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May 01, 2008

The Economic Stimulus Payment is on its way. In the coming weeks Americans will be receiving a check, courtesy of the government. Eligible people will receive up to $600 ($1,200 for married couples), and parents will receive an additional $300 for each eligible child younger than 17. This is going to be quite the windfall for many families.

John Piper recently wrote a short blog post he entitled Economic Stimulus Payment & Christ in which he encouraged Christians “to be radically creative and hedonistic” with this money. “Before the check comes dream of some person or ministry which might make much of Christ because you treasured him above your next home project. The reason God created money and enabled us to earn it is so that we could show by the way we use it that money is not our treasure, Christ is. That’s why the checks are coming. So we can make Christ look great.”

Because I live in Canada, the fifty-first state of the Union, I will not be receiving this payment. However, I did have a question about it. I began to wonder, as have others, whether Christians are in some way morally obligated to spend this money (thus stimulating the economy) or whether they can legitimately give it to one ministry or another or perhaps use it to pay down some high interest credit card debt. And that opened up a few other questions. I turned to David Kotter, whom you may know as the Executive Director of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and a regular contributor to the CBMW Blog. Before turning to ministry and accepting his current position David taught economics and contributed to Wayne Grudem’s Business for the Glory of God (and this followed a stint as a finance manager for Ford Motor Company). He seemed an ideal candidate to answer a few questions about the intersection of theology and economics.

So I offer this primarily to my American readers (which is most of you, really) and hope it benefits you.

What is the purpose of the Economic Stimulus Package?

The Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 is primarily intended to remedy slower growth and address short-term economic uncertainties by allowing “Americans to keep more of their money to stimulate consumer spending,” according to the White House fact sheet. The assumption is that most citizens receiving a rebate check will spend it quickly on domestic goods and services. Since every purchase funds a paycheck for someone else, the hope is that the suppliers will in turn spend part of their added income on yet more products, and so on and so forth until there is a multiplied boost to the U.S. economy.

While not explicitly stated, this law also seems to be designed to give a boost to presidential and congressional approval ratings. When economic storm clouds are on the horizon in an election year, it is helpful for politicians to be able to point to something that they have done to help. Few things improve the mood of voters like receiving an check in the mail.

Is this a workable solution to an economic problem? Or is this merely a means to a very short-term rally?

Unfortunately, this stimulus plan fits the scenario of “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” A tax rebate is just the return of money that was previously taken from someone’s paycheck. While people receiving the checks may spend more, the workers who are funding the checks will certainly spend less. Even if the money is borrowed, it is borrowed from someone who won’t be spending. This offsetting effect is why Milton Friedman was fond of saying, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

To use an everyday example, the price of corn has dramatically increased, and farmers have spent their growing profits on updated tractors, better hybrid seeds and other farm goods. On the other hand, people paying higher prices for food have less money to spend on other goods. The stimulus in spending in the agricultural sector is exactly offset by lower consumer spending in other parts of the economy. No free lunch here, nor with the tax rebate.

Nevertheless, there may be a small boost or short-term rally as money is taken from people who are more likely to save and given to others who are more likely to spend. According to the Internal Revenue Service, 97% of all federal income tax receipts were paid by half of the taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes above the $30,881 median in 2005. The other half of the taxpayers accounted for only 3% of tax receipts, and in fact 42 million paid no taxes or received net payments from the government in the form of funded tax credits. Under the Economic Stimulus Act, the people who paid little or no taxes will all receive maximum payments (not actually “rebates”). Higher earning taxpayers who tend to save more and pay the vast majority of income taxes will not receive a tax rebate.

In short, many people will receive a rebate from someone else’s taxes, and that makes it easier to spend more.

The government has earmarked this money specifically so Americans can pump the money back into the U.S. economy. The governments wants its citizens to spend this money and to spend it fast! Do you feel that there is a moral obligation to obey their wishes by spending this money?

The Stimulus Act does not explicitly require consumer spending with the checks, so Christians are not morally obligated to spend money quickly in order to be “subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1).

But the law does rely on what the Wall Street Journal calls “The Splurge Urge.” People are more likely to spend newly found money, like an unexpected bonus or one-time tax credit, than they are to splurge with a hard-earned paycheck. For this reason, when the checks arrive Christians should avoid undue excitement and especially pray for self-control. Jesus specifically cautions, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).

Is there a possibility that believers could negate some possible good that the government is anticipating?

Christians are sojourners and exiles in this world (1 Peter 2:11). Therefore it should not be a surprise to anyone that we do not fit into the mainstream of the national economy. Our values are fundamentally different and we are accountable to God for our financial decisions. Paying off debts and saving money is wise stewardship but not the best for the aggregate economy in the short term. Sending money from a stimulus check to a missionary overseas definitely will not boost the domestic economy in the way the government hopes, but it is still pleasing to God.

Over the long term, however, Christians generally make outstanding economic citizens who “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23), subdue creation in their daily jobs, avoid lavish spending, give generously and save diligently. The overall economy would improve dramatically if everyone used the tool of money in biblical ways.

How should Christians think biblically about these economic stimulus payments?

For many Christians, they are actually being entrusted by God with the earnings of someone else. For other believers, this is simply the return of their own money and should be treated like any other financial stewardship. All of the typical considerations for wise stewardship should apply as believers give, save, and spend this money.

Hopefully, many believers are already living with a “wartime” mindset and are spending less than they earn. This stimulus check is simply more resources to be used for Kingdom work. John Piper was exactly correct in encouraging believers to use these rebate checks, and all other money of which they are stewards, to make much of Christ. Piper says,

Nobody in the world will see you spend your money on yourself and conclude that Christ is your treasure. They will assume you are just like them, no matter how loudly you thank God for this boon. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend it on yourself (the way we do with most of what we earn). But everything we do can look different from the world — eat, pay utilities, fill up the car, wear clothes (even thrift store clothes). And yes, we hope (somehow) that spending on ourselves in some way contributes to our being more Christ-exalting people.

As Christian voters, we should not be fooled by fiscal maneuvers that take money from one group of people and give it to another in the name of boosting the overall economy. The economy only grows if more goods and services are produced, not when money is transferred from one person to another.

Finally, we can be grateful that economic stimulus plans are restricted to this world. The One who spoke the universe into existence and owns the cattle on a thousand hills does not need a plan to boost the domestic prosperity of heaven. Jesus Christ is the ultimate treasure whose glory will infinitely outshine any pleasure we might receive from a rebate check.

April 27, 2008

The Elisha FoundationIn the past months you may well have heard me mention The Elisha Foundation. This is a foundation I first discovered through my pastor (who is a regular speaker at the Foundation’s annual retreats) and subsequently learned about more when I designed a new website for it. I quickly came to respect what they do and wanted to share with you an interview I conducted with Justin Reimer who founded and still heads up the organization.

What is the Elisha Foundation?

