Wednesday, June 29, 2005

What I'm Watching

A few recommended movies, new and old. First is the 2003 release Luther, starring Joseph Fiennes and Sir Peter Ustinov. Just got this on DVD, though I saw it a couple of times in the theatre. It is excellent, but extraordinarily fast-paced. Those who know the story will be amazed at how much ground it covers, especially in the first half hour. But the script, acting, and cinematography are top-notch, and you will seldom find a major Hollywood film with this clear a presentation of the Gospel, and they did it without ever mentioning the Rapture or the Antichrist!

Second is The Forgotten. This came out last year, I believe, and I saw it recently on DVD. This is a fairly creative suspense/thriller with some unexpected punches, not the least of which is a surprisingly vivid pro-life message. It also highlights a key Biblical theme, which is that of remembering (Deuteronomy 32:7; I Chronicles 16:12; Psalm 78; Psalm 88:12). In a key moment, one character says, "there are worse things than forgetting." The main character responds, "No, there aren't." A wild ride, and thoroughly worth the time.

Third, The Incredibles. Saw it on DVD for the first time recently. Very unusual, for a super-hero movie. Not many in this crowded genre will go out of their way to praise the virtues of family life, or skewer American egalitarianism, or what one character describes as "new ways to reward mediocrity." Another time, one character says that "everyone is special," to which an insightful child replies, "which is another way of saying that no one is." As I say, rare stuff. In one deleted scene, which is included in the special features, a mother blasts a smart-mouthed "professional woman" for suggesting that being a mom and homemaker is throwing away life. But it's not just the Christian and moral themes: the animation is stunning, the writing is stellar, and the characters are staggering (so much for the alliteration). A thoroughly enjoyable piece of work, and the bad guy (Warning: spoiler ahead!) eats it in the end, blasted to smithereens in a most satisfying conclusion. I'm with C.S. Lewis on this: let the witches, giants, dragons, super-villains, etc., be soundly killed at the end. How else can we teach our children about the utter folly and certain death of Evil?

Sunday, June 26, 2005

What I'm Reading

Many things, but two deserve special mention. The first is The Courage and Character of Theodore Roosevelt, by George Grant. It is an excellent, fascinating introduction to the life of (no lesser description will do) one of the greatest men in American history. Roosevelt was stunningly acomplished in many fields; indeed, he did the work of probably a dozen men, and was more successful in each endeavour than many who focused on only one vocation. He was also that rarest of creatures - a politician of genuine character and virtue. We need a man like Roosevelt today, but alas, we simply do not have one.

Second is Charles Williams' Taliessin Through Logres. This is his cycle of Arthurian poems, and it is brilliant. It is also very heavy reading, and not something to begin (as I did, first go-round) when you are particularly tired. This is not because it is boring, but because it requires especially alert eyes to be able to see even a few of its majestic beauties. The book includes Williams' own unfinished (and you should know that even the work as a whole was unfinished at his death) prose study of the Arthurian Legend, and C.S. Lewis' indispensable commentary on the work. I have been reading along with Lewis while working through the poems, and, at least for a beginner, this is the only way to fly. Highly recommended, though difficult to obtain: I ran across this by chance, as we say in Middle-earth, in a used bookstore not long ago, and was plum pleased with my treasure-hunting skills.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Princess and the Goblin

I just posted a review at Logres Hall of George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin. Here is that review, in full:

George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin:
A Short Review
William Chad Newsom

I just finished reading George MacDonald's book-length fairy tale for children, The Princess and the Goblin. Here at Logres Hall, we encourage regular reading of fairy tales as a way of reinforcing both the doctrine and morality of the Bible. MacDonald's book is a good example of that, especially in the way it skewers naturalism and praises faith through the character of Irene (the princess) and her relationship with her great-great-grandmother.
The problem for Irene is that no one else has seen her grandmother, nor, apparently, can they, or at least not at first. Readers of C. S. Lewis will know that Lewis called George MacDonald his "master," and said that he had probably quoted MacDonald in every book he ever wrote. Here we can see some of that influence, as The Princess and the Goblin inspires a scene in Prince Caspian, from Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. In the former book, Irene's friend, Curdie, cannot see her grandmother, because he is not yet "able" to see her. In the latter book, only Lucy can see Aslan at first, while the others cannot see him until they have learned to trust, and to act on that trust. And yet, both the grandmother and Aslan were really there to see, for those to whom it had been given (Luke 8:10). As Irene's grandmother puts it, "Seeing is not believing - it is only seeing."
The book also has something that every children's book should have: noble children. In this book, nobility is defined primarily by the character of the Princess, Irene, and how she behaves - one chapter is titled, "Irene Behaves Like a Princess," and we are told, by Irene herself, that "a princess must not break her word." In addition, Irene, though not perfect, is valiant, faithful, and kind, though she is sorely tested in these areas throughout the story. By instilling these virtues in the character of a princess, MacDonald is telling us that such virtues are high and noble, but not that they are only for those of high office - in the character of Curdie, the son of Peter, the miner, we also see a fierce nobility, daring courage, and a conscience sensitive to the touch of both good and evil. In their battles with the goblins, and their growing trust for one another, even when that seems to require believing what seems to be nonsense, both Irene and Curdie show a strength of character few adults possess. This book is valuable if for no other reason than that it clearly shows parents their goal: noble children who will one day be noble adults. We must resist our culture's view that such expectations are necessarily too high, that such nobility in the young is an unatttainable ideal. It is attainable - but not for those who refuse to read stories like The Princess and the Goblin to their children.
The adventures of Irene and Curdie are continued in The Princess and Curdie, which we will take a look at once I read it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

New Logres Hall Website!

