Friday, April 18

Christianity: A Dangerous Idea


This past November, as part of Australian TV’s “Festival of Dangerous Ideas,” an episode was broadcast from the Sydney Opera House. Peter Hitchens, the lone conservative and Christian amongst a panel and audience of “progressives,” was laughed at, mocked, and pilloried for an hour.

At the end of the broadcast, the panelists were asked: “Which of the so-called dangerous ideas do you think would have the greatest potential to change the world for the better if it were actually implemented?”

The esteemed experts all responded with various takes on economic and human potential propositions, all trés chic in their über-correctness.

Last of all, Peter Hitchens responded, “The most dangerous idea in human history and philosophy remains the belief that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and rose from the dead. That is the most dangerous idea you will ever encounter.”

The rest of the panel and audience laughed and cheered—until they realized that something must be wrong if they were agreeing with Hitchens! At that point, confusion seemed to settle on the venue like a fog—at which point, he was asked to explain.

“The truth of the crucifixion and resurrection is the most dangerous idea because it alters the whole of human behavior and all our responsibilities. It turns the universe from a meaningless chaos into a designed place in which there is justice and there is hope and, therefore, we all have a duty to discover the nature of that justice and work towards that hope. Christianity alters us all. Even if we reject it, it alters us. It is incredibly dangerous. It’s why so many people turn against it."

Indeed, even the Modernist take on Secularist Atheism is philosophically impossible apart from Christianity. 

The Seven Last Words


1. Forgiveness: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:26-35 


2. Redemption: “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:35-43 


3. Covenant: “Behold, your son; behold, your mother.” John 19:23-27 


4. Substitution: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani.” Matthew 27:45-54

5. Suffering: “I thirst.” John 19:28

6. Triumph: “It is finished.”  John 19:30


7. Resolution: “Into Your hands I commend my spirit.” Luke 23:44-49 

Wednesday, April 9

Tolkien's "Beowulf"


J.R.R. Tolkien’s never-before-published 1926 translation of the 11th century epic poem Beowulf will at long last be released this next month by HarperCollins.  The work was edited by his son Christopher, who has also added textual commentary and historical background.  According to Christopher, the elder Tolkien “seems never to have considered its publication.” He left it among his papers and notebooks along with numerous other unpublished manuscripts at the time of his death in 1973. 


This new volume will also include a story called Sellic Spell and excerpts from a series of lectures on Beowulf Tolkien delivered at Oxford during the two decades between the First and Second World Wars. Of course, avid readers will remember that Tolkien did publish one of those lectures, “The Monsters and the Critics,” in 1936. Indeed, that short monograph was described as “epoch-making” by no less an authority than Seamus Heaney in the introduction to his own hugely popular 1999 verse translation of Beowulf.

Tolkien treats the Beowulf poet as “an imaginative writer,” not a historical reconstruction. According to Heaney this “brilliant literary treatment changed the way the poem has been valued and therefore initiated a new era—and new terms—of appreciation.” 

Beowulf has been perhaps the most revered poem in the English language, at least since the 18th century, when the sole manuscript was rescued from fire and and translated and disseminated widely. This is more than a little ironic given the fact that Beowulf was not actually written in English—or at least, not in an English we would recognize—but rather in Old Anglo-Saxon. More akin to German than to English, the language was rendered entirely in runes.  Moreover, the story is not even set in England, but instead in the Norse homelands of Scandinavia

Tolkien’s almost universally beloved body of mythopoeic fiction was deeply influenced by Beowulf. So this translation will be a cherished gem for all serious readers of his work.

Just to whet your appetite, here is a brief comparison between Heaney's translation and that of Tolkien:

Heaney’s versification:

Time went by, the boat was
on water,
in close under the cliffs.
Men climbed eagerly up the
gangplank,
sand churned in surf, warriors
loaded
a cargo of weapons, shining
war-gear
in the vessel’s hold, then
heaved out,
away with a will in their
wood-wreathed ship.


Tolkien’s versification:

On went the hours:
on ocean afloat
under cliff was their craft.
Now climb blithely
brave man aboard;
breakers pounding
ground the shingle.
Gleaming harness
they hove to the bosom of the
bark, armour
with cunning forged then cast
her forth
to voyage triumphant,
valiant-timbered
fleet foam twisted.

Chalmers and the Primacy of Prayer


Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), the great Scottish pastor, professor, author, and statesman, was undeniably a man of action.  He was the quintessential reformer: he founded more than two dozen mission organizations, Bible societies, neighborhood schools, and community outreaches.  He planted two churches, one college, and even a denomination.  He established publishing houses including the world’s largest Bible publisher (today’s HarperCollins). He was a friend of Wilberforce and Pitt.  He was the pastor of Scott, McAdam, and Stevenson.

But, at the heart of all that he undertook for the Kingdom was prayer.  His byword for all his activity was, "I would pray unto watching--and watch unto praying."

His busy schedule and demanding commitments never deterred him from what he believed was his “most important exercise” and his “most vital engagement,” his daily time of prayer. Indeed, he considered any prayerless day, a wasted day: “To squander the hours with mere activity, however important, is to altogether miss the enlivening work of the Spirit amidst our sweet hours of prayer.”  Indeed, he said, 
"I have long resolved never to start anything that I cannot then saturate in prayer. If my busyness results in prayerlessness then all my activity is for naught."

Chalmers began each day praying through the Scriptures.  He followed the old Scots Presbyterian discipline of "Horae Biblicae Quotidianae," something akin to "Lectio Divina." After his devotional reading, he would walk, praying through the passage as he went. Then, he would record his digested "passage prayer" in his journal, or "Florilegium." In the process, he would identify the “Keystone Verse” from the passage which would then shape his thinking, praying, and doing for the rest of the day.

When Chalmers would disciple men, such as those students, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, John Urquhart, Andrew Bonar, Robert Nesbit, William Mackay, and Robert Chalmers Burns, he taught them this method of prayer.  Each of these men, who would in turn gain great renown as men of unction and holiness, testified that it was this posture of deep prayerfulness that quickened their own ministries—all of which so profoundly shaped the great spiritual renewal of the Victorian Age.