Abortion and the Christian

This past Sunday, I preached perhaps the most depressing sermon of my life, entitled, “What Should a Christian Think About Abortion?” It was depressing to study and prepare for, and even more depressing to deliver. It’s necessary to talk about this topic, because it is act of terrible wickedness. However, God is rich in mercy and grace, and can forgive anyone of any sin – including abortion. That was an important focus of my sermon, as I said here:

Today, both legislative houses in the State of New York passed a bill entitled the “Reproductive Health Act.” You can find a good article on this issue, here. But, the best place to go is the source. And, the excerpt of the new law I want you to see is this:

§  2599-aa.  Policy and purpose. The legislature finds that comprehensive reproductive health care is a fundamental component of every individual’s health, privacy and equality. Therefore, it is the policy of the state that:

The term “reproductive health care” is often a polite euphemism for “abortion.” As you read this new law, think about how the horror of the language’s meaning is clouded by the boring, bureaucratic prose. The law continues:

1. Every individual has the fundamental right to choose or refuse contraception or sterilization.

There is no argument, here. The crux is in what comes next …

2.  Every individual who becomes pregnant has the fundamental right to choose to carry the pregnancy to term, to give birth to a child, or to have an abortion, pursuant to this article.    

In my sermon, I mentioned there were two principles that formed the philosophical foundation that makes the pro-abortion mindset possible. To be sure, not every woman who has an abortion actually buys into this mindset wholeheartedly. But, I submit these two sinful principles certainly help provide moral justification for the act of abortion.

These principles are: (1) a denial that the unborn child is a “person” with a corresponding right to life, and (2) an insatiable demand for personal autonomy, to deny you’re under the authority of God, your creator.

You can see that with this language. The law declares, without any justification, that every person who becomes pregnant “has the fundamental right … to have an abortion.”

Says who? You can only buy into this idea if you (1) don’t believe the unborn child is a human being with rights, and (2) you’ve wholeheartedly bought the idea that you’re a law unto yourself. Both these ideas are sinful, wrong, and at odds with the Christian faith.

In my sermon, I talked about the why Christians should see human life is sacred, because people are made “in the image of God:”

I then spoke about the Christian definition of “personhood:”

3. The state shall not discriminate against, deny, or interfere with the exercise of the rights set forth in this section in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services or information.

If you deny the statement in #2 (above), then you “discriminate.”

§ 2599-bb. Abortion. 

1.  A  health care practitioner licensed, certified, or authorized under title eight of the education law, acting within his or her lawful scope of practice, may perform  an abortion when, according to the practitioner’s reasonable and good faith professional judgment based on the facts of the patient’s case: the patient is within twenty-four weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or there is an absence  of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.   

This law expands who may perform an abortion. Now, in the State of New York, any “health care practitioner” can conduct one. A “health care practitioner” can be a physician, midwife, or even a physician’s assistant.

When can an abortion be done? There are three circumstances:

First, the abortion can be conducted at any time up to 24 weeks (6 months). This up to the cusp of the third trimester. By this time, the baby has unique fingerprints, can grasp things with its hands, can smile, has visible sex organs, has vocal cords, the mother can feel movement, and the baby even has a bit of hair. Babies born at the 24 week mark have survived.

At this point, it’s likely one of these abortion procedures I described on Sunday will be used:

Second, the abortion can be conducted if there is reason to believe the baby will not survive to term.

Third, and this is the most chilling of all, an abortion may be performed if it’s “necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.” Who determines this? As quoted above, it depends “on the practitioner’s reasonable and good faith professional judgment based on the facts of the patient’s case.” This is purposely vague language; you can make this mean whatever you want. Judgment based on what? The law doesn’t say, which means there’s a hole big enough to drive a Mack truck through. This is likely the point.

