GrammarBook Year-End Quiz (2018)

Today’s email contained a great review quiz on the grammar lessons they featured in 2018. Even though we did not by any means highlight all of these lessons, we hope you were encouraged to learn a little grammar (or re-learn, as the case may be). And taking the quiz will show you that it is never too late to learn even more.

So, take the quiz, review your grammar, and if you do poorly, don’t fret; you have all of 2019 to get on board and make this year a better grammar-learning year.

Here is their introduction to the quiz, and then the first few items from the review (find the rest at the link below).

Another year of grammatical exploration has concluded with linguistic miles behind us. What we’ve learned and discussed with you along the way has been illuminating, and we are grateful for the thought and insight it has inspired.

We hope you gathered even more sharpened tools for communicating in concise and eloquent English. A year-end review is always a great way to revisit and further retain what we’ve examined.

The 2018 master quiz consists of twenty-five sentences addressing subjects from many of this year’s GrammarBook articles. Choose your answers and then check them against our answer key that follows the quiz.

Each answer also includes the title and date of the article that focused on the topic. Because some answers require particular knowledge from months past, please feel free to refer to their associated article if you wish to refresh your memory.

1. When I was in high school, I [would / used to] lift weights in the gym almost every day. Would vs. Used To 1-24

2. When I was a kid, I [would / used to] feel like every day was a new adventure. Would vs. Used To 1-24

3. Juan received the highest score on the test [since / because] he studied the most. Tackling More Tricky Word Choices: As, Because, and Since 2-21

4. [Since / Because] Rich was the most qualified, he was offered the promotion first. Tackling More Tricky Word Choices: As, Because, and Since 2-21

5. She is perhaps the most [well spoken / well-spoken] project manager to have ever led the initiative. Are We Hyphenating Well? 4-4

Source: Year-End Quiz |

Published in: on January 9, 2019 at 10:00 PM  Leave a Comment  

Remembering the birthday of C. S. Lewis – November 29, 1898

cs-lewis-1Today marks the 120th anniversary of the birthday of C. S. Lewis, 1898-1963.

In remembrance of that great writer and Christian apologist, we quote from the first letter of his The Screwtape Letters, in which the senior demon, Screwtape, wrote letters to his trainee, Wormwood.


This is the opening paragraph:

My dear Wormwood,

I note what you say about guiding your patient’s reading and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend. But are you not being a trifle naif? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what with the weekly press and other such weapons, we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” or “false,” but as “academic” or “practical,” “outworn” or “contemporary,” “conventional” or “ruthless.” Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong or stark or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.

In the “Preface” to The Screwtape Letters, Lewis addresses a question often put to him after he wrote the book, the answer to which reveals some interesting truths about God and about the Devil, some we often lose sight of ourselves, in my estimation. I quote:

The commonest question is whether I really ‘believe in the Devil.’

Now, if by ‘the Devil’ you mean a power opposite to God and, like God, self-existent from all eternity, the answer is certainly No. There is no uncreated being except God. God has no opposite.

…The proper question is whether I believe in devils. I do. That is to say, I believe in angels, and I believe that some of these, by the abuse of their free will, have become enemies to God and, as a corollary, to us. These we may call devils. They do not differ in nature from good angels, but their nature is depraved. Devil is the opposite of angel only as Bad Man is the opposite of Good Man. Satan, the leader or dictator of devils, is the opposite, not of God, but of Michael. [p.vii]

Nick Roark also has a nice little tribute to Lewis today at “Tolle Lege”. Look that up as well.

And you do remember what those initials “C.S.” refer to, right?

Published in: on November 29, 2018 at 11:11 PM  Leave a Comment  

Wednesday Language Feature: Orwell and Newspeak

This morning I received the weekly email, and it was a dandy. The title is “Orwell and Newspeak,” and takes off on George Orwell’s famous novel 1984. The author (Tom Stern) uses Orwell’s concept of “Newspeak” to address the decline of English and the corruption of the meaning of words in our own day, a reality Orwell’s novel prophesied.

Below is the beginning of the GrammarBook article; find the rest at the link at the end. And be reminded that language has power and words have meaning. Use them carefully!

It’s not just professors and snobs who deplore the decline of English. The great essayist and novelist George Orwell (1903-50) had much to say about the corruption of language—and how it enables tyranny. The warning was clear: a distracted populace with diminished reading, writing, and speaking skills is vulnerable.