The Elisha Foundation is a non-profit organization created to provide encouragement and resources for families of people with special needs (kids and adults). Our primary vehicle of ministry is through small and intimate Family Retreats geared towards biblical encouragement and disability specific resources. Soon we will be providing monthly respite resources for families in our area as well.

When and why did you begin the Foundation?

My wife, Tamara, and I started the foundation in the Fall of 2005 after years of anticipation. Though the idea started some 10 years ago through a series of Sovereign circumstances preparing us for our calling when our first child, Elisha was born. Just hours after his birth he was diagnosed with Down Syndrome and was admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit due to medical complications. During the early hours of this new and blessed addition to our family we were overcome with the moment. God saw fit to make us stewards of such a wondrous and enigmatic blessing as a special needs child. The enormity of this responsibility was only made more sweet by the grace of God. This was a defining moment in our young lives with profound impact on our faith, goals and dreams.

Prior to the birth of our son Tamara and I shared the ambition of one day being missionaries to a foreign country. With the new direction our lives were taking we were left wondering how we could minister to the needs of others. Early on a sweet lady put it plainly to Tamara in this way, “Instead of you going to the mission field, the mission field has been brought to you through Elisha.” So simple yet so profound was that little morsel of wisdom. It helped us to look beyond the circumstances and realize that God had given us a new direction, to minister to those with special needs and their families.

Over the next seven years we lived in six different states and experienced the disability resources and programs that each state offered. Though each offered great things none provided the foundational emphasis on family and definitely not on Christ. Through these travels and experiences our hearts desire was to provide an environment for families with disabled family members where the emphasis is on familial growth in Christ rather than on “dealing with” the disability. A place where faith in Christ is strengthened, love is flourished, passion is reformed and intimacy is encouraged. What greater resource than to build the family on those four fundamentals - faith, love, passion, intimacy in Christ. We experienced great growth in these areas through our own trials and experiences. We have had three more sweet children (and another on the way!) since the birth of Elisha and have been greatly encouraged by their interaction with Eli as well as the opportunity for them to recognize and minister to the needs of others of lesser health or condition.

Most confirming to us in our pursuits with TEF was our most recent Retreat. We had a family there who had a daughter with an extremely rare genetic disorder. So rare that the doctor’s gave her little chance of survival and recommended abortion. She is now 4 years old and although there are great delays in her development she is exceeding anything the doctor’s thought possible. It is a rough road though, be it feedings every 2 hours for the first three years of her life, the growth hormone shots, or the litany of other care she needs. She cannot sit up on her own and when she is ill she suffers from seizures. Along with raising her, her parents have six other children to not just care for, but to raise.

We invited them to the Retreat knowing that there was a good chance they wouldn’t be able to make it due to her situation. It was a stretch for her to be around a large group of people possibly carrying the latest flu strain. But they were able to come although under slight duress. By the end of the Retreat they were overwhelmed by how much they needed that time away as a family. You see it was the first time in three and a half years that they were able to worship together as a family. They had to take turns going to church and no one offered to help them with her so that they could go together. In tears, the dad stated what the whole weekend meant to them and that there were not words enough to describe the benefit to their family. He is now a dear friend of mine and his family has been challenged anew by the Word being taught at the Retreat and by simply being together and having people help them there be unencumbered.

How does the Foundation seek to serve families of people with disabilities?

Of primary importance to TEF is to see that families make much of Christ in their circumstances, not to make much of their circumstances with a side order of Christ - so to speak. It is common place to see a family put so much emphasis on their circumstances (autism, Down syndrome, etc.) that that becomes central to who they are as a family and , in a way, defines who they are. We know and understand the challenges from our own experience but by God’s grace He has compelled us to keep Christ central to our lives, not Down syndrome, and that is what ultimately should define our family - lives centered on Christ no matter what.

God has placed within our stewardship the blessed parent child relationship with a special needs child. We have been and will continue to be challenged and encouraged by this great blessing.

As our faith in Christ has been strengthened through this relationship we have sought to aid the growth of the faith of others in similar situations. Teaching them to love Jesus more deeply, develop a passion for the unique circumstance that God has placed them in and develop a more intimate relationship with Him out of which flows a more intimate relationship with God and family.

When focusing on the vehicle for this objective our minds were immediately set on a retreat. A quiet, beautiful, peaceful, rejuvenating place that would be conducive to allowing people to let down their guard and relax while providing them with pampering not common to them nor even available to them. And to provide focused Bible teaching to edify and build up the Faith.

Who typically attends the Elisha Foundation retreats? Who is permitted to attend?

We specifically chose a broad “label” to target our field of ministry - “special needs”. We have had varying levels of severity of diagnosis’ from Asperger’s to autism, from Down syndrome to Hunter’s syndrome, from extremely rare genetic disorders to malignant teratoma’s and even leukemia. One of the unique aspects of the environment we aim to create for a Retreat is that by having needs from a wide range of spectrums each set of parents is drawing from the diversity of experiences of the other parents.

For example, I have a child with Down syndrome and another parent has a child with Hunter’s syndrome. I can learn a lot from that parent as they may have a very short time on earth with that child and the window of interaction with the child is brief, where I see through a long term window for my child. It reminds me of the brevity of life and to treat each day with more earnestness; whereas, they can learn from our experiences perhaps in how we educate our son or even a level of endurance as we will care for our son until we pass from this life.

To answer your question, anyone who has a “special need” be it a disability, medical condition or other chronic issues is welcome to our Retreats. If they aren’t sure about how they might “fit in” they can call us and talk it over with us. Our future plans include Retreats for those who have lost children and for our wounded military veterans as well. If people are hurting we want to help them see Jesus in it and through it.

Are there any books you have found particularly useful in helping people come to terms with disabilities within their families or their churches?

The most obvious and significant answer is Scripture; however, God has Sovereignly placed the likes of Joni Erickson Tada in the midst of the Body of Christ to encourage support and help people come to His terms with their appointment in life. When God Weeps by Joni is a must read and is a book that we give to every family that comes to a Retreat. She and Steve Estes do a great job of applying the Christ to painful situations with experience and biblical conviction.

What books do you recommend on the subject of suffering?

With today’s technology sermons are a great source of encouragement, keep in mind some of these families can’t always make it to church, etc. Sermons by the likes of Paul Martin, John Piper, John MacArthur among others have been a great encouragement to my family and to others that I have been able to pass them along to. As for books, I guess I gave some of it away already but in addition to the aforementioned book there are a couple of others I would recommend.

The Holy Bible, by God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God by Justin Taylor, John Piper, Mark Talbot, and Stephen F. Saint

A Path Through Suffering by Elisabeth Elliot

The Power of Suffering by John MacArthur

Also, we have found biographies to be very helpful as well. The likes of William Cowper, Fannie Crosby, William Wilberforce, etc.

What can local churches do to better serve families that have a family member with a disability?

This is a good question as it doesn’t start with specialized programs. It starts with the Body of Christ first enfolding that family or person on a practical relational level. This is a challenge as many of us don’t feel comfortable around a person with a disability. Consider this, is a person with “special needs” any less created in the image of God than you or I? Answer, no. With that in mind I would challenge every believer to do something so sweetly simple when you see a needy person or family and you don’t know what you can do to help them. Just ask!

When a family walks in the door and you recognize that perhaps they may have a child with special needs, ask them what you can do to help them worship together with you. “May” is italicized intentionally as not all of us can spot and name a child’s “special need” so even if you have a suspicion offer to help. It is okay to not know or even be uncomfortable with a special needs situation. It may be awkward to you but think of what some families are faced with when they attend church and are told to leave the service because their autistic child yells out involuntarily.

This is an area of great concern as in certain parts of the country the willingness to approach someone in a needy situation is lacking. If a church finds themselves in a position to target a special needs ministry then there are two books I would recommend:

Special Needs Special Ministry by Jim Pierson, Pat Verbal and Louise Tucker Jones

Let All the Children Come to Me by MaLesa Breeding, Dana Hood and Jerry Whitworth

The simplest and, in many ways, the most helpful thing someone can do is to simply offer to be a special needs persons “buddy” on Sundays. Assist in whatever way needed to facilitate that family and that persons Lord’s Day.

How can Christians support the Foundation?

Praying, volunteering and giving. We have sought to have TEF not be exclusively Christian in our servicing these special families. At each of our Retreats we have had non-believers and believers alike in attendance. Pray that we would continue to have opportunities for the Gospel.

Volunteering is a vital part of all that we do. During a Retreat we have 20+ dedicated, full time volunteers. We have been richly blessed by our volunteers as we push them to the point of exhaustion but they see it as an act of worship. We are always looking to add to our book of volunteers. If anyone would like to volunteer please contact us we would love to have your help.

Giving is vital to us as well and is not my favorite subject but it is necessary for doing what we do, this includes not just our monetary needs but books for our Retreats as well. Right now we have no paid staff and schedule Retreats as we have funding.

If a person is interested in learning more about the Foundation and its ministries, how would they do that?

The web site is the easiest way to find out about us but you can contact myself (Justin.Reimer {at} TheElishaFoundation.org) or our newest Board Member, Chris (Chris.Wick {at} TheElishaFoundation.org) directly. My phone number is 541-419-6007.

April 03, 2008


This marks the third interview I’ve completed with artists involved in various disciplines. I first interviewed Max McLean about performance art and then Makoto Fujimura on his abstract art. Today I turn to photography and interview Lukas VanDyke, a photographer I have met at several conferences. Lukas is an exceptional photographer and I enjoyed his responses to these questions. I hope you do too!

Tell me a little bit about yourself—who you are and what you do.

Who I am? I tend to be very introspective and have piles of journals to prove it. So I will keep this short. I’m a Christian, and want to live a life to glorify God. There are two general questions I often ask myself. First, what am I known for right now as I live. And secondly, what will be I remembered for when I die. And for both questions I want the answer to be that I am living/lived my life with the kingdom of heaven in mind. To God be the glory.

Practically I am 26 year old guy who lives in Los Angeles and loves everything about his life. I love living in LA, I love my church, I love my friends, and I love my work. I started out in the Midwest when I was little, but ended up in Los Angeles in 2nd grade. I have been at John MacArthur’s church since then and can’t express my debt to the teachers there for the clear exposition of the scripture and its application on my life. The fellowship, love, and God centered focus of the body of believers I am part of makes me long to spend eternity with them doing what we do every week only free of our imperfections.

Vocation wise I actually do a number of different things. I am currently the Senior Network Analyst at The Master’s College. I’ve worked there consistently for the past 7+ years. However, ever since I opened my photo studio I have cut back my time there to give me the chance to shoot more. I love the impact I am able to have at the college and it is definitely a ministry which is worth ones time, but I also have a passion for photography. When I am fully engaged in a shoot the whole world around me disappears and it almost feels like magic. I guess it’s the thrill and passion of creating art. I love the experience. Which would lead one to ask what I shoot? Mostly I do fine art wedding coverage and couples portrait sessions. But I also do enjoy the abstractness of doing the cover art for various bands and other musicians. It’s a charge listening to the music and attempting to create images which define the music without sound. I also do some family portraits and free prayer cards for any missionaries who ask me. And within the major categories of what I do one of my favorites in conference coverage. I cover the Shepherd’s Conference at Grace Community Church every year, I also cover the Resolved Conference, and have done coverage at Steve Lawson’s church. And recently I got asked to start doing coverage for Ligonier Ministries and have emails to potentially do a few others. I love the conferences because I love meeting new people, and being able to help in any way with the impact these conferences have on the world.

Tell me how you came to be a Christian.

When I was five my Dad explained that if I were to die I would go to hell, and then explained a basic gospel. I repented and prayed a prayer to God. After that point all through my childhood I remember seeing consistent fruit in my life. I think I probably became a Christian at the point. However, I did still have a lot of doubt all through grade school and junior high. I prayed the prayer of salvation almost every night. I think this was probably because although I had an understanding of the tenants of gospel I couldn’t clearly articulate it with scripture. It wasn’t until I got into a small discipleship group when I was in junior high that I became surer of my faith. In small group we systematically went through some different core truths. We discussed God and who He is, memorizing verses such as Gen 1:1: and Acts 17:24-27 showing God is the creator of the universe. We talked about man and his sins and memorized Rom 3:23, 6:23 and other such scripture related to our total depravity and inability to come to God. We dived into Christ’s death and redeeming work on the cross in John 3:16 etc… And finally we talked about how man through nothing in himself can accept this gift and memorized Eph 2:8-9. We also practiced role play situations and learned how to clearly articulate this to others. It was a wonderful experiencing bringing me to a more scriptural based understanding of my sanctification. I also learned the 5 points of Calvinism and their scriptural basis in junior high. This clear teaching at an early age built a foundation for the growth and struggle for sanctification I have seen since then.

How is photography a form of art?

lukas3.jpgPhotography is an art in one sense of the word in that it requires skills on a multiplicity of levels. The creation of fine art images requires technical speed and skill with the camera. It assumes understanding of the complexity of color and light and how to use and bend such to make an image bleed with color. It necessitates an ability to understand and capture or evoke emotion from the subject or situation. This is followed by the process of fine-tuning the hues, saturation, and overall feel in post processing. All of which is just a brief synopsis of the complex mental and emotional process which goes into the creation of images. In the above definition of the word “art” my aim is to create images which, I hope, will take on an objective quality of excellence.

