Why is the imaginative life important for Christians?

I ask that question, among others, to Dr. Gene Veith in a recent interview for The Canadian Lutheran. In the course of the discussion, we delved into such topics as Christian subcultures, imaginative apologetics, C.S. Lewis, and how the Church can foster a healthy imaginative life.

A couple of snippets to whet your appetite:

Many of the obstacles against the Christian faith in people’s minds are really imaginative creations: they think of God as an old man with a beard up in the sky looking down on this suffering world, and they can’t believe that. No one should believe that. God is much bigger than that…

And another:

C.S. Lewis wonders why he didn’t see how mind-blowing and wonderful Christianity is when he was first taught it as a child. Part of the problem, he says, is that it wasn’t taught in a way that addressed the imagination. He marvels how it is possible to make the story of God-becoming-flesh and dying for sinful man so boring. But that’s how it was presented to him as a youth.

Gene Veith, Provost and Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College in Virginia, was keynote speaker for the Canadian Centre for Scholarship and the Christian Faith’s third annual conference March 21-22, 2014 at Concordia University College of Alberta in Edmonton. His topic was “The Arts, the Imagination, and the Christian Life.”

Dr. Veith is the author of numerous books, including The Spirituality of the Cross and God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life. He is also co-author of a forthcoming title on the Christian imagination.

Read the full interview at The Canadian Lutheran. You may also want to check out Gene’s site Cranach, where he is using the interview as the starting point for additional online discussion.



About a month ago, a new book came out claiming that the Holy Grail had been discovered…again. What is it about the cup Christ used at a Passover meal 2,000 years ago that so fascinates us? Why are people still searching for it today. And are we missing the real miracle of the Last Supper? That and more in an article I wrote last week for First Things: “What if we find the Holy Grail? Miracles and man.”

Lutherans like myself should not, therefore, simply deny the possibility that this or that physical object—or relic, if you will—might be used by God to convey miraculous power. He’s done it before; he can do it again if he so chooses. But there is a danger in putting too much stock in such relics, even if they are what they purport to be. One can easily slip from faith in the God who wrought wonders through an object to an idolatrous faith in the power of the object itself. This is precisely what occurred in the case of the bronze snake mentioned earlier. We read that in Hezekiah’s time it became necessary to destroy the snake, for the Israelites had begun to honor as if it had power itself—as if it were, in fact, a god (2 Kings 18:4)…

Even if a relic could be proved to be the Holy Grail to the exclusion of all other claimants, Christians would be wise to heed the words of Charles Williams. In his novel War in Heaven, the Grail is discovered in small rural church in England. The Archdeacon of Fardles finds in the Grail peace and joy. And while the vessel is presented in the novel as supernaturally powerful, the Archdeacon confesses, as we all ought to confess in such a moment, “Neither is this Thou.” Whatever worth the relic has, it is still not God. Seeking it for its own sake, apart from God, is to enter into idolatry.

For more on relics, supernatural power, and the true miracle of the Last Supper, read the full article.





You can understand why the other disciples were angry. James and John had approached Jesus in secret and asked to be given authority above the rest. “Let one of us sit at your right,” they requested, “and the other at your left in your glory” (Mark 10:37).

The other disciples, we read, were “indignant” when they heard about all this (Mark 10:41). It’s not surprising. “What’s so special about James and John?” you can imagine them asking. “Why should they sit at Jesus’ left and right, and not me?”

In their place, we might ask the same. No one enjoys feeling overlooked. We want to be recognized for our good work and to be rewarded accordingly. So when our acquaintances advance in life while we’re left behind, we feel under-appreciated. Cheated, even. “What’s so special about them?” we mutter to ourselves. “I should be the one climbing up the ladder.”

It’s been a perennial problem for humanity since Adam and Eve: we want all the power and prestige we can get. And if we can’t “be as gods,” as the serpent once promised, then we’ll settle for having a throne next to God’s. We’ll be His right-hand man, just so long as we’re ahead of everyone else. Like James and John, we want a position of power and glory…

So begins my most recent column for The Canadian Lutheran. It’s entitled “Jesus right-hand man.” James and John, of course, are told by Jesus that He cannot give them the places at His right and His left. So to whom did these places go? Find out here.


Donne's death shroudLast week a post of mine on the poets John Donne and George Herbert went up at First Things (entitled “In Praise of Dead Poets”). It begins by referencing a fascinating article by Miranda Threlfall-Holmes in The Guardian, where she attributes her conversion to Christianity to the poetry of Herbert. I use her experience as a launching pad for a discussion of my own university encounters with Donne—with a particular focus on one class in which we read his Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions.

The book was interesting, to be sure, but I wondered what my classmates would make of it. This was not poetry, even if it was poetic. Would they even consider it literature? I confess that as I went to class that day, I did not expect much. I had convinced myself that discussion of the book would be, at best, limited.

I was shocked to discover the opposite. My classmates were engaged—extremely engaged—by this centuries-old reflection on sickness and death. And this wasn’t merely academic reflection on the book; students were sharing their own griefs and fears about death. This was personal confrontation with Donne’s subject, deeply felt.

This is truly the point of poetry like Donne’s and Herbert’s—not merely to appreciate it, but to converse with it. To be changed by it. Indeed, as I go on to explain, this was Herbert’s own hope for his poetry.

Though it is but a “poore paper,” in Herbert’s own assessment, he nevertheless hopes that God might work through it to transform its readers. “How happie were my part,” he writes, “If some kinde man would thrust his heart / Into these lines.” Herbert wants them to make the words their own, and to likewise offer their lives and wills to God—recognizing that he has already purchased them by his “death and bloud.”

I wind up as follows:

Threlfall-Holmes’ article in the Guardian suggests that Herbert’s poetry continues to do just that: introduce others to faith. And such writing serves not only as an introduction; it further offers life-long encouragement and comfort to the faithful. The lesson we learn from Herbert and Donne and countless others then is that the voices of the dead are not silent. No, they are powerful and effective even now.

May God continue so to use dead poets.

Check out the whole thing at First Things. And thanks to Gene Veith for sharing the article with his readers.


luther-face-webMy latest at First Things went up a few days ago (February 18), to coincide with the anniversary of Luther’s death. Since then, it’s been picked up by Real Clear Religion and the Gospel Coalition, among other sites.

On this day in 1546, Martin Luther fell asleep in the Lord. Lutherans therefore recognize him this day and thank God for him. But let’s be honest: Luther wasn’t always a very nice man.

So begins the article. I go on to discuss Luther’s failings (they are many) before bringing us back to the real reason we remember him:

“This truly is why we remember Luther: not because he was always nice, not because he was always good, and certainly not because he was always right. He wasn’t. Instead, we remember Luther because he directed attention always away from himself to Christ. It is to Christ we look for salvation, not our own holiness.”

Read the whole thing at “Standing with Martin Luther: Remembering a sinful saint.”

(The title of this post is taken from Anthony Sacramone’s tweeted description of my article).



My latest for the January/February issue of The Canadian Lutheran reflects on the darkness of winter, St. Clement, the sowing of seeds, and resurrection hope.

When I first moved to Winnipeg from Regina a few years ago, I couldn’t help but notice little differences between the two communities. I learned quickly, for instance, that Winnipeg was about three times larger than Regina; it took me much longer to travel “downtown” than I had previously been used to. The natural landscape differed too, as I exchanged Wascana Lake for the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. I also learned that, during football season, blue—not green—seemed to be the color of choice here. In short, I noticed all sorts of things that distinguish the capital of Saskatchewan from the capital of Manitoba.

cl2901-cover-webBut the thing I noticed first was the darkness. During my first few weeks of work, I would leave the office to find the sun had already set. By the time I made it home, the sky would be completely dark.

It’s not hard to understand why: during the winter, Saskatchewan and Manitoba share the same time. When it’s 5:00 p.m. in one, it’s 5:00 p.m. in the other. But because Regina is so much further west, the sun doesn’t set so soon there as it does in Winnipeg. In fact, sunset comes about a half hour earlier in Winnipeg than in Regina. In December—the month in which I moved—the sun sets around 4:30 p.m. in Winnipeg. In Regina, it hangs on until 5:00 p.m. My move then was just in time for the darkest part of the year.

And dark it was. The change reminded me of the severity of winter in a new way. Yes, Saskatchewan and Manitoba are both cold. But the quicker onset of night in Winnipeg made the winter seem somehow colder.

As a result, I’ve learned to love mid-January. Every day, the darkness seems to grow a little less when I leave the office. I see the twilight glowing brighter, and I know: the old, cold world of winter is giving way to the coming spring. And though I realize that spring is still rather distant, joyful expectation begins to fill me. Something new is happening. A new world is coming.

Christians have long invoked the signs of spring as symbols for resurrection hope. The barrenness of winter symbolizes death; but as the snows melt, life re-emerges in a mini-resurrection. As the snows melt, the crocus blooms!

Read the rest at The Canadian Lutheran in my article “Death gives way to life.”


Over at First Things, I explore the origin of the “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” quote so often attributed to C.S. Lewis online. Spoilers: It’s much older and much less Christian than many people seem to realize. A selection follows. See it all in“The Spiritualist Origins of “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul.'”

About a year and a half ago, Mere Orthodoxy published a piece by Hannah Peckham on the oft-quoted expression: “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” It’s frequently attributed online (and in print) to C.S. Lewis, but he never actually said it. In fact, as Mere Orthodoxy makes clear, the expression comes much earlier than Lewis. Their post traces it back to an 1892 Quaker periodical, in which it is attributed (second-hand and unsourced) to George MacDonald. [UPDATE: Thanks to Jeremy Rios who in the comments identifies MacDonald’s Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood as the source of this reference.] The author at Mere Orthodoxy suggests this reference to MacDonald might be the reason Lewis has been associated with the phrase, given the latter’s open admiration for the former. But as the post also makes clear, Lewis himself never wrote anything even close to these words.

This 1892 reference is not, of course, the expression’s first occurrence; we find similar phrases throughout the late 19th century. But perhaps one of the most significant early instances of its use—at least for understanding what the phrase originally meant—comes just over a decade earlier. In early October 1881, Rev. Dr. R. Thornton presented a paper at the Church of England’s Church Congress in New Castle, during which he said: “We should have taught more carefully than we have done, not that men are bodies and have souls, but that they are souls and have bodies.” His lecture was apparently printed in The Guardian shortly thereafter, from which it was reproduced in other publications over the next few weeks: in Light: A Journal Devoted to the Highest Interests of Humanity, both Here and Hereafter, in The Medium and Daybreak, and (partially) in Morning Light.

While Thornton is not the first to use language of this sort, his paper nevertheless helps explain why Christians today should be wary of it: namely, because the terminology arises out of a Spiritualist, not Christian, framework.

Read the rest at First Things.

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