Thursday, October 25, 2007

Expressions of the Christian Faith in Narnia - Part One

Today I’m continuing a series I announced last week. The series is entitled “Expressions of the Christian Faith in Narnia.” Last week I discussed some of the difficulties with such a series, but I hope to bring out some meaningful insights in this and future articles.

In this first installment I’m looking at book one (although the books have been re-ordered in recent versions of the series, this was still the first book): The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

In this book we encounter the four Pevensie children, who are sent to live in the British countryside during the “Battle of Britain” to avoid the Blitz. The children--Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy – move into the home of old Professor Digory Kirke (perhaps a representation of Lewis himself, or one of his own mentors).

While living with the Professor, they encounter a magic wardrobe, through which they gain entrance into the magical land of Narnia. Now, if you’re reading I am going to assume that you’ve read the books, and will feel free to give away some key plot points. When they enter Narnia they learn that the land is being ruled by the cruel, usurping White Witch, who has caused the land of Narnia to exist in perpetual winter (but never Christmas). This White Witch, in most respects represents Satan, whom the Bible refers to as “the prince of this world” (and other similar titles). The true King of Narnia is Aslan, the son of the Emperor beyond the Sea (recognize him as representative of Jesus, who is the Son of God). Aslan has not been in Narnia for many years, though the residents of His lands expect his return and wait with great anticipation (much like the Jews look for the return of the Messiah). There also exists a prophesy that foretells the coming of two sons of Adam, and two Daughters of Eve, who will come to claim the throne of Narnia.

Once they enter Narnia, however, the children realize that their brother, Edmund, has (like Judas) betrayed his brother and sisters to the White Witch. He has done this because the Witch gives him Turkish Delight and offered him the promise of ruling over Narnia at her side. This series of events can be all too familiar for some. While we may not be giving up our right to a throne, or delivering our own flesh and blood to an evil witch, perhaps we have passed up some good things, or exchanged God’s blessings for temporal pleasures. Of course, we know – and Edmund soon finds out—that the Witch has no intention of making good on her promise.

The children are saved, however, by the return of Aslan. At His return, the winter begins to melt away (but not before Father Christmas comes). Aslan’s reappearance forces a confrontation with the Witch. Recognizing (with fear) Aslan’s power, the Witch plays her trump card. She informs Aslan that according to the laws of Narnia, she has rights to the blood of traitors (i.e. Edmund). Aslan recognizes this and purchases Edmund’s freedom by offering Himself in exchange. As Christians we recognize that we were like Edmund – sinners, and were guilty before God. However, God chose to send His only Son—Jesus to die in our place in order to pay the penalty.

That night, Aslan, accompanied by Susan and Lucy, has His own Gethsemane experience. Afterward He proceeds to meet the Witch as the pre-assigned location – the Stone Table. Then, as Susan and Lucy look on from their hiding place, the Witch and her henchmen bind Aslan, shave His mane, and mock him. At this the girls recognize that Aslan, had He so chosen, could have stopped them, but He does not. Finally, the Witch takes her dagger and kills Aslan.

The Witch rejoices at her victory and rallies her army for the final showdown with Aslan’s army, now under the leadership of Peter. Yet, as the dawn comes, the girls (mourning Aslan’s death) recognize that He is not on the table, but has Risen from the Dead! This, of course is a direct parallel to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ). Aslan then frees the captives of the Witch and returns to lead His forces to victory, and kills the Witch.

Afterwards Aslan sets the four children upon the thrones at Cair Paravel, from which they reign in peace over Narnia for many years. Then one day they happen upon the place from which they entered Narnia and all tumble out of the wardrobe to realize that in our world, no time has passed at all.

This story, while much of it is simply a fantastic children’s story, contains great themes of redemption, good versus evil, and tells the story of Christ’s mission to redeem us, His people. We are all Edmund. All of us have done something that makes us guilty before God, and as a result we must pay the price (death – viz, Romans 6:23). However Jesus, like Aslan in the story, came and offered Himself as a sacrifice on our behalf. Neither death nor Satan defeated Him, rather He defeated them, just as Aslan defeats the Witch in the story. The children recognize, just as you and I should, that Aslan (in our case God) rewards those who are His and blesses them. You and I, if we accept Christ’s sacrifice, and give ourselves to Him, will receive blessings in Eternity as we spend it with Him in Heaven.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Touching Story

I am a latecomer to this video/story. The story is one of cellphone salesman Paul Potts, contestant on Britain's Got Talent. I heard about this video recently and finally saw it. It's quite moving.

Paul went on to win the competition and his new cd is out, and you can see his website here.

Monday, October 22, 2007

As promised, the new Paige Patterson Portrait

A few days ago, I posted about the unveiling of Dr. Paige Patterson's portrait at SWBTS. Today, having found the link I am proud to share the portrait with you here. To see the full view you can click here. To compare with the SEBTS portrait, you can click here.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Which Preachers Do You Like to Hear?

This is my third post in as many days. It's highly uncharacteristic of me, but I've had a good bit to say lately. I've just recently added another section of links on the right-hand side. -------------------------------------------------------------------->

I've entitled this section "Sermon Spots." This is where I've been going lately to listen to some of my favorite preachers. Lately I've begun listening to sermons during my free time, and I've gotten a lot out of it. Some of my favorite preachers (apart from my pastor) are: Dr. Greg Belser, my parents' pastor; Pat Hood, for whom I have a lot of personal respect, at FBC Smyrna; Rob Bell, who has a unique way of making the scriptures applicable, at Mars Hill; Andy Stanley, who is a phenomenal communicator; and Ed Young Jr. who is also an amazing communicator. In addition to these, you can find hours upon hours of sermons and other great listening resources at "One Place."

Who are some preachers that you enjoy listening to? What do you like about them?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Expressions of the Christian faith in Narnia - Intro

Today I'm starting on a new series of posts that I will continue working on periodically. I invite your input, opinions, and thoughts on these matters.

First off, I want to start by saying that I have never been a big fan of the perennial fad books that seek to “find God” in whatever the latest thing may happen to be. I used to work in a Christian bookstore and came to despise the blatant commercialism that often goes on in the realm of Christian media. Several years ago, I remember nearly losing it when I encountered a devotional entitled Walking with Frodo. I don’t mean to slam the author of this book or others, but I do resent the system that has been built around claiming the latest pop culture item (cf. “The Gospel According to [insert pop culture item here]).” There was a time, not too long ago, when C.S. Lewis and The Chronicles of Narnia were that fad icon. And I have a feeling that they will come back to the front shelf of Christian stores everywhere when another Narnia movie comes out.

Having said all that, I'm not looking at these books to be faddish. Earlier this year my wife and I sat down and re-read C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. She had never read them – I was shocked, and knew that this was a situation which I must immediately remedy. As we read through them, I gained some valuable insights.

One of the superficial benefits of reading children’s stories like these was that they provided me an opportunity to practice the “oral interpretation” skills that I had been learning about in my preaching class with Dr. David Allen. (SIDE NOTE: The Bible is far more important a book than any other, and after listening to some books on tape, I realized that I much preferred listening to those where the reader made the text come alive. Surely preachers of the gospel ought to cultivate that skill in the reading of the holy Scriptures.) I did enjoy getting to practice some of the voices, and it gave me a great chance to spend time with my wife – reading together is a great activity.

However, some of the deeper insights I gained had to do with the spiritual truths that Lewis actively conveys through these stories. He conveys many of the great themes of the Bible – redemption, Christ’s substitutional atonement, sanctification, forgiveness, the Lordship of Christ, child-like faith, the nature of sin and grace, Creation, the Fall, and the Return of Christ just to name a few. In some upcoming posts I hope to discuss some of these themes, recognizing that these are fictional books, but at the same time looking at these often parabolic stories through a Biblical worldview. The allegories are never perfect, but then, none ever are. Still, re-reading these books as a seminary student, I was able to pick up on some of the spiritual facets of the books that I had previously overlooked or forgotten about.

Over the coming weeks, as I get some of that ever-elusive "free time," I intend to post about some of these spiritual themes that we find in these much-loved children's stories.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Portrait Unveiled, and Yes the Dog's Still in it.

Last night, in the midst of the annual SWBTS Trustee meetings, the portrait of President Paige Patterson was revealed at long last. I must say, it's nice that he finally was able to stand still long enough for the portrait to be made, and it completes the set in the seminary's rotunda. I did, however, in good fun, predict to some friends that Patterson's faithful hound, "Noche", would be included in the portrait. Patterson's previous portrait at Southeastern set a precedent where another black dog was pictured sitting faithfully before his master.

I haven't found an online picture of this new portrait, but if I do in the near future, I'll post the link. As before, the portrait is well-done, but to be honest, the new portrait is quite similar to the SEBTS one.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Review: Communicating for a Change

I recently finished a great read, one which I highly recommend to anyone who preaches or speaks in public. The book of which I speak is Andy Stanley's Communicating for a Change.

The book itself is divided into two sections. The first section, written by co-author Lane Jones, is a modern day parable about a pastor who encounters a old trucker who teaches him the principles of effectively communicating. These principles are the foundation of Stanley's own method.

The second section of the book is from Stanley himself about his preaching method. Throughout this part, Stanley argues the case for his method, which revolves around focusing on a single point. He argues that many preachers today try to cram too much into their messages, and as a result the audience gets information, but no actual change occurs in their lives.

One of the best things about the book is that the reader gets to learn some of Andy Stanley's personal communication secrets. He takes on the issues around the preacher's use of notes, solid introductions and conclusions, finding your own effective style, and the authority of scripture. I highly recommend this book, but I must warn readers that only those who are willing to consider making some changes to their way of preaching should bother to read it. If you are willing to learn, I've no doubt you'll gain something from this book. It will certainly go on my shelf as a favorite.

I give this book 4.75 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

On College Football

I am really into College Football this season. There have been some recent seasons when I've been too busy or some such (like last year being a newlywed with a wife that could care less about football). But not this season. The staff at my church has even gotten into some college football picks. That said, I will also say that college football is So much better than pro. There's more teams to follow, I actually care about a few of them, including my alma mater, because my tuition money helped build that team -- I have an interest. And the biggest reason to love it is that these guys play because they love the game, not for money (there's no whining about contracts in NCAA football).

Overall, today has been a good day for college football. I grew up a Mississippi State fan, and they won. But, may alma mater, Liberty managed to lose to Toledo in a last-minute comeback, making the final score 35-34. But finally, on a bright note: USC, quite possibly the most overrated team in the history of football lost--to an UNRANKED instate rival -- Stanford. Go Stanford! I salute you!

I hope that you're enjoying college football season, and look forward to getting back east into SEC football land, though big 12 isn't so bad I guess.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Absurd Litigiousness Continues in America

This morning I read a number of news stories, many of which reported more lawsuits in America. How absurd can we be? Well we've already seen people suing God. Now today I've seen stories about a student suing the University of Massachusetts because he received a "C" in one of his classes. I can't help but scratch my head on that one. Maybe he's being done an injustice, but there's got to be a better way to solve the issue. Oh, and by the way, he's not some 18-year-old kid - the guy's 51. He should know better.

The second suit that I read about today involves a man suing his priest. According to the story, the man called the priest and left a critical message on the priest's answering machine. The priest played the message in church on sunday, and allegedly told the congregation, "This is the person in charge of religious education here last year. That's why it is no surprise to me [that] we had the kind of religious education we had. That's why we didn't get altar boys. What should we do? Should we send him to hell or to another parish?"

The story says, "[The parishioner] claims in the lawsuit filed this week in McHenry County that he was defamed and suffered "immediate emotional distress, embarrassment and humiliation."

Where do we even begin with something like this? Should I say that if you're bold enough to say unloving words to your pastor or priest, you ought to be willing for others to hear them? I think this guy needs to look for another way to deal with the issue. This goes back to the issue of Christians suing one another, and how the Bible teaches that we ought to take our disagreements to the church (1 Cor. 6) instead of taking one another to court. There are plenty of examples of this, but the point is that it makes us look really bad, and gives Christ a bad reputation.

What can we do to curb the overabundance of litigation that mires our court system in pointless actions?