A Great Christmas Present…

While I liked almost all my Christmas presents, especially an additional 9 books by CS Lewis that I didn’t previously own, my wife got me the best present of all…(though she cheated on our Christmas budget to do so!)

Now as I read and prepare to teach and generally do things, I will have Mr. Spurgeon ready to bob his approval to me with the tough of a finger.  Now to find the bobbing headed-likenesses of A.W. Tozer and David Brainerd…

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Re-discovering Temple Prostitution…

In a devastating piece of satire, one author puts common arguments for the allowance of certain once-banned “sins” by the Church to bat for another ancient practice…

Merry Christmas!

Strange Things Near Bethlehem…

I had the opportunity while in high school to go on a trip to Israel.  One of my favorite places was the fields just outside the city of Bethlehem.  It’s one of the few landscapes in Israel that look surprisingly like the mental image I had as a child of the Christmas story.  Big sky, rolling hills–a place where shepherds still do “keep watch over the flocks by night.” 

What is inescapable about standing there is one of the other sights within view, one that most of us probably know nothing about.  In the eastern horizon stands one hill that differentiates itself from the rest.  It looks more like a volcano in fact.  I don’t remember lava in the Christmas story, but I’m certain Roland Emmerich could take a stab at it for us.

It’s not a volcano.  It’s a palace.  Called “The Herodion,” this palace stands as testament to one of the architectural genii of the first century B.C., Herod the Great.

The palace is essentially a man-made volcano-esque cone at the top of a very steep hill.  Here, there were originally guard towers and walls at the top as well, providing a well-defended fortress.  Within it were luxuries and resources only a king could even dream of at the time.

I wonder if the shepherds in their fields that night sometime in 5-4 BC could see Herod’s great palace.  Were they mad?  Herod might be called “the Great” for his building prowess, but he was Idumean, not Jewish.  He was the puppet king of Rome.  Not exactly the fulfillment of prophetic hopes and dreams.  The palace itself, one of several Herod had, was a reminder perhaps of the shepherds’ own poverty.  It was a symbol of the spectacular resources of the rich and powerful.  It was also a reminder, with its extreme defensive measures, of the paranoia and evil embodied by King Herod.  The palace may have been intended more as a refuge from his own family than from any foreign ruler.  At least those of his family he hadn’t killed yet.

I wonder how surprising it was then to have an angelic army appear above their very heads and announce the birth of a different king.  I wonder how odd it seemed that the magnificent palace mountain before their eyes had been bypassed and replaced by a feeding trough in a place where animals slept in the small town nearby.  How strange that the heavenly messengers appeared to them and not to the royal guard stationed inside the citadel.

That first Christmas saw a lot of strange things.  And if we really believe the arrival of God’s Son changed the world forever, then maybe we shouldn’t be shocked if those strange things continue still.

Free Book Giveaway

Trevin Wax, who usually has some great links on his site, is giving away some nice books.  Check his blog and the giveaway out.

CS Lewis’ View of Old Books

If you’ve never checked out the work by Athanasius, On The Incarnation, you should.  It’s a helpful reminder of some of the basic reasons why this whole Christmas thing was necessary; many parts will be more reminder than revelation, but we tend to forget rather easily.  Especially notice Athanasius’ emphasis on the restoration of the “Image of God” through Christ, a much ignored perspective in the recent past.

But attached to the most common English translation of that work is a small introduction by CS Lewis.  One can find an online version of it here.  A more common title given to it is “On Old Books” or something of that nature.

Lewis writes, “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another 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.”

The reason, he explains, is that as we often note of men of the past but ignore about ourselves, is that we are all in some sense “products of our age.”  The blind-spots that we have because of the times in which we live, the culture into which we were born, the educational program we received, etc. affect how we think and act.  And blind-spots are so named because we can’t ourselves see them.  Therefore, we must read old books from other places and times to gain perspective on things we ourselves often miss.

“Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”

“The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes…Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.”

Lewis reminds of one great reason to read the “old books” in the opening paragraphs:

“The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. (emphasis mine) The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.”

For the CS Lewis fan…

I’m a fan of CS Lewis.  Perhaps it was because the BBC version of “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” was the only movie with swords we were allowed to watch at my Christian school. I’ve recently made it a goal of mine to collect pretty much anything written by Lewis for my library. (And my Amazon wish-list is proof of just that…)

One of the volumes that made its way to my hands from my latest birthday was a volume called On Stories: and Other Essays on Literature. To be honest, this collection of essays, book reviews, and articles was only on my list because, well, I’m collecting it.  It probably would have been last on my list if not for my lovely wife who bought it for me.

However, it’s been one of the favorite of about 6 Lewis’ books I’ve recently acquired.  In fact, it would make a great Christmas present for the Lewis enthusiast in your life.  (It’s not too expensive either.)

Inside are some wonderful things, such as:

-An Essay on three ways of writing for children- Lewis explains his own style and some of how he crafted the Narnia series.

-Thoughts by Lewis on the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit.  (ok.  that’s a little geeky, I know.)

-A very interesting comparison of Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm.

-Thoughts on Science Fiction, and of course some information about his own work with The Space Trilogy.
That is just a few of the 20 articles and essays in the volume.  It provides a behind-the-scenes look at some of Lewis’ own writings as well as much discussion of his opinions on other works of his day. Well worth the 10 bucks or so for a new copy!

Enjoy this rare but sparkling gem from the CS Lewis’ anthology.