Here is a video clip from Planned Parenthood, documenting the spontaneous cheers which erupted in the New York legislature when this evil bill passed:

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Abortion is a terrible evil that has plagued our land. Christians have a duty to speak out compassionately and forcefully, emphasizing both God’s condemnation of this wicked act, and His mercy, grace, love and kindness to forgive any and everyone who comes to Him in repentance and faith.

Today, one Christian theologian said it best:


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Amen.

What I Wrote in 2018

These statistics are rather interesting. Yesterday, I revealed what I read in 2018. My total was 36 books, which beats the 30 I read in 2017. Today, however, I wish to reveal what I wrote in 2018. Here it is:

Sermons and adult bible study lesson

I know sermons are just as much about communication as they are about writing, but I decided to put them in this category, anyway. As best I can tell, I preached 84 sermons in 2018. This is far, far below what I had to do as a pastor in rural Illinois, where my preaching and teaching load was twice this amount. You can find most of them at the link, above. Some of them, however, were not recorded and you’ll have to take my word for it!

My own website

I became a pastor at Sleater Kinney Road Baptist Church on 20 May 2018, which is precisely two years after I left my previous pastorate in Illinois. This means I have much less time to write. Even so, I managed to write 46 articles this year. Many of them were excerpts from books I’d been reading. I wish I had time to write more.

SharperIron.org.

I write every week for a website called … (you guessed it) … SharperIron.org. I write two original articles per month, and post one article each week about a theological topic. On this last bit, sometimes I post heretical points of view, and other times just “controversial” stuff to generate discussion. This doesn’t entail any original thought; I just have to find something flashy from which to post an excerpt.

I see I wrote 69 articles for SharperIron in 2018.

Summing up

So, as I figure it, I wrote and preached 84 sermons, wrote 115 articles and read 36 non-fiction books in 2018. That’s not too bad. Not bad at all. And, I happen to be reading four books simultaneously right now! Perhaps I can make it to 40 in 2019 ..

What I Read in 2018

I read 36 non-fiction books in 2018. Most are theological, and the rest are mostly history or biography. Here they are:

The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity by Os Guinness

A wonderful book. I reviewed it here. This is a great book about religious liberty.

With Malice Towards None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen B. Oates.

A great one-volume biography. Worth reading.

Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible by Mark Ward.

Great book. Ward tackles the King James Version Only (“KJVO”) movement without wading into the quagmire of textual criticism. I interviewed the author here, at length. It strongly complements James White’s book, for those who are looking for answers to the KJVO movement.

1 and 2 Maccabees by Who Knows (RSV translation).

I think the Old Testament apocrypha is very important for pastors to better understand the background and context of the New Testament. Good stuff; especially 1 Maccabees.

1 and 2 Esdras by Who Knows (RSV translation).

More Old Testament apocrypha. These books is usually grouped with the Old Testament Apocrypha, even though that really isn’t accurate. It’s actually a composite book containing three documents. The first is a Jewish apocalypse from the late first-century (also known as 4 Esdras), likely written just after the destruction of the temple in the aftermath of the Jewish Wars. It’s book-ended by two, shorter Christians works; the first from the second century and the other from the third century.

It’s a fascinating work. There are many, clear allusions to New Testament texts in the Christian documents. And, the discussion of theodicy in the Jewish apocalypse is very, very interesting.

A few highlights from 4 Esdras section; (1) the author took a literal, creationist interpretation to Genesis 1-3; (2) the theodicy shows a high respect for God’s sovereignty and has echoes of Job, and makes some excellent theological comments as it summarizes Israel’s sin, and (3) there’s even a Daniel interpretation.

Awakening the Evangelical Mind: An Intellectual History of the Neo-Evangelical Movement by Owen Strachan.

Good stuff. If you’ve read George Marsden’s classic Reforming Fundamentalismthen you’ll re-tread some of the same ground here. This book takes a slightly different approach. It uses Harold Ockenga, Carl Henry and (to a lesser degree) Edward Carnell as foils to discuss the intellectual awakening which prompted the evangelical movement in the immediate post-World War 2 era. It’s a fascinating, quick read.

It’s also sad, as you see the seeds of the “Gospel-centric” approach to coalition building which inevitably produced a movement characterized by theological Jell-O. As we survey the vast theological wasteland that is “evangelicalism” in 21st-century America, and consider the lessons learned from Ockenga, Henry and Carnell’s naive idealism (particularly Henry’s), we see the necessity for a confessional approach to doctrine. Coalitions and movements cannot exist without a strong confessional center. If that means the movements are smaller, I’m not at all sure that’s a bad thing.

Absolutely Free! A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation by Zane Hodges.

I only read 40 pages of this book. I have no problem reading folks I disagree with; I do that all the time. But, Hodges’ book is pure trash. No balance. No scholarship. No fairness. Just angry trash. Hodges position, that repentance isn’t necessary for salvation, is a heresy and it’s not the Gospel. It’s very, very dangerous.

Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision by N.T. Wright

I don’t know what I think about this. I largely think Wright is arguing against Reformed straw men. I didn’t trace his textual arguments with my Bible open, so I’d have to re-read that section. My sophisticated opinion is that Wright is thinking way, way too hard. I know that makes little sense, but that’s my answer and I’m sticking to it.

The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution – 1764 – 1789 by Robert Middlekauff

A great book, from the Oxford History of the United States series.

Overlord by Max Hastings

A great book on the lead-up to D-Day. Hastings is a world-class historian; he brings history down to the popular level without dumbing it down. Outstanding book.

Tobit (RSV translation)

My favorite book from the Old Testament apocrypha, dating from perhaps the 2nd century B.C. I appreciate it because it’s a wonderful story. It’s also a great snapshot of one expression of the faithful Jewish life, in the time before the New Testament era.

Judith (RSV translation)

Judith was one dangerous woman, lemme tell you …

Original Sin: Illuminating the Riddle by Henri Blocher.

I was disappointed with this little book. Blocher did have a good point that the common analogy “sin as a virus” unwittingly de-emphasizes the human responsibility for sin, as though it isn’t our fault. Sin is our fault, catching a cold isn’t, and that’s where the analogy breaks down.

Blocher also has problems with federal and natural headship theories about the imputation of sin. His solution is to offer what I perceive to be a sub-set of federal headship. He suggests Adam’s sin is imputed to all of creation, because he was the representative head of creation.  I’ve read this section three times, and I don’t understand how this is different than federal headship.

All in all, this is an academic tome which has little practical connection or value to pastors or, heaven forbid, ordinary Christians. It’s written for the academy and interacts extensively with scholarly literature. I’m temped to donate it to Goodwill straightaway, but … my opinion about this little book is so negative I feel I should read it again in a few months. Perhaps I’m missing something.

The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge by David McCullough.

This was a delightful book. I enjoyed it more than perhaps any other I read this past year.

The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870 – 1914 by David McCullough.

Another outstanding book. What an amazing story!

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris.

This is the first of a three-volume biography Morris wrote about Teddy Roosevelt. This is a marvelous book. The sweep of Roosevelt’s life from birth to the Presidency is extraordinary. The man was a published naturalist, a published naval historian, a New York assemblyman, a rancher, the defacto leader of the U.S. Civil Service Commission for seven years, a Commissioner of the New York City Police Department, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy on the eve of the Spanish-American War, resigned to lead a volunteer band of cavalry in the war and posthumously earned the Medal of Honor for his exploits, returned and was elected Governor of New York, then became Vice President of the United States in William McKinley’s second administration.

When McKinley was assassinated barely six months into his second term, Roosevelt became the 26th President of the United States. This volume covers all of this.

Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris.

The second volume of Morris’ biography on Roosevelt. This doesn’t move along quite as fast, but it’s still excellent. Here, we see Roosevelt as a consummate statesman, negotiating an end to the Pennsylvania coal strike and mediating to help end the Russo-Japanese War. We see a portrait of a brilliant man who has come into full and absolute command of his powers.

The Christians as the Romans Saw Them by Robert Wilken

Very interesting. The more background context a pastor can have, the better. I need to read it again.

Solving Marriage Problems by Jay Adams

Jay Adams is the best. His books are great, and very helpful. Pastors should get his material.

John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock by Iain Murray

This book is not worth the $25.87 that Amazon is currently selling it for. It’s more of a sketch than a full-fledged biography, as Murray admits. The book is hagiographic, with some gentle pushbacks from Murray about MacArthur’s dispensationalism.

Murray makes some unworthy comments about Lewis S. Chafer, and suggests MacArthur believes Chafer’s weak anthropology laid the groundwork for the easy-believism of 20th century evangelicalism. I’ve read Chafer’s systematic theology, and this is a false charge. Chafer’s anthropology, hamartiology and soteriology are first-rate, and are clearly Reformed.

This book is worth checking out from the library, not buying. Its main weakness is that its more a sketch than a biography.

Historical Theology In-Depth: Themes and Contexts of Doctrinal Development since the First Century by David Beale (2 volumes)

Outstanding set; indispensable. I reviewed it here.

David Beale was a professor of church history at Bob Jones Seminary for 35 years. This two-volume set presents key doctrinal themes from church history in chronological format, through 57 chapters. It contains extensive citations and excerpts from the key players he’s discussing. This is probably the best introductory-level historical theology book I’ve ever read. It’s outstanding.

Every pastor should have this set; it’ll be a quick and ready reference for his entire ministry. Beale’s discussion on the early ecumenical councils (e.g. Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus [though, to be fair, this wasn’t a “real” council] and Chalcedon) is particularly good.

Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture by David deSilva

Very helpful. Very good. I need to read it again.

Baptist History in England and America: Personalities, Positions, and Practices by David Beale

A first-rate, profound study of the Baptist story. It’s better than Leon McBeth’s book. It’s might be the best Baptist history in print.

The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez

I read the 175 pages (or so) that dealt with the medieval church, because that’s an area I particularly want to brush up on. It was excellent. This was my assigned textbook in seminary for a church history survey. It’s a very, very good book. I need to buy the revised edition.

Duty by Robert Gates

I have great respect for Bob Gates. He was Director of the CIA, President of the Texas A&M system, and Secretary of Defense under Presidents Bush and Obama. This is an outstanding memoir.

Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey

A good book about the Christian worldview. I listened to about half of it, but I’ve heard all this before, so I grew bored about halfway through and stopped reading.

The Miracle of Dunkirk by Walter Lord

A great book. The story of Dunkirk must be told, and Lord did a great job.

Seapower by James Stavridis

A book about the role of oceans on geopolitics. It’s sort of an updated version of Mahan’s The Influence of Seapower Upon History. Excellent stuff. I have great respect for Stavridis, the former U.S. Navy Admiral and Supreme Commander of NATO.

Relevance by Os Guinness

Guinness specializes in worldview books, and this one is good. Unfortunately, I can’t remember too much of it, right now. I do remember it was good!

Moneyball by Michael Lewis
Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by John Meacham

I listened to this book after President Bush passed away. Very interesting.

Retribution: The Battle or Japan 1944-1945 by Max Hastings

Great book.

Jews in the Roman World by Michael Grant

Outstanding book that provides context to the New Testament writings.

Herod the Great by Michael Grant

This is an indispensable book for pastors who want to understand the New Testament world.

George Whitefield (vol. 1) by Arnold Dallimore

Whitefield was truly a great evangelist, raised up by God.

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward

This is a terrifying book. I follow President Trump on Twitter, and I believe every word Woodward wrote. In light of James Mattis’ recent resignation as Secretary of Defense, and comments from Rex Tillerson’s (former Secretary of State) and John Kelly (former Secretary of Homeland Security and White House Chief of Staff), I believe it all even more.

Finished with Sin! (Parts 1 – 2)

1 pet 4(1-2)aIn this passage (1 Peter 4:1-6), the Apostle Peter urges Christians to arm themselves with the same selfless mindset that Christ had; “for Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,” (1 Pet 3:18).

In particular, Peter says the one who suffers in the body (just like Jesus did) is “through with sin,” (1 Pet 4:1). This mindset, attitude and determination is the foundation and bedrock that makes it possible for Christians to have the same mindset Jesus had. In this passage, we’ll look at this passage and what it means for our practical lives, in the real world.

My bible study notes for this passage are here. The first two lessons on this passage are below. As always, the entire teaching series, complete with my teaching notes and audio from the lessons, is here:

Audio – Part 1

Audio – Part 2

The Obligation of Marriage

adams.jpgJay Adams is known as the father of the Christian counseling movement. When people think of “counseling,” they may have images of a contemplative psychologist, pen at the ready, and a comfy couch.

No.

Biblical counseling sounds stuffy, but its really about applying the bible (and its worldview) to real Christian people, with real problems, in real life, in the real world. You can read more about the principles behind this biblical approach here. This is the presuppositional approach Jay Adams brought to the mainstream in 1970, when he published his landmark book Competent to CounselThis is also the approach many conservative Christian universities and seminaries teach their students to use in pastoral ministry. My own alma mater, Maranatha Baptist Seminary, uses this method. So does The Masters College.

Here, in this excerpt from his outstanding book Solving Marriage ProblemsJay Adams discusses the overriding obligation that comes with marriage:

When a couple takes marriage vows, whether they realize it or not (and often they do not), they are vowing to provide companionship for one another for the rest of their lives; that is what their views amount to. Notice, they do not vow to receive companionship, but to provide it for one another. Marriage itself is an act of love in which one person vows to meet another’s need for life, no strings attached.

That means that when a husband or a wife complains,

“I am not getting what I want out of marriage,”

his or her statement is nonsensical. And you must reply,

“You did not enter marriage in order to get something for yourself. You vowed to give something to your partner. Marriage is not a bargain in which each partner says, ‘I will give so much in return for so much.’ Each vows to give all that is necessary to meet his or her spouse’s need for companionship, whether or not he or she receives anything in return. Therefore, the only question for you is, ‘Are you fulfilling your vows?'”

Many marry for what they can get out of the marriage; but that is lust, not love, and is biblically untenable.

Ouch.

Sermon – The Coming King (Zechariah 9)

Zech 9The sermon audio is below. Actually, this is a Sunday School lesson. But, the title has been published, so I can’t change it now!

The Book of Zechariah is a neglected book. At 14 chapters, it’s the longest of the so-called Minor Prophets. It’s an obscure book, tucked away in an even more obscure part of the Christian Bible – that wasteland after the Book of Daniel, before the New Testament.

And yet …

This book has perhaps more direct prophesies per column inch about the coming Messiah than any other book in the Bible. It promises a glorious future for the distressed Israelites, a new and better leader who’ll rule over the world in peace and righteousness, promises a new and better covenant, a new and better High Priest, and vows that Israel will be ashamed for betraying and rejecting her Savior. It’s a thrilling book, and a close reading (with a good commentary even closer at hand) will encourage even the most cynical Christian.

This is also the book which prophesies how the Messiah will reveal Himself to the world as King. That prophesy is found in Zechariah 9:9-11 (and following), and it’s what I taught about this morning. It’s a prophesy which bookmarks the start of God’s fulfillment of everything He’s promised to His people, ever since the Garden of Eden.

Letters from Legion (No. 1)

letterDear Frederick:[1]

Well, it’s Christmas – that time of the year when the Enemy’s Forces celebrate the Cursed One’s birth. Because you’re new at this game, I felt it was high time I send you some tips to help you along. I know, from the texts we exchanged this past week, that you think this is a terrible time of year for us; a time for us to retreat to a corner, lick our wounds, and wait for the storm to pass.

You couldn’t be more wrong!

Take heart; Our Father Below knows this is actually one of the best times of year for our work. You see, Frederick, we know much more about Christmas than the Enemy’s Forces do. We were there, you know, in the beginning. They weren’t, and this is their greatest weakness. All this business about incarnation is abstract to them; weird and impersonal. They can’t conceive of it. And, even if some can, it’s still theoretical and conceptual to so many more. Don’t underestimate this advantage.

You’re young, Frederick – but that’s why I’m here. Christmas isn’t a time of despair for our cause; it’s a time of great opportunity. Our Father Below knows this! So, here’s what you should do with your subject:

Forget about the Cursed One

Keep him focused on the presents and the food. Above all, don’t allow him to dwell on the Cursed One for any length of time.

Don’t worry so much about the Enemy’s Pastors; so many of them are in the bag that we don’t really have to worry about them. They’ll drone on about fluffy nonsense this morning, and barely mention the Good News (which, really, is Bad News for us).

Encourage this.

If the thought of reverent worship to the Cursed One even flits across his mind, crush it, smother it and suppress it. This isn’t hard; think of the books, games, movies and trinkets he’s received today. Let him think church can wait. Let the kids whine about wanting to play. Let the wife fuss about prepping dinner.

Do anything you can to keep his mind off the Cursed One, and on the material things. Our Father Below has worked very hard to subvert this “holiday” with stuff. Use it, Frederick – it’s one of your best weapons. If he falters this year, and pushes the Cursed One to the sidelines, you can be sure he’ll do it again next year. And then, my young apprentice, we’ll have his heart forever.

The cold “religion” his parents taught him will be pushed aside; it’ll be something remote, aloof and distant. That’s what we want.

Let him doubt the Cursed One

Every year, Our Father Below makes sure to plant salacious, ridiculous and idiotic stories in the press to distract the Enemy’s Forces. We must do everything we can to undermine any confidence your subject has in the truth of the Scriptures. Doubt and skepticism are the order of the day.

It could be a story about how Jesus was really married. Or, the one about the “secret gospel,” that the church has “kept hidden” for years. Even better, you could use one that says the Cursed One’s birth is actually a myth, copied from ancient pagan sources.

Of course, it’s all nonsense – the Cursed One is just as alive and eternal as the Enemy Himself. In fact, He is the Enemy Himself! We know that, even if so many of the Enemy’s Forces don’t.

The point, dear Frederick, is doubt. Let that worm of doubt creep into his mind. Let it hibernate, like a ticking time bomb. When the time is right, you can use it to your advantage. It’s a Trojan horse. The best kind of Trojan horse!

But, whatever you do, don’t let him come into contact with Enemy Forces who can actually answer these objections. Keep him away from those people; especially from the leaders in his church.

No, let him surf FaceBook, YouTube or Twitter for answers. He won’t find any, of course, but that’s the point. Let this doubt, like a poisonous seed, germinate. Idiots on FaceBook will plant it, Twitter will water it, and Our Father Below will give the increase.

Let them believe in another “Christ”

This one, Frederick, might be the easiest thing of all to do. The Enemy is very specific on who His Son is. And, Our Father Below is just as generic as the Enemy is specific. Some Enemy Leaders are keen on doctrine, on right belief, and on knowing who the Cursed One actually is.

Keep your charge away from these men. They’re infinitely dangerous.

Let him believe lies about the Messiah. Let them believe he came into existence when He was born in Bethlehem. Let them believe He’s really an angel. Let them think He didn’t really die at all. Let them think He and the Father are actually exactly the same, that there isn’t any distinction between Divine Persons. Do everything you can to confuse matters.

If we can make him believe in a false “Christ,” then our work is basically done.

Let him think doctrine is cold, boring and a waste of time. Direct his energies to those FaceBook groups, YouTube comment boxes or Twