Reformation Day 2011

“Your Imperial Majesty and Your Lordships demand a simple answer. Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scripture or (since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves) by manifest reasoning, I stand convicted by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s word. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

~ Martin Luther

Book Review: Red Rain

Government regulations said they had no choice. Seventeen-year-old Philadelphia must stay on Earth in the hands of complete strangers while her father is sent to Mars to work on a top-priority science project.  When a Martian leader pulls some strings at the last moment and allows her to accompany her father, she knows she must keep her head down or be sent back to Earth. Unfortunately, things seldom go as planned…

When a search for her deceased brother’s belongings causes her to stumble into a hallway that isn’t supposed to exist, Philadelphia is faced with a question she doesn’t want to answer – the choice between returning to Earth or destroying it.

Aubrey’s Hansen’s debut novella Red Rain burst onto the scene in early September to favorable reviews. My interest in the premise – coupled with the fact that I’m fairly well acquainted with the author – compelled me to read the story for myself. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Red Rain takes place in a futuristic dystopia, where Earth is run by a single, worldwide government: “United”. Christians are regarded as outcasts, marked for persecution and discrimination. Most are forced to attend special “re-education” camps. Those who choose to compromise are welcomed back into society; those who don’t are subject to greater hardship than ever. “Assimilated or removed,” as the saying goes.

It’s a superb backdrop for an interesting tale, and Aubrey handles it all quite well. The plot is briskly paced, cutting from one scene to the next with economic precision: kudos to the author for keeping the story on track and not allowing herself to be distracted.

The small cast of characters is well-rounded and memorable, from the young heroine Phillidelphia to the coniving Dr. Nic. The prose is generally tight, clean, and devoid of clutter; and Aubrey demonstrates a remarkable talent for crafting smooth dialogue. There were some lines here and there which came across as a bit melodramatic, and one or two scenes which I thought could’ve used polishing; these, however, are minor complaints when considering the overall excellence of the book.

The primary theme of the book is the danger of compromise, as Phillidelphia is tempted multiple times to renounce her faith and choose the “easier” path. I appreciated Aubrey’s inclusion of this, as it lent the story substance and gravitas that would otherwise have been lacking.

I might add that there is nothing – no indecency, no bloody violence, no cussing – to make this book unsuitable for younger readers. I enjoyed it, and yet I would have no reservation about handing it to my 9-year-old brother. It’s an all ages type of read.

In conclusion, therefore, I highly recommend Red Rain. It’s a fun, clean, and engaging little piece of fiction – the perfect way to spend a quiet afternoon with a cup of tea and your own imagination. Rumor has it there are a couple of sequels in the works. I hope such is the case: Aubrey Hansen has shown us why we should pay attention to her, and I look forward to reading more from her pen.

Debating An Atheist: 4 Things I Learned

I tangled with an atheist. Here’s how, here’s why, and here’s what I learned from it.

At the risk of sounding cliche, it all started through an online science fiction forum, which I had just recently joined. I soon became painfully aware that the atmosphere was (unsurprisingly) anti-Christian. In fact, it was pretty much anti-anything that had to do with religion. I guess you could think of it as a room full of raw oxygen: all it takes is a single spark and – in the immortal words of Barney Fife – “KABLOOIE!”

Leave it to yours truly to bring out, not just a match, but a whole stinkin’ flamethrower.

One of the other members wrote in to say that she was preparing to work her way through Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot. I responded that I had read it and enjoyed it; that the stories were all interesting, even though Asimov’s worldview was “off-base”.

Now, I swear I wasn’t trying to start anything. Looking back, though, I have no idea why I thought I could get away with saying something like that. I should’ve seen what was coming next…

An athiest picked up on my comment. After two or three exchanges, that particular discussion thread pretty much exploded. It was as if the atheists on the forum were just waiting for somebody like me to step out of line, because as soon as I did – well, you get the picture. As the debate lengthened, the forum moderator (a rabid atheist herself ) eventually got fed up: she told us to pipe down or move our discussion elswhere.

We opted to pipe down. At least, for the moment.

Next thing I knew, my original “opponent” decided to write an entire blog post on the subject of the debate. He linked to it on the forum page and invited everyone to read it… even though I know he was probably eyeing me. I took the bait. The rest, they say, is history.

