Book of the Month/January 2017

Testimonies are powerful. The apostle Paul gives his testimony in the book of Acts more than once, and he did so to great effect. The center of New Testament-style evangelism is found in the two-fold ministry of preaching and testimony. How will they hear without a preacher (Rom. 10:14)? And the one who believes has the witness (marturia) in himself (1 John 5:10).great-good-thing

Witnesses in the first century gave testimony to what the incarnate Christ said and did (1 John 1:2). But that does not render witness superfluous in the ages after—because the Holy Spirit was given to take the place of Christ, and He has been active down to the present day. This is why testimonies have the capacity to be singularly powerful. They can be done poorly, and can be over-run by hackneyed clichés. But sermons can be done poorly also, and yet no one doubts that preaching is an instrument appointed by God.

This testimony is delivered with exceptional grace and force. The Great Good Thing is the testimony of how Andrew Klavan, a secular and very messed up Jew, was found by Christ.

Klavan is an award-winning writer, and it shows. He brings exceptional talents to the description of an exceptional story, one I thoroughly enjoyed reading. The genre of his other books is “crime novel,” a part of Lit Town where I do not usually go, and so until this book I was unfamiliar with his writing. But in the world of mystery and crime writing, he is a well-known name. His novel True Crime was made into a movie, as was Don’t Say a Word. He has won the Edgar Award twice, and can safely be called a competent wordsmith.

I was familiar with him because of his online video commentary on politics and culture, which are very funny and almost always leave bruises. I found out about this book because of his political presence online, ordered it willingly, and read it even more willingly. This is a testimony that has the power to put both hands on your shoulders, and make you sit down with the book.

Here is his description of how he began praying, before He even knew who he was praying to.

“After a while, though, it began to seem to me that I was thinking too much about perfect truth-telling. It was a waste of prayer time. The human heart is so steeped in self-deception that it can easily outrun its own lies. It can use even meticulous honesty as a form of dishonesty, a way of saying to God, ‘Look how honest I am.’ So I let it go. I let it all go. I just flung wide the gates to the sorry junkyard of my soul and let God have a good look at the whole rubble-strewn wreck of it. Then I went ahead and told him my thoughts as plainly as I knew how” (p. 239).

His was a conversion that had cultural, historical, intellectual, and emotion reasons. He deals with them all, honestly, seriously, and without any sanctimony. You will never read a less sanctimonious testimony.

We live in a time when stories like this need to be told, over and again. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

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KJQ
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KJQ

I’ve
enjoyed interviews and articles by Klavan for many years now. I was thrilled to hear that he had become a Christian, but then saddened to hear he has joined the apostate RCC. I’m praying that his great intellect applied to the scriptures will soon have him departing her.

Victoria West
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Victoria West

“I’m not a Catholic. My views on authority and sexual morality are too individualistic. But when I see the level of thought coming out of Anglicanism – especially the low and despicable crypto anti-semitism in the cowardly guise of anti-Zionism – and then read the grace-filled, spirit-inspired work of Big Ben, well, I’m embarrassed,” A Klavan, 2011.

KJQ
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KJQ

I confess my confusion, because just last year in a “Klavin & Whittle” segment he told Bill he is a catholic. I can’t find anything online on where he attends church nor his denomination.

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

I looked as well and could find nothing. He is definitely not Catholic, but he really liked Pope Benedict’s “Jesus of Nazareth.” I know this because he wrote that “The Pope Rocks!”

Catholic though I be, I cannot see old Benedict rocking. However, I haven’t read either book.

Dan Phillips
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Dan Phillips

That’s not a small point. If what Klavan has “converted” to is Rome, then, to my mind, this is not a testimony of a Christian convert, any more than a Mormon’s testimony.

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

I truly don’t want to start an argument with you (I am hoping my year’s resolutions will last at least until the beginning of Lent), but why you consider conversion to Rome outside the Christian faith? Unlike Mormons, Catholics subscribe to the Apostle’s Creed, recogize the Trinity, and believe in the central doctrines of the Christian faith such as the virgin birth, Christ’s substitutionary atonement for people lost in their sins, and the resurrection. Could you explain your concerns?

Dan Phillips
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Dan Phillips

Seriously, then; you’ve read this blog for some time, and lived to whatever age, and you have never yet until this day one time read or heard a Christian who believed that the Biblical Gospel and Rome’s dogmas are mutually exclusive? I am the first person, ever, who voiced such a view in your hearing? And no one before me has ever explained this to you, or written a piece accessible to you explaining this very thing?

