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Jude 0.5 - The Letter That Almost Was
& a review of The Medieval Mind of C. S. Lewis by Jason M. Baxter
Before I get to the articles for today, if you didn’t see earlier this week we released the latest issue of SEND, a collection of articles for the glory of God and the good of His people. I’m so thankful to everyone who contributed, please do go and check that out—you can find it right here.
Also, if you missed this week’s episode of Consider the Ravens—in which we discussed some of the books we’ve read in the past month and how to read books critically—you can listen to that right here:
Without further adieu, this week we are continuing our series through the book of Jude, and I’ve also got a review of “The Medieval Mind of C. S. Lewis: How Great Books Shaped a Great Mind” by Jason M. Baxter
“Dear friends, although I was eager to write you about the salvation we share, I found it necessary to write, appealing to you to contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all.”
Christian Standard Bible, (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), Jude 3
“You know what?”
“… oh don’t worry.”
Thus begins the fury. I don’t know about you, but when people do this it drives me absolutely up the wall. Either tell me or don’t mention it, it’s not that hard! I don’t know why Jude mentions what he intended to write here, perhaps he’d been asked to write about Salvation, or had promised to do so, but whatever reasoning he had behind that wish, it wasn’t the letter he ended up writing. I didn’t just want to gloss over this point though, and so we’ll spend two weeks on this verse rather than one.
Written by Man, Breathed out by God
What is clear here—but is important for us to understand whenever we read scripture—is that this letter, this book, is written by a man who is committed to listening to and obeying the inspiration of the Lord. When I say inspiration, I don’t mean it in the way we often use it. I might say that a poem was inspired by my wife, or even that a song was inspired by my love for the Lord, but that’s not the same as scriptural inspiration. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 we read:
“All Scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Christian Standard Bible, (Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), 2 Timothy 3:16–17
Inspired here, literally means “to breathe into/out” All Scripture is breathed out by God. Interestingly, medically speaking, to inspire means the opposite, the act of drawing in breath.
Essentially, the process of Scriptures works then like this, which I find helpful:
God breathes into man → man breathes in. God inspires → man inspires.
This process doesn’t mean that the personality of the writer, the scribe, or the narrator is overridden by the Spirit and then dispensed with for the duration of the letter, but rather that the Spirit inspires the person to write and then they write together. This is a mystery, and the exact workings of this will be unknown to us this side of eternity, but this much is clear, that Jude cares deeply for those he’s writing to, he has a deep desire to speak about salvation, but that the Spirit has other plans.
Sidenote: The Letter that was not
I must quickly attend to the idea that this verse has been misunderstood and that this letter is the very letter that Jude wanted to write. I won’t go into this in great detail but sufficed to say that this letter is largely concerned with our active participation in contending for and living in the faith.
Though both Salvation and Faith are gifts from God, not earned but given, and it is true that we live in the light of Salvation and Faith, there is an active component that we bring to Faith which is not true of Salvation. It’s important to keep that in mind as we read this letter.
I’m just struck once again at Jude’s humility. I want to take a moment to recognise that if Jude, the brother of Christ and one who would have every reason not to want to accept that the price for his sins would have to be paid by that same brother. Imagine if you had to believe a sibling or a family member was the desire, wouldn’t you rage against that? It’s also not as if this was always obvious to Jude, we’ve mentioned before about how he was not a disciple or believer in Jesus during his earthly ministry, but rather he accepted faith after his resurrection and ascension into heaven.
Take a moment to consider these things.
What are you currently holding onto, what plan of yours is more important to you than the one God has laid out at your feet? Secondly, have you accepted that Jesus paid it all, the whole price for your sins, on the cross? Please don’t get me wrong, Jude is not the hero of this story, though I’m struck by his humility, I know who humbled him and that’s who I’m ultimately in awe of too. This week’s article is a little shorter, only because I wanted to take the necessary time to think about the letter which could have been. I’m not sure how much of an article this really is if I’m being honest, I just wanted to get my thoughts out on the page. This book is remarkable and I don’t want to leave any part of it untapped. To simply say:
“Jude didn’t write that, he wrote this. Anyway…” Would not be right, because that’s not how I read the bible, and it’s not how I want you to read the bible either. I know how often people have done this same thing with, for instance, genealogies, or lists, or when a story occurs in more than one place. We think, “I know this,” or, “These are just names.” Please can I encourage you to take time to plumb the depths of what you think to be boring, you never know what will be uncovered. This isn't to find hidden knowledge, in fact, there’s nothing this short article I could not have said better by expounding upon other scriptures, that’s the truth, but seeing them appear here bolsters my faith and encourages me.
All quotes are from the book unless otherwise stated.
There are a handful of writers who are seemingly universally loved throughout the Christian community, from passionate Protestants to committed Catholics, and Lewis is most certainly one of them. This book performs an excavation of the mind of the great man by examining the elements from which it was built—works of literature from throughout history, but principally from the Medieval period. If you’re a writer, I would especially encourage you to read this book, to perform a similar excavation on your own mind, and then decide which works, which elements, you should absorb next to round out the edges of your current literary ability. Here are some pointers from the book about how to do that.
Unlike modern pedantic scholars who are obsessed with their specialisation and, thus, inordinately attach to the periodisation of history, Lewis's mind ranged generously over time: "[My authors] are, you will note, a mixed bag, representative of many Churches, climates and ages."
