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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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Dorothy Sayers: The God Of Christianity Has Never Been Boring

Dorthy Sayers

Quoting mystery writer Dorothy Sayers:

“The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore—on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him “meek and mild,” and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggests a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand.

True, he was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers, and humble before heaven; but he insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites. He referred to King Herod as “that fox”; he went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as a “gluttonous man and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners”; he assaulted indignant tradesmen and threw them and their belongings out of the temple; he drove a coach-and-horses through a number of sacrosanct and hoary regulations; he cured diseases by any means that came handy with a shocking casualness in the matter of other people’s pigs and property; he showed no proper deference for wealth or social position; when confronted with neat dialectical traps, he displayed a paradoxical humor that affronted serious-minded people, and he retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb. He was emphatically not a dull man in his human lifetime, and if he was God, there can be nothing dull about God either. But he had “a daily beauty in his life that made us ugly,” and officialdom felt that the established order of things would be more secure without him. So they did away with God in the name of peace and quietness.” (“The Greatest Drama Ever Staged”)

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You Must Understand Judgment To Understand Grace

Dorothy L. Sayers

In the excerpt from a speech below, Dorothy L. Sayers (mystery writer) explains why it is necessary for man to understand God’s Laws and the consequences of Judgment. The preacher is required to preach law and judgment in order that his congregation may fully understand and appreciate mercy and grace. Sayers writes:

[I]t is impossible to have a Christian doctrine of society except as a corollary to Christian dogma about the place of man in the universe. This is, or should be, obvious. The one point to which I should like to draw attention is the Christian doctrine of the moral law.

The attempt to abolish wars and wickedness by the moral law is doomed to failure because of the fact of sinfulness. Law, like every other product of human activity, shares the integral human imperfection: it is, in the old Calvinistic phrase: “of the nature of sin.” That is to say: all legality, if erected into an absolute value, contains within itself the seeds of judgment and catastrophe. The law is necessary, but only, as it were, as a protective fence against the forces of evil, behind which the divine activity of grace may do its redeeming work.

We can, for example, never make a positive peace or a positive righteousness by enactments against offenders; law is always prohibitive, negative, and corrupted by the interior contradictions of man’s divided nature; it belongs to the category of judgment. That is why an intelligent understanding about sin is necessary to preserve the world from putting an unjustified confidence in the efficacy of the moral law taken by itself. It will never drive out Beelzebub; it cannot, because it is only human and not divine.

Nevertheless, the law must be rightly understood or it is not possible to make the world understand the meaning of grace. There is only one real law . . . it may be fulfilled either by way of judgment or by the way of grace, but it must be fulfilled one way or the other. If men will not understand the meaning of judgment, they will never come to understand the meaning of grace. If they hear not Moses or the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. (“Creed or Chaos?”)

Is Evil Outside Or Inside?

I remember many years ago seeing a movie which was forgettable but at its end a quote appeared on the screen saying, “That there is a devil there is no doubt, but is he trying to get in or is he trying to get out?” For some reason this quote has remained with me through the years. Perhaps this is because we are always looking outside of ourselves for the source of our problems. Dorothy L. Sayers (fiction mystery writer) comments on the human desire to relieve mankind of all responsibility for evil:

[The] doctrine of man leads naturally to the doctrine of sin. One of the really surprising things about the present bewilderment of humanity is that the Christian Church now finds herself called upon to proclaim the old and hated doctrine of sin as a gospel of cheer and encouragement. The final tendency of the modern philosophies—hailed in their day as a release from the burden of sinfulness—has been to bind man hard and fast in the chains of an iron determinism. The influences of heredity and environment, of glandular make-up and the control exercised by the unconscious, of economic necessity and the mechanics of biological development, have all been invoked to assure man that he is not responsible for his misfortunes and therefore not to be held guilty. Evil has been represented as something imposed upon him from without, not made by him from within. The dreadful conclusion follows inevitably, that as he is not responsible for evil, he cannot alter it; even though evolution and progress may offer some alleviation in the future, there is no hope for you and me, here and now.

I well remember how an aunt of mine, brought up in an old-fashioned liberalism, protested angrily against having continually to call herself a “miserable sinner” when reciting the Litany. To-day, if we could really be persuaded that we are miserable sinners—that the trouble is not outside us but inside us, and that therefore, by the grace of God we can do something to put it right, we should receive that message as the most hopeful and heartening thing that can be imagined. (“Creed or Chaos?”)

Christianity And Humanism

Dorthy Sayers

After 12 novels and several collections of short stories, Dorothy L. Sayers announced that she intended to stop writing fiction and to turn to more serious subjects. Sayers viewed all life in terms of the incarnation. She lectured and wrote on the imperative need to make Christian dogma meaningful in ordinary life. In this essay, she stresses that it is fatal to allow people to suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling and that it is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vague, idealistic aspiration. She believed Christianity to be a hard, tough, exacting, and complex doctrine steeped uncompromising realism:

A young and intelligent priest remarked to me the other day that he thought one of the greatest sources of strength in Christianity today lay in the profoundly pessimistic view it took of human nature. There is a great deal in what he says. The people who are most discouraged and made despondent by the barbarity and stupidity of human behavior at this time are those who think highly of Homo Sapiens as a product of evolution, and who still cling to an optimistic belief in the civilizing influence of progress and enlightenment. To them, the appalling outbursts of bestial ferocity in the Totalitarian States . . . are not merely shocking and alarming. For them, these things are the utter negation of everything in which they have believed. It is as though the bottom had dropped out of their universe. The whole thing looks like a denial of all reason, and they feel as if they and the world had gone mad together.

Now for the Christian, this is not so. He is as deeply shocked and grieved as anybody else, but he is not astonished. He has never thought very highly of human nature left to itself. He has been accustomed to the idea that there is a deep interior dislocation in the very centre of human personality, and that you can never, as they say, “make people good by act of parliament,” just because laws are man-made and therefore partake of the imperfect and self-contradictory nature of man. Humanly speaking, it is not true at all that “truly to know the good is to do the good” ; it is far truer to say with St. Paul that “the evil that I would not, that I do”; so that the mere increase of knowledge is of very little help in the struggle to outlaw evil. The delusion of the mechanical perfectibility of mankind through a combined process of scientific knowledge and unconscious evolution has been responsible for a great deal of heartbreak. It is, at bottom, far more pessimistic than Christian pessimism, because, if science and progress break down, there is nothing to fall back upon. Humanism is self-contained—it provides for man no resources outside himself.

The Christian dogma of the double nature in man—which asserts that man is disintegrated and necessarily imperfect in himself and all his works, yet closely related by a real unity of substance with an eternal perfection within and beyond him—makes the present parlous state of human society seem both less hopeless and less irrational. I say “the present parlous state”—but that is to limit it too much. A man told me the other day; “I have a little boy of a year old. When the war broke out, I was very much distressed about him, because I found I was taking it for granted that life ought to be better and easier for him than it had been for my generation. Then I realized that I had no right to take this for granted at all—that the fight between good and evil must be the same for him as it had always been, and then I ceased to feel so much distressed.” As Lord David Cecil has said: “the jargon of the philosophy of progress taught us to think that the savage and primitive state of man is behind us; we still talk of the present ‘return to barbarism.’ But barbarism is not behind us, it is beneath us.” And in the same article he observes: “Christianity has compelled the mind of man, not because it is the most cheering view of human existence, but because it is truest to the facts.” I think this is true; and it seems to me quite disastrous that the idea should have got about that Christianity is an otherworldly, unreal, idealistic kind of religion which suggests that if we are good we shall be happy—or if not, it will all be made up to us in the next existence. On the contrary it is fiercely and even harshly realistic, insisting that the kingdom of Heaven can never be attained in this world except by unceasing toil and struggle and vigilance: that, in fact, we cannot be good and cannot be happy, but that there are certain eternal achievements that make even happiness look like trash. (Speech: “Creed or Chaos?”)

Presenting Christianity As Something Charming

Dorothy L. Sayers is one of my favorite mystery writers and she was also a Christian with a very keen insight into the importance of doctrine. Below, she explains why doctrine is so important:

And when he is come, he will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and ye see me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.(John

Dorthy Sayers

16:8-11)

Teachers and preachers never, I think, make it sufficiently clear that dogmas are not a set of arbitrary regulations invented a priori by a committee of theologians enjoying a bout of all-in dialectical wrestling. Most of them were hammered out under pressure of urgent practical necessity to provide an answer to heresy. And heresy is, as I have tried to show, largely the expression of opinion of the untutored average man, trying to grapple with the problems of the universe at the point where they begin to interfere with his daily life and thought. To me, engaged in my diabolical occupation of going to and fro in the world and walking up and down in it, conversations and correspondence bring daily a magnificent crop of all the standard heresies. As practical examples of the “life and thought of the average man” I am extremely well familiar with them, though I had to hunt through the Encyclopedia to fit them with their proper theological titles for the purposes of this address. For the answers I need not go so far: they are compendiously set forth in the creeds. But an interesting fact is this: that nine out of ten of my heretics are exceedingly surprised to discover that the creeds contain any statements that bear a practical and comprehensible meaning.

If I tell them it is an article of faith that the same God who made the world endured the suffering of the world, they ask in perfect good faith what connection there is between that statement and the story of Jesus. If I draw their attention to the dogma that the same Jesus who was the Divine Love was also Light of Light, the Divine Wisdom, they are surprised. Some of them thank me very heartily for this entirely novel and original interpretation of Scripture, which they never heard of before and suppose me to have invented. Others say irritably that they don’t like to think that wisdom and religion have anything to do with one another, and that I should do much better to cut out the wisdom and reason and intelligence and stick to a simple gospel of love. But whether they are pleased or annoyed, they are interested; and the thing that interests them, whether or not they suppose it to be my invention, is the resolute assertion of the dogma. . . .

I believe it to be a grave mistake to present Christianity as something charming and popular with no offence in it. Seeing that Christ went about the world giving the most violent offence to all kinds of people it would seem absurd to expect that the doctrine of His Person can be so presented as to offend nobody. We cannot blink the fact that gentle Jesus meek and mild was so stiff in His opinions and so inflammatory in His language that He was thrown out of Church, stoned, hunted from place to place and finally gibbeted as a firebrand and a public danger. Whatever His peace was, it was not the peace of an amiable indifference; and He said in so many words that what He brought with Him was fire and sword. That being so, nobody need be too much surprised or disconcerted at finding that a determined preaching of Christian dogma may sometimes result in a few angry letters of protest or a difference of opinion on the Parish Council. (“Creed or Chaos?”)

Dorothy Sayers On Deserting Doctrines

Dorthy Sayers

It is my pleasure, if you are not familiar with her already, to introduce you to Dorothy L. Sayers. Sayers is the author of some of my favorite fictional crime novels. In particular, I recommend for your reading pleasure her “Lord Peter Wimsey” series. Dorothy Sayers also became a Christian and a very articulate Christian thinker and apologist. Below, you will find an excerpt from one of her talks:

And when he is come, he will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and ye see me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. (John 16:8-11)

It is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting and complex doctrine, steeped in a drastic and uncompromising realism. And it is fatal to imagine that everybody knows quite well what Christianity is and needs only a little encouragement to practice it. The brutal fact is that in this Christian country not one person in a hundred has the faintest notion what the Church teaches about God or man or society or the person of Jesus Christ. If you think I am exaggerating, ask the Army chaplains. Apart from a possible one per cent of intelligent and instructed Christians, there are three kinds of people we have to deal with.

There are the frank and open heathen, whose notions of Christianity are a dreadful jumble of rags and tags of Bible anecdote and clotted mythological nonsense. There are the ignorant Christians, who combine a mild gentle-Jesus sentimentality with vaguely humanistic ethics—most of these are Arian heretics. Finally, there are the more or less instructed church-goers, who know all the arguments about divorce and auricular confession and communion in two kinds, but are about as well equipped to do battle on fundamentals against a Marxian atheist or a Wellsian agnostic as a boy with a pea-shooter facing a fan-fire of machine guns. Theologically, this country is at present in a state of utter chaos, established in the name of religious toleration, and rapidly degenerating into the flight from reason and the death of hope. We are not happy in this condition and there are signs of a very great eagerness, especially among the younger people, to find a creed to which they can give whole-hearted adherence.

This is the Church’s opportunity, if she chooses to take it. So far as the people’s readiness to listen goes; she has not been in so strong a position for at least two centuries. The rival philosophies of humanism, enlightened self-interest, and mechanical progress have broken down badly; the antagonism of science has proved to be far more apparent than real, and the happy-go-lucky doctrine of “laissez-faire” is completely discredited. But no good whatever will be done by a retreat into personal piety or by mere exhortation to a “recall to prayer.” The thing that is in danger is the whole structure of society, and it is necessary to persuade thinking men and women of the vital and intimate connection between the structure of society and the theological doctrines of Christianity.

The task is not made easier by the obstinate refusal of a great body of nominal Christians, both lay and clerical, to face the theological question. “Take away theology and give us some nice religion” has been a popular slogan for so long that we are apt to accept it, without inquiring whether religion without theology has any meaning. And however unpopular I may make myself I shall and will affirm that the reason why the Churches are discredited to-day is not that they are too bigoted about theology, but that they have run away from theology.

Dorothy Sayers On Christian Dogma

Dorthy Sayers

Dorothy L. Sayers (13 June 1893 – 17 December 1957) is one of my favorite mystery writers. If you have never read her “Lord Peter Wimsey” series of books, I would suggest to you that they are great summer reads. Later in life, Sayers became a Christian and the article below is an excerpt from an address she gave at a biennial church festival. The theme of the speech is as relevant today as when she first delivered it:

And when he is come, he will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and ye see me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. (John 16:8-11)

Something is happening to us to-day which has not happened for a very long time. We are waging a war of religion. Not a civil war between adherents of the same religion, but a life-and-death struggle between Christian and pagan. The Christians are, it must be confessed, not very good Christians, and the pagans do not officially proclaim themselves worshippers of Mahmoud or even of Odin, but the stark fact remains that Christendom and heathendom now stand face to face as they have not done in Europe since the days of Charlemagne. . . .

[A]t bottom it is a violent and irreconcilable quarrel about the nature of God and the nature of man and the ultimate nature of the universe; it is a war of dogma.

The word dogma is unpopular, and that is why I have used it. It is our own distrust of dogma that is handicapping us in the struggle. The immense spiritual strength of our opponents lies precisely in the fact that they have fervently embraced, and hold with fanatical fervor, a dogma which is none the less a dogma for being called an “ideology.” We on our side have been trying for several centuries to uphold a particular standard of ethical values which derives from Christian dogma, while gradually dispensing with the very dogma which is the sole rational foundation for those values. . . .

All I want to say on this point is that, however deeply we have sinned—and God knows we have done plenty of evil in our time—we have not gone so far as to have altogether lost all claim to stand for Christendom. There is a great difference between believing a thing to be right and not doing it, on the one hand, and, on the other, energetically practicing evil in the firm conviction that it is good. In theological language, the one is mortal sin, which is bad enough; the other is the sin against the Holy Ghost, which is without forgiveness simply and solely because the sinner has not the remotest idea that he is sinning at all. So long as we are aware that we are wicked, we are not corrupt beyond all hope. Our present dissatisfaction with ourselves is a good sign. We have only to be careful that we do not get too disheartened and abashed to do anything about it all.

While there is a superficial consensus of opinion about the ethics of behavior, we can easily persuade ourselves that the underlying dogma is immaterial. We can, as we cheerfully say, “agree to differ.” “Never mind about theology,” we observe in kindly tones, “if we just go on being brotherly to one another it doesn’t matter what we believe about God.” We are so accustomed to this idea that we are not perturbed by the man who demands: “If I do not believe in the fatherhood of God, why should I believe in the brotherhood of man?” That, we think, is an interesting point of view, but it is only talk—a subject for quiet after-dinner discussion. But if the man goes on to translate his point of view into action, then, to our horror and surprise, the foundations of society are violently shaken, the crust of morality that looked so solid splits apart, and we see that it was only a thin bridge over an abyss in which two dogmas, incompatible as fire and water, are seething explosively together.

Now in this assembly I may take it for granted that we are generally agreed as to what is good and what is evil. However little we may have lived up to our beliefs, I take it that we are ready, if challenged, to cry, like the paladins in the Song of Roland: “Paiens unt tort e Chrestiens unt dreit” (Pagans are wrong, Christians are in the right). The thing I am here to say to you is this: that it is worse than useless for Christians to talk about the importance of Christian morality, unless they are prepared to take their stand upon the fundamentals of Christian theology. It is a lie to say that dogma does not matter; it matters enormously. It is fatal to let people suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling; it is vitally necessary to insist that it is first and foremost a rational explanation of the universe.

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