‘the heart of the problem’ by Alun Ebenezer

‘the heart of the problem’ Alun Ebenezer, EP Books, 2019. The author is Headmaster at a school in London. The book is primarily an evangelistic book. It isn’t complicated. It isn’t fancy. And it isn’t long at just 58 pages. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn. I enjoyed reading it. This book is written in a style that doesn’t mince words. The one aim of the book is to encourage and persuade you to go to the doctor (The Lord Jesus Christ). He is passionate about the task in hand. ‘Don’t mince your words doctor. Tell me the truth.’ This is what Alun does. You are in good hands. Rarely does an evangelistic book come along that I can unreservedly recommend. This is one of them. ‘Knowing the terror of the Lord we persuade men‘ says the Apostle Paul. This is written in that spirit.

It’s a good book to give away. It might not suit everyone. But if you want to know what the problem is, and the answer, this book does that. Ten of Those are selling it for £1.99.

There are five chapters:

1. The Problem: In just 2 pages he lays out the problem in no uncertain terms saying ‘…. the one thing we can all agree on is that something is wrong with the world we live in (p.1.).’

2. The Diagnosis: When you have a problem with your health you go to the doctor. Why? You want to know what’s wrong. So what’s wrong:

‘To get a diagnosis, …. we need a reliable understanding of our deepest problem. The Bible provides that level of understanding because it is God’s Word …. the problem is not ‘out there’ but rather in us; …. The fundamental problem is not bad parents, bad schools, bad friends, bad circumstances, corrupt politicians or a broken society. The fundamental problem is we all have a bad heart. (p.3.).’

He then. goes on to demonstrate this under eight brief headings, culminating in a Verdict on page 14:

The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. The symptoms are around us and the diagnosis is that we are sinners, every one of us (Romans 3:23).

3. The Prognosis: ‘…. where does this condition I have lead? What will happen if it carries on?’ ‘…. the Bible goes on to show us the prognosis, which tells us just how serious things are and why the diagnosis cannot be ignored (p. 15.).’

Just now people are scared they will catch the CoronaVirus because they know it can lead to death. Although some might brush it off thinking it only applies to people with underlying conditions. This isn’t something we can brush off because all of us have the underlying condition (the diagnosis) of a sinful nature. The author goes on to briefly show what that means under three heads: Death, The Judgement, and Hell. He says this:

‘All the things we enjoy on earth will be gone forever. It is impossible to imagine how awful it will be…. The anger of God hanging over you forever. There is no escape, no emergency exit, no prospect of getting out (p. 20).’

4. The Cure: The condition we have can’t be more serious. But ‘…. God doesn’t tell us about hell because he is nasty and horrible and wants to frighten us and spoil our enjoyment; rather, out of love and kindness, he warns us about it so that we don’t end up there (p. 21).’ A serious condition then, needs a serious cure. Not the prospect of a cure. Not a ‘What are my odds Doctor’ kind of cure. But a certain cure. Millions of people through the ages have received this cure. The author goes on to explain what that involves.

Remarkably, the cure doesn’t involve something we have to do. Some cures are quite radical and involve a great deal of effort by the patient. Not this cure. All the effort, all the hard work, is done for us by another. Such is our condition the cure cannot come from within. Neither our effort, nor our resolve will do it. Alun, throughout what is the longest chapter, explains what it is the Lord Jesus Christ has done for sinners.

Trying to grasp what Christ suffered for sinners on the cross is difficult to comprehend. Alun explained the suffering of The Lord Jesus on the cross in a way I’d not heard, or at least not quite appreciated before. He explained it by referring to the way time changed in the Narnia books. So while Christ was on the cross for those three hours he somehow entered another (eternal?) dimension where his suffering was of such a nature that here on earth we only get to see a fraction of what Salvation actually cost.

‘On earth it was hours but as Christ went into the darkness he left time and entered eternity and suffered an eternal hell (p. 34.).’

You might think all this is far-fetched, but seeing the things in the world and maybe your own experience convinces you that something is radically wrong. The Bible explains what’s wrong, and gives an answer. Jesus said to his disciples at one stage, ‘Will you also leave me? They said there’s nowhere else we can go, you alone have the words of eternal life (John 6: 66-69).’

Indeed, there’s nowhere else to go. And so to the final chapter.

5. The Doctor: Not convinced? It’s amazing that people, even with a serious condition, will not go to the doctor. There are a few reasons given why they just will not avail themselves of the cure. We are then given some of these are why they are no reason not to come. He gives five reasons and ends with this final heading: ‘Come to the doctor!.’

‘Just come to the doctor! The way you come to him is in repentance and faith (p. 54).’

In the penultimate paragraph he encapsulates the whole book when he writes:

‘The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. The symptoms are serious. The diagnosis spot on. The prognosis is terrifying. The cure sublime. And the doctor is ready and willing to see you… Come to him now! (p. 58.).’

