Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Spiritual Coffee: Power of Christian Narrative in Fantasy - Against the Myth of Progress and Historical Pessimism - Glorifying God as a Generalist

I really enjoyed today's collection of links. I hope that you will as well. Taken together, these three pieces restore some of the excitement and wonder in exploring God's Creation and the endless possibilities of discovery in the Christian mind and imagination. There is even now a great portion of beauty and glory awaiting us.
(Click on Spiritual Coffee for earlier collections of links.)

James Stoddard's Interior Castle, David Randall (First Things)
The quoted section below is enough to excite interest, especially for those who enjoy C.S. Lewis's fiction or The Lord of the Rings. I usually get the most enduring and satisfying enjoyment out of stories that have a great layer of truth underneath them. When you piece together the fantastic and unusual elements of a story and find they reveal a mystery about reality, you gain something personal and permanent. It is always a delight to discover beauty, but to discover something that is both beautiful and true is priceless.
"James Stoddard ought to be famous for his Evenmere trilogy—The High House (1998), The False House (2000, revised 2015), and Evenmere (2015). He isn’t, unfortunately. The High House received the Compton Crook Award for best fantasy by a new novelist, but The False House and Evenmere haven’t gotten much notice. But the three books are wonderfully written fantasy, and Stoddard is nearly as good as C. S. Lewis at recapitulating aspects of the Christian myth. He isn’t just trying to be another Lewis, either. Stoddard’s trilogy does something new and nifty: It is an argument in fiction that narrative is at the center of Christian theology—that the universe is narrative, that Christ is its sacred narrator, and that narrative is the means by which mankind can understand God. Stoddard’s sustained invention and stylish prose are enough by themselves to earn him a place in the mainstream fantasy canon. But his shift of emphasis from Christian myth to Christian narrative makes his trilogy a major work of Christian fantasy."
[I also find this description of the worldview of the villains to be brilliant. The deception that mankind can achieve a perfect world lies behind virtually all modern false ideologies (and the next link from Al Mohler happens to show what it's like for those ideologies to crash down).]
"The books’ villains are the Society of Anarchists, who are ruthlessly dedicated to establishing a perfect world."
Christ’s Exaltation: The Ground of Our Hope, Albert Mohler (Ligonier)
A succinct picture of Christ's reign and how it provides us confidence both now and for the future, contrasted with the hopelessness of faith in "progress" or perfection of humanity and its disillusioned counterpart, historical pessimism.

"'The twentieth century, it is safe to say, has made us all into deep historical pessimists.' So observed Francis Fukuyama in his seminal 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man. What happened? The nineteenth century’s humanistic faith in inevitable moral progress was destroyed on the battlefields of two cataclysmic world wars and in the unprecedented murderous cruelty of Hitler’s gas chambers, Stalin’s gulags, and Pol Pot’s Cambodian killing fields. History seemed to point, not to a golden age of moral progress and enlightenment, but toward an age of unspeakable cruelty backed by technological developments that would stagger the moral imagination.

"Fukuyama demonstrated the failure of historical 'faiths' such as Marxism, with its confidence in the ultimate victory of the proletariat through class struggle and revolution. His analysis of modern historical pessimism was correct, at least in this respect, for secular myths did not fare well in the twentieth century, and most contemporary Americans look to the future with a mixed sense of unease and uncertainty.

"The Christian worldview stands in stark contrast both to the humanistic idea of progress and to modern secular pessimism."

Probably fascinating for anyone who is curious how people like Justin Taylor, Russell Moore, Tim Challies, and departed heroes like Chuck Colson manage to have such diverse knowledge and insight into so many subjects. Carter is careful to say he can only describe his own experience, and that it may not be a calling that applies to many people. Particularly interesting are his conclusions that generalism is artistic, generalism is a personal act of worship to God, and generalism is not primarily pursued for the sake of imparting knowledge to others (although that is a valuable byproduct) but for the sake of beholding the majesty of God in greater and wider detail. The highest reward is a private moment of awe and wonder between the generalist and the Lord.

This line is also helpful and practical for those of us who get stalled out trying to find the perfect way to do things: "sometimes you have to use whatever method works for your personality, even if it’s less than ideal."
"What if we generalists are beckoned to seek knowledge not as a means for some other end but simply as an act of performance before our Creator? This is not to say that the knowledge gained cannot be used for practical purposes or in service of our neighbor. But viewing knowledge-seeking as a performative act done for God and before God frees us to treat it as a form of ongoing artistic worship. Just as David performed for God with leaping and dancing (2 Sam. 6:16) we are free to seek truth, knowledge, and understanding in a variety of areas as a way of glorifying him." [On Sincerity:] "'By validity I mean whether an artist is honest to himself and to his world-view,' Schaeffer says, 'or whether he makes his art only for money or for the sake of being accepted.' If it’s to glorify God as a work of art, generalism cannot be pursued as a means of impressing others with our erudition. For the Christian generalist, the pursuit of knowledge is a performance for God, not an act of pedantry to impress our peers. The validity comes in performing not for the applause of others but for the approval of our divine patron."
"What turns generalism into an art (or at least one major “style” of art) is “sublime pattern-matching,” seeing the interconnectedness of God’s creation in a way that impresses our minds with a sense of awe and veneration of his grandeur and power
"God takes delight not in the discovery of the patterns of his revelation (which, of course, he already knows) but with the way that the process leads us to childlike worship. It is the process that leads us to continuously repeat the prayer of the 17th-century astronomer Johannes Kepler: “O, Almighty God, I am thinking Thy thoughts after Thee!” It’s the pursuit of knowledge and discovery as a way to glorify our Redeemer by becoming increasingly enchanted by his majesty." “What is elementary, worldly wisdom?” Charles Munger asked. “Well, the first rule is that you can't really know anything if you just remember isolated facts and try and bang 'em back. If the facts don't hang together on a latticework of theory, you don't have them in a usable form.”

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