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Volume 14, Issue 5: Meander

Thick-Fingered Typing

Douglas Wilson

Let me recommend a great book on the need for contemporary reformation written by Richard Phillips. Called Turning Back the Darkness, the book establishes the biblical pattern of reformation in God's providential oversight of His people. Phillips illustrates the pattern from multiple places in Scripture, a pattern that reveals far more than simple spiritual entropy—the pattern reveals the glory and wisdom of God. The cycle is formation, deformation, and reformation, and recurs enough for us to know what we are to look and pray for next. The book is published by Crossway, which, while I am on the subject, is a company that continues to do good work.


I recently finished Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard, and recommend it highly. Dillard is a wonderful writer, but at the same time, I need to give fair warning. Reading her work for an extended period is like eating sixteen Milky Way bars in a row. She is so gifted with metaphorical aptness—when the Muse in charge of metaphor was pouring out gifts from her jug, someone looked away for a moment and forgot to say when.


Dillard compares high and low worship with characteristic insight. Responding to a young girl who was performing some "special music" at church, she says, "Nothing could have been more apparent than that God loved this girl; nothing could more surely convince me of God's unending mercy than the continued existence on earth of the Church. The higher Christian churches—where, if anywhere, I belong—come at God with an unwarranted air of professionalism, with authority and pomp, as though they knew what they were doing, as though people in themselves were an appropriate set of creatures to have dealings with God. I often think of the set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed. In the high churches they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a strand of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it any minute. This is the beginning of wisdom."


Lots of books to recommend this time around. I have been teaching a high school elective on pop culture, and have consequently been doing quite a bit of reading up. And when it comes to the movies, the single best book I have found on this subject is Hollywood Worldviews by Brian Godawa. He does outstanding work in navigating the extremes of what he calls cultural anorexia on the one hand and cultural gluttony on the other. He is well versed in basic philosophy, and as a screenwriter, he has a good handle on how various philosophies take shape in stories. The book is published by IVP, but don't hold that against Godawa. If you want to check out some of his work before buying the book, go to godawa.com.


Scripture teaches that strife has certain preconditions. "Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth. As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife" (Prov. 26:20-21). The fire department tells us not to leave oily rags in a heap in a corner of the garage. When we do this, we are simply asking for it. In these verses, two forms of verbal behavior are described as creating this kind of danger, leading to strife. The first is tale-bearing. It has been well said that it takes two people to wound you—an enemy to say something bad about you, and a friend to get the word to you. Tale-bearing can be disguised in many ways—prayer requests, for one. Tale-bearing is characterized by a busy-pants scurrying about. In this we should seek to recall that great Pauline principle: "Mind thine own business."

The other set of oily rags is the contentious man. By himself he can have no strife, but he still has a personal need for strife. Consequently, he goes out and kindles it. The presence of strife does not mean that every participant is contentious, but the presence of a contentious man means that there will be strife—in the kitchen, hall, bedroom, and living room, with wife, children, brothers, sisters, parents, and more.


Always remember, the sooner you get behind, the more time is available for catching up.

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