanently.

No longer does Man bear the untarnished image of God because we are now born in the likeness of Adam. Consequently, all our righteousness is like filthy rags. Our best effort at goodness falls far short of God’s holy standard. We are born in this condition, in need of a Savior, without the internal wherewithal to please God.

Not only does this doctrine square with Scripture, it squares with Mankind’s experience. There’s a reason we have as an idiom we all know to be true, Nobody’s perfect.

But even if that weren’t the case, the reliable, authoritative Word of God makes the concept of original sin clear starting in the book of Genesis. In chapter one:

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;

Then the command in chapter two:

The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.

Recorded in chapter 3 is Adam’s disobedience and the consequence he would face. But then this line:

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil;

In other words, whatever else that line means, we see that there was a fundamental shift. Man was no longer the way God created him when He declared all He had made to be good. Genesis 4 records the first effects of this fundamental shift—Cain’s jealousy and ultimate murder of his brother, among other things.

But chapter 5 records perhaps the clearest declaration of this shift:

This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created. When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.

The clear implication is that Adam’s likeness and God’s likeness are no longer the same.

So what’s the point? Our culture does not believe in original sin. Ask the average man on the street and he’ll tell you Man is good, though he’ll just as likely turn right around and tell you nobody’s perfect.

Today, as I was rereading an old college textbook, Religion in America by Winthrop S. Hudson, I discovered that the roots of this cultural change (because the depravity of Man was universally understood and accepted in western civilization from some time during the 2nd century AD until the 19th century) stem from American protestantism. Not exclusively, but in a large part.

America was a New World, with possibilities untold. Some years before independence, the colonial settlers experienced a Great Awakening that established Christianity as a way of life.

After independence the Second Great Awakening spurred believers on to hold camp revivals and send out missionaries and build more churches and colleges and schools all with the intent to bring the lost to salvation and teach the young to live godly lives.

But there began to be an added incentive. With all this hopefulness and push toward moral purity came a belief that God’s kingdom was being established physically right then and there.

And so, the shift began. Could it not be that Man, if given the right circumstances, could choose to live a holy and pure life in obedience to God? Could it not be that a community of such men would lead to a godly society? And wasn’t that the idea found in the Bible concerning God’s kingdom, when God’s law would be written on men’s heart?

Consequently, what started as a work of God seems to have become a work of men, built upon their good works (which Scripture says are but filthy rags), to the point that men came to believe, not only in the goodness of their works but in the goodness of their being.

This is obviously a simplified, stripped down version of that period of history, but here’s the thing. Even when the two world wars in the 20th century shot to pieces the notion that the world was getting better and better, the idea that Man was good had become a best-loved belief. And humanism spread. Even into the church.

Fantasy Friday – Speculative Faith

Some of you who have been visiting here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction for a while know about the team blog Speculative Faith—a site set up by Stuart Stockton to discuss speculative fiction from the perspective of our Christian faith.

A number of writers participated. For a time Karen Hancock wrote regularly. Bryan Davis did a short series. We had interviews with editors like Nick Harrison (Harvest House) and with writers like Robert Liparulo. We did reviews and had lengthy discussions about books and movies alike. In short, it was a wonderful success.

But gradually, one writer after the other began to pull back. We were a loose organization and no one filled those gaps or took the lead to insure that each day had content.

I was the last of the regulars, and then my computer crashed. When I was back up and running, I had so many things to catch up on, and Spec Faith was low on the priority list. Then the spam set in. When our core group still wanting to see Spec Faith work took a look at the site, the clean-up alone seemed daunting.

In the end, we agreed to start afresh at WordPress. This time Stephen Burnett took the lead and began transferring posts and designing the new site. We began posting a couple weeks ago, with Stephen doing most of the writing. The next step was to secure regular writers, but we also wanted to include a good selection of guests.

I’m happy to report that the schedule is coming together. I’ll once again be writing on Mondays. Stuart will post on Tuesdays. New to the team is Rachel Starr Thomson, writing on Wednesdays (though she may share the slot—this detail is still being worked out). Then Steven will post on Thursdays. Fridays are the designated Guest Blogger Days.

We have invitations (and some acceptances) out to a number of writers. It should be an exciting lineup. All this to say, you are hereby invited to stop on over at Speculative Faith (affectionately known as Spec Faith 😉 ) and join in the discussions. We also are on Facebook and Twitter, so we’d love to have you follow us or friend us on those sites as well.

