Evil conditioning

In Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, we find a special room used by the enemy to condition it’s members into putting aside their emotions and viewing life in a completely objective fashion, unfettered by emotions personal impulses. Here is the description:

The room, at first sight, was an anticlimax. It appeared to be an empty committee room with a long table, eight or nine chairs, some pictures, and (oddly enough) a large step-ladder in one corner. Here also there were no windows: it was lit by an electric light which produced, better than Mark had ever seen it produced before, the illusion of daylight — of a cold, grey place out of doors. This, combined with the absence of a fireplace, made it seem chilly though the temperature was not in fact very low.

A man of trained sensibility would have seen at once that the room was ill-proportioned, not grotesquely so, but sufficiently to produce dislike. It was too high and too narrow. Mark felt the effect without analysing the cause and the effect grew on him as time passed. Sitting staring about him he noticed the door — and thought at first he was a victim of some optical illusion. It took him quite a long time to prove to himself that he was not. The point of the arch was not in the centre: the whole thing was lop-sided. Once again, the error was not gross. The thing was near enough to the true to deceive you for a moment and to go on teasing the mind even after the deception had been unmasked. Involuntarily one kept shifting the head to find positions from what which it would look right after all. He turned round and sat his back to it … one mustn’t let it become an obsession.

Then he noticed the spots on the ceiling. They were not mere specks of dirt or discolouration. They were deliberately painted on: little round black spots placed at irregular intervals on the pale mustard-coloured surface. There were not a great many of them: perhaps thirty … or was it a hundred? He determined that he would not fall into the trap of trying to count them. They would be hard to count, they were so irregularly placed. Or weren’t they? Now that his eyes were growing used to them (and one couldn’t help noticing that there were five in that little group to the right), their arrangement seemed to hover on the verge of regularity. Their peculiar ugliness consisted in the very fact that they kept on suggesting it and then frustrating the expectation thus aroused. Suddenly he realized this was another trap. He fixed his eyes on the table.

There were spots on the table too: white ones. Shiny white ones, not quite round. And arranged, apparently, to correspond to the spots on the ceiling. Or were they? No, of course not … ah, now he had it! The pattern (if you could call it a pattern) on the table was an exact reversal of that on the ceiling. But with certain exceptions. He found he was glancing rapidly from one to the other, trying to puzzle it out. For the third time he checked himself. He got up and began to walk about. He had a look at the pictures.

Some of them belonged to a school of art with which he was already familiar. There was a portrait of a young woman who held her mouth wide open to reveal the fact that the inside of it was thickly overgrown with hair. It was very skillfully painted in the photographic manner so that you could almost feel that hair: indeed you could not avoid feeling it however hard you tried. There was a giant mantis playing a fiddle while being eaten by another mantis, and a man with corkscrews instead of arms bathing in a flat, sadly-coloured sea beneath a summer sunset. But most of the pictures were not of this kind. At first, most of them seemed rather ordinary, though Mark was a little surprised at the predominance of spiritual themes. It was only at the second or third glance that one discovered certain unaccountable details — something odd about the positions of the figures’ feet or the arrangements of their fingers or the grouping. And who was the person standing between the Christ and Lazarus? And why were there so many beetles under the table in the Last Supper? What was the curious trick of lighting that made each picture look like something seen in delirium? When once these questions had been raised the apparent ordinariness of the pictures became their supreme menace — like the ominous surface innocence at the beginning of certain dreams. Every fold of drapery, every piece of architecture, had a meaning one could not grasp but which withered the mind. Compared with these the other, surrealistic pictures were mere foolery. Long ago Mark had read somewhere of “things of that extreme evil which seem innocent to the uninitiate,” and had wondered what sort of things they might be. Now he felt he knew.

-C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, p.297

Mark, the protagonist, daily has to complete all sorts of silly tasks in the room, such as climbing the ladder and touching a particlar spot on the ceiling.

Then one day, he walks in the room and discovers a crucifix on the floor. He is instructed to trample and spit on it.

Curious, eh? Notice how in the description above, Mark was surprised to find that so many of the distorted paintings had spiritual themes.

He shouldn’t have been. There is no neutrality. Secularism is a myth of the Enlightenment. If you are not for Christ, then you ultmately against him.

The Objective room was supposed to be pure and scientific. To the trained eye though, it is clearly demonic in nature.

The year of the Inklings comes to a close

I thought I would try to go back and just jot down what I read with a few notes and try to get the big picture.


The Inklings (Humphrey Carpenter) – Magnificent book.

J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography (Also by Humphrey Carpenter) – Also good, but Inklings was so good, I must confess it was a bit of a disappointment. Dryer with less insights.

C.S. Lewis

I had already read a lot of Lewis growing up. In fact, I’m missing only a few titles. To this I added:

Till We Have Faces – Highly recommended by several friends. Made more sense after I had some of it explained to me. Good story. Liked the heroine. Dream-sequence ending was rather annoying.

Surprised by Joy – Very good. Don’t let the cheesy title deceive you. Lewis’s explanation of how he came to faith in Christ via finding beauty in art and literature resonates well.

That Hideous Strength – Read this as a kid. Much better this time round.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Have already read the Hobbit and LOTR several times through, so I skipped the major stuff.

On Fairy Stories – This essay is packed with good stuff. Worth reading twice.

The Lost Road (2 chapters) – The fragment of a present day –> middle earth time-travel story. No good.

Charles Williams

The Greater Trumps – A novel involving Tarot cards and magic. Starts out pretty good but gets really bogged down at the end.

The Decent of the Dove – A rather quirky survey of church history, dealing mostly with events before the reformation. Rather spotty, but with some good stuff.

Taliesin through Logres and The Region of the Summer Stars – William’s Arthurian poetry cycle. It’s not very long but he apparently agonized over it for years. Bits of it are pretty good but most of it is completely incomprehensible without C.S. Lewis’s accompanying page-by-page explanation. Only worth looking at if you are really into Arthur.

Owen Barfield

Poetic Diction – The real meat is in the first few chapters. Marvelous stuff. Hard to read though. Barfield assumes you can read Latin, Greek, French, German, and Hebrew. No translations given.

And going back in time a bit to some of the people most frequently cited by the Inklings

George MacDonald

The Princess and the Goblin – A good fairy tale. Read it to my daughter. I had read it once as a child, but I had forgotten most of it. The goblins are worth noting because Tolkien based his goblins largely on MacDonald’s.

Life Essential: The Hope of the Gospel – A collection of sermons. A couple really good ones in here. MacDonald is interesting as he was a Calvinist minister who got kicked out of his church when could no longer bring himself to believe in Limited Atonement. He’s a graceful guy.

G.K. Chesterton

Listened to some hilarious audio books at libravox. Short essays mostly.

Orthodoxy – Read for the 3rd time. No doubt. It’s a classic.

And… if the Inklings had accepted women into their club, the only Oxford lady who might have qualified would have been…

Dorothy Sayers

The Mind of the Maker – Most of this was realy, really good. Read it along with Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories.

Several essays from a collection “The Whimsical Christian”. She was a sharp cookie.

That’s about it. Time to take a break.

That Hideous Strength

Just finished rereading That Hideous Strength, by C.S. Lewis.

I had read it once before, when I was about 14 I believe but hadn’t recognized nearly any of the references. Having studied the Inklings all year though, the allusions were obvious.

George MacDonald’s Curdie stories are mentioned in passing.

In one scene the characters discuss some of Owen Barfield’s philosophy of meaning.

Tolkien is not bought up by name, but Lewis hijacks his mythology of Numenor = Atlantis all over the place and even refers to our own world as “Middle Earth” on several occasions.

Charles Williams Arthurian poetry cycle “Taliesin through Logres” is quoted, but that is only the beginning. Huge chunks of William’s reimagined Arthur, Merlin, and early Britain are built right into the plot.

And those are just the direct references. One of the evil characters (Wither) is said to be based on real-life colleague of his. Another character (MacPhee) is likely the incarnation of his rationalist childhood tutor.

Anyway, good stuff. A grand turning of tables at the end. I can understand if some people find it unsatisfying though. Nevertheless, it’s packed with relevant themes and conflicts. One gets the feeling it could have been written yesterday.

Remarkably similar spiritual journeys

Just finished listening to Michael Spencer’s latest podcast.

In it, he spoke about going to an Anglican men’s retreat and being astounded at how many of the men there had very similar backgrounds. What did it look like?

