TV: The Cyclops That Eats Books – L.Woiwode

Last Saturday I stopped at a local thrift store and found a few more treasures in the book department. One is a collection of speeches give at Hillsdale College (Hillsdale, MI), which are often reprinted in their monthly publication Imprimis.

The book is titled Educating for Liberty: The Best of Imprimis 1972-2002 (Hillsdale College Press, 2002), and among the great printed speeches in it is the one given by Larry Woiwode in February of 1992, the title of which is in my heading above. Woiwode is a former college professor turned novelist, and of interest to our readers, an OPC elder (For more details on him, visit his website.).

CyclopsThough his speech may be a bit dated, it is a powerful description of what television has done to our reading abilities and desires. Today, we may add the book-devouring influences of laptops, video games, tablets, and “smart” phones.

You may find the entire print version at the Imprimis archives, but I give you just a few samples of what he has to say here:

What is destroying America today is not the liberal breed of one-world politicians, or the IMF bankers, or the misguided educational elite, or the World Council of Churches; these are largely symptoms of a greater disorder. If there is any single institution to blame, it is, to use the cozy diminutive, “TV”.

TV is more than a medium; it has become a full-fledged institution, backed by billions of dollars each season.  Its producers want us to sit in front of its glazed-over electronic screen, press our clutch of discernment through the floorboards, and sit in a spangled, zoned-out state (“couch potatoes,” in current parlance) while we are instructed in the proper liberal tone and attitude by our present-day Plato and Aristotle-Dan Rather and Tom Brokow. These television celebrities have more temporal power than the teachings of Aristotle and Plato have built up over the centuries.  Television, in fact, has greater power over the lives of most Americans than any educational system or government or church.  Children are particularly susceptible.  They are mesmerized, hypnotized and tranquilized by TV.  It is often the center of their world; even when the set is turned off, they continue to tell stories about what they’ve seen on it.  No wonder, then, that as adults they are not prepared for the frontline of life; they simply have no mental defenses to confront the reality of the world.

The Truth About TV

One of the most disturbing truths about TV is that it eats books.  Once out of school, nearly 60 percent of all adult Americans have never read a single book, and most of the rest read only one book a year.  Alvin Kernan, author of The Death of Literature, says that reading books “is ceasing to be the primary way of knowing something in our society.”   He also points out that bachelor’s degrees in English literature have declined by 33 percent in the last twenty years and that in many universities the courses are largely reduced to remedial reading. American libraries, he adds, are in crisis, with few patrons to support them.  Thousands of teachers at the elementary, secondary and college levels can testify that their students’ writing exhibits a tendency towards superficiality that wasn’t seen, say, ten or fifteen years ago. It shows up not only in the students’ lack of analytical skills but in their poor command of grammar and rhetoric.  I’ve been asked by a graduate student what a semicolon is. The mechanics of the English language have been tortured to pieces by TV.  Visual, moving images-which are the venue of television-can’t be held in the net of careful language. They want to break out. They really have nothing to do with language. So language, grammar and rhetoric have become fractured.

Recent surveys by dozens of organizations also suggest that up to forty percent of the American public is functionally illiterate; that is, our citizens’ reading and writing abilities, if they have any, are so seriously impaired as to render them, in that handy jargon of our times, “dysfunctional”. The problem isn’t just in our schools or in the way reading is taught: TV teaches people not to read. It renders them incapable of engaging in an art that is now perceived as strenuous, because it is an active art, not a passive hypnotized state.

Passive as it is, television has invaded our culture so completely that you see its effects in every quarter, even in the literary world. It shows up in supermarket paperbacks, from Stephen King (who has a certain clever skill) to pulp fiction.  These are really forms of verbal TV-literature that is so superficial that those who read it can revel in the same sensations they experience when they are watching TV.  Even more importantly, the growing influence of television has, Kernan says, changed people’s habits and values and affected their assumptions about the world. The sort of reflective, critical and value-laden thinking encouraged by books has been rendered obsolete. In this context, we would do well to recall the Cyclopes-the race of giants that, according to Greek myth, predated man.

Bestsellers ≠ Best Books

Bestsellers ≠ Best Books.

read-good-christian-booksThe “Aquila Report” in its latest summary of church news this past week (June 23, 2015) carried this depressing “Christian” book news. It has been this way for some time now in the Christian publishing business, but it is nevertheless discouraging that such drivel continues to be so popular, especially when there is so much good material being published.

You have heard me say before, “read more and read better.” I hope this applies to books such as these too. Yet, these lists are a clear window into the “Christian” culture of books and what people like/want to read in our day.

