Category: Book Reviews (Page 1 of 16)

Prayer in the night: For those who work or watch or weep

Warren, Tish Harrison. 2021. Prayer in the night: For those who work or watch or weep. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.

Warren is a priest with the Anglican Church and has a campus ministry with InterVarsity Graduate and Faculty Ministries. She and her husband and three children live in Pittsburg.

The book begins with Warren’s story about the trauma of her miscarriage. During it, she prayed relentlessly and states that “Faith, I’ve come to believe, is more craft than feeling. And prayer is our chief-practice in the craft” (9).

Warren’s emphasis on prayer centers on “finding Compline,” a prayer of “completion,” the last prayer of the day and the service surrounding it is designed for nighttime (12). It is the silent hours of the night when we are more aware of ourselves and of God. She found the Psalms “staving off the threat of darkness” (13). This is because “every twenty-four hours, nighttime gives us a chance to practice embracing our own vulnerability” (15). And further, “When we pray the prayers we’ve been given by the church—the prayers of the psalmist and the saints, the Lord’s Prayer, the Daily Office—we pray beyond what we can know, believe, or drum up in ourselves” (17). In her circumstances, Warren needed a prayer that would give her comfort “that looked unflinchingly at loss and death” (18).

The matter of trust is paramount when thinking about the way God doesn’t keep bad things from happening to us. We have pain and must contemplate what its redemptive meaning might be because “belief in a transcendent God means we are stuck with the problem of pain” (24). We have to examine what we think God is like—looking at the life of Jesus. It was the prayers and practices of the church that were most helpful.

The second part of the book is called “The Way of the Vulnerable” and refers to Warren’s emphasis on “working, watching, and weeping.” We are vulnerable as we come to “see grief as part of the everyday experience of being human in a world that is both good and cruel’ (39). Two things stand out: 1) we are always in the shadow of death and 2) we must learn to weep (41). We have to make space for grief and unless we do “we cannot know the depths of the love of God, the healing God wrings from pain, the way grieving yields wisdom, comfort, even joy” (43).

Warren reminds us that “Our task is to take up practices where we name, with utter honesty, the brokenness of the world and the promise of what’s to come” (46). She encourages us to pray with the Psalms, which “call us back into the dramatic depths of reality” (47). These include psalms of “lament” in which we learn how to weep. In our culture, we often assume that we know better than God but we need to “weep with the One who alone is able to permanently wipe away our tears” (52).

By talking about “Those who Watch” (Chapter 4), Warren is referring to our “attention,” our yearning and our hope. We can see no more than a few steps ahead and, as we watch, it can bring us fear. What we yearn for is not rooted in “wishful thinking” (or pie in the sky). We have to learn to watch because “Just as our pupils dilate to let in more light, prayer adjusts our eyes to see God in the darkness” (61). We watch for what is around us every moment.

This leads to “restoration” for “Those who Work” (Chapter 5) and we need others to help us in the process. We come to realize that “without leaving space for grief or attentiveness to God, oiur work will be compulsive, frenzied and vain” (75).

Part Three of the book is “A Taxonomy of Vulnerability” and begins with the prayer “Give your angels charge over those who sleep” (Chapter 6) because the “historic church imagined a universe jam packed with angels” (83). In other words, “Prayer expands our imagination about the nature of reality” (86).

The next prayer is to “Tend the Sick, Lord Christ” (Chapter 7) because, as we know, our bodies begin to fall apart. Sickness is “death’s handmaid” and “We don’t choose our preferred crosses, or our resurrections” (99). Health is a gift and “our bodies will be made eternal” so, “We learn to pray to the God who tends us” (102).

“Give Rest to the Weary” (Chapter 8) is a prayer that follows and refers to our weariness (Ecclesiastes 12.12). When our health fails “it cuts us to the core, reveals our trusest, most fragile selves” (107). In such situations, sometimes we have to have prayers of silence, which “is an exercise in tolerating mystery” (111). As the author says, “pray for miraculous healing, and get the will ready” (114). “We pray because we believe that God. who makes no promises of our safety and comfort, loves us and takes care of us” (114).

I agree that “The Christian faith never asks us to be okay with death” and that is not the way it is supposed to be (117). Death is an enemy and is the last one to be defeated. “Jaroslav Pelikan said that ‘Christ comes into the world to teach men how to die’’ and that was certainly what Joice believed. She meditated on her mortality—not something that our culture (or many Christians) will ever get used to.

Another prayer of the Compline is to “Soothe the Suffering” (Chapter 10), providing comfort. Suffering, as the author notes “ebbs and flows” and we do not know when healing will come. However, in our prayers we can “join him [Jesus] in the torment of Gethsemane, the torture of the cross, and the darkness of his own grave” (127). It follows that “We have to feel the things we hate to feel—sadness, loss, loneliness” about which there are no shortcuts. (131). Healing always takes longer than we would like or that we think it should but, as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “trust in the slow work of God” (136).

“Pity the Afflicted” is the title and prayer of Chapter 11. Warren states, “I don’t know why God allows affliction, but I do know this: he is found among the afflicted” (144). She notes that prosperity seems to render more doubt than the affliction found in the afflicted (147). She claims that “The shape of our prayers determines the shape of our life” (149) and in the darkness we await the dawn.

Chapter 12 asks that we “Shield the Joyous” showing both gratitude and indifference as we do so. This is because “In this fallen world, joy is risky” and takes courage (151). It can be maddening to those who suffer but Christians should embrace the good and what is joyful, which will remain if we choose it. “To choose joy is to see all existence as a gift “ (157). We learn through our prayers that “Love and loss are a double helix this side of heaven” (159).

Part four of the book, “Culmination,” reminds us that we are trusting God and that is “All for Your Love’s Sake” (Chapter 13). “The Christian life is more like a poem than an encyclopedia” because our life “Like poetry…has restraints—even rules, like a sonnet” (163).

The final chapter (13) is “And All for Your Love’s Sake” encourages the reader to “honor ambiguity” because there is a lot we cannot know about God (164). However, “We weep because we can lament to one who cares about our sorrow” (165) and this is good news to people like me. I know that “in the end the only way to endure the mystery is to put the whole weight of our [my] life on the love of God” (167). God does not extinguish sorrow and the darkness is not explained, but it is defeated.

The book concludes with discussion questions for each chapter, such as how is waiting and watching a metaphor for the whole life? and do we agree that in our culture “we rush to get over grief?”

I find the exposition and personal notes on the Compline prayer a number of new and helpful thoughts and I have highlighted many of them in this review. Put together the chapters inform me of one variation of the Compline prayer:

Keep watch, Dear Lord over
Those who weep
Those who watch
Those who work
Give your angels charge over those who sleep
Tend the sick, Lord Jesus
Give rest to the weary
Bless the dying
Soothe the suffering
Pity the afflicted
Shield the joyous
And all for your Love’s sake

The Nursery Rhyme Genre, with Examples


According to Wikipedia, that venerable and revered source of all Internet and planetary knowledge, a nursery rhyme has its history in English plays that originated in the mid’16th Century. The publisher, John Newbery, issued a book of English collections before 1744 called Tommy Thumb’s Song Book, followed by Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book. Newbery’s stepson, Thomas Carnan, is credited with being the first to use the term “Mother Goose” for nursery rhymes. Nursery rhymes comprise one sub-set of story genres.

Story Genres

A genre is a term used to classify kinds of literature and music. For example, “detective” stories comprise a genre that is different than “cowboy” stories. “Country western” music is different than “gospel” music, and so on. Of course, genres are often loosely defined, with overlap between them: a detective story genre may be mainly about cowboys and gospel music genre may include western themes. Literary genres include, for example, poetry, prose, fiction, non-fiction and drama, each with sub-genres as well. Nursery rhymes are a sub-category of literary fiction.