1. Grew up some variety of baptist (occasionally Methodist)

2. As a young adult, went Charismatic (Like Vineyard or Assembly of God)

3. Now, later in life, really looking for a church centered in the liturgy (Some have gone to Rome, others looking at Lutheran and Anglican)

Wow. Well, I’ll throw mine on the pile:

1. Grew up Conservative Baptist (17 years)

2. Went Charismatic in college and as a young married afterwards (6 years)

3. Now in the evangelical wilderness and very attracted to liturgy. (4 years)

Oh, and a side note to all you Calvinists out there. You’re alright, but do you have to keep all the B.B. Warfield rhetoric and the John MacArthur stuff? You likely have so many closet charismatics in your congregations, it’s not even funny. Look at who is in your churches. Where did they come from? Don’t think that when they left that charismatic movement they just threw all that stuff away. Sure, they threw some of it away or they would have stayed, but there’s plenty more where that came from. Hearing from the pulpit, in no uncertain terms, that they were (are still are!) a bunch of morons is not as cool as you think.

My answer to Calvinism vs. Arminianism!

Yes, shocking I know. This is always evolving a bit, but the other day, I realized I finally had an actual short answer to this. Saying it was all just a mystery was not satisfying.

So here goes:

Calvinism, as articulated by documents such as the Westminster Confession or by, for example, Charles Spurgeon, are withing the bounds of Christian orthodoxy.

Arminianism, as articulated by Jacob Arminius or by, for example, Charles Wesley, are within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy.

Calvinism, as articulated by, for example, A.W. Pink is in grave danger of falling outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy.

Arminianism, as articulated by, for example, Charles Finney, is in grave danger of falling outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy.

If I were to widen the statement a bit, I would add:

Soteriology and a theory of free-will and predestination, as articulated in the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church are within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy.

The functional practice and proclamation of these doctrines throughout the Roman church’s history has been rather spotty, both geographically and in different eras. (Late pre-reformation Europe and south America come to mind)

Soteriology and a theory of free-will and predestination, as articulated by the Lutheran, Anglican and Orthodox churches is also within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy.

Soteriology and a theory of free-will as generally articulated by present-day liberals, including many (not all!) American Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians, amounts to little more than universalism. This means that it falls outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy.

Good questions

Fearsome Comrade asks today:

Did anyone in the 1st century imagine that some day, whether or not you’d be called “orthodox” would be based on your affirmation of some several hundred pages of abstractly articulated doctrine?


And, on a note not completely unrelated, Michael Spencer asks:

How many Calvinists cite Bondage of the Will as virtually a Calvinist text, having no idea that Luther rejected the rest of the TULIP?

Spencer’s been pushing Lutheran stuff (liturgy and prayer books) for lately. I just ordered up some of it from the library loan. He’s right. It’s unfortunately rather hard to find.

Quotes on God and Art

A great quote floating around the BHT:

Bob Dylan believes in God, and Richard Dawkins is never going to win an argument against Bob Dylan, cause you need a poet to discuss these things. So let’s just say I’m with Bob.”

-Paddy Macaloon

I had to look up who Paddy Macaloon was: “one of the most underrated lyricists of the ’80s”. Anyway, it underlines a nice passage from Owen Barfield’s Poetic Diction. I don’t have it here in front of me now, but he says that the rationalist demands from the artist, “Tell me your secret! You know something hidden about the universe that I don’t. Now what is it!” But the artist is unable to answer his question in a way that will satisfy the rationalist. He can only continue in his artwork.

My friend Jeff Moss, who is now working long-term as a missionary in Hungary, posted this quote on Facebook the same day:

“There is a current and exceedingly stupid doctrine that symbol evokes emotion, and exact prose states reality. Nothing could be further from the truth: exact prose abstracts from reality, symbol presents it. And for that very reason, symbols …have some of the many-sidedness of wild nature.”

-Austin Farrer

Never heard of this guy either. It turns out I should have! English theologian and Anglican minister, friend of C.S. Lewis at Oxford.

I think he’s right on. The enlightenment idea that the pinnacle of human communication is well-reasoned prose…bah! So the best we can do to worship the Lord is to have a 2-hour sermon that took 30 hours to prepare, right? Music, liturgy, art, the Lord’s supper become second class citizens.

As creeds and confessions grow in length, I believe they hit a point of diminishing returns. The more and more you say about God, the smaller he becomes. But the fire and lightning from the mountain is astounding.

