Running Heads

From the editors of Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications at Wipf and Stock Publishers

Author: Rodney (page 3 of 14)

The Kingdom of God is for Earth

Johann Christoph Blumhardt (1805–80) and his son Christoph Frederich were two unusual and effective German pastors who influenced Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Among other things, they emphasized that the kingdom of God was to come and fulfill the earth, that the Christian hope was not primarily about an otherworldly hereafter.

If you haven’t already encountered the Blumhardts, the best place to start is with Vernard Eller’s edited selections of their texts, Thy Kingdom Come (Eerdmans, 1980). The Blumhardts are bracing and even thrilling to read. Their pastoral theology is written in simple language, but is profound. Here’s a taste.

Where in all the scriptures does God comfort man with a hereafter? The earth  shall be filled with the glory of God. According to the Bible, that is the meaning of all the promises. Jesus, come in the flesh, what is his will? Of course, nothing other than the honor of his Father on earth. In his own person, through his advent, he put a seed into the earth. He would be the light of men; and those who were his he called “the light of the world” and the “salt of the earth.” His purpose is the raising up of the earth and the generations of man out of the curse of sin and death toward the revelation of eternal life and glory.

Why else did he heal the sick and wake the dead? Why did he exalt the poor and hungry? Surely not in order to tell them that that would be blessed after death, but because the kingdom of God was near. Of course, God has a way out for those who, unfortunately, must suffer death; he gives them refuge in the beyond. But shall this necessary comfort now be made the main thing? Shall the kingdom of God be denied for earth and perpetuated only in the kingdom of death, simply because God wants also to dry the tears of the dead? It is to discard the whole meaning of the Bible if one argues, “We have nothing to expect on earth; it must be abandoned as the home of man.”

Truly, within the human structures of sin, we have no lasting home; we must seek what is coming. But what is it, then, that is coming? The revealing of an earth cleansed of sin and death. That is the homeland we seek. There is no other to be sought, because we do not have, and there cannot come to be, anything other than what God intended for us in the creation.

The Catechesis of Pocahontas

This week I worked on a fascinating forthcoming Cascade title from theologian Howard Snyder, Jesus and Pocahontas: Gospel, Mission, and National Myth. Howard retells the story of the famous Powhatan Native American, Pocahontas, and considers how the myth of Pocahontas has been used in American history. Thoroughly researched, the book ranges across the now considerable body of literature on Pocahontas, to the Disney movie and Terrence Malick’s The New World. 

One aspect of Pocahontas’s life is often left out of these fictional depictions: she was a convert to Christianity and was baptized in the faith. Howard considers Pocahontas’s faith in depth. She was in fact catechized  one-on-one for a year by Alexander Whitaker, a Cambridge-educated missionary to the Jamestown settlement. As Howard points out, few if any of us contemporary Christians are the benefit of such intense and high-quality education in the faith.

Since historians have reference to the seventeenth-century Book of Common Prayer and the catechetical methods of Whitaker’s day, we can actually know quite a bit about the method and content of Pocahontas’s catechesis. Here’s a passage from Jesus and Pocahontas that gives a taste.

What did Whitaker actually teach Pocahontas? How did she respond? The main focus was the Bible and the Catechism itself. The Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer were part of the catechism and would of course have been stressed. Presumably Pocahontas memorized them, as required. The Catechism also included the Apostles’ Creed and teaching on the sacraments . . . With this instruction, Pocahontas was now ready to answer all Whitaker’s catechetical questions.

Following the prescribed instructions, Whitaker asked: “What is your name?”

The simple question immediately got Pocahontas’s attention! Names were a big deal among the Powhatan. Whitaker and Pocahontas likely had some interesting discussion at this point. Here (if not earlier) she would have to explain that Pocahontas was actually a nickname, and that her birth name was Amonute.

The next question was also tricky: “Who gave you this name?” The prescribed answer was, “My Godfathers and Godmothers in my Baptism, wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.” Since this didn’t apply, Pocahontas needed to explain Powhatan naming customs.

In Anglican infant baptism, godparents in behalf of the child vowed to “forsake the devil, and all his works and pomps, the vanities of the wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh,” to “believe all the articles of the Christian faith,” and to “keep God’s holy will and Commandments, and walk in the same all the days of my life.” Since this also didn’t apply, Whitaker would have asked the question directly of Pocahontas. Then he asked, “Dost thou not think that thou art bound to believe and to do, as they have promised for thee?”

