Posted in summer reading, theology

Why you should read Pilgrim’s Progress, and Summer Book-A-Palooza sites

By Elizabeth Prata

I love the book The Pilgrim’s Progress. I have a hard time with allegory and symbolism, being so literal, but I love the book and many of its scenes stick with me in my mind. If you’ve been wanting to read the book but are unsure of which edition to choose, or are intimidated like I was for so long, here are some helps and guides to spur you in reading this marvelous book. Spurgeon read it over 100 times! That’s something, right?!

At the bottom I offer a list of fiction Christian books, too. Continue reading “Why you should read Pilgrim’s Progress, and Summer Book-A-Palooza sites”

Posted in encouragement, theology

I’ve heard of wine pairings, or even tea pairings, but book pairings?

By Elizabeth Prata

You know how, in the foodie world, they pair different foods or drinks together for the eater to enjoy maximum flavor? “Sauvignon blanc is the classic wine pairing for goat cheese, but you could also try a crisp dry Provençal rosé…” Or, “This Sencha Green tea would be lovely with Arugula and lightly steamed vegetables…”

I do book pairings. If a book is a difficult one, I pair it with a modern treatment. Not modernized language, though that sometimes helps, but pairing an older author and a modern author who wrote about the same subject. Or simply read books by two modern day authors writing about the same subject.

I think these would be good pairings:

Work: Its Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation by Daniel M. Doriani
and
Work and Our Labor in the Lord (Short Studies in Biblical Theology), by James M. Hamilton Jr.

I’ve read the Hamilton book. Challies recommended the Doriani book yesterday in his 10 New and Notable Books for April blog essay, and I think that would be fun to read it and compare to the way Hamilton treated the subject.

This might also be a good pairing:

The Power of Christian Contentment by Andrew M. Davis
and
The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by Jeremiah Burroughs

The Burroughs book was first published in 1648. Burroughs was an English Puritan preacher. His book on contentment is considered to be one of the gold standards on the topic, but the language is somewhat antiquated. Pairing the Burroughs book with the Davis tome (which I have not read) might be a good idea.

As a matter of fact, last summer I did pair a Puritan book with a more recently written book and it was very helpful to me in understanding the older one. I read –

The Enemy Within: Straight Talk about the Power and Defeat of Sin by Kris Lundgaard
and
Mortification of Sin in Believers by Puritan John Owen

The Lundgaard book drew heavily on the original Owen works on indwelling sin and the mortification of sin. Reading a chapter of Lundgaard’s book one day and then Owen the next helped my brain prepare for Owens’ more complex treatment of the subject in his Puritan language.

I’ve paired these and I am enjoying the double treatment of how to critically read a book-

Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke is

A practical guide built on the gospel, Lit! models the skills needed to build a balanced reading diet of Scripture, theology, and devotional books, but without overlooking important how-to books, great stories, and books meant to be enjoyed for pleasure.

How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren

Wikipedia’s blurb explains Adler’s 1940 book. “Adler co-authored a heavily revised edition in 1972 with Charles Van Doren, which gives guidelines for critically reading good and great books of any tradition. The 1972 revision, in addition to the first edition, treats genres, inspectional and syntopical reading.”

Adler’s book goes into much depth. Reinke’s book is a bit lighter. I like to read Reinke’s book and then the next day read Adler’s.

You might wonder, why go through all this trouble to ‘pair books’?

Because doing so helps train us, specifically in three higher order thinking skills: Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation.

  • Analysis refers to the ability to break down material into its component parts so that its organizational structure may be understood
  • Synthesis refers to the ability to put parts together to form a new whole
  • Evaluation is concerned with the ability to judge the value of material (statement, novel, poem, research report) for a given purpose. (Source)

We employ those skills when we read the Bible. We need to analyze the passages. We synthesize when we examine the different gospels, comparing them to each other. We synthesize when we strive to understand eschatology from different passages in the Old and New Testaments. Evaluation is an important skill in discernment- if we lack the ability to judge material for the purpose of edification of souls, then we open ourselves much that is false.

The Holy Spirit illuminates the scriptures’ meaning. But we still have to put in the hard work.

But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.  (Hebrews 5:14).

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; (1 Timothy 4:7).

colbert windows
Pair up two books and see what you think

——————————————————-
Further Reading:

I’ve written two other essays about the ‘how to read’ issue.

