Greetings, Readers!

Looking for something good to read? Well, you’ve come to the right place! I love reading, book lists, and recommending great books to others. Please accept my humble reviews and recommendations of Christian, Classic, and Children’s books. Check out my lists of “Books Every Christian Should Read,” and feel free to comment on my articles and to offer some of your own recommendations!

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An Atheist’s Search for Joy: Surprised by Joy

Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by C. S. Lewis

“Joy itself, considered simply as an event in my own mind, turned out to be of no value at all. All the value lay in that of which Joy was the desiring. And that object, quite clearly, was no state of my own mind or body at all.”
 
“The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”


C. S. Lewis is one of the most popular Christian writers of the 20th century. His works include both non-fiction and fiction, including theology, philosophy and science fiction, his best known being The Chronicles of Narnia series. Personally I find some of his theology to be a bit off, so I have to admit I’ve enjoyed his fictional works more than his non-fiction. Surprised by Joy is an autobiographical account of his life up to his conversion from atheism to Christianity. I had always heard that he was an atheist who became a Christian while actually trying to disprove Christianity, but that’s not the way I interpreted his journey towards faith in God, although it was an interesting read (if not a bit dry in places). I do recommend it to anyone who is a staunch Lewis fan.

Clive Staples Lewis was born in 1898 in Belfast, Ireland; his father was a solicitor and his mother’s education was in mathematics. While he grew up surrounded by books and academia, his childhood lacked what he refers to as experiences with beauty – art, nature, poetry, romance – with religion being completely absent. He says,

If aesthetic experiences were rare, religious experiences did not occur at all…I was taught the usual things and made to say my prayers and in due time taken to church I naturally accepted what I was told but I cannot remember feeling much interest in it…Of my mother’s religion I can say almost nothing from my own memory. My childhood, at all events, was not in the least other-worldly.

Lewis describes his father as being “sentimental, passionate, and rhetorical,” and this contrasted with his mother’s peaceful pleasantness made him distrustful and uncomfortable with emotions at a young age. When his mother died when he was eight years old, his father took it badly and became angry and emotionally unpredictable, alienating Clive and his older brother, but causing their bond together to become stronger.

Providentially, Lewis was born with a physical defect in his thumbs which made it difficult for him to handle tools and equipment, inhibiting his ability to make things with his hands or to play many sports with any amount of success. As a result, he turned to writing, and drawing illustrations and maps to go along with his imaginative stories. I find it interesting that his imagination was obviously innate and God-given, since his childhood environment didn’t seem to contribute to or encourage it.

It wasn’t until he went away to boarding school at age nine that Lewis became exposed to sincere, serious Christian teaching and began to pray and read the Bible seriously. But at age 13, under the influence of the head matron of his second school, Lewis became interested in the occult and started losing interest in Christianity, gradually becoming an atheist, and drawn into worldliness as a result of another teacher’s influence.

At this point, Lewis may have abandoned any thought of God, but God had not abandoned His plan to work in him. The beginning of this turning around seemed to occur in 1913, when Lewis’s imagination was rekindled as he became basically obsessed with mythology, calling back to his earlier years when he and his brother would invent fictional kingdoms and characters. At that time, there was never any element of belief; he always knew it to be imaginary. He was a confirmed materialist, putting a lot of weight in the authority of science and believing that only what can be seen and touched was real, and rejecting anything out of hand coming from a Christian, whom he didn’t see as realists. Unfortunately, everything he loved seemed to be imaginary, while he saw reality as “grim and meaningless,” and Christianity held no attraction for him:

Christianity was mainly associated for me with ugly architecture, ugly music, and bad poetry…But what mattered most of all was my deep-seated hatred of authority, my monstrous individualism, my lawlessness. No word in my vocabulary expressed deeper hatred than the word Interference. But Christianity placed at the center what then seemed to me a transcendental Interferer. If its picture were true, then no sort of “treaty with reality” could ever be possible.

In fact this, essentially, is why most people reject the idea of God – they want to be their own god and don’t want to be held accountable by a higher authority.