Just in case you missed it, the doctor is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. The same Lord Jesus that said ‘Only the sick need a doctor (Mark 2:17).’ Have you seen that you are sick. Not everyone does. Some see it, but do nothing. They don’t come. Don’t be like them. Especially when the Lord Jesus says:

‘All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out (John 6:37).’

 

‘When Christians Suffer’ by Thomas Case

I first came across Thomas Case in Voices from the Past Vol 1, a book of daily readings edited by Richard Rushing. This little volume, When Christians Suffer, is also edited by Richard Rushing and again published by The Banner of Truth. He has made, I think, another valuable contribution to the church of Christ.

Thomas Case (1598–30 May 1682) lived to the age of 84 and was, bar one, the longest surviving member of the Westminster Assembly (Westminster Confession of Faith and other documents). Case knew bereavement, persecution, the confiscation of his property and spent 5 months imprisoned in the Tower of London – though his wife (he remarried) was allowed to be with him. The book is written out of deep personal experience. It’s worth pointing out that Thomas Case doesn’t confine what the suffering is to any specific issue. Bereavement and illness are there of course, but suffering manifests (though sometimes it isn’t even seen at all) itself in many ways. The Corona Virus is with us, so many in the world are suffering right now. Mentally, financially, physically and spiritually. So for Christians especially, though it needn’t be confined to them, is a wonderful little book. Perhaps to give away. The book is an exposition of Psalm 94:12. ‘Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law.’

I shall take discipline here in the utmost latitude, for all kinds and degrees of suffering, whether from God, or man, or Satan. Whether sufferings for sin, or sufferings for righteousness sake. p.13.

This isn’t really a review, other than a few notes and a hearty recommendation. It’s a great little booklet. It’s 113 tiny pages (smaller than A6). My copy was a gift, but I’ve since bought another couple of copies to give away. I paid £3.25 at our local Christian Bookshop. The opening letter by Thomas Manton is worth reading on its own. You should know this is a very heavily edited edition of Case’s ‘A Treatise on Afflictions.’ That’s not a criticism as it’s extremely well done and makes the work of Thomas Case accessible to a much wider readership having updated the language making it more readable to a modern audience. Having read this edition I started to read the un-edited version which also contains a brief Biographical Preface, which I have to say isn’t that helpful.

Introductory Letter (slightly edited) by Thomas Manson to Thomas Case

I thank you for your thoughts concerning afflictions. I was pleased to drink from this fountain, and the half was not told me. To treat of afflictions when we ourselves flourish and abound in ease and plenty is more like the orator than the preacher, and the brain than the heart. It seems that when you went into prison, the Spirit of God went into prison with you. When you were shut up to others, you were open to the visits and free breathings of his grace. A prison cannot restrain the freedom of his operations. It would be a prison for sure to be shut up also from fellowship with the Holy Spirit. I begin to see the truth in Tertullian’s discourse to the martyrs:

‘You went out of prison when you went into it, and we’re but sequestered from the world that you might converse with God; the greatest prisoners and the most guilty are those at large, darkened with ignorance, chained with lusts, committed not by the proconsul, but God.’

Sir, I could even envy your prison comforts, and the sweet opportunities of a religious privacy. We that are abroad are harassed and worn out with constant public labours, and can seldom retire from the distraction of business for such free converse with God and our own souls. But we are not to choose our own portion; crosses will come soon enough without wishing for them, and if we were wise we might take an advantage of every condition.

Good sir, be persuaded to publish these discourses: the subject is useful, and your manner of handling it warm and affectionate. Do not deprive the world of the comfort of your experiences. Certainly my heart is not one of the tenderest, yet if heart answers to heart, I can easily foresee much success and that you will not repent of the publication. The Lord bless your endeavours in the gospel of his dear Son. I am, sir, yours in all Christian observance,

Thomas Manton.

The first section is ‘Twenty-One Lessons Which God Usually Teaches His People in a Suffering Condition.’

‘(1.) The first lesson God teaches us by affliction is to have compassion for those who are in a suffering condition.
We are prone to be insensitive, writes Case, when we are at ease in Zion! Partly out of the delicacy of self-love which makes us unwilling to sour our own sweet blessings with the bitter taste of a strangers affliction. Upon this very account God brings a variety of afflictions and sorrows upon his own children.’ p. 14.

‘(5.) God also uses affliction to reveal unknown corruption in the hearts of his people.
He reveals in the heart what pride, what impatience, what unbelief, what idolatry, what distrust of God, what murmuring, and what unthankfulness abides there that you never took notice of!’ p. 21.