CSFF August Tour Wrap

Announcement, announcement.

    One week remaining in the Clive Staples Award voting. If you have yet to enter your choice for this readers’ award, stop by CSA for the list of nominations, short introductions of each book, and the voting instructions. Remember, each voter must have read a minimum of two nominated books.

Our experimental “Your Favorite” tour was a wonderful success. Thirty bloggers posted over fifty articles. As could be expected, the Masters, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, were recognized frequently. The other big winner (except we weren’t keeping score and there is no prize) would seem to be George Bryan Polivka’s Blaggard’s Moon. More than one participant included that book (also a CSA nomination) on a list of favorites. Several picked it as number one.

Several books published by small presses were also spotlighted. These are novels that might never become CSFF features because of the cost of sending out so many review copies, so it was especially gratifying to see them receive attention this week.

Once again we have a good group of bloggers who posted three, and some four, times, making them eligible for the August CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award. (In case you missed it, the July winner for the Starlighter tour was Jeff Chapman with these three posts: 1, 2, 3).

Here are the bloggers you may choose from, with the links to their articles;

Published in: on August 26, 2010 at 3:37 pm  Comments Off on CSFF August Tour Wrap  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Your Favorite, Day 3

Yes, we have a day three post after all. (Blessings on repairmen!)

Before I forget, which I did yesterday, I want to steer you over to the Clive Staples Award site. You can find the list of nominations as well as descriptions of the books and links to reviews, sample chapters, book trailers, author interviews, you name it.

Why is this important? First so that you can vote in the Readers’ Choice Award (be sure to read the instructions), but also so that you can make a note of the books you’d like to add to your library or to give as a gift. There are YA selections, fantasy, science fiction, supernatural suspense—really, something for everyone.

Also, tell your friends about the award. You might be surprised who has read at least two of the nominations (the minimum requirement to be eligible to vote).

And now, on to today’s Favorite: my favorite book yet to be published.

The author is a friend

who comments here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction from time to time.

The novel I’m referring to as my favorite yet-to-be-published is actually her second finished book.

This one is YA (the first was middle grade, I believe),

a girl book,

a fairytale in the vein of Shannon Hale’s work (The Goose Girl, Princess Academy, Book of a Thousand Days).

The story has a strong, sassy young protagonist who thinks she knows what she needs to do to fix her broken world. Instead she makes matters worse and endangers the very people she loves most, or comes to love most. (Yes, there is some romance 😀 ).

The writing is strong, artful, vivid. (I’d post a sample, but don’t have permission to do so).

The book is hard to put down—which means, the plot is compelling. There’s intrigue and suspense and conflict and surprises (especially at the moments when you most think you’ve got things figured out).

So who is this author?

She’s been an occasional participant in the CSFF Blog Tour, is the founder of the Children’s Book Blog Tour

a winner of the ACFW Genesis contest, winner of an SCBWI (children’s writers organization) work-in-progress grant, and (I think) honorable mention of the SCBWI Most Promising Work Award.

Formerly from Alaska, she now lives outside of Atlanta.

She’s a recent widow, homeschools her two children and cares for her elderly mother.

She blogs about books and writing at Whispers of Dawn and is currently seeking an agent (may be close to signing with someone soon).

Keep your ears open for books from Sally Apokedak, especially the one now titled The Button Girl.

Published in: on August 25, 2010 at 12:43 pm  Comments (4)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Where Is Day 3

I’m having Internet connection issues and may not be able to write a real post for our Day 3 Favorites Tour (in fact, I’m not sure when I’ll be back up and running—hopefully very soon). You all carry on without me—just don’t have too much fun. 😉

I’ll look forward to catching up when I can.

Published in: on August 24, 2010 at 6:08 pm  Comments (2)  

CSFF Blog Tour – Your Favorite, Day 2

Because of my hesitation to declare a “favorite” I was tempted to turn one post into a “what is YOUR favorite” questionnaire or poll, but that’s probably cheating. For certain it would be a cowardly dodge.

I wish I’d thought to do what Jason Joyner is doing in his posts (here and here)—a count-down to his favorite. I wish I had the rich history of fantasy as a child, like Donita Paul had, so I could list out my favorite children’s books. I wish I’d thought to use one of my favorites to discuss good writing technique as Thomas Clayton Booher did with Blaggard’s Moon.

But here I am, left to my own devices. So I’ll devote today’s post to my favorite piece of Christian speculative NEWS.

Certainly one of the much talked of pieces of news is Kathy Tyers, author of Firebird, signing with Marcher Lord Press, but that’s not what I have in mind. Rather, this piece of news, which is actually news that news is coming, involves a much less known author. In fact, let’s see how many hints you all need for this one.

(1) CSFF featured a novel by the author connected to the piece of news I’m about to share (the news that news is coming).

(2) The work is the first in a YA fantasy trilogy

(3) about two of four brothers

(4) and a portal into another world

(5) opened by a viking runestone.

(6) Threads of Arthurian legend run throughout.

(7) The world in which the brothers find themselves, Karac Tor, is in deadly peril.

(8) Each brother discovers a unique power in this world,

(9) one that may help them against the dark forces

(10) stealing names.

(11) The third unpublished book in the series is tentatively titled The Song of Unmaking.

(12) The second is Corus the Champion.

(13) That one was canceled by the publisher weeks before release because of a change in direction away from fiction.

(14) The author himself is a him.

(15) He experienced the tragic death of his first wife

(16) and began writing fantasy for his four sons.

(17) Later he remarried a widow with four children of her own.

(18) Among his fantasy influences, the author mentions Patricia McKillip, Stephen R. Donaldson, Ursila K. Leguin, Madeline L’Engle, and Lloyd Alexander.

(19) His last name rhymes with figs.

So have you figured it out yet? How many clues did you need?

I’m referring to D. Barkley Briggs and his Legends of Karac Tor trilogy which started with The Book of Names.

And now for the news. This from an email and Facebook message Dean sent out:

Against all our collective wishes, the series seemed to die, and part of the dream died, too. Or did it? Die…or delay?

Hold on to your magic runes, friends! Adventure still awaits us all in the Hidden Lands. I have big news coming. Your patience and prayers will (hopefully) pay off very soon. Stay tuned…

So there you have it—news that news is coming. And it’s my favorite current piece of Christian speculative news.

Be sure to check out what other tour participants are discussing regarding their favorite Christian speculative fiction (links are at the end of yesterday’s post).

CSFF Blog Tour – Your Favorite, Day 1

Before I forget, we have just a little over a week left in the voting for the Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction – Readers’ Choice. I hope you’re planning to vote.

The August CSFF Blog Tour is unique. Rather than feature a novel that’s recently been released, or a web site focused on Christian speculative fiction, we’re highlighting what each participating blogger wants to highlight. I have to say, I am eager to check out what everyone else is talking about (and will have looked at a few before I publish this post). In the meantime, I’m stuck writing about my favorite.

I say “stuck” because I’m really not much of a “favorite” kind of person. Others will often talk about their favorite Bible verse, for instance, and I’m generally at a loss. I might find one, think, Ah-ha, the perfect “favorite verse,” but by the next time I’m asked what mine is, I’ve forgotten which one I thought was so perfect.

Same with books. My “favorite” probably changes every time I’m asked.

Be that as it may, I’ll highlight a book I have ranked as one of my favorites in the past (though I unintentionally failed to mention it in my post at Speculative Faith today.)

Rather than telling you what the book is, however, I’m going to give “clues.” See how many you need before you guess the title (you can let me know in the comments section, if you like 😉 )

(1) This book is a stand alone

(2) written in first person

(3) by a well-known author.

(4) The story is mythic fantasy

(5) about two sisters, or actually three,

(6) the eldest and ugliest and queen,

(7) telling the tale in the form of a journal.

(8) The story involves love

(9) and jealousy

(10) and loss

(11) and loneliness

(12) and eventual redemption.

(13) The queen’s name is Orual

(14) Her second journal ends with this:

I ended my first book with the words no answer. I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words. Long did I hate you, long did I fear you. I might—

(15) The book is dedicated to Joy Davidman.

(16) The author is one of the Inklings

(17) well-known for his children’s series, The Chronicles of Narnia.

(18) And the book, one of my all time favorites, yet one of C. S. Lewis’s least-known works is none other than Till We Have Faces.

Did I make it too obvious too soon?