As a young man, Lewis didn’t realize that his taste in literature and music (opera), and his Latin skills, not to mention his lack of interest in sports, placed him in a class apart from others. This was a contributing factor in the companions he chose and the circles he would become part of. Eventually he became introduced to writers and philosophies which held to beliefs in a spiritual or supernatural realm. He was exposed to and influenced by writers such as John Milton, G. K. Chesterton, George MacDonald, and George Herbert, all who wrote with beauty and eloquence, and spoke about truth, goodness, virtue, and joy. Here again God was working. Lewis makes the comment, “A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere – ‘Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,’ as Herbert says, ‘fine nets and stratagems.’ God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.” So true. If God has a target on your back, you cannot escape Him!

Several of his friends at Oxford became Anthroposophists, a philosophy defined (according to Wikipedia) as one that “postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world, accessible to human experience through inner development.” He also became friends with two Christians who challenged his atheism, one of whom was J. R. R. Tolkien. A subtle question entered and grew in Lewis’s mind: Perhaps there is more than what can be physically seen. Thus God planted a seed of doubt in his mind. His rekindled interest in the possibility of a spirit world could have disastrously led him down the path towards the occult and black magic, but he believes God protected him and did not give him the opportunity or influencer to escort him in this direction. In fact, Lewis had been searching for joy, and in his experience and memory, the occult held only that which was dark and scary – the very opposite of joy.

While rejecting the specific teachings and applications of Anthroposophism, as a result of reading, discussing, and thinking through these ideas, Lewis came to accept that there must be an “Absolute” beyond the physical realm. However he initially chose to think of this “Absolute” as impersonal and did not identify it yet as theism or belief in a personal God. Then one night in 1929, Lewis confessed that God was real, and he says he knelt in prayer, possibly as “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” He says in God’s mercy he was brought in “kicking, struggling, and resentful.” But he acknowledges that this was just one more step in the direction towards, but not conversion to, Christianity. As a theist he now began attending church, though merely out of a sense of obedience and obligation and without understanding the value of it. He went through a period of self-examination and reform, although it was not what he considers to be true repentance.

His actual conversion to Christianity took place possibly a year later, after he came to accept the Gospel accounts and the Person they spoke of as truth and not myth. Only when he came to see that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh did he realize that Christianity was not merely a religion or a philosophy, but a fact – a person who must be embraced and a faith that must be lived out.

Every step I had taken, from the Absolute to “Spirit” and from “Spirit” to “God,” had been a step toward the more concrete, the more imminent, the more compulsive. At each step one had less chance “to call one’s  soul one’s own.” To accept the Incarnation was a further step in the same direction. It brings God nearer, or near in a new way.

He continues to explain how his conversion occurred:

I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken. I was driven to Whipsnade one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did…It was like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.

It was interesting to see the gradual steps that C. S. Lewis made towards accepting the existence of God and finally faith in Christ. The element I found to be missing and wish was included more was the role that God’s Word played in his ultimate repentance and conversion. We know that God uses many different people and circumstances in our lives to draw us to Him, as can be seen in the life of C. S. Lewis. But the primary and essential tool He uses is the truth of Scripture, for it is the Gospel that has the power of God unto salvation, as Paul states in Romans 1:16.

The theme of Lewis’s autobiography is that of Joy: his constant search for it in various places and things offered by the world. He remarks,

I saw that all my waitings and watchings for Joy, all my vain hopes to find some mental content on which I could, so to speak, lay my finger and say, “This is it,” had been a futile attempt to contemplate the enjoyed…for all images and sensations, if idolatrously mistaken for Joy itself, soon honestly confessed themselves inadequate.

C. S. Lewis learned that the only source of real, pure, lasting Joy is God, who is Joy Himself. If we seek to find happiness, satisfaction, contentment, or joy in anything but God, that thing or person is a substitute for God and a mere idol, one which cannot and will never satisfy.

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The Fight for Equality: Animal Farm

Animal Farm by George Orwell

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”


Although I enjoy reading fiction and read a fair amount of it (I earned my degree in English, after all), I recommend more non-fiction here on my site because for the most part, non-fiction tends to be more profitable to the mind and soul. However, I do feel there is merit to reading good fiction, which unfortunately is becoming more difficult to come by in this day and age. I find the most worthwhile fictional works were published before the 20th century, and certainly before about 1950. If you haven’t already checked it out, you can see my current list of fiction I believe every Christian should read, which I continue to add to as titles come to mind or are brought to my attention.  After reading a review of Animal Farm by a fellow Goodreads member, Natalie Vellacott, I realized that it was a novel that I should add to my list of recommended fiction. Now there have only been a couple of times that I have posted or reblogged a review that I did not write myself. And Natalie’s great review was so on-point that I figured, Why invent the wheel? I asked Natalie’s permission to share her review here, and she graciously agreed.

Animal Farm (1945) is an allegorical satire by George Orwell (himself a Socialist) which he wrote to criticize and expose the problems with Communism under the Soviet Union’s totalitarian leader, Joseph Stalin. I will let Natalie take it from here: Continue reading

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To Die is Gain: Foxe’s Book of Martyrs

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe

A History of the Lives, Suffering and Triumphant Deaths of the Early Christian and the Protestant Martyrs

“This is a book that will never die, so long as men love and serve our blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
 
“After the Bible itself, no book so profoundly influenced early Protestant sentiment as the Book of Martyrs.”


Ever since the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr (see Acts chapter 7), followers of Christ have been persecuted, oppressed, imprisoned, tortured, and killed for their faith. My last post shared the story of Brother Andrew, who has dedicated his life to helping Christians living in oppressive, atheistic countries. Organizations like Open Doors and Voice of the Martyrs provide support and help to many Christians around the world who are not free to worship and express their beliefs openly.

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, as it came to be called, is a collection of stories of Christian martyrs through the centuries recorded by John Foxe, who was born in England in 1517, the same year that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenburg. Continue reading

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Strenghthening What Remains: God’s Smuggler

God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew with John and Elizabeth Sherrill

“Awake and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death” (Rev. 3:2)…Could it be that God was speaking [these words] to me right now, telling me that my life work was here behind the Iron Curtain, where His remnant Church was struggling for its life? Was I to have some part in strengthening this precious thing that remained?


Here in the U. S. we are so blessed and privileged to have free access to God’s Word, and liberty to speak about our beliefs and worship the Lord as we desire. Over the centuries and even today, this has not been the case in many places throughout the world. Brother Andrew’s story, as told in the book God’s Smuggler, gives us an idea of the oppression suffered by Christians living behind the Iron Curtain, specifically during the 1950’s and 60’s.

It was 1987, the year after my husband and I were married, that we took a trip to Macau to spend a couple weeks working with a missionary family that we knew there. One day the plan was to go on foot through the border into China, accompanied by Mrs. A. While we were tourists there to see the local sites, we also had an ulterior purpose for going there –to deliver Bibles and other Christian literature to waiting recipients. Yes, for one day my husband and I were Bible smugglers, and not only that, but we were caught! Continue reading

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Understanding – the First Step Towards Compassion: Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

“…it did not occur to them that this twelve-year-old boy might be as gifted at peace as he was at war.”


Well, I’m not a huge Sci-Fi reader, but I had seen the movie Ender’s Game and decided to give the book a try, and I’m so glad I did! One of my rules is that typically I won’t watch a movie until I’ve read the book first, but this was one of those cases where I didn’t know about the book (which was published in 1985) until after seeing the film. I still hold to my theory that the book is always better than the movie, but I am going to watch the movie again, now having read the book. This may not be the greatest science fiction novel – I don’t read that much sci-fi so I may not be the best judge – but I liked it. Continue reading

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A New New Year’s Challenge: Learn a Catechism!

Happy 2018 Everyone!

Every year at this time, I typically challenge my readers to consider reading through the entire Bible during the coming year. As I’ve said before, the Bible is not a book that is meant to be read once, then checked off a reading list and set back on the shelf. I have made it my habit to read through the whole annually for probably about 20 years or so. There are many One Year Bibles and Bible reading plans to choose from. I’ve read One Year and Chronological Bibles in different versions, and a couple years ago I started using the free YouVersion app on my phone, but there are others out there as well. If you have a long commute to work, maybe the Bible on audio would be a good way to go. The key is to find a method and format that works for your lifestyle and will help you to be regular in your reading and stay on track. Continue reading

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