Friday, November 30, 2012

Tall Tales: The Pink of Perfection, Part Four

Welcome, friends and fellow bibliophiles, to the final article on the Elsie controversies. Today we are exploring three final controversies, looking at the A Life of Faith series, and wrapping up the series generally.

The Victorian age of literature was the last gateway in conservative children's fiction. After that came WWI, and the rise of the flapper generation. Now children read pretty much about anything. Tween girls' series are full of drugs, midnight parties, and the boyfriend/girlfriend scenes--that's Christian fiction, by the way. I've never attempted the non-Christian. Almost every children's book has incompetent parents, situational ethics, and a good few lies thrown in for seasoning.

That's why, in the midst of all this immoral claptrap, Elsie's purity blows a sweet and refreshing breeze on our generation. She may not be perfect. She has her faults and failings like every one of us. But she is a safe haven for girls bombarded with more information than they're ready to handle, or needing a rest from constant evaluation. I'm not saying we shouldn't think when we read her books. But sometimes we all need a time where we find a book that's tried and true.

So let's knock out the last three conflicts that are often posed when Elsie is brought up.

Conflict #9: Elsie's A Doormat
Several women express the fact that they don't like Elsie's humility. Girls Elsie's age, these women say, need to stand up for right, regardless of whether the rights infringed upon are theirs or anyone else's. Being a doormat to other people's whims is psychologically damaging, and just plain wrong. But Elsie's humility regards her wants, not her principles. What does she give up? A toy someone demands from her, a purse that she's making for her friend, a book that she would have liked to read, her time, her money, and her skills. In short, she puts others before herself. We focus a lot on rights in our day and age. "I have a right to my possessions" "I have a right to my time" and "I have a right to live a happy life" are several of the ideas that most people take for granted. Elsie didn't, which causes us to do a double take. Is it because Elsie never pitches a temper tantrum for getting unjustly blamed that we so dislike her? Is it because she doesn't hold on to her possessions, but freely gives them up to others?
Such a complaint has often been made of Fanny Price in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. Fanny gives up everything when people ask it of her: inclinations, horse, time, and comfort. Mansfield Park has been branded Jane Austen's worst novel, simply because we have a heroine who quietly sacrifices, rather than insisting that she receive justice.
But the one thing that neither Fanny nor Elsie compromised on was principle. When someone asked them to do wrong, they stood up, folded their hands, and absolutely refused. Elsie stood up to her grandparents, her aunts and uncles, and her friends when they asked her to sin. This little girl has a quiet strength because she realizes what is of true value.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. -Matthew 5:38-42

God evens out the scales so that justice is done.
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. -1 Peter 2:19-23

Conflict #10: The Issue of the Rod
The issue of giving girls a spanking comes up several times in the Elsie series. While the point remains that she didn't deserve it every time she almost got it, that still doesn't excuse the wrong thinking on the part of the rich Southerners. Every child needs to be disciplined. Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 23:13, and 29:15 all make a very clear case for corporal punishment. Later on in the series Finley addresses this issue correctly.

Conflict #11: Does Elsie Take Her Guilt Too Far?
Elsie has terrible guilt after doing anything wrong, and sometimes I'm not sure that her guilt is entirely justified. True, we're all too liable to excuse ourselves for 'mistakes' and we could do with a little more guilt than we generally have, but some people do genuinely struggle with guilt that they shouldn't be carrying. For instance, in book one when Elsie's father refused to let her go to the fair and she struggled with resentful thoughts, she shouldn't have gone off the deep end about it. She should have gotten control and moved on. We take every thought captive. Sometimes sinful thoughts do come to mind, but that doesn't always mean that we've sinned. When we are tempted in our heart to indulge rebellious feelings, we choose to replace them with the right thoughts. But in the case where Elsie forgot her father's instructions and went into the meadow--there her guilt was entirely justified. She did wrong, and she needed to confess that to him.
There are two types of guilt: false guilt, and true guilt. As Joyce Hershey, a well-known harp teacher, says in one of her music books: guilt that comes from the devil encourages us to lay in the mud and grovel in how much we've messed up. Guilt that comes from God encourages us to make it right and get up and run again.

It's very important to learn to distinguish between the two.

Review: A Life of Faith
Quite a few years ago now, a couple developed a doll who's hands could fold in prayer, that they named "Elsie Dinsmore". A company called A Life of Faith bought the line of dolls and developed Elsie Dinsmore, Violet Travilla, Millie Keith, Laylie Colbert, and Kathleen McKenzie. With these dolls they developed corresponding clothing and a new and updated version of the original Martha Finley books. Perhaps they were trying to provide a Christian counterpart of the American Girl dolls; I don't know. I do recall looking at the Violet Travilla books when I visited our Christian bookstore. Unfortunately, the Violet books included  teenage insecurity, single girls staring missions away from their families, and other themes that the original books didn't have. While I don't mind some revisions (To Have and To Hold and Pearl Maiden come to mind), I'm not in general a fan of revised and updated editions to make things more 'relatable'. The original books held a power and purity that doesn't need to be updated. Dialect in the original books was removed, and some of Elsie's example is lost in the attempt to turn her into another modern heroine. All in all, I recommend the originals if you want to read Elsie's story, with the sole exception of the Kathleen McKenzie series, which I found to be interesting and worthwhile.

In the end, after going through all these conflicts, I would remind you all that Elsie is just a book. No one has to read it; it's not the Bible, it's not infallible, and it may not be beneficial to everyone. But some of the adventures, and the romance in the later books more than make up for a rocky start at the beginning. Elsie is a picture of a pure life desiring to live for the Lord, and I am looking forward to sharing with my daughters someday what my father shared with me. Chocolate chip cookies included.

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Ins and Outs of Advertising Discernment (Part Two)

Photo Credit

Today we conclude our series on advertising discernment. It's a tricky world out there, and when trying to look up books without getting burned, sometimes it's nice to have a bit of a system. I've gotten plenty of recommendations, through catalogues, TV, friends, and relatives--and it helps to know where to look. It used to be I'd look up anything, but a few sad and shocking lessons later taught me to be wary, no matter where the idea came from.

So here are my last seven tips for advertising discernment, to help you avoid both the trash and the twaddle that people are trying to sell you.

1. Find out who endorses it.
Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. But when I saw Douglas Bond endorsing the Kingdom series by Chuck Black, I was more likely to look it up then when I saw it advertised in the teen section of my local Christian bookstore. Because let's face it: most teen fiction isn't worth a second glance. However, a recommendation from an author I trust, who writes brilliant historical fiction, will really catch my eye. On the other hand, don't let a name you don't like put you off from reading a good book. George MacDonald's book The Fisherman's Lady is endorsed both by Elisabeth Elliot and Janette Oke, two names that carry a wide variance of readership and represent two different literary styles entirely. But it would be a pity to miss out on this great story simply because of a name who's genre you don't care for. So a name can be an endorsement or a warning; but remember that the candle of high-quality attracts creatures of all kinds, so be careful not to turn up your nose without taking a good look.