Be that as it may, take some time this week and enjoy what the other participants (especially our two new members participating in their first tour, Morgan L. Busse and Sarah Sawyer) are talking about regarding their favorite.

Each check mark links to a particular post.

The Bible Plus …

In the last few weeks I’ve read that Christians would do well to read a particular book in order to understand how language and argumentation work, serving as a mode by which to actually understand what Scripture means.

Earlier, from a different source, I was told repeatedly that I needed to get in touch with a Jewish rabbi in order to understand the Old Testament as it was intended to be understood.

Then today I read about various kinds of prayer—new postures and different types, not so different from the centering prayer I learned about back in January, but most definitely different from the prayer model Jesus gave His disciples when they asked Him to teach them to pray.

All this troubles me.

Has the Bible stopped being good enough for the Christian?

Have we decided that something else needs to come alongside God’s authoritative Word to make it make sense? Do we no longer see it as sufficient? Or perhaps it never was really authoritative and we need to find some other source that gives the final word on who God is, how we should pray, and how we should understand Scripture itself.

But if the Christian or a seeker, for that matter, needs all these extra-biblical helps, why did Jesus say we should come to God as a child?

“Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.”
– Mark 10:15

How complicated must the way into the kingdom be if we are to come like a child? Must we learn Greek and Hebrew in order to accurately handle the Word of God? Or can we trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth as Jesus said?

Must we learn new and different prayer methods, or can we trust that the Spirit will intercede for us even when we don’t know how to pray as we should?

Scripture makes it abundantly clear that God wants to be known. He isn’t hiding and hasn’t made His plan of reconciliation hard to understand.

Rather, it seems that I am the cog that makes coming to God impossible. Where is that humble child-like attitude Jesus said I must have? Where is my trust in what He has said? Where is my willingness to obey because my Father has told me so?

I’m not saying other books, articles, blogs, sermons, or conversations aren’t helpful. God can open the eyes of my heart to see Him more clearly in any number of ways. But it seems to me, we Christians are becoming too eager to search other sources rather than the primary one.

It’s not a good research technique.

Published in: on August 20, 2010 at 5:57 pm  Comments (7)  
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Christian Heroes or Christian Celebrities?

I just read another article (by Bob Burney of Salem Communications) about Anne Rice’s change of heart. The provocative title is “I’m With Anne Rice: I’m Resigning Too “ though the conclusion is quite different:

Sadly, I think Anne Rice is confused. The problem is not with “Christianity.” There is nothing wrong with Biblical Christianity. The real problem is religion masquerading as Christianity.

Be that as it may, what caught my attention was this passage addressing the response to Anne’s announcement six years ago that she was returning to Catholicism:

After writing for years on gothic and erotic themes, she shocked the world in October of 2004 when she announced a return to her “faith” in Newsweek and her determination henceforth to “write only for the Lord.” Christian magazines gobbled up the news of a “new convert” and praised her newfound “faith.” (Emphasis mine.)

We live in a celebrity culture, make no mistake. But Scripture indicates believers are supposed to be different. We aren’t supposed to idolize others, we aren’t supposed to love the world.

The way of the flesh is sadly dark. We, however, have the Light of the world. Does it make sense, then, to cover the Light and imitate those stumbling along in the dark?

But that’s what I think we do when we search for celebrities. We seem enamored with the already famous guy who becomes a Christian. Or the Christian who becomes famous for something other than his faith.

It really does come across as a “one for our side” attitude.

Instead, I think we should be looking for faith heroes. Who was Corrie ten Boom until she went to a German concentration camp for hiding Jews? She was a fifty-year-old nobody in the eyes of the world. An old maid. Not a celebrity.

But God did remarkable things through her during the next thirty-plus years of her life. Eventually Corrie became well known, not because she was somebody, but because she had faith in God.

Who was Elizabeth Elliot before her husband was martyred and she went back into the jungle to tell his killers about the love of God? She was a young unknown college graduate married to a missionary. A nobody, without a name any politician or entertainer or spots star would know.

But she became a hero of the faith because she trusted God in the midst of her grief and lived out what she said she believed.

That last may be the missing ingredient today. Christians chasing celebrities seem too eager to latch onto words that sound right (and might even be right) when they come from the mouths of people who are famous.

Shouldn’t we instead honor actions of faith and praise God accordingly?

Published in: on August 19, 2010 at 4:15 pm  Comments (7)  
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