But overlying the technical aspects of image creation my internal validation stems from a different goal. I think the following really defines photography or anything else as art. I strive to create images which bring people into a realm which they have not yet or currently are not experiencing. I want to introduce them to a reality outside the mundane, bending their emotions, and driving them to an action which otherwise may have never caressed their mind. My passion draws the fibers of my inner being to produce, create, and define people’s conception of reality with the truth of things which exist outside the mundane of their world. In the case of fine art portraiture this might be as simple as conveying expressions of love or joy between couples in a beautiful way. However, in the case of international photos essays I bleed to show people the existence of the church, and people’s lives around the world. A life exists within the people I photograph. A life behind their eyes. Yearning hearts exist beyond the stereotype we throw at one another. Though the appearance of a person I photograph often shows their personal manifesto towards life, it isn’t always fair to classify every individual within that social group as one holding to those ideals. Are they not still people? I want to bring the world beyond their conception of the ordinary into the unseen and unheard and unspoken of.

Is photography your only artistic outlet or do you enjoy creating other kinds of art as well?

lukas4.jpgAlthough I would consider myself weak in the area, I do enjoy writing. For the same reason as I love photography, I love creating visual pictures that move people to see the pleasure I find in so many things.

When did you first discover your abilities in photography and your love for it? Have you received any formal artistic education?

During high school and in my first year of college I had tinkered with a point and shoot camera and I guess someone liked my work and asked me to shoot their wedding. All of a sudden something snapped in me and I decided to go all out. It’s actually a lot of really amazing stories which would take to long to write here. But in the course of a few months I started working for another wedding photographer and ended up with a good set of professional equipment and was shooting like crazy. I took a few basic classes to learn how to shoot manual, use studio lighting, and some journalism related classes, but for the most part it’s just been thousands of hours of work. Looking at other images and absorbing the feel and what I like about them. Doing intense criticism on every aspect of my own work looking for any area I could improve, and adjusting pushing myself and learning. I shoot around 200,000 images a year right now. I love it!

How do you seek to bring glory to God through your art?

Well I think anyone from custodial to the corporate executive can bring glory to God through their work. It’s working with fervor, with excellence, with diligence, with a love for those around us which shines the light of Christ. But aside from the above I specifically seek to bring glory to God through art by building bridges from the mundane to the passionate. God has given each person an allotted amount of time in life. We all have the choice as to how we use this time. I strive to show images which make people want to act. It’s actually been really amazing over the last few months, I have been see how emotional God has created us, and really starting to understand more the joy, sorrow, and passion we can live our lives with. God has given us an amazing world.

Which of your photos or series of photos are your favorites? Why?

lukas2.jpgA few years ago I went to Berlin, Germany for a couple months to do some work with our missionaries over there. While I was there I started a project photographing extremely close face shots of the beggars all around the urban center of Berlin. A year later I did a second series of beggars in the heart of Mexico City, Mexico. I took all these images with a wide angle lens from within 18 inches of my subjects face. These are by far some of my favorite images. They are context free portraits of people’s eyes. All of these eyes have a story behind them which I don’t know now nor will ever know. They are representative of lives filled with love or hatred, dreams or despair, hope or misery. Each has a story, each has a reality, and each has a need for a savior. I currently have an entire wall in my office filled with 16x20 inch prints of this series. But I love any image which has emotional passions, from images of prayer meetings in the mud brick slums of Brazil, to a crowd of anxious Russian seminary students leaning over Rick Holland to hear about the Word.

What are your hopes and dreams for your photography? Do you hope to build this into a full time occupation?

My hope would be to use something I love to further the Gospel of Christ. Right now this is a two part goal. One I want to be able to impact people for ministry through visual images. Second I like it because it gives me the flexibility to volunteer my time for missions for months at a time when the need arises. And obviously those things don’t generate any income, but I LOVE shooting weddings, and portraiture, and commercial images also. So for now it is just expanding what I do in every direction!

March 02, 2008

I met Ben Zobrist while in was in Nashville speaking at the Nashville Conference on the Church and Theology. The conference was hosted by Community Bible Church, the church he and his wife, Julianna, call home (Julianna is a professional singer and musician. You can visit her MySpace). Ben was pointed out to me as the shortstop for the Tampa Bay Rays (apparently they are no longer the Tampa Bay Devil Rays). I know the Rays well as they share a division with my hometown Toronto Blue Jays. Ben, who was the opening day shortstop for the Rays in 2007, but who finished the season with an injury, is currently on the 40-man roster and is looking good to earn a spot on the 25-man roster (and hence a position on the major league squad) to begin the new season.

Ben ZobristThough Ben’s major league career has been short, he has already been involved in a play that is unique in the annals of professional baseball—a triple play in which the bat never touched the ball (a player struck out, a runner was caught trying to steal second and a third player was subsequently caught trying to steal home). If you’re a baseball fan and haven’t yet seen the play, you’ll want to! You can do so here.

Ben was kind enough to answer a few questions I sent to him, even though he is just settling into training camp.

How did you come to know the Lord?

God brought me to Himself at about the age of 4. My parents were devout believers and my Dad was in Bible College at the time. I remember hearing the gospel in Sunday school and I talked to my Mom about it one night before bed. It was clear to me that I was a sinner and I was not going to heaven if I died without accepting Jesus Christ and what He did on the cross for me. I was brought to Christ out of fear of going to hell. I didn’t want to go there after I died, and there was only one other choice in my mind as a 4 year old. I wanted to go to heaven. It was and is that simple.

How do you seek to bring glory to God through your career as a baseball player?

First of all, I try to be excellent at my job, because I know God wants me to give my best to be a walking witness and ambassador of the excellence of Jesus Christ. My teammates and coaches are watching to see if my relationship with Christ makes me any different on the ballfield, and I pray that God will be represented in my play as excellent. At the same time, I am seeking to be an active part of the body of Christ among ballplayers by using the spiritual gifts God has given me to encourage and build up my fellow teammates as well as the Baseball Chaplain that ministers to us on a weekly basis. We have weekly bible studies and Sunday morning chapel services. The nature of the game also gives me great opportunity to visit and share my faith in Christ on a regular basis with individuals, schools, and churches. So I try to use that platform to give glory to God as well.

Do you feel any particular kind of increased responsibility as both a Christian and an athlete?

I do sense an increased responsibility as a Christian athlete in our culture, because our culture exalts performance so much. There are many kids and adults alike who dream of being in our shoes. I believe as a Christian athlete, we are called to use that highly respected platform to deflect any praise to Whom it really belongs and to help people see beyond the glory of a man-made game or ballpark.

As a baseball player you have to be away from home for months at a time. How do you maintain your spiritual health while you are on the road and unable to be a part of a church? How do you maintain family relationships?

My wife and I are still learning how to do this effectively. Playing on Sunday afternoons (required to be at the park in the morning) creates an even more difficult situation than just being away from our Home church. Not only is it near impossible to be involved at a local church where we are playing, but we play at nights during the week until Sunday when we have an afternoon game, after which we usually have to travel to the next city right after the game. This makes it almost impossible just to attend any service. Baseball Chapel, an organization which provides an on-call minister in each baseball community, has been a great help with bible study during the week as well as ready networking among Christian ballplayers. We attend a service when we can. We take advantage of what Baseball Chapel offers. We read as much scripture personally as we can. And we also try to listen to podcast sermons as much as we can. To stay connected to family, we spend a lot of time talking on the phone and friends and family come visit us at various cities when they can. We are blessed to have great family and friends who encourage us in Christ throughout the baseball season.