One of them is here

The other one is here

Posted in prophecy, theology

The Usefulness of Dystopian Fiction

By Elizabeth Prata

Tim Challies is a reader and a book reviewer. He is the author and promoter of the Annual Christian Reading Challenge, in which I participate.

I was glad to see this article by by Jon Dykstra linked from Tim Challies’ site:

Why Is Dystopian Fiction Worth Reading?

Yay! Someone else is a fan of dystopian fiction.

Dystopian is a word from Greek meaning ‘bad place’ according to the article. It’s the opposite of Utopian, meaning ‘perfect place’.

Dystopian fiction is a genre that describes people surviving or trying to, after a holocaust of some kind, or a societal collapse, or a nuclear war, and the like. The article speaks of this kind of fiction being worthwhile because it helps us in predictive prophecy of the secular kind, in connecting the dots to see a current credible future threat. The author’s point was that this kind of fiction spins a credible threat into scenarios that help us understand where these threats may lead us.

This is a genre well worth exploring, though with care and caution. It’s a big blank canvas that insightful writers can use to paint pictures of grim futures, all in the hopes that they, and we, will ensure such futures never come to be.

I enjoy this fiction but had felt mildly guilty about it, as though I needed to be doing something more productive. I’d wonder, ‘Am I a ghoul?’ ‘Why do I find this absorbing?’

Mr Dykstra helped me see my interest in it was to go where my own imagination lacked facility, to ‘see’ a future that is all too real in some cases, and to develop opinions and thoughts to guard against it. EM Forster’s The Machine Stops is a future that is practically already here, as is Stephen King’s The Running Man. Chilling.

The most famous work of dystopian fiction is George Orwell’s 1984, which the article mentions. That work was published in 1949. Another famous work of dystopian fiction is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Other classic dystopian books are PD James’s Children of Men, and the Canadian book The Handmaid’s Tale. Of this last one, the author of the article discounts it as predictive or even helpful as understanding a credible threat, though a good yarn, because it was Chrfistianity that led to the dystopian society being described in the fictional account. Dystopian fiction is good where it helps us see ahead and cope with credible current or near current threats.

I mentioned I’m participating in the Challies’ Christian Reading Challenge, at the “Avid Level” (26 books read this year.) I added several others of my own choosing to Challies’ list, making myself a separate genre nook of dystopian books I wanted to read. They included The Running Man, The Machine Stops, and It Can’t Happen Here. I’d like to add these and some other dystopian material to you as recommended. I’ve read most of these and have watched the movies.

Stephen King’s The Running Man (1982)-

is a science fiction novel by American writer Stephen King, first published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman in 1982 as a paperback original. It was collected in 1985 in the omnibus The Bachman Books. The novel is set in a dystopian United States during the year 2025, in which the nation’s economy is in ruins and world violence is rising.

The end of The Running Man is absolutely chilling, as the final action the main character takes has already come to pass.

EM Forster’s The Machine Stops. (1909). Amazingly prescient, predicting the rise in technology that impacts both individuals and society, this novella is a short but chilling read. In many ways, we are living Forsteer’s future now.

William Forschen’s book One Second After (2009) depicted the effect upon America from an EMP, (electro-magnetic pulse), and the nation’s societal collapse and resulting high death rate. The author consulted with psychologists, economists, and sociologists to base his fiction on real scenarios those experts stated would most likely happen if we suffered an EMP.

Pat Frank’s book Alas, Babylon (1959)-

-was one of the first apocalyptic novels of the nuclear age and has remained popular more than half century after it was first published, consistently ranking in Amazon.com’s Top 20 Science Fiction Short Stories list. The novel deals with the effects of a nuclear war on the fictional small town of Fort Repose, Florida, which is based upon the actual city of Mount Dora, Florida. The novel’s title is derived from the Book of Revelation: “Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come.”

Nuclear winter wasn’t a very known or understood event back then, so the survival rate of the population in Alas, Babylon, this initial entry into the American dystopian nuclear fiction isn’t realistic, but most of the rest of the book is.

Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here. (1935). I have not read this book but it is on deck to be started this weekend. I’ve read three pages so far so I can’t review it, lol. Not yet. The synopsis seems like we are living it now…

Here is Wikipedia’s synopsis of Lewis’ book-

Published during the rise of fascism in Europe, the novel describes the rise of Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a demagogue who is elected President of the United States, after fomenting fear and promising drastic economic and social reforms while promoting a return to patriotism and “traditional” values. After his election, Windrip takes complete control of the government and imposes a plutocratic/totalitarian rule with the help of a ruthless paramilitary force, in the manner of Adolf Hitler and the SS. The novel’s plot centers on journalist Doremus Jessup’s opposition to the new regime and his subsequent struggle against it as part of a liberal rebellion

With the current rise in tensions between nuclear powers India and Pakistan, these two movies might be worth a look.

