The Life of God in the Soul of Man by Henry Scougal

Rating: 5 Stars

The first section of this little treatise is so excellent it would alone merit a 5 star rating for the whole work. Scougal died very young and this is the only piece of writing we have from him. But what he may lack in volume he more than makes up in quality and distilled potency. I have seldom found an author who so clearly and precisely drew distinctions between dead religiosity and Spirit-wrought new life. If you have any question about the inward and outward dynamics of real Christianity in contrast to its many counterfeits, allow Henry Scougal to lay it out for you.

I was put onto this little gem by John Piper’s introduction to his book The Pleasures of God. Another fun fact is that this work was given to George Whitefield by Charles Wesley, and Whitefield said that he “never knew what true religion was” until he read this book.

I found it in PDF form for free here:
http://grace-ebooks.com/library/Henry%20Scougal/HS_The%20Life%20of%20God%20in%20the%20Soul%20of%20Man.pdf

If reading the whole thing seems like a bit much, check out this summary put together by Justin Taylor:
https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2014/05/30/a-summary-of-henry-scougals-the-life-of-god-in-the-soul-of-man/

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Indoctrinating the Young

The illusion of neutrality can be shown in the education of the young. Any teacher of young people will inevitably present information in a certain light.

My kids attend a local AWANA club, which is a Christian organization. They play games, hear stories, and memorize parts of the Bible. It’s a lot of fun for the kids and they end up hearing and memorizing a lot of Scripture. All well and good. But I am always struck by the unquestioning acceptance with which all the kids receive what is taught to them. It makes me slightly nervous. I get the sense that if an atheist saw us doing this, they would cry out: “Indoctrination! Brain-washing!” And of course, they would be correct. Not unlike how many Christians, looking at the public school system, or a liberal college philosophy class, might cry out: “Indoctrination! Brain-washing!” 

One man’s proper education in the truth is another man’s indoctrination. So what is the difference? I’m not sure, aside from the content taught and the truth therein. Structurally and functionally they are similar. I know that when I teach young people, I try to make them think. You know, using their brains. Indoctrination usually does not encourage that, because thinking is what cures indoctrination, and therefore is a threat to it. Happily for the indoctrinators, thinking is not all that popular.

The AWANA theme song that they sing every week is this rousing battle-march hymn that, I’m sorry to say, always makes me think of the Hitler Youth. Not because anything nefarious is going on, but because it is awfully easy to hype up a bunch of young people and get them to believe in things. But this is just they way children are – like sponges. The problem is not that children are undiscerning sponges, or that adults proceed to teach them various things, but specifically what is taught and what such teaching will lead to.

But of course not everyone will agree on these matters, which is why it is so important that we enjoy the freedom to teach our children according to our convictions. Is it a dangerous freedom? Sure. Any nutjob or cult can wreck a few childhoods with lies and deception. But the alternative is some sort of government statist control where the state is trusted to teach all the children some “neutral” set of truths – truths which (surprise!) turn out to serve the interests of the state and whatever collection of ideologues currently sit in the government offices.

I still love teaching young people. Knowing how receptive they naturally are, all of us in that position carry a great responsibility for the shaping of these young minds.

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Post-Modernism Rightly Jeered

From the always pointy quill of Doug Wilson:

The postmodernists have climbed into the car of
modernity’s premises, and have driven it into a
tree. What the postmodernists do not appear to
grasp, however, is that mumbling incoherently to one-
self in the wreckage of that old car does not constitute
having a new car. Not even if you say vrooom to yourself
and imagine that you are toodling down the road, bottle
of Jack Daniels still intact and still in hand.
But then along come some evangelical Christians
who (for some inscrutable reason, best known to them-
selves) want to identify themselves with the postmod-
ernists. What they are doing is slowing down their
vintage Mercedes of Trinitarian Bright Red Orthodoxy,
with not a scratch on it, to do a little rubber-necking at
the accident. “With a little epistemic humility, there is
quite a bit we could probably learn from that learned
fellow! And if we crawled in there with him, we could
crawl back out again. And then we would be an Emer-
gent Church, emerging (but not too far!) from the Shat-
tered Windshield of Modernity!”

Christians should not overstate our opportunities
in this. Postmodernism is only a good development in
the same way that the prodigal son envying the pig food
was a good development. The point is for him to return
to the Father, and not to acquire a taste for the food in
the trough.
One of the most frustrating aspects of reading
modern evangelical writers, especially those who are at-
tempting some sort of relevant edgy thing, is the inabili-
ty of such writers to see themselves in a broad historical
context. They have no x on a map of church history that
says, “You are here.”

 

 

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The Very Scraping Bottom

Some time ago, I spent an afternoon with an old high-school friend and a few other buddies watching some football. My friend is not married and has no children. Now I love this guy – we go waaay back – but the more time passes, the more it feels like trying to have one foot on the escalator and one foot off. Eventually the pants are gonna rip. It’s a strange feeling growing up, getting older. We grow apart even though we are only being ourselves; our pool of common experiences is getting smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror.

The couches, the pizza, the big screen TV. The intimate knowledge of every player on every team in every sport, the multiple fantasy pools, the sports betting. I’ve no right to look down on all this, because I not only used to dwell there, I am the exact same way in miniature (okay – except for the betting). Their life’s orientation is my occasional indulgence; what they does with varsity-level expertise I dabble in as an amateur.

I don’t look down on it, at least I try not to, but at the same time I am ruined for it. A conflict arises within: in my times of lazy abdication I yearn and seek after this very thing, but which when held in my hands turns out to be so empty and slight. A parable for any lust. This is the land of which my escapism speaks to me in hushed whispers and crooked smiles – that grass more green – and yet it is all a mirage. The reality is a lonely belch echoing through empty bedrooms. Not to be too dramatic about it.

What I found myself wanting to do upon leaving was go home and kiss my sleeping children on the head, take in a deep breath of their hair, and pray a silent prayer over them.

Leaning against the doorpost in that darkened room and holding my wife’s hand, I am simply amazed by the loveliness of a child’s face.

To borrow from Marylinne Robinson in Gilead, those faces makes a claim on me, a claim that goes to the very scraping bottom of my soul.

And I, if the leap can be made, must make a similar claim on my heavenly Father, just by my existing. Now that is something.

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Some Gushing Words about ‘Gilead’

Note: This was originally written in 2012 and slightly edited since then.

Image

…and how good is a timely word! (Proverbs 15:23)

It was my Mom who first suggested Gilead to me. What a wise and blessed soul she was. At the time I’m pretty sure my response was something like: “Does it have helicopters? Spies? Global conspiracies? No?! Then it’s not for me.” I don’t actually remember what I said, but that sounds about right. At some point after that initial introduction to the existence of the book, I picked it up read a few pages. For some reason it didn’t draw me in at the time – probably the glaring absence of helicopters. It just didn’t resonate with my life and heart. I hadn’t suffered enough, hadn’t matured enough, and wasn’t yet asking the kinds of questions the book seeks to ask and answer.

What a difference a couple of years can make! This time when I picked it up and read the first few paragraphs, it was like a crisp breeze from an unseen window brushed my face, like a single ray of light from where the roof didn’t quite line up warming your skin. Now I’m not a very good writer, but that sort of description, slow, methodical description, and many, many commas, linked together in a way that would make most English teachers frown, at least the ones I had, to make epic sentences that somehow your mind follows perfectly, is kind of what you find in Gilead.