Orwell’s 1984, published in 1949, is a demoralizing post-World War II vision of global totalitarianism. It is set in London—the British Isles are now part of a superstate called Oceania, which also includes the Americas. Oceania is always at war with either of the world’s other two superstates, Eurasia and Eastasia.

In Oceania, “the Party,” a cadre of megalomaniacal despots, wields absolute power. This regime has destroyed society as we know it, setting children against parents and wives against husbands, enforcing unwavering loyalty to “Big Brother,” the potentate whose Stalin-like countenance stares out balefully from posters no one can avoid.

One of the Party’s acknowledged goals is the end of independent thought, which it hopes to bring about by instituting one of its pet projects: a language called “Newspeak.” Orwell worked Newspeak out in exhaustive detail and added an appendix at the end of 1984 titled “The Principles of Newspeak.” The brief essay describes how the Party dumbed down standard English, or “Oldspeak,” and mangled and perverted it into a streamlined, regimented version of English in which complexity and nuance were impossible.

Newspeak was designed to make a heretical thought “literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words.” The Party abolished all but the most mundane, unequivocal, easy-to-say words. Its aim was to render speech “as nearly as possible independent of consciousness” so that communication might become “a gabbling style of speech, at once staccato and monotonous,” allowing speakers to “spray forth the correct opinions as automatically as a machine gun spraying forth bullets.” And “the texture of the words, with their harsh sound and a certain willful ugliness … assisted the process still further.”

Source: Orwell and Newspeak – Grammar and Punctuation

Word Nerd Wednesday: Irregardless and more had another recent online article on word usage – or rather, we should say, word mis-usage. Once more, they point to common words and phrases that are frequently misused.

The author, Tom Stern, begins with the usual “word nerd” disclaimer, stating that such language sticklers are indeed ‘nerdy’ perhaps, but do not judge themselves to be superior. They are simply “verbal custodians trapped in a time warp.” Or, as he puts it, quoting Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: “[T]he little things are infinitely the most important.”

So, with those nerd words out of the way, we can get down to the real business of words – for nerds and for the rest of you too! Remember, it pays to be proper and precise in speaking and writing! 🙂

Anyway, onward to this week’s entries of infamy…

Irregardless  I’ve heard a lot of bright people say this nonsense word, which results from confusing and combining regardless and irrespective. If people would just think about it, what’s that dopey ir- doing tacked on? In technical terms, ir- is an “initial negative particle.” So if “irregardless” means anything, it means “not regardless” when its hapless speaker is trying to say the exact opposite.

Center around  The whole play centers around the consequences of ill-gotten gains. This common, misbegotten expression results from the unhappy union of two similar terms: center on and revolve around. Because the phrases are roughly synonymous, if you use them both enough, they merge in the mind. What’s annoying about “center around” is that it’s imprecise, and disheartens readers who take writing seriously. The center is the point in the middle. How, exactly, would something center around? You get dizzy trying to picture it.

Hone in  This is another mongrel, like the two that preceded it. It’s the brain-dead combo of hone and home in. We simply can’t allow confusion to be the basis of acceptable changes in the language. In recent years, “hone in” has achieved an undeserved legitimacy for the worst of reasons: the similarity, in sound and appearance, of n and mHoning is a technique used for sharpening cutting tools and the like. To home in, like zero in, is to get something firmly in your sights: get to the crux of a problem.

Reticent  This trendy word properly means “uncommunicative,” “reserved,” “silent.” But sophisticates who like to fancy up their mundane blather are now using it when they mean “reluctant.” I was reticent to spend so much on a football game.

Allude  Allude to means mention indirectly. In one of its most unspeakable moves, Webster’s lists refer as a synonym. Horrors! When you refer to something, it’s a direct transaction: I refer to Section II, paragraph one, Your Honor. When you allude to something or someone, you don’t come out and say it; you’re being subtle, sly or sneaky: “Someone I know better wise up.”

Off (of)  “Hey! You! Get off of my cloud,” sang the Rolling Stones, unnecessarily. The of is extraneous, and off of is what’s known as a pleonasm. That means: starting now, avoid it.

Couple (of)  Hey, gimme a couple bucks, wouldja? When I was a kid, this is how neighborhood tough guys talked, while cracking their chewing gum. Don’t drop the of; one more little syllable won’t kill you.