Let’s help point Christians – new and old – to sound, biblical, Reformed literature that will grow their minds and souls, their faith and life. What kind of list would you put together if someone asked you for some good reads?

Here’s the first part of the news item as carried by the “Aquila Report.” Find all of it at the link above.

The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association has compiled a list of the best-selling Christian books of 2014. I was scandalized at the results, as was Adam Ford of the Christian webcomic, His response is hilarious and right to the point. The recent Pew Report on American religion claims a 7.8% drop in the Christian share of the population. The survey also claims that 19.2% of those raised Christian will abandon that affiliation. If these books are characteristic of the thought and theology most associated with Christianity in America, perhaps it is not surprising that many are leaving and fewer people are joining.

These are the top ten Christian best-sellers of 2014:

  1. Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence: “After many years of writing in her prayer journal, missionary Sarah Young decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever she believed He was saying to her. It was awkward at first, but gradually her journaling changed from monologue to dialogue….They are written from Jesus’ point of view, thus the title Jesus Calling.”
  2. Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back: “A young boy emerges from life-saving surgery with remarkable stories of his visit to heaven.” Not to be confused with The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven whose subject later revealed his heavenly tour was just a hoax.
  3. Heaven is for Real Movie Edition 
  4. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts
  5. Four Blood Moons: Something Is About to Change: “In this riveting book, New York Times best-selling author, Pastor John Hagee, explores the supernatural connection of certain celestial events to biblical prophecy—and to the future of God’s chosen people and to the nations of the world. Just as in biblical times, God is controlling the sun, the moon, and the stars to send our generation a signal that something big is about to happen. The question is: Are we watching and listening to His message?”

The Elect Deceived? Yes! and How to Safeguard Against It – S.Ferguson

In Christ Alone - SFergusonFortunately,’ we may say to ourselves, ‘the elect are in no danger. For Jesus’ words [Matt.24:24] imply that we are incapable of falling prey to Satanic deception.’ But to read the text in this way is to miss the point, for two reasons:

It fails to take account of the evidence of history. Christians have been, and are, capable of being deceived. Have none of the elect been deceived in recent years into supporting ‘ministries’ that have proved so tragically different in reality from what they professed to be? Sadly, we are more easily addicted to the spectacular (‘signs and wonders’) than to the substantial, to novelty (‘false prophets’) than to wholesome orthodoxy. If we think Christians cannot be deceived, the deception has already begun.

It misunderstands the nature of the impossibility. Jesus did not say the elect were incapable of being deceived. We are all only too capable of it. Nevertheless, we are given this assurance: God will protect and preserve His people. Like Simon Peter, they will be shielded by the prayers of Christ and the power of God (Luke 22:31-32). This is accomplished through the activity of faith (1 Peter 1:5).

And so Ferguson continues by showing us how to avoid such deception:

But how can we guard ourselves against spiritual deception?

By developing sensitivity, we become aware of Satan’s strategies in our lives (2 Cor.2:11).

Have you learned what they are?

By developing self-knowledge, we recognize how weak we are. Since nothing good dwells in our flesh (Rom.7:18), we need constantly to depend on the Lord.

Do you?

By developing an appetite for God’s Word, we are ‘trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil’ (Heb.5:14 ESV), and we grow in discernment.

Is that true of you today?

Taken from Chapter 42 of Sinclair Ferguson’s In Christ Alone (Kindle ed.).

The Boy Who Went to Heaven and Other Hoaxes: Repentance Needed!

Tyndale Pulls Book, But Should Repent Along With the Church.

Boy to Heaven - MalarkeyBy now you probably have heard the reports about the popular Tyndale book telling the story of a boy dying and going to heaven before coming back to life to tell about it (yes, another one of those books!) – the story that was a complete fabrication! And it took the boy to finally get the truth out, not the publisher, not the promoters.

Numerous Christian blogs and websites have reported this now, including the Aquila Report, which I reference here. The “AR” has had several posts on this, but I refer you to this one, because it is such a great commentary. This is actually a blog post by Timothy Hammons, a teaching elder in the PCA.

I post the first part here, encouraging you to read all of it – an to avoid such books for the theological plague they carry!

I don’t know if you heard of the book The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven. It is the book about a boy who died and went to heaven. Only he didn’t really die, and he didn’t really go to heaven. He made the story up and then someone published it and it sold millions like every other worthless book of its type.

What makes this one interesting is that the boy, Alex Malarkey, came out recently after actually reading the Bible and recanted the entire story. He said it was a hoax. Really? You see, that is the real rub. Alex, a boy, actually had to come out and tell us the story was a hoax before we (the wider church audience) could actually discern that the story was a hoax. Every single story like this is a hoax. In fact, let me try to be clear as possible: if someone has a story of dying and going to heaven, and they have published a book about it, then they didn’t die and go to heaven. It is a hoax.