One final quote from section 3. ‘How the Instrument of Affliction Promotes the Teaching of God in the Soul’
(1.) Through affliction God tears down the pride of man’s heart.
There is no greater obstruction to saving knowledge than pride and self-opinion. Pride raise objections against the word (The Bible), and disputes the commands when they should obey them. The heart of man stands as a mountain before the word, and cannot be moved until God comes with his instruments of affliction and knocks down those mountains, and then stands on level ground to talk with man. This pride of heart speaks loud in the wicked, and whispers audibly even in the godly. It is folly bound up even in the hearts of God’s children until correction drives it out, and the pride is broken and cries, ‘Lord, what will you have me to do?’ p. 82, 83.

As Manton writes, ‘crosses will come soon enough without wishing for them, and if we were wise we might take an advantage of every condition.’

 

Free Speech – Going, going, gone?

I read this some while ago now at the recommendation of a friend (Thanks Nick!). Having checked the revisions, I first started writing this over a year ago. I’m staggered at how things have moved!

The author, Mick Hulme is an atheist but the subject of Free Speech is something that should unite both Atheist and Christian alike and this book does that. It’s been in my ‘Draft’ folder for a while but the book’s relevance continues. Indeed, the book seems to have more relevance each week. There’s so much to quote you might as well go and buy it. The following extracts will suffice for now. Note especially this line: ‘Free speech means you are also free to talk back as you see fit‘. So talking and talking back. Sounds very much like a conversation – even a heated conversation.

‘If it is to mean anything, free speech has to live up to its name. This is the hardest thing for many who claim to endorse the principle to remember in practice. It means that what others say or write need not conform to what you, I, or anybody else might prefer.

Here is the terrible truth about free speech. Anybody can choose to write, blog, tweet, chant, preach, phone a radio program or shout at a television set. Not all of them will have the purity of soul of Jesus Christ or Joan Rivers, the wisdom of Socrates or Simon Cowell, or the good manners of Prince Harry or Piers Morgan. That’s tough. They still get the same access to free speech as the rest of us, whether we like it or not.

Defending the unfettered Free in free speech is not a question of endorsing whatever objectionable or idiotic things might be written or said. Nobody had to find Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons insightful or hilarious in order to stand by its right to publish them. Nor is it a question of being soft and suffering in silence. Free speech means you are also free to talk back as you see fit.

The Free in free speech does mean recognising that free speech is for fools, fanatics and the other fellow too. Like all true liberties, free speech is an indivisible and universal right. We defend it for all or not at all.’

Trigger Warning: Is the fear of being offensive killing free speech?, Mick Hume (Pages. 12 & 13).

In practice, this isn’t easy for Christians – or for anyone else for that matter. Having our faith and our Saviour ridiculed in public isn’t pleasant but is nothing new. And it’s happening all the time directly and indirectly. (I didn’t say we have to like it) Why other lobby groups expect a free pass on abuse and ridicule is quite frankly beyond me. Welcome to the real world. Christians have been living with this reality for centuries. Christians have been pilloried, abused, imprisoned, made fun of, and even burnt. Now, especially in The West, it’s shaming, losing your livelihood and trial by Media. In other countries, right now, like China for example, it’s another story.

In order to apply the principles of democracy, tolerance and free speech, which the UK is supposed to stand for, and even exports (allegedly), is it unreasonable to ask for the liberty to speak freely? By speaking freely I mean as Mick Hume writes ‘Free speech means you are also free to talk back as you see fit.’ This freedom is disappearing. We thank God for the freedoms we enjoy and we should pray that it continues. But what to do? The temptation is to lie down and simply hope it will all go away and suddenly as if by magic all our liberties will be restored. It’s not going to happen. You might remember when Boris Johnson brought the topic of Free-Speech to the fore (which BTW has come back several times – including ‘Any Questions’ BBC Radio 4).

At the end of the book, Mick Hulme has provided a glossary, if you will, of anti-free speech Trigger Warnings that were trotted out several times over the comments by Boris. Nothing has changed in the intervening period, our liberties, or lack of them, continually slip away. How things change, Boris Johnson is now Prime Minister. Incidentally, ‘Boris’ is a passionate believer in Free Speech (correct me if I’m wrong). Consider the torrent of abuse he receives – including from Christians. Just in the last week a Judge ruled against a Doctor for not referring to someone by their preferred way of being addressed. Again, I’m just amazed at how fast things are moving.

Here’s the first two of Mick Hulme’s Glossary:

‘This is not a free-speech issue.’

‘This is a pretty sure sign that yes, it is.
The first shot fired in the silent war on free speech is often an assurance that the bans or proscriptions on speech being demanded really have nothing to do with attacking freedom of expression. Of course, the fraudsters assure us that they support free speech, but this is about something else – hate or harassment, national security or personal safety.
What they usually mean is ‘This not a me-speech issue’. It is not infringing on their free speech, so it’s not a problem. But free speech is not the same as me-speech, never mind me-me-me speech. It is always about defending freedom for the other fellow, for the one who thinks differently.’

Incidentally, there have a few discussions regarding our freedom to Speak and interesting, and alarming, to note the frequency these warnings given by Mick Hume are used. But here’s another one that you will probably have noticed. One more:

‘Of course I believe in free speech, but…’

‘This is the one most often guaranteed to give the game away that no, in fact, you don’t.
Ours is the age of the but-heads, when almost nobody opposes free speech ‘in principle’, but Principle is seemingly another country and they do things differently there. In Practice, back here on Earth, many have a ‘but’ to wave around in the face of free speech to explain why the freedom to express an opinion should go thus far, but no further, like ‘free’-range livestock caged in a pen.
This might sound reasonable. But (to use the only language some people seem to understand) the problem is that, like all meaningful liberties, free speech has to be a universal and indivisible right. Once you apply a ‘but’ impose conditions or attach a string, it ceases to be a right. Instead it becomes a concession to be rationed by somebody in authority.
Those ubiquitous ‘buts’ don’t just qualify a commitment to free speech, they crush it. To claim to believe in free speech, but … is akin to insisting that you believe in an Almighty God, but you don’t think He’s all that. It might be better if the but-heads came clean and confessed that they don’t really believe in free speech after all.’

Having said all the above, does that mean we can say whatever we like in an absolute sense? By absolute, I mean saying whatever you like without any eternal consequence. I accept that as Christians we ought to weigh our words carefully and I’ll be the first to confess that I may have overstepped the mark on occasion. We should all consider some words from the Bible. Of course, the Bible is itself soon to be labeled Hate Speech (Gen 1:27). The Bible is considered by some as outrageous, and probably to some extent by Mick Hume, but he doesn’t (I assume) want to close me down or have me arrested for having a different view or even for calling him a sinner. The fact is, Jesus said that every idle word we say will be brought into the judgment.

Mat 12:36  I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless (idle AV) word they speak,
Mat 12:37  for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (ESV)

That is serious stuff but I still believe people have the right to call me a nutcase and say what they like about the Christian faith. In this life Jesus said every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven: except a final rejection of the Salvation offered by God. But right now, your sin, no matter how grievous, and no matter how you may have railed against your God, it can all be forgiven.

JACO Biography – A Kind Of Review

If like me you love Jaco’s bass playing but know little about the man then this book could be the book for you. The strapline to the book is ‘The extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius.’ Do realise his life was extraordinary, but it was also very tragic. Just a little bit about the book itself. This is the Anniversary Edition of JACO by Bill Milkowski. The text is really dense. It’s a small font for the size of book and sometimes the pages are just a mass of text. But, it is very well written and very readable with several pictures, plus lots of anecdotes and quotes from those that knew him and played with him. Throughout there are a lot of memories of other musicians that first heard him with Sixty Three reflections (Not all good) on his life and music at the end. To use a colloquialism – they were usually ‘gobsmacked’ by his ability and creativity. There’s a fair bit of fruity language – the F-word and S-word are frequently used. However, I found it to be a page turner. There’s also a fairly decent index (in a very tiny font) and a full discography – most of which I was completely unaware of although I knew he played with Joni Mitchell.

Here’s the first paragraph or so in the acknowledgments (p. vii):

‘It’s a rare privilege to be able to revisit an old work and refine, update, expand, and otherwise sculpt it into a better, more satisfying shape. With a fresh perspective afforded by the passing of ten years since the original printing of The Extraordinary And Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius — along with new information gathered, new insights provided by key figures missed the first time around, and the wisdom and empathy that comes with fatherhood — I was able to “do this thing correct,” as Jaco would say.’

Part of his mission, says Milkowski, was ‘to paint a richer, more detailed portrait of Jaco’s early, pre-Weather Report years in Fort Lauderdale, where he was at his happiest and healthiest — a straight-arrow Family man and dedicated musician at the peak of his powers.’

He also wanted to ‘more closely examine the final 24 hours leading up to the savage beating that put Jaco in a coma for nine days and resulted in his ultimate demise on September 21, 1987.’

I was listening to Jaco Pastorius back in the 1970’s when I started listening to fusion styles of jazz (Chick Corea – Return to Forever; Mahavishnu Orchestra) which at the time led me to buy albums by Miroslav Vitous (Bass), Tomasz Stańko (Trumpet) which was just an extension of the other weird stuff (Henry Cow, Gong, Soft Machine) most people thought I was listening to. I was playing the guitar a bit but it never went anywhere but I did at least have the ear (I think) to know when I was listening to something special. Like lots of people then, it seems, listening to Jaco made me sit up and realise this was definitely someone special.

I actually managed to see Weather Report at The Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park, London, but we couldn’t stay to the end as I recall else we’d have missed our train. What a shame. When I only recently saw there was a biography of Jaco it was a no-brainer to get it.

Jaco was blessed with an abundance of ‘natural’ ability. He had perfect pitch, perfect time, a photographic memory and was even physically suited to playing the electric Bass. As if that wasn’t enough he was also an innovator. He had all the attributes of a genius. He also had an obsessive personality that made him want to be the best at whatever he did – and seemed to excel at whatever it was. That didn’t mean he just sat around wallowing in his gifts – he obsessively practiced and practiced and practiced. Even for a genius, there isn’t a short cut. But it seems with genius there’s more often than not a corresponding defect in the personality.