She would have responded as taught: “Yes verily, and by God’s help I will. And I heartily thank our heavenly Father, that he hath called me to this state of salvation, through Jesus Christ our Saviour. And I pray God to give me his grace, that I may continue in the same unto my life’s end.”

Pocahontas was next to recite the Apostles’ Creed and the Ten Commandments. These, Pocahontas was to say, taught her “my duty towards God, and my duty towards my neighbour.” Her duty toward God, the Catechism taught, was “to believe in him, to fear [reverence] him, and to love him with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul, and with all my strength. To put my whole trust in him. To call upon him. To honor his holy name and his word, and to serve him truly all the days of my life.”

C. S. Lewis and Footnotes

Lately I’ve been thinking on writing another book. I’m toying with the idea of writing the book without any notes (footnotes or endnotes), in an essayistic fashion. I often think about how I want my books to find the broadest possible readership, and footnotes famously scare away more popularly-oriented readers. There’s also a kind of timelessness to books (done well) that forgo notes and rely on the author’s thorough digestion of the topic, as well a willingness to write in a fashion that goes deep and does not simply rely on the “latest scholarship.” But it’s not easy to do this well. For one thing, you have to forgo quotes of other writers, which is not easy to do if you’ve done extensive research and appreciated so much of what others have had to say and how they have said it. For another, great care must be taken to avoid plagiarism.

My musings took me back to the popular writings of C. S. Lewis, such as Mere Christianity. Lewis of course wrote without footnotes. He was able to do so, and do so well, because of his thorough mastery of the material setting in the wings of his work. Lewis vividly and compellingly drew on the church fathers. Mere Christianity, without many readers knowing it, is a master class in the patristics and its leading concepts. Lewis read, marked, and inwardly digested this material until it was his own. Then, to use an unappealing metaphor, he regurgitated it in his own unique and captivating form. We his readers are like baby birds gobbling predigested nutrition from the maw of a mother bird—in this case, an especially brilliant and eloquent mother bird.

Besides his deep mastery of the material, Lewis’s writing relies on at least two other factors for its appeal. First, Lewis wrote with great clarity. His syntax is always flawless. The antecedents in sentences and paragraphs are always obvious and never difficult to ascertain. Second, Lewis employed metaphors with flair. Metaphors juxtapose two unlike realities, pleasantly surprising us with something they hold in common. Lewis’s use of metaphors brings great pleasure to reading his work.

But to return to the issue of footnotes: the absence of footnotes in Lewis’s work means it is easy to read and follow. It means the prose flows smoothly and without interruption. However, it also means that readers aren’t clued in on thinkers and writers on which Lewis relies. We are deprived of the opportunity—and the joy—of following footnotes to other books we might want to read. Because there are no quotations, we are also deprived of the expression of figures in the wings of Lewis’s text—and that includes writers such as Augustine, who was a master of prose (and the metaphor) himself.

So where does this leave me? I’m still pondering seriously the writing of a book sans footnotes. But  I’m keenly aware that such writing is difficult to do well, and know that I must take serious account of my own abilities before proceeding. And I’m aware the writing without notes may be a gift to the reader in some ways, but in other ways (such as robbing  the reader of footnotes to chase other books he or she might want to read) is a deprivation. As so often in writing and publishing, there are tradeoffs.

Lily King’s “Euphoria”

I’m a sucker for novels that cross cultures and show their characters in an unusual setting. I enjoy historical novels for this purpose, as well as the occasional novel that is less set in the past than in a contemporary culture quite unlike my own. Lily King’s Euphoria (Atlantic Monthly Press), then, is a perfect story for me.

It’s set in the Papua New Guinea of the 1930s. The central characters are three anthropologists, the British Andrew Bankson, and the Australian Fen and his American wife Nell Stone. We’re given an intimate and vivid portrait of anthropologists at work. The book captures the isolation and loneliness of these cultural detectives; it depicts the tribal people they are studying with immediacy and detail. As the book opens, Bankson is frustrated by the paucity of results from his research and haunted by the ghosts of his distant family. Like Virginia Woolf, he puts stones in his pockets and walks into water, attempting suicide by drowning. The indigenous people save him, and not long after he meets Nell and Fen.

We see Fen’s and especially Nell’s working methods. We watch as Bankson and Nell gradually fall in love and the fragile marriage of Nell and Fen is threatened. Thus Euphoria becomes, in addition to everything else it is, something of a tortured love story. This fraught love story reminds us that all cultures, and not just the ones anthropologists study at a remove, are complicated and tricky to negotiate.

Loosely based on the experiences of the famous Margaret Mead, Euphoria is a remarkable glimpse into strange worlds. I don’t know how accurate anthropologists will find its depiction of the work, but it rings true on the human level and offers up a powerful story.

Michel Faber’s “The Book of Strange New Things”

Over the holidays I finished Michel Faber’s recently published novel, The Book of Strange New Things. It’s literary science fiction, set in the near but indefinite future. The protagonist is Peter Leigh, a missionary traveled to a distant world called Oasis. The space-spanning corporation that occupies Oasis is desperate for a missionary to the “natives,” since the corporation itself is incapable of growing food on  Oasis and is dependent on the locals for that necessary good. And the locals won’t provide food unless they are pastored by a missionary. The Oasans have been  evangelized by a former missionary, who has mysteriously disappeared. Leigh is chosen to take his place.

There’s a complication. Though Peter is chosen by the corporation as a missionary, it rejects Peter’s wife, Beatrice. Thus he goes to the fantastically distant Oasis without her. Here’s where the book is a bit of a love story. Through some introductory material and Peter’s musings, we learn that Beatrice, a nurse, has been a very equal and much beloved mate. While Peter is learning the indigenous people’s language and culture, he desperately misses Bea. Their only form of communication is long text messages beamed across the yawning chasm of space. Things are falling apart on earth—catastrophic storms and food shortages, the crumbling of government services. Peter is inspired by the Oasans’ childlike faith and captivated by their gentle and quiet way of life. One disaster after another, missing Peter, and tragic personal circumstances are too much for Bea. She’s losing her faith.

Faber’s novel is a sensitive and sympathetic portrayal of people of faith. It doesn’t have the theological depth of Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, a similar story of a missionary to another world deep in space. It also moves a bit too slowly, sometimes to no real end—and speaking of ends, it leaves some of those untied. But overall, it’s an intriguing read, an alternative well created with a believable—and struggling—Christian at its center.


Making Christmas Merry Year Round for Your Editors

Over the years I’ve received some gifts from authors, not least a bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon. Such gifts are appreciated. But there are, as they say, gifts to that keep on giving. And one of those, for editors, are proposals and manuscripts submitted in excellent shape. So here are some gifts authors can give editors that benefit both authors and editors. And they can be given year round—who doesn’t like Christmas in July?

1. Submit a full proposal. As we editors consider your proposals, one of our frustrations is with proposals that are provide partial or incomplete information about your projects. The best way to assure that we receive all the information we need is to fill out our proposal submission form.  We can’t adequately review a proposal if we don’t have a total (projected) word count. Nor can we do justice to a proposal if you don’t include a listing of chapter titles with short (200 words or fewer) descriptions of each chapter. The proposal forms also allow us editors to review the material swiftly and with smooth communication between editors. And you’re doing yourself a favor by filling out the proposal form, and filling it out in full, since an impartial form or impartial information means we usually have to go back to the author for more information. That of course delays full and final consideration of your proposal.

2. Use footnotes in the manuscript. There is a meme that authors will find a manuscript more friendly to read with endnotes. That’s incorrect. Footnotes are much simpler for consultation, having all pertinent information at the bottom of the page, than endnotes, which require the reader to flip back and forth from chapter to the end of the book. Footnotes with a carefully constructed bibliography allow the reader to find full information on a book easily. We sometimes make exceptions and allow endnotes, but it’s not optimal. Also, please note our author style guide and provide short footnotes (with author, short book title [no subtitle], and page cited). The full information is found in the bibliography, for those cases where readers want to find it. See Appendix B in our Author Guide for more guidance on this.

3. Submit all your material at once. When you’ve contracted a book with us and are ready to submit the final manuscript, it’s a great help to submit all your material (including the foreword) at once. Having material dribble in in pieces is a hassle and increases the chance that something will get lost or garbled in the transition.

These guidelines, again, will benefit both author and editor. In the meantime, and whatever the hassles, it’s important to be clear how much we appreciate our authors. You are  wonderful and brilliant people. It’s a privilege to work on your books and play a role in bringing them to publication. A merry and wonderfully restorative Christmas to you all.



Avoiding Plagiarism

This past week bloggers accused Malcolm Gladwell and The New Yorker of plagiarism. That’s especially notable because of The New Yorker’s famously rigorous fact-checking and proofreading. I’m not impressed with the case that Gladwell plagiarized, but the allegations remind us how much easier it is to track possible plagiarism in the age of the Internet and search engines. It’s ironic in that the Internet and search engines also make it easier to commit plagiarism and, arguably, the total amount of plagiarism has increased in the digital age.