Threads. I watched this 1982 film a few years ago. I wrote a review of it below. It affected me greatly.

The most unrelentingly horrific and unsettling apocalyptic movie you will ever watch that comes the closest to what the Tribulation will be like: “Threads.

The Wikipedia synopsis of the film states:

Threads is a 1984 British apocalyptic war drama television film jointly produced by the BBC, Nine Network and Western-World Television Inc. Written by Barry Hines, and directed and produced by Mick Jackson, it is a docudrama account of nuclear war and its effects on the city of Sheffield in Northern England. The plot centres on two families as a confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union erupts. As the nuclear exchange between NATO and the Warsaw Pact begins, the film depicts the medical, economic, social and environmental consequences of nuclear war.
Shot on a budget of £400,000, the film was the first of its kind to depict a nuclear winter. Certain reviewers nominated Threads as the “film which comes closest to representing the full horror of nuclear war and its aftermath, as well as the catastrophic impact that the event would have on human culture”.

And even then, the film, though it comes near to depicting the horror of the Tribulation, doesn’t even come close to its actuality. But Threads is as close as I’d want to see it anyway. Our minds can’t fully comprehend the full evil that will occur at that point in history. As this reviewer said, in his article, ‘Threads’ Is One of the Most Horrifying Films I’ve Ever Seen: This BBC docudrama scarred a generation,

Threads absolutely forces you to face the unthinkable.

People, the Tribulation is unthinkable. But we must think on it, the Lord’s wrath already hangs over the unsaved. Things like this should spur us to witness with eagerness and fervor.

The War Game (1965) is another film that horrified audiences. Created in 1965, it was deemed TOO horrifying to be released widely. See below-

The War Game is a 1965 television drama, filmed in a documentary style, that depicts a nuclear war. Written, directed and produced by Peter Watkins for the BBC’s The Wednesday Play anthology series, it caused dismay within the BBC and also within government, and was subsequently withdrawn before the provisional screening date of 7 October 1965. The corporation said that “the effect of the film has been judged by the BBC to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting.

I don’t think a steady diet of this kind of material should be on our plates, but books or movies like this can be a legitimate addition to our bookshelves or movie queue, for the reasons stated above. Happy reading…or in this case, unhappy reading.

hammer mural1

Posted in theology

We should train the mind. It’s time to get our creativity going! Read, write, draw

By Elizabeth Prata

As 2019’s new year launches off into the timeless void, lots of people are making resolutions. Many of those resolutions are vows to take better care of our bodies, by eating well or losing weight or exercising more.

But do we take care of our mind?

Christianity is a religion of the mind. We have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16). The Spirit transforms us by the renewing of our mind. (Romans 12:2). The mind governed by the Spirit is
life and peace, as Romans 8:6 says. Mark reminds us in verse 12:30 that we must ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

Start looking in the New Testament and the Psalms and Proverbs for the ‘mind’ and you may be surprised at how many times it’s mentioned.

The Internet was commercialized and came into widespread use in the US by 1995 or so, making the generation in their 20s now the first generation to live post-Internet. The rest of us, like me in my 50s, have used some version of the Internet for most of my adult life. I’ve been an Amazon customer since 1997. My final email address was established in 1998 and it has remained the same ever since.

As the Internet grows, our mind diminishes. You might think I am overstating the case, but the Internet, while having many boons and pluses, has served to make our thinking more shallow. 21st century media has pummeled our minds and not in a good way. We listen in sound bites and read in tweet-length script. Yet the two greatest books ever written, the Bible and The Pilgrim’s Progress, are old.

The Bible has a variety of literature within it, many genres, difficult concepts, and is a demanding read. It requires study.

Pilgrims’ Progress by John Bunyan is the single best selling English language book in the world, after the Bible. It was written in 1678 and uses antiquated language. Even if you read a modernized version, it is a book that again, demands the reader’s attention and requires lengthy thought.

