Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Christianity and History


George Marsden.  Still from video by Regent University.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZkGVBOdg9Q
How does a strong Christian faith influence the work of a historian?  First of all, Christians who study history acknowledge God’s sovereignty and guidance over all the universe, including the affairs of men.  It may be objected that this approach forces historical facts into an ideological viewpoint.  However, everyone who studies history comes with a certain frame of reference.  “The best way to deal with these universal phenomena,” writes George Marsden, a leading Christian historian, “is to acknowledge one’s point of view rather than posing as a neutral observer.  That way readers can take an author’s viewpoint into account, discount it if they wish, and learn from it to the extent they can.” [1]


The weather at Dunkirk is as providential as the arrangement
of Saturn's rings. (Public Domain)

A major part of a Christian historian’s viewpoint is acknowledging the role of providence in historical events.  Question and answer 8 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism defines providence as God’s “most holy, wise and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures and all their actions.” [2] Since God directs the universe and the actions of those within it, this means that He has decreed the paths that history will take.  While some people separate providential events (like the weather at Dunkirk that aided a British escape) from ordinary events, the truth is that all events are equally controlled by God.  “The weather we actually had is therefore in the strictest sense providential; it was decreed; and decreed for a purpose, when the world was made—but no more so (though more interestingly to us) than the precise position at this moment of every atom in the ring of Saturn.” [3]


However, acknowledging God’s providential guidance of events does not always mean that we understand why historical events happened in a particular way.  Because we are God’s creatures, not His counsellors, we ultimately cannot know God’s purposes, aside from those that He has revealed to us in the Bible.  Some Christian historians attempt to understand God’s plan as it is revealed in history, and this is a commendable exercise, as long as they realize that they are limited to speculation.  In The Lord of the Rings, the wise wizard Gandalf understands that everyone, including himself, has limitations and cannot know everything.  “For even the very wise,” Gandalf tells Frodo, “cannot see all ends.” [4]
Gandalf and Frodo in grave discussion.  Picture from Time Magazine
http://time.com/4650389/ian-mckellen-gandalf-lord-of-the-rings-memories/



Even though we cannot know everything, we can still apply God’s principles of right and wrong to historical events.  In an effort to avoid using history primarily as a lesson in morality, some people have argued that, when looked at from the position of that person’s era, no action can be classed as right or wrong.  But this position embraces a philosophy that there are no universal principles of good or evil.  Christians, whatever their field of study, have a responsibility to apply the Bible’s ethical standards to history.  This will ensure that they “judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24, King James Version) and “hate the evil and love the good.” (Amos 5:15, King James Version).


Judging with righteous judgment: Jesus and the woman
taken in adultery.  Engraving by Gustave Dore
(public domain)

Christianity should influence every aspect of one’s life, including a study of history.  A Christian historian can study history more richly, because he or she acknowledges the hand of God where others would only see coincidence.  Christian historians can also emulate the virtues of Jesus Christ like humility (acknowledging that we do not know the mind of God) or justice (judging the events of the past with the Bible’s ethical code).  In short, Christian history is merely an outworking of our internal change: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature:  old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, King James Version)

References

[1] George M. Marsden.  Jonathan Edwards: A Life.  (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 5.

[2] Westminster Shorter Catechism.  Online.  Accessed June 20, 2018. http://www.reformed.org/documents/wsc/index.html. 

[3] C. S. Lewis.  The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics.  (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 457.

[4] J. R. R. Tolkein.  The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.  (New York: Ballantine Books, 1981), 93.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Courage





Courage.  It is a quality that many admire, but one that can be dangerous for one's well-being or safety.  Too often today we see people buckling under pressure and recanting ideas rather than face opposition.  Two movies offer beautiful examples of characters making the right decision and courageously facing whatever outcome will happen.

The first one comes from the 2005 movie The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  After running from the forces of the evil White Witch, Peter Pevensie is forced to make a crucial decision on his own.  Informed that the Witch's army is at hand, Peter must decide to fight or flee.



Peter is ready to enter battle for a free Narnia
But this fateful decision is not for himself alone.  If he decides to stand and fight, Peter must commit the entire free Narnian army, as well as his brother, to a conflict against the numerically superior enemy.  Peter decides to engage in battle, and he positions himself in the front line.  Even though it may cost him everything, Peter Pevensie has the courage to fight for a free Narnia against immense opposition.



A similar selfless courage is found in (of all places) the 1991 animated movie Beauty and the Beast.  In the movie, a self-centered prince is turned into a beast as punishment.  Unless he can learn to love and be loved in return before his enchanted rose dies, he will remain a beast.  Beast falls in love with a girl he imprisoned named Belle, and she begins to see the change in him from selfish to caring.  But at the same time, she desperately wants to see her father again. 




"I release you...you are no longer my prisoner."
Time is now running out fast for Beast: the rose will die in less than 6 hours.  If she can remain with him just a little longer...perhaps he can return to humanity again.  After an internal struggle, Beast tells Belle, "You must go to him...you are no longer my prisoner" and Belle rides off to be reunited with her father.  After his decade-long experience as a monster inside and out, the Beast has the courage to sacrifice his own wishes and desires--in fact, his one chance at returning to humanity--for someone that he loves deeply.


Stand courageously!



Friday, April 6, 2018

Review of War of Loyalties


Readers of this blog will have noticed a number of different posts related to this recently-published World War I spy novel, including a nice behind-the-scenes look at the real history that shaped the fiction.  But after reading it, what was my impression?


I greatly enjoyed War of Loyalties.  Because of the mystery/spy nature of the book, I cannot really attempt a spoiler-free plot summation.  A review with spoilers would destroy much of the book’s suspense, as the plot revolves around finding which neighbors are German traitors and which are loyal.  Neighbors is used in its exact sense, as almost all of the characters are located in the small town of Folkestone, England.  Spies and counter-spies rub shoulders and there are complex relationships between the characters.  Sometimes all is not as it seems, but that is as far as I dare go when discussing the plot…


Two aspects of this book were especially pleasing to me, and all the more so because they are usually missing in most fiction.  These are the careful attention paid to history, and the loving depictions of the simple pleasures of life.



History

This is a book that is firmly rooted in its early 20th Century setting.  In fact, an appendix includes a bibliography of sources used to recreate the past for this novel.  Important victories or defeats in Flanders are fodder for the newspapers and discussed by the characters as we might discuss the latest policies of the president.  The imminent Russian collapse causes the Allied characters to worry and accelerate their efforts.  One character is distributing an anti-war magazine called The Masses (a fictional magazine, but clearly a Bolshevik publication).   Rather than attempt to categorize all of the history, I will direct your attention to an exclusive interview with the author in which she highlights some of these details.  http://defendingthelegacy.blogspot.com/2017/06/guest-post-historical-details-in-war-of.html



A Webley Revolver
As befits a spy novel, most of its characters are armed.  Their weapon of choice is a Webley revolver, which seemed slightly repetitive until I dug a little deeper.  I found that Webley was a leading producer of British handguns, and supplied official service revolvers to the British Army for decades.  The Illustrated Book of Guns listed 17 separate models which were all produced before 1918, including some (like the Mark III) designed and marketed specifically for civilians. 


Love of the Ordinary 

It is rare for a work of fiction to be so concerned about historical details, but it is even rarer for it to have a love of the ordinary.  What exactly does this mean?  And how can a spy story—by definition beyond the everyday experience of most of us—celebrate the joys of ordinary life?


C. S. Lewis described this love of ordinary experiences in his autobiography Surprised by Joy.  “The very qualities which had previously deterred me from such book Arthur taught me to see as their charm.  What I would have called their ‘stodginess’ or ‘ordinariness’ he called ‘homeliness’—a key word in his imagination.  He did not mean merely Domesticity, though that came into it.  He meant the rooted quality which attaches them to all our simple experiences, to weather, food, the family, the neighborhood.”  (Surprised by Joy, pg. 146)

Lewis’s books are full of this love of the ordinary, simple pleasures of life, such as the delicious dinner the Pevensies enjoy at the Beavers’ house.  I was pleased that War of Loyalties is full of this love of simple joys as well.   It breathes throughout the entire book in descriptions of tea and wood fires, in the strength and support that Charlotte Dorroll offers to her husband Ben.  But this concept comes into sharpest focus when Benjamin Dorroll is staying at the house of old family friends, the O’Seans.  The description of their familial loyalty and comfortable friendship in the midst of war and spies and tangled loyalties is well done.



If you can obtain this book, I would highly recommend it for any reader.  An interesting, fast-paced story is combined with historical details and a love for domesticity.  This book is highly recommended.


5/5 stars.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Red Cloak vs. Purple Cloak: Not a Contradiction at All

Before our Lord was crucified, he was tried by a Jewish religious court, who then bounced him to a Roman civil court headed by Pontius Pilate.  Pilate initially declared Jesus innocent, but caved to pressure and agreed to execute him.  Between the sentence and its execution, the Roman guards mocked Jesus, dressing him up and acclaiming him as the King of the Jews.  However, the two accounts in the Bible initially seem to be at variance.


"Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers.  And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe." (Matthew 27:27-28)


"And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band.  And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head." (Mark 15:16-17)


Strong's Concordance records that the words "scarlet" and "purple" are correctly translated from the Greek, and both words for these colors appear elsewhere in the New Testament.  What then are we to make of this?


The answer lies in the 1st Century Roman culture in which our Lord lived.  Purple was an extremely expensive color, while red was much less costly.  As a result, red was a fairly common color and purple was beyond the reach of all but the most wealthy.  "Nevertheless, the insatiable demand for purple clothing inevitably led to the creation of a number of cheaper alternatives, and a counterfeit industry like that which exploits the modern hunger for designer labels. ...A purple of sorts could be achieved by simply over-dyeing red from madder with blue from indigo or woad." (Graham Sumner, Roman Military Clothing, pg. 116)


But a purplish shade was not confined to purpose-made purple colors.  "Cicero made a derogatory comment that wool taken from sheep reared in Canusium--which was brown with a reddish hue--acted as the poor man's purple." (Graham Sumner, Roman Military Clothing, pg. 115)  With this background of Roman culture, this supposed Biblical contradiction vanishes.  The robe the soldiers clothed Jesus in was a shade of red used as a purple.  Perhaps it had originally been dyed with blue, or perhaps it was the "poor man's purple."


But the most important point to remember about the crucifixion is that none of these events were unexpected for Our Lord.  He stated: "No man taketh it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again." (John 10:18)  Jesus knew everything that would happen to him, and he accomplished it because of his love for the world.  Because of His sacrifice, he invites us all to know Him.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Review of A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loconte

J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis share many things in common.  They were both Christian authors, they both wrote incredibly popular works of fantasy, and they both served in the First World War.  Joseph Loconte's book A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War explores all three of these themes.


This book is divided into six chapters with a conclusion.  The first chapter sets them firmly in the world of 1914 with its myth of progress.  Humanity was becoming happier, healthier, and more peaceful.  War was unthinkable...until it broke out in August 1914, shattering the Myth of Progress with it.


The second chapter discusses the efforts of the clergy to make World War I into a holy war, a crusade for freedom and democracy.  But Tolkien and Lewis did not adopt this attitude in their books.  While displaying opportunities for heroism, war is a terrible and sad--not glorious--duty.  The third chapter is a fascinating look at J. R. R. Tolkien's service in the trenches of World War I.  Joseph Loconte contends (with reason), that many of the descriptions of battle in The Lord of the Rings are drawn from Tolkien's own service.  Certainly the realm of Mordor is based on the trenches of the Western Front, as Tolkien states: "The Dead Marshes and the approaches to the Morannon owe something to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme." (pg. 74)


Since Tolkien's service occupied the third chapter, Chapter 4 is focused on C. S. Lewis's time as a soldier in World War I.  Finally World War I ended, leaving people dazed and looking for the meaning of all the sacrifice and senseless bloodshed.  They eventually came to the conclusion that it did not exist, thus opening the door for new philosophies like Communism and Fascism that promised a better life.  C. S. Lewis was caught up in these philosophies, eventually leading to a life-changing discussion with J. R. R. Tolkien on September 19, 1931.




Both of these men now possessed a firm faith in God and a desire to share His truth with others by writing fantasy stories.  The sixth and last chapter merges seamlessly with the conclusion, as Mr. Loconte explores major themes in the works of Tolkien and Lewis.  These include courage, duty, heroism, destiny, friendship, Providence, and the idea that this world is a battleground between good and evil.  But this battle cannot be won by our own efforts, as illustrated by King Tirian's defeat at Stable Hill and the ending of Frodo's quest at Mount Doom.  Are we destined to fail?

But both Narnia and Middle-Earth (and our world, eventually) have a twist, a "eucatastrophe" as Tolkien and Lewis would term it.  There is a returning King who will make the world right again.  The conclusion to A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War takes the book from an interesting study of World War I's influence on two famous fantasy authors and turns it into a reassurance that the world will be restored to its intended purposes.


I highly recommend this book, not just for Tolkien and Lewis enthusiasts, but for all Christians. 
5/5 stars.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Susan Pevensie's Bow: An Illustration of Her Journey

In the 2005 movie, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Susan Pevensie's Christmas gifts--a bow and arrows--show her transformation from a cautious girl to a queen ready to defend her people.
Susan is the second-oldest child and the oldest girl. 
She is a voice of caution and reason, eager to leave Narnia alone and focus on problems in England.  But she does enter Narnia, and is given a bow and arrows by Father Christmas.  True to her character, she is reluctant to get involved in Narnia’s war against the White Witch, consistently wanting only to return to England and safety. When she, Peter, and Lucy are attacked by wolves while crossing a frozen river, Susan is the first to admonish Peter to “do something,” though her bow could have felled a wolf.


Susan and Lucy both practice on the target range
The four siblings are reunited at the Narnian army’s camp and discuss plans. Susan’s brother Peter wants the other three to return to England while he fights for Narnia, but Lucy declare that “all four of us” are needed to defeat the Witch. Susan walks off and Peter asks her where she is going. Holding her bow and arrows, she smilingly says, “To get in some practice.” This little exchange shows that Susan is finally willing to set aside her own safety and work for the freedom of Narnia. Susan’s time at the archery range pays off at the end, as she enters the battlefield and sees her brother Edmund badly wounded on the ground. A dwarf of the Witch’s army is sneaking up to give him the coup de grace, but Susan quickly shoots and kills him, saving Edmund in the process.  Susan is eventually crowned Queen Susan the Gentle by Aslan the great lion.

Friday, December 1, 2017

War of Loyalties is Officially Released!

Throughout the past several months, this blog has followed a soon-to-be released World War I spy novel called War of Loyalties.  Yesterday the book was officially released for sale!


Book Description: 
April, 1917. A ring of German spies threatens the coastal town of Folkestone, England. Newly-recruited agent Ben Dorroll must uncover which British citizens are traitors to their country. When his first attempt at espionage falls prey to a trap laid by German sympathizers, the security of the British Secret Service is threatened. Feeling lost in a strange country and aching for a steady place to call home, he wants to resign and go back to his American medical work. But when he learns that his family identity holds the key to capturing the spy ring, Ben has no choice but to unite with the mysterious Jaeryn Graham so that the truth can be discovered. 

In the aftermath of the Irish Rebellion, Jaeryn Graham's British colleagues look warily on his Irish background. Always up for a challenge, he thinks his new mission in the Secret Service should be an opportunity to prove his prowess. But after encountering death and alienating two agents, he finds the road to victory isn't as easy as he thought. Unless he can win the loyalties of his newest assistant, Ben Dorroll, his secret ambitions and his perfect success record will be destroyed.



In connection with the book's publication, the author has kindly put together an exciting War of Loyalties raffle.

First Prize Winner:
-Paperback copy of War of Loyalties
-“Jaeryn’s Vow” 8x10 poster
-Custom War of Loyalties mug
 
Second Prize Winner:
-Ebook of War of Loyalties
-Real vintage Folkestone postcard (this is a postcard that has actually been posted in 1917.)
 
Third Prize Winner: (open to international winners)
-Ebook of War of Loyalties


US residents only for 1st and 2nd prizes. Accounts created solely for giveaways not eligible.



About the Author 
Schuyler McConkey is a writing teacher, book reviewer, and ministry leader living half of her life in happy fellowship with her family and spending the other half in angst-filled fictional worlds. She is passionate about classic, Dickensian stories and characters who encounter deep struggles touched by grace. Irish music, British movies, and chai lattes provide the fuel for her dreams.