—Tom Stern.


Published in: on October 17, 2018 at 11:10 AM  Leave a Comment  

Reading for Virtue’s Sake: A Conversation with Karen Swallow Prior and Joshua Gibbs | Public Discourse

The authors of two new books on reading agree: reading good literature well is not only enjoyable, it is also a veritable school of virtue. The pleasure to be gained by reading well is a skill that, like virtue itself, is achieved through practice.

Such is the brief description of this instructive interview with authors Karen Swallow Prior and Joshua Gibbs. Both present an interesting perspective on the power and purpose of good reading, by which we also mean reading good literature, books that teach universal virtues and, of course, book that teach distinctively Christian virtues.

We post a portion of the interview here; there is plenty more to read and digest in the rest of it. Follow the link below for that.

David Kern: Both of your books are about the ways literature can cultivate virtue in readers, so I have been thinking about the extent to which a teacher should explicitly state that the books she is teaching have been chosen for that end. Should a teacher directly tell her students that she is teaching, say, Persuasion, because of its capacity to make readers virtuous? Or should she let the book do its work secretly, if you will?

Joshua Gibbs: I think it depends on the audience. When I read my little girls The Velveteen Rabbit or Frog and Toad Are Friends, I don’t tell them that I want these books to help them develop virtue. Similarly, on the rare occasion that I teach a room full of adults, I don’t often lay all my cards on the table and say, “All right, people, let’s learn to be good.”

High school students are a little different, though, because they are more apt to believe that the value of a book depends on its being entertaining, enjoyable, thrilling, funny. If a lit teacher passes out copies of Augustine’s Confessions to high school sophomores and pretends the book is going to be a page-turner, he is deceiving his students. If you give a high school student a book that is difficult and dull (when compared with, say, The Maze Runner), you need to explain why these qualities should not turn them off from reading it. “When the book is difficult to read, the book is doing its work on you.” Acknowledge that the difficulty comes from the moral gauntlet the book throws down. A book suited to virtue often requires multiple readings, although exciting books generally do not. That is what makes them exciting. But explaining that a book is hard to read (yet worth reading) will usually lead to a discussion of virtue.

What you do not want is for high school students to believe that adults find Augustine’s Confessions as enjoyable to read as they find The Maze Runner, and that once you’re forty, Augustine is downright titillating.

Karen Swallow Prior: When I teach general education courses in English, the students are usually first- or second-year students who are not majoring in English. I like to begin these classes with something that I refer to as the biblical basis for the study of literature. I’ve found that students, especially Christian students, are so utilitarian and pragmatic in their worldviews that describing the sheer goodness of literary study helps them overcome barriers to reading literature and reading it well that they don’t even realize they have. I cover over a dozen points in this lecture, and only one of them addresses virtue directly. In other words, there are many, many reasons to read good literature (particularly for the Christian), including the joy of it. Yet all of these reasons contribute to cultivating virtue in the reader who reads well.

How do you respond to these initial thoughts about reading and virtue? Would you consider this a goal of your own reading? What type of books are going to help you accomplish this goal?

Source: Reading for Virtue’s Sake: A Conversation with Karen Swallow Prior and Joshua Gibbs | Public Discourse

Punctuating Compounds That Precede – To Hyphenate or Not to Hyphenate

In another recent posting at, the matter of punctuating compound modifiers was addressed. This is a commonly misunderstood matter – also by myself, so it is good to review this grammar lesson too.

Here is the first part of the article, treating especially hyphenation. The second part speaks to another, more complicated usage, which you may read further about later.

It’s enough to drive even the most exacting writers, proofers, and editors a little batty sometimes: More than one descriptive word precedes a noun, forming what we call a compound modifier. Do we need to hyphenate the words, or are they well enough left alone? What if we have two words modifying another word and all three describe the same noun, creating a package that begs for punctuation?

Sometimes the solution is simple, as we’ve covered in our hyphen rules. Rule 1 advises hyphenating two or more words acting as a single idea when they come before a noun (late-arriving train, ne’er-do-well teenager, one-of-a-kind invention).

Exceptions to this rule are compound modifiers that include adverbs such as much and very as well as any -ly adverb (much maligned administrator, very good cake, easily remembered song).

We also wouldn’t hyphenate a compound that’s an obvious unit such as most proper nouns (Social Security check) and foreign expressions (quid pro quo exchange).

When a two-word descriptor takes the form of a compound noun (e.g., real estate, high school, sales tax), hyphenation becomes a matter of preference. Some writers and editors identify the compound nouns as clearly understood units while others still hyphenate them to maintain stylistic consistency and remove any chance of confusion.

real estate advisor vs. real-estate advisor
high school dance vs. high-school dance
sales tax increase vs. sales-tax increase

In Rule 5 of Hyphens, we also emphasize including a hyphen with a compound modifier anytime omitting one could lead to ambiguity.

Potentially misaimed: Springfield has little town charm. (If we omit the hyphen, we’re suggesting Springfield lacks appeal. Is that what we want to say?)
Clearer with hyphen: Springfield has little-town charm. (The punctuation establishes that Springfield has the charm of a small, cozy town.)

Potentially misaimed: That is a fast running machine. (Is it a machine that runs fast, or a running machine [i.e., a treadmill] that operates faster than others?)
Clearer with hyphen: That is a fast-running machine. (a machine that runs fast)
The guidelines thus far help define and apply hyphenation of preceding descriptors. The next question concerns what to do when we run into phrases such as stippling technique influenced painter and apple orchard scented candle.

I hope this has been helpful to you. I know it has been to me. I deal with this all the time in my editing work for the Standard Bearer, and there isn’t an issue in which I don’t face these very questions. I have to work to keep them straight. I hope you take the time to understand the importance of this for writing – and for reading with understanding.

For more on this, visit the link below.

Source: Punctuating Compounds That Precede – Grammar and Punctuation

Published in: on September 19, 2018 at 11:13 PM  Leave a Comment  

Word Wednesday: Misspoken and Mispronounced Words and Phrases


This “part 1” of a recent post (June 2018) is a worthwhile reminder to speak accurately when using common words and expressions. How quickly the most ordinary expressions can become twisted – and we speakers look like uneducated bumpkins!

Pay attention to this “Word Wednesday” feature and grammar lesson, taking nothing for granite. But if it takes you a bit to get all this, don’t chomp at the bit; we won’t send in the Calvary just yet. Did I just misspeak and mispronounce some things? Read on and find out! 🙂

Writing serves us well in communication by providing us with a framework for arranging words into clear and thoughtful statements, including opportunities for eloquence.

Applying ourselves to concise writing can also reinforce articulate speech. We are often moved or impressed by those who express themselves with precision and power. Think of the historic public addresses by Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Conversely, misspeaking and mispronouncing words and phrases can quickly sabotage and discredit our intellectual or persuasive standing with another person. Plus, beyond sounding wrong, these verbal glitches can contaminate our writing. If our mind’s ear hears or spells a word a certain way, we might wind up writing it as such as well.

For this reason, we’ve compiled some words and phrases to watch out for. Maybe some of us have tripped over a few, and perhaps a few have caused us all to fall. Some of the entries might surprise even the most well spoken among us.


Word or Phrase (Glitch: S=misspoken, P=mispronounced) Correct Treatment
affidavit (to mean written statement sworn before an official) (P) (af-i-DEY-vit), not (af-i-DEY-vid)
all the sudden (S) all of a sudden
Antarctic (P), Arctic (P) (ant-AHRK-tik, AHRK-tik), not (ant-AHR-tik, AHR-tik)
Calvary (to mean military service that fights on horseback) (S) cavalry (KAV-uhl-ree)
chomp at the bit (S) champ at the bit
et cetera (to mean “and the rest”) (P) (et SET-er-uh), not (ex-ET-er-uh, ek-SET-er-uh)
escape (P) (ih-SKEYP), not (ex-KEYP)
espresso (P) (e-SPRES-oh), not (ex-PRES-oh)
for all intensive purposes (S) for all intents and purposes
forte (to mean strength or talent) (P) (fort), not (for-TAY)
genome (to mean full set of chromosomes) (P) (JEE-nohm), not (geh-NOHM)
jaguar (P) (JAG-wahr, -yoo-ahr), not (JAG-wire)
larynx (P) (LAR-ingks), not (LAR-niks)
mayonnaise (P) (mey-uh-NEYZ; MEY-uh-neyz), not (MAN-eyz)
meme (to mean cultural item transmitted by repetition) (P) (meem), not (mehm)
niche (to mean suitable position; distinct market segment) (P) (nich), not (neesh)
nuclear (P) (NOO-klee-er), not (NOO-kyuh-ler, NOO-kyoo-ler)
prescription (P) (pri-SKRIP-shuhn), not (per-SKRIP-shuhn)
probably (P) (PROB-uh-blee), not (PROB-lee)
realtor (P) (REE-uhl-ter), not (REEL-uh-ter)
take for granite (S) take for granted
veteran (P) (VET-er-uhn), not (VEH-truhn)
veterinary (P) (VET-er-uh-ner-ee), not (VEH-truh-ner-ee)
voilà (to mean “here it is”) (P) (vwah-LAH), not (wah-LAH)

You can find more often mispronounced words in our entry “You Lost Me After ‘Feb’ .”

When we open our mouths, our minds are on parade. By devoting attention to proper phrasing and pronunciation, we can make sure what marches out sounds and lines up as it should.

Published in: on August 22, 2018 at 11:09 AM  Leave a Comment  

The Word Nerd: Six Pitfalls Writers (and Others) Should Avoid

This great post at appeared back in May (cf. link below) but I saved it for an open blog post, and with a view to a “Word Wednesday” feature tomorrow I post it here tonight.

Yes, I also count myself a bit of “word nerd,” but I say so without shame. Words are not just interesting, even fun (especially origins); they are the way we communicate to one another. And, I trust, none of wants to be sloppy or lazy about how we communicate to each other. Words matter. They matter to God, because words are the means He chose to speak to us. So they should matter to us.

Precision in speech and writing is important, as these examples show. Nerdy? No, just correct. And correct is cool. 🙂 Let’s continue to learn together so that we communicate properly and precisely.

I post the GrammarBook online article in full here:

That’s right, I admit it. I’m a word nerd. I pick, pick, pick at the way you express yourself.

Despite protests of apathy, people of all ages care about how well they express themselves. Deep down, everyone likes to be right about language, and you can even hear little kids teasing each other about talking funny. We word nerds have an advantage here, but we certainly don’t choose to be word nerds. It’s thrust upon us. Believe me, a lot of us would rather be star quarterbacks. No one ever got a date by discoursing on split infinitives.

I thought you might be interested in some of the current trends and tendencies in modern ignorance. It might be fun to watch with me the inexorable erosion of our language—and civilization—and we can gnash our teeth and wring our hands and feel secretly smug and superior. That’s what word nerds do for a good time. So let’s roll:

Fortuitous It most emphatically does not mean “lucky” or “fortunate”; it simply means “by chance,” a much less optimistic denotation, since you can win the lottery fortuitously or get flattened by a truck fortuitously.

Notoriety Another badly botched word these days, “notoriety” has somehow become a good thing: “Burgess gained notoriety with his wildly popular children’s books.” But can’t you hear the “notorious” in “notoriety”? There are all kinds of fame; “notoriety” is one of the bad kinds, just down the pike from “infamy.”

Impact “How does the proposition impact property taxes?” or “Greenhouse gas emissions negatively impact the environment.” This is pretentious twaddle. “To impact” means to pack tightly together, as in “an impacted tooth.” In sentences like the two examples above, simply use “affect” instead, and you’ll sleep the serene slumber of the saintly.

Literally “Literally” is supposed to mean “100 percent fact”—period. But not today, when “literally” now is commonly used figuratively! How sad that a no-nonsense word with such a strict meaning has been so hideously compromised. Any sentence with “literally” means what it literally says, and when we hear it, we are being asked to believe our ears, rather than interpret or infer. So if you tell me you “literally hit the ceiling,” I’d suggest you move to a place with higher ceilings.

I recently read about a couple whose dreams “literally collapsed” when, unfortunately, a fixer-upper they bought came down in a heap as they started working on it. Now, we know what the writer meant, but just don’t mess around with “literally,” OK? The house literally collapsed, not the dream. How could a dream, the very essence of all that is beyond materiality, literally collapse? It’s utter gibberish.

The simple solution? Just say “virtually.” “Virtually” allows you to enhance and embellish to your heart’s content, options you relinquish by using “literally.”