2. Look at what it's advertised next to in the catalogues.
A lot of catalogues now are doing 'shelves' of reads you can by: for instance, a shelf of Amish fiction, or a shelf of historical chick lit., or a shelf of biographies. I don't think I've seen Metaxas' Bonhoeffer next to Pattie Mallette's Nowhere But Up. I suppose it could be done, but the publishers know that a person who likes one probably won't like the other. Generally--though again, not always--books of a kind are grouped together. Publishers know their readership pretty well, and they'll have a whole page that appeals to you, not just a mish-mash of titles all mixed up. They want your continued patronage, not just a one-time hit, and they're trying to show you that they have books to offer you. So if a book is advertised next to authors that you don't like...chances are, you don't want that one either.

3. Read Amazon Reviews.
I read Amazon reviews extensively, no matter what perspective the person is coming from. They give me things to watch out for, books to avoid, and all questionable plot contents. It's almost better than reading a plot synopsis.

4. Scan a sample chapter.
Amazon is the best tool in the world for this, especially if the book is too new to get at the library. You probably all know the "Look Inside!" feature, and it's a great way to prepare yourself for what you might find. I was looking up a book the other day, started reading all the explicit embraces in the sample chapter, and decided it wasn't worth going further. Otherwise, look at it at the library before you even check it out. Why? Because it's a lot easier to leave it on the shelf and walk away then it is to take it home and have it sitting in your backpack tempting you to go further. Plus, it saves a waste of time. How many of us have laid on our beds turning page after page of a book we're not going to read, simply to find out what happens?

Ouch. Moving on.

5. Don't trust the back of the book.

This is meant to be encouraging, rather than a jaded caution not to trust anything. Here's what the back of a book is good for: a sneak peek at the climax of the story.

Well, and sometimes it screams to run the other direction:

About three things I was absolutely positive.
First, Edward was a vampire.
Second, there was a part of him--and I didn't know how potent that part might be--that thirsted for my blood.
And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.

That girl's got problems. ;) While Twilight may be obvious, most books are a little more subtle: Penguin classics that trumpet Jane Austen as a bulwark of women's rights, Dickens' covers purport his works as the friend of socialism or worse, perfectly safe comedies that are advertised as edgy and deliciously wicked. Most of this is the fault of a bad marketing team that is trying to make a good book appeal to the masses. And it would be an awful pity to miss out simply because of a hyper attempt at mass appeal. So read the back for obvious bad plots, and simply for the fun of guessing what's going to happen, but don't expect it to tell the truth about bad worldview: that may just be the editor, so you'll have to dig a little deeper to find out for sure.

6. Don't trust the cover if its a classic.
For another angle of judging books by their cover, read the second article I ever posted on this blog. But for the purpose of advertising, sometimes marketers choose covers that may give you the wrong impression. The first Penguin classic edition I got of Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now had a bunch of highbrow aristocrats eating outdoors. The second had a crowd of smoking, drinking men in a club. Had I not known what the story was about, I might have raised my eyebrow the second time. Cover art is out there for the shock value. Publishers want it to sink it's talons into you as you walk by, so you absolutely cannot pass without picking it up. Take covers with a grain of salt: a lot of times they have nothing to do with the actual book. For instance, I've seen a modern edition of Elsie Dinsmore with enough makeup on the girl to clog a sink drain. She looked like a teeny-bopper from the latest chick flick, and I wish I could lay my hands on it--but alas, Amazon is not yielding up the picture. I suspect that many cover artist have no idea what the book is about in the first place.

7. If in doubt, read the Wikipedia synopsis.
I would almost council never sitting down to a movie you don't know without reading the plot synopsis. A book has a little more give to it, in that it doesn't have the visuals, but even then there are some occasions I wish I had. Practically everyone has a smartphone or some such device now, and it's easy to look it up while at the thrift store. When in doubt, peek at the end. It's better than finding things that you wish you hadn't seen.

8. Never, ever read Penguin introductions.
They're written by professors trained in the thinking of our modern education system, or worse, people confined by the popular opinion of truth and right. Such people would twist the Bible itself into a manifesto of blasphemous ideas; and they'll do a lot of damage if you don't know how to read between the lines. Especially don't trust them when they tell you the author's religion or the worldview of the book. Their interpretation is colored by their culture and their colleagues. To be fair, I'm sure there are some just and honest introductions, but I've given up looking for them at this time.

Thus concludes some of my tips on the Ins and Outs of Advertising Discernment. It can be a tricky thing, picking up a new book. I hope some of these thoughts help you in your reading adventures.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, November 23, 2012

Tall Tales: Pink of Perfection (Part Three)

Welcome back, friends and fellow bibliophiles, to part three of the Elsie Dinsmore series! I have eight more conflicts to work through, and we'll see how many we can get done today. :)

Conflict #5: Elsie's relatives are racist, classist, and sexist.
   1. Racist--this is because of the slavery issue. Many people feel that Elsie Dinsmore should not be read because Finley doesn't address the issue of slaves. Elsie is always kind to them, and rescues many from a cruel whipping, but the fact remains: Elsie still has slaves. That's a choice each family must make; but while slavery was cruel and rightly abolished, many good Christian people didn't step outside of the system, but did their best to work under it. It is a denial of history to avoid books with slavery in them. Slavery existed. Christian people kept slaves. And as the goal of historical fiction is to represent history in a realistic and honest manner, slavery is a true representation of that period in history. Finley does not treat blacks as better than whites; nor is her dialect intended in any way to disparage them. We're entirely too paranoid about this; all people of different skin shades are one race: the human race; but we need to focus on the fact that we are made in the image of God, not try to keep from stepping on each other's toes. When we treat others with the love of Christ, we won't have to throw or receive accusations of the racist card.
  2. Classist--Other people resent Elsie Dinsmore because she is rich. What a selfish, selfish woman to rebuild her luxurious estates after the Civil War, instead of using the money to relieve the suffering poor around her. It is very hard to look at other people who have more than we do, but God himself established the class system, and he promised us to provide our needs, which may not necessarily be 'fair' or 'even'. Evenness in riches came from a communist ideal, not from Scripture.

Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all. ~Proverbs 22:2

The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. ~ Matthew 26:11

God made some to be rich, and some to be poor. He gives one family more money than he gives others. Some he gives riches as a sign of His favor (Solomon) sometimes he asks people to give up their riches so he may bless them (the rich young ruler). Money in itself is not evil, nor are great amounts of riches. It is the love of money that we need to be wary of. I live in an area where medical technology is highly developed, and that is because we have two or three very rich families who are investing back into their communities. I am very grateful that God has given them these riches, and that they are blessing others with them. When we teach children that riches are wrong, they grow up with a sense of entitlement; they are entitled to having everyone at the same income level as they are. But God has never worked that way.

