Sunday, December 20, 2009

Did James Cameron just RIP OFF C.S. Lewis?

OK, I am digressing from William Perkins at the moment for a couple of reasons.

1. I am nearing the end of the term right now, and working on my final paper, which has nothing to do with Perkins. My focus has been sidetracked from blogging with the hovering fate of final grades.

2. We went and saw Avatar last night, and the more I thought about it, the more I think I may be on to something here.

I will try my hardest not to reveal anything too big about Avatar in this blog, but in case you are one of those people that are dying to see this movie and would like to know absolutely nothing about it, then by all means, go see the movie and then read this blog.

Lewis was questioned near the end of his life about several topics in Christianity and writing by a man named Sherwood E. Wirt who worked with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Mr. Wirt's and Lewis' discussion is recorded for us in the collection of essays, God in the Dock. The essay is entitled "Cross-Examination."

Mr. Wirt, reaching the end of the discussion, asks Lewis, "Do you think there will be wide-spread travel in space?" Lewis' response is this:

"I look forward with horror to contact with the other inhabited planets, if there are such. We would only transport to them all of our sin and our acquisitiveness, and establish a new colonialism. I can't bear to think of it. But if we on earth were to get right with God, of course, all would be changed. Once we find ourselves spiritually awakened, we can go to outer space and take the good things with us. That is quite a different matter."

Earlier this semester, I read Lewis' book Out of the Silent Planet for the first time. I was enthralled with Lewis' idea that we were the aliens invading another planet; humanity was bad, bent. The civilization on the planet, Malacandra, was not bent. The different species worked together in their own gifted ways to bring harmony to their planet, because this was the way of Maleldil. Ransom, our hero of the story, knew that if man remained on this planet then they would destroy the way of life on Malacandra and bring the bent-ness to this planet.

OK, so let's go over some similarities between Out of the Silent Planet and Avatar then.

First, the landscape - When Ransom first comes to Malacandra, Lewis writes, "He saw nothing but colors - colors that refused to form themselves into things." "Before anything else he learned that Malacandra was beautiful." Not too mention the purple vegetation, trees and moss that almost seemed to hang in the air. This colorful world filled with purple and light is pretty close to the world of Pandora in Avatar. Obviously, Cameron is more vivid in his ability to express an unfallen world, but there is something that is awfully similar between the two planets - beauty.

Second, the creatures - Now, the sorns are white beings, but they are described as extremely long, drooping noses, graceful creatures. I cannot help but think of the Na'vi. Yes, they are blue beings, but still very long, very graceful. The hrossa as well bring song and praise to Maleldil. When the Na'vi come together and "worship" their god, Eywah, they bring song to it. The hrossa were the poets of the land; they were the ones that came up with beautiful words and songs. They also were the hunters of the land - not hunting as some sort of mere killing experience, but the hunt was a work of pride, a work to be honored. The same idea was with the Na'vi - that the hunter must have a clean kill, and that they understood the circle of life as they took a life to feed their lives.

Third, Ransom - When Ransom has first arrived at Malacandra, he has spent a month nearly inactive. When he is running for his life, the description Lewis gives reminds me of Jake's first time using his Avatar. Jake was excited and wobbly using his legs for the first time in years since his spinal cord was shot; Ransom, while obviously having a far less tramatic experience, was wobbly and worn because he was not used to running in this new world. He had to learn the new world, the way to climb and run in it. Ransom also had to learn the language of the hrossa in order to become one of them, much like Jake having to learn the language of the Na'vi. They worked on changing everything about their humanity into something new. They both desired to leave behind what was bent (spiritually for Ransom and physically for Jake); they desired to be a part of the harmonious life on the new planet.

These are just a few of the things that I noticed that were similar between the two. I have NO idea if James Cameron has ever read Out of the Silent Planet. I guess I will have to ask him the next time I have him over for a cup of tea, oh wait, I'm not that famous yet.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Mr. Plain Jane, er, John

Now that I have wet your whistle about Puritan Preacher, William Perkins (you are interested, right?), let's dive into some of the things he said and preached, shall we?

Perkins was a second-generation Calvinist. Can you imagine? Just one generation before him across the channel and over the woods of France, there lived and breathed J.C. - getting down to business, writing a ton, pastoring a flock and sticking it to the pointy-hatted man! What a time to be alive! I would be jealous, but I'm a woman, and more than likely would have been nursing babies, cooking meals and probably not have the ability to read or write; so you might gather that I would rather enjoy reading about these two men and what they wrote than living during their time. Unless I was Calvin's second wife? But I digress.

Perkins had a natural way of writing and preaching which came to be known as "plain style." Now, you might think that plain style would be something rather boring to listen to, such as the simplest of sentences or I don't know, listening to a doctor give out just the facts in the plain speech of medical terms or something of the sort. Well, if you thought this, I must inform you that you would be wrong. Plain style, as Sinclair Ferguson so eloquently put it, is along the following line:

“The sermons of many plain-style preachers scintillated with vivid language and illuminating illustration; but the main business was to preach Christ and to reach the heart. Everything was subservient to this."

Vivid language, illuminating illustration - the closest that I can think that comes to this type of speech in our present day would be Alistair Begg, but I am sure that you could think of others as well. I firmly believe that C.S. Lewis falls into this type of speaker/writer as well, but we all know that I have a biased opinion of Saint Lewis.

Perkins was very good at preaching though. This is why there are stories recorded of him early on in his pastoring career when he was in a prison ministry - there was a man on the way to his death sentence, fearing the fate that was coming, and Perkins stopped the man and asked if he was ready to die. The man, literally quivering in his boots, told Perkins that he was not ready. Perkins prayed over the man and through the prayer so effectually led him to the depths of hell to show him the wonderful mercy of God that the man saw the gates of death close before him and knew his Savior. He walked on to his hanging and died gleaming from the mercy he had found.

Now I don't know about you, if you have ever been put in a situation where someone is quite literally fearing death or so depressed that they are in complete despair or even simply facing the question of eternity and the idea of God, but those situations are extremely frightening for me. I am so worried that I am going to jumble up the basic message of the Gospel, or that my sarcasm and general sinful self will turn them off to the idea of being apart of the body of Christ, or simply that I should not say anything to them because I am not qualified. Perkins is an inspiration to me during those times. He relied fully on the fact that the Spirit would speak through him, and he used all of his faculties and resources that God had given him to speak appropriately during those times. He did not shy away, he did not lace the Gospel message with any sort of promises of blessings to come (outside of the blessing of eternal life, which when you put any other sort of "blessing" face to face with that, do they even compare?). He used plain style, vivid language, useful and illuminating illustrations - plain and simple as that.

Maybe you are saying, well that's great, but I am not that smart, creative or witty. How will I be able to use a great, vivid, illustration during these times? I can't even come up with a good, creative definition when I play Balderdash! The answer, my friend, is this: plagiarize! Now, I do not mean that you should start quoting John Piper or Tim Keller or, let's try to be ecumenical here, Thomas Aquinas or G.K. Chesterton and claim these words as your own brilliant thought. No, what I am saying is that you should start reading these people more and more and using the examples and illustrations that they give when you are faced in these situations. If you can't think of something on your own, then borrow, and later on give that person the book that you so eloquently quoted from!

OK, I am going to leave you with these thoughts now. I promise the next couple of blogs will contain actually plain style words of Perkins and his views of predestination and the assurance of salvation. Exciting stuff, yes? Well, at I think so.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I believe that you are the man we are looking for...

So, I really must apologize for not blogging at a more regular pace, but with having to research and type out 50 more pages for this semester's work, I am a bit busy.

But soft, what light through yonder computer screen breaks? It is a new blog post, and you are its reader!

Today, I am handing in a 21-page paper on William Perkins. Now, as I have done in the past (see here and also here), I typically post my paper. However, these have been nice, short 5 pagers that most of you graciously trudge through for the sake of my ego. I will NOT, I repeat NOT force you to read my 21-pages worth of thoughts on William Perkins in one sitting. I do say one sitting, because I am tempted at this point to break it up for you. he he he. However, what I think I will do is take some of the more applicable sections of what I learned about his writing and have you discover more about this, and hopefully walk away all the more blessed because of it.

First, for most of us, if I said the name, William Perkins - you have absolutely NO idea who I am talking about. Do not fret, my friend, you are in good company. I looked over the list of 7 authors that I had to read this semester for the course, English Puritanism, and I could not tell you who 5 of these strapping young lads were either (William Perkins being on the "who?" list). Perkins was born in Marston Jabbet (that would be in jolly-old England) sometime in 1558. He had the privilege of receiving a great education, being tutored as a boy by the Puritan Laurence Chaderton, and then doing both his BA and MA at Christ's College in Cambridge.

Now, for a little history - Perkins lived during the wonderful prosperous time of Queen Elizabeth I. I have not read too much about Queen Bess, so I won't be giving too much information about her in particular (if you want to read more, please do so, or you can always enjoy Cate Blanchett preening and commanding storms to reign down on Spain). She was the Protestant Queen though, and from what I have learned this semester about these times in England - they were a raging turmoil of constant shift between Catholic and Protestant (i.e. Church of England/soon-to-be called Anglican) rulers. So, with every changing of the guard, the people and churches would either be Catholic people and churches or they would be Protestant people and churches. This, I grant you, is a VAST oversimplification of the events that took place, but you are reading a blog, aren't you?

Elizabeth I, for what it is worth, brought some stability to the church world during her reign. Those with Puritan sympathies as well, were able to coexist at this time. This would not be the case in about 50 years, but William Perkins had the great benefit of living during the time of Elizabeth and not later. He became the pastor and preacher of St. Andrews in Cambridge and was able to preach more about reform, Calvinist theology and a great deal on the assurance of salvation without ever having to feel the wrath of the government or flee for his life (unlike his successors).

What is known about Perkins' early life will come as a shock to some - the man was known for his drinking and galavanting, possibly had a child out of wedlock, oh and it is thought that he liked to dabble in astrology. The story goes that he had a great awakening of the soul one night when he overheard a mother telling her child that he better hold his tongue, or she would give him to the drunk Perkins. Whether this is true or not, we really cannot say. However, he did change his ways and started following the Lord sometime between 1581 and 1584. He died in 1602, this leaves us with just about 20 years.

These 20 years proceeded to be some of the most influential 20 years of a man's life. He published many works, and his own books moved to the top of the "best-seller" list, outshining the late, great John Calvin. This is quite a feat in and of itself. He also was able to preach to many, soon-to-be, great Puritan thinkers and theologians - men like William Ames, Thomas Goodwin and Samuel Ward (just to name a few).

This is the man: a former drunk, well-educated man, who more than likely had a penchant for the ladies. What we will see in the blogs to come is that he was quite possibly one of the most well-spoken, effectual preachers of his day (and I would argue could teach some of our preachers today a thing or two about it as well!). The most wonderful thing of all is that God used this man, despite his former life of sin - God used him for great and wonderful things. It is a lesson to us all - don't get hung up on the sins of the past; repent and offer yourself as a servant all the more. Who knows, maybe you are the next William Perkins?