The quality of the writing is simply superb. There’s a reason this book won a Pulitzer prize. To a limping and parched heart, the beauty of this book was a river of grace. And not just indirectly, because the main character, John Ames, is an old man who’s been a preacher all his life, and his thoughts are filled with explicit and implicit usages of Scripture. The caliber of relational insight in this book is amazing. It’s one of those books where the relationships are so gripping because of the details, the looks, the unspoken words, the tones and inflections of voice, all coalesce together to paint an incredible portrait of human interaction in all of its beautiful complexity. The combination of that insightfulness with the gentle warmth of this old preacher’s soul reverberating through his writing (for the book is really a long letter that John Ames is writing to his young son) is what made the book so powerful for me.

As this old saint struggles to love within one particularly difficult relationship, he comes face to face with the humbling limits of his own character and sanctification. It’s an experience I can relate to, one that I think any believer can relate to. To see the internal struggle, the slow, prayerful processing that took place, was helpful for me. And that he divulged his innermost thoughts for his son’s future reading, making himself very vulnerable in doing so, was also special. Overall it’s just a touching book on multiple levels. Shoot – that really doesn’t do it justice. Why are you still reading this drivel anyways? Go read Gilead.

Another aspect that I really enjoyed was the simplicity of small town life that the author captured beautifully. The slower pace, the community inter-connectedness, the peaceful enjoyment of nature’s daily miracles like the sunrise, the light, the rain, the trees and the plants, the sunset, dawn and dusk, and fireflies. The writing was so good, so exquisite, that you really have to slow down and just enjoy each sentence like a delicious bite of your favorite food. And because I read too quickly through some pages, I am going to have to read it again some day and enjoy it all over.

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An Awfully Knotty Mess

From earlier this week at the ‘Great Gathering’of Republicans.

mrkburnsbened

Many people have already pointed out the blasphemous and idiotic nature of this ‘benediction’ by Mark Burns at the RNC this week, so I won’t go there. But I do want to share a thought about the use of language.
I was listening to a discussion on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the context in which he found himself in the 1930’s and 40’s in Berlin. The Christian church in Germany was by and large supportive of the Nazi regime, long after the true nature of its aims was made murderously clear. One of Bonhoeffer’s concerns was how to prophetically communicate Biblical Christianity to a culture where the language of Christianity had been corrupted and co-opted in the service of an evil political empire.
This is no small task.
We need a word to help us understand some of this. I propose syncretism, here defined by missiologist Gailyn Van Rheenen:
Syncretism occurs when Christian leaders accommodate, either consciously or unconsciously, to the prevailing plausibility structures or worldviews of their culture. Syncretism, then, is the conscious or unconscious reshaping of Christian plausibility structures, beliefs, and practices through cultural accommodation so that they reflect those of the dominant culture. Or, stated in other terms, syncretism is the blending of Christian beliefs and practices with those of the dominant culture so that Christianity loses it distinctiveness and speaks with a voice reflective of its culture.
Syncretism happens all the time and everywhere to varying degrees, but in this case it is particularly alarming because it is paraded on center stage at one of the most televised and closely watched events in America – an event which is supposed to represent the political beliefs of about half of Americans.
The end result of all this is that it becomes harder and harder to communicate gospel truth in a way that is clearly distinguished from the culture, in a way prophetically speaks to the culture.
Once you marry Jesus to the Republican Party or political conservatism, it’s an awfully knotty mess to separate them again.
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Lewis the Prophet

From the Screwtape Letters (letter 7):

“I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. Of course this has not always been so. We are really faced with a cruel dilemma. When the humans disbelieve in our existence we lose all the pleasing results of direct terrorism, and we make no magicians. On the other hand, when they believe in us, we cannot make them materialists and skeptics.
At least, not yet. I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalize and mythologize their science to such an extent that what is, in effect. a belief in us (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to belief in the enemy. The “Life Force,” the worship of sex, and some aspects of Psychoanalysis may here prove useful. If once we can produce our perfect work—the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshiping, what he vaguely calls “Forces” while denying the existence of “spirits”—then the end of the war will be in sight. But in the meantime we must obey our orders. I do not think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark.”

 

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