The reason I say this is that we have a standard that we can use to test such stories. It’s called… (and I wish the people at Tyndale Publishing would actually get one of these books and read it), it’s called the Bible. By reading it with eyes of faith, we can actually discern between what is real and what is a hoax, like the book written by Malarkey and the other popular book Heaven is For Real.

Reading is Spiritual Warfare | Redeemed Reader

Reviewing School Book Lists, Part Four: Reading is Spiritual Warfare | Redeemed Reader.

Every thought captiveThis is an interesting and helpful article on viewing reading as spiritual warfare, especially for young readers but certainly something applicable for all of us.

I have not followed the entire train of posts on “Redeemed Reader” involving the death of the high school student referred to here, but this post can stand by itself.

I give you a part of the online article; you will find the rest at the link above.

But if reading generally is spiritual warfare, it changes everything. What we allow our kids to read and when. How they read, and the kinds of support they should receive. In short, it changes the most fundamental ways Christians ought to relate to books.

Reading Is Spiritual Warfare
Christians often disagree about what kinds of books ought to be read and at what age. But our disagreement is more than that, really. Many Christians don’t see reading as spiritual warfare at all. Here are two big reasons I think this is the case:

1. We Think Too Little of Books: Those in book culture (librarians, teachers, publishers, writers) often present English class as primarily about technical analysis and writing technique. In a secular environment, teachers can’t be seen as promoting a particular religion so reading and writing (which engage the deepest questions of life historically answered by religion) are talked about purely in terms of mechanics. Of course, AP English exams which reflect college courses across the nation show this isn’t the case; there is a very strict worldview criteria being used to select books. Authors that reflect conservative and Christian points of view are largely excluded. But because we are told the study of literature is only about secular literary techniques, Christians often miss the worldview clash going on in teachers’ curriculum choices and in students’ hearts.

2. We Elevate Books Too High: On the other hand, conservative readers often put too much trust in good and “great” books. Now, I am a huge proponent of digging up better books for kids. Christians have much to gain by seeking out older, tried-and-true books for their children. But I see two possible ways to fall here: a) Christian and Conservative Fiction “Lite”: If your child only reads cute books written in the 50s or current Christian fiction, your kids will never come face to face with literature’s God-created power and beauty. Sometimes, to keep them from drowning, we keep kids in the kiddie pool all their lives.
b) The Great Books: On the other hand, some parents who realize the peril of pop-culture open the foundational classics to their kids.  These books may indeed be better aesthetically and even morally. But students are by no means safe. The Great Books represent an often heated debate among many different worldviews. Students may appreciate the power and beauty of literature in a fuller way, but they will still be practicing spiritual warfare—this time on a level many parents won’t understand. To protect and nurture their faith, readers of Great Books need more—not less—ability to wrestle with what they read in light of Scripture.

Honey for the Hearts of Readers (2)

honey-for-a-childs-heart-coverBack on April 8 I made an initial post about the Gladys Hunt’s book Honey for a Child’s Heart (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1969). After telling you a bit about the author, I went on to quote from her first chapter, “Bequest of Wings”, which contains some great thoughts about the power of and need for reading, especially but not exclusively for children.

Today I would like to quote once again from this chapter, specifically where Hunt writes about the importance of good writing (and therefore good reading) for Christians. What she has to say may startle us a bit, but I think it is worth hearing.

Some may find hints of “common grace” here, but you will note that Hunt does not use that term. Nor is she undermining the truth of the antithesis, in my estimation. An appreciation for God’s “common gifts” distributed by His sovereign providence to people other than Christians? Yes. Creative gifts that we as believers may also use and profit from? Yes, with discernment and limitations, of course. “Common” grace? No such thing.

Listen, then, to what Hunt says, and reflect carefully in terms of what you read – and what you may read to your children:

Since words are the way we communicate experiences, truths and situations, who should know how to use them more creatively than Christians? The world is crying out for imaginative people who can spell out truth in words which communicate meaningfully to people in their human situation. Of all people on earth, committed Christians ought to be the most creative, for they are indwelt by the Creator. Charles Morgan speaks of creative art as ‘that power to be for the moment a flash of communication between God and man.’ That concept opens up our horizons to a glimpse of God-huge thoughts, of beauty, of substance beyond our cloddish earthiness, of the immensity of all there is to discover.

