Written by two reformed pastors in America, this is a helpful although brief exposition of Ephesians 6.10-20.
The introduction reminds us how easy it is to become unbalanced in our thinking about, and attitude to, spiritual warfare. It can almost obsess us or we can become effectively naturalists, seeking to explain everything in non-supernatural terms. Moreover, we can swing from one extreme to the other! This book is a helpful corrective to both tendencies.
Reality of the conflict
The opening chapters set the scene – the reality and nature of the conflict and our need of the strength and armour that the Lord provides. The following chapters deal with each part of the armour and the necessity of prayerfulness. The authors opt for a both/and answer regarding whether the Breastplate of Righteousness refers to justification or righteous conduct and whether the Gospel of Peace footwear relates to evangelism or the peace we enjoy through the gospel. Each chapter concludes with some helpful questions for reflection and discussion. Three appendices deal with how God’s sovereignty relates to Satan’s activity, whether a Christian can be demon possessed, and the need to pray for our pastors.
This is a good introduction to a hugely important issue. It has done me good and I recommend it warmly. It could be used in personal quiet times or in house groups. The brevity of the treatment may stimulate you to look elsewhere – such as Lloyd-Jones’ two volumes on these verses – for a more detailed exposition.
Peter Seccombe, an elder at Wellington Chapel, Hereford
‘Virginia Woolf was one of Britain’s most important writers and thinkers, who played a pivotal role at the heart of modernism in the early twentieth century.’
So says Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery. The gallery’s current exhibition on Woolf is the first to use portraiture to explore her life and includes a collection of over 140 items. Her walking stick, letters to her sister, portraits of her friends and copies of her diaries have all been brought together by guest curator Frances Spalding, author of the accompanying catalogue Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision.
The Bloomsbury Group
Virginia Woolf was born in 1882 as Adeline Virginia Stephen. Her father was a biographer and editor, her mother sat for Burne-Jones. Both of her parents had been widowed and brought into their union children from their previous marriages. This meant that Virginia lived with a medley of siblings; for much of her childhood she was one of eight children living at 22 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington.
Woolf soon became a prominent figure in the Bloomsbury Group, which she hosted with her sister Vanessa Bell. Also within the group were her good friends Roger Fry, Lytton Strachey and Leonard Woolf, who she would marry in 1927. Together, she and Leonard founded the Hogarth Press, publishing Virginia’s modernist novels as well as groundbreaking work by T.S. Eliot, Sigmund Freud and Virginia’s lover, Vita Sackville-West.
Woolf is primarily remembered by literary scholars for her unique writing style, which is often described as ‘stream of consciousness’. However, the National Portrait Gallery exhibition reveals that she was also deeply involved in politics, fashion and art. She raised funds for victims of the Spanish Civil War, posed for photographs printed in Vogue and was listed as a patron for a London showing of Picasso’s painting Guernica. The exhibition does a fascinating job of exposing this variety. However, there is at least one further aspect of Woolf’s vision that merits exploration: that of her religious belief.
‘Religion is detestable’
Like her father, Woolf seemed tired of conventional Christianity. She declared herself an atheist, was known to call religion ‘detestable’ and referred to God as an ‘old savage’. Often she wrapped her objections in jokes, as in one letter to Lytton Strachey where she declares: ‘I read the Book of Job last night – don’t think God comes well out of it.’
Nonetheless, she was always impressed with Russian novelists like Dostoyevsky who dealt with ‘the stuff of the soul’ and who ‘confound us with a feeling of our own irreligious triviality’. She was also, at times, drawn to Christian symbolism in her own writing and even seemed to experience a ‘mystical impulse’. It’s enough to convince the academic Pericles Lewis that Woolf’s work does not reject religion altogether, but rather ‘seeks new forms of the sacred that will accommodate the pluralism of modern life’.
Interestingly, he goes on to claim that Woolf was not opposed to Christianity any more than she was to atheism. Instead, she sought to explore multiple spiritual perspectives, refusing to allow one to have dominance over another. Indeed, when she does approach religion in her own writing, it is with a tone of questioning and inquiry. Of the novel Mrs Dalloway she wrote in her diary: ‘I want to give the slipperiness of the soul.’
For Woolf, religion was not a source of truth and security. Instead, her multifarious moments of mysticism seemed to be connected to her struggles with depression. In one diary entry she wrote: ‘I wished to add some remarks […] on the mystical side of this solitude […] It is this that is frightening [and] exciting in the midst of my profound gloom, depression, boredom, whatever it is….’
Woolf had long suffered with mental illness. In 1941, when she was just 59, she committed suicide by drowning herself; she filled her coat pockets with stones and walked into the River Ouse. She left her walking stick on the river bank, a recent letter to her sister that explained her pain, and a collection of novels that have endured as classics of modern literature. All of them are on display at the National Portrait Gallery, and all of them point to a writer and a woman whose ‘religious vision of life’ (to quote Auden) is worth exploring further.
Rachel Thorpe writes the ‘Crossing the culture’ column for en and works as an events planner and freelance writer in Cambridge. More of her articles can be found at www.rachelthorpe.com
Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision runs until October 26, 2014 at the National Portrait Gallery, London.
This article is an edited extract from Surprised by God: lives turned upside down, by Faith Cook, recently published by Evangelical Press, ISBN 978 1 783 970 087 and is used with permission.
How bad were the Canaanites?
The Israelites original arrival in the land of Canaan, after the exodus, brought a military judgment and destruction on the inhabitants of a number of its towns – including the destruction by fire of three cities. Critics complain that surely this period represented a low point in biblical history. Weren’t the indigenous inhabitants simply peace-loving pastoralists going about their daily lives?
Rotten to the core
The Bible makes it clear that as the Israelites arrived they were bringing judgment upon a culture rotten to the core. Most evil of all was their religious practice of sacrificing newly born babies by having them burned alive. The Israelites had to be warned not to engage in such wickedness (Leviticus 18.21). Sadly, even the wisdom of Solomon failed him at this point as he followed the local culture into such awful acts (1 Kings 11.4-11). The Hebrew word tophet original-ly identified such a place of sacrifice in the Hinnom Valley. Modern scholars use the term to identify any location where it is thought such rituals were carried out.
What is the evidence for such depravity? Outside of the Bible, many classic Greek and Roman writers, along with early church theologians, provide eyewitness accounts. Some modern sceptics have sought to dismiss this evidence. Were descriptions of child sacrifice mere propaganda? Did the Greeks and Romans seek to smear the reputation of their enemies, the Carthaginians? Did the Bible writers simply want to provide an excuse for their destruction of previous societies? Could not the tophets simply be ancient child cemeteries rather than anything more sinister?
Recent archaeological evidence from the largest known site at Carthage confirms the worst. 200,000 urns containing the cremated remains of very young children were buried here over a number of centuries. Inscriptions on standing stones indicate that they were dedicated to gods. Recent study has been able to ascertain that most of the remains are of babies between 1 and 2 months of age. This is clear evidence that the site is not a cemetery for natural infant deaths. Natural deaths would reflect a wider age spread from prenatal to early years. The tophet at Carthage is witness to a deliberate act of execution. A professor of Medical Anthropology at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem simply concludes, ‘the incinerated infants in the Carthage tophet were sacrificed to the gods’. (Patricia Smith, ‘Infants Sacrificed? The Tale Teeth Tell’, Biblical Archaeological Review, July/August 2014, p.56) This was a common practice in the ancient world and God used the Israelites to deliver his judgment on such child slaughter (Genesis 15.16).
One reason for the revisionists attempt to deny the evidence is that such wickedness seems hard to believe. Josephine Quinn, of Oxford University, having surveyed the dreadful evidence, comments: ‘We like to think that we’re quite close to the ancient world, that they were really just like us – the truth is, I’m afraid, that they really weren’t’. Is this the real reason for the rejection of the biblical claim that Canaanites deserved judgment? We find it hard to believe that they could be so wicked.
Except we are not so different, are we? We may not call it child sacrifice, but since 1967 there have been 8 million abortions in Great Britain. In 2012 there were 190,800 abortions in England and Wales. It is estimated that 97% of abortions are for social reasons, unrelated to the health of the mother. Babies are being sacrificed for the modern gods of convenience, ambition and self-interest.
Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer observed, ‘Cultures can be judged in many ways, but eventually every nation in every age must be judged by this test: how did it treat people?’ Nothing tests the humanity of our culture more than our treatment of the vulnerable, including the unborn. Writing in 1979, Schaeffer noted that having lost the biblical view of humanity, ‘Human life is cheapened. We can see this in many of the major issues being debated in our society today: abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, the increase of child abuse and violence of all kinds, pornography, the routine torture of political prisoners in many parts of the world, the crime explosion, and the random violence which surrounds us’. (Francis A. Schaeffer, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?) These were prophetic words and we need to question whether contemporary human beings are really so different from those of ancient history.
Chris is lecturer at Moorlands College and pastor of Alderholt Chapel. His books include Confident Christianity and Time Travel to the Old Testament published by IVP.
This book is the second in a series of seven that are planned for future publication.
It is good, easy reading for young people (9yrs–13yrs) with short chapters and a wide vocabulary. The setting will be familiar and the attitudes of the adults are full of common sense!
Power of prayer
Mary Weeks Millard has been gifted to write good children’s books that are both exciting and full of gospel truth. The blurb says that she enjoys writing books to encourage young people to grow in the Christian faith and she achieves that in a way that cannot fail to impress her readers. Pirates and Prisoners focuses on the power of prayer.
This book will make an acceptable Sunday school prize or a good stocking filler at Christmas. We look forward to the rest of the series being published and also reading the author’s other books.
Val Maidstone, pastor’s wife from Dorking