3. Sexist--You can really tell what people believe when you give them Elsie Dinsmore. The men are clear leaders in this series, down to administering Elsie's money. But this gets into the knotty issues of authoritarianism, egalitarianism, and complementarianism. Scary terms, but simple concepts.
In a sexist, or authoritarianism, society, the men are cruel, stifling leaders superior to women. In an egalitarian society, women are equal to men, and can do anything a man does. There is no difference in their roles. In a complementarian society, men and women are both equal, with different roles. The Elsie series is complementarian. Men have the patriarchal role, and are the leaders of their families. Women have the matriarchal role, to come alongside and help their men. This series is a beautiful and refreshing representation of the right kind of male and female relationships, where the men are not belittled and the women are not physically or emotionally abused. God made man the head of the woman, and Elsie represents that, but its a good and safe thing that God has implemented, for the protection of women, not for their mistreatment.

Conflict #6: Elsie reads like an adult romance novel.
Elsie expresses a great deal of affection towards her father, sometimes in ways that seem very physically driven. Longings to have him touch her or kiss her, or put his arm around her can seem a little off-putting at first. To be quite honest, I never gave them a second thought, but depending on your family standards, and the various safety guards you have to put up for yourself, this may be an issue. Goodness knows how may proposals Elsie receives, and appropriate physical affection is a big part of these books, but there's a lot more of it than most family cultures are used to giving or receiving.

But I think most of you who read classic novels won't have a problem with it.

Conflict #7 Too much Christianity
At first I was inclined to laugh at this one--is it possible to be too Christian? Can one be too pure, or too holy, or too good? Elsie's too perfect? Well, Jesus was perfect. Are we going to start accusing him of such a crime as well? But then I remembered the verse in Ecclesiastes 7:16, where Solomon says

Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?

It is possible to be so concerned about telling the truth that you can't get a complete sentence out of your mouth, for fear you will tell a lie. I've seen people do it, and I've done it myself. It's possible to be so paranoid about having different convictions than others that you can't minister to them, because you're afraid of losing your friendship. It's possible to hide your sins so much from people that they are discouraged, because they think you have a handle on your Christianity that no one else has. In other words, it is possible to be over-righteous. There is a type of righteousness that is unrighteous: the burdens that we place upon ourselves, forgetting that God never intended us to have them.

After all, no one really believes Elsie when she claims she is a very naughty girl. We raise our eyebrows and laugh, because if we were as good as Elsie we would be very happy indeed. But the question here is whether or not Elsie is too perfect. After all, there is the flip side of the coin. Sometimes we're resentful of genuine righteousness because it confronts our sin, and we don't want to repent.

Is Elsie too perfect? I think it's a mixture of the two. She is a beautiful example of the fruits of the spirit, and such an example is a good and worthy one to read about. But when Elsie makes up her own rules such as reading only Pilgrim's Progress on Sundays, then we tread on slightly less stable ground. It's not wrong to abstain from certain things on the Sabbath, but it is wise to remember that God doesn't forbid anything but Pilgrim's Progress in Scripture. In orthodoxy, Elsie is a good little girl, and worthy to be emulated; in orthopraxy, we don't have to feel guilty if we do things slightly differently than she does.

I think the resentment stems from the fact that we feel we have to imitate Christians around us if we want to be as good as they are. Elsie family doesn't read books with romance in them. Maybe we shouldn't either. The Dinsmore's don't eat candy, because they think it better honors their temples. Maybe we should too. But we have only one Messiah, Jesus Christ. He is the way to salvation, not the orthopraxy of Elsie. God may bring us to the same conviction regarding candy as the Dinsmores, but that conviction needs to come from Him, not from them.

Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another? ~James 4:10-12

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. ~ 2 Corinthians 10:12

As far as the lengthy Scripture quotations, I personally thought the sections of history text were a little tedious, but a story which includes Scripture in a winsome way is very good indeed. Most Victorian authors put in Scripture to scare righteousness into their young readers; but Martha Finley didn't use Scripture to make children obey out of fear.

Conflict # 8: Elsie Cries Too Much

Um, she does. However much I like her, she does. However, keep reading; it's really only in the first two and a half books that this is a recurring problem. She grows out of it eventually.

That is all, friends and fellow bibliophiles, for today's look at the Elsie Dinsmore controversies. Next week we'll conclude with part four. If you have any questions or conflicts about this series that you would like to see addressed, please do send them in; I'd love to see them. :)

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Most Important Book for a Bibliophile

Before I begin:

The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers Special Extended Edition is now available for review! If you want to know what it's like, or simply need a good Tolkien chat, send an email request to the link on the sidebar, and I'd love to connect with you. Review includes casting, accuracy, and violence; special features not included. No language in this film.

And now for today's post, which is a little different from normal.

Obviously, the most important book a bibliophile could ever read is the Bible. I mention it today, because on Sunday I finished my eleventh year reading through the Bible once per year. I've now been through the Bible eleven times.

It really all started with positive peer pressure.

My brother took up reading the Bible, and very soon I joined him. Had he asked me, I really wouldn't have approved; it seriously cut into his time to give attention to me. But as he went through with it, I decided to make the best of it and tag along. I've been tagging along ever since. And as I now look back on over a decade of doing it I am amazed at all the Scripture I know, simply from reading it every day. I'm afraid I don't do a lot of formal Scripture memorization, but reading it year after year every day builds layers of knowledge that I never knew I had. Verses are there, though I may not have the reference, and repetition, albeit once a year, really does add to your knowledge.

Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. ~Psalm 119:11

We talk a lot on this blog about Scriptural and practical principles: what makes a book good, how to put a book down, what to do about love and romance. All these things are good, but if they don't come from Scripture then we're never going to remember them, and the rules will be quite burdensome. Plus, in this culture we have a desperate need for practical knowledge of the Bible. Read it, and you will know instinctively whether the books you pick up are good or not. It will sharpen your conscience, give foundation to your faith, and equip you with a defense for your worldview. What are you going to say when someone asks you how God could exist before time? Or how will you respond when people encourage you to do something evil, because there's no other option? Such questions will come, along with many others, and God's Word contains the answers to all of them.

Common Questions and Comments about Bible Reading

1. It's Too Hard.
Trust me, the Bible is much easier to read then Robinson Crusoe, even though it's about three times as long. Hard, yes, because it convicts sin, but no matter which version you read you won't find the syntax difficult, especially people who read classics. The Count of Monte Cristo is harder than the Bible. And with all the poetry, history, parables, and exposition, God always teaches the same truths through many different formats. It is important to read the whole Bible, but if you don't understand one portion right away, you're sure to grasp another. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew; the New Testament was written in common Greek; God wrote it for the common man to understand. More than how easy or hard it is, it's a command. We are commanded to know our Lord, and to do that, we must know His Word, hard or not.  But be assured, even if it's tough at first, it gets much easier with time.