I knew nothing about his early life and was quite surprised at how long he held out with a no-drinking and no-drugs policy. But all the time I’m reading I know things are going to take a tragic turn. The first couple of chapters are upfront and tell of the tragedy. The next few chapters tell of his rise to fame – if I can put it like that – as he reaches the peak of his playing ability and the recognition that went with it. All the while there’s this awful expectation that Jaco’s life is going to turn really bad. There’s a sense of foreboding. As I reach this stage of the book I’m wondering what it was that sent him on a downward spiral.

[This little section I had some quotes to insert here but I’ve misplaced the book so this is from memory: There was mention of him getting drunk but it didn’t seem to be a habitual thing. But, we are told that Joe Zawinul and Jaco would ‘get competitively wasted on a regular basis.’ But Zawinul apparently treated him like a son. You would have thought he would have tried to protect him – but he doesn’t. Not really. Other friends notice a real change at this point.]

Anyway, as far as I can tell, it’s at this time in Jaco’s life where things begin to take a bad turn. On top of the drugs and booze his marriage to Tracy was starting to fall apart. He had a relationship with another woman (perhaps many women) and a relationship with Joni Mitchell born out of their musical / spiritual collaboration.

Ingrid (one of the women) knew it was wrong and she felt Jaco’s Catholic upbringing caused him to feel guilty about what he was doing – and rightly so.

So whether there was already a personality defect and the marriage breaking up coupled with fame, booze, drugs and the pressure of being at the top conspired to form a deadly cocktail that drove him on a downward tragic spiral, I don’t know. But there’s more:

Peter Erskine (Drummer with Weather Report & friend) told his father (As it happens, a Psychologist) about Jaco’s mood swings and without even seeing him diagnosed Jaco to be suffering from Manic Depression – what we now call Bipolar Disorder. It wasn’t until years later Jaco was hospitalised, diagnosed and then treated (with Lithium). In the book ‘Tackling Mental Illness Together: A biblical and practical approach’ by Alan Thomas there’s a section on Bipolar disorder (pp, 168 – 172) in chapter 9 ‘Severe Mental Illnesses.’ In this chapter, Professor Thomas describes what we read about in this biography of Jaco – manic episodes and depression. Lithium is still used with the side-effect of trembling that Jaco experienced – especially in his hands.

Part of the tragedy, maybe the main part, is that instead of hospitalising him, he is idolised and treated as a Cash Cow. He was ill. I recently watched a program on Channel 5 called ‘The Death of Amy Winehouse: 13 Reasons Why.’ There were many sad parallels, especially with drink and drugs. The author brings out quite a few times how life was much simpler, and happier, for Jaco in the early days. Before he became famous, when he wasn’t drinking or taking drugs, when he was happy with his first wife Tracy (‘Portrait of Tracy’).

After reading this I now listen to Jaco’s playing slightly differently. It’s certainly a celebration of masterful playing (a new appreciation for sure)  but it’s tinged with sadness.  

When reading books like this I’m always interested in looking to see what their religious convictions are. And for good reason, there’s a lot hanging on it. But I don’t read to judge. Leastways I try not to anyway. I read with hope. As a Christian, I’ve read biographies with lives that are just about as tragic as it gets in this life but by God’s Grace they have come to know Christ. And so their lives become a testimony to the triumph of grace. Reading these biographies there’s a turn from whatever the darkness might be to the light of Christ and an eternal heritage. There’s redemption. Not so with the life of Jaco. There is no redemption, there is no point at which his life turns around. There is no hope. It does not end well. I do not know if somehow God reached into Jaco’s life at the last moment and we’ll see him in heaven. Maybe. I hope it is so. The night when he was beaten that led to his death, he had talked with Carlos Santana. Santana says ‘…. we talked a little bit about Jesus. That was the last time I saw him. (p. 261).   I have absolutely no idea what ‘talking a little bit about Jesus’ means. Jesus gets a mention a few other times through the book and his ‘spirituality’ is mentioned several times. Again, what that actually means, I have no idea. Jaco was brought up a Catholic and sang in the choir so there was some input. Whether he was saved or not then, I don’t know. I know God is Gracious though, and that it’s He that does the saving, not us.

In summary then, if you’re a fan of Jaco you should read it. But it’s not a fun read. It’s not a fun read because we get to follow, through Bill Milkowski’s excellent book the rise of such an amazing talent as Jaco and then his subsequent destruction and fall, ending in his tragic death.

Can we trust the gospels? by Peter J. Williams – A Recommendation

Can we trust the gospels? by Peter J. Williams.

From the preface;

‘I have long felt the need for a short book explaining to a general audience some of the vast amount of evidence for the trustworthiness of the four Gospels. There are various great treatments of this topic, and each book has its own focus. This one seeks to present a case for the reliability of the Gospels to those who are thinking about the subject for the first time. …. for the sake of brevity I have cut out everything unnecessary.’ p.13.

‘It is common today to speak of world faiths or to describe some people as having faith, as if others do not. Faith is seen as a non-rational belief — something not based on evidence. However, that is not what faith originally meant for Christians. Coming from the Latin word fides, the word faith used to mean something closer to our word trust. Trust, of course, can be based on evidence.’

‘The book’s title, Can We Trust the Gospels?, is therefore carefully chosen. It addresses the question by looking at evidence of the Gospel’s trustworthiness. The great thing about trust is that it is something we all understand to a degree because we all exercise it.’

From The Introduction. P.15.

This is a book for anyone, and I would include non-Christians in that. The writing is easy to read, the text is easy to read and none of it is difficult to understand. There are eight chapters, a general index and a Scriptural index. There are also helpful footnotes throughout where the reader will find references to sources and recommendations for further reading.

The first chapter focuses on ancient non-Christian hostile sources to make a historical case for the authenticity of the Gospels. He makes several helpful observations that serve to support his (and the Christian) case.

Chapter 5 is the longest chapter where the author shows how the Gospels, are highly unlikely to have been made up, as some claim. There are some nice charts that support Gospel accuracy from local knowledge about place names.

Dr Williams presents in a very straightforward way ample evidence that the Gospels can be trusted. He is an expert in his field: the field of textual criticism. He inhabits, intellectually speaking, the world of manuscripts, with other experts (not necessarily Christians) in that discipline. Most of us do not.

There are other good reasons to trust the Gospels, but this book should help a) Christians that are perhaps struggling with doubt about whether the Bible can be trusted and b) Non-Christians that need to understand that trusting their souls to The Lord Jesus Christ is NOT a leap in the dark. Committing intellectual suicide is not required. In fact, the Bible itself speaks against doing so.

The last chapter deals with objections, especially from committed materialists – atheists. What is really amusing is that atheists committed to freethinking or a search for truth can’t do either of those things. Why? How can you search for truth if you don’t believe, objectively, that it exists. And so a commitment to freethinking is also impossible. Dr Williams presents a small, but significant, amount of evidence which the atheist will dismiss with a wave of the hand when any crackpot produces something that has previously been proved false, thus demonstrating a denial of that which he claims: freethinking and a search for truth. This book probably won’t satisfy the determined atheist – and I doubt anything will.

Ultimately then, all of us, come to trust in Christ through the intervention of God the Holy Spirit through whom we surrender to the God of The Bible. Thank God it is so. Although we need to be ‘born again’ by the supernatural actions of God in order that we might trust in Christ, God doesn’t ask us to believe in fairy stories (despite the protest of Atheists) but in things that happened in time, real historical events that are faithfully recorded in the Gospels. So as for the question, this book asks: Can we trust the Gospels? Yes we can.

More Gunpowder, Treason and Plot!

I’d been reading this for a while in between dipping into other books but I have now finished it. It is absolutely brilliant! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. And I do recommend reading it, not just for the plot itself but to understand the times. I’m not sure who said it but before reading anything from the past you should chant to yourself this phrase: ‘The past is another country, they do things differently there.’ Or do they?

To the book. Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot by (Lady) Antonia Fraser. I have it in paperback. I bought it used via Amazon. The print is small and dense. There are two sections of pictures – that are great. There’s a detailed index, endnotes (I do not like endnotes), and a list of Reference Books (quite a few). There are also helpful footnotes (thumbs up) throughout the chapters. To be fair, the endnotes are mostly references with only the occasional note, and I scanned through them first so I didn’t need to refer to them while reading. The book is very detailed. She gives a great overview of the earlier reigns to set the scene for the arrival of James 1. In setting the scene though she doesn’t tell us about the St Bartholomew’s day massacre (1572) and I don’t remember any mention of the people Queen Mary (Bloody Mary, Queen in 1552) burnt at the stake. Fifty years or so isn’t that long, so it isn’t surprising sympathy for Catholics from some quarters is lacking.

Antonia Fraser wrote the book in 1996. This is significant. She wrote the book before 9/11 but I’m reading it post 9/11. Reading the book with that in mind the parallels are quite incredible. The author is obviously unaware when of writing and this makes it very interesting to read. I should mention the author is a Catholic. I’ve no idea how committed she is to her faith, but the bias I think is there. I knew this before reading so I wasn’t put off by this at all. She is a brilliant writer. And I think for the most part gives a fair account.