Our minds are being trained away from that kind of reading. The kind of thinking we are commanded to do in the Bible is the opposite, it’s the kind of reading that edifies us. Not to mention reading the ancients and the Puritans are, every day, getting out of reach because they demand attention spans that nearly don’t exist any more

I write essays that range from 500 words to 2000 words. I remember the first time on the blog a reader commented “TLDR”. I had to look it up. It stands for ‘Too Long, Didn’t Read.’ I was irked and shocked. 2000 words is only about 4 single spaced pages long.

I’m speaking to myself here, not just you. As I get older and I come home from a busy day of work, all I want to do is make a cup of tea, sit down, watch a comedy, then go to bed- in that order. I have to work at keeping the energy up so that I can have a clear mind to absorb Christian classics and other great material.

I’m fairly aghast at myself, because reading didn’t used to be this hard. My reading material of choice in High School and as a twenty-something were the classics. As I went through my 30s, my Graduate School reading was easy peasy, I got a 4.0 and thought nothing of it. But now I’m nearing 60, and my mind is balking at difficult material. Reading Moby Dick last summer was hard. I was surprised at how hard. My mind is a terrible thing to waste.

I don’t want to waste it. It’s the mind of Christ.

I feel it’s important to keep our mind active and our creativity up. When we spend time in the creative side of our mind different things happen. Here are a few resources along these lines:

3 Reasons Why You Should Read More Classic Literature in 2019
Why Great Literature, Especially Old Literature, Has Become Essential Medicine In the Age of Social Media

Call me Ishmael.

The famous opening sentence of Moby Dick, so short and provocative, is welcoming and familiar to the 21st century reader, who is accustomed to snappy prose with short sentences and lots of white space. A few sentences later in Melville’s masterpiece we get a sentence that’s more representative of the novel to come. In just a bit I’m going to quote that sentence, and insist that you read it.

My own personal reading challenge that I’d modified from Challies’ (by adding to it) is to read the following classics this year:

  • Sense & Sensibility By Jane Austen
  • It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis
  • The Running Man Stephen King
  • The Machine Stops, E.M. Forster
  • The Decameron, Boccaccio
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

The Classics Spin is an activity from an online book club devoted to the classics. Readers list the top 20 classics they would like to read, sometimes the game is along the lines of a theme (Shakespeare challenge, Really Huge Book challenge) and other times not. They pick a number at random and you read that book. Since the Club is a community, the Admins of the site say,

We know it can be hard to stay on track and enthused about your Spin Book for the whole journey. We plan to provide support and encouragement to all our CC Spinners via twitter, fb, instagram and goodreads. We hope you can join us in cheering everyone on to finish another fabulous classics reading experience!

Four Good Reasons to Read Good Books
Tim Challies lists 4 reasons, here’s one of them-

Identify areas of weakness and read books to strengthen yourself there. This may be weakness of knowledge, weakness of character, or weakness of understanding. If you have too low a view of God, read The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. If you are struggling with parenting, read Gospel-Powered Parenting by William Farley. If you struggle with making decisions, read Decisions, Decisions by Dave Swavely. If you don’t know where you are weak, read a book on humility. Whatever your weakness, there is almost definitely a book that answers it specifically and well.

Colin Adams, the Unashamed Workman, goes Challies 16 better and lists 20 good reasons to read good books. Here are a few of them

–You will be forced to cease from incessant activity and think
–You will receive a historical perspective on current problems and spot present day blindspots
–You will have some of your questions answered and confront other questions you hadn’t even thought of
–You will be able to practically apply Paul’s command to think upon “wholesome” things

Do you like Bible journaling, sketching things that Bile reading or Christian classics bring to mind? I’m a visual person too. I see all these magnificently illustrated journals and theologically rich blogs and I get intimidated and when I’m intimidated I quit before I start. So if you’re like me, scared of generating huge or fabulous content, write one sentence or sketch one quick scene. Everyone can do that. Even me! Here are two ‘challenges’ along those lines-

The Sketchbook Challenge is a daily draw where you draw, paint, or sketch one quick scene from your day that stands out to you. I think this is a good way to both practice your skills and keep the creativity going. You can adapt this to a quick sketch of a Bible visual. Whatever helps the brain keep flowing! I am not a good draw-er but here are my two-

 

 

Gretchen Rubin wanted to enhance her writing skills, and all writers know that to be a good writer you need to write every day. But she worked and had kids. Busy! So she developed the one-sentence journal. Gretchen says

Instead, each day, I write one sentence (well, actually, I type on the computer) about what happened that day to me, the Big Man and the girls.

