The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Category: Books (page 1 of 17)

Book Review: “Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery”

I recently finished reading Amazing GraceEric Metaxas’s biography of William Wilberforce and his work to end the slave trade. A former New York Times bestseller, this was a book that I had looked forward to reading for quite a while because I enjoyed the Amazing Grace film so much when I watched it a decade ago or so. Unfortunately, this joins a very short list of books that I find to be inferior to films based upon them (The Last of the Mohicans is probably the best example of this).

There were a few things about the book that bothered me:

  • I found much of Metaxas’s prose to be cumbersome. He tends to use flowery language and also makes random asides that seemed out of place in a biography, and cluttered up his paragraphs.
  • Amazing Grace read less like a biography, and more like a hagiography, where Metaxas’s obvious admiration for Wilberforce led him to be less than objective in his evaluation of him (and also resulted in some of the flowery language that I complained about above).
  • Metaxas, who is a politically conservative evangelical, has been criticized for idealizing the characters about whom he writes and making them look very much like himself theologically and politically. This criticism was especially strong after his biography about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but I felt that I could catch glimpses of this in his discussion of Wilberforce’s faith, and especially in Metaxas’s caricatured portrayal of the religious faith of Wilberforce’s day. Though to be fair, having been exposed to this particular criticism of Metaxas’s writing, I was probably looking for it.

Having said that, there are some really good things about this book, and the primary one is that it helps to make accessible the life story of a remarkable man who, driven by his devout faith, worked to bring about profound changes in British society that rippled across the world. Wilberforce is famous for his fight against the slave trade, but was also very involved in the quest to reform British society and to improve British policy in India.

I’ll close by sharing some of my favorite quotations from the book, with brief commentary. In trying to explain that the legacy of Wilberforce is greater than the simple abolition of the slave trade, Metaxas writes:

To fathom the magnitude of what Wilberforce did we have to see that the “disease” he vanquished forever was actually neither the slave trade nor slavery. Slavery still exists in the world today, in such measure as we can hardly fathom. What Wilberforce vanquished was something even worse than slavery, something that was much more fundamental and can hardly be seen from where we stand today: he vanquished the very mind-set that made slavery acceptable and allowed it to survive and thrive for millennia. He destroyed an entire way of seeing the world, one that had held sway from the beginning of history, and he replaced it with another way of seeing the world. Included in the old way of seeing things was the idea that the evil of slavery was good. Wilberforce murdered that old way of seeing things, and so the idea that slavery was good died along with it. Even though slavery continues to exist here and there, the idea that it is good is dead. The idea that it is inextricably intertwined with human civilization, and part of the way things are supposed to be, and economically necessary and morally defensible, is gone. Because the entire mind-set that supported it is gone.

(Amazing Grace, xv)

Wilberforce grew up religious but basically fell away in his late teens and early twenties before experiencing a significant revival and deepening of his faith. When that took place, he was tempted to back away from politics (he was already a member of Parliament at the time), because he thought it to be an improper place for a person of strong religious conviction. His good friend William Pitt, the Prime Minister, did not want to see his friend check out of politics, and suggested that his newfound faith could find much to do in the world of politics:

Surely the principles as well as the practice of Christianity are simple, and lead not to meditation only but to action.

(Amazing Grace, 58)

Ultimately, this advice would prove influential for Wilberforce, who remained in politics and used his platform and influence to do kingdom work and bring about a profound change in the lives of millions.

Part of Wilberforce’s work in his opposition to slavery was educating the British population of the horrors that slaves faced, about which many were genuinely and totally ignorant (slave traders commonly argued that slaves were happy or at least better off in captivity, and many people naively believed it). Wilberforce investigated the living conditions of slaves and knew better, and widely disseminated the information. In a parliamentary debate, Wilberforce explained his motivation for seeking abolition:

…When we think of eternity, and of the future consequences of all human conduct, what is here in this life which should make any man contradict the principles of his own conscience, the principles of justice, the laws of religion, and of God?

Sir, the nature and all the circumstances of this Trade are now laid open to us. We can no longer plead ignorance, we cannot evade it, it is now an object placed before us, we cannot pass it. We may spurn it, we may kick it out of our way, but we cannot turn aside so as to avoid seeing it.

(Amazing Grace, 136)

Metaxas portrays the Britain of Wilberforce’s early years as one which claimed to a form of Christian civil religion, but that it was a watered-down faith that brought little to no leavening influence on the nation as a whole. Wilberforce, who spent a long career as a respected and powerful MP who was famous for his faith and his political stances based upon his faith, was instrumental in changing the religious environment of his day:

When Wilberforce entered Paliament, there were only three MPs who would have identified themselves as seriously Christian, but half a century later there were closer to two hundred. Politics had come to be thought of as a noble calling. There would always be self-seekers—and few individuals could be entirely free of selfish motivation—but the idea that politicians should be free of that motivation and work for the good of society was something new, and Wilberforce’s influence in introducing it is hard to avoid.

(Amazing Grace, 234)

If you are a believer, William Wilberforce—a man of devout faith whose faith and love of neighbor prompted him to act in unpopular ways for the good of others—is a man you need to know well. Amazing Grace is a book with some flaws, but it does a great job of helping the reader to do that—getting to know a man who spent his life working to make God’s kingdom come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Book Review: A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

With today being Martin Luther King Jr. day, I thought it would be an appropriate time to post a review of one of the last (and best) books I read last year: A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.edited by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard. The book is a product of the King Papers Project, which seeks to share information about King’s life and ideas.

Of course, King is an iconic figure in our society, but like many Americans, I have probably been guilty of assuming that I know him better than I do, when really, I have just heard the “I Have a Dream” speech several times, read lots of quotations from him, and learned about him in school. This book, which provides the transcripts of eleven of his most significant speeches, represents the beginning of an effort on my part to better understand the life and thinking of this profoundly important and complex character.

One of the things that I liked about reading King’s speeches firsthand is that it reminded me that he was, first and foremost, a preacher. His speeches possess the rhythm and cadence of well-crafted sermons, and are saturated with biblical allusions and the prophetic call for justice. King’s speeches feature not only beautiful eloquence but profound theological insight.

Here are some of my favorite quotations; I will include the page numbers from the book, as well as the speech from which the quotations came (and I omitted any quotes from I Have a Dream; I figured they would be familiar already):

“And certainly, certainly, this is the glory of America, with all of its faults. This is the glory of our democracy. If we were incarcerated behind the iron curtains of a Communistic nation we couldn’t do this. If we were dropped in the dungeon of a totalitarian regime we couldn’t do this. But the greatest glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right.” (9, Address to the First Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) Mass Meeting)

“The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community. The aftermath of nonviolence is redemption. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation. The aftermath of violence are emptiness and bitterness. This is the thing I’m concerned about. Let us fight passionately and unrelentingly for the goals of justice and peace. But let’s be sure that our hands are clean in this struggle. Let us never fight with falsehood and violence and hate and malice, but always fight with love, so that, when the day comes that the walls of segregation have completely crumbled in Montgomery, that we will be able to live with people as their brothers and sisters. Oh, my friend, our aim must not be to defeat Mr. Engelhardt, not to defeat Mr. Sellers and Mr. Gayle and Mr. Parks. Our aim must be to defeat the evil that’s in them.” (32-33, The Birth of a New Nation)

“And this is the peace that we are seeking: not an old negative obnoxious peace which is merely the absence of tension, but a positive, lasting peace, which is the presence of brotherhood and justice. And it is never brought about without this temporary period of tension.” (35, The Birth of a New Nation)

“There is something in our Christian faith, at the center of it, which says to us that Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the drums of Easter.” (54, Give Us the Ballot)

“For nonviolence not only calls upon its adherents to avoid external physical violence, but it calls upon them to avoid internal violence of spirit. It calls on them to engage in that something called love. And I know it is difficult sometimes. When I say “love” at this point, I’m not talking about an affection emotion. It’s nonsense to urge people, oppressed people, to love their oppressors in an affectionate sense. I’m talking about something much deeper. I’m talking about a sort of understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men.” (67, Freedom Rally in Cobo Hall)

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” (107, Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech)

“And so I plead with you this afternoon as we go on ahead: remain committed to nonviolence. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society of peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.” (130, Selma to Montgomery March).