I have spoken on many occasions about the idea of Ancient Friends, the practice of finding particular theologians, pastors, and writers from throughout Church history to ‘check your work for you,’ so to speak. As a writer, and as was certainly the case with Lewis, this group of friends broadens yet further to include not only those who will check over the content of your work but also the rhythm, structure, and aesthetic.
Clive Staples ‘Jack’ Lewis was a master of writing because he had purchased volumes from the masters of literary history—Dante, Boethius, Plato—and then allowed them to master him. By doing so, by being a student of many disciplines, a Jack-of-all-trades if ever there was one, he was able to be both unique in his style, as well as consistent in his continuation of the theology he had received from Church History. Though I wouldn’t always agree with Lewis on the particulars—I’ve heard it said that Lewis could agree with and disagree with Christians of all stripes—there a reason he is quoted more often than many other scholars and theologians, where others may have expounded upon a point more eloquently and at length, Lewis was undoubtedly able to speak truth with more brevity and beauty. Oh, that we would learn to do the same, oh that I would learn to do the same. As Lewis himself said:
"You must translate every bit of your Theology into the vernacular?"
How do you think about the past?
“IN THE POPULAR IMAGINATION, as Lewis joked more than once, the term "Middle Ages" evokes a misty blend of knights, castles, witch trials, torture devices, armour, superstitious peasants (covered in dirt), and maybe a dragon and princess thrown in to boot. Need it be said? That was not how Lewis envisioned the time period. Rather, as he pointed out in all of his academic writing, the medieval period was not an age of primitive superstition, but one of bookish sophistication… and anyone who has wandered around a great, Old World cathedral, like Salisbury Cathedral, has some idea of what Lewis's comparison means: it is a paradoxical juxtaposition of astonishing variety, meticulous order, and a saturation of light.”
Lewis’ attitude to the past was one of curiosity. He raged against what he named Chronological Snobbery and practised what I have here named Chronological Humility.
As Christians, we of all people should have a right view of history, and of the men and women who wrote on its pages. My wife put it brilliantly the other day while we were chatting about this book:
“It’s a mistake to think that the mind of man progressed along with his technology. We may have gotten to space, but we are still as fallen as we were in the garden.”
Anna Ravenhill (United Kingdom, some random day in February 2022)
If you are going to view yourself rightly, you won’t see yourself as the next big thing or on the cusp of something new but rather you’ll be speaking old truths anew in a new context. What’s more, things can so quickly become relevant again, and being reactive can often lead to error. If we instead look to what others have said before us in similar situations the thinking will mostly be done for us, with the application left for us to figure out. An interesting example is in this very book, at one point the author points to an example of writing about the Atomic Bomb but says that to contextualise it we could just replace those words with ‘Global Pandemic’… Well, this book is set for release in the next couple of weeks and once again the original is seeming pretty relevant.
What this book does so well—which I’ve not encountered anywhere else—is illustrate how Lewis reappropriated themes, styles, truths, and even characters in new and vibrant ways. It also explains why Lewis slipped into this ability so easily, as a man living in the medieval period in his mind, life, and scholarship, he how prevalent this was in that time. It is not an oddity to find that Dante expounded upon the Lord’s Prayer by expanding and rewriting it in his own words, or the compilation of tales included in Le Morte D’Arthur. In our day and age where reworking, revising, or regurgitating the same five stories and characters over and over has become both par for the course and deeply resented, how can we as Christians show that there’s a better and more sanctified way? Well, read this book to find out!
Thinking Past Tomorrow
“Every action's an act of creation
I'm laughin' in the face of casualties and sorrow
For the first time, I'm thinkin' past tomorrow
And I am not throwin' away my shot”
Hamilton, My Shot, Lin Manuel Miranda, 2015
Hamilton’s hope here was predicated upon his own grandeur and the opportunities he’d now been given. His shot, the one which would claim his life, would come as a direct response to this mentality, this pride. Hope in ourselves—though it might not lead to a duel with a rival and eventual death—will eventually kill us. If we submit every act of creation to the creator, however, if we laugh in the face of death because it has no sting, we will look past tomorrow, beyond the end of time and into eternity.
“Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Christian Standard Bible, (Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), John 6:68
Ultimately, Lewis was able to write how he did, look back how he did, and live the way he did not because he was looking back, but because he knew the one who had the words of eternal life.
This book ends with the words:
“We must move forward and look beyond.”
I cannot stress how important this is. Imagine if you knew tomorrow you would come into $1,000,000,000 how would that make your current balance look? No matter how much you have at present, 10c - $1,000,000 it would seem insignificant in comparison. When we view our present age in the light of eternity, this effect is compounded, what is 100 years ago, or 1000, if we know that eternity is right around the corner. We would view history with a lot less snobbery.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably a Christian Writer and so I commit this book into your hands as a part of the canon of books we use to help us develop as writers. I know those are big words, but I can’t stress enough how important this book is. If you admire Lewis at all, this book is integral reading if you want to understand him and his writing better. It’s also integral reading if you want to understand yourself as a writer and your writing better.
Please pick this book up and let it read you as you read it.
That’s all for today, don’t forget to check out SEND Issue #2 and Consider the Ravens episode 8: