Book Plunge: Classic Christian Thinkers

What do I think of Ken Samples’s book published by RTB Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

For some people, to think of a Christian thinker sounds like a contradiction in terms. Sadly, some of those people are also Christians. After all, aren’t Christians supposed to be people of faith? This assumes that faith is something anti-intellectual when it isn’t. Our Christianity has a rich heritage of great thinkers and we should embrace them.

It would be too much to list all the great Christian thinkers, but in this book, Ken Samples has chosen to give nine. Each chapter covers one thinker and is a brief portrait of their life and how they contributed to apologetics and philosophy. He also lists the best books to read by these thinkers and works to go to to understand their life and impact all the more.

He also goes across traditions for this. There are people in this list that Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox are likely to admire. Perhaps not all of them, but anyone from any of these traditions will find someone they can support. So who are the people he covers?

He starts with Irenaeus and then Athanasius. Next in line are the big free of Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas. A lot of people in Catholic and Orthodox circles might not be happy with Martin Luther and John Calvin next, but each were great thinkers who have shaped the Christian world. After those is Blaise Pascal and then to top it all of is a great mind who has found support from all three branches and that is C.S. Lewis.

Samples’s book is also easy to read and understand. The reader will walk away with a greater appreciation of who the person is. Also, any reader can just read each chapter on its own if you want to get a brief overview of a certain figure in church history.

The book is also good for group discussions. This is a book that small groups could get together and read about the life of one thinker and then discuss the impact of that thinker with the discussion questions. I am sure Samples would love to see this happen and I know that I definitely would.

The book is also really trying to be more ecumenical than one might think. Martin Luther will not be the favorite of Catholics and Protestants, but Samples does not go after Catholics or Orthodox in the chapter. He also gives us the interesting idea that it could be that more works have been written about Martin Luther than about any other figure in history apart from Jesus Christ.

The real goal of the success of this book will be seen in one way. That will be in how many people go to these great writers themselves and at least read some of their works. Samples would be disappointed to know readers used his book to learn about the thinkers without going to the thinkers himself. As Lewis said, “Read Plato. Not books about Plato.”

I encourage anyone interesting in Christian thinking to read this book. Those interested in church history should read it as well. Remember to use it as a stepping stone though to get to the other books that Samples would say are far more important.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Some Thoughts On Addiction

How do we deal with addictions? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife goes to Celebrate Recovery and seeing as she can’t drive, I’m her ride. The meetings are held at our church and they are a blessing to go to. I am finding it easier and easier to communicate with the men that I’m in group with. Everyone who come to the group has a major struggle. I generally talk for me about wanting to be a better husband. Each meeting has early on an account of someone giving their story and there is one running theme.

Addiction.

I am sure I have my own addictions, but I honestly can’t place them. As I thought about this, I’m sure we all do, because it could easily be the case that all sin is something like this. It has been said that for the devil, the sin he did was that he saw all the glory of YHWH in Heaven and thought of nothing but his own prestige. Note something if that is accurate. There is nothing wrong with your own well-being, but there is a problem with putting that first.

Something you need to know about addictions is that everyone who is addicted is addicted to a good thing. Some of you might balk at that. Surely it is not good. In some cases, the actions are not good, but the person really wants not the actions, but the good that comes with the actions.

Consider if we talk about sexual addictions. Sex is a good thing, yet if you meet a man who struggles with sexual addiction, he does not want the sex for the sake of sex. No. He wants sex because of certain things sex gives him. He delights in seeing a woman naked. He enjoys the feeling of sexual release. He desires to be wanted and wants to be passionate with a woman. It could be any of those things. It could be all of them.

None of those are bad things. A man should enjoy seeing a woman naked. He should enjoy sexual release. He should want to be wanted and want to be passionate with a woman. These are not bad things.

The sin is not the desire itself. The sin is putting that desire over something else. In this case, the man is using the woman’s body often as an object and caring nothing about the woman herself and is not willing to make a commitment to her. If he is married and his wife doesn’t give, well okay. That’s rough, but just hop on the computer and look at some porn. If the wife can’t be used, use another woman.