Within a given cultural tradition, as in language groups of Papua New Guinea, stories can be categorized generically and individually. For example, the Kewa (of Papua New Guinea) use the words iti and remaa to represent folklore on the one hand and history on the other.[1] Oral societies provide their history by means of folk stories and folk history, for example, by means of genealogies and classifications, for example—blood v. marriage kin (consanguine and affine).

Stories are live representations that impress listeners more with their images than with their propositions. For example, “Mary had a little lamb” is a proposition, but “Its fleece was white as snow” provides the hearer with a mental image.

Stories are also idiomatic, i.e. they are told in the vernacular with cultural analogies and background information. They are therefore often imaginative, not just in the sense of say telling my granddaughter a story, but also in her mind as she forms mental images of Mary and the sheep. They also include particular themes, plots, sub-plots—“and everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to go.”

Although stories may be historical and built on what the teller views or represents as things that happened, nursery rhymes are purely fictional. Nevertheless, they are dynamic and can be converted into drama or song to represent various aspects of the story. They are often short and pithy, accompanied by animation, drama, and so on. Nursery stories are generally for the very young, but can be adapted according to audience backgrounds, such as for ethnicity or gender, and are often instructive, either directly or indirectly, with particular cultural applications and morals.

Nursery rhymes[2]

Nursery rhymes were composed for children and include poems, lullabies, finger plays and counting. Many rhymes are classic and therefore old, for example: 1) Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, 1731; 2) Goosey, Goosey Gander, 1784; 3) Jack and Jill, 1765; 4) London Bridge is Falling Down, 1744; 5) Mary, Mary, Quite contrary, 1744; and 6) Three Blind Mice, 1805. 

Other nursery rhymes may involve counting or singing include, such as:  7) wheels on the bus; 8) Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe; 9) Little miss Muffet; 10) Row, row, row your boat; 11) Itsy bitsy spider; 12) Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater; 13) Little Bo Peep; 14) Four and twenty blackbirds; 15) Pat a cake; 16) Little boy blue; and 17) Hey diddle diddle.

Because nursery stories are entertaining, they are sometimes told by professional storytellers. Although the intended message of a nursery story is not always apparent and may require interpretation, it will probably spoil a nursery rhyme to provide detailed exegesis—so consider many of them “spoiled” by me. However, even as a linguist, I am mindful that a child is not interested in the story’s semantics, pragmatics or theology, noting such things as actors, agents, settings, background and deixis.

Nursery rhymes can be ad hoc and provocative, whereby one story leads to another—a chain of imagination, such that a story acts as a “trigger” for another.

In summary, nursery rhymes combine various elements:

media, such as voice over, camera angle, and music scores

Such storytelling, by its very nature, gains various outputs:

discussion and consideration
decision and acting
replication or retelling
perhaps honor 
identity with teller or characters

In my versions of the Nursery Rhymes that follow, I have messed with the interpretations, just for fun. Of course, no actual animal or person has been harmed in the transitions. 

A Black Sheep

Abstract: Most sheep are white, but this one was not and he (or she, we can’t be sure) was quite special and clever. I am assuming that it is not racist to refer to a sheep as black and, as the story will show, black sheep were extremely smart and generally in charge of the white sheep. I will refer to the main character of the story as Blackie—again intending nothing sinister or bad. Black is simply the darkest achromatic visual value, although it can have social values as well. For example, if you are “in the black” it is much better than being “in the red”. In addition, the Ovis or Ovis aries clan of sheep have been known to control the wool trade, including dying, shrinking and other complex jobs, for a long time.

Key words: sheep, Ovis, Ovis aries, wool, cotton, bag, baa, sir

Baa, Baa, black sheep
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full;
One for the master,
And one for the dame,
And one for the little boy w
Who lives down the lane.

Some background of the story: Wool products were hard to get in the old days, that is, prior to 1733, so selling wool was a very good job to have. There is, however, a lot more to the story and my account will help to fill it out.