Yet, tragically, Christians often seem most inhibited and poverty-stricken in human expression and creativity. Part of this predicament comes from a false concept of what is true and good. The fear of contamination has led people to believe that only what someone else has clearly labelled Christian is safe. Truth is falsely made as narrow as any given sub-culture, not as large as God’s lavish gifts to men. Truth and excellence have a way of springing up all over the world, and our role as parents is to teach our children how to find and enjoy the riches of God and to reject what is mediocre and unworthy of Him (p.17).

Biologos, Theistic evolution, and the Pelagian heresy –

Biologos pelagian heresy –

“The Aquila Report” carried this powerful article as one of its “top 10” this past week (April 1, 2014), but I also went to the original source, which is (cf. the link above).

creationvsevolutionThere you will find the complete article, “BioLogos, Theistic Evolution, and the Pelagian Heresy”, written by Richard Fangrad, CEO of Creation Ministries International-Canada. Fangrad makes a significant connection between the old heresy of Pelagianism and the “new” one of theistic evolution, especially that part of “TE” that now wants to deny the historical reality of our first parents, Adam and Eve.

I give you a portion of his article here; read the rest at this link.

May Fangrad’s thoughts show us even more clearly why we must reject all forms of evolutionism, root and branch. Not to do so leads one to forfeit the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yes, it IS that serious.

Today we Christians find ourselves at an interesting place in Church history. Although Scripture has been with us for 2,000 years (and is sufficient for determining how and when God created), we now have decades of research that supports what the Bible has always said. Today we are blessed with mountains of scientific evidence supporting the biblical record of a recent creation followed by a global flood and all humans originating with Adam and Eve. Despite all of this, aspects of an old heresy relating to the creation account are increasingly infiltrating the Church. This is the falsehood known as Pelagianism.

No Adam: no original sin, no need for the cross

The heresy of Pelagianism (see the box below for details) asserted that Adam’s sin had no effect on the human race, that we have not inherited a sin nature from Adam, and that all humans are born with the ability to live a sin-free life. This renders the work of Christ on the cross superfluous. If we can achieve Heaven without any work of God whatsoever (that is, if we have no sin) then there is no need (it is even nonsensical) for God to bear the penalty for our sin. The reality is that at the cross Christ died for us as a substitute. He paid the penalty that we incurred, in our place and simultaneously transferred His righteousness to us. 2 Corinthians 5:21 describes this double transfer. The sinless Christ pays for our sins in our place (so that we don’t have to!), and His righteousness is transferred to us. That single verse is Paul’s simple one-sentence summary of the Gospel. The whole Gospel message is contained in outline in those words and is, of course, detailed throughout the rest of Scripture.

Bible scholars at the time of Pelagius recognized the contradiction between his teachings and Scripture. As a result, Pelagianism was condemned as heretical at many church councils including the Councils of Carthage (in 412, 416 and 418), the Council of Ephesus (431) and the Council of Orange (529). The intervening 1600 years have merely strengthened and further refined the biblical truth confirming that Pelagianism is heretical. This rich history of the battle for truth is a great advantage for us today. When Pelagianizing tendencies infiltrate the church today we should simply look back at that history, remember the error of the past, and avoid repeating the same error. Unfortunately, Pelagianism is alive and well today. One of its modern forms, mutated and renamed, is called ‘theistic evolution’.

Why I Don’t (and You Shouldn’t) Observe Lent

Why I Don’t Observe Lent.

LentIf you have ever wondered why we Protestants (Reformed and other branches) do not (and ought not) observe the season of Lent as mandated by the Roman Catholic Church and currently practiced by many Protestant churches and inividuals, this article by PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) elder Roland S.Barnes is a good place to start (posted March 3, 2014). He does a fine job of summaring the history of the development of this forty-day season and why the Reformation opposed the observance of this period of self-denial and fasting.

And as he explains well, this does not mean that we are against self-denial or fasting, or the commemoration of the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord. I quote from a few relevant paragraphs here and encourage you to read all of it. Though a bit long, it will strengthen you as a Protestant – and as Reformed. And, if you are in the mood, here’s another fine one that appeared on The Aquila Report‘s Top 10 list this week: “Playing With Lenten Fire” by OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church) elder D.G.Hart.

…What started out with a full-blown deprecation of things which are lawful, food, sex, marriage, etc., has degenerated into rather trivial acts of denial, such as giving up chocolate or coffee. Of course, fasting is good as an expression of self-denial, but for the Church to decree such seasons for fasting as Lent, and thereby bind the consciences of believers, is contrary to the instructions given by the Apostle Paul. In addition it can be asked why would one voluntarily place himself under such rigorous regulations concerning food when Christ has set His people free from such regulations. Lent became a season of penance; forty days of sorrowful penance while waiting for Easter and the celebration of the resurrection. Nowhere in scripture is there any prescription for such an observance. The forty years that Moses worked for Jethro were preparatory for his mission to rescue the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt. His forty days of fasting on Mount Sinai were preparatory for the reception of the convenantal law of God. The forty days of fasting by Jesus were preparatory for spiritual battle in the wilderness. There is no pattern set forth in scripture for forty days of mourning over sin, especially when Christ has offered immediate forgiveness to everyone who repents.

…The Reformers viewed the Christian Sabbath as both a weekly celebration of the victory of the resurrection and a weekly practice of self-denial; that is, fasting from the pursuit of labor and entertainment. This weekly observance puts a curb on self-seeking pleasure and works against the self-indulgence of “Fat Tuesday.” Self-denial then becomes a way of life, the normal practice of piety, and not a seasonal event. The observance of fasting, praying, self-denial, and sober-minded reflection in the life of a believer is to be commended. I suppose someone may wish to do so as a matter of habit and regular observance by keeping some form of “Lent.”

However, the mandated observance of Lent along with its extra-biblical requirements of abstinence from things that are not withheld from us by God in His word is another matter altogether. What merit or benefit is there in abstaining from something which God Himself has given us to enjoy and to bless our lives? If something is sinful, we ought to abstain from it, fast from it, every hour of the day, every day of the week, and every week of the year. If something is not sinful and not forbidden to us by God in His Word, then we are free to partake of it or not partake of it as our conscience is our guide.

Favorite Books of 2013 | Books and Culture

Favorite Books of 2013 | Books and Culture.

It may be 2014 (and we will get to the lists of new books for this year in time!), but we are not yet finished reviewing the “best books” of 2013.

MakingofKoreanChristianity-OakAn online review magazine I have been receiving for some time is Books & Culture: A Christian Review, of which John Wilson is the editor. He has published his list of favorite books for last year – including an interesting “book of the year” – and I also note these today since he has some new and different ones that are worth mentioning.

Perhaps his list is not according to your reading tastes, but it is worth noting anyway. Sometimes we simply need reference to a new author or a new genre of literature. So, take a look and maybe take some notes. Here’s Wilson’s introduction; follow this link or that above to view the list.

As I’ve said in years past, this list of favorite books—capped by the Book of the Year—is a deliberately unsystematic affair, following a routine that an old-fashioned Surrealist might approve of. These are some books that rose to the surface when I thought about a year of reading, propped up on pillows in bed next to Wendy late at night, not quite asleep but not awake in the usual sense (meaning blessedly not aware of all the competing concerns of the day). There are books I haven’t had a chance to read yet stacked nearby, some of which might well be on this list if it were done a month from now, or next week—not to mention all the wonderful books that haven’t even swum into my ken.

Top 10 News Stories of 2013 – The Associated Press

News from The Associated Press.

yearinreviewPosted over a week ago already is the Associated Press’ annual list of its top stories of the year. For 2013 the top story was the botched rollout of Obamacare, with the Boston Marathon terrorist attack second. Below is the AP’s own introduction; to view its list, click on the link above.

As always, when we review the year in this way, we are reminded not only of the increasing wickedness of man but also of the unchanging sovereignty of our God, Who is in the heavens and does as He pleases (Psalm 115:3), also in and through the wickedness of man. And through the eye-glasses of God’s Word we learn to discern the signs of our Lord’s return. He is coming – in judgment and in mercy – and 2013 proved that again!

NEW YORK (AP) — The glitch-plagued rollout of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul was the top news story of 2013, followed by the Boston Marathon bombing and the dramatic papal changeover at the Vatican, according to The Associated Press’ annual poll of U.S. editors and news directors.

The saga of “Obamacare” – as the Affordable Care Act is widely known – received 45 first-place votes out of the 144 ballots cast for the top 10 stories. The marathon bombing received 29 first-place votes and the papal transition 21.

Other strong contenders were the bitter partisan conflict in Congress and the leaks about National Security Agency surveillance by former NSA analyst Edward Snowden.

Visit this page to see the list of top stories.

P.S. For some news closer to home for the year 2013, the Grand Rapids Press has once again published its top 25 pictures for this year, including this most memorable one from the Spring flooding (see below). These images too bring back lots of memories, the happy and the sad. Here’s the introduction to these memories:

We published thousands of photos this year in our MLive galleries and in The Grand Rapids Press documenting the moments that make up our lives in West Michigan. Historic flooding, ArtPrize and Griffins hockey players lifting the Calder Cup gave us memorable images to capture as did the installation of a new Bishop and a family celebrating the birth of another child, a 12th son. Here are 25 of our favorite images from 2013.



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