The Gladwell case is specious in part because magazine journalism, without footnotes, cannot as fully (at least without considerable clumsiness) cite every distant allusion. But in book publishing, with our apparatus of footnotes, we do not have that excuse. Here are some guidelines authors can consider as they (you) write their books and seek to avoid plagiarism.

1. Avoiding plagiarism begins at the research stage. You know the old saw, “Originality is a matter of forgetting where you read it first.” Notetaking and other research, at even the earliest stages, should include careful citation of sources. Otherwise it’s simply too easy to later adapt something whose origin you’ve forgotten, and claim it as your own. Pastors especially should be aware of this caution. Since their books often involve adaptation of sermons, Sunday school lessons, Bible studies, and the like, if they’re planning to write and adapt some of this material, notetaking from the beginning should include indications on where quotes and unique information came from.

2. Avoiding plagiarism isn’t accomplished simply by changing a few words from a source. It isn’t enough to crib a quote and merely change some wording. Plagiarism includes the lifting of unique information, and not merely wording. So if you’re borrowing a unique idea or information, that calls for citation.

3. Avoiding plagiarism calls for special sensitivity with metaphors or similes. These figures of speech are original and need citation every time. Borrowing them without attribution is behavior as welcome as a fart in a clown car. Of course, there are many metaphors and similes that have entered the common parlance (like “fart in a clown car”) and have no clear originators. In such cases no attribution is necessary—but then other rules can come into play, since lively and effective writing avoids cliches.

4. Avoiding plagiarism has no technological fixes, but there are some helps. Plagiarism is prevented by assiduous research (with sourced notetaking) and by honorable sourcing and citation in the published piece. There are no simple (or complex) technological fixes for avoiding plagiarism, then, but there are some devices now developed that can provide an assist. These are websites and apps (such as Grammarly) into which you can paste your work and have them surf the net to detect similar or identical wording in other documents. Obviously, this does not detect the borrowing of ideas, but it may prevent you from inadvertently quoting another source whose origin you’ve forgotten.


A New Heaven and a New Earth

Some years ago, when I was an editor with Brazos/Baker Academic, I acquired a project that has just now come to fruition. That book is J. Richard Middleton’s A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Baker Academic). Richard’s work is a sweeping—and exegetically detailed—survey of the argument that the earth is not to be left behind at the end of history as we know it. Instead, God will transform the “old” heavens (which are a creation of God themselves) and earth, because all creation is a part of God’s salvific work through Israel and Jesus Christ. Richard’s account is grounded in the early chapters of Genesis, with the image of God including humanity’s co-regency in seeing creation reach its full potential. He sees the imago Dei as a concern throughout the Old Testament and into the New. He builds on the clear Old Testament lack of a disembodied heaven as the final destination of humanity, and points to prophets such as Isaiah and their hope for a healed and perfected earthly realm. Firmly grounded, he then looks to New Testament eschatology (such as the “groaning” creation in Romans 8 and, especially, Revelation 21–22), and offers a “holistic eschatological” reading of texts that have often been thought to hearken a once-for-all destroyed creation (such as as 2 Peter 3:10–13) or promise a final destination in paradise immediately after death (John 14:1–3).

A bonus to this masterful treatment is Middleton’s appendix, “Whatever Happened to the New Earth?” Here Richard explores the history of eschatology, especially with an eye for any hope of a renewed creation. He finds the early church fathers weak in this regard. Origen develops an entirely disembodied eschatology. Others, such as Justin and Irenaeus, affirm a millennial reign that includes creation, but see it fading away into a final paradisal state that is altogether spiritual. Methodius offers conflicting accounts, on the one hand seeing the millennial creation give way to a spiritual state, and on the other hand arguing, “God did not establish the universe in vain, or to no purpose but destruction . . .”

But this early hope for at least a millennial new creation dissipates in later church history. Augustine, says Middleton, espouses the view “that the ultimate goal of earthly history is a heavenly realm beyond history.” This Augustinian expectation holds through the Middle Ages and, to some degree, the Reformation. Luther and Calvin can speak of a new heavens and new earth, but typically refer to the final state simply as “heaven.” A similar tendency holds into the modern period, with important exceptions. John Wesley, in his later years, appreciated more and more the value of earthly creation. In his sermons “we find Wesley’s explicit and sustained focus on the ultimate redemption of the entire cosmos (including ‘brute creation’).” In the nineteenth century, Ellen G. White’s Seventh-day Adventist Church looked to a renewed and restored cosmos. And important exponents of the Stone-Campbell movement did as well.