There were numerous merchants in those days trying to buy wool—they were known as Wooleys. When one of them would see a black sheep, it would immediately yell “baa, baa” because it thought that the words sounding like sheep language. And it was true that white sheep will stand around all day in the pasture saying just those two words.

In this case Wooley, wanting to get Blackie’s attention, yelled out “baa, baa,” thinking that the black sheep would yell “baa, baa” back and that they could then talk about wool and wool prices in Australia and New Zealand.

But black sheep are different, so Blackie did not say “baa, baa” back to Wooley. Instead it said “Yes sir”, twice, for emphasis, and Wooly loved what he heard because he loved to be called “sir.” In fact, he wanted to be called sir and would often say to the white sheep, “Stop saying baa, baa all the time and call me sir!” But the white sheep could not understand him, for he had never properly learned sheep language. Nor could they bring themselves to teach Wooley the language.

Blackie knew of course that Wooley wanted wool and he guessed that three bags full would be enough. So, he told him he had three bags for him and then he probably went too far—he stipulated who the bags were for. He said, paraphrased, “Wooley, you’re the big shot, the master, so you can have one bag, and your wife—the dame—she can have the other, but don’t forget that poor little boy that lives down the road, actually a small road, just a lane.”

Blackie should not have told Wooley who the wool was for. It upset Wooley because it made him feel selfish taking the first bag. And even though he would give his dame the second bag, he was not going to give that boy down the road any wool. Oh, he might have given him a sack full of cotton, but surely not a full bag of wool.

“Who do you think you are, telling me who to give the wool to?” said Wooley. “I have been buying wool for a long time and I should know who gets the wool and who doesn’t. My wife—OK—she will knit me a sweater, but that boy who lives down the lane throws berries at my horse and I wouldn’t give him a bag of wool. Like I said, maybe a sack of cotton, but not a bag of wool.”

This bothered Blackie, who had started out poor and on the other side of the lane himself. With luck and perseverance, he had become a wool seller. He wanted that little boy down the lane to have the same chance he had in life, so he said once again, “and one for the little boy who lives down the lane.” 

Wooley was mad—sellers are not supposed to tell buyers what to do with their money or products. He decided, according to legend, never to buy wool from Blackie again.

Blackie was not discouraged at all. He got to know the little boy down the lane and together they built a large wool shed and decided to pull the wool over Wooley’s eyes. They took three bags of cotton and waited along the road for Wooley to come looking for wool to buy. Remember that cotton was a lot cheaper than wool and if they could sell it at the same price as wool, they would make a lot of money.

And for the next few years that is what they did. How could they manage? Well, by then Wooley had so much wool over his eyes that he couldn’t tell cotton from wool, especially when it was packaged in wool bags. Without meaning to, he had helped Blackie and the boy down the lane become exporters of wool all over the world.

The moral of the story: Children should never say “baa, baa” to someone who might reply “yes sir.” And they should always examine their wool to make sure that it is not cotton.

[1] See, for example, my analysis of the classification of Kewa stories: “Two Kewa (Papua New Guinea) Story Genres” in Language & Linguistics in Melanesia 35:152-176, 2017.

[2] My main source has been: Best Loved Nursery Rhymes and Sons: including Mother Goose selections, with helpful guide for parents. Home Library Press, A division of Parents’ Magazine Enterprises, Inc. 1974 edition. There are 251 rhymes and songs in the book.


When we lived in Duncanville (SW of Dallas) we had many salesmen stop by and Joice would invariably visit with them and sometimes invite them into the house. She wanted to witness to them, if it was possible. This led to many interesting encounters.

One of the most memorable was when two well dressed men showed up and rang the doorbell. “What have we here?” Joice asked, “a couple of Mormons? Come in.” “No, we are Kirby vacuum cleaner salesmen,” the men replied. I was at work but Joice was going to have some fun. “Will it really clean bricks or tiles?” she asked. “Of course,” they replied and worked on the fireplace and kitchen floor. “But what about sofas and chairs?” Again the men showed how efficient the vacuum cleaner was. “What about sand and grit in the carpet?” And, of course, the demonstration went to the carpet. “You missed some over here,” Joice said, so they went over a larger swath of rug.