2. Do I have to Read the Whole Bible in a Year?
No, certainly not. It's more important that you're in God's Word every day than that you finish it in a certain amount of time. God doesn't set rules in His Word for how fast it should take us to read it. Some people in our family read it once a year, others are moving on to 90 day reading plans. It's like a muscle that takes exercise to build up strength.

3. How Do I Read the Bible?
Some people are unsure of reading the Bible in a whole year because they think it would take too long. But often this is because of the difference between Bible reading and Bible study. The purpose of reading the Bible in a year is actually different then studying portions of the Bible every day. When you have five chapters to do, it's probably best not to stop every couple of verses. That leads to frustration because it's taking so long. So assess your style--would you prefer to study a little every day, or just read and have the knowledge accumulate over time? Either way is perfectly right and acceptable, so pick which you're most comfortable with.
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. ~Psalm 119:105


1. Change it up
I used the same Bible chart for ten years. Psalms on Sunday, OT history on Monday, Law on Tuesday, etc. While I enjoyed this, I was ready for something new at the end of that time. I chose a chart that went straight through from Genesis to Revelation, and tried it out last year, and I was very pleased with it. This year I'm going through the same chart again, because I want to familiarize myself with it a little more. But if you're starting to stagnate in a groove, then try shaking it up a little; sometimes reading the Bible in a different order than you have been helps you to approach it with fresh perspective. Otherwise the verses begin to go in one ear and out the other.

2. Make Your Reading Consistent
I get up at 6:45 every morning, and every day I start reading my Bible somewhere between 6:50 and 7:00. While this may not work for everyone, the point is to be consistent. Train yourself so that you don't even debate "Should I read my Bible today?" but rather it's an automatic routine like brushing your teeth or getting dressed. This will eliminate a lot of guilt both for missed days and for a lack of enthusiasm. And don't beat yourself up if you're honestly trying to be consistent and miss a day. Recite a passage of Scripture if you're on the go; that's a great way to still be in God's Word. Also, don't quit because you're having a tough day. That's like saying "I'll become a Christian when my heart's right". God's Word is the safest place to be in the rough times, and it's very dangerous to walk away until "things are better". That's trying to right yourself in your own power, not in God's.

3. Pick a Translation That Works for You
There are several excellent translations of Scripture: KJV, NKJV, ESV, and the 1984 NIV, as well as others. Do check to make sure it's a solid translation, but then look at one that works well for you. And remember that all the labels, though valuable, are man-made. Sometimes I use more than one translation for different passages, to get the best meaning from both.

The Ultimate Point

Why do we read the Bible?

To know our God.

Jesus Christ is the Word become flesh. We know him by knowing His Word. No one can take it away from us, and it shall endure forevermore. That's the ultimate reason, but there's another one more related for books.
Some of you probably think that I have an elaborate evaluation system that I labor through for each book, painstakingly checking against Scripture as to whether or not it is good and worth reading. Actually, I don't. All the points in these articles are instinctively ingrained when one reads Scripture every day. You'll carry principles of evaluation with you even if you can't put words to them, because the Word of God is a guard and a guide.

Our goal is to be soldiers of Christ taking captive every book, with our tactics so ingrained that we know them in our sleep. That only comes from reading God's Word every day--the most important book for any bibliophile.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, November 16, 2012

Tall Tales: The Pink of Perfection (Part Two)

Welcome back, friends and fellow bibliophile, to part two of the Elsie Dinsmore controversies.

Conflict #2: Louisa May Alcott is Better Than Martha Finley
It seems to me a very sad thing that people who dislike Elsie Dinsmore say that no parent should be so cruel as to let their child read them. Instead, they say, girls should be given Louisa May Alcott.

Oh dear.

I enjoy Little Women and Rose in Bloom very much indeed. But Louisa May Alcott was both a feminist and a panentheist, two attitudes which no girl should take part in. Martha Finley is much safer in worldview.

Conflict #3 How Elsie Handles Sundays
Of all the conflicts that ever conflicted, this is the conflictingist of them all. :) Is it wrong to listen to music on Sundays that never mentions God? I would hope not, because all those Celtic pieces are really very relaxing.
The point Finley tries to illustrate is that Sunday should be a day of rest--a day set apart for the worship of God. I try to do this, by taking a break from my work during the week: writing, blogging, preparing Bible study lessons, etc. In fact, most Sundays after a time spent in worship, I pretty much try to knock out a book the rest of the day. (And I don't limit myself to Pilgrim's Progress and the Bible. Last Sunday was a conglomeration, but the one before that was A Tale of Two Cities.) That, to me, is rest.
Certainly a portion of Sunday should be spent fellow-shipping with the church, reading God's Word, singing songs of praise, and hearing good teaching. But the rest of the time may safely be spent in a day of rest, which varies by your occupation and pursuits. Certain pleasures may indeed be more suited for weekdays, but there are many that I find far from questionable to participate in on Sundays that do not specifically mention God, and here's why:  The spiritual and the secular (note that I do not mean "worldly") cannot be completely divorced. What we believe in our spiritual lives will affect everything we do in our physical lives. And if our Christian beliefs do not affect every secular thing we do, then we don't have a strong Christianity.
Therefore, Elsie could have read more than Pilgrim's Progress on Sundays. And when her father asked her to play a song on the piano, she could have played it and still honored God.

But what about the blowup in book two? Everybody debates about whether Elsie's decision not to read the book her father asks her to was the right one. After all, it led to pretty heartrending consequences. Couldn't she have just read it?

That is such a big elephant that we're going to put in in a conflict of its own.

Conflict #4 Elsie's Disobedience

 It has been said that a book is a grey area for a child to disobey their parents in. Elsie's eight years old, her father is in his mid-twenties. Surely he's much older and wiser and better able to judge such matters. However, Elsie's father is also not a Christian, which throws another monkey wrench into the affair. We've met an impasse.

Unless Martha Finley really meant something else.

In this incident, she was neither talking about books nor the Sabbath. She was trying to illustrate a child's proper response when a parent asks them to do something against their conscience. However faulty  the particular example may be, people often get hung up on the details and miss the premise. Since parents are human and subject to human frailties, some children are going to have to face a time where they say respectfully say no, whether in actions or attitudes. But when we do this, we must still honor and obey in everything else. Elsie didn't rebel or cast off her father. She still counted him as her authority in everything that did not contradict the Word of God.

The rest matters not for the purposes of the story.

In answer to the defense that a book is a grey area-- Books are the written expressions of the author's beliefs. They are full of ideologies, that, if not conformed to the Christian worldview can be very dangerous indeed. And a child of eight is quite to young to be exposed to heavy error in reading material. They haven't developed the ability to counter-attack and defend their beliefs, and therefore adults in charge should be careful what they are exposed to. The power of the printed page is mightier than the sword; while the sword can only kill the body, the printed page can corrupt the mind and soul.

And if we feel that Elsie did wrong in this situation, then we must also hold to the view that Fanny Price had no business refusing to act in the play in Mansfield Park. After all, her cousins and aunt were older there as well. Yet no one looks down on Fanny Price for acting against the commands of her aunt and benefactors. The situation in Elsie Dinsmore is the very much the same.

Today's Review: The Elsie Audiobooks

 Vision Forum produced three audiobooks narrated by Bill Potter, their well-known historian-in- residence. While they must have axed the project, he has a good voice for the books. They're not professional--Potter keeps changing his mind on a couple of name pronunciations--nor did they spend a great deal of time on editing, giving a laughable effect in a couple of areas, but I still enjoy them for all that.

Laurie Mantufel picked up the project and recorded books one through seven. Her narration is excellent as well, and better in quality, though of the two I thought Potter's voice the best. To purchase either, go to the Vision Forum website.

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Ins and Outs of Advertising Discernment (Part One)

Photo Credit

I don't know about you, but I always hold out hope for a few good modern authors. After all, every age has its geniuses, and I'm sure with a little digging I can find some.

Can't say I have yet.

I've read all the catalogues, picked up quite a few from the library, leafed through others at bookstores, and still I'm on the hunt for good, modern-day authors. Needless to say I've gotten my hopes up several times along the way, due to some very clever advertising. In this series, I'd like to present some tips for advertising discernment, both in what to look up and what to avoid. I will be naming names, and I hope not to tread on any one's favorite while doing so. Forgive me in advance, please.

Tip #1: Do Give it a Try if the Atheists Don't Like It
Sometimes we forget this handy tip when reading book reviews. Someone from the opposite worldview may give it just as stellar a recommendation by bashing it--after all, if an atheist hates it because of its Christian content, then it might be worth giving it a try. This particular technique didn't hold much success for me the one time I tried it, but I'll definitely be considering it again.
I first developed this tip when looking up Code Blue, by Richard Mabry. I had a spare couple of hours to leaf through the offerings of a Christian bookstore, and this was one of the titles that caught my eye. Christian medical mysteries written by a retired doctor: has potential to be interesting. When I got home I looked up reviews on Amazon, and read again and again "It was a great book until Mabry got to the God stuff". Multiple reviews by non-Christians were saying the same thing. This gave me an indication that Mabry might have something going for him, so I ordered the book from the library. Funny thing was, it was neither the typos, the medical suspense, nor the Christian themes that caused me to call it off.

It was the groaningly handsome ex-boyfriend that rescued the FMC in the car crash on the first page.

That time I struck out. But when I see atheists going out of their way to write bad review of Christian fiction, then I'll sit up and take notice. Because for most of our books they don't even bother to comment.

Tip #2 Do Try an Overworked Plot if it Looks Original
Let's face it: the Amish plot is well past its prime. "Bonnet fiction" in the Christian realm does not refer to Jane Austen; it means historical/Amish romance. While treading cautiously here, because I really don't mind if people like them, I would say that the market is over-saturated, and we've had enough. However, not being one to stand on my dignity if I think another good book might result, I wasn't afraid to look one up a few weeks ago: The Half-Stitched Amish Quilting Club, by Wanda Brunsetter. That plot looked so original. An older Amish lady who advertises that she's hosting a quilting class, and who shows up but a troubled highschool student, a Hispanic father of a two-year-old, a pastor's wife, a fighting couple, and a tattooed Harley-Davison biker. I was looking forward to this one (albeit a bit doubtfully), because I love a cast of really unique characters, and I thought this would be fun. It wasn't. *spoiler alert* The fighting couple got back together, the biker turned out to be this sweet and long-lost father of the highschool student, and to top it all off, the Amish widow got married. *end of spoiler* All my castles tumbled one by one, the characters were not memorable, and all the cliches that could be packed in were. I forgot that Wanda Brunstetter will be Wanda Brunstetter no matter what plot she's given. And I'm not trying to put down the lady; I certainly don't mind if other folks like her, even though I've never been able to. What really irks me though, is a really good plot, and a really good cast gone to waste. I mean, how can you mess up something that original?

Tip #3 Know the Workings of the Publishing System
Publishing Houses are out there to sell you something. Or maybe not. What they're really after is selling 40,000 copies of any particular book to the audience who will buy it. If you're not part of that 40,000, then they really don't care. Think of it this way: that's .004% of the population of New York City. If you don't fall into that small percentage, then that's okay. They're not going to be the worse in their pocketbook. The whole publishing industry bases itself on a very small percentage--in other words, it really doesn't take a huge amount of sales to make a book a raging success. Publishers will offer what the .004% are buying; not what is necessarily good literature, or what people of taste would buy. It's counter intuitive, as they really limit their audience, but that's the way it works in today's book field.

Tip #4 Don't Reject a Book Just Because It's Popular
Even books of worth sometimes make the New York Times bestseller list. It would be prejudicial to avoid a book that looks good simply because everybody likes it too. For instance, when Eric Metaxas' book on Bonhoeffer came out, it looked great. But I didn't avoid it just because it got a favorable review in the paper. On the contrary, that was one of the clinching indications for me.

Tip #5 Do Get About Three Indications That It's Going to be Worthwhile
When I look up a book, I try to get several recommendations: for instance, if it looks especially good in the catalogue, then I count that as one. Then I look up Amazon reviews, and if they're pretty favorable, then I count that as two. Finally, a blog review or a mention in the paper, or perhaps a word-of-mouth recommendation by a friend will be the clincher. Three recommendations doesn't always mean that it will still be any good, but that's a good indication. (And of course, this is a suggestion, not a rule).

Have any of these tips proved useful in your reading? More next time!

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, November 9, 2012

Tall Tales: The Pink of Perfection (Part One)

Besides the fact that I've now admitted to my deep dark Disney past, I think this will be a fun series, as we explore the world of Elsie Dinsmore.

Poll results were very interesting:

1. She's a godly example, and I enjoy reading these books: 20% (4 votes)
2. She's too perfect, but I still read her books every now and then: 30% (6 votes)
3. She's way to perfect. She sets my teeth on edge: 20% (4 votes)
4. Who is Elsie Dinsmore? I've never heard of her. 30% (6 votes)

You all were in a conspiracy to yield me these perfect alternating results. :)

I remember the day I first met Elsie Dinsmore. Some friends of ours lent us the first book in the series, and for a very long time it sat on the bookshelf. Finally, one Saturday morning, my dad said "I'd like to read Elsie Dinsmore to you."

