Posted by: gmscan | December 27, 2010

Reading in 2010

As you know, the main way I absorb information is by reading. Before we wrap up 2010, I thought I would share some of the books I’ve read in the past year that are helping me grow in faith.

First was C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity, which was the book my men’s group studied early in the year. Getting to know Lewis has been an absolute joy. His mind is so clear and his ability to communicate complex ideas in plain language is unparalleled. A long time ago, after the death of a very close friend, I read “A Grief Observed,” and found it comforting, but now I can hardly wait to read his other works more specifically focused on Christian apologetics.

By the way, as an example of how pitiful American education is, I had no idea what the real definition of “apology” was until I saw some references to Lewis as the greatest apologist for Christianity of the 20th century. “Apologist?” I thought, “What is there to apologize for?” Maybe you already know this, but my Webster’s has only one definition of “apologist” – “One who speaks or writes in defense of a faith, a cause, or an institution.”

So, it was jarring the other day, when Chris Matthews and Richard Wolffe mocked Sarah Palin for saying she reads C.S. Lewis for divine inspiration. The two gentlemen revealed their own ignorance by dismissing Lewis as merely the author of children’s books. And these are people who consider themselves well educated.

One of the millions of people who, like Sarah Palin, look to Lewis for inspiration is the author of the next book I read, Dr. Francis S. Collins. Dr. Collins is one of the foremost scientists of our era. He headed up the Human Genome Project and is currently running the National Institute of Health. He was an atheist as a young adult until a Methodist minister gave him a copy of “Mere Christianity.” He writes:

In the next few days, as I turned its pages, struggling to absorb the breadth and depth of te intellectual arguments laid down by this legendary Oxford scholar, I realized that all of my own constructs against the plausibility of faith were those of a schoolboy.

His book, The Language of God,explains how science and faith are not incompatible. Quite the opposite, they each support and inform the other, and the work of God can be seen in our scientific discoveries.

My next discovery was sent to me by a friend —What’s so Amazing About Grace?” by Phillip Yancey. Mr. Yancey is the editor-at-large of Christianity Today and a very fine writer. Here is another wonderful book that takes inspiration from C.S. Lewis. It cited a discussion of scholars in England on what is unique about Christianity. The attendees argue about a number of qualities until Lewis enters the room and asks what the discussion is about. When he is told, he answers, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

Yancey goes on to describe how every other religion offers ways to earn God’s blessings, but “only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.” The book is full of ways that grace is able to break through anger and hate. It is a very engaging book that keeps pushing the reader to the brink of disagreement but then swerves to resolve the conflict in unexpected ways.

The one issue that was not resolved for me is the idea of forgiveness without repentance. Yancey seems to say we should forgive others without expecting any repentance or acknowledgment of wrong doing on their part. I’m just not sure about that. Jesus said “Go and sin no more,” but doesn’t that suggest we need to acknowledge that we did sin in the first place? In Luke 17:3-4, Jesus says, “If another believer sins, rebuke him; then if he repents, forgive him. Even if he wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, forgive him.” So, this is a tough area for me and I think Yancey may be wrong on this point.

Next, another friend gave me The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus” by John Cross. This book is inspired by the incident in Luke where Jesus explains the Bible to two men who are bewildered by the events in Jerusalem. The book tries to pull together the threads of the whole Bible into a coherent story, especially how Jesus fulfilled the prophesies of the Old Testament.

The same friend also gave me a very short book, More Than a Carpenter” by Josh McDowell, which was published in 1977. It explains in detail how historically reliable the Bible is by any standards of academic research. He says there are three tests used in determining the reliability of ancient literature:

1. The Bibliographical test. Without having the original manuscript of a work, how close in time are the copies we have to the original and how many copies of the original are there?

2. The Internal Evidence test. How authoritative are the authors of the manuscript. Were they people of integrity and how distant were they from the events described? Also, how consistent are the descriptions within the manuscript?

3. The External Evidence test. Are the events described supported by other sources?

By all of these measures the Bible is vastly more reliable than any other ancient work.

Another booklet,How We Got Our Bible” by Bill Donohue, puts some numbers behind some of these ideas. It notes that, when looking at other ancient literature, the earliest copies we possess are will after the date of the original and the numbers of copies are tiny. Although Plato wrote about 400 B.C. the oldest copies we have are from 900 A.D., and we have only 7 copies. We have only 5 copies of Aristotle and they date to 300 A.D. But for the New Testament, we have 5,400 copies that were made in 200 AD. of an original manuscript that was written in 100 A.D. — a mere 100 years before.

I would add a personal observation that the scribes who made the copies of the Bible knew they were doing the work of God, and every stroke of their pen was holy. They would have been extremely diligent in getting it exactly right.

In describing these books, I feel a strong impulse to go back and read them again. But there are so many other works I am eager to dig into, as well. And, of course, I also continue to read and study the Bible itself, which is endlessly fascinating. I am currently reading Psalms, but I’m slowed down by having to go back to the two books of Samuel which describe the events David is reacting to in Psalms.

As I’ve said here before, an entire new world has opened up to me and I am feasting on the wealth of knowledge that God has provided.

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