About this time I arrived home and Joice met me enthusiastically with the comment, “There are two men here who want to meet you.” I could see from all the vacuum apparatus what was up but I could also see the twinkle in Joice’s eyes that we were going to have some fun. “This wonderful Kirby is on sale now for $2,000,” one of the men said “and we have just used it on your mattress.” Using our TV and DVD, they showed us all the enormous monster bugs that were roaming in our bed. “But those aren’t ours,” I objected, “we got this mattress from our children in Waco and they must belong to them Besides, if we disturb the natural habitat of these creatures now, they may begin to roam wildly in the house and cause all kinds of sicknesses.” (One of the men was furiously taking notes.)

The men were clearly perplexed and ever so gradually brought the sales price “down” to $1,000. However, we weren’t “biting” and the men decided to call their supervisor, who just happened to be working the same street. He came immediately and offered us more incentives but could see we were sales resistant. We showed them Kewa pictures, the translated NT, and gave them a good lecture on Bible translation. They somewhat grudgingly but hastily left us with our newly cleaned house. Joice and I had a good laugh.

Over the years, many other vendors appeared at our doorstep and Joice would talk to them. One was a Christian man, witnessing to everyone in our town. It was cold and we invited him in. “This is a terrible town,” he said, “I can’t find any pagans on this street.” We didn’t think he really looked hard enough.

Besides Mormons and vendors of all kinds, we also had Jehovah Witnesses. We would always try to bring the Scriptures into our conversation and even offer to pray with them. They did not want prayer and would quickly find that they needed to “move on.”

We know that as Christians we are to be a “witness” for Christ. But is it OK to do it and have a bit of fun as well? Or is it far too serious of a matter? It depends on the context and situation: talking to a homeless person about our faith includes being interested in their condition and responding to it. Also, our “witness” to a person of another faith demands some respect and personal accountability.

I always admired how ready Joice was to talk to someone, not necessarily witnessing about Christ, but leading that way if possible. She was entirely without guile or chicanery, instead offering an honest and open expression of her faith. She taught me a lot but I could have learned much more!

From what I have observed over almost 7 years, witnessing at our church is pretty “low key,” and offered in a context of friendship and love. For example, Joice met regularly for a couple of years with four women, and she often wondered if she had any lasting “witness.” Was she demonstrating Christ’s love and compassion even though she didn’t overtly say much about her faith? It was consummated in her prayers.

Hopefully, we all want our lives to be a witness—the way we live, act and what we say will mean more to our children than our lectures.

“You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard.” (Acts 22:15)

In Joshua Chapter 24, the people claim they will be witnesses for God and Joshua assures them, “You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard.”

Karl Franklin

Kidd on America’s religious history

Kidd, Thomas S. 2019. America’s religious history: Faith, politics, and the shaping of a nation. Zondervan Academic.

Thomas S. Kidd is a distinguished professor of history at Baylor University. In 14 chapters, he covers religion in America from early times until the present problems of immigration diversity and culture wars.

The coverage is brief for each topic and, as Kidd says, it “can’t give adequate coverage to all possible topics” (11). However, he adequately examines the diversity found in American religion, one that has “escalated since transformative changes in American immigration beginning in 1965” (11).

Religion in America began in Massachusetts. One of the most successful missionary with the Massachusetts Indians was John Eliot, who established “praying Indian villages” and translated the Bible into the Massachusetts Indian language. At the time of Columbus there were probably 500 different “tribes” (and hence languages). in what is now America. Kidd relates some of the difficult times for the Indians as the Spanish and English colonization took place.