How about cutting? If you see my wife’s Facebook, you know she has struggled with this and is about to go four months without. Why does someone want to cut? It’s not because they really enjoy the act itself. It’s because of what results from the act. It makes them feel better about emotional pain. Nothing wrong with that part. All of us want to diminish emotional pain. It’s just how we do it that’s wrong.

Many times with addiction, a strange place seems to be reached. It is the position of saying that we cannot be happy without X, whatever it is. Not only that, we are willing to risk what anyone else could tell us would be greater goods in order to get this lesser good.

C.S. Lewis years ago compared us to children who are offered a day at the beach but instead keep wanting to make mudpies in a sandbox. We are offered so much and we settle for so little. Lewis said our desires are not too strong, but they are too weak. We settle. We are far too easily pleased.

When we get like this, two words come to mind to describe this. Both of them start with an S. I’m going to be blunt so be prepared.

The first word is stupid.

If you were offered a day at the beach and yet insisted on mudpies in a sandbox, unless there is some factor about the beach we don’t know about, that’s just stupid. It is. It is not the result of sound thinking.

The other word is the one we don’t like to use, but it needs to be used. In fact, I think until we come to realize that unless this word is seen as the real culprit, the problem will never be dealt with.

That word is sin.

You see, the problem isn’t that we love some little thing too much. It’s that we love some greater thing too little. A man with a porn addiction hopefully loves his wife, but sadly, in that moment, he is loving his addiction more.

Lewis had something to say about this as well. He said that when we want forgiveness of sins, we usually want excusing of sin. “Yes, Lord. I did look at pornography, but my wife was really frigid today and I had such a raging desire and I figured it was better to deal with it than to live in stress and anxiety over it.”

Excusing is just stupid. For one thing, God knows all the excuses we could give. He knows the mitigating factors that lead to a sin. He takes them into account and judges us fairly. Yet no matter what it is, in every single action, there is still something that was done wrong. That is the sin. It cannot be excused. There is no excusing sin. It must be confessed and forgiven.

For addiction, repentance doesn’t need to become a one-time deal. It must be a lifetime. It must be our constant repenting. What is that repenting? For the time being, we put something else on the throne of God. We put something else as essential to our happiness save God Himself.

1 Tim. 6:17 does say God gives us all things richly for our enjoyment. He gave us food, sex, money, fame, and all of these properly understood are good things. What is the problem is that we make these good things the main gods of our lives when addiction comes up.

I think also some of this could be that well, our churches aren’t doing a good job. Most churches give us just simple platitudes. Christianity is not about submitting to Jesus Christ as Lord. It’s about learning how to be a good person. There’s nothing wrong with being a good person, but the church has to give us something unique. Jesus can’t be just a way to be a good person. He has to be a way to God. Jesus did not come to just give us morality. He came to give us God.

We also have an emphasis on heaven in our churches, and yet there is no excitement about heaven. People will say they want to go to heaven when they die, but they don’t think about it. I have to say I’m guilty of that as well, and if we went by the description of heaven in most churches, who could blame anyone for not being excited? Heaven is often depicted as a neverending church service, yet how many of us can be looking at our watches wondering if the preacher will be quiet soon after ten minutes and yet we’re supposed to enjoy an eternity of this?

I really think we need to get in some good look at Heaven. Consider a book like Peter Kreeft’s Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing. To go back to Lewis, Lewis spoke of how we can not picture happiness sometimes because we’re so fixated on one thing. For a little boy, chocolate can be the greatest good. His older brother says lovemaking is far greater. The little boy wonders if the couple has chocolate in it. (To be fair, they can, but it’s not essential.) The little boy does not realize that the couple has something going on that is far better so much so that chocolate pales in comparison. Picture if what we have in lovemaking that is so good cannot compare to what awaits us in eternity.