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

I was tempted to write a reply as sarcastic in tone as yours, pointing out that the Pope treats every one of us like mushrooms, kept in the dark and fed on…unpleasant material of a excretory nature, and that when we are occasionally allowed to wander onto Protestant sites, we are first dipped in holy water as a form of inoculation. But then I remembered my new year’s resolutions about not adding unnecessary layers of frosting to my sarcasm cake. So I will answer properly. I have read criticisms of Catholic doctrine on boards with names like “Mother Teresa–her 6000th… Read more »

Kilgore T. Durden
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Kilgore T. Durden

Jillybean, I hope you won’t mind my trying to answer this for you. Given our previous discussion about this topic as it related to politics, it should be pointed out that both Rome and the historic Reformed position hold this exclusivity. It runs in both directions. Now realize that most practicing Catholics and most practicing Protestants do not all see it this way, but that is simply a reflection of the illiteracy of church history. The positions are exclusive primarily, though not solely, because of their views of salvation and authority. We hold to Sola Scriptura. Catholics believe in the… Read more »

Jill Smith
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Jill Smith

I don’t think they are mutually exclusive, and I think that while we use terms differently, the Catholic position is sometimes oversimplified to the point of distortion. For example, the priest does not dispense salvation; he mediates grace through the sacraments. A well instructed Catholic realizes that only Jesus forgives our sins. The efficacy of absolution depends entirely upon the Catholic’s internal spiritual state, and all the priests in the world cannot grant absolution to a Catholic who is not actually penitent, remorseful, and determined to avoid future sin. A well instructed Catholic knows that lighting candles, making pilgrimages, and… Read more »

Kilgore T. Durden
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Kilgore T. Durden

I see why so many here like you, Jillybean. I am grateful for your perspective on this topic, but you gently overpassed a vital portion. You mention that all of the externals are insufficient without the internal. All too true. But, you failed to mention that if one is internally penitent, he or she cannot get to that grace without the conduit of the priest or church. We Protestants do see Baptism and the Supper as conduits of grace, but only in a spiritual sense. There is no magic in them. It is Sola Fide. This is why the comparison… Read more »

Jill Smith
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Jill Smith

Thank you,what a nice thing to say! Let me brood on that point and get back to you.

John Callaghan
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John Callaghan

Holding Sola Fide to be the sine qua non of Christian identity is a rather puzzling position to most Catholics who encounter it. The idea has only been around for one quarter of Christian history and has been held by considerably fewer than one quarter of those who’ve called themselves “Christian” in the last two thousand years. It would be as if someone maintained that only people who watch the Super Bowl could be considered Americans. A non-football fan might reply to such an assertion: “Hmm, … alright … I suppose I understand where you’re coming from – but doesn’t… Read more »

Kilgore T. Durden
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Kilgore T. Durden

Holding Sola Fide to be the sine qua non of Christian identity is a rather puzzling position to most Catholics who encounter it. First of all, I didn’t say that. I said this: The positions are exclusive primarily, though not solely, because of their views of salvation and authority. The sine qua non of Christian identity is Christ and Him Crucified. Being baptized into His death, and being raised with Him to new life. The idea has only been around for one quarter of Christian history and has been held by considerably fewer than one quarter of those who’ve called… Read more »

John Callaghan
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John Callaghan

I think this is exactly the point that jillybean was trying to make:

The sine qua non of Christian identity is Christ and Him Crucified. Being baptized into His death, and being raised with Him to new life.

There are, of course, disagreements about what that statement implies – though those disagreements are not as stark as some would believe. For example, here’s an interesting attempt to converge Catholic and Protestant understandings of “Faith Alone”.