I looked at it doubtfully. "I don't know if I want to read that book."

"Why?" he asked.

I didn't know. 9 years old at the time, I had just taken it into my head that I wouldn't like it, for whatever odd reason. I didn't know the story, hadn't even heard anyone else say they didn't like it, but I was sure I wouldn't. Talk about judging a book by its cover; the poor thing didn't stand a chance.

"One chapter," my dad said, "And if you don't like it, we don't have to read it."
We curled up on the couch together, my dad with a fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie in one hand, and the book in the other. And we read chapter one. I can still smell the cookies today, and every time I hear Elsie Dinsmore I think of warm gooey chocolate, the recipe of which is never allowed to be altered in our home. At the end of the chapter my dad closed the book, and my hand shot out to intercept  him, as every nine-year-old's does. He smiled at me. "Do you like it?"

I grinned. "Let's read another chapter."
So we read another chapter, and another, and another. That was the end of book one. We got the second book, and the night we started the whole Elsie saga where she almost died, we kept on reading way past my bedtime, because we couldn't stop. I still cried, even when everything turned out all right, from the pressure of almost losing her. We got the third and the fourth from the library. Then my dad bought the 12 hardcovers from Vision Forum. They were his, he told me, but someday they would be mine. Every time we had cause to go to the other side of the state, we would pick up one Elsie book from the homeschool bookstore there--one by one, until we collected all twenty-eight of them. For two years we sat together every evening on the couch, and I would bend the bookmark to bits while my dad read the story. Two years, twenty-eight books, and a treasure trove of memories and laughter.

That is why I love Elsie Dinsmore.

Some of you who chose the fourth option on the poll probably did so because you had heard of her, but never read her. However, for those of you who haven't I'm going to give a short plot synopsis below. It will make the rest of the series a lot more understandable.

The Story:
Elsie Dinsmore pays a pretty heavy price for the sins of her parents. Her mother and father eloped together at the ages of 16 and 19 respectively, and after they were separated by their indignant families, her mother dies giving birth to her. For eight years since Elsie has lived with her grandparents, and her father travels abroad. From an early age she accepted Christ as her Savior, and with the help of her nurse, she grows more in a knowledge of the Scriptures every day. Then her father comes home, and Elsie looks forward with wild excitement to having a parent that loves her. But when he comes she receives a sad disappointment. He loved his wife in a selfish way, but his child is merely an embarrassment, and a pious one at that. From then on conflicts arise as Elsie is torn between obeying her agnostic father and obeying God. She longs for two things: that he might come to a saving knowledge of Jesus, and that he will love her.

Conflict #1: The Era of the Elsies
A little digging leads me to a few interesting observations on the history surrounding the Elsie Dinsmore books. And frankly, the wide variance of opinion about this heroine doesn't surprise me. Elsie stemmed out of the Victorian Era of children's literature, which gave boys The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, R.M. Ballentyne, Treasure Island, and Kim--and gave girls Little Women, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,  Isabella Alden, and Elsie Dinsmore. While books such as Black Beauty and The Wind in the Willows were considered appropriate for both boys and girls, the other literary offerings of that time were strictly divided between the sexes. And never the twain shall meet.  No wonder, after a time, that literature took a shift. I love Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, but I wouldn't want to be excluded from Treasure Island. And let's face it--there are only so many Isabella Alden Sunday School classes that one can handle. (Forgive me, all Alden fans.)

Such stories as these took place during the Third Temperance Movement during the United States, which lasted from 1893-1933. Both boys and girls, in Christian literature, were taught such things as loving to give your allowance to charity, and responding to all questions with a Scripture quotation. (These actions were later caricatured in L.M. Montgomery's Emily series, and Dickens had already employed them in his satire Bleak House years before.)
Now before I start sounding like someone who has a dislike for Victorian literature (far from it) or a horror of good stories where children know their Scripture, let me clarify myself. I love characters who are true, and brave, and wise, and pure. I love characters who use Scripture, as in Hinds' Feet on High Places. I also love stories about good boys and girls. But some authors during the Temperance Movement administered morals like Tar Water, and I don't think a child should feel guilty for not liking that. Spending a few of your pennies for chocolates is not going to send you down the road of destruction, and you don't have to teach a Sunday School class to inherit eternal life. Nor should all children have to have a burning desire to be martyred as a proof that they love the Lord.
Many people complain about Elsie because she's too perfect. But often they forget that heroines of Victorian literature were never intended to be relatable. They were intended to be examples. You're not supposed to be best pals with Elsie; you're supposed to look up to and imitate her.

Solution: Recognize that Victorian ideals had their weak points. Take it with a grain of salt, and don't try to read an exclusive diet of this literature--or at least an exclusive diet of the girls' books. Also, it is beneficial to be faced with a perfect example now and then. Sometimes we get comfortable being "just as good as everybody else", and it's impossible to hold that mindset and read Elsie Dinsmore at the same time. The two are going to clash.

Much more about Elsie controversies next Friday.

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

It Was the Best of Times, It was the Worst of Times

Before we start today, I have two announcements. :)

First one is, we'll be doing a book review today instead of our regular scheduled programming, as I finished A Tale of Two Cities last night.


Movie Review

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring special extended edition of the movie is now available for review by email (just use the link on the sidebar) review includes casting, accuracy, language, violence, etc. (No language, well done!) Due to the nature of the film, I strongly encourage you to get a review before you see it. Special features and commentaries not included.

And now to today's book review.

The Review

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. ~A Tale of Two Cities

Today, Americans cast their vote for whether God's sovereignty still reigns supreme. Dickens captured---oh sorry, I was joking in the above line. I actually didn't see that this morning's ballot.---Dickens captured our present political concerns brilliantly in his first  well-known paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities.

Now I'm holding my head in both hands, trying to find out who's the main character in this book. I have no Esther Summerson to help me out this time.

I give up.

Mr. Lorry, manager of Tellson's Bank for his entire life, escorts young Lucie Manette to Paris to try to restore her mad father to his right state of mind. Unknown to Lucie, her father has been prisoner in the Bastille for 18 long years, though he was never given trial or told the reason, and when Mr. Lorry informs her that he has been found, she is overcome with shock and joy. Doctor Manette is restored, and they return to England where Lucie has grown up, and pass a happy year there.
The story cuts to a courtroom scene, in which we find a young French emigrant, Charles Darnay, on trial for espionage and treachery towards the English government and about to be brutally executed. (English executions at that time were extremely inhumane; I'll spare you the detail, but Dickens won't.) Through a strange twist of evidence, Lucie Manette testifies at his trial, and along with the help of one Sidney Carton, curiously like Darnay in looks, Charles is absolved from his crime. He's a French tutor, in England under a different name from his own, but he often crosses the Channel on delicate and private business in France.
Darnay marries Lucie; all goes smoothly and peacefully for them,  though when Darney tells Lucie's father his real name on their marriage morning Doctor Manette relapses for a time into his mad state. Troubles brew across the water; the scum of Paris are rising. When Charles Darney receives a letter from one of his servants imploring for help, he promptly crosses the Channel to rescue him, and is arrested as soon as he sets foot in Paris. An accursed aristocrat, he is sentenced to death. Lucie, Lorry, and Manette follow him. But only one man has the power to extricate him from the clutches of the Republic.