One reason we also don’t get excited about Heaven is that we’re not excited about God, and again, why should we be? God is often depicted in these static terms. He forgives us and He loves us and that’s about it. Nothing is said about His glory and majesty. Nothing is said to excite us to His nature. We worship Him, but do we really know why we do? Many of us worship God I think out of familiarity and because you go to church on Sunday and that’s just what you do.

Picture it. We’re really saying there is a being out there who is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, loves us all, will give us all that is essential to our happiness, has acted in the world through great events like the Exodus and the sending of His Son Jesus, still does miracles today, will give us all everlasting joy in Heaven, but at the same time prior will be our judge and we will give an account of everything we do to Him.

Oh. That’s nice. What’s on TV tonight?

It really is how we approach the topic.

It’s also shown that we do that because we don’t take sin seriously. Much of our psychology and such is about dealing with our feelings. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s rarely about dealing with our behaviors. We want to feel good. We just don’t often want to be good.

Have you ever considered that every act of sin, no matter how small, is an act of divine treason? In some way, you are denying one or more of God’s attributes.

You are denying that God has the power to judge you when you sin. He says He will, but you don’t fear that. You will do it anyway.

You are denying that He knows what is best for you. He says He will provide your joy and happiness if you trust Him. Nope. You have to find your own way.

You are denying His omnipresence. God won’t see it. He isn’t there. He won’t notice it.

You are denying His love. God is holding out on you. If God really wanted your happiness, He would provide immediately this thing that you want for your happiness.

We could go on, but the point is you are denying God. You are then trying to take His throne. Every sin is setting ourselves up as the real god of the universe.

So let’s look. We don’t take sin seriously. We don’t take God seriously. We don’t take Heaven seriously.

About the only thing we seem to take seriously is ourselves.

Yet as I say that last part, a caveat comes up. Many times, it can be a popular saying to say “I am my problem.” You’re not. The problem is not you. Why? Because sin is not your identity. You are not an addiction. You have an addiction. The problem is your sin. Get rid of your sin and everything about you is wonderful at that point. Really. Not a joke. Everything about you will be wonderful if you get rid of sin. The same for me.

We must realize our enemy is not ourselves. It is our sin, and we have to have zero-tolerance for it. Paul would write in places like Romans about how we were set free from sin. How can we let it be master over us again? If we submit to sin, we are not submitting to King Jesus. If we are not submitting to Him, we are saying something else is master besides Him.

Now some good news. God forgives us even in our sin. God is willing to work with us. He knows that we are dust. He knows our struggles. We do need to turn to Him and I think we need to turn to Him in an informed way. We really need to think about God.

You see, the reality is that we will pursue what it is that we really desire. We have to ask ourselves if we desire the object of our addiction more of if we desire God more. Every time we give in, we know which one we really desire more at that moment. It’s also again, pretty stupid and sinful. What we desire here is often momentary and doesn’t last long.

Consider a man who has a good marriage and great kids. What happens? He gets tempted by a girl at the office and before too long, he’s meeting her in a hotel and is throwing away years of a good marriage and being a good example to his kids just so he can have a tryst with another woman that won’t last that long. The act of sex is not an all-day thing in itself. (You can spend all day preparing for it, but you won’t spend all day doing it.)

Most of us would realize that’s stupid indeed, but the man when he’s caught in the action does not see that. All he sees is the sex that he wants. That’s it. That’s why we need to listen to others. Is what we really want, a moment of pleasure, worth sin against a holy God? Is it really worth putting ourselves and our loved ones through pain? Is it?

Again, I’m saying this as someone writing more on the outside and seeing the pain of addiction, which for me is when my wife chooses it in some way. One of the great sadnesses is realizing all the good that is being missed out on when the lesser good is desired. It’s quite amazing isn’t it? One can follow the path knowing the lesser good will end in pain every single time, and yet each time that time is thought to be the exception. This time when we follow the addiction, we will get the happiness that we want!