The Home Page for Logres Hall is finally up and running, at its new home: There's lots of new stuff, so come visit us soon.

Thoughts on the Death of Pope John Paul II

In an effort to recover and republish some of the material from the earlier blog, here is a post I originally wrote on Friday, April 8th 2005.

Thoughts on the Death of Pope John Paul II

"Doctor Martin, if you leave the Christian to live only by faith; if you sweep away all good works, all these glorious things you dismiss as mere 'crutches,' what will you put in their place?"

Johann Staupitz to Martin Luther, in the 1953 film, Martin Luther

There are undoubtedly a plethora of thoughts and emotions swirling through the minds of those who would describe themselves as Protestants or Evangelicals at the news of the Pope’s passing. Everything from, “that’s so sad,” to “John who?” to “die, Papal devil! Ya-hoy!” I found myself experiencing a curious (though not completely unfamiliar) sensation: a wild desire to run straight to the local Catholic Church and bow in submission to Mother Church.
Strange, you say? Horrifying, you think? Perhaps not. Interest in the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church will certainly be at a peak now, until the novelty wears off, anyway. Many Protestants may feel a similar stirring. But I think there was something deeper at work here. In fact, having given it some thought, I am inclined to elevate my experience to a proverb: “he who feels no emotional inclination to join Rome after the death of a good pope has a view of the Church that, were that view a movie-goer, would never be able to see the film over the heads of those in front of him.” Or something like that. It’s too low, in other words (his view of the Church, I mean).
Put another way, we Protestants and Evangelicals ought to lament all that we have lost by our separation from Rome. Not that we don’t also recognize that there was much that needed to be lost: Rome has many errors, but the proper response to those errors ought not be a haughty, “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, or even as this Catholic.” Rather, we should mourn and grieve for the falsehoods that keep us at arm’s length from our brothers and sisters in the Roman communion—their errors, and ours as well. And we should readily admit that, as Peter Leithart recently said of John Paul,

"Flawed though his theology was, he remains far and away the greatest Christian leader of the past century. No Protestant comes anywhere close. Billy Graham may have preached more (maybe!), but Graham had nowhere near the political weight or the theological depth of Pope John Paul II. John Paul II's life is not only testimony to the wonders that God can perform through imperfect instruments but an inspiration for all Christians, whether or not we aspire to pope."

If Rome has forgotten the justification of God, Evangelicals have forgotten the beauty of God. If Rome has falsely elevated Tradition, Evangelicals have falsely denigrated it. Where Rome has given overmuch reverence to Saints, Evangelicals still think Saints come from New Orleans. We have much to learn. Some will think such words a compromise with false doctrine (the “Papal Devil” crowd). So be it. If they want to lump Chesterton, Tolkien, and John Paul in with Hitler, Nero, and LaVey, they’re welcome. They would probably do the same to Luther and Calvin, too. But R. C. Sproul, Jr. (no closet Papist, he) recently managed to write both these statements in the same article:

"I believe that Rome is an apostate church which preaches a false gospel."

"God’s grace isn’t constrained to flow only in those places where His gospel is rightly proclaimed."

R. C. is right, on both counts. And we cannot, of course, return to Rome: not yet, anyway. Not until God is pleased to bring both Reformation and Revival to his wayward Church. When Rome and Evangelicalism have duly repented of their sins, the Church may—nay, someday it will—be one again. It was while working through these Romanish thoughts that I dug out my old VHS copy of the 1953 film Martin Luther, in which the line at the top of this post was delivered. So what was Luther’s answer? Just what would he set in the place of the “crutches” of relics and indulgences?
“Christ,” was Luther’s simple answer in the film’s best moment. “Man only needs Jesus Christ.”
This is what our Roman Catholic brothers and sistersneed to realize, even as we mourn with them the passing of a pope who might havesoftened even the heart of a Wittenberg monk. When we cry “sola fide!” (“Faithalone”) it is only ever in the light of “solusChristus!”(“Christ alone). We say Rome has denied, whetherwittingly or no,sola fide,but we are not passing through the fire andtumult of religious controversy to win the right to install correct sentences inpeople’s brains.Sola Fideis vital because to deny it is to denySolus Christus.AndChristusis not a proposition: He is the Sonof Man, the Lord of Glory, Yahweh veiled in human flesh, the very TrinityIncarnate. “Faith alone” must ever be our battle cry, until God grants somefuture pope repentance, and we are again one, because “Faith alone” points everto the Christ of “Christ alone.”

Sunday, June 19, 2005

New Logres Hall Blog

The old Logres Hall Blog was experiencing apparently insurmountable problems, so here is the new one. New postings coming soon, but in the meantime, check out the new improved Logres Hall home page at