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Volume 15, Issue 1: Sharpening Iron

From Us:

Here comes the Spring. We've played indoors too long. We eagerly dust off the old tricycle seat and pedal our way out the garage door and into the cul-de-sac. The neighbor kids are out too, but their parents don't love them and have spared the rod. We've told them as much. They do have a lovely trampoline, though. They insist that it's for sitting on, and that nobody has ever done anything on it other than sit. They can sit on it all they like, but we know it's for jumping. They are sitting on it now. Our tricycle has not fallen out of practice and carries us swiftly to the foreign trampoline-sitters' yard. We look to our left. We look to our right. There are no grown-ups here. They have looked as well and have grown worried. They should be worried. "Mom!" they cry, but they cannot defend themselves while sitting, and we are already aboard. Let's make the fat kids fly.


From You:

Dear Editor,
In your article, you were explaining how The Two Towers movie, directed by Peter Jackson, does not follow the book, written by J. R. R. Tolkien. Besides having a few grammatical mistakes and being a bit overdone, the article isn't that bad, but you don't know the book as well as you might think. You spelled "orc" with a k and "Fangorn" with an h. Next time, follow the book before saying someone else didn't.

Josiah Renken
Sykesville, MD

Nathan Wilson replies: Imagine my shock when the first letter rolled in. Fangorn doesn't have an h? What
good is he then? I don't know if I will survive the switch. He seems so naked without his h. As it turns out I have received a rather large number of letters taking issue with my spelling. I wish I could simply refer to the unpublished letters of Tolkien or something, but I can't. I can only blame my father for reading the books to me before I could read myself. I heard Fanghorn, and I've read it that way ever since.

My sincerest apologies to Tolkien fans everywhere. If only Peter Jackson had simply chosen an alternate spelling for Faramir.

Dear Editor,
Should not the baptismal medium be determined from the context? I don't believe the Greek word which we have transliterated "baptise" necessarily connotes water. When John was baptizing in the Jordan River, we understand the medium to be water. When John says that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, we understand the media to be the Holy Spirit and fire. When Paul refers to baptism into Christ Jesus and baptism into his death, we understand the media to be Christ Jesus and his death.

John Barry
Sugar Grove, NC

Peter Leithart replies: Of course, words take on meaning by context, by the company they keep. In this instance, though, there are good reasons for going with "water baptism" when Paul uses the word "baptism." First, it is not correct that "Christ Jesus and his death" are a "medium" of baptism in Romans 6. We are not baptized "in" or "with" Christ's death but "into" it. That is, Christ and his death are the goal or end of the baptism, not the thing by which one is baptized. Strictly speaking, there is no explicit reference to the "medium" of baptism in Romans 6. Second, a larger contextual point: We know that Paul taught about a water ritual that he called "baptism."

Everyone in the church at Rome would have passed through this ritual. When Paul writes a letter reminding them about what happened to "all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus," the church at Rome would have recognized that as a reference to this ritual. Third, and more decisively, while the Greek word had wider connotations, by the time of the New Testament baptizo was used in Jewish literature as a technical term for a ritual washing (e.g., Judith 12:5_9). Finally, if "baptism" only refers to water baptism when the water is explicitly mentioned, then we are left with virtually no New Testament texts to use for a theology of baptism.

Dear Editor,
I suppose I should start by saying that this is intended to be a fan letter. I have greatly enjoyed and appreciated your [Nathan Wilson] C/A writings, especially those dealing with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy ("Wanna Save the World?" in C/A, 14/2 and the movie review in C/A, 14/6). I thought your review of the movie version of The Two Towers was very well done, and, more importantly, true. I love Tolkien's books and was horrified when I went to see the movie, by the same problems you listed. What horrifies me even more is that very few people seem to even notice these issues, let alone understand their magnitude.

I would like to mention, however, one minor and one major problem I have with your Tolkien writings.
First, my minor detail: In both of the articles I mentioned, there are names incorrectly dealt with; "orc" has a c, not a k as the concluding consonant. Theoden is "Lord of the Mark," and the name of the forest (and chief Ent) is "Fangorn" (with no middle h). I realize this may be a computer spell-check problem and not your fault at all, and just thought I'd bring it to your attention. . . .
Now for my major problem: My understanding (and it may be my understanding which is at fault) of your point in "Wanna Save the World?" is that "the [LotR] heroes are unrelatable" and that we are not even to try to imitate the best of them, but only the lower-level good guys. I disagree. Is not the very point of the Christian's sanctification journey to aim for the highest possible peak, to, as you say, "mirror Christ as best and as faithfully as we can"? How else is this done? We are told in Scripture to "remember those who went before you, who spoke the word of God to you; and, considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith" (Heb. 13:7), and this is not limited to only the lesser heroes, those men and women of God with only a few small sins or character flaws. We are called to "be imitators of God as beloved children" (Eph. 5:1) and to "be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt. 5:48). It is my belief that this standard of perfection, while not attainable in this life, is nevertheless the goal. And this may mean imitating/striving for the wisdom of Gandalf as well as Sam's plain common sense; for the purity and sacrificial love of Arwen more than the misdirected courage and desire of Eowyn; for even the kingliness and nobility of Aragorn—are we not, as God's people, called to a position of royalty, to joint-inheritance with Christ of His kingdom? It is those who walk with the wise who become wise, not those who settle for the company of those nearest their own level (with whom they can comfortably relate). In the same way, it is those who strive for the highest who will come closest to attaining it.
I'm afraid that because The Lord of the Rings is one of my strongest interests I am possibly too quick to speak strongly about it. As I said at the beginning of this letter (diatribe?), I really do appreciate your writings on the subject, and eagerly hoping to hear more.

Sarah Bowen
Chapel Hill, NC

Nathan Wilson replies: I agree with everything you've said, and am guilty in my misspellings. Especially of orc.

There are some characters whom little boys in the backyard should not pretend to be. Christ for example. We should imitate him. Don't pretend to be Aragorn. Imitate him. I think the quest to make Tolkien's lead characters `pretendable' is behind most of the trashing of the stories in the films.

Dear Editor,
When I read the letters to the editor, they are either filled with anger at your use of sarcasm . . . or they are filled with adulation . . . Anyway, for me, it's never anger, just confusion or laughter, and sometimes heightened insight. Take the wood thing, for example. Someone else who shares my enjoyment/confusion commented about the Wood issue and ended his letter with, "the piece about 2x6 framing wood was nifty." Nifty? I missed that. So I dug out that issue and started re-reading the article called "Just Wood" that had been too subtle for me the first time around. And it was as if one of those 3-D pictures suddenly shifted into focus so I could see the dragon hidden in the dots . . . Pretty nifty!

. . . . Of course, some people will never accept sarcasm as a useful literary tool, and people who act like they are right just get on your nerves. You guys are arrogant, or maybe you could use the word "noble," but someone has to stand up for the truth Beowulf style.

Vicki Tuggy
Tustin, CA

Dear Editor,
In "Cultural Pessimisim," Jack Van Deventer repeats the tiresome caricature that all pre- and a- millennialists are pessimistic, just waiting around until the Lord comes, expecting things to go to "hell in a handbasket." He even questions why such people would have children.

Most such people I know have no such philosophy. They are "pessimistic" simply because they believe that is what the Scriptures teach. They still believe in having children, creating Christian institutions, redeeming the culture, etc. because none of us knows when the Lord will return. We are to fulfill the Great Commission and be a light to the World while we wait.
As for the foolishness of expecting the Lord to return "any moment" now for 150 years, with the Lord "a day is as a thousand years."
One can be premillennialist or amillennialist and not be "culturally pessimistic." Perhaps it doesn't make sense to you but it does to many Christians.

Bob Vaughan
Eagle, ID

Jack Van Deventer replies: Thanks for the note. If you know vibrant, energetic Christians who (despite their worldview of inevitable moral decline and apostasy) are working to fulfill the Great Commission, redeem the culture, and who lovingly teach their children to do the same, then my hat's off to them. And I hope you won't mind if I respectfully call those people functional postmillennialists.

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