She suggests that you can even do a one-sentence journal on a particular topic, your day at work, your divorce, a catastrophic event. In like manner, you can keep a one-sentence journal of your spiritual reactions or insights as you read the Bible or a Christian classic. By the end of the year you’ll have 365 sentences or around 15-20 pages.

Let 2019 be the year you spent 21 days developing a new habit (some say that is how long it takes, others say that it takes longer, but I stick with the 3 weeks because it’s not, well, intimidating). Read, write, draw, whatever kind of activity you know enhances your mind is the one.

Let’s train and protect our bodies, but also let’s take care of the mind.

What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. (1 Corinthians 14:15).

Posted in potpourri, Uncategorized

Prata Potpourri, Summer Edition: In which Victoria Elizabeth Barnes’ parents attempt to choose a beach house, & other stories

Here are some essays, photos, and thoughts I’ve gathered along the way this week. I found them interesting and edifying. I hope you do too.

First, ponder that Christ same as a man for sinners. A short picture verse from Logos, but a powerful one with rich layers of meaning. Do you behold the Man?

Sunny Shell at Abandoned To Christ with a thought-provoking poem, It Matters Not.

It’s summer. Are you considering going on that women’s retreat? Jen Oshman at Oshman Odyssey has some practical and edifying advice before you click “Register”.

Is it true that the first time the Pre-Tribulation rapture was preached was in the 1800s from John Darby, who supposedly invented the “theory”? Of course not. Here is Way of Life with a historical piece outlining the facts of When Was the Pre-Tribulation Rapture First Taught?

In the essay Moses Accuses You, Jennifer at One Hired Late In The Day reminds us that the Jews’ hunger for a political kingdom blinded them to the eternal kingdom.

At Practical Theology for Women we read about Giving Gifts the Receiver Wants. She is reading Leviticus, which is all about gifts. With Mother’s Day just passed, Father’s Day ahead, and Wedding Season upon us, it’s interesting to think about the relationship between gift giver and gift receiver.

Sharon Lareau at Chapter 3 Ministries has some information about One Greek word (kephale) and its relevance to your marriage. With wedding season here, it’s an edifying and important read.

Tony Reinke posted My Recent Smartphone Feature Articles. I’m reading his newest book 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You along with a number of folks at church, and we all love it. I don’t even have a smartphone or any cell phone, and the book is completely applicable to any technology. It isn’t anti-phone, it’s about making smart choices with our time- and so much more. If you don’t care to get and read Reinke’s book, the link brings you to several essays containing the meat of his message. I recommend it.

Samuel D. James at Mere Orthodoxy has some advice for budding writers. With the advent of blogs, eBook platforms and other technological innovations, getting published is more accessible than ever. But should you be published? Here is his advice on how to start writing seriously.

Apologist and all around brilliant person Robin Schumacher at Confident Christians has a good series on Counterfeit Christs. Himself raised in church but did not become a believer until age 19, Dr Schumacher is aware that many people in churches profess Christ but do not possess Him. This series illuminates the problem and offers solutions.

Julie-Ann Baumer is a Maine historian who focuses on Lewiston-Auburn area. I lived and worked in this area for many years so I follow her blog. He recently wrote about the first engagement of the Revolutionary war. Or rather, the first naval engagement of the Revolutionary War. It happened in Machias Maine and it was the incident involving the Lexington of the Seas and the ship Margaretta. Now you can wow your friends on the July 4th festivities with some Independence trivia. While you’re at it, look up the sinking of the Gaspee, which happened in April 1772 in Rhode Island. Also very interesting.

Looking for summer reading ideas? Solid Food Ministries does a yeoman’s work in reading, reviewing, and rating edifying books. Give them a look-see. On Goodreads, they have read 201 books. They are also on Facebook.

It’s lawn mowing season! Even when there’s a tornado. The Canadian #TornadoMowingMan is taking social media by storm. Ha ha pun intended. BBC has the story.

This young Alabama man has a mission to mow lawns for people in all 50 states, based on the neighbor helping neighbor concept. Good concept. Good kid.

Victoria Elizabeth Barnes writes about Choosing a Beach House with her parents. Aesthetics, family dynamics, and fervent personal opinions collide. Hilariously.

That reminds me … beach season is here!!

Enjoy the week, the weather, the beach, the whatever you’re doing. Summer is short, no matter where you live. Or as Shakespeare said in Sonnet 18,

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date: