03 July 2013

Bigger on the Inside

by Frank Turk

First things first today -- you may have noticed that your comments don't automatically plaster the basement of our posts anymore.  All comments now go into moderation when you post them, so the crack-like rush of getting your comment into the conversation is now delayed by what I am choosing to call, "a moment to think it over a bit."  Now, I grant you: it means Dan and I get to think it over a bit more than you do, but in the interest of everyone's peace of mind we will still have comments -- they just won't explode onto the internet like a pumpkin falling off a truck at 85 MPH anymore.

As you all may recall, Phil Johnson has helped write a lot of books, and Dan Phillips has written a couple of books.  In fact, most of the bloggers you have probably read, and a few you haven't, have all written books.

I have not written a book.  I wrote a Graduate Thesis on Wallace Stevens back at the end of the 1980's, but in spite of receiving a 4.0 grade and concluding my career as a professional student, that was only just under 100 pages.  I have written something like the equivalent of 1500 pages blogging, but so what? Am I to repackage that like some sort of Mad Magazine annual?  I would think less of you if you bought such a thing.

So while I have my complaints about what is able to be published these days, and my own regrets about what a useless peanut-roaster of a blogger I am, I have to admit that anyone who can sit down and gin up (more-or-less) 200 pages in one attempt for publication has to earn from me something which is a mix of bitter-and-sweet, respect-and-envy.

I work with a fellow named Michael Belote -- I talk to him almost every day.  He blogs at Reboot Christianity, and he has published a book called Rise of the Time Lords: A Geek's Guide to Christianity.  It's available on Kindle and as a Paperback, and as you will expect from me, I'm not going to write you a book report about it.  That sort of review can be found here or here.  What I am going to do is to recommend you read this book for your own good just to get you out of the Reformed ghetto for a couple of hours one Saturday.

There are plenty of shortcomings to Michael's book.  From my desk, while I enjoyed the analogy of Flatland to help us understand the great-than-nature-ness of God, I always worry how we try to make those sorts of analogies work with the Trinity.  Will we gravitate to modalism rather than Trinitarianism as we discuss how God, infinite above creation, can be and is three persons and one essence.  Michael's attempt to explain Free Will through Quantum Mechanics left me, um, blinded with science.  But: in spite of the things I think a few readings of the WCF and the longer and shorter catechisms might have helped Michael avoid, there is something legitimately-gripping about this book which most books published about theology these days simply don't have.

Michael's book has a gigantic heart.  There is an earnestness in his approach and his prose which is surprising.  It's almost like Michael wasn't trying to sell anybody anything -- not a book contract, not a page of text, not a single copy of his book.  But instead, he was trying to invite the reader into something -- to use the conceit of his title, something that turns out to be bigger on the inside.  That is: when Michael fails at analogy to systematics, he is failing because he's trying to express something that is just true.  He's aiming at Truth.

What I like about Michael's book, in spite of its flaws, is that somehow in his exorbitantly-geeky delivery he demonstrates something bigger than his analogies.  He speaks to something greater than creation -- and he does it in a way that works on people and what they already know.  This book isn't any kind of poetry, and it isn't written to be more than the simple prose that it is.  But it does something that good poetry usually does: it speaks past the metaphor and out of the truth which the author is trying to demonstrate.

If you read this book you will certainly see its theological flaws, and frankly its literary flaws.  But you will find something that 99% of our reformed books can't seem to muster: a sense of real wonder and real curiosity about the God who saves us.

That's worth reading.  When you're done, you can hold a study group to uncover all the anti-confessional statements Michael makes if that's what it takes to make you feel smart again -- but maybe what you need is not to feel so smart.  Maybe you need to feel like you have no idea how this faith can actually be bigger on the inside, and to ponder that for a little while as if you just discovered it for the first time.


Tom Chantry said...

It is alleged that Sinclair Ferguson (!) spoke to his class at Westminster once about the gospel being bigger on the inside than on the outside - meaning that the benefits of the gospel don’t look like much to the unbeliever, but once inside the believer begins to explore the riches of His grace. Apparently he said this around 2000, prior to the re-launch, and when he mentioned the Tardis none of his American students had any idea what he was talking about.

Johnny Dialectic said...

I am all for thoughtful folks self-publishing their theological musings, so long as they are vetted by some trusted source. Flipping through this book shows a good mind grappling with the big questions, with some innovative results (e.g., the conflation of quantum physics with a form of Molinism, pg. 109). Good for the author. Let the conversation begin.

(One design note, however: He should not have the word "By" on the cover).

One Pyro note: exchanging the wild robustness of the comments for the moderating hand of the admins will probably lessen the action. The exploding pumpkin vitality of the combox was perhaps the signature feature of Team Pyro. Methinks the neighborhood won't be the same.

Frank Turk said...

There are larger issues afoot than the excitement of exploding pumpkins. I agree that it changes the dynamic is a lot of ways.

LanternBright said...

You're not going to start complaining that you're the tin dog of the internet, are you, Frank?

Tom Chantry said...

Incidentally, Blogger is now eating comments. Whenever a user posts a comment while that same user has other comments awaiting moderation, blogger presumes that the latest comment is a replacement/edit and deletes the previous comments. For instance: if a user makes a comment and subsequently thinks, "One more thing..." and posts a follow-up, only the follow-up will be moderated and appear. One more way Blogger stinks.

Michael Coughlin said...

I'm glad Michael has a good friend and coworker like you. I can tell you have a special friendship and that is a wonderful thing in this world.

Jim Pemberton said...

"my own regrets about what a useless peanut-roaster of a blogger I am"

...which makes the rest of us... somewhat lower?

Frank Turk said...

Jim -- it's a fair question.

From my desk, I have a lot of guff to give other people who are at least disciplined enough to start a book and finish it to fulfill a contract. (For example, complaining that most of these books are book reports and term papers) Yet I am unable to do any better: I can't even write one of those utterly-serviceable 200-page apple-polishers.

That makes me a somewhat-disreputable critic, I think: I talk a lot about what is wrong with the process without being able to do anything about it to the right side of the matter.