The Meaning of Book Endorsements

Why buy a particular book? We answer that partly by finding who wants us to buy the book. We check the endorsement, which are found in one or more places—front cover, back cover, and opening pages. Some authors do not need endorsements, since they are industries in their own right, such as Stephen King and J. K. Rowling. Lessor mortals court endorsements. But what should we make of this practice? What does it really mean?

Book endorsements are both reviews and benedictions.  Generally speaking, the greater endorses the lesser. Thus, I was elated that my first book, Unmasking the New Age(1986), was endorsed by Walter Martin, the father of the counter-cult movement in America and author of the classic, The Kingdom of the Cults.

The endorser briefly sums up the book and wishes it well: “This book deserves a wide reading,” for example. The endorsement is meant to help the book along its literary way. It works this way:

S endorses P for reason Q.

The endorser S should be in a position to give a competent judgment Q concerning the book P. To do this, S should have some expertise in the subject matter of P. Thus, I asked philosopher and mathematician, William Dembski, to endorse my book, Christian Apologetics (2011). It was a high honor that he did so. However, has not asked me to endorse a book by Dembski that filled with mathematics, since I am helpless in that. However, I did endorse his book The End of Christianity, since it fit my areas of expertise.

Endorsements go awry when S endorses P when S is incompetent to endorse P. This is akin to saluting a flag of a country about which one knows nothing. I have seen it too often. These endorsements may have the opposite effect of what is intended, since empty praise from an ignoramus is worse than faint praise from a professional.

Yet experts may fail to give adequate grounds for their recommendations. This is akin to cheerleading. S is an authority on P, but S gives no reason for endorsing P. For this, we take it on trust: S knows his stuff, so we trust him on P. Maybe so, but we must appeal to S’s raw authority about P apart from the authority’s justification Q for his judgment.

Notoriety matters, too. If S is a maven on P, but few know this, then P’s endorsement will not win many people over, unless they accept P’s title or accomplishments as giving them credibility. The best combination for an endorsement is, thus, notoriety and expertise. For example, if a book on New Testament theology received an endorsement from D. A. Carson, the author would be rightly elated and the potential reader would be rightly impressed.

However, the concern for notoriety can go afoul. One of N. T. Wright’s books was endorsed by Rob Bell. This is akin to an ant saluting an elephant, since Bell is no scholar; in fact, he is not even a serious thinker. Bell was solicited, no doubt, for his undeserved popularity. But one may be popular for the wrong reasons. As Jesus said:

Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! For so did their fathers to the false prophets (Luke 6:26, KJV).

He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight (Luke 16:15, NIV).

And consider Moses:

Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd (Exodus 23:2, NIV).

I would not have neither Donald Trump nor Lady Gaga endorse one of my books. 

Taste matters for endorsements as well. Jesus prophesied that “the meek will inherit the earth.” Meekness is not weakness, but it requires that we be understated and humble. If an author piles up a mountain of endorsements, covering several pages of text, it is unseemly. Some publishers may push for this against the author’s wishes, however. It is better to wait for the book reviews—which would likely be more fair-minded—for this volume of commentary. There is such a thing as too much of a good think.

Cronyism is a creeping plague in book publishing as well as in politics: think crony capitalism. A crony is a groupie who wants her share of the action. A crony does not give praise where praise is due, but who gives praise to receive favors in return. Cronies are favored for reasons other than merit. Some endorsements exude an odor of cronyism. X endorses Y and Y endorses X. It makes one wonder sometimes. Is this a legitimate endorsement or a mutual admiration society? I became cautious of this after a notable Christian writer said he would not endorse my book if the book was also dedicated to him. It had to be one or the other. (It was going dedicate it to him and to two other heroes.) He said, “You have to avoid anything that smacks of cronyism.” Indeed, you must.

In some cases a reliable expert in an area wrongly endorses a book. For example, Eugene Peterson, a superb writer on pastoral theology, endorsed the idiosyncratic (at best) novel The Shack. However, it is unlikely that several solid references will all err in recommending a book.

Lastly, if one person endorses many books, the currency declines. It looks promiscuous, as when an inebriated patron keeps ordering rounds of drinks for everyone at the bar.

The final test for any book is not who endorsed it, but what it does for the reader. If the book imparts knowledge about what is needed to know to glorify God, built up the church to advance his Kingdom, and to turn back the powers of darkness, then that book is endorsed by God himself. May we read, endorse, and recommend these books.

Four Books Have Influenced Me in Profound Ways over Many Years

1. C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (many editions)

Considered one of Lewis’s more difficult and less read works (at least in comparison to his fiction or Mere Christianity), Abolition has been indispensible to my intellectual development. I first read it in my sophomore or junior year in college as a philosophy major. It gave me very solid support for the existence of moral values beyond the contingencies of culture. Technically, it is a work of meta-ethics — or the metaphysics of ethics. He argues for “the Tao,” by which he means the objective basis for moral values that transcends culture and preference. Lewis warned that abandoning this objective standpoint would lead to a culture where people attempt to invent new values and then condition others to accept them through force and propaganda. 

It is no wonder that I liberally quoted this work in my book against postmodernism, Truth Decay (2000). While not an apologetic for the biblical God as the basis for eternal values, The Abolition of Man lays that foundation. Its argument for objective moral value should be combined with the moral argument for God found in Book One of Lewis’s Mere Christianity. I have read this book at least six times and always benefit from it. In that sense, it is much like Francis Schaffer’s work, The God Who is There, which I have read about the same number of times.

2. Francis A. Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 30th anniversary ed. (InterVarsity Press, 1998; originally published, 1968).

Originally published in 1968. 30th anniversary edition published in 1998. I first read The God Who Is There by Francis Schaeffer in the fall of 1976, my sophomore year in college—just a few months after my conversion to Christ. It is not an overstatement to say that it revolutionized my view of Christian faith and endeavor. I had spent the first few troubled months of the Christian life not knowing how to think about the great intellectual issues I had been introduced to in my first year of college. This caused considerable distress of soul. But Schaeffer, the savvy evangelist and apologist, wasn¹t afraid of the great ideas. In fact, he argued that the Christian world view is objectively true, rational, and that it offers unique hope and meaning to a post-Christian culture awash in despair and confusion. 

Schaeffer did not answer all my questions, and I have come to question a few of his judgments (particularly his reading of a few philosophers), but The God Who is There helped spark a grand view of ministry that has never dimmed. We must love the lost, take culture seriously, and outthink the world for Christ!

3. Blaise Pascal, Pensées (various editions). 

I have been reading Pascal’s profound reflections for forty-five years, and I don’t plan on stopping. I wrote a book called On Pascal (Wadsworth, 2003). I find myself quoting him in my writing and speaking frequently. I first picked this volume out of my mother’s collection of The Great Books in the summer of 1977. The volume consists of over 900 fragments of a book Pascal never completed, which would have been an apologetic for the Christian faith. Nevertheless, many of the fragments—some more developed and refined than others—were so brilliant that Pascal’s family published them after his death in 1662. He was only 39. 

Pascal, a celebrated scientist and mathematician, understood that the gospel was the only key that could unlock the meaning of the human condition. His reflections on the greatness and misery of humanity are unparalleled in their wisdom and apologetic power. We are great because made in God’s image and likeness; but we are miserable because we are fallen. We are deposed royalty in need of the Mediator, Jesus Christ.

4. Søren Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing (various editions). 

Although I cannot agree with much of Kierkegaard’s religious philosophy (particularly his fideism), this devotional book was pivotal in my sense of divine calling. Kierkegaard (1813-55) aimed to reform the dry and dead Lutheran orthodoxy of his day by stimulating his readers to rediscover the Christianity of the New Testament and to stand naked as individuals before God himself. This book summons the reader to consider their lives before the “audit of eternity” and to order all their affairs so as to “will the good in the truth,” without excuse and without wavering and against the crowd, if need be. 

Through reading it, I discovered that God was calling me to engage the life of the mind as a lifelong pursuit. At the time (1977 or 1978), I did not know what shape this commitment would take, but the Lord’s will was made known to me through this remarkable and penetrating book.

Thoughts on the Second Edition of Christian Apologetics

The mail recently brought me two hardbacks of the second edition of my book, Christian Apologetics, published by InterVarsity Press. It was originally published in 2011. The Kindle version came out on February 8 of this year. The hardback was delayed by supply chain problems. We cannot take books and magazines for granted now. World Magazine recently spoke of their concern about getting enough paper to print their magazine.

Holding a book you have written in your hands for the first time is always rewarding. (It is nothing like holding your newborn, I’m sure; but, I have no children.) This book is 839 pages long. The first edition was 758 pages. The second edition has smaller print, so there is much more material. Every chapter is updated and the book sports seven new chapters:

1. Original Monotheism

2. Doubt, Skepticism, and the Hiddenness of God 

3. In Defense of the Church

4. The Atonement: Stating It Properly

5. The Atonement: Defending It

6. The Resurrection: Prolegomena on Miracles

7. Lament as Apologetic

Not much has been removed in this edition, although I omitted a few arguments with emergent church authors (since that movement seems to be over) and with a few other Christians. I wanted to be more positive, and to have more room for my own apologetic as opposed to critique of other apologetic ideas.

Has my mind changed on anything? Yes and no. I take the case for the truth, rationality, and relevance of Christianity to be stronger today than in 2011, given the advances especially in the intelligent design movement. Recent work on miracles by Craig Keener and (more popularly) Lee Strobel strengthens the case for the resurrection and for all biblical miracles. I could go on—and I did in the book.

However, my views on the possibility for salvation for those who have not heard the Gospel through direct human contact (oral or written)  have cautiously opened up a bit. I take this up in the chapter, in “The Challenge of Religious Pluralism.” I carefully state my views and explain what level of confidence I have for certain outcomes. Of course, I still affirm that salvation is through the work of Jesus Christ, the Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5; John 14:6)! The question is how much one needs to know to benefit from that gracious work of Jesus Christ. 

I am grateful to God that at age sixty-five, I was able to complete a second edition to my major life work. I am honored by the kind endorsements from J. P. Moreland, Paul Copan, Sean McDowell, J. Warner Wallace, and William Dembski. 

I often reflect on how much time my Lord has given me to read, write, and teach ever since my conversion in 1976. I did not have to work my way through college (thanks, Mom!), so I had plenty of time to study for my classes as well as engage my own parallel curriculum as a Christian thinker, reading the likes of C. S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, James Sire, and Os Guinness. My five years in campus ministry at the McKenzie Study Center (1979-84) allowed me protracted time for study. (Thanks, Wes Hurd.) And such has been the case ever since. 

I really don’t know how to do anything except study, write, teach, preach, and mentor. I’m generally helpless (or dangerous) otherwise. But God has made a way for me, a way that has helped others through my labors. Thanks be to God.

I will likely not write any more tomes (or bricks), but two more books should be published this year, and I am working on two others. I have ideas for about ten more after that, but this must be placed in God’s hands. 

Tom Gilson, Too Good to be False?

I asked Tom Gilson, author and editor at The Stream, to answer several questions about his intriguing book, Too Good to be False (DeWard Publishing, 2020) which takes a unique approach to the character and teachings of Jesus. I have found the book to be insightful and apologetically helpful. It has been endorsed by Lee Strobel and J. P. Moreland.

Click here can purchase Tom Gilson’s Too Good to Be False?

1. What is the central thesis of Too Good to be False?

It’s a two-part thesis with a coda. The first part stands alone, and occupies about the first half of the book: Jesus is greater than you knew. I’m hearing from many Christian readers, from everyday bloggers to seminary professors, that this portion of the book has genuinely surprised them with new insights into Jesus’ extraordinary character.

The second part builds on the first: Jesus’ character as portrayed in the accounts, is too unique, too consistent, too unexpected, and too good to have been produced the way skeptics think the story was developed, through legendary processes.

It’s not only that he’s “too good to be false,” though that’s part of it. The skeptics theorize legendary processes as the source of the Jesus story, but I say these processes are inherently story-scramblers, and Jesus’ character is manifestly not scrambled. He is very recognizably the same Jesus from beginning to end, in all four accounts, maintaining a stunning, detailed level consistency in a long list of traits.

The coda? He’s worth following no matter what. That’s part three of the book. I think we’re heading toward a stage in history where Western Christians will have to face the “no matter what” question like never before. But he is extraordinarily good no matter what, his truth is certain no matter what, and we must keep following him no matter what.

2. What most surprised you in your research?

Many things. I took an approach to Jesus that may never have been published before. (If it has, I’d be very happy to hear about it.) Instead of focusing on what Jesus did and said, I looked for what he didn’t do and didn’t say. 

For example, I was astonished to find out there is no reference anywhere in the Bible to Jesus having faith. Silence on a given topic isn’t always significant, but this one is, in my studied opinion. He taught faith even more often than he taught love. His love is mentioned often, but his faith? Never. There has to be an explanation for it. The best I’ve found has been in connection with Jesus’ deity. I won’t go into details on that here, though. 

Even more stunning was the discover Jesus never used his extraordinary power for his own benefit. Satan was right about one thing: Jesus could have turned the stones into bread. The mockers at the cross were right: He could have come down from there. If power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then by that rule Jesus should have been a tyrant. Instead he was the model of love. I try to imagine being that good, having even an infinitesimal fraction of his power, and I crumble, knowing I could never be that perfectly other-centered. It brings me to my knees in absolute worship.

3. Why do you think some aspects of your argument have not been used in recent decades in apologetics?

I wish I knew. It’s a complete mystery to me. What I do know is that the argument is stronger now than it was when Paley or Schaff used it, because skeptics have hardened into a position that’s more vulnerable to it.

I don’t know exactly what led me to it, though I wonder if it has something to do with not being a specialist in New Testament studies, which may have allowed my mind to wander more freely into new territory. 

For example, I used to do organizational assessment work for a major mission organization. Seeing what’s there in a team’s operations is easy, my partner and I quickly learned. The hard part — the skill we kept working to develop — is seeing what’s not there. It’s possible that might have helped me along in this study. 

4. How does your argument challenge the skeptical view that Jesus never existed?

I take the story seriously as a story. Every story has a backstory, a place, person or group that produces the story within its culture, and related in some way to that culture’s norms, expectations, restrictions, and so on. But the backstory has to fit; that is, if you view the story as the effect and the backstory as the cause, the backstory has to be the kind of cause that could produce that story as an effect. And I don’t think the skeptics’ legend theory is the right kind of cause to produce a story with a main character as unique, consistent, unexpected, and good as Jesus. 

Take away that skeptical backstory, and for now at least it leaves one live option: The Gospel accounts are true. Maybe skeptics will offer a new and better-fitting skeptical backstory. It’s hard to imagine what that would be, though. 

5. What has been the response to your book so far?

I keep hearing words like “surprising,” “refreshing,” “fascinating,” “compelling,” and even (from Gary Habermas) “a fun read.” Many are saying it’s helped them fall in love with Jesus all over again. One reader said she’d been sliding into spiritual apathy, but this view of Jesus, “totally shook me up.” It’s been so gratifying to hear of readers seeing Jesus in a new light through it. I’ll tell you, the same thing happened to me as I was studying for it. 

Meanwhile those who are more familiar with apologetics have expressed similar surprise at the originality of the argument. It’s new to our generation, at least. 

6. Have skeptics responded to it?

Some think they have, but they’re only responding to interviews I’ve done, though. So far I haven’t heard from any who have taken the trouble to read the book. 

From those who’ve tried to respond, the most common response has been, “Jesus isn’t actually that good. Just look how Christians have practiced slavery in his name!” But Jesus completely knocked the legs out from under slavery through his strong version of the Golden Rule, by teaching love for neighbor, and by condemning greed, pride, and self-centeredness. He demonstrated love for all, at every level of society. Christians (self-styled or otherwise) have failed horribly at living up to his example, but the book is about Christ, not about Christians.

Besides that, a couple of YouTubers have mounted massive takedowns of arguments I don’t make. Sometimes I wonder what’s so entertaining about that. You’d think it would be more interesting to engage with what people actually say instead.

Just today I heard one going on and on about a comment I’d made in an interview about Jesus being perfect from beginning to end in the accounts. “That’s bad literature!” he repeated in a half-dozen different ways. “Perfect characters are the worst characters. They’re boring!” 

It was sad and hilarious, both at the same time. He doesn’t know I made precisely the same point in my book! Except I also noted what this skeptic, too, should have seen: Billions of people in thousands of cultures across thousands of years would tell you Jesus is the single most compelling character they’ve ever encountered, in life or in literature. So if the rule is that perfect characters are boring characters, then Jesus breaks that rule into a billion tiny shreds. 

And that makes his character incredibly extraordinary on that one count alone. Still the skeptics think his kind of story is so easy to write, any old legendary process could have come up with a man like him. Funny thing: It’s never happened anywhere else. Not even close. Not in legend, not even flowing from the pens of the greatest poets, playwrights, or novelists, from Homer to Sophocles, from Shakespeare to Dostoyevsky to Dickens and beyond. Jesus, I say, is just too good to be false.

In Conversation with Dr. Donald T. Williams

Dr. Donald T. Williams is a friend of mine, a kindred spirit, and a Renaissance man, being well versed in literary studies, philosophy, and theology. He can recite sections of classic poems and novels from memory and even composes sonnets on airplane rides. Professor Williams is the author of nine books and has written the most extensive exposition and analysis of C. S. Lewis’s theology (Deeper Magic: The Theology Behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis) as well as a book on Tolkien called, An Encouraging Thought. The Christian Worldview in the Writings of J. R. R. Tolkien. Because I am one of the sad people who could never read Lord of the Rings and have been feeling bad about it for forty or more years, I read An Encouraging Thought and was encouraged by it. Perhaps I can bluff my way through Tolkien a bit now.

He holds a BA in English from Taylor University, an M.Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a PhD in Medieval and Renaissance Literature from the University of Georgia. He is the R. A. Forrest Scholar and Professor of English at Toccoa Falls College in the hills of NE Georgia. I was intrigued to see how he would answer the following questions. You will be as well. I encourage you read his books, see him lecture, and invite him to speak on the many subjects about which he is competent.

Bold print = Douglas Groothuis, Professor at Denver Seminary and author of Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive case for Biblical Faith and other books

light print = Donald T. Williams.

  1. What is God’s calling on your life?

When I was in high school I had a really good pastor, Paul R. Van Gorder (later an associate teacher with Radio Bible Class).  He did such a good job of explaining the Scriptures and showing the majesty of their theology, the beauty of the Christ they presented, and the practical relevance of their teaching for life, that I found myself praying, “Lord, it would be really neat if someday you would let me do for others what this man is doing for me.”  That was the first hint I had that I might be called to the ministry.

But I learned later that it was not the beginning of that calling at all.  By the time I was in college, I loved Jesus, the Gospel, and the Bible, and thought that there was nothing I would rather do than preach them, teach them, and write about them if God would open the doors.  And it seemed that He was doing so.  It was only later that I learned what Paul Harvey would call “the rest of the story.”

The day I graduated from seminary (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, June, 1976)), my father took me aside.  “Your grandfather,” he said, “always wanted a son to go into the ministry.  But I was not called in that way.  Then when you were born, he took you into his arms and said, ‘This is the one.  This boy will be the answer to my prayers.’  He died when you were five.  And I have never told you this, because I did not want it to influence you—if you were called, I wanted it to be from the Lord and not from some pressure we had put on you.  But today, I think I should tell you this story.”  

Make of that what you will.  I was floored.  I still don’t think I have ever quite gotten over that moment.  And I am forever grateful for my pastor’s example, my grandfather’s faith, my Dad’s wisdom, and God’s grace, without which the other factors would have been wholly in vain. 

  1. How would you describe yourself as a scholar and communicator?

As a scholar I am truth-driven, and I think that truth is never fully seen as truth until it is seen in relation to God and His glory, which means being seen in relation to Christ.  So I don’t fit very well into the scholarly world, even the Evangelical scholarly world.  I am always trying to promote Renaissance (a recovery of the life of the mind), Reformation (a recovery of sound doctrine), and Revival (a recovery of vital Christian spirituality).  I’ll pursue those goals through any medium open to me, whether it be a book, a scholarly article, a sermon, a lecture, a conversation, or a poem.  I consider them all of a piece.  I hope each one gives some small glimpse of the Vision: the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  

  1. Do you really read Lord of the Rings every year, and if so why?

I read The Lord of the Rings twice the year I discovered it, 1968, and have read it almost every year since (I think I’ve missed two or three).  I’ve written a whole book on why: An Encouraging Thought: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of J. R. R. Tolkien (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2018).  In brief, it keeps me grounded in the ability to see the world as it is: full of goodness and beauty by its creation but corrupted and fallen, subject to horrible evil but never without hope because “Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker.”  It is the setting of a Quest that is “not wholly in vain.”  I am subject to melancholy and pessimism and need to be reminded that there is a Light from beyond the circles of the world that Sauron’s clouds can never put out—not just by being told that it is so, but by being shown it: by having the reality of it presented to me through incarnational imagination.  

  1. What should every Christian know about the power of the imagination?

C. S. Lewis taught that reason is the organ of truth, and imagination is the organ of meaning.  Reason tells me whether a proposition corresponds with or contradicts other propositions I have come to accept—more importantly, whether it corresponds with or contradicts the world itself.  That correspondence is truth.  But without imagination I would not know what those propositions meant in the first place. I think he was right. 

As I said above, I don’t just need to be told the truth; I also need to be shown it.  When imagination faithfully does that, it makes it possible for us to have meaningful truth, which not only convinces us but moves us.

For more on this topic see my essay “Meaningful Truth: The Critical Role of Imagination in the Work of C. S. Lewis,” Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 31:6 (Nov./Dec. 2018): 34-37.   

  1. If you could design a college curriculum for the humanities, what would it include?

Latin.  Logic.  The classics.  Scientific literacy.  Competence in all those skills, not just exposure to them.  Then as much history, philosophy, and literature as you can fit in on that foundation (assuming these course are not taught by Post-Modern ideological hacks more interested in indoctrination than education). 

I’ve heard admissions counselors from seminaries, law schools, and journalism schools consistently give the same advice to college students:  out of English, Philosophy, and History, major in one and minor in one of the other two.  That will be the best preparation for graduate study you can get.  If it’s taught right, it’s also pretty good preparation for life.  If you know how to think and you are not always reinventing the wheel when you do your thinking, i.e., not doing it in a vacuum but in the light of what we have learned over the years, you can excel at just about anything.

For more on this topic, see my essay “To Spread His Glory: Four Theses on Christian Education,” Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 32:4 (July/August 2019): 30-34.

  1. What do you find most important about the work and life of C.S. Lewis?

Nobody ever has outdone Lewis as a role model for the integration of reason and imagination.  We have some really good rational apologists.   We have not done so well as an Evangelical movement in fostering those who work with imagination.  But what nobody in any movement has ever done as well as Lewis is show us both working in tandem the way they are supposed to do.  You get superb rational arguments in the popular apologetics advanced by means of apt analogies that come from the imagination (the hall and rooms of a house for the church and its denominations).  You get rational apologetic argument seamlessly embedded in works of fantasy like Narnia (Professor Kirk’s use of the Trilemma, Puddleglum’s use of the ontological argument with the Green Witch).  Neither set of books would be as good without the cooperation of both reason and imagination.  

I’ve written a whole book on this and other reasons why Lewis matters:  Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Press, 2016).    

  1. What is the biggest mistake Christians make in the realm of the intellect?

It is twofold.  First we despise the intellect, and then we over-react to that rejection of it by trying too hard to be seen as respectable by our secular peers in the academy.  For too many of our Evangelical intellectuals, that quest for respect drives our work more than the quest for faithfulness.  It is a pathology we see playing out again and again.  Respect from the enemies of truth is not affirmation; it is shame.  

  1. What are the five books that have influenced you most and why?

It is hard to say if these are really the top five—a number of others are complaining loudly that they have an equal claim to be in the list.  But these five were certainly very important in my development.  In chronological order of composition:

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion.  I was prejudiced against it when I first read it, but I discovered to my surprise not a man in love with religious determinism but a man in love with the glory of God and the grace of Christ.  He also bases his systematics on being the greatest exegete of his generation.  Even if you don’t always end up agreeing with him, you need to learn these things from him!

Sir Philip Sidney, Defense of Poesy.  The foundation of a Christian approach to literature and to education.  The philosopher has the precept, but he is “so misty to be conceived that you may wade in him until you be old before you find sufficient reason to be honest.”  The Historian deals with concrete reality, but is limited to what has been and cannot talk (as a Historian) about what ought to be.  “Now doth the peerless Poet perform both.”  Like the Historian, he deals with a story conveyed by concrete imagery, but unlike the Historian and like the Philosopher, he is free to pursue the Ideal.  Thus he wins the prize in pursuit of “the end of learning,” which is “virtuous action.”   I wrote a whole book, Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012), trying to show why this matters.

C. S. Lewis, Miracles.  Not Lewis’s most popular work of apologetics (that would be Mere Christianity), but in my mind his best, the most profound, and most stimulating.  This is how apologetics should be done.  He not only teaches you the content of apologetics; he teaches you (by example) the craft.

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.  We already discussed this book above.

Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There.  I’ll discuss this book below.

Honorable Mention:  Augustine, Confessions; Dante, The Divine Comedy; Baldassare Castiglione, The Boke of the Courtier; Shakespeare, Works; John Milton, Paradise Lost; Jonathan Edwards, A Treatise on the Religious Affections; Gerard Manley Hopkins, Poems; G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man;  Robert Frost, Poems; C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man; The Chronicles of Narnia; The Space Trilogy; Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge.

9. Who is the most important author that Christians never read?

It’s getting to be Francis Schaeffer.  I used to teach a course called Humanities 103, which was a survey of Western culture heavily informed by Schaeffer’s cultural apologetic, required of all freshmen.  For a quarter of a century after his death, they would start out knowing that he was an important apologist and opponent of abortion, and a few would have already read him.  Starting about ten years ago, they would never even have heard of him without that course.

Why does it matter?  Schaeffer understood that in a post-Christian, post-truth world, Christians could no longer afford to be ignorant of issues once the province only of philosophy majors.  He understood how worldview impacts life and culture.  He understood that unless we are presenting the Gospel as “true truth,” we are not presenting the Gospel.  He understood that unless the Lordship of Christ touches all of life and all of culture, it is an empty slogan.  He understood these things with a combination of cultural insight and biblical faithfulness that was unprecedented in his day and which we have not seen since.  We still need very much to hear his voice.

We should read all of Schaeffer, but we should start with The God Who is There and True Spirituality, the books he held as the foundation of all his work.  Later provocative books like The Great Evangelical Disaster or The Christian Manifesto read very differently as the extensions and applications of principles laid down there than they do in isolation.  Schaeffer might have been naïve to expect people to read his books in the order he preferred, but friends of his work today will do well to urge their students to read The God Who is There first and often.

Dr. Williams’s latest book is The Young Christian’s Survival Guide: Common Questions Young Christians are Asked about God, the Bible, and the Christian Faith Answered (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2019).

Book Review: Finding the Groove: Composing a Jazz-Shaped Faith

There have been too many attempts to link Christianity to something else in order to jazz it up—as if the Gospel itself was not sufficiently compelling. Those both on the liberal and conserve ends of the theological spectrum—and even those in the middle—have been guilty of this. The “Christian atheism” of the middle 1960s took this to an absurd extreme. Jesus has been likened to a CEO, a therapist, a salesman, and so on, in order to pad his paltry resume. At best, these efforts highlight something in Jesus not previously apparent. At worst, they deny Christianity and replace it with an ersatz religion that has no gospel at all (see Romans 1:16-17; Galatians 1:6-11). Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord of the cosmos, does not need to be jazzed up. Nor does Christianity need a make over.

Robert Gelinas avoids these pitfalls by showing that jazz can teach much about following Jesus. In fact, we should “compose a jazz-shaped faith.” Gelinas, a Denver pastor and graduate of Denver Seminary, neither twists the gospel, nor forces jazz into an alien religious mold. Instead, he finds in jazz deep and fascinating themes that resonate with the adventure and challenge of Christian living. Although he is not a musician, Gelinas discovered jazz in college and loves “the gospel in jazz.” Readers of this revealing book will come to know more of jazz and more about being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

After recounting his initiation into jazz, Gelinas briefly explains the nature of the music. Louis Armstrong said, “Jazz is jazz,” but this does not go too far. Jazz grew largely out of the music of African-American slaves. African music was mixed Christian themes learned from their oppressors. “Pain gave way to the blues, and the blues gave way to jazz—they are all connected.” Gelinas, an African American, says that “to talk about jazz it to talk about race”—and the plight of African Americans, who were, in the words of Ralph Ellison, “un-free in a free land.”

The origin and nature of jazz is a deeply contested subject. While one cannot deny that jazz was born and grew up from the African American experience, it has roots and variations that place it beyond any one racial ethos. Gelinas never claims that “jazz is black” or that non-blacks have not contributed greatly to jazz. However, his narrative overemphasizes the racial element somewhat. Later in the book, Gelinas states that “jazz was produced by those who were ‘un-free in a free land,’” thus excluding those musicians who were freer in a free land because they were not black. White musicians such as Benny Goodman (who led one of the first racially integrated jazz bands), Harry James, Dave Brubeck, and many others filled out the multicolored pallet of jazz. Despite this minor caveat, Gelinas explores a vital aspect of the music: jazz as form of life seeking freedom and justice for those wrongly denied it.

Jazz displays many creative, ennobling, and beautiful elements. Gelinas emphasizes its roots in the blues, syncopation, improvisation, ensemble cooperation, and creative tension—all modes of being that should be applied to the Christian life.

The blues are rooted in the pain of living in a fallen world, but refuse to wallow there. The old slave songs and spirituals lamented a life lived in chains, but transcended the bondage through song itself, and hoped for those chains to unbound one day. The blues roots of jazz give it a gritty sense of hope for a fallen world crying out for redemption. We, too, should see life for what it is, lament the losses, but press on with vision for better things through the power of God today and tomorrow and in the End.

Syncopation is what makes jazz swing. The jazz rhythm emphasizes the off beat, and, as Duke Ellington put it in a song title, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” To transpose this to the Christian life, syncopating means emphasizing the off-beat, finding novelty, and having “en eye and ear for that which goes unnoticed and unheard in life,” as Gelinas puts it. Jesus syncopated when he what saw others missed and reached out to the socially invisible or ostracized. A jazz-shaped faith does the same thing: it learns how to swing.

Improvisation is also constitutive of jazz. “Improvisation is what allows jazz to exist in a continual state of renewal,” Gelinas notes. A player improvises within the theme of a piece of music, but brings something new and distinctively his or her own to the old. Louis Armstrong went so far as to say, “Jazz is music that’s never played the same way once.” Every jazz solo is an adventure of self-expression that must, nevertheless, harmonize with the self-expression of the other musicians. This collaborative aspect of jazz is what Gelinas calls “life in concert.” Each musician contributes something unique himself or herself, but never in isolation from the larger group. The metaphor from jazz is rich for Christian existence. We must find out own voice (or calling), but never merely for our own sake, but for the sake of the group (the Body of Christ) and before the audience (the listening world of unbelievers).

Thus far, I have been appreciative of Gelinas’s explanation of jazz themes and how they radiate models of Christian living. He gets inside of jazz and pulls out some hip chops. As a jazz lover and Christian, I say, “Pastor, you swing!” However, as a philosopher, I must address a few missed notes found in the chapter “Creative Tension.” Gelinas rightly emphasizes that jazz thrives on tension and does not fear it. Being creative—as genuine jazz always is—means being willing to risk on stage. If one improvises on a melody, one may miss the melody entirely. Wrong notes are hit—and then cannot be hidden or retracted. As jazz critic, Ted Gioia puts it, jazz is “the imperfect art” because it requires composing on the spot during solos; those accompanying improvise as well. Gelinas tells of John Coltrane’s pursuit of musical excellence and the tensions he had to face and overcome in that musical and spiritual journey. So far, Gelinas is solidly in the groove.

But he goes out of key by applying the ideas of tension and especially paradox to Christian living and theology. One the one hand, a tensionmay pull us in two directions simultaneously and to good effect. For example, Christians are to be in the world, but not of it. There is no contradiction here. We should not escape cultural involvement (Matthew 5:13-16), but we should not be defined and defiled by the ways of the fallen world (Romans 12:1-2; 1 John 2:15-17, etc.). As Gelinas notes, a suspension bridge stays up precisely because of the tension supporting it.

Nonetheless, when Gelinas speaks ofparadoxeshe threatens to undermine the coherence and truthfulness of Scripture, theology, and of apologetics. Gelinas writes that “I believe in absolute truth, and I believe that truth can be known.” Moreover, he believes the Bible is true. Yet Gelinas claims that the Bible affirms many paradoxes. He cites James Lucas’s ominously entitled book, Knowing the Unknowable God: “Resist your enemies andlove them; ignore hypocritical spiritual leaders andobey them…” Gelinas calls these paradoxes “impossible possibilities,” which, of course, sounds contradictory. Gelinas writes that “I no longer read books that offer the Scriptures devoid of seeming contradictions. I take them for what they are—the words of the most creative being in the universe.” Yet he affirms that the Bible contains no real contradictions. Can we make sense of this?

A contradiction occurs when one statement is logically incompatible with another statement. Consider: (1) Doug Groothuis can play the tenor saxophone solo on John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and (2) Doug Groothuis cannot play tenor saxophone solo on John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” If someone told you that both (1) and (2) were true, because this is a paradox (and not a contradiction), you would send them off to the woodshed for more practice in logic. There is no reason to think that the conjunction of (1) and (2) could be true without some plausible way of resolving the oppositionbetween (1) and (2).

Now, if the Bible is true in all that it affirms, it cannot contradict itself (or any truth outside of what is stated in the Bible). One may try to rescue or protect the Bible from apparent contradiction by invoking the category of paradox, but unless there are plausible ways of resolving the paradoxes, they appear more like flat-out contradictions. And if any two statements contradict each other (in the Bible or elsewhere), they cannot both be true. At least one of them must be false. Even Charlie Parker would improvise his way out of that kind of tension.

This issue is tremendously important for theology and apologetics. A necessary criterion for theology is that Scripture must be viewed as a system, a coherent set of truth claims. If any theology affirms that a proposition is both affirmed and denied in Scripture, then that theology is contradictory; and it is, therefore, false. In apologetics (the rational defense of Christianity as true and knowable), noncontradiction is likewise a necessary criterion for truth. In commending the Christian worldview, the apologist must present it as a logically coherent model of reality. For example, the apologist cannot claim that the idea of the Incarnation (Christ as both human and divine) is an irresolvable paradox and hope to draw anyone closer to Christianity through reasoning. Apologetics needs a strategy to argue that the doctrine of the God-Man is logically coherent. (On this, see the section on the Incarnation in Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest’s Integrative Theology.)

One can appreciate Gelinas’s recognition of paradoxes in the Bible and his desire to stay true to Scripture by not imposing a false coherenceupon biblical teaching. One can also agree that the Christian life presents us with some difficult existentialtensions. However, if one is left with a Bible rife with irresolvable paradoxes, then there is no reason to think that Scripture affirms truth that is absolute, noncontradictory, and knowable (as Gelinas commendably does). As the philosopher Gordon Clark said, “A paradox is a Charlie Horse between the ears.” As such, paradoxes should be dissolved, not embraced.

Gelinas does briefly write dealing with paradoxes by finding a tertium quid(third way), but he does not seem to realize that this strategy resolvesthe paradox. (The philosopher Blaise Pascal was a master of this method.) Soon after mentioning the tertium quidstrategy, Gelinas continues to write of “embracing tensions.” But the tertium quid strategy releases tension by providing a logically satisfying solution to the apparent contradiction (that is, paradox).

Despite my philosopher’s complaint against about five pages of this 218 page book, I applaud Pastor Gelinas’s creative, knowledgeable, and winsome way of bringing jazz and Christianity together.

 

Kierkegaard on Sin

When I read the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) in the spring of 1976, it opened the doors of myself that eventually lead to Jesus and his Gospel. In this excerpt from Philosophy in Seven Sentences, I explain Kierkegaard’s understanding of sin—a concept that showed me to myself for the first time. 


Kierkegaard on Sin

Kierkegaard is now ready to spring the trap. He says that “despair is sin.” It takes two forms.

Sin is: before God, or with the conception of God, in despair not to will to be oneself, or in despair to be oneself. Thus sin is intensified weakness or intensified defiance: sin is the intensification of despair. The emphasis is on before God, or with a conception of God; it is the conception of God that makes sin dialectically, ethically, and religiously what lawyers call “aggravated” despair.

The self is divided against itself in two ways, which are two sides of the same self. The first state of sin is to give up willing to be oneself. This is “intensified weakness,” which may sound odd but is not. One may shrink back from any task at hand (inward or outward) by hiding in excuses, such as “To err is human” or “Nobody is perfect.” These statements are true, but not the kind of truth the self should be satisfied with. The self is a movement and is not static. We know what an error is, and we do not praise it. We know what imperfection is, and we do not praise it. We embody both error and imperfection regarding moral intensions and actions. Kierkegaard will not let us rest in the popular phrase “mistakes were made.” We wonder how all these mistakes occur by themselves and without agents making them. Weakness is intensified when we play the victim when we are not the victim. I once accidently hurt a young playmate of mine. It was not traumatic to him, until his mother appeared. He then threw a fit over the egregious injury I had so unjustly caused him. His weakness was intensified.

The second state of sin is when we will to be ourselves in despair. We continue in a pattern of life that is less than ideal, with no hope of reform or renewal. People may say, “I’m just a big eater [meaning: glutton]” or “I will never get organized,” but they will to be this way—and without hope. Yet the conscience is not clean; it is not satisfied with chronic tension and disappointment. It is resigned to its condition but still feels guilt. Think of Friedrich Nietzsche’s defiant boast in Thus Spoke Zarathustra where he speaks of a life considered well-lived. This is a life so well-lived that one could bear repeating it eternally. Of the whole life one can affirm “Thus, I willed it.” Nietzsche said yes to the overcoming self, the self which is free from excuses but also free from scrutiny outside the self. For Kierkegaard the Nietzschean self is no self at all. This is because the essential dynamic of despair has been dissipated in the pure, untrammeled will. (The apostle Paul calls this “will worship,” and it is thus a form of idolatry.) But surely the will can go wrong. If so, then the will in itself cannot correct the will.

Nietzsche deftly illustrates Kierkegaard’s idea of “defiance.” To ignore or to repress is not to defy. Defiance pits itself against something. Nietzsche, in the voice of “the Ugliest Man” in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, says,

But he had to die: he saw with eyes that saw everything; he saw man’s depths and ultimate grounds, all his concealed disgrace and ugliness. His pity knew no shame: he crawled into my dirtiest nooks. This most curious, over-obtrusive one had to die. He always saw me: on such a witness I wanted to have my revenge or not live myself. The god who saw everything, even man—this god had to die! Man cannot bear it that such a witness should live.

This defiant despair is not just found in Nietzsche and a few others. I know it from the inside out. As I mentioned, I was assigned The Sickness Unto Death in a history of modern philosophy class. When I began to read that book I found that it was exposing the deepest dynamics of my soul. Through my study of atheists—such as Nietzsche, Freud and Marx—I thought I had dispensed with God. However, I could not fully suppress my awareness of God (see Romans 1:18-21). Yet I did not want to submit to this God. Rather, I would will to be myself in my despair. As a rebel against God, I wanted to be a witness against him. Kierkegaard made me distressingly clear to myself, which was the reason for his book. This literary, philosophical, spiritual experience opened a tightly shut door that a few weeks hence led to my confessing myself as a sinner and Christ as Lord (see Romans 10:9; John 1:12-13).

We still hear the word sin quite a bit, and most of the lingo is not very compelling. Augustine has already deepened our understanding, but we will face a daunting challenge to conceive this concept aright. Most references to hell today are glib and unthinking. Some years ago a cartoonist drew a strip called Life in Hell, which had nothing to do with the place Jesus Christ warned about. Why this flippancy? This old, grave word was evicted from its home and is now acting as a vagabond, casting about for some shelter far from its native country. The ghost word sin now alights on notions such as mistake, miscue, false guilt, and needless shame. It finds no grounding in gravitas. According to the oracle of Google, there is a group named “The Sinners” and another called “Sinner.” But Kierkegaard does not discuss it in the way that Billy Graham or Rick Warren does, although all three hold to the historic Christian doctrine of sin. Nor does Kierkegaard resemble the approach of Jonathan Edwards’s much-excerpted (and much-misunderstood) sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

Kierkegaard labors to explain and treat sin in existential-psychological categories, but without denying or compromising the church’s historic confession of humans as sinners. (He deals with original sin in The Concept of Anxiety, which is a companion to The Sickness Unto Death.) Kierkegaard sought to look inside the human condition to sound out its often obscured depths: its desires, its despair, and its possibilities. He feared that people could easily lose their selves in a labyrinth of popular dead ends but still receive the applause of the crowds and the money of investors and customers.

Groothuis, Douglas. Philosophy in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic (p. 136-139). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Book Review: Dynamics of Spiritual Life

Books grounded me during my early Christian life. Along with The God Who is There by Francis Schaffer, Pensées by Blaise Pascal, The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis, and The Dust of Death by Os Guinness, The Confessions by Augustine (and many others), Richard Lovelace’s Dynamics of Spiritual Life offered a historically and theologically rich charter for living the Christian life in all its dimensions: individual, church, and culture. To this day, I know of no other book in this category. How pleased I was a few months ago to find a student at Denver Seminary reading and lauding this magnificent book.

I was in campus ministry from 1979-84 at the University of Oregon.  During that time I read Lovelace’s book. Most of my ministry time was spent in preparation for teaching. During the early 1980s, I taught from Dynamics in a yearlong course for upper division credit in Sociology. It was called, a bit pretentiously, “The Twilight of Western Thought.” Given the fear of micro-aggression, the advent of “equality officers,” safe zones and trigger warnings for those fragile souls traumatized by ideas not their own, this course would never be taught today. You see, it was taught from a Christian perspective. Free of any discrimination against non-Christian students or their work, Dynamics explained the Christian worldview in relation to other perspectives. True pluralism respects and listens to opposing viewpoints; it does not avoid them at all cost. That is how the head of the sociology department saw it, so he sponsored the class.

"True pluralism respects and listens to opposing viewpoints; it dose not avoid them at all cost."

What a feast it was to teach through every chapter of Dynamics of Spiritual Life. My copy is decorated with color markings, underlining, marginalia and my own index placed on the inner front cover. As C. S. Lewis wrote in An Experiment in Criticism, the literary person rereads his great books.  In his introduction to Athanasius On the Incarnation of the Word, he says that the older books should not be neglected for the new. This work, now thirty-six years old, deserves to be read and re-read.

Dr. Lovelace approaches the theology of renewal as a church historian, who draws wisely from many movements and thinkers, of whom Jonathan Edwards features prominently. While Reformed theologically, Lovelace appreciates the best of the Protestant traditions and accepted the ongoing power of the charismatic gifts. His winsome and sane approach stimulated me to rethink and eventually leave behind the cessationism I had picked up from the Dispensational theology I was taught in a Baptist Church. I found one could be a Calvinist Charismatic, and so I have remained.

The book proceeds in a linear and systematic fashion by considering the nature of renewal in some depth. He is not writing about revivalism specifically, although he cannot ignore that. Rather, he addresses the conditions for renewal given what the Bible and church history tells us. In Part I, Dynamics of Renewal, Lovelace measures the current situation (1979),  for the church, looks at biblical patterns of renewal, the preconditions for renewal (knowing God and our sinfulness), primary elements of renewal (our status in Christ), secondary elements of renewal (mission, prayer, community, theologian integration, and disenculturation). Renewal in the Church is the second and longer part of the book, and offers a cornucopia of insight on “the sanctification” gap, how revivals go wrong, the nature of orthodoxy and ecumenism, the Christian and the arts, a biblical account of social action, and “the prospects for renewal.”

Lovelace’s reflections are deeply biblical, theologically rich, and spiritually heartening. Consider one example. His discussion of justification and sanctification is deeply biblically, clear, and cogent. Our theology of justification and sanctification is foundational to any Spirit-led renewal in the church and in culture. Twenty years after I taught this material, one of my students emailed to say how significant this was in forming her young Christian life. I often return to this reality in my Christian experience. I am accepted in Christ, justified by his righteous and am loved. That is the foundation. From that foundation, I seek to grow in grace and truth, depending on the Holy Spirit in all things. Francis Schaeffer’s modern classic, True Spirituality, makes these same points in a bit more detail.

The American church desperately needs renewal and reformation, especially as our culture works out the sad implications of its increasing secularism concerning gender, human rights, and more.

The American church desperately needs renewal and reformation, especially as our culture works out the sad implications of its increasing secularism concerning gender, human rights, and more. Dynamics of Spiritual Life, though written in 1979, can help chart the way. I cannot think of any book as profound, wise, and challenging on these matters. Yes, it is high time to reread this modern classic. Thanks to InterVarsity for keeping it in print all these years and thank you, Richard Lovelace for this work of love and erudition.

A Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo (2014)

Marie Kondo  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Ten Speed Press, 2014.

Animism for Cluttered Materialists would have been a better title for this small and unlikely New York Times #1 best-seller. That, however, would be too obvious. The young and unbearably cute author is an expert in helping her clients throw things out. There is an art to it, you know. The author knows, and she will tell you as she puts into the writing the philosophy she developed in Japan as a professional clean-up consultant with a three-month waiting list.

As a life-long order-challenged and clutter-producing slob, I bought this book hoping against hope that it might help. I got some help, but not much. She is right that we should not surround ourselves with things that weigh us down and do not good. Our environment should give us a sense of joy. That gave me the courage to give away many clothes and to exchange my boring socks with happy socks. My deeper response was that of spiritual concern, since the book tacitly advocates an animistic worldview, which strangely mixed with materialism.

At no point does Miss Kondo warn of the moral dangers of acquisitiveness. Greed and waste are left alone as if they were strangers to the problem. Peter Singer is not quoted. Nor is, more significantly, Jesus, who preached:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21).

For Kondo, treasure is having enough rightly-organized possessions to be happy. She repeatedly tells stories of her clients who threw out large amounts of clothes and other items. Having taken bags and bags of assorted things to Goodwill in recent months, I wondered why she never mentioned the practice of giving things away to those who need them more. But that is not the point. The point that matters is your feeling about your dwelling.

In portions nearly unbearable to read, Kondo advises that we weed out our books also, even after we have read them, putting books in the same category as old clothes, dishes, pillows, and more. This is not a literary person. The idea of rereading a book or having a library of books does cross her hyper-tidy mind. C.S. Lewis is a tonic for this toxin:

No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.

The author’s carefree and unconscious materialism is bad enough; but what is worse is her animism. She is not a philosophical materialist—one who claims that the material universe is all there is. Her materialism is cultural, related to the acquisition and arrangement of objects of desire. But these things are really alive. Near the beginning of the book, we learn that socks want to “breath.” So, we should not ball them up, but lay them flat. This was no rhetorical trope. She meant it literally. We should speak our possessions, because they are giving themselves to us. We should be grateful and let them know.

Kondo is influenced by Shintoism, a largely regional religion of Japan. Shintoism is marked by respect for holy sites and their spirits (or kami). (Amazon, however, lists it at #1 seller in “Zen Spirituality.”) It is unlikely that a Shinto priest would endorse this book—and even if so, it would not increase book sales—but she is a savvy evangelist for this religion, since her advocacy is tacit rather than explicit. It is a book about cleaning up, not about greeting spirits. C.S. Lewis noted this strategy in his classic essay, “Christian Apologetics” (1945) from God in the Dock. I doubt Kondo has read this essay, but she is applying the strategy that Lewis advocates for Christian apologetics:

I believe that any Christian who is qualified to write a good popular book on any science may do much more by that than by an directly apologetic work. The difficulty we are up against is this. We can make people (often) attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted. As long as that situation exists, widespread success is simply impossible. We must attack the enemy’s lines of communication. What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects—with their Christianity latent… You can see this most easily if you look at it the other way round. Our faith is not very likely to be shaken by any book on Hinduism. But if wherever we read an elementary book on Geology, botany, Politics, or Astronomy, we found that its implications were Hindu, that would shake us. It is not the books written in direct defense of materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books.

It is sad that a Christian did not write a clever, short, and best-selling book on the organization of possessions in which the Christian worldview was assumed, but not defended. Such a book—which, of course, I could not write—would reflect on the meaning of possessions, our loving use of them, our obligations to those in need, the value of possessions in relation to life’s ultimate meaning, how to become less mastered by possessions, the joys of hospitality, and much more. These ideas would form the foundation for any practical advice on sorting, storing, and enjoying possessions.

Kondo’s little treatise promises us not just a tidy home, but a better life. When we make friends with the spirits of our belongings, we can enjoy them, feel free, and be troubled about small matters such as greed, waste, and the one true God who towers over all false gods, Shinto or otherwise.


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Books on the Philosophy of Technology

Techology bewitches, seduces, entrances, and benefits us. Since it lies in the background of our thinking and acting, it remains invisible–despite its daunting powers. A wise person will interpret oneself and one’s context in order to live according to the Goos, The True, and the Beautiful. To that end, consider these works on the culture-shaping and mind-shaping powers of technology. These books, unlike so many others, are not about efficiently using technology, but about not letting technology use us.

Classic Works

1. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death. 1985. The best critique of television ever written.

2. Neil Postman, Technopology. 1990. His theoretical work on how technology shapes and often debases cultures.

3. Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society. An early and astute evaluation of the hidden influence of technology, given the value of technique.

4. Jacques Ellul, The Humiliation of the Word. 1985. A brilliant work explaining the decline of writing in light of the ascent of the image.

Recent Works

1. Nicholas Carr, The Shallows. 2009. Explains how the Internet is adversing effecting our thinking. Special emphasis on neuroscience.

2. Douglas Groothuis, The Soul in Cyberspace. 1997. An early work critiquing the Internet. Perhaps a bit of a period peace, but it does explain fundamental categories of technological interpretation.

3. Quentin Schult, Habits of the High Tech Heart. 2002. A thorough and thoughtful assessment.