The Puritans were “driven by theological conviction” (24) and had come to New England to find religious freedom for themselves. Roger Williams was a Puritan but later became an outspoken critic of government and Puritan practices and founded the first Baptist congregation in America in Providence in 1638 (25). Further to the south, particularly in South Carolina, there was a mix of Anglicans, Puritans, Quakers, Scottish Covenanters, Huguenots and some Jews, as well as Indian indigenous worshipers.

Of all the religious groups, the Quakers were the most radical and had a more equality-based view of all people and by the mid-1600s they were the most persecuted group in the colony. However, the religious diversity in early America “played a part in fueling the violence that marked much of colonial America’s history” (30).

In the early and mid-1700s, revivals were a part of American history with Philadelphia playing a prominent part as an organizational hub. Men like George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards left their mark, the former helped by his friendship with Benjamin Franklin. This was the period in American religious history known as “The Great Awakening” and it eventually led to the American Revolution.

Slavery was an engrained American institution at the time and one of the most powerful critics was Lemuel Haynes, an African American pastor and soldier from Massachusetts. Even Jefferson, who owned slaves, was convicted by such arguments. It was the Baptists who “were the most consistent advocates for religious liberty as the Revolution approached” (60). In 1776 the Virginia Declaration of Rights guaranteed religious liberty, “but it seemed not to touch the established Anglican Church” (61). Nevertheless, the Revolution was not directed towards religion, although it was inspired by it.

The second “Great Awakening” took place in the early 1800s and was dominated by church growth and revival. Charles Finney was influential and taught that “Christians could achieve a high level of holiness called ‘perfection’” (78). One outgrowth of Calvinism was deism, as articulated by Benjamin Franklin, and another was Unitarianism, with Walt Whitman an adherent. Another institution legacy, an offshoot of William Miller and led by Ellen White, was the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. (85). Mormonism followed with Joseph Smith claiming divine revelation from a visiting angel and the discovery of golden tablets which he translated into the Book of Mormon.

The early 19th century “saw a great flowering of Protestant missions and social reform movements” (92), but the Catholics had “articulate defenders in America” (96) as well. Missions had been fostered much earlier when Jonathan Edwards published a book in 1749 on the life of David Brainerd. A bit later, in 1806, the famous “Haystack Prayer Meeting” took place at Williams College in Massachusetts, leading to the formation of the Andover Mission Society. (99) and mission work among the Cherokees and Choctaws. Missionaries were soon found throughout the world: Adoniram Judson in Burma and William Carey in India are two prime examples. “By the mid-1880s, Americans had made significant advances in spreading the Christian gospel, and the Bible itself, throughout America and around the world” (109).

The slaves who arrived in America had, for the most part, little background in Christianity and were not given much education, so there were not many who had the ability to read. Their songs most often depicted their longing for freedom. However, such immigrants were sought be Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists and other denominations. Nate Turner’s rebellion was a part of the more militant abolitionist movement and raised moral questions about the slave trade (125). However, one of the “most compelling advocates of abolition was the former slave Frederick Douglass” (127). Slavery became a divisive issue in America.

Slavery led to the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln used “religious rhetoric” in his speeches to arouse the conscience of at least part of the nation. In 1844 the Methodists “became the first denomination to break apart over slavery” (134). Other denominations were not so quick to follow, and as late as in 1995 the Southern Baptists apologized for their role in slavery.

Writers, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) played a prominent role in opposing slavery and even Lincoln believed that God was judging both the North and the South because of slavery (144).

It was the immigration of millions into America that affected religious diversity, with Catholics from Europe prevailing, but also Hispanics and Jews in large numbers. Other religious groups, such as the Hindu, Muslim and Sikh, also formed religious settlements. Less involved were American Indians, who had been evangelized for years but also suffered terribly at the hands of government and settlers. However, the waves of immigrants, “paired with concern about secularizing intellectual trends” began a backlash among many Protestants (167).