Notes on James Jordan lecture “Calvin and Music”

Just got back from this tonight. It turned out to be mostly a history of the Geneva Psalter (the hymnbook Calvin published) and how it’s origin could be traced back through several interesting sources. This is what I scribbled down:


If this lecture were called “Calvin ON Music”, it would be over in about 5 minutes. He didn’t have much to say about it directly. Luckily, I’ve titled it “Calvin AND Music” so I can talk about lots of interesting things surrounding it.

Luther, as a monk and trained to be a priest had quite a bit of musical training. So the Lutheran’s had a strong musical emphasis from the get go. Calvin on the other hand, was trained as a lawyer. He didn’t know anything about music, but he was smart enough to recruit some folks who did.

The dualism of Calvin is his heavy emphasis on the Bible versus all the Renaissance philosophy he soaked up. He falls into the “soul = good, body = bad” Platonic trap on many occasions. This led him, especially early ton, to think music was carnal and dangerous. His pal Zwingli was especially this way, even though he was a trained musician.

After he got kicked out of Geneva, he went to Strasbourg and met up with Martin Bucer. It turns out Bucer had been heavily influenced by Luther and was singing all kinds of fun stuff. Calvin decided after a while that it was pretty cool and bought it back with him later.

Despite Calvin’s appearance of “Bible Only” psalm singing, it turns out he included a setting of the Nicene creed in his first collection of music.

Church music should be a “unique style”. Actually, the church has always believed this throughout the ages. It shouldn’t be weird, but should be distinguishable from the folk stuff you might sing at home or at a party, or hear on the radio.

A lot of ideas about singing in church can be traced back to the Jewish Temple worship.

Calvin thought that music in church should have “gravity” and not be light and frivolous. Jordan used several examples to prove that this didn’t mean the music should be slow and solemn. In fact, it was often loud and lively.

Jordan made fun of the dreamy Gregorian chant that we hear on CDs now. Historians have a lot of reasons to believe that chant in the mediaval period was more nasal, choppy and rhythmic than we have come to think of it. It was more punchy.

The Psalter degraded the worst with the Scots, who had a split leaf (top and bottom) hymnal so you could hack any melody together with any text. Eek.

The part in the bible about David playing harp for Saul and chasing away the evil spirit? Calvin never commented on it. Too bad.

Also, the part about God “inhabiting the praises of his people” and the singers going before the army in II Chronicles? Also conspicuously missing from any of his commentary. (At this point, I would like to add that I’m not at all surprised. A lecture on music in the Bible from a charismatic Christian is likely to bring up these verses in the first 10 minutes. They demonstrate the seemingly supernatural and spiritual aspect of music. Calvin was REALLY uncomfortable with these ideas, so he didn’t say boo about them.)

Calvin was in the “no musical instruments” camp, despite numerous references to the use of them all over the bible. As you can predict, this broke down quickly after his death and reformed churches all over the place were hooking up pipe organs.

I liked this part: The scandal of 1st century church was that they dared to have temple music (singing psalms WITH instruments) in their own homes. The synagogues had no instruments – only the temple.

Also, Calvin was for all unison singing. This was being conservative too. The old Gregorian chant tradition was unison. For a loooooooooooooong time there was no harmony. Why? Because nobody thought of it? Whatever. More likely it was because of the verse in the bible about the dedication of Solomon’s temple. All the Levites sang “with one voice”. Got that? No harmony fool! This didn’t last real long either.

So there was this French poet named Clement …something. He wrote some songs bashing the Pope and got kicked out of France. Then he wrote some psalm settings. Some friends of his passed the music around and it made it’s way to the court of the king. Suddenly, it became really popular and spread like wildfire (in the secular world, oddly enough). Somehow, Calvin got hold of some of these new hip tunes/poetry and built them into his psalter. Clement later joined Calvin in Geneva and wrote some more poetic psalm settings for him (in French of course). He later died under mysterious circumstances in Italy. Oooooohhooohoooo.

By the way, chanting = singing. Don’t be deceived by how we use the words today. Back then, they mean the exact same thing.

Somewhere in here, Jordan made reference to how it was fun in the 1960s to listen to Gregorian chant and smoke weed.

3/4 time is perfect time, because of the trinity. Y’all know that, right?

