Tag Archives: Books

Memento Mori

by Randy Corn

Recently while reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, I came across the Latin expression memento mori. Isaacson explains that when a Roman general returned victorious from battle he was given a Triumph, a grand parade, where many gifts and honors were bestowed upon him.  Throughout all of this, a servant would follow the general repeating, “Memento mori,” which loosely translates into “Remember that you have to die.” This is from the chapter in Isaacson’s book where the cancer diagnosis, which would eventually take Jobs’s life, is first mentioned.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). We all observe the fact that people die, and yet in spite of Scripture and experience most of us fail to consider our own mortality—that is until a doctor brings us a life threatening diagnosis.

About a year ago that happened to me. It put me on an unfamiliar path. I had been the care-giver throughout my pastoral career; now I was the one being cared for. Now I was the one being prayed for, not the one praying. As is typical for me, I began to look around for books to help me on this journey. I found some that have been particularly helpful, and I believe would be a resource for both the suffering and those who want to understand and minister comfort. Most of these are not Christian books, but they are honest in picturing the struggle of men and women wrestling with their own mortality.

  1. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi, Random House, 2016

This book was recommended to me by my neurologist and is one of the best written books I have come across. The author, who was a neurosurgeon in training, tells of being diagnosed with terminal cancer and how he spent the 22 months until his death. As a doctor he had a clinical view of death, but when it was his life ebbing away his perspective slowly changed. Readers can find themselves somewhere on that learning curve.

  1. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, Broadway Books, 1997

This book details the story of a college professor who is dying of ALS.  He reconnects with one of his favorite students from years earlier who had gone on to be a successful sports writer. The two get together each Tuesday for the professor to talk about life and death. The reader feels as though he has taken a seat beside the bed of a wise man who wants to impart that wisdom before it is too late.

  1. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow, Hatchette Books, 2008

Pausch was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University. He developed cancer, and though he tried to beat it with a radical procedure, he did not.  He knew from about six months out that his death was imminent. This led to what the university called his “last lecture.” It is a tradition at many schools for a retiring professor to give such a talk.  Pausch was extended this opportunity and took it. The result was a memoir of sorts, packed with common sense rules for life. If there is such a thing as an upbeat book about death, this is it.

  1. The View from a Hearse by Joe Bayly, Clearnote Press, 1969

This book is one of the many recommendations made by Warren Wiersbe from his book, Walking with the Giants. It is from his chapter on the “Minister as Comforter.” I can see why he recommended this book. Bayly is a Christian minister who has served in both local church and Christian college settings, but his understanding of this subject is not merely theoretical. Beyond ministering to the dying and their families, he has lost three of his own children.  He discusses such subjects as praying for healing and gives some very practical advice about counseling the dying and those who love them.

There are many more books on this subject, some of which I have read. But these are the ones that I feel have the most potential benefit both for the dying and for those who minister to them. Only Bayly’s book has a clear Christian perspective on death, but the others are what might be called examples of common grace. They have wisdom and even inspiration to share with us.

Favorite Books in 2015

by Theological Commission

It is the time of year when many readers are finishing up their last minute Christmas shopping. But by now, many who read blogs will also be seeing “Top Books” lists of many shapes and sizes. Sometimes these can be difficult to wade through as they point to a seemingly endless supply of Christian books that most of us know we’ll simply never have time to read. On the other hand, reading multiple lists such as these can be helpful since key books will no doubt surface on more than one list, making them easier to identify them as books worth one’s time.

Members of the Theological Commission sympathize with the challenges Christians face in selecting good books, and so we have offered our own effort toward helping our readers make good selections as they move forward into 2016 (this will be our final regular post of the year).

Below are list of books that we have enjoyed reading this year, ones which were intellectually stimulating for any number of reasons. Each Commission member has identified one specific favorite, along with two Honorable Mentions. We would only further offer one caveat, which is that our enjoyment/recommendation of any book is not to be taken as a blanket endorsement of the entirety of any book’s argument. We hope that the work of the Commission through the years has helped equip our readers to discern theological arguments and trends that are sometimes contrary to historic faith and practice of Free Will Baptists, and the larger Christian tradition.

With this said, we offer these recommendations and we also say ‘Merry Christmas’ and a ‘Happy New Year’! Continue reading Favorite Books in 2015

On C.S. Lewis & Chronological Snobbery

by Matthew Pinson

In my courses at Welch College, I often introduce my students to C. S. Lewis’s comments on “chronological snobbery.” Lewis described himself before he became a Christian, when he was still an atheist, as a chronological snob. He defined chronological snobbery as the “uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited” [1].

Lewis believed that this was what kept so many modern intellectuals from accepting Christianity. But he urged his colleagues not to be chronological snobs, insisting:

You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also ‘a period,’ and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them [2].

This is why Lewis recommended reading old books. In his introduction to Athanasius’s The Incarnation of the Word of God, Lewis comments on this. It was later printed under the title “On the Reading of Old Books” [3].

 It’s a good rule after reading a new book never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to three new ones. Every age has its own outlook. It is especially good at seeing certain truths and especially liable to make certain mistakes. We all therefore need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means old books. . . . None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. . . . The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds and this can only be done by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them [4].

Recently I came across another quotation from Lewis on this theme. It was on the website of, of all things, an asset management firm. You can see why an asset management firm would be quoting someone about not taking just the recent past as our guide for wisdom. Asset managers and investors must look at what markets do over the long haul, not just at current trends, to advise people on how to invest their money. Listen to this incisive quote:

 “Most of all we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village. The scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age” [5].

Now, of course, I think Lewis would agree that this ability to “live in many times” is not limited to professional scholars. Anyone who wants to put forth the effort and “read old books,” learning from the wisdom of the Christian tradition (and the Free Will Baptist tradition in our case) will reap the benefits of which Lewis speaks.

Lewis’s lessons here are ones that we evangelicals in the early part of the twenty-first century need to learn. Many of us are quick to point out chronological snobbery in liberal theology, progressive politics, and the license with which modern liberal judges interpret the U.S. Constitution. But we also need to avoid chronological snobbery when it comes to our church lives. This is not to say that we do everything “just the way grandpa did it.” Yet it is to say that we need to avoid the trendiness and ecclesiastical fashionableness that we evangelicals seem to be so tempted by these days.

So I exhort you: resist the modern temptation to be a chronological snob. Read old books in addition to modern ones. And let the clean sea breeze of the centuries blow through your mind!

__________________________

[1] Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1966), 207-08.

[2] Ibid.

[3] In God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 200-207.

[4] Ibid.,

[5] The sermon from which this quotation comes can be found at Bradley G. Green’s excellent website: http://bradleyggreen.com/attachments/Lewis.Learning%20in%20War-Time.pdf. “Learning in War-Time,” a sermon preached in Oxford, UK, 1939.