If you are close to a writer, here is a great gift idea for commonplaces. I keep one of these in my briefcase, and when I run across an odd phrase that makes me think of another odd phrase, or an odd phrase just pops into my head, I make a point of writing it down. Maybe I will then use it in something else I am writing. Maybe I won’t. Here are some of these phrases, taken right out of my moleskin, and arranged in no particular order: fifty-gallon drum of lasagne, the joint is jumping, chonked him a rope, jejune bug, sunny uplands, got the fingers of my soul caught in a spiritual doorjamb and cried out to the Lord, and three tons of confetti emptied into a tornado.
One of the great things about the Narnia stories is their very personal nature. That is, all through the books, the person of Aslan ties everything together. Not only is he the object of the loyalty and love of all true Narnians, it is a personal dislike of him that characterizes those who are bad. This means that good and bad in Narnia are not determined by a list of abstract rules, but rather by relationship.
In The Last Battle, how does Tirian meet Aslan? “Tirian turned last because he was afraid. There stood his heart’s desire, huge and real, the golden Lion, Aslan himself” (p. 167). And in Prince Caspian, how did Lucy know what was to be done? “‘He–I—I just know,’ said Lucy, ‘by his face’” (p. 126). And what did Lucy think of the call when she heard it at first? “She thought at first it was her father’s voice, but that did not seem quite right” (p. 137).
Relationship and personality are commonly emphasized in our day, but unfortunately relationship is thought of as a universal goo. But in Narnia, as in our world here, relationship separates. Characters are good or bad by how they respond to Aslan and, in many cases, how they respond even to the name of Aslan. This is one of the most important things that you can learn in Narnia, because the same thing is true in our world.
How do we know which side we are really on? The answer has to do with relationship. What sort of question does Edmund begin to raise? “‘If it comes to that, which is the right side? How do we know that the Fauns are in the right and the Queen (yes, I know we’ve been told she’s a witch) is in the wrong? We don’t really know anything about either’” (p. 62). And what sort of question does Edmund continue to raise? “‘I think it’s a nice beaver,’ said Lucy. ‘Yes, but how do we know?’ said Edmund” (p. 65). And what question does Edmund still ask? “‘If it comes to talking about sides,’ said Edmund, ‘how do we know you’re a friend?’” (p. 67). What Edmund is doing here is demanding impersonal proofs. He is doing this because he is being personally treacherous, and he knows it. He is pretending to be objective, but that is the exact opposite of what he is being. The name of Aslan makes him feel uncomfortable, and he knows (because of his spiritual condition) that he has an immediate affinity with the Witch.
C.S. Lewis does this a lot throughout the Narnian stories. In The voyage of the Dawn Treader, what natural affinity does Eustace have? “. . . perhaps in Calormen. It sounds the least phony of these countries” (p. 87). And in The Magician’s Nephew, what did Uncle Andrew think of Aslan’s voice? “He was not liking the Voice. If he could have got away from it by creeping into a rat’s hole, he would have done so” (p. 108). And why did Uncle Andrew not like Aslan’s song? “And he disliked the song very much. It made him think and feel things he did not want to think and feel” (p. 136). The voice of Aslan was holy, and Uncle Andrew was unholy. He did not want to think about that contrast at all.
And the Witch? What about her?
“But the Witch looked as if, in a way, she understood the music better than any of them. Her mouth was shut, her lips were pressed together, and her fists were clenched. Ever since the song began she had felt this whole world was filled with a Magic different from hers and stronger. She hated it. She would have smashed that whole world, or all worlds, to pieces, if it would only stop the singing” (p. 109).
And what did the Witch say about it? “‘This is a terrible world,’ said the Witch” (p. 110). In other words, all these characters react in a personal way to a personal being. They do not react this way after reading the fine print of the contract.
In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, what rumor does Mr. Beaver repeat? “‘They say Aslan is on the move—perhaps has already landed’” (p. 67). But then, how does Edmund respond to the name of Aslan? “Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror” (p. 68).
How does the White Witch respond to the mere name of Aslan?
“‘This is no thaw,’ said the dwarf, suddenly stopping. ‘This is Spring. What are we to do? Your winter has been destroyed, I tell you! This is Aslan’s doing.’ ‘If either of you mentions that name again,’ said the Witch, ‘he shall instantly be killed’” (p. 122).
These are all examples of characters reacting negatively to the name of Aslan, or to the lion himself, but the flip side of the coin works the same way. There are four possibilities. Bad characters reacting positively to other bad characters, bad characters reacting negatively to good characters, good characters reacting negatively to bad characters, and good characters reacting positively to good characters.
In The Magician’s Nephew, what was Polly’s first reaction to Charn? “‘I don’t like it,’ said Polly with something like a shudder” (p. 44). What was her second reaction to Charn? “‘I don’t like it,’ said Polly” (p. 45). And also in the same book, how do we meet Aslan? “A voice had begun to sing” (p. 106). And what was the cabby’s response to Aslan’s song? “‘Gawd!’ said the Cabby. ‘Ain’t it lovely?’” (p 107). Does the cabby love the song? “Glory be!” said the Cabby. “I’d ha’ been a better man all my life if I’d known there were things like this” (p. 107).
This is the principle of separation that we find at the end of the world. What happens when every character comes up to the Stable Door?
“And at last, out of the shadow of the trees, racing up the hill for dear life, by thousands and by millions, came all kinds of creatures—Talking Beasts, Dwarfs, Satyrs, Fauns, Giants, Calormenes, men from Archenland, Monopods, and strange unearthly things from the remote islands or the unknown Western lands. And all these ran up to the doorway where Aslan stood” (p. 174).
And what did they all do when they came to the Door?
“They all looked straight in his face, I don’t think they had any choice about that” (p. 175).
What happened after that?
“And all the creatures who looked at Aslan in that way swerved to their right, his left, and disappeared into his huge black shadow, which (as you have heard) streamed away to the left of the doorway. The children never saw them again. I don’t know what became of them” (p. 175).
What was odd about some of those who came in?
“There were some queer specimens among them. Eustace even recognized one of those very Dwarfs who had helped to shoot the Horses. But he had no time to wonder about that sort of thing (and anyway it was no business of his) for a great joy put everything else out of his head” (p. 176).
And so, what is the great theme of this part of the story? “‘Further in and higher up!’ cried Roonwit and thundered away in a gallop to the West” (p. 176). This is obviously further up and further in “to knowing Aslan.“
So who is Aslan? How does Shasta meet Aslan?
“‘Who are you?’ Shasta asked, scarcely above a whisper.
‘One who has waited long for you to speak,’ said the Thing” (p.163).
Notice how this personal meeting is important. And what does Shasta feel from Aslan? “Once more he [Shasta] felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face” (p. 163).
Who then is Aslan?
“‘Who are you?’ asked Shasta.
‘Myself,’ said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again, ‘Myself,’ loud and clear and gay: and then the third time, ‘Myself,’ whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all around you as if the leaves rustled with it” (p. 165). This is clearly a reference to the triune nature of God. And how did Shasta feel about it? “A new and different sort of trembling came over him. Yet he felt glad too” (p. 165).
The way Aslan says “Myself” three times is clearly a reference to the triune nature of God. What was Aslan like when he met him? “No one ever saw anything more terrible or beautiful” (p. 166). What was Aslan’s name? “Aslan, the great Lion, the son of the Emperor-over-the-sea, the King above all High Kings in Narnia” (p. 166). And what came from Aslan’s footprint? “Shasta stooped and drank – a very long drink – and then dipped his face in and splashed his head. It was extremely cold, and clear as glass, and refreshed him very much” (p. 167).
Bree the warhorse had some influence from liberal theology, and didn’t understand Aslan very well, at least until he met him. What does Bree think of Aslan?
“‘All Narnians swear by him.’
‘But is he a lion?’
‘No, no, of course not,’ said Bree in a rather shocked voice” (p. 199).
How does Bree explain this?
“‘When they speak of him as a Lion they only mean he’s as strong as a lion or (to our enemies, of course) as fierce as a lion….it would be quite absurd to suppose he is a real lion. Indeed, it would be disrespectful….If he was a lion he’d have four paws, and a tail, and whiskers!” (p. 200).
What does Aslan say to Bree?
“‘Do not dare not to dare . . . I am a true Beast’” –Aslan” (p. 201).
In other words, Aslan is truly incarnate. He is true Beast, and while it might seem to be more honoring to him to say that he is actually “spiritual,” this kind of liberalism is very dishonoring to him.
This comes out in other ways. What is Aslan like? In The Magician’s Nephew, how does Aslan sympathize with Digory, in a surprising way? “‘My son, my son,’ said Aslan. ‘I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another’” (p. 154).
In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, what was Aslan like? “People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, there were cured of it now” (p. 126).
After his resurrection, what did Aslan and the girls do then? It was just what a true Beast would do. “It was such a romp as no one has ever had except in Narnia’ and whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind” (p. 164).
Is Aslan wild? “‘He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion’” (p. 182). Is Aslan safe? “‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you’” (p. 80).
In Prince Caspian, what does Aslan do for Caspian’s old nurse? He is very tender with her, and we see how he is tender to more than just the main characters. “‘I’ve been waiting for this all my life. Have you come to take me away?’ ‘Yes, Dearest,’ said Aslan. ‘But not the long journey yet’” (p. 203).
Because truth is personal, and not just abstract, we are changed by knowing someone like Aslan. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, what made Lucy truly beautiful? “Then her face lit up till, for a moment (but of course she didn’t know), she looked almost as beautiful as that other Lucy in the picture” (p. 158). She is made beautiful by beholding someone who truly is beautiful.
And how is Lucy encouraged while escaping the Dark Island? “‘Courage, dear heart,’ and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face” (p. 187).
The same kind of thing happened to Lucy earlier in Prince Caspian. Has Aslan grown? “‘Aslan,’ said Lucy, ‘you’re bigger.’ ‘That is because you are older, little one,’ answered he, ‘Every year you grow, you will find me bigger’” (p.141). How is Lucy encouraged by him? “She could feel lion-strength growing into her” (p. 143).”‘Now you are a lioness,’ said Aslan. ‘And now all Narnia will be renewed’” (p. 143).
And also in Prince Caspian, how was Edmund changed? “Aslan had breathed on him at their meeting and a kind of greatness hung about him” (p. 179).
In The Magician’s Nephew, what kept Digory from becoming proud? “But he was in no danger of feeling conceited for he didn’t think about it at all now that he was face to face with Aslan” (p. 180). In The Horse and His Boy, what does Hwin say to Aslan? “‘I’d sooner be eaten by you than fed by anyone else’” (p. 201). And what does Aslan say to her? “‘Joy shall be yours’” (p. 201).
And this is, at bottom, all lies are lies about Aslan. For example, how does Shift abuse his position? “‘Now attend to me. I want—I mean Aslan wants—some more nuts’” (p. 33).
And what is different about Aslan during the rule of Shift?
“‘Aslan says he’s been far too soft with you before, do you see? Well, he isn’t going to be soft any more. He’s going to lick you into shape this time. He’ll teach you to think he’s a tame lion!’” (p. 35).
Why is Tash an awful god? “‘They kill Men on his altar’” (p. 37).
And what lie is told about Tash? “‘Tash is only another name for Aslan. All that old idea of us being right and the Calormenes wrong is silly. We know better now’” (p. 38). All the same sorts of things occur in our world; all lies are ultimately lies about Jesus Christ.
So is Aslan in our world also? “‘I am,’ said Aslan. ‘But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name . . . that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there’” (p. 247).
This is how we know the cabby was a Christian man back in England. “‘Son,’ said Aslan to the Cabby, ‘I have known you long. Do you know me?’ ‘Well, no sir,’ said the Cabby. ‘Leastways, not in an ordinary manner of speaking. Yet I feel somehow, if I may make so free, as ‘ow we’ve met before’” (p. 148).
Did Aslan remain as Aslan? “And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after” (p. 210).
44. A Case for Amillennialism/Riddlebarger/decent
45. Practical Wisdom for Pastors/Thomas/solid
46. Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross/Boersma/informative
47. The Case for Classical Christian Education/Wilson/whattabook
48. Letter to a Christian Nation/Harris/atrocious
49. In, But Not Of/Hewitt/very good
50. America Alone/Steyn/fantastic
51. Overcoming Onto-theology/Wesstphal/really poor
52. Deep Comedy/Leithart/outstanding
53. Job: The Victim of His People/Girard/superb,awful
Father and gracious God, we thank You for all the Lord’s Days you have given to us, and we thank You for this opportunity of Sabbath rest. We are grateful that this commandment was made for us, and that we were not made for it. We are so grateful for the opportunity to build the coming week on the foundation of our worship of You this morning, and we ask You to build this house—if You do not build it, we who labor, labor in vain. We thank You now in Jesus’ name, and amen.
“We must risk being taken in, if we are to get anything. The best safeguard against bad literature is a full experience of good; just as a real and affectionate acquaintance with honest people gives a better protection against rogues than a habitual distrust of everyone” (C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism, p. 94).
“But the Reformers saw that some such distinction [between visible and invisible Church] was necessary. Without it, men fall readily into the trap of thinking that all that is necessary for salvation is to be in good standing with the visible Church. And because that is something they can readily arrange, they think that all is well with their souls. They start to think that their position on Christ’s tree is eternally secure, and they they, dry twigs, support the root. Such vanity obviously had to be rejected, as the Reformers did” (Mother Kirk, p. 24).
“People caught up in the scandals and frenzy of a sacrificial crisis are prone to believe almost anything that will allow them to unleash their scapegoating violence with moral impunity. In Christianized cultures, however, attempts to claim such moral immunity by appealing to Christianity have been increasingly less successful. The moral blindness a sacrificial crisis induces in those who get caught up in it is incredibly powerful” (Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled, p. 262).
The sinful heart is prone to error, even in necessary corrections. While many Christians have overemphasized the Word, to the neglect of the sacraments, if we are seeking to correct this, we must guard against an over-correction.
Many assume that we cannot honor the Table unless we minimize the Word. But the Word preached is the power of God unto salvation, to all who believe, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Without the Word, the sacraments are nothing but smoke and shadow. Without the sacraments, the Word is being thought about, but in the end disobeyed.
So we do not emphasize the sacraments as a preliminary move in the minimization of a verbal declaration of the will of God. The Bible is our life, but it is only our life as we do what it says. This includes gathering together for the breaking of bread. But we must also remind one another constantly, as long as it is called Today, that we must be on guard against the deceitfulness of sin. So, as you hear the Word, cultivate humility of mind. As you partake of the sacrament, cultivate humility of heart. As you love one another, do so deeply, from the heart. That is our koinonia.