Robert Catesby and his band of terrorists wanted to blow up a mostly Protestant Parliament. That included the King and Queen and their children. Had they pulled it off this would have been a catastrophe for the country. There were to be Catholic Lords in ‘The House’ at the time, friends of his, but this was no deterrent to him. But it would have been uncharted territory and from that perspective, we are left with a lot of ‘what if’s.’ He was a fanatic. Not just any fanatic. He was a Catholic fanatic. He didn’t bring the Houses of Parliament down but he did bring down the wrath of the government and the ire of the King upon the Catholics in the country. The Toleration that Catholics wanted probably would have happened in time. As it eventually did in fact. But their cause had a huge setback.

What did the Government know? In the last chapter, she goes through a few views ranging from a Government plot instigated by Salisbury to complete ignorance. For me, Salisbury knew a lot, but it wasn’t a Government plot. They did need to catch them in the act. And so they caught Guido Fawkes preparing to set the thing off. It seems the powder had separated and might have been useless anyway but who knows.

Some of the questions the book raises are; The Power of The State, Freedom of Religion, Torture, Capital Punishment, and Fanaticism. All the conspirators that were caught were put to death in a horrible way. Father Garnet, the Jesuit leader in England was also put to death but mercifully died at the hanging stage. But here’s the thing about Father Garnet, he did know about the plot. He hid behind the confessional and kept quiet. But he definitely knew beforehand. Here’s something else to think about, should a Priest (or counselor) upon finding out about a crime, or possible crime report it to the authorities? She (the author) dwells upon the Catholic doctrine of Equivocation. (There’s a similar Islamic doctrine – do you get the parallels?) So initially when Father Garnet was being questioned he continued to equivocate. That is, he made it seem he knew nothing. When it finally comes out that he knew, the council rightly ask ‘why did you leave it till now to tell us?’ A fair question. We don’t know if he was tortured. Was Father Garnet, a Jesuit, the instigator of the plot. It was convenient to lay it all at the Jesuit door, but we don’t know. Robert Catesby was (conveniently some say) killed at Holbeach House and so was never questioned.

In the first three pages of the ‘Author’s Note,’ she provides a framework for the book, her aims and some questions she would like to see answered. Assuming the episode is a tragedy (it is) ‘Who was it a tragedy for?’ she asks. Other themes she cites are ‘Terror’ and ‘Terrorism’ thinking primarily of Northern Ireland and the Palestine / Israel conflict with no idea, as I said before, of what was to come. And by terror, she includes the terror of The State. She’s also keen to give a prominent place to women and so, for example, we read a lot about Ann Vaux.

Assuming then, a plot at all, she is ‘… concerned to convey actuality: that is to say, a sense of what an extraordinarily dramatic story it was, with all its elements of tragedy, brutality, [and] heroism …’ You may not, of course, agree with her answers, but whatever point of view you take on The Plot it’s still a brilliant book and a great read – I thought so anyway.

It’s quite a story and full of intrigue. I’m familiar with some of the places which made it more exciting to read. I was in Dunchurch and Ashby St Ledgers last November so I’ll try to post a few pictures.

 

‘Slowhand’ Eric Clapton Biography – Brief ‘Kind of’ Review

This year I’m trying to read a few non-Christian books. ‘Slowhand’ was on display at the local library, so I decided that it would be a good book to read. Slowhand: The Life and Music of Eric Clapton by Philip Norman was published last year (2018), so is nicely up to date. I finished it a few weeks ago but as far as the readability goes, it’s easy going and I enjoyed reading it. The text is a nice size and the chapters divide up into easy chunks and are not too long. There’s even an Index (and I used it). As I go through the book I note the dates and think how old I was and what was going on at the time. For example, I was at the Rainbow Concert after just turning nineteen. I didn’t become a Christian until I was 25.

I’ve not picked a guitar up for nearly 40 years, and most likely won’t again, but I remember back then having very heated discussions in the pub over who was the greatest guitarist. At the time (early 1970’s), for me, it was Jan Akkerman (Focus). There were a lot of contenders, so Clapton was probably one of them. I do recall the ‘Clapton is God’ label. There are several songs that I really like. For example White Room, Bell Bottom Blues, Crossroads, and Sunshine of Your Love and even though I heard a lot of his music I never actually owned any of his albums (including Cream) until I recently bought a Best of Eric Clapton CD. I suppose, for me, and it is a matter of taste, the Blues is not my favourite style of music, although I appreciate it when it’s done well. In the Blues genre, Clapton is definitely one of its great exponents and I do like a lot of it.

The book starts with Eric in a Service Station with George Harrison. Initially, I thought it was going to miss his childhood but the author then takes us back to when Eric was born in Ripley. His early childhood, or the effects of it anyway, feature throughout his life. His mother left him when he was two. He thought his mother was his sister and his grandmother was his mother. He found out the terrible deception when he was nine. His grandmother Rose, spoilt him rotten (and continued to do so) and so consequently spoilt him.

Thankfully, there are no graphic descriptions but pretty much everybody, perhaps especially Clapton, lived totally promiscuous lifestyles: even when they were in ‘proper’ relationships or were married. It becomes a bit wearisome to continually read about his constant state of drunkenness or drug abuse. But that was how it was and the author faithfully records it all, while (most of the time) avoiding too many value judgments. There is some strong language in the book but It’s kept to a minimum and isn’t gratuitous. My language was quite extreme before becoming a Christian so to me it’s all quite tame.

I wondered if Clapton came into contact with Christians. He was brought up in a culturally Christian environment, as I was, so he would have some vague knowledge of the Christian faith. Vague knowledge, however, is most often completely wrong. After thinking about that the very next chapter found him undergoing radical treatment for his drug addiction by Christian doctors. The nurse was fired though because her evangelism was a bit too ‘full on’.

The temptation is to be judgemental about him and think of him as a spoilt brat (which he was) who seemed to get away with just about anything and everything (which he mostly did) whilst in the main avoiding the carnage he created for others around him. The way he treated the women in is his life is appalling. So appalling that it becomes impossible for the author not to say something. As the saying goes, however, ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’ No matter how much money or talent he had, ultimately, it couldn’t protect him from himself or later tragedy. It’s quite amazing that he has survived as long as he has. So many of his musical peers died while young.

He becomes a father and this finally begins to wake him up to some responsibility. And then tragedy strikes. In just one short paragraph (one sentence really) Norman writes about the death of Connor, Clapton’s four-year-old son. What happened is jaw-dropping. It stopped me in my tracks. So, so, sad.  The service was held in Ripley. I’ve no idea what Christian content there was at the funeral apart from the set C of E service.

In Christian circles, you hear the phrase ‘I don’t know how I’d cope if I weren’t a Christian. But people do. And sometimes they cope rather well. It’s not a phrase I like, even though I understand what’s meant. Clapton appears to change after this. He quits the drugs and the drink and takes control of his life. The last two chapters, I thought, were a bit rushed as we read that his grandmother Rose eventually dies, as does his mother, probably the two most influential people in his life. And so here we are in 2019 and Clapton is still playing. He survived. That is remarkable.

I’d definitely recommend reading it. Especially if you are a fan. I think it was good for me to read it.

 

 

 

‘On The Incarnation’ – St Athanasius (299 – 373)

What follows is a fairly lengthy quote, but I hope you will be blessed by it. I tried to type it ‘as is’ but I’m sure there are some typos for which I will take responsibility.

10 Truly this great work supremely befitted the goodness of God. For if a king constructed a house or a city, and it is attacked by bandits because of the carelessness of its inhabitants, he in no way abandons it, but avenges and saves it as his own work, having regard not for the carelessness of the inhabitants but for his own honour. All the more so, the God Word of the all-good Father did not neglect the race of human beings, created by himself, which was going to corruption, but he blotted out the death that had occurred through the offering of his own body, and correcting their carelessness by his own teaching, restoring every aspect of human beings by his own power. One may be convinced of these things by the theologians (He means the writers of Scripture) of the Saviour himself, taking their writings, which say, “For the love of Christ constrains us, as we judge this, that if one died for all, then all died; and he died for all that that we should no longer live for ourselves but for him who died and rose” from the dead, our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5: 14-15). And again, “We see Jesus who, for a little while, was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honour because of the passion of death, that by the grace of God he might taste death on behalf of all” (Heb 2:9). Then he also points out the reason why it was necessary for none other than the God Word to be incarnate, saying, “For it was fitting that he, for whom are all things and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Heb 2:10). Saying this, he means that it was for none other to bring human beings out from the corruption that had occurred except the God Word who had also created them in the beginning. And that the Word himself also took to himself a body as a sacrifice for similar bodies, this they indicated saying, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of them, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is the devil, and might deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” (Heb 2: 14-15). For by the sacrifice of his own body, he both put an end to the law lying against us and renewed for us the source of life, giving hope of the resurrection. For since through human beings death had seized human beings, for this reason, again, through the incarnation of the God Word there occurred the dissolution of death and the resurrection of life, as the Christ-bearing man says, “For as by a human being came death, by a human being has come also the resurrection of the dead; for as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive” and that which follows (1 Cor 15: 21-22). For now we no longer die as those condemned, but as those who will arise do we await the common resurrection of all, which God, who wrought and granted this, “in his own time will reveal” (1 Tim 6:15; Titus 1:3).
This therefore, is the first cause of the incarnation of the Saviour. One might also recognise that his gracious advent consistently occurred from the following.”

On The Incarnation, St Athanasius. St Vladimir’s Press. Popular Patristics Series, Number 44b. Pp, 59 & 60.

Page 60 is as far as I have read.

That Hideous Strength – How the West Was Lost – Melvin Tinker Part 1

via That Hideous Strength – How the West Was Lost – Melvin Tinker Part 1

That Hideous Strength – Part 2 – The Gender Agenda

via That Hideous Strength – Part 2 – The Gender Agenda