Reactions to evolutionary teachings led to the formation of many assertive (one could say, in some cases, hard-liners) Protestant evangelical churches and colleges. Evolutionary-minded scholars began to seriously question the veracity of the Bible, culminating to some extent in the Scopes Trial in 1925 (178). At the same time, the women’s rights movement became stronger under the leadership of women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Aimee Semple McPherson. Mixed in with the various movements was a wave of conservative theology and mainline denominational leaders.

During the World Wars, religious (and other) leaders “kept employing religious rhetoric to explain America’s involvement in its extraordinarily demanding wars” (189). Many members of some churches and denominations, such as the Seventh-Day Adventist, the Quakers and the Jehovah Witnesses, opposed war and practiced “conscientious objection.”

It was during the war periods and immediately after them that Americans began sending missionaries around the world—part of the “manifest destiny” belief and mentality. The most compelling and expanding part of this movement was from the Pentecostals, but it also included agencies like Wycliffe Bible Translators and World Vision (196).

The Great Depression gave rise to the YMCA and Salvation Army, as well as Catholic, Jewish and other welfare societies. The Holocaust “resulted in a loss of spiritual innocence” for many Christians and Jews (204). This was later followed by the fear of Communism and the “Cold War.” Some preachers and evangelists encouraged “positive thinking” and a spirit of ecumenical cooperation. By the 1950s “65 percent of Americans said they were members of a religious congregation” (214). In the decades that followed, Billy Graham was the most famous evangelist in America, with access to numerous U.S. presidents (227).

The civil rights movement, coupled with the ministry and non-violent movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. were effective in overcoming—to some extent—the bigotry and segregationalism that predominated in much of America, especially in the South. Some African Americans, such as Malcolm X, adopted an extreme anti-government position.

More recently, there has been a strong anti-God and anti-church denominational movement, led in part by the New Atheists. To counter this, strong new denominations, such as Vineyard and Pentecostal Charismatic churches have occupied a prominent position in American religious viewpoints.

Current issues facing the church include abortion rights, same sex marriages, the Equal Rights political movement, women’s rightful roles in church hierarchies (especially as ministers,) creationism, and educational perspectives (such as home schooling). Most of these continue to be major concerns.

Kidd concludes his book by noting that, “many Christian traditionalists [are] wondering whether they should seek to reclaim the nation or retreat from a secular American Babylon” (266).

American Religious History is a fascinating coverage of the major religious and secular issues in America, as well as the people that have helped to formulate and regulate current ideas and attitudes. Professor Kidd is well acquainted with all aspects of America’s historical problems and progress, the people who helped create them, as well as current and past proposed solutions.

Waco, Texas
March 2020

Symbol or Substance

Kreeft, Peter. 2019. Symbol or substance? A dialogue on the Eucharist with C.S. Lewis, Billy Graham and J.R.R. Tolkien. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Kreeft, who is a professor of philosophy at Boston College, has written many books that attempt to bridge some of the disagreements between Roman Catholics (which he always refers to simply as Catholics) and Protestants. From his one-time membership as a Reformed Church of America Protestant (p. 13), Kreeft believes he is objectively qualified to examine differences between Catholics and Protestants, in particular the Eucharist, which also allows him to touch on baptism, grace, faith and other key denominational issues.

Kreeft has four disclaimers at the start of the book: 1) it is not a scholarly treatise; 2) he allows himself considerable poetic license and therefore does not always “speak” like his participants might; 3) he tries to be fair to the non-Catholic position, but writes as a Catholic; 4) he does not claim to have settled anything—although he does claim, at the end of the book, to have shared the “ecumenical passion” of Christians (p. 232).

In addition to Lewis, Graham and Tolkien, Guy, a Baptist “friend and admirer of Billy’s,” ( p. 17) and the vehicle driver for Lewis and Graham, occasionally contributes to the dialogue. The meeting takes place in Tolkien’s home.

The title of the books reveals the essence of the dialogue: Graham believes the Eucharist is primarily a memory feast, Tolkien believes the “Real Presence” of the Lord is in the physical bread and wine, and Lewis is somewhere between the two in his comments. In practice and personality, Tolkien can be characterized as the theologian, Lewis as the philosopher and Graham as the literalist (sola Scriptura and sola fide).

Tolkien is assured of his historical position: that the Catholic Church represents the direct apostolic succession from Peter and the Apostles, and that Luther fractured the Church. Quite simply for Tolkien, everything would have been OK if Luther had not started the reformation. Until then, in Tolkien’s view, everyone understood the Eucharist as the “real” body and blood of Christ. In other words, the early Church “always” thought Christ to be present both in body and soul—and not simply in a spiritual sense. According to Tolkien, Catholics are saved by the Eucharist and fed again and again by his presence and grace. This, of course, is not the view of Graham, who sees the Catholic view as bordering on magic. The Anglo-Catholic view, represented strongly by Lewis, believes that it is not just a symbol but “it really is His blood” (p.67).

The argument goes back and forth along these lines: take the words of Christ literally, i.e., “This is my blood,” or take them symbolically, “this wine represents my blood.”

For Tolkien, and hence for Catholics, “baptism saves you,” just as the Eucharist does. For most Protestants, this is a reliance upon the counter-reformation position of the Church, which was resolved at the Council of Trent and upon other occasions. It does not have the authority of the Bible alone but, for Catholics, it is just as authoritative.

Tolkien outlines how important tradition is to the Catholic position: it is part of the Church dogma and was articulated and represented by the church fathers (not mothers). It therefore has equal weight with the written word of God.

Tolkien returns repeatedly to the sacrament of the Eucharist (and Baptism) to declare that “He instituted the sacraments as normal ways by which He saves you and puts His own eternal life into you” (p. 77). Graham compares that to a dependency on good works and not faith alone. There follows a long debate on faith and works.

At one point (p.85) Lewis deciares “I do not agree that Christ is present in the sacraments only if we have faith. I believe He is really present, objectively present, independent of us.” Graham takes this to mean that the sacraments are independent of faith because Lewis says that “our faith can’t cause the Real Presence.”

An argument and explanation of efficient cause and final cause follows, where efficient cause does not make the sacraments happen, but the final cause is “to test our faith and to elicit our faith and to strength our faith.” (86). There follows a discussion on feelings and faith with Lewis claiming that “the thing that looks like a wafer of bread really is the Body of Christ.” (91). In this view and expressed by both Lewis and Tolkien, Christ is “hiding” in the wafer. This physical manifestation of Christ in the Eucharist is the bone of contention that separates Protestants from Catholics. It follows that “if the communion wafer is not eaten, or if the wine is not drunk” we do not get grace (110).

Although Lewis claims to believe in the “Real Presence” of Christ, he has points “where I do not go as far as the Catholics go: the necessity of the formula of Transubstantiation and the authority of the Church that supports it.” (124)

Is there a possibility of compromise on the issue? Tolkien claims not: you either believe in the Catholic position as truth or you are in error, although Protestants (and others) might come in the “back doors into Heaven.” (193) He insists that the body and blood of the Eucharist is described by the Church as “the extension of the Incarnation.” (156) The authority of the Church also rests on the claim of the “chain of succession, by the sacrament of ordination.” (162)

he (Catholic) Church, according to Tolkien, gave us the Bible, but it gave us its authority (tradition) even before we had the Bible. Tolkien makes some other outlandish (to Protestants) claims, such as the validity of prayers to saints, the veneration of Mary, the use of relics by the Church and its view of Purgatory, which according to him,  go back to the history of the Church and “were never denied.” (181).

However, Tolkien does not deny that the Church needed reformation, although he claims it was all taken care of at the Council of Trent, (although that was a counter-reformation movement after Luther).

There is no real compromise or conclusion to the book that completely satisfies the participants. Although they remain friends and have understood the positions of each other better, that is about all. Perhaps it was enough for Kreeft, the author, and it will have to do for me as well.


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