Why was Manette imprisoned in the Bastille? What is Charles Darnay's name? And will they escape the clutches of the people?

Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, or Death.

(But don't expect the Scarlet Pimpernel. Dickens is a master in his own rite.)

My Thoughts
I have to admit, I didn't expect as much from this book as Dickens' other works. For one thing, it was only 300 pages, and I didn't think he could shine through as well as in his other works. For another, could he really pull off the French Revolution?

I was so wrong. He did.

Please, if you've never read Dickens, start with Great Expectations. But then you'll definitely want to read A Tale. Beautiful characterizations, exquisite satire, empathetic portraits of the times. Oh, my, yes, this is Dickens. He actually liked America in this book---though I wouldn't be surprised to detect a hint of satire in his praise. A tale of father/daughter filiality, love of husband and wife, and the constancy of friends.
This is not your normal historical fiction. The only people he mentions are the King and Queen of England, and the King and Queen of France. The rest are simply characters of his own imagination. Robespierre didn't get so much as a wink. I enjoyed that in this book, actually. The tale was told from the perspective of the middle and lower classes, all their everyday struggles and train of thought, and not gummed up with the nobility's point of view. That's an important perspective to have.
Dickens was not advocating the Revolution; nor was he putting down the nobility. But as he always does, he portrays good and bad in both social scales.
The suspense was non-stop. The story was cohesive without some of the lengthy descriptions he includes in his other books. If you're not used to Dickens' humor style, you probably won't find much in A Tale, but if you read it after some of his other books, you should be able to detect it here and there.
I knew part of the ending, actually, before I began. But though I had an idea of what was going to happen, I didn't know who it was going to happen to. Dickens included pathos and sadness without wringing me out at the ending. It was a gentle slope, and a peaceful conclusion, without the deep breath necessary in, say, The Return of the King.
I edited for language here and there, as usual in his books.

And now, after a long Dickens and Tolkien run, I'm off to find a relaxing book with no traumatic sacrifices, painful partings, or harrowing romance. That's a tall order, but I must have a little recovery time.

Many people today are thinking along Dickens' lines, even though they've never even heard of him. If the right man wins the presidency, they say, we're all going direct to heaven. And if the wrong man wins, then we're going direct the other way. But as in A Tale of Two Cities, right and wrong is not dependant on turning the will of the populace. Evil will always be done in the name of progress. Let us do our best individually to pray and sacrifice, vote and serve, as the Lord our God would have us. On the obedience of one individual can hang the fate of many.

 He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? ~Micah 6:8

In the best of times, in the worst of times, God is on the throne.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Betrayal

Douglas Bond fans rejoice, and Calvinists take heart--today is a post in honor of one of the greatest Reformers of that century.

You know, living in the Bible Belt of the United States has its advantages. For one, we're not looked down upon by hippie secular environmentalists when we say things like "Bible study" or "I'm a Christian." People aren't likely to challenge you. They'll either express mild interest, or they'll be "that's cool for you" and move on.

But I've grown up in Bible Belt culture, and so I think I'm a bit blind to the advantages, not having been exposed to a neighborhood of the aforementioned secularism. Often what we know best, we have the easiest time finding fault with--blind to its virtues and especially keen-eyed to its flaws. While I am grateful for the semi-Christian atmosphere, with a church every couple of blocks, I also see a growing trend of divisiveness in the church over one of the Reformation's greatest men. Basically, you can divide my portion of the Bible Belt into two groups: those who like Calvin, and those who don't.

But it goes a little farther than that. Those who like Calvin--or to be fair, Calvinism, which is a totally different thing--quote the catechisms and church documents when they can't find a verse in Scripture to support their view--and consider such documents just as authoritative, though they wouldn't admit that. Those who don't like Calvinism view Calvinists as horrifically trapped in a world where God casts the dice, and whoever gets the lucky number gets saved. (Mixed metaphor, I know, as Calvin didn't believe in luck, but that's what it all boils down to.) In the one camp, a staunch belief that God predestines everything. On the other, a horror that God should chose not to give His grace to certain unelected.

In the midst of all this warfare, I fall between the camps. I believe Calvin was a human, subject to human infallibility and mistakes just like the rest of us. I believe that his theology is not God-breathed, and therefore, not authoritative when it contradicts Scripture. But I also believe that He was a good, God-fearing and gentle man who's sole aim was to bring an understanding of Christ to the Church. And so, I listen on the fringe of such debates, agreeing with both, which would be considered neither.

Today's book review, friends and fellow bibliophiles: The Betrayal, by Douglas Bond.

The Review

"Douglas Bond introduces John Calvin to us in a gripping way, colorfully taking us back to Geneva and its times, unveiling Calvin as the principled man of action, commitment,and love that he was. The Betrayal makes for an exciting read, showing the great Reformer's heart for theology, piety, and doxology, while almost effortlessly and implicitly undoing caricatures about Calvin along the way. If you want Calvin and his times brought to life in a page-turner, this is the book for you!" Joel R.Beeke

Douglas Bond writes this book from a perspective that I don't generally approve of reading, that of the main villain. In such books where the character talking is rotten to the core, I generally pitch it. But knowing Bond and his work, and really wanting to know about Calvin, I decided to give it a try. Jean Louis Mourin has grown up in the same town as Calvin all his life. Mourin is a loser, and he knows it--his family and sweetheart died during the plague, he doesn't have much prospects, and he certainly will never be rich. He's always looked with envy on the boy Calvin, fast growing to be a man, and destined for a rich position as priest in the Roman Catholic Church. When a chance meeting throws him a position to become Calvin's servant, Jean-Louis takes the chance and worms his way into Calvin's confidence. Throughout Calvin's education and growing political turmoil, culminating in his leaving the Church and exile, Douglas Bond captures the events of the times with, I am told, stunning accuracy. Most of Calvin's lines are drawn from his Institutes and letters, and are not made up at all. Jean-Louis, as he is exposed to numerous discussions of Calvin's new and startling theology, commits to betray this  man of God to the Doctors of the Sorbonne for his ultimate execution. Ever on the watch for an opportunity, years pass, and they grow to manhood together. From Basel to Geneva, he will not let his prey escape his talons. But to Jean-Louis' surprise, a strange reticence begins to grow in him, and in the most pivotal moment of Calvin's life, he himself offers the man's only hope of rescue. A thoughtful and gripping presentation of the life of one of the greatest Reformers.