Comprise is the most misused and misunderstood two-syllable word in common English usage. It seems straightforward enough: it means to contain, consist of, take in, embrace. But when used on its own, it’s usually mangled. “Joey, Johnny, and Fritz comprise a group of daredevils.” Sorry, but the group comprises (contains, consists of) Joey, Johnny, and Fritz. Which brings us to…

Comprised of This ubiquitous phrase is wrong every time. It’s the result of confusing and incorrectly combining “comprise” and “composed of.” It’s both ignorant and pompous, a lethal combo. “Composed of” is so mundane and “comprised of” just sounds ever so much cleverer, doesn’t it? Too bad there’s no justification for it. Quick fix: simply replace it with “comprise.” Wrong: “The team is comprised of Chicagoans.” Right: “The team comprises Chicagoans.” Far better: The team is composed of Chicagoans.

This Tom Stern classic was originally published on January 28, 2013.

Source: The Word Nerd: Six Pitfalls Writers (and Others) Should Avoid – Grammar and Punctuation

Published in: on July 24, 2018 at 10:28 PM  Leave a Comment  

When to Say “Blest” and When to Say “Bless-ed” (Plus, a Little Quiz)

blessedFor our Wednesday post this week we are privileged to have a lesson on grammar while also incorporating a “word Wednesday” feature. That’s because today’s lesson (sent by email to my box this morning) is on “Pronouncing the Word ‘Blessed’.”

“Blessed” is a familiar enough word to us – we hear people say all the time, ‘Have a blessed day” and we know the Bible uses this word frequently, as in Jesus’ Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” – but when do you pronouce it ‘blest” and when do you pronounce it “bless-ed”?

Let this grammar lesson help set us straight or keep us straight:

We received a number of inquiries from readers asking about the proper pronunciation of the word blessed when used in a way that we were not aware of when our original e-newsletter on this subject was issued on August 11, 2012. In order to provide what we hope is now complete coverage of the topic, today we are adding a fourth rule to our article:

Rule 1. When blessed is used as a verb, it is pronounced with one syllable (blest).
Example: Before we ate, our uncle Tony blessed [blest] the meal.

Rule 2. When the word blessed is used as part of an adverb (blessedly) or a noun (blessedness), it is pronounced with two syllables (bles-id).
She hugged him blessedly [bles-id-lee, adverb] upon learning he had quit his bad habit.
The Eucharist is revered for its blessedness [bles-id-nes, noun] within the Christian faith.

Rule 3. When blessed is used as an adjective, it is typically pronounced with two syllables (bles-id). However, in certain cases, it may be pronounced with only one syllable (blest) as an isolated instance of inflection developed through familiarity with American English.
Annie’s baptism was a blessed [bles-id] moment, particularly for her devoted grandparents.
Blessed [bles-id] are the poor. But The poor are blessed [blest, adjective].

Rule 4. When the blessed is used as a noun meaning “blessed one,” “people who are blessed,” or “those whose souls are in heaven” (Collins Dictionary), either pronunciation blest or bles-id may be used.
Example: They are the blessed [blest or bles-id] who live their lives selflessly.

And if you are up for the quiz, here you are (Don’t be overly critical of the way “blessed” is used in these examples; they’re just examples):

Pop Quiz

1. The priest blessed (pronounced blest or bles-id) the candles at the ceremony.

2. The couple was blessed (pronounced blest or bles-id) with a healthy baby girl.

3. I don’t have a blessed (pronounced blest or bles-id) dime to my name.

4. The blessed (pronounced blest or bles-id) walk with the angels.

Published in: on June 6, 2018 at 10:20 PM  Leave a Comment  

What Justification Does the Christian Have for Reading Secular Literature? A PR Perspective

litclassicsYou may recall that a few weeks ago we examined another section of Dr. Leland Ryken’s valuable book on the Christian’s reading of literature, A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway, 2015). That particular section dealt with the Christian justification for reading secular literature (classics), and you will remember that Ryken grounded this first of all in the doctrine of “common grace.”

We took issue with this position, even though Ryken appealed to Scripture (without any specific texts) and to Calvin (with a couple of quotes that only proved that God also gives unbelievers “excellent gifts,” which may be of use to the believer – something with which we agree; we just don’t call it “grace”, not even if you call it “common” and not “saving.”). But it is not enough to say we do not ground the Christian’s right to read secular literature in common grace; we must state the justification positively, with Reformed and biblical grounds.

And we Protestant Reformed people do, even though many think we do not. To be sure, we do unashamedly affirm the antithesis, that spiritual “line in the sand” (separation) God by His sovereign, saving grace makes between the Christian and the ungodly world, between our renewed thinking and their perverse thinking, between our good works and their evil works (of literature too), between our Christ-directed purpose for living and their self(-ish)-focused purpose for living. That means that there is filth that the world produces that the Christian has no use for and may not use, including in the realm of literature (cf. 2 Cor.6:14-18; the first part of Eph.5; I Jn.2:15-17, e.g.).

But we also believe that God puts us in this world to live out our faith fully, to use this world and its things, including the works of fallen, unconverted sinners, to the glory of God and for our development in grace as His people. That includes their works of literature – with limitations and discernment, of course – but also with a free and good conscience governed and informed by the Word of God. That’s the key to the Christian’s use of this world – we view it and employ it through the “lens” of God’s Word (Calvin referred to this as living and learning through the “spectacles of Scripture.”).

What I want especially to point out to you tonight is that the Federation of PR Christian School Societies has produced various guides for the teachers to use in the areas of instruction that they teach. And one of these is a “Literature Studies Guide,” available on the page linked above. Part of that guide specifically addresses the Christian’s reading of secular literature, and from that part I would like to quote. These are the thoughts of Mr. Fred Hanko, a now-retired but long-tenured Christian school teacher. Let them be a guide to you as you make use of the classics of unbelievers:

In exploring the problem of what the Christian can do with the literary works of the unbeliever, there are a few basic ideas with which I would like to begin.
First it must be understood that there is an objective reality which includes God Himself, all things in the universe which He has created, and all the works that God has done in history.
Second, the Christian is called upon to know and understand this reality as far as his limitations and capacities allow. Third, the Christian is required to respond to this reality. The response must be of acceptance of the good and rejection of the evil, as well as belief and worship. Further, the response must include behavior toward God, toward men, and toward the earth.
Now the business of literature is communication. The objective reality is the material with which the author works. He explores this reality, he responds to it, he interprets it, and he uses the written word to communicate the results to the reader.
Note that the special feature of literature that makes it differ from other writings is that literature bears the imprint of the writer. The author himself appears in all works of literature. It may appear in his selection of materials, his interpretation of reality, in his response to reality, in any or all of these. The job of the author is to explore reality and to communicate the results to us. The author says to us, this is what I see. Do not you see it too? This is what I feel. Don’t you feel as I do? This is what we ought to do. Go forth now and do it.
When the author is a Christian, we have no problem in dealing with his works. We see reality as he sees it and we respond as he does. From his work we gain knowledge, insight we have never had before, feelings that are new to us or deeper than we have ever had before. We become better Christians than we have ever been.
Our problem, however, lies with the work of the unbeliever. Can he know reality? Can he interpret it correctly? Can he respond to it as he should? And if he can do none of these things, why should we study his work?
The answer to the first of these questions seems to be the most difficult. It seems clear that just as the scientist can observe a flower and report accurately its structure, and function, so the poet can observe the flower and say accurately, This is what I see, and this is how I feel about it. Does either the scientist or the poet speak the truth? Or both? Or possibly neither?
Since we are dealing here with the work of man, it seems proper before we try to answer that we say a few things about the nature of man. We are agreed, I think, that with the fall of Adam man lost the image of God. The loss of the image of God means that man lost the true knowledge of God, righteousness, and holiness. From that time forward his knowledge was only that of evil, his works were all unrighteousness. Man is opposed to God and in league with Satan. “All the thoughts of man’s heart were only evil continually.” Without the grace of God which restores the image of God man remains only the creature created to be an image-bearer of God but now bearing the image of Satan.
There is in man and in the works of man no neutrality of thought or actions. He is for God or he is against Him. As one created to be an image-bearer, however, he has the faculties of intellect and reason which make it possible for him to know what is true, but this truth he will not acknowledge. (Cf. Romans 1)
The unbelieving author, then, can observe reality correctly and can report it accurately even while his purpose may be to serve his idol gods. He may even be more shrewd in his analysis than the God-fearing man is. The unbelieving poet may see something in the flower that we would never see of ourselves. By reading the work of the poet, we also may see, and by our special knowledge we may gain a better understanding of God. Although the writer may have done his work in sin, we may use His work to the greater glory of God. Even the Apostle Paul used the learning of the Greeks quoting from one of their own poets in his speech at Athens.

There are more to these thoughts, and you may find them at the link above. By all means read the entire guide. You will profit immensely. And then go read, with your spiritual “eyeglasses” on.