Ben Zobrist

How do you stay connected to your local church during the baseball season? What role does your home church play in your life during the season?

We listen to our home church pastor Byron Yawn’s sermons through podcast. I am part of a men’s Theology class at church as well, and one of the men sends me an mp3 of the study that week. We keep up with prayer requests and activities through massive church emails. Pastor Byron calls every so often to check on us to see how we are doing. We also try to do a mass update to everyone every so often to let everyone know how we are doing and how to pray. Prayer is the main role the local church plays in our lives during the season. Prayer is powerful and much needed as it seems there are few ballplayers that have a strong connection to a local church back home that is praying for them.

How can we pray for Christian athletes? What particular needs or challenges do athletes have that require prayer?

Pray first and foremost against idolatry for us. It is easy to make success in our sport an idol when you want to be excellent. It is easy to set ourselves above others and most grievously above God when people treat you “special”, almost like an idol. Pray for right perspective and constant humility against our prideful flesh. Pray against temptation of all things worldly. And pray for spiritual openness and conversation amongst believers. Athletes tend to have hard outer shells and they think it is weak to share their hearts.

How does an athlete - someone who people know and recognize - handle being in a local church without being a distraction?

I wear a hat and glasses…just kidding. People don’t know who I am when I go to church. I guess I’m not bigtime yet…Ha! Seriously though, I think when you go to worship the Lord with His people, if you bring an attitude of humility, and it is obvious what you are there for, people get it. I love that our local church treats us no different than any other, and I’d be worried if it was any other way. I believe we are best as the body of Christ when we show absolutely no partiality among the saints.

Who are your main spiritual influences?

My parents and my wife’s parents have been incredible examples in our lives. There are some great Christian men in my life that I look up to on a regular basis. My accountability partner, my Chapel leader and his family, our pastor and local church back in Nashville are other main influences. Others include pastors I’ve listened to personally and through podcast that faithfully preach the Word of God.

What are a few good books you’ve read recently? What are a few you’re hoping to read soon?

The Saints’ Everlasting Rest by Richard Baxter
The Measure of a Man by Gene Getz
The Attributes of God by Arthur Pink
How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler
Overachievement by John Eliot

Soon, I hope to read…

Famine in the Land by Steven Lawson
Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley
Humility by CJ Mahaney
Cinderella Man by Jeremy Schaap
Oh yeah……and uh Spiritual Discernment by Tom Challies or somebody like that.

Should I draft you to be the cornerstone of my fantasy baseball squad this year? Are you willing to make me any performance guarantees?

You should definitely draft me, but I can’t guarantee a lot of points. Draft by faith.

February 29, 2008

Os Guinness is the author of nearly twenty books, the most recent of which is The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on it. Guinness was kind enough to answer several questions I posed to him after the publication of this latest title. This has already been posted on Discerning Reader, but I wanted to post it here to be sure you were able to read it. Also, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the interview, the book, or the topic in general. The topic we spoke about is somewhat foreign to me (pun intended), as it focuses on the United States. This interview was unique in that it was a Canadian interviewing a Brit about America. Read on…

The thesis of your book is that the challenge of living with our deepest differences—that is, our religiously grounded—differences, is one of the world’s great issues today. The book’s subtitle is “And why our future depends on it.” What is at stake as we look to recover civility in America first and then in the rest of the world?

Two things are at stake in the issue of re-forging a civil public square. The primary issue is the freedom of followers of Christ to be faithful to him in every area of our lives, including our freedom to enter and engage public life. The secondary issue is the health and viability of the American republic. I am a great admirer of this country, but as a European the second issue is obviously secondary. I trust it is secondary too for Americans who love their country, but love Christ first and foremost.

But let me make clear that I am arguing for a civility that is far more than nice manners. I am talking of re-forging a ‘civil public square’ as opposed to the present extremes of a ‘naked public square’ on one side and a ‘sacred public square’ on the other. I am not saying that the issues at stake in the culture wars are unimportant - they are very important - but that the way we are fighting them is wrong and also destructive to freedom in the long run.

Take the simple fact that Europe is the most secular continent in the world, and much of this secularity is in direct reaction to yesterday’s corrupt state churches. The U.S. never had this problem because of the genius of the First Amendment - until recently that is. Yet over the last generation, as the culture wars have intensified and in direct reaction to the perceived extremism of the religious right, we have seen a mounting American equivalent of the European repudiation of all religion, at least among the educated classes (for example, the new atheists). If this reaction hardens in concrete, it spells disaster for Christians and for the U.S.

In the past did other nations look to the United States as the model for living together despite deep differences? Do they continue to do this today? Why do you feel the United States is uniquely able to model civility?

The framers described the United States as a ‘novus ordo seclorum,’ or new order of the ages. More recently it has been described as ‘the first new nation’ in the sense that the U.S. wrestled with many of the key issues of the modern world from the beginning. In the past, most other nations dismissed this claim as American self-congratulation and irrelevant to them. What did the First Amendment mean, for instance, to nations that were happy with their established church? That complacency has been shattered in the last generation. Other nations are now wrestling with issues such as immigration and exploding religious diversity, but without models such as the melting pot and principles such as freedom of conscience. The English and the Dutch, for example, being liberal and tolerant, took immediately to ‘multiculturalism,’ only to breed enclaves of home-bred terrorism. The sad irony, however, is that just as many in the rest of the world begin to appreciate what the U.S. has been wrestling with, mostly successfully, for 200 years, they look across the Atlantic and the U.S. is not doing so well today - for instance, in the endless recently culture-warring.

Are both secularists and those who hold to a religion contributing equally to the breakdown of civility? Or is the breakdown coming more from one side than the other?

It depends who you are talking to. Each side in the culture wars naturally thinks the other is far worse, if not the sole source of the problem. Looked at over thirty years, a rather even balance sheet can be drawn up. At the moment, though, the forces of the ‘sacred public square’ are showing signs of weakening, whereas the forces of the ‘naked public square’ represent the greater danger, above all in the way that ‘civil liberty’ is repeatedly trumping ‘religious liberty.’ For the founders, these liberties were twins and their relationship needed to be negotiated carefully. Today the homosexual movement is using the first to rout the second. All religious believers will be the losers as well as the republic.

Some people, when thinking of a plurality of religions, immediately think of relativism. How is a proper understanding of the difference between pluralism and relativism necessary to restore civility?

The fear of the ‘P word’ (pluralism) has generally been a feature of fundamentalism or the religious right, but it is based on a misunderstanding. Pluralism is simply a social fact and one that is inescapable. We live in a world where, because of travel, the media, and immigration, it is now said that ‘everyone is now everywhere.’ Relativism, on the other hand, is a philosophical conclusion and one with which Christians disagree strongly - the idea that there is no absolute truth and everything is depends on your perspective.” We Christians should come to terms with the fact of pluralism, but we should stoutly resist relativism. Sadly, statistics show that whereas the early church remained absolutely faithful to Christ in a highly pluralistic situation, modern Christians have surrendered to relativism to an appalling extent - especially among the younger generation and among the Emergent Church.

James Madison famously objected to the word “tolerance” in the draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights and succeeded in changing tolerance to free exercise. How is the concept of free exercise relevant to the case for civility?

Tolerance is infinitely better than its opposite - intolerance . But it has two weaknesses. First, it is a grant and not a right, and therefore it is patronizing and condescending in essence. It is always the strong tolerating the weak, the majority the minority, and the government the citizens. Second, it has softened and become squishy over time, so that it easily flip-flops into intolerance (under the PC guise, of course, of supposed ‘tolerance’).

Free exercise, by contrast, is a positive right, based on freedom of conscience, which includes behavior as well as belief. Today, free exercise has to be contrasted not just with ‘tolerance’ but with purely negative, and therefore inadequate, notions such as ‘hate speech’ and ‘hate crimes.’ Freedom will never be guaranteed by law alone (as opposed to the civil ‘habits of the heart’) or by negative notions such as hate speech.

In the book you make several mentions of the great English reformer William Wilberforce. As we have just celebrated the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery—a triumph engineered by Wilberforce—what can we learn from him?

There are scores of lessons we can learn from Wilberforce, but take just one: his civility. As a follower of the way of Jesus, he loved his enemies and always refused to demonize them. At one time he was the most vilified man in the world, but while he never minced words in speaking about the evils of slavery, he was always gracious, generous, modest, funny, witty, and genuinely loving toward his enemies. When one of his worst enemies died, he at once saw to it anonymously that his widow was cared for adequately. Compare this with the religious right’s demonizing of its foes. The latter is not so much uncivil as unChristian.

The gospels are filled with examples of Jesus’ harsh language against others, and particularly the religious leaders. Can we look to Him as a model of civility?

Jesus is famous for his harsh denunciations of the legalism and hypocrisy of the Pharisees and others. Here he is in the tradition of the prophets, such as Amos, Hosea, and Jeremiah, and there are times when we must be outspoken too - above all on behalf of the oppressed and in opposition to evil. But as his followers, we are also called to love our enemies, to forgive without limit, to speak the truth with love, and to be always ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us ‘with gentleness and respect.’

Put differently, we have deep Christian reasons for a different style of public speech that are different from mere civility. And we always need to remember that civility is not a matter of being nice or squeamish about differences. It is a republican virtue and a democratic necessity that is a habit of the heart that knows how to deal with real differences with robust civility.

What can the person on the street, the average American, do to restore civility to America?

The U.S. is at a stage when the culture wars and the extremism are so bitter and entrenched that it will take a leader of the stature and courage of Lincoln to stand above it and call for a better way. But we must not sit and wait passively. First, we can pray. Second, we can ourselves show a better way - loving our enemies, speaking truth with love, and so on. And third, we can say No to incivility of all kinds and call for a better way - challenging speakers, cancelling subscriptions, and calling for leadership that addresses the ‘better angels’ of our
fellow citizens, rather than addressing fear and hatred.

As you look to the forthcoming Presidential election do you see a leader who inspires you as a potential leader who can match this moment?

A congressman came to me recently and said, ‘America is in decline, and many of our leaders are in denial. What can we do?’ Whether or not you agree with him, there is a widespread sense that the U.S. lacks leadership and that almost no one is addressing the deepest issues we are facing. But as a visitor to this country, I am not going to comment on the current election. That is your privilege and responsibility.

And finally, who should read this book? What are your hopes for this book and how will you know if it has been a success?

Of all the books I have written for the public square, this is the timeliest and most constructive. I hope it will be read by thoughtful citizens and thoughtful Christians. But not having any ‘platform’ or mailing list, and not being in one or other of the polarized camps, it is easy for a book like mine to fall silently like a leaf in the forest. I will know it is a success if some leader and some group step forward and champion the vision, and set in motion a serious sustained effort to re-forge a civil public square. But whether I succeed or not, the issue I raise in the book is a ‘standing or falling’ issue for Christians in America and for the American republic too. If the problem is not resolved, and so far there are not many alternative solutions being proposed, America will soon decline. Make no mistake. This is an issue that demands resolution or the future of the republic is in question. It is that simple and that serious.

Remember where I began. The issue of restoring civility to American public life is not a primary issue for Christians. For me, there are two more important issues. One is the reformation of the church and the restoration of integrity to Christian belief and behavior, and the other is the restoration of credibility to the way we share the Gospel to the educated classes. Civility is far less important than these two grand issues, which are a matter of faithfulness to Christ. But a civil public square is also important because it affects our freedom and ability to bring faith into public life, and therefore to be salt and light in the whole of society as we are called to be.

Click here to Read my review of The Case for Civility

February 03, 2008

Golden Fire

A little while ago I conducted a brief interview with Makoto Fujimura (makotofujimura.com). Fujimura is a New York-based artist who deals with a kind of art with which I have little familiarity. I first heard of him through an article written by Phil Ryken in which he describes visiting an exhibition featuring Fujimura’s work. I was intrigued by the examples of his art I saw through the internet and asked if he’d be willing to answer a few questions. He was kind enough to comply.

When did you first discover your love for art? Did you receive any formal artistic education? Who are your greatest influences in your art?

I grew up in a creative home (I was born in Boston, and grew up bi-culturally between Japan and US), my father being a research scientist, and my mother being a creative educator. Art was always part of my life, but it was not until I was in high school that I realized I had to protect my creative time, or it will be taken from me. I studied art in college (as part of a double major at Bucknell Universtiy), and received Japanese Governmental scholarship and ended up for six and a half years at a prestigious Nihonga program at Tokyo National University.

What kind of art do you primarily create?

My art is based on medieval technique and method of Japanese art now known as Nihonga. If you come to my exhibits in NYC, you will not only see paintings, but also video installations. I also do collaborations with musicians, and recently I became the first artist ever to paint live on stage at the Carnegie Hall. But I see my art as part of my life, my writings, my effort to help our church plant activities in NYC. To me, “art” is not just the product of what I produce, but the process of revealing the core of my humanity.

Tell us about how you came to know the Lord.

My new book River Grace (will be available via www.iamny.org) accounts for my journey to come to faith in Japan while as a graduate student. My wife had a lot to do with it. It was triggered by the experience of creating beauty but that same beauty exposed my emptiness within.

Eric Liddell, the great Scottish Olympian and missionary once said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” Even in something as simple as running he felt the pleasure of God. Can you identify with that as you create works of art?

Absolutely. It’s the most intimate, worshipful experience to be alone in the studio and paint. I also resonate with Liddell, as I, too, feel that passionate call to share the love of Christ with others and be used to build the City of God.

Have you ever thought about what art will be like in the new heavens and new earth? Do you suppose you’ll be able to continue to create art for God’s glory for all eternity?

