The Weight of Glory
by C.S. Lewis (1949)
Best Recent Reprint: Harper One, San Francisco, 2001, ISBN 978060653200, 192 pages, $11.95, softcover.
British author and apologist Clive Staples Lewis is among the best loved writers in the Christian tradition. His fiction (The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, and The Space Trilogy) has delighted and inspired for generations, and his nonfiction pierces topics with clarity and theological depth rarely found among today's writers. For these and other reasons, he remains a figurehead of Christian thought across denominational lines.
The Weight of Glory is a collection of nine sermons and essays originally composed by Lewis between 1939 and 1956. An original collection was published in 1949, and reworked into its current form in 1980 by trustee and literary advisor of Lewis' estate (and personal friend of mine) Walter Hooper, whose introduction to this volume sheds light on the many ways in which Lewis lived out the truths he wrote about.
The title sermon, which appears first in the book, represents Lewis' most direct work on the value of individuals to God; he affirms that men are immortal souls who have more intrinsic worth than all the cultures and achievements of history. He builds an eloquent case for our responsibility to evangelize and care for our fellow man, reminding us that through every action we are helping our fellow eternal beings toward becoming either "immortal horrors or everlasting splendors."
The second major statement in the book is the essay "Transposition" in which Lewis undercuts the Roman Catholic teaching that the elements of communion are actually transformed into the body and blood of Jesus upon receipt. Instead, he posits that the Lord chose those elements to evoke the imagery of His sacrifice through the bread and the cup as a powerful sensory reminder for us.
Lewis' lecture "Is Theology Poetry?" explores the artistry of God's story of creation and redemption and leaves us to marvel at the precision which it describes reality. This piece is one of the fundamental texts on worldview thinking, that is, understanding that one's beliefs and presuppositions form the basis for his values, ideas, and behaviors. It is probably best remembered for his oft-quoted statement, "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."
The remaining portions of the book, "Learning in War-Time", "Why I Am Not a Pacifist", "The Inner Ring", "Membership", "On Forgiveness", and "A Slip of the Tongue" cover issues from relationships and exclusivism to education and courage to participation in the life of the Body.
Lewis wrote from standpoint of wonderment at the mystery of God informed by his conversion from atheism relatively late in life. Each essay, lecture, or sermon in this volume contains pearls of wisdom that inspire and challenge the reader to love the Lord with his mind-taken as a whole, it is an invaluable resource to give form to the ideas that make the Christian life what it is. This book belongs on the shelf of every believer.
Type: Philosophy / Christian Life
Take: Must Read
The Attributes of God
by Arthur W. Pink (c.1922)
Best Recent Reprint: Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 2006, ISBN 9780801067723, 128 Pages, $10.99, softcover.
In our search to know more about the character of God, we may sometimes find ourselves attempting to use our own rationale, as opposed to God's Word, as a foundation for knowing Him.
A great theologian and pastor of the twentieth century, Arthur W. Pink (1886-1952) relied on the inherent truth of the Bible in his own search to better know God. In The Attributes of God, Pink gives the reader a strong Biblical foundation for knowing the character of God and applying this knowledge to everyday life.
Pink's thesis that "An unknown God can neither be trusted, served, nor worshipped" prefaces the seventeen chapters of this book, each of which richly delves into a different aspect of God's character. Although most chapters are only a few pages long, Pink does not stay in the shallow end of theology. Rather, each chapter takes the reader deep into the character of God.
The first nine attributes discussed describe the eternal deity of God, the attributes that show us the relationship He has within His triune self. In chapter six, Pink writes that "Being infinitely elevated above the highest creature, He is the Most High, Lord of heaven and earth; subject to none, influenced by none, absolutely independent; God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases." Attributes also discussed in the first half of the book include the immutability of God, the holiness of God, and the solitariness of God.
The last half of the book contains the attributes of God that are expressed in His relationship with us. One of the most readily acknowledged and accepted attributes of God is His love. In chapter fifteen Pink outlines God's love as being uninfluenced, eternal, sovereign, infinite, immutable, holy, and gracious. The chapter is concluded by the acknowledgement that God's love is fully directed towards humans through Christ's death on the cross.
It is easy to accept the "feel good' attributes of God such as His love, grace, and goodness, but one cannot fully understand these attributes without acknowledging His wrath. In chapter sixteen, Pink expresses his sadness towards those Christians who choose to omit God's wrath from their view of Him because this attribute of God's is clearly seen in the Bible. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven" (Rom. 1:18), Pink quotes. He defines God's wrath as being, "his eternal destination of all unrighteousness. It is the displeasure and indignation of Divine equity against evil. It is the holiness of God stirred into activity against sin. It is the moving cause of that just sentence which he passes upon evildoers. God is angry against sin because it is a rebelling against His authority, a wrong done to His inviolable sovereignty."
The Attributes of God is a priceless resource for the pastor seeking to teach his church to truly grasp who it is that they serve. Pink's solid foundation of Scripture makes this a book worth taking the time to meditate on and allow the Spirit to reveal a deeper understanding of God.
Mark and Kami Livesay
Take: Highly Recommended
On the Incarnation
by Athanasius of Alexandria
(c. 318 A.D.)
Best Recent Reprint: CreateSpace, Scotts Valley, Calif., 2007, ISBN 9781434811240, 98 pages, $15.95, softcover.
Athanasius of Alexandria (296-373 A.D.) was an Egyptian by birth, but he was educated in the Greek tradition. He is best known as an early defender of the deity of Christ and for his refutation of Arius, who taught that Christ was created by Father and did not share eternality with the Him. Through the persistent efforts of Athanasius, Arius was condemned as a heretic by the Council of Nicea in 325 A. D.
Some time before that Council (the exact date is unknown), Athanasius wrote his classic on the incarnation of Christ. He was only a young man when he penned this volume. His spiritual insight and intellectual brilliance left the organized Church an appreciation of the Apostles' teaching on the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some modern translations of this work contain an introduction by C.S. Lewis which is a valuable read in its own right.
Athanasius explains that it was the plan and purpose of God through the eternal Word (the Son) to create the world. The first man, Adam, was placed in a perfect environment; he was given only one prohibition, "Don't eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil." When Adam disobeyed God, he brought death and corruption of the entire creation. The eternal Word could have forgiven Adam's moral lapse, but that would have compromised His holy and spotless character.
"He means that the rescue of mankind from corruption was the proper part only of Him (the Word) who made them in the beginning" (p.36). "He, the Image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself" (p. 43). His life did not satisfy the justice of God. Only His death would suffice to wipe away the guilt of sin. That seems a paradox; the incarnate Son of God came to abolish death, yet He Himself had to suffer death. "A marvelous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonor and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death's defeat" (p. 54).
The resurrection was necessary to demonstrate the Word's final triumph over death. The death of Christ was the death of a good man only if He did not rise from the death. Without His resurrection, we would not have assurance that eternal spiritual death would not claim us also. "Death has become like a tyrant who has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch; bound hand and foot as he now is, the passers-by jeer at him, hitting him and abusing him, not longer afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him" (p. 58).
The Jewish leadership of Jesus' day rejected Him as the unique Son of God, coequal with the Father. Athanasius pointed out that the Old Testament Scriptures amply pointed out that the Word proceeded from the Father and that the Jews should have expected Him. "Had they known Him, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." He holds unbelieving Gentiles guilty of rejecting the eternal Word as well. Their wisest men had shown that the gods had not satisfied the longing of the human heart-the works of the Christ left human wisdom guilty of rejecting what only the true God could accomplish.
Take: Highly Recommended
The Everlasting Man
by G.K. Chesterton (1925)
Best Recent Reprint: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007, 262 pages, 14.95, softcover, ISBN 9781598560169.
Gilbert Keith Chesterton, one of the eminent thinkers of early 20th century Britain, was a man of many talents. He was trained as an artist, made a career of journalism, and wrote philosophical/theological works on the nature of God and belief that continue to inspire. The London Times said that "Chesterton [had] a quite unusual power of seeing the obvious." Indeed, the strength of his work has always been its common-sense approach to things which men obscure and overcomplicate in effort to find a reality apart from God.
Among his works are the couplet of Heretics (in which he tackles the modernistic notion of equally valid viewpoints and critiques the false ideas of his contemporaries) and Orthodoxy (in which he puts forth a rationale for taking scripture and Truth at its face value based upon its continued strength after nearly 2,000 years). He is also remembered for his moralistic mystery fiction; the Father Brown series and The Man Who Was Thursday. In The Everlasting Man, Chesterton builds a case for the truth of Christianity based upon the fact that Jesus' resurrection and continued life flies in the face of modern anthropology and social theories. C.S. Lewis, among others, listed this book as a turning point in his own journey to Christ.
Chesterton in large part conceived this work as a refutation of H.G. Wells' Outline of History, which was immensely popular at the time. Wells' work approached the whole of human existence from an evolutionary, naturalistic standpoint and included Jesus merely as another mortal human. Chesterton's book, therefore, sets out to establish a "common sense" of human history with Christ at the center.
Everlasting Man is broken into two parts-"On the Creature Called Man" and "On the Man Called Christ". The first half builds the case that even "primitive man" was fully man (complete with art, religion, and government) and never could've been otherwise. He shows that secular philosophy and pure paganism lead to the same end of despair and angry misunderstanding of Christ and His Gospel. In this, he confirms that the intervention of God in human history was the only thing that could set men straight.
The second half illustrates beautifully how the mystery of Christ and His resurrection stands all other worldviews on their heads. In his words this is "an enormous exception. It is quite unlike anything else . . . It is nothing less than the loud assertion that this mysterious maker of the world has visited His world in person . . . there did walk into this world this original being about whom the thinkers make theories and the mythologists hand down myths: the Man Who Made the World" (p. 253). The fact of His existence before, during, and after the world, Chesterton proposes, is enough to prove His deity.
This classic apologetic is a bit of a difficult read (Chesterton's witticisms and tangents tend to distract the reader from his main themes at points), but well worth the effort for its still-brilliant arguments against a Godless view of existence.
Type: Apologetics / Christology
Take: Highly Recommended