Kilgore T. Durden
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Kilgore T. Durden

There are, of course, disagreements about what that statement implies This is the precise topic of the thread. Catholics see the church as dispensing salvation to the truly penitent. Protestants see the authority in the Scriptures. Catholics earn salvation by faith plus works. Protestants believe that it is by grace through faith. These are mutually exclusive claims and both sides have historically seen them as such. Any attempts to use rhetorical contortions to say that we really are all the same are simply trying to depart from the historic positions for the sake of some supposed unity. But in reality… Read more »

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

Can there be a problem of definitions? A Catholic must not solely rely on works for salvation. There must be faith. Nursing lepers (if there are any left anymore) will not save me if I do not recognize my sins and turn to Jesus for forgiveness. Running soup kitchens cannot replace my believing that salvation comes from accepting Jesus’s death to atone for my sins. But “works” are trickier. We must cooperate with grace. What about the second chapter of St. James? Isn’t even your privately asking God to forgive your daily sins a kind of work? Isn’t reading scripture… Read more »

Wendell Dávila Helms
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Wendell Dávila Helms

I hope it’s okay if I answer the question you directed at Kilgore, Jilly. Yes, my church tells me to do “the same things” as Rome teaches, but the difference is that my church denies that my doing anything contributes in any way to my salvation. None of my works amount to me “cooperating” in achieving my salvation. My salvation is entirely of grace, entirely undeserved, which is to say I do nothing more, I cooperate no more, I deserve no more salvation than the man that is never saved at all. Salvation comes through faith, which means God changes… Read more »

Kilgore T. Durden
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Kilgore T. Durden

I apologize for the delayed response. I see that others have chimed in and answered rather adequately. So, I will stand behind their responses. The issue is whether the church is a conduit of salvation or not. Catholics say yes. We say no. That is no small matter. The other issue is works. We do not participate. Works are an effect of the gospel, not the means to it. I pray you see this hard divide for what it is. As much as it would feel good to say we are on the same team, we just have some small… Read more »

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

When one is explaining Catholic belief, one is constantly having to stop to point out exceptions. I always find this frustrating because it is hard to avoid the appearance of double talk. Catholic doctrine is slippery, not in a bad way, but it is not easy to express in few words So, I am going to pick one and go with penance. The Catholic church teaches, as you undoubtedly aware, that if I fall into deadly sin, I must get myself to a priest for confession, penance, and absolution. The vast majority of my sins are handled in the same… Read more »

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

Jilly, I’m left wondering, in your Kathmandu example, what does the RC believe happens if one fails to do that “much harder” thing that’s necessary in that circumstance?

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

So, I am in Kathmandu where I fall madly in love with a married man (this is getting unlikelier by the second), commit adultery (with the added sin of making him commit adultery as well), and suffer a heart attack in a part of the city where there is no priest. I lie on my bed of shame, and the crushing pain in my chest tells me the clock is running out on the life of the Jilly Bean. I am about to fall off the perch and meet my Maker, and it is time for that perfect act of… Read more »

Daniel Fisher
Member

Also, if I may humbly posit a respectful answer to this particular question: “I don’t know what denomination you belong to, but if you found yourself having committed a really dreadful sin, would you not have a similar obligation to confess to your religious leaders and accept church discipline? I am not quite sure where the difference lies.” Many Protestants may well recognize some such obligation. The difference lies in whether or not this particular action is understood to be the sole means by which one receives forgiveness from Jesus for said sin. There are other obligations Catholics recognize about… Read more »

Kilgore T. Durden
Guest
Kilgore T. Durden

This is very clear and from what I know of Catholic doctrine very accurate. I am a Presbyterian (of the orthodox persuasion), and have heard many ill formed views of Catholicism. I do understand the doctrine well, and I still insist that we have two different gospels. Had I found myself in deep, heinous sin, I still do not need a priest (or the intention of finding one) to have forgiveness. My restoration to fellowship of the visible church is another matter from my salvation. The forgiveness occurred at the cross, before my sin. Jesus said, “It is finished.” I… Read more »

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

This is an aside to the discussion about Roman Catholics, but I don’t think it’s accurate to say that the differences between Arminians and Calvinists are not “salvation issues,” especially not from a Calvinist perspective. There may be “Arminians” that don’t explain their faith accurately, but if someone really and truly doesn’t believe that Jesus’ death accomplished anything more for him than it did for the man that goes to hell, then what Calvinist would say that’s not a damnable heresy?

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

Wendell, would you mind clarifying your last comment? I am having trouble with it–not being Arminian or Calvinist!

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

I see I left a “not” out before, but I edited what I wrote before to correct that. In any case, Arminians believe that whatever Jesus accomplished He accomplished equally for all, such that Jesus didn’t save the saints any more than he “saved” those in hell. Where I as a Calvinist would say that Jesus saved me at the cross, an Arminian wouldn’t look to the cross, at least not in the same sense as the Calvinist does, but would look instead to his faith. That is why Calvinists have traditionally considered Arminianism a damnable heresy (a “salvation issue”… Read more »

Daniel Fisher
Member

Ma’am, Protestants do see a “salvation issue” between them and the Catholic Church – I see from the discussion below I am a bit late to the conversation, but perhaps could respectfully add one observation for clarity – A cliche, perhaps overused, but nonetheless useful tool I’ve heard in evangelism is the question, “If you were to die tonight and stand before God, and he were to ask you, ‘why should I let you into heaven?’, what would you say?” Bottom line, the Catholic response (as I think you accurately described below) is really one of two possibilities: 1) I,… Read more »

John Callaghan
Guest
John Callaghan

Our host’s favorite author, G.K. Chesterton, wrote: When people ask me, or indeed anybody else, “Why did you join the Church of Rome?” the first essential answer, if it is partly an elliptical answer, is, “To get rid of my sins.” For there is no other religious system that does really profess to get rid of people’s sins. It is confirmed by the logic, which to many seems startling, by which the Church deduces that sin confessed and adequately repented is actually abolished; and that the sinner does really begin again as if he had never sinned. And this brought… Read more »

Daniel Fisher
Member

Sir, quoting from the catechism that you linked: “When [contrition] arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called “perfect” (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible.” If, as I noted, I have no intention to seek sacramental confession, then the catechism is quite explicit: whatever contrition I may have will not obtain forgiveness of mortal sins. Yes, Catholic doctrine acknowledges that “forgiveness of sins is not absolutely limited to… Read more »

John Callaghan
Guest
John Callaghan

Confession after perfect contrition is necessary to avoid the sins of ingratitude and presumption. (see Luke 17:11-19)

“Individual, integral confession and absolution remain the only ordinary way for the faithful to reconcile themselves with God and the Church, unless physical or moral impossibility excuses from this kind of confession.” (CCC 1484)

This does not exclude the possibility of God acting in extra-ordinary ways. Miracles are always possible – though it would be rather ill-mannered to presume that God will be routinely supplying them.

Christopher
Member
Christopher

“On the other hand, Catholic friends (who have read their catechism) are saddened that I will be condemned to hell as I have never confessed my sins to a priest and have no intention of doing so”

Hebrews 4:15

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

If you are acting on the light you have been given, are sincere in your rejection of Catholic teaching, and are relying on Christ alone for your salvation, your Catholic friends should not worry about you unduly.

Lemienior
Guest
Lemienior

He says he is not a Catholic on episode 41 of his podcast, specifically right at 30:55 of the podcast.
Here is a link: http://www.dailywire.com/podcasts/1732/ep-41-shutuppery-lefts-last-defense-andrew-klavan

Do not know what he would profess to *be* other than Christian. But considering his fondness for all things English, Anglican/Episcopalian would probably be where he lands.

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

I doubt only because of what he said on his website, which was quoted by Victoria above: “But when I see the level of thought coming out of Anglicanism – especially the low and despicable crypto anti-semitism in the cowardly guise of anti-Zionism – and then read the grace-filled, spirit-inspired work of Big Ben, well, I’m embarrassed.” I have heard, but can’t find the citation right now, that Klavan does not oppose gay marriage. I am wondering if anyone who has read the whole book knows that demonination he has joined–or perhaps he got baptized but has not aligned with… Read more »

Lemienior
Guest
Lemienior

He does not oppose ‘gay marriage,’ and will generally punt on on specifics for that question.

Personally, I think–as I listen to him–that this is an issue that he still needs to bring into subjection of Christ.

I read the book, he was baptized at the Church of the Incarnation in Manhattan (an Episcopal Church) by the rector, a friend of his. He lives in Southern California.

Stirfry Laura
Guest
Stirfry Laura

I agree, this is my new favorite conversion story. Compelling, intellectually satisfying, and joyful — God’s kindness brought him to repentance. I loved seeing God’s sovereign will at work in Klavan’s life. It gave me hope for my lost son.

Gino Cunningham
Guest
Gino Cunningham

On my reading list. I enjoy Klavan’s online commentary and the wit he brings to the political and cultural discussion. Thanks for the review.

Jane
Member

I am reading this now, and thoroughly enjoying it. It’s both a fascinating and encouraging conversion story, shot through with personal honesty, and wonderfully written book. For my money, conversion narratives from famous writers beat those from sports stars and performers all hollow. :-)