Guillaume de Machaut and other composers of that time were not writing dreamy chant music, but more punchy stuff.

He mentioned some (recent) French scholar who dug through all the songs in Calvin’s psalter and tried to figure out where the melody fragments came from. It turns out nearly all of them were old-school plainchant tunes that bad been rhythmically spiced up a bit. The point being that Calvin was very conservative. He wasn’t aiming to shake things up with something crazy and new.

My fav, Thomas Tallis got a shout-out at this point. Gosh, it reminds me how much more I like the early English composers than the French and German ones. Wow.

At this point, it was question and answer time.

Someone asked him what he thought of gospel music. He said that it’s probably OK if you’re singing gospel because your great grandfather did. If you’re doing it to be fun and trendy though: bad motives. In general, he didn’t like it. Says it has “weak words”. The theology of stuff you sing in church should be “accurate”.

Another person asked about choirs. Calvin had no choirs. The reformers were very much on the “we’ve GOT to get the congregation singing again” train. It was backlash to years of non-participation in (many, not all) Catholic churches. However, as much as Calvin didn’t like choirs, it’s pretty plain there are choirs in the bible. There also seems to be some indication that you didn’t have to be a Levite to sing in the temple choir in the OT. Nevertheless, Jordan was personally very much for congregational singing and didn’t think choirs should take up too much time with performances during the worship service.

He mentioned that after Vatican II, the Catholic’s threw out a bunch of their musical tradition and replaced it with bad Irish folk tunes. There are quite a few Catholics (I know some!) that are NOT diggin’ that.

Several times during the lecture, he had the crowd stand and sing a particular hymn to demonstrate a stylistic point he was discussing. They had passed out copies ahead of time. Liked that.

Dismissal to pie and refreshments in Friendship Square. Candles everywhere!

I walked down to Bucer’s for a bit. The band Cadenza Collective was laying down a nice groove. Good stuff.

Problems inherited from the enlightenment

Webber’s Ancient Future Faith strikes a positive note most of the time. It’s not one of those Christian works where “unfortunately” appears within the first paragraph of each chapter. However, some of his very best comments come from a section in each part of the book titled “Problems Inherited from the Enlightenment”.

Here’s a quick breakdown (a mix of my comments and his):

Problem: The foundation of faith shifting from the person to Jesus Christ to the Bible. The center of our faith went from the God who ACTS to the God who SPOKE. Do we believe in a book or a person?

An emphasis on pragmatism has resulted in an a-theological view of the church. Emphasis on practical ministry and church growth, to the exclusion of theology seems to get results for a while, but you end up with the next generation not knowing what they believe.

The emphasis on individualism has resulted in an a-historical view of the church. This is a biggie. We can’t see farther back than when our own congregation was founded (1970 and 80’s for many American churches). We are often largely ignorant of the 2000 year-old traditions, and even the 500 year old reformed ones.

A loss of a theology of worship. On one hand we have the heady enlightenment emphasis on reason that makes the didactic sermon the center of worship. On the other hand is the romantic stress on emotion.

A rejection of an order of worship and a generally stable liturgy may seem exciting and powerful to one generation, but they are unable to pass it down to the next generation since it has no foundation. Faith transmission falters with free-form corporate worship.

The rejection of symbolic speech. The dominant word-oriented culture inherited from the Enlightenment is based on conceptual language: reading, notions, abstractions, precision, intelligence, clarity, analysis, idea, explanation, linear sequence, and logic. The use of imagery, symbols, and even subtle language is relatively unknown among many of us.

We fail spiritually when we ignore the resources the Holy Spirit has given us throughout the history of the church. For fifteen centuries prior to the Reformation a vast reservoir of spirituality had developed within the church: hours of prayer, exercises of devotion, personal and corporate discipline, communal values, and harmony with nature had been introduced, to say nothing of schools of spirituality such as the monastic movements, the spiritual writings of the early church fathers, etc. Unfortunately, when the Reformers attempted to rid the church of its bad devotional habits, such as the excessive emphasis on Mary, a preoccupation with the saints, the worship of relics, and devotion to the Host, they failed to retain other positive approaches to spirituality that had emerged in the early church. There are loads of these remaining to be recovered.

There are a couple more, but they mostly go back to the emphasis on individualism. That and the reformers being enamored with rationalism.