“What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic…it is precisely this collision of immoral power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our times.” (186-87, Where Do We Go From Here?)

“And the other thing is, I’m concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood. I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can‘t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.

And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. I’ve seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens’ Councilors in the South to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love.” (191-92, Where Do We Go From Here?)

I know I shared a lot of quotations here, but really, it is only a taste: this is a rich collection of great thoughts from one of our nation’s most influential leaders.

For my reviews in 2019, I want to begin the practice of ending each one by giving a recommendation as to whether or not I think the book in question is one that I think others should check out. In the case of A Call to Conscience, I found it to be an emotional and profound read, and my verdict is an easy one: read it.

Reading in 2018

It’s that time of year again, when people talk about their reading from the previous year and the best books they read. As someone who (a) tries to thoughtfully reflect on things and (b) obsessively keeps lists of things, I always enjoy reading lists from other people and sharing my own.

Here is my own list from 2018:

  1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling
  2. Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan
  3. Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, by N.T. Wright
  4. Martin Luther: Selections from his Writings, edited by John Dillenberger*
  5. The Marburg Colloquy, edited by Hermann Sasse
  6. The Knowledge of God the Creator (from Institutes of the Christian Religion), by John Calvin
  7. The Necessity of Reforming the Church, by John Calvin
  8. The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, translated by Anthony Mottola*
  9. The Racovian Catechism*
  10. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling
  11. The Reasonableness of Christianity, by John Locke
  12. A Discourse of Miracles, by John Locke
  13. Proposals to Correct Conditions in the Church in Pia Desideria, by Philip Jacob Spener
  14. Decision Points, by George W. Bush
  15. Divorce, by John R.W. Stott
  16. Afro-American Religious History: A Documentary Witness, edited by Milton C. Sernett*
  17. Woman in the Pulpit, by Frances Willard*
  18. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling
  19. Jesus: A Study of the Life of Christ, by Shane Robinson
  20. The Five Books of Moses & The Former Prophets, by Bibliotheca
  21. The Making of George Washington, by William H. Wilbur
  22. Creating a Lead Small Culture: Make Your Church a Place Where Kids Belong, by Reggie Joiner, Kristen Ivy, and Elle Campbell
  23. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling
  24. The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, by Michael S. Heiser
  25. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling
  26. The Story of Christianity, Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day, by Justo L. Gonzalez
  27. The Faith of the Presidents, by Anne Schraff
  28. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible, by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien
  29. The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russia, by Tim Tzouliadis
  30. The Latter Prophets, by Bibliotheca
  31. Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America, by Michael Wear
  32. Havana Bay, by Martin Cruz Smith
  33. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  34. Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee
  35. A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology, by J. Richard Middleton
  36. The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace: God’s Antidotes for Division within the Churches of Christ, by Jay Guin
  37. Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman?, by Eleanor Updale
  38. The Perilous Road, by William O. Steele
  39. History and Background of the Institutional Controversy, by Steve Wolfgang
  40. Crispin: the Cross of Lead, by Avi
  41. The Ghost Hollow Mystery, by Page Carter
  42. Letters To The Church, by Francis Chan
  43. The Writings, by Bibliotheca
  44. Significant Others: Understanding Our Non-Christian Neighbors, by Monte Cox
  45. Alexander Campbell, Apostle of Truth, by William Blake
  46. The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, by Andy Crouch
  47. The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis
  48. How To Be A Perfect Christian: Your Comprehensive Guide To Flawless Spiritual Living, by The Babylon Bee
  49. Priceless, by Jeremy Myers
  50. The Apocrypha, by Bibliotheca
  51. The New Testament, by Bibliotheca
  52. A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard
  53. Discovering Our Roots: The Ancestry of Churches of Christ, by C. Leonard Allen and Richard T. Hughes
  54. Traces of the Kingdom, by Keith Sisman

A few observations before I talk about my favorite books of the year:

  • My reading total increased from 52 books in 2017 to 54 books in 2017. And this included a couple of very large volumes of 650-800 pages. I see other people who read 100 books or more a year, but at this stage of my life, it seems that somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 is my limit.
  • I enjoyed my reading in 2018 more than in 2017.
  • There were two big disappointments in my reading this past year. The first was the Bibliotheca series, which I used to do my daily Bible reading in 2018. There was a lot of fanfare about this translation when it came out, and indeed, it has many admirable qualities: an elegant typeface, beautiful binding, and a page layout that should lend itself to readability. However, the translation itself was wooden and awkward, and I simply did not enjoy it at all. Also, Traces of the Kingdom was a book that I had looked forward to for a few years, but I really struggled with it. Although the author puts you in touch with some extraordinarily rare primary sources that are hundreds of years old, the writing is poor, and much of the logic and argumentation is stretched. It was a disappointment.

My favorite books from 2018.

Regarding my Top 10 books for the year, here are some brief thoughts on those (presented in order of when I read them, not ranked 1-10):

  • Beneath a Scarlet Skyby Mark Sullivan: This is a novel, based on a true story, set in WWII Italy. It is a gripping tale of a teenage boy seeking to navigate the warring factions of Nazis, Mussolini’s Fascists, Allied forces, resistance fighters, partisans, and the Catholic church. It is a gripping tale and compelling read. Fans of All The Light We Cannot See will appreciate this book, which is better.
  • Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Senseby N.T. Wright: N.T. Wright is the preeminent living Christian thinker, and this is his basic presentation of the Christian faith (it has been called the Mere Christianity for modern times). In my opinion, nothing that Wright writes is truly “simple,” so, despite his intentions, I can’t say that this is the easiest read for the average Christian, but it is a great book.
  • The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bibleby Michael S. Heiser: Heiser makes the basic claim that modern believers do not read/hear the Bible in the way that ancient believers did, who believed in a robust array of spiritual beings who operate “unseen” and greatly influence the lives that we experience. This becomes the prevailing paradigm for how he interprets Scripture, and especially if you are not familiar with the biblical motif of the Divine Council, much of what he says will shock you. Ultimately, I think Heiser draws some conclusions that are not warranted, but on the whole, I think he makes a very compelling case. This book has been somewhat of a game-changer for me.
  • The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russiaby Tim Tzouliadis: During the Great Depression, thousands of down-on-their-luck Americans were lured to Stalinist Russia with the promise of work and prosperity available to all in the Communist Utopia. Within a few short years, they (along with millions of others) would be killed in the Stalinist purges and, adding to the tragedy, they were largely abandoned by the US government. Not to get too political in a brief book review, but in an era when I increasingly witness many people (especially those generally around my age or younger) pay lip service to the idea that socialism and even communism are benign or even preferable politico-economic systems, this was an important read for me. When it came to murdering people, Stalin made Hitler look like an amateur, and I don’t say that lightly.
  • A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatologyby J. Richard Middleton: Middleton argues that the Biblical text teaches that God will redeem and restore His creation and will dwell with His people for eternity on a New Heaven and New Earth. This is not some form of premillennialism, but neither is it the popular notion of the Christian hope being getting to escape from this earth and “go to heaven when we die.” This interpretation will be challenging for some, but I am convinced that this perspective is fundamentally correct, and Middleton’s treatment of it is excellent.
  • Letters To The Churchby Francis Chan: This was a convicting read for me. Chan is a Restorationist’s Restorationist, and this book basically encourages Christians to thoughtfully return to the model of the church as described in the pages of Scripture. Simply put, there are some basic ways of “doing church” that really need to be evaluated and, quite possibly, jettisoned. This book left me uneasy in a good way.
  • Significant Others: Understanding Our Non-Christian Neighbors, by Monte Cox: Dr. Cox was one of my favorite teachers at Harding, and this book is basically a written version of his “Living World Religions” class (one of my favorite classes). It is a helpful overview of various world religions, and would make an excellent resource for a Bible class.
  • The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Placeby Andy Crouch: Technolgy is increasingly present in our lives, and for all of its positive benefits, there are negative side effects as well. Crouch offers some helpful (and at times, extreme) perspective on how families should treat technology and strive to create home environments that cultivate wisdom and courage.
  • The Great Divorceby C.S. Lewis: I’m not sure that I have ever read something by Lewis that I didn’t like, but this is one of my favorites. Lewis’ allegorical take on hell is, in my opinion, both brilliant and helpful.
  • A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard: I had really not read/heard much from Dr. King before, other than his “I Have a Dream” speech or snippets of quotations from other sources, and that was a mistake, because King’s speeches evidence not only beautiful eloquence, but also profound theological insight. I plan to do additional reading from (and on) Dr. King in the future.