All the time…Art taps into the glory of the transcendent, and earthy, realities of the new heavens and new earth. Good art (whether created by Christians or non-Christians) should produce a longing for that reality.

Which of the works you’ve made so far are your favorites? Why?

I have a few paintings that I see as seminal works, such as Sacrificial Grace series in ‘98, exhibited at Dillon Gallery in NYC. I also did a series of works based on Dante’s The Divine Comedy, as a response to 9/11 (I am a “Ground Zero” resident), and my most recent called Golden Flames painting is one of the most important works for me.

How do you seek to bring glory to God through your art?

By being faithful and resourceful to investment in refinement of the gifts given to me, to use my creativity to contribute to community around me. I believe that art is inherently is of and from God (remember that our God is THE Creator), though we twist the gift of creativity given to us. So if you are involved in creativity, you dwell near the heart of God. Of course that does not mean we have personal relationship with the Creator and thereby being able, via the Holy Spirit, to enjoy God’s presence that is revealed via our creativity.

Still Point

What are your hopes and dreams for your art? As you look to the future and allow yourself to dream a little bit, what would you like to see happen with your art?

I do want to be the best artist that I can be, to represent God’s grace in the world in my life as well as in the world. My effort to advocate for artists have grown into the International Arts Movement, a not-for profit arts organization that has a headquarter in New York City and chapters in Japan and elsewhere. We believe that God desires to re-humanize the world via the arts and creative expression, and we want to create a home for folks wrestling with deep issues of art, faith and humanity. Re-humanizing the world is a big, ambitious goal, and yet a goal that God calls all of us to participate in.

You may wish to learn more about Makoto Fujimura at makotofujimura.com.

January 30, 2008

Yesterday I posted the first portion of an interview with Devin Brown, author of Inside Prince Caspian and Inside Narnia. Today we continue with the second and final piece, and look at mistakes people make when reading the Narnia books and the film adaptations of Lewis’s works.

TC: What are some of the most common mistakes people make when reading and interpreting the Narnia books?

In my opinion, the two biggest mistakes people make about the Narnia books are 1) reading them in the wrong order and 2) labeling them as Christian allegory.

During Lewis’s life, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was always the first book and The Magician’s Nephew was always sixth. A number of years after Lewis passed away, the series was renumbered by the publisher and put in chronological order with The Magician’s Nephew first. While this reordering may seem to have a certain common sense appropriateness, I think the stories are best enjoyed in their original order.

If we read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe first, we know only what the children do, and this allows us to journey with them. In addition, if we read The Magician’s Nephew later, it is much more satisfying. We get to say, “Oh, so that’s where the lamp-post came from!”

When the film Susan steps into Narnia, she is filled with awe and stammers, “Impossible.” If we know only what she knows, we share her wonder. But if we already know about Narnia, we say, “Oh no, Susan, it’s not impossible.”

I used to think the renumbering issue was just something Lewis scholars worried about—among Lewis experts there is a strong preference for the original order. But recently I have been talking to young people who say they had a hard time getting into the Narnia stories. I couldn’t understand the problem until I realized that because of the new numbering, they had started with The Magician’s Nephew. It is interesting to note that the filmmakers have decided to go back to the original order.

An allegory is a story whose surface elements have a clear one-to-one relationship with a second deeper story. In an allegory it is this second story, not the first, which is the real focus. A good example of an allegory is Pharaoh’s dream of the seven fat and seven thin cattle.

People often say that the Narnia books are allegorical, but technically they are not. Aslan, for example is a Christ-figure but not the same as Jesus in our world. Here’s one way they don’t line up. People sometimes say that in the same way that Jesus died for our sins, so too Aslan dies for Edmund’s sins. But in our world, we have to accept Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. In the story, Edmund is reconciled with Aslan before the death occurs. In fact, in the first book Edmund is never told that Aslan died in his place, so there is no way he could accept it.

If we try to say that Peter Pevensie is Peter the apostle, not only are we going have problems finding parallels, we do an injustice to the story. If Lewis had wanted to write a Christian allegory, he certainly could have. His earlier work The Pilgrim’s Regress is one, and was modeled after The Pilgrim’s Progress—the most famous allegory in English literature. I usually talk about the Biblical parallels that can be found in the Narnia stories, rather than allegories.

By the way, some people approach the Narnia books as if they were sermons. Again, if Lewis had wanted to write a sermon, he certainly could have done so. His sermon “The Weight of Glory,” which he preached at St. Mary’s in Oxford, is one of his most famous works. Lewis himself tells us that he wrote a fairy tale because “sometimes fairy stories may say best what’s to be said.”

TC: In your books you often compare and contrast the worlds or characters of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. How valuable is it to consider the works of these men in relation to each other?

I think it is very helpful to compare elements in the Narnia stories with similar elements found elsewhere—in one of the other Chronicles, somewhere else in Lewis’s writings, or in another author’s work. Putting a scene, a character, an event, or a theme from Narnia side-by-side with a similar aspect from another book allows us to see things we might not have seen before.

A number of scholars have emphasized the differences between Lewis and Tolkien and the fact that Tolkien did not like the way Lewis mixed mythologies in Narnia. But I see these two authors as far more alike than different and sharing a deep common ground. Knowing and studying one author helps us better understand the work of the other.

TC: Did you find that the film adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe helped or hindered people’s understanding of Lewis’s story and world?

I really think Walden Media’s film of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe did a great job of capturing the magic, the message, and the spirit of Lewis’s original.

Everyone who loves these books was worried before the film came out because this was the one and only chance for our generation to see this story translated to the big screen. (I am thinking that, as with other great works such as Hamlet or Pride and Prejudice, each generation will produce a new version.) With the first film it became clear that not only does Andrew Adamson understand these stories, he also has a profound and genuine love for them.

Besides providing the world with an inspiring and lovingly-made movie, Walden has also encouraged many theater-goers, young and old, to go back and read or reread Lewis’s original.

TC: What was your single biggest disappointment with the film adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?

For me, the film did not quite reach either the highs or the lows that the book does, and I think this is a significant loss. In addition, I found the film Aslan to lack the awe that was always present in Lewis’s original. When the children finally meet Aslan in chapter twelve, Lewis’s narrator says, “People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time.” The movie Aslan was good enough, but his terrible side was not as present as it needed to be.

When the children and Trumpkin meet Aslan in Prince Caspian, we are told, “They felt as glad as anyone can who feels afraid, and as afraid as anyone can who feels glad.” This will be a high mark for the second film to aim for.

If Aslan is a Christ-figure, what are we to make of this? I think Lewis was suggesting that our proper response to an encounter with Christ will be a mixture of great gladness and great awe. Some Christians may be too fearful of Jesus and so need more gladness added to their feelings. Others may have too familiar an image of Christ and may need a bit more awe.

TC: What was the one element that you felt best translated to the screen in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?