Due to martyrdoms, adulteries, and various other adult themes, this book is not recommended for young children.

At the last, they will discover me. I am as certain of the fact as I am horrified at it. No one is as intimate with their stratagems as I, Jean-Louis Mourin. Even now, they draw ever closer. Pressed to the wall in a benighted alleyway, they are never far from me now. In the corner of my eye, I have seen them lurking. Sounds in the night trouble my rest, if rest it may be termed. Startled to wakefulness, with my eyes I desperately scour the darkness. It may be merely a rat prowling in the street rubbish, a man staggering home after being too long at the wine bottle, or a woman of the night shuffling to her place after her harlotries. It matters not. At the slightest sound, with racing pulse, I clutch the bedclothes to my quivering chin and strain my ears, certain that in those night sounds I hear them approaching... ~The Betrayal, by Douglas Bond

The Michael Servetus Controversy

One of the greatest controversies surrounding Calvin is that of the Michael Servetus controversy. Did Calvin, indeed, sentence this man to death, and take fiendish delight in the horror of his punishment?

For a basic overview of the controversy, many thanks to my brother for providing the following article:

Michael Servetus was a very well known scholar who denied the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and many other essential Christian doctrines-in other words, he was an outright heretic. In 1531, he wrote a book arguing against the doctrine of the Trinity. In 1532, his books landed him in pretty deep trouble with the Spanish Inquisition, which was obviously Roman Catholic. Servetus then moved to France and changed his last name to protect himself from the Spanish Inquisition.

When Calvin was a young believer, he tried to meet with Servetus to lead him back to Christianity. Servetus never showed up, and Calvin didn't hear from him for awhile. In 1546-1548, Calvin received letters which he knew to be from Servetus, although the last name was different. Although Calvin could have turned him in to the Roman Catholics for trial, he refused to do so.

In 1553, a letter to Calvin from Servetus was shown to the French Catholic Inquisition by Guillaume de Trie-not Calvin. Servetus was brought to trial before the French Catholic Inquisition on the charge of heresy and condemned to death. He escaped to Geneva and tried to secretly have Calvin arrested for charges of heresy in order to remove him as an opponent. The motion Servetus filed would actually have given him Calvin's home and property had Calvin been executed.

The Catholics were not alone in wanting Servetus tried as an outlaw. All the governments of Europe, both Catholic and Protestant, considered Servetus an outlaw for writing heretical works that even Catholics and Protestants both agreed weren't even Christianity-in other words, both the Catholics and Protestants could agree on what Servetus was wrong in.

While in Geneva, Servetus was caught and brought to trial before the Council of Geneva. Whether Calvin turned him in to the council is unclear; what we do know is that Calvin was not a citizen of Geneva until three years after the execution of Servetus; Calvin was in no position to have Servetus arrested even if he so desired it. Whether Calvin reported Servetus or whether someone else did is really the core of the debate.

In any event, Servetus was sentenced to trial and execution as a heretic and outlaw by burning. Calvin and the other ministers endeavored to have the sentence changed from burning to that of being killed by the sword. Up until Servetus' death, Calvin visited him daily in order to present the gospel to Servetus, but Servetus refused to change his mind. If you read Calvin's writings of his visits with the condemned Servetus, you can see a man who tried until the end to show Servetus the error of his ways.

So, with the history behind my answer, this is what I believe: do I believe Calvin (as some claim) had Servetus executed out of pride? Absolutely not. Calvin had the opportunity to report Servetus years before to the Catholics; however, he chose not to. Therefore, why would he turn him in later when Servetus was in Geneva? It doesn't make sense.
What brings the most question in my own mind, however, is the fact that numerous biblical scholars throughout history have endorsed and learned from Calvin with no mention of him eagerly turning Servetus in. I rely on and respect the opinions of careful and God-fearing men, who would not hesitate to rebuke where rebuke was necessary. And in all my readings, I had never heard of the Servetus controversy until a few months ago.  Even if Calvin turned Servetus in, it was the state that held trial and determined execution, not the church. Also, Servetus was a known outlaw; Calvin would not have done wrong to turn him in to the authorities, according to the law of his times. It is sad that the state's methods of execution were so brutal and inhumane, but capitol punishment for heresy was lawful at the time--and indeed, it was lawful in Scripture as well.
A pastor's view:
1. Michael Servetus taught many unorthodox heresies: astrology, pantheism, Neo-Platonism, Semi-Pelagianism, rejected the Trinity, rejected the Deity of Christ.

2. Servetus was convicted by the Inquisition in France for his heresies, but he escaped before sentencing.

3. Calvin warned him not to come to Geneva because he was would not be welcomed by the Church or the government.

4. Servetus ignored the warnings of Geneva and arrived basically as an attempted revolution of the State.

5. The Geneva City Council believed that blatant heresy was punishable by death.

6. Servetus was arrested and given a fair trial that lasted two months. Servetus claimed that Calvin was a heretic and should be banished from Geneva and his property given to Servetus.

7. Many on the City Council were Libertines who did not like Calvin, but he was called as a witness.

8. The City Council, including the Libertines, found Servetus guilty and sentenced him to be burned at the stake.

9. Calvin strongly encouraged the City Council to use a more painless execution by decapitation, but they refused Calvin’s pleas.

10. On October 27, 1553, Servetus was burnt at Champel with the approval of all Reformers and Catholics.

11. John Calvin did not convict Servetus or execute him.

12. Servetus would have been convicted even if Calvin had not been called as a witness.

13. Servetus was the only heretic executed for blasphemy in Geneva under Reformed auspices.

14. Compared to the Roman Catholic Inquisition, the City Council of Geneva practiced enormous restraint and fairness.
~Pastor Jason Robertson, Murietta Valley Church, CA
For an excellent discussion on Servetus, click here. For another interesting article on the controversy, click here.
While I do not claim extensive knowledge on this issue, I hold to the belief that all that is wrong will be revealed. It's been 500 years since John Calvin, and we still have no conclusive evidence that he vengefully desired Servetus' death. He was involved, yes, as far as testifying, but at this time I see no evidence for action on his part that would discredit his sincerity and work for the cause of Christ.
Can you name the five points of Calvinism? Most of us would agree with some, though not all of us are five-point Calvinists:
Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints
Thus concludes Reformation Week on My Lady Bibliophile. Though I am sorry to end it, I am much looking forward to next week, when we will begin discussing "The Ins and Outs of Advertising Discernment" and the Elsie Dinsmore controversies.
Lady Bibliophile
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