That was my reading for 2018. For comparison’s sake if you are interested, you can see my reading lists from previous years:

As always, I have a bunch of books lined out to read in 2019, and am already in the midst of two good ones right now.

What are some of the best books you read this past year?

*Books that I did not read in their entirety, but read significant portions of.

Book Review: Reclaiming Hope

Over the summer, I read Michael Wear’s Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House about the Future of Faith in America. Wear directed faith outreach for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign and was one of the youngest White House staffers in modern American history. In addition to that, he is a pro-life, evangelical Christian.

In some ways, Wear is representative of a lot of young evangelicals who, though not traditionally supporters of the Democratic party, found Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign very appealing with its emphasis on hope, change, and bipartisan cooperation.

I never voted for President Obama and have written before of profound disagreements I have with him. Having said that, I have respected his devotion to his family and the way that he conducted himself while in office, and I was interested in hearing an insider’s take on the Obama presidency (and especially from an insider who operates from a belief system at least somewhat similar to my own).

In many ways, Reclaiming Hope is a memoir of Wear’s time of service for President Obama. Wear clearly has deep admiration for Obama, and this shines through so clearly that, after the first few chapters, I was afraid the whole book was going to be nothing more than an extended argument for how great Obama was.

But it wasn’t that. After beginning by emphasizing policies and accomplishments of the Obama administration of which Wear was very proud, he reflects on the things he found to be very frustrating. These frustrations include the change in tone of the Democratic party that he witnessed between 2008-2012, his cynicism over Obama’s change in policy regarding gay marriage, and ultimately, what he regarded as the great failure of Obama’s presidency: rather than bringing about  change in Washington and bipartisan cooperation, it only furthered the partisan divide that plagues our nation.

Wear concludes the book on a high note, strongly emphasizing that, from a Christian perspective, hope is not to be found in any political system or figure but in the working of a God who wants justice in His world. 

Here are a few good quotations:

“Politics is causing great spiritual harm and a big reason for that is people are going to politics to have their inner needs met. Politics does a poor job of meeting inner needs, but politicians will suggest they can do so if it will get them votes.” (xxix)

“In 2009, our diversity demanded we accept that there will be voices we disagree with in public spaces. In 2013, diversity required us to dispel dissent. In 2009, we had true pluralism and the big American tent. In 2012, at the Democratic convention, we had a pretense of including and magnanimity for political gain. In 2013, with our last four years in hand and the “weight of history on our side” that pretense went out the window. Now the Democratic Party was about consolidation.” (188)

“When our little hopes are disappointed, we find ourselves situated between the harshness of despair and the daunting, unusual existence of real hope.” (192)

“The arc of the moral universe does not bend toward justice because of a political program or the unassailable motives of humans, but because of a God who wills justice.” (197)

“There is indeed an arc to the moral universe, but it is not a matter of humanity progressing toward justice; rather, it is the God of justice who is moving toward us.” (197)

“People who place their hope in politics are idealists who then become cynics.” (205)

Somewhat startling to me considering Wear’s narrative throughout the book (and his own political disillusionment that he describes) was his chastisement toward Americans who feel represented by neither party and thus, become independents. Wear argues that being an independent is to “check out of the system” and forfeits one’s ability to be an influence (210-211).  I reject this notion, however: supporting a party that does not represent your values in hopes that that party will influence the system according to your values is logically absurd, and speaking for myself, I expect my future political involvement to remain somewhat tepid.

Regardless, I enjoyed Wear’s book: it gave me a look behind the scenes of an historical presidency, helped me to see other perspectives, and provided a strong reminder that all people of faith need to hear: the hope for our world lies not in politics, but in the God who created all things and holds all things together.

Book Review: The Reasonableness of Christianity

This semester I am in a church history class for grad school and as part of my reading for that class I recently finished John Locke’s The Reasonableness of Christianity. Locke is well-known to many people as a key thinker in the Enlightenment and specifically in the school of thought known as empiricism. His thoughts were very influential to the founding fathers of the United States, and he was also a great influence on Alexander Campbell, one of the leading early figures of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement.

In The Reasonableness of Christianity, Locke basically sets forth the Christian faith as he sees it. Scripture teaches that Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden and, as a result, lost bliss and immortality. Humanity inherits Adam’s immortality, although we are punished only for our own misdeeds. Unfortunately, all sin and fall short of God’s glory and thus, are in need of a Savior. Jesus Christ is this Savior, the Messiah of whom the prophets spoke.

God judges us according to the law of faith, and considers believers to be righteous, granting them life and immortality. Specifically, the faith that is necessary for justification is the belief that Jesus is the Messiah, and obedience to the moral and ethical standards that he set forth. Beyond this, Locke is open to differences of opinion on a variety of doctrines, and emphasizes the importance of tolerance in view of the fact that we have limited abilities and make mistakes about what we believe.

Here are some quotations that I particularly enjoyed and would like to share, along with some of my own thoughts:

“Nay, if God afford them a temporary, mortal life, ’tis his gift they owe to his bounty, they could not claim it as their right, nor does he injure them when he takes it from them.” (27)

We frequently pay lip service to the notion of our lives being a gift from God, but do we really believe that? I wonder, sometimes, when you hear the language we use when someone dies prematurely—it seems so unjust and tragic to us. I think Locke’s perspective is a better one: each day that we live is a gift from God, and from that perspective, however long we live is more than we have any right to expect or deserve.

“For if they believed him to be the Messiah, their King, but would not obey his laws, and would not have him reign over them, they were but the greater rebels…” (46)

This seems to me to be particularly relevant to the legions of nominal Christians that exist in our society who profess Jesus as Lord with their lips but deny Him with their lives. Those who reject Jesus live in rebellion to Him, but this is only to be expected. How much greater is the rebellion from those who claim Him as Lord but ignore His demands on their lives?

“‘Tis too hard a task for unassisted reason, to establish morality, in all its parts, upon its true foundations, with a clear and convincing light.” (60)

“…But yet some parts of that truth lie too deep for our natural powers easily to reach, and make plain and visible to mankind, without some light from above to direct them.” (65)

I expected Locke to hold human reason up as the ultimate source of knowledge and truth, but as the quotations above clearly show, he doesn’t do this. Rather, he is candid about the limitations of human reason, and ultimately holds that something greater that reason—revelation—is required for the establishment of universal moral truth.

Perhaps I approached The Reasonableness of Christianity with caricatures of Deism in my mind, but I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by what I read. There are certainly points I would quibble with, but on the whole, I thought Locke gave a succinct and fairly orthodox summation of the Christian faith. He does place significant value on reason, but this was actually less than I expected, and did not seem excessive to me. Locke does not dismiss Jesus’ miracles, but instead holds them to be essential (and reasonable) evidence that Jesus is exactly who He claims to be—the Messiah. Locke also asserts that Jesus’ ethical teachings are reasonable, but even these teachings ultimately required revelation. Left to its own reason, humanity had never been able to produce a universal moral law on its own.

Finally, although it was not the focus of this writing, I appreciated Locke’s emphasis on tolerance and the allowance for some diversity of opinion while at the same time upholding key fundamental doctrines about which all Christians must be in agreement. For Locke, the essentials are faith in Jesus as the Messiah and living a good moral life in accordance with His teachings.

In the context of the bitterly divided religious world in which Locke lived (and in which we still live today), such a call for tolerance seems like a hopeful basis for unity in God’s church. Of course, the difficulty always comes in determining which doctrines are fundamental and which are matters of opinion.

« Older posts

© 2019 The Doc File

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