It is in the twentieth and twenty-first century that we have seen something of a boom in holistic eschatology. George Eldon Ladd’s writings “articulated a consistent theology of the redemption of the created order.” Reformed writers such as Anthony Hoekema and Vern Poythress have done the same. The Kuyperian or Neocalvinian tradition (with representatives such as Herman Bavinck and G. C. Berkouwer) has as well. Contemporary writers in this tradition and promoting a cosmic, material redemption include Brian Walsh, Sylvia Keesmaat, Al Wolters, Steven Bouma-Prediger, Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Paul Marshall, Michael Goheen, and Craig Bartholomew. Wesleyan writers such as Howard Snyder, in his Cascade book coauthored by Joel Scandrette, Salvation Means Creation Healed, have also contributed to this trend. But, as Middleton puts it, “In recent years, . . . perhaps no biblical scholar has given the New Testament teaching of the redemption of creation such wide exposure as N. T. Wright.” The prolific Wright has especially explored the topic in his popular Surprised by Hope and in the scholarly book The Resurrection of the Son of God. 

Of course, it remains to be seen if the holistic eschatological perspective will spread through the entire church and become dominant. I hope it will. If it does, Middleton’s A New Heaven and a New Earth will surely be seen as a key text in that shift.


Walking (Dead) in Circles

I have been a viewer of AMC-TV’s The Walking Dead since its inception. I’ve appreciated the twists on the zombie trope, and especially the deep character development of leading and subordinate players. Now in its fifth season, however, I think the show is getting a little tired. That’s not before it has had some refreshing developments in its current season—the cannibals were macabre and developed with some dark humor.

Nor is the show without its theological, or anti-theological, turns. The zombies, as within the genre as a whole, are essentially a parody of the resurrection of the body. Of course, zombies don’t possess transformed bodies (and they seem soul-less, essentially without any spiritual component). Their bodies aren’t eternal: they eventually rot away, a progression that Walking Dead has tried to portray with ever more gross makeup and puppetry. All this is a subtext, but the show now and then drifts into explicitly theological (or, again, anti-theological) comment. That occurred this season in the episode “Four Walls and a Roof.” Our protagonists lured the cannibals into an old church, and there hyper-violently  beat and crushed them to death. The priest of the church protested the carnage inside the building, saying, “But this is God’s holy house.” Maggie flatly answered, “No, it’s just four walls and a roof.”

But here’s why I say the show is getting tired: Now the heroes are simply stuck in a godless world, wandering from one place to the next, killing some zombies, wandering to another place, killing some zombies, and so on ad nauseum. We had a chance to break out of this cycle with the character Eugene, purportedly a scientist close to arriving at a cure for the zombie disease. He claimed that he needed to travel to Washington, D.C. to meet up with other scientists and there arrive at a cure. But two episodes ago we learned that Eugene was an impostor. He was no scientist, he admitted, and simply a coward under prestigious cover that might bring him some advantages.

It would have opened up a new direction for the development of the story if Eugene was for real—there would have been new possibilities as the heroes had a fresh mission or objective. But with Eugene as a fake, we are back to the same old wandering, killing some zombies, then wandering some more, killing some more zombies, rinse and repeat. The series is without an overall arc. It’s walking (dead) in circles. Best to end it soon, before it becomes altogether too tiring. But don’t bet on that happening. Zombies don’t die easily.


Prayer: Maintaining the Equilibrium of the World

From John Climacus, a sixth-century monk on Mount Sinai, sainted in the Roman Catholic, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic churches:

Prayer is union with God and colloquy with him.

Prayer maintains the equilibrium of the world, reconciles people to God, produces holy tears, forms a bridge over temptations, and acts as a buttress between us and affliction.

Prayer drives away the struggles of the spirit. It is the blessedness to come. It is an action that will never come to an end.

Prayer is a spring of the virtues, it is an illumination of the mind, it is a curtain to shut out despair, it is a sign of hope, it is victory over depression.

Prayer is a mirror in which we see our steps forward, it is a signpost of the route to follow, it is an unveiling of good things to come, it is a pledge of glory.

Prayer, for one who prays truly, is the soul’s tribunal, it is the Lord’s judgment on that person now, in advance of the final judgment.

Prayer is the queen of the virtues which summons us with a loud voice and says to us again: “Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you perfect rest! Take my yoke upon you! You will find peace for your souls and healing for your wounds! For my yoke is easy and can restore the greatest fall.”

Let your prayer be very simple. For the tax-collector and the prodigal son just one word was enough to reconcile them with God.

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