There really wasn’t a “winner”, per se, at all. The debate ended in a sort of draw – which is to say he got tired of arguing with me and told me to go away (though not in so many words). At any rate, I’m glad it happened. It was a learning experience for me; an oppurtunity to stand up, speak out, and consider. Here’s what I got out it it:

  • 1) You must know what you believe and why you believe it. Bible study and solid apologetics are the key to this. When someone has you up against a metaphorical wall getting ready to cut your metaphorical throat, you really should think about why you got into a fight in the first place. If you have no real, concrete answer to that question… well, that’s hardly comforting as you bleed out all over the ground.
  • 2) You must be able to articulate your beliefs. Knowing what and why isn’t enough: being able to clearly state, argue, and defend your beliefs is equally important. As 1 Peter 1:13 says, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…”
  • 3) There is no magic word. For some reason I had it in my head that, when confronted with an atheist, all I’d have to do is whip out one of the arguments I’d learned in studying apologetics and alakazam! my opponent would be instantly tongue-tied. Stupid me. As I quickly discovered, an atheist who “knows his stuff” is a slippery fish. You can throw spears of logic and apologetic reasoning all you want, and he’ll generally find a way to dodge. Pinning him to the wall is hard work. Which also taught me that…
  • 4) It’s not an intellectual problem, it’s a heart issue. I knew this already, but the debate drove it home. The heart of an atheist (and of every sinner, for that matter) cannot be changed through hardcore reasoning and clever rhetoric alone; true, God may choose to use those as tools, but ultimately, only the light of His grace can open the eyes of the blind and give sight to the sightless.

As the argument concluded and we went our separate ways, the atheist told me that he understood my position, even though he didn’t accept it. He’d grown out of it a long time ago, and he said he hoped I would do the same eventually.

By God’s grace, that’ll be the day pigs fly.

I Couldn’t Have Done It Without You… and Vice-Versa

“Another fellow – Lodowick (Lodo) Legup – has been convinced that he needs Christ as Savior and Lord, and has come to be saved and led. Lodo knows he’s a sinner, and looks to Christ to do something about that.

“But, oddly enough, Lodo thinks that sin has disabled him, hurt him, wounded him – but not killed him as dead as, say, Julius Caesar. So Lodo has this inner notion that he still brings something positive to the equation. Lodo’s Jesus holds out most of the makings of a nice big yummy Salvation Pie, but it’s not really a pie until Lodo puts the “decision cherry” on the top, or the “faith sprinkles.” Jesus is really a great help, He did a lot, all the heavy lifting and big stuff; but it’s still nothing until Lodo does his part. Jesus helps Lodo – but Lodo helps Jesus, too. In fact, without Lodo’s help, nothing happens.

“So, without in any way meaning to, Lodo has Jesus as Cosigner instead of Savior. Because the relationship is still partly based on Lodo’s performance, on his works, he has the feeling deep down that God doesn’t really like him much, or love him, unless he does his part. After all, He didn’t save him until Lodo did his part first. God responded to Lodo then, so maybe He responds now. Lodo works so that God will like him, so that Jesus will love him and keep him. If Lodo stopped, he’d lose that relationship.

“That kind of fear motivates Lodo. To Lodo, the Cross is where God did everything He could, made salvation possible and attainable, and then left it to Lodo to make it happen. The relationship started partly because of what God did, and partly because of what Lodo did. But Lodo added the decisive element. The relationship continues in the same way. Lodo may not be prepared to take up a cross himself, or do anything radical. After all, God didn’t do anything too radical to save him. Lodo wasn’t so bad off that Lodo himself couldn’t provide the essential ingredient. Lodo kept part of the salvation package, and now he’ll keep part of the Christian-life package.”

~ Dan Phillips, The World-Tilting Gospel (Ch. 1, pp. 57-58)

“We Few, We Happy Few, We Band of Brothers…”

Today (October 25th) being St. Crispin’s Day, I feel it is only right to give a speech. That is to say, share a speech – one written by none other than William Shakespeare himself. The above clip, in which King Henry V addresses his troops before the Battle of Agincourt, is taken from Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film adaption of Henry V.

Reading the St. Crispin’s Day speech (click here) is one thing; hearing it delivered with the power and irresistable charisma that Branagh demonstrates is another thing altogether. Kinda makes you want to grab a sword and fight alongside these fellows.