There were a number of elements that, for me, worked perfectly in the film adaptation. I thought the bombing scenes in London added greatly to the story. The Professor’s house was just the right blend of homey and spooky. Narnia in winter was as enchanted as I had hoped. And Mr. Tumnus was even better than expected. In addition, I thought that the casting was nearly perfect—especially the four children.

TC: What do you anticipate being your single biggest disappointment with Price Caspian and what is the one thing you are most looking forward to seeing on the screen?

I don’t really like to go into a film thinking I am going to be disappointed, but I wonder if the second film will get Lewis’s ending right. Lewis ends the book with the children having a newfound sense of what I call “the sacramental ordinary.” They begin the story on a “flat and dreary” train platform, but in the end they find it “unexpectedly nice is its own way.”

Lewis does not want the four children or his readers to despise their own world because they have been to Narnia. He wants them and us to better see the enchantment that has always been there. He wants our rereading of the Narnia stories to help re-enchant our lives and the world around us.

I am really looking forward to the scene in Prince Caspian where laughter and merriment returns to Narnia after having been banished or driven underground for years by Miraz. If Narnia in the first book is always winter and never Christmas, in the second book it is summertime but never the Fourth of July.

If I had to pick the greatest contribution that Lewis has made to my life, it would be his constant reminder that the Christian life should be full and overflowing with joy, laughter, celebration, and good times—not just during vacations or holidays and not just when we get to Heaven, but every day right now.

TC: Assuming that there is a movie made for each of the books, which are you most eagerly anticipating? And are you planning on writing an “Inside” book for each of the seven books and movies?

In a way this first question is really asking if I have a favorite among the Chronicles. I do, but it keeps changing—maybe this is true for everyone. While there is not a book among the seven that I don’t like, my current favorite is The Horse and His Boy, a book which I know many readers often list as their least favorite. (I wonder what this says about my taste.)

I plan to continue to write “Inside” books as long as I feel I have something to say, and so far that has not been a problem. I am currently working on Inside the Voyage of the Dawn Treader which will come out in January 2010 in advance of the third film.

Devin Brown is a Lilly Scholar and a Professor of English at Asbury College. This summer he is teaching a week-long seminar at The Kilns, where participants will get to eat, sleep, and take classes in Lewis’s home in Oxford.

January 29, 2008

Last week I posted a review of Inside Prince Caspian, a new book by Devin Brown and a follow-up to his earlier work Inside Narnia. These books provide literary analysis of the Narnia books and have greatly enhanced my understanding of and enjoyment of C.S. Lewis’s imaginary world. I thought it would be interesting to follow the reviews with an interview and Brown was kind enough to spare some time. I asked him not only about his books, but about C.S. Lewis, the Narnia series, Harry Potter, J.R.R. Tolkien, and a variety of other subjects. I hope you find the interview as interesting as I did!

TC: Why C.S. Lewis? Why do you have such a fascination with the man and his work?

I suppose most people have their own special set of writers, musicians, or artists that are an important part of their life. As I get older, it is remarkable to see how much richer the work of my particular set has made my life.

While I have a number of favorite authors whose lives and thinking interest me, C.S. Lewis has been at the top of the list since I was around 16. I think his overall appeal for me lies in the fact that he was such a man of letters in the old fashioned sense. He was a poet, philosopher, literary scholar, college professor, Christian apologist, and fiction writer all in one, and his profound faith permeated all of these roles.

TC: The Narnia books are among the select few that children and adults seem to equally enjoy. Why do you think this is? Why the wide appeal?

It is only relatively recently in terms of human history, that myths and fairy tales have become viewed as something to be relegated to children’s bookshelves. From the times of the ancient Greeks to as recently as the collections by the Brothers Grimm, there has been a certain kind of story that tells us who we are and why we are here. Lewis, in his Chronicles of Narnia, provides us—young and old—with this special kind of story.

Lewis himself spoke about this special story that appeals to all ages. He wrote, “I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.” He claimed that “the good ones last,” meaning that their appeal lasts far beyond our childhood and that they continue to speak to us as we grow and develop.

Of course, in using a simple story as a vehicle for deepest truth, Lewis was following Christ’s example. When Jesus wanted to tell his disciples about God’s love, he did not write them a long, philosophical essay. He gathered them around them and began like this: “Once there was a man who had two sons, and the youngest said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’” He went on to tell the story of the Prodigal son.

TC: Have you read the Harry Potter books? If so, do you think they will have the lasting popularity of the Narnia books? Why or why not? How are they similar to the Chronicles of Narnia and how do they differ?

I have read the first two Harry Potter books, and enjoyed them—though not as much as the Narnia stories (and obviously not enough to finish all seven).

I see two ways to read these books. On one hand, they can be seen as simply a modern day version of what Lewis called the “Boys’ Book,” our culture’s story of “the immensely popular and successful schoolboy who discovers the spy’s plot or rides the horse that none of the cowboys can manage.” The previous generation had the Hardy Boys, before that there was Tom Swift.

According to Lewis, the problem with this kind of story is that it is “all flattery to the ego.” We identify with the protagonist and so picture ourselves as the “object of admiration.” Lewis argues that we run to this kind of book to escape the “disappointments and humiliations of the real world,” but in the end, we return to our own world and our own lives “undivinely discontented.”

But the Harry Potter stories are more than this. In his very last speech in Sorcerer’s Stone, Dumbledore states, “There are all kinds of courage.” And thus Rowling’s deeper message is that there are all kinds of heroes—Harry is one kind, Ron is another, so is Hermione, and so is Neville Longbottom. These stories remind us that each of us is a wizard, though we may not realize it. When read this way, the Harry Potter books are like the Narnia stories, in that they don’t make us look down on real woods because we have read of enchanted ones. As Lewis notes, reading this special kind of book “makes all real woods a little enchanted.”

Having said this, I predict that fifty years from now, we will find that the Chronicles of Narnia are still being bought and read by young and old. I am not as confident about the Harry Potter books.

TC: How can the literary analysis you provide enhance the reader’s understanding of the books?

I am not sure people need convincing that the literary analysis I provide in my books will enhance their understanding of the Narnia stories. Sometimes they may doubt that studying these stories in a serious way will increase their enjoyment of them.

Certainly the Narnia books can be read and enjoyed on a number of levels. But just as knowing more about a piece of music or a painting makes our appreciation and enjoyment of them richer, I believe that careful reading and careful thinking about these books will also add to our delight.

Taking a different tack, I am a firm believer that God wants us all to use our divinely-given intellect more than we typically do, that we are all called to think more deeply and more carefully about all sorts of things. I hope the ideas I present in my books will help, in a small way, to encourage the life of the mind. Perhaps talking and thinking about the Narnia books, for some, may be the start of talking and thinking about other topics.

Check back tomorrow for the conclusion to the interview

Devin Brown is a Lilly Scholar and a Professor of English at Asbury College. This summer he is teaching a week-long seminar at The Kilns, where participants will get to eat, sleep, and take classes in Lewis’s home in Oxford.