Our ultimate happiness is only found in God. He has given us several other things to make us happy here in this world and we should enjoy them, but we must never make idols out of them. Use them for the glory of God, but don’t think they are the glory of God.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 11/26/2016: Matthew Dickerson

What’s coming up Saturday? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Fairy tales. Many of us think about these stories that we read as children and have no relevance to us today, but could it be deeper than that? Could fairy tales be some of the most shaping tells of reality? Even more amazing, could they tell us something about Christianity? Our atheist friends like to say that Christianity is a fairy tale, but while that claim is false, can we better understand our Christianity by reading fairy tales?

The fact that we have so many Christian classics like Narnia and The Lord of the Rings should show us that Christians can make use of this genre, but what about even non-Christian fairy tales? Could we learn something from His Dark Materials for instance? Do we include Harry Potter in the list and if so, what can we learn from that series?

To discuss this, I have a guest on who co-wrote a book on the genre of fairy tales. It’s called From Homer To Harry Potter. His name is Matthew Dickerson and he’ll be here to answer questions about fairy tales. Who is he?

matthewdickerson

Matthew Dickerson is a professor of Computer Science at MIddlebury College in Vermont. He holds a PhD from Cornell University.  He is the author of several works of fiction and non-fiction in a variety of genres. This fall he published both a new fantasy novel titled The Betrayed and a new work of Christian apologetics titled The Mind and the Machine: what it means to be human and why it matters. His other recent creative works include: a medieval historical novel titled The Rood and the Torc a three-volume fantasy novel beginning with The Giftedand a pair narrative non-fiction books on nature, ecology, trout, and fly-fishing titled Trout in the Desert: on Fly Fishing Human Habits, and the Cold Waters of the Arid Southwest and Downstream: Reflections on Brook Trout, Fly Fishing, and the Waters of Appalachia (co-authored with David O’Hara.) Dickerson is also an well-known scholar of fantasy literature.  He is the author or co-author of several books, chapters, and essays on the writings of J.R.R.Tolkien and C.S.Lewis and the co-author of From Homer to Harry Potter: a Handbook of Myth and Fantasy.  You can learn more about Matthew Dickerson and his writing at www.matthewdickerson.net and  www.facebook.com/MatthewDickersonBooks

(Matthew Dickerson also wants you to know about his new book that can be found here.)

We’ll be talking about fairy tales? How should Christians handle the realm of fantasy? What about the idea of magic in a story? Is magic truly opposed to Christianity? What are some of the great classics to read beyond Lord of the Rings and Narnia?

We’ve been getting to update the show a lot more lately so hopefully we’ll be right in schedule soon. I hope you’ve been enjoying the Deeper Waters Podcast and will continue to do so. Please go on ITunes as well and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: From Homer To Harry Potter

What do I think of Matthew Dickerson and David O’Hara’s book on fairy tales? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

One of the authors, Matthew Dickerson, sent me a free copy of this book in PDF format so my thanks to him. A friend recommended I read this book after I spoke at an event he was at. Immediately, I got in touch with the authors thinking this would be a great topic for a podcast. I have been a fantasy fan all my life, though I must admit I don’t get to read as much as I used to, though I used to read books in Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, and Terry Brooks’s Landover series.

The authors write from a Christian perspective and set the groundwork which is largely indebted to Lewis and Tolkien. These are two authors that do not have their own chapters in the book because nearly everything in it owes some debt to them. I have often told people today that if we enjoy any kind of role-playing game today, we owe that to Tolkien.

The writers start with a look at what is meant by myth. They think the Bible contains mythical elements, but by this they do not mean untrue. That is for the historians to decide. What they mean is a story that is meant to teach us a greater truth than we would find on our own. A person who holds to Biblical inerrancy need not fear this.

They also look at various writers and not just Christian ones. Most noted is the look at Philip Pullman. He is a decidedly non-Christian writer with a war in his series going on against YHWH and the evils of the church. Still, in his work he can’t seem to help but meet the criteria for a fairy tale and some of it in fact undermines his own case.

One of the main ones I was interested in of course was Harry Potter. There is talk on how magic is used in the books. Those interested will obviously need to pick up the books themselves, but the stories belong in the classic tradition of fairy tale. I thoroughly appreciated this part as I am an avid fan of the Harry Potter series having read all the books, including the latest one that has been released which is more of a play.

I also found myself intrigued by other works, such as ordering from the library The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin Jr. My copy has not arrived yet, but the writers have a chapter dedicated to this one and the whole premise was intriguing. I left this book with a greater appreciation of the genre of fairy tale. Now that doesn’t mean that I’ll suddenly find the time to read them, but I can easily agree with Lewis that a man need not fear any embarrassment from reading fairy tales. These aren’t just for children. They are a good way of getting past the watchful dragons.

Those interested in fairy tales and fantasy should read this book. Christians concerned about fantasy literature also should read it. I find a lot of criticisms of fairy tales and such come from not appreciating them as fairy tales. This book will help clear up a lot of confusion if it is listened to.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why Does God Love You?

Are you just really that special? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We live in an age of constant narcissism. Many of us are not likely to be full-blown narcissists, but many of us do think more highly of ourselves than we ought. This comes up with the love of God. In contrast to what many of us can think I read something from C.S. Lewis last night that was quite different.

I have on my kindle a book of daily C.S. Lewis writings for devotional reading. I read last night with him talking about our idea of God loving us and that we think it’s just because God places such great value on us. Lewis says that in reality, we are of no value to God. God does not need us. If all of us had never been, God would have been just fine for all eternity.

Christ did not die for us because there was some divine need on the part of God. There was not a lack in the life of God that needed to be filled. When I was in Bible College just starting in apologetics, I remember a professor teaching us in Systematic Theology that God created man because He needed someone to love. My own response in fact which I actually aired in class was that if God needed us then the smartest thing all of us could do is collectively hold God for ransom. (From that point on, whenever I raised my hand, my fellow students around me started their watches to see how long it would take before I’d be acknowledged. I think the record was nineteen minutes.)

With our egos, most of us would like to think we’re really great and important. Yet as I was at an Ash Wednesday service yesterday, I went up and got the cross put on my forehead with the message of “To dust you come from, and to dust you shall return.” You know, that’s not the message you expect to hear today in church. You expect to hear about how much God loves you and how valuable you are. I remember pausing up there for a second thinking there had to be more to say.

There wasn’t.

I sat down instead feeling very humbled.

You see, in God’s economy, He does have a great plan, but you’re not essential to it. If something happened to you, God is not going to be wringing His hands in Heaven wondering what He has to do now. He will make it just fine.

This also means that God owes nothing to you. The only guarantee you have is something He has already promised you so if you want God to do something and you’re expecting it, be sure that it’s not something He hasn’t promised. God has never promised to give you a lot of things, and that means every good thing you have in your life is a gift of grace.

This is also why thankfulness is so important. It could be we don’t have some blessings we’d like in life because we don’t take the time to celebrate the ones we have. There are many times I just get a drink from my water bottle I carry with me and give thanks I live in a place with good drinking water. A man can give thanks that he gets to enjoy sex with his wife, but does he give thanks that he gets to sleep next to her every night? If God takes something away from you, it is to be trusted. He didn’t owe you anything to begin with. God is in debt to no one. We are all in debt to Him.

So why did He send His Son for us?

It’s not because of who we are. It’s because of who He is. He is love and He loves that which He created and wants to redeem because His own glory is made manifest in redemption. We are invited to participate in that glory, which is a great privilege. Some might say this is egotistical, but it is not, for it is to be expected that the greatest good would be treated as the greatest good.

From dust you came and to dust you shall return. Until then, enjoy every blessing God has given you and give thanks. Serve with all you can because God has privileged you to get to serve Him in this time and place.

It’s not about you.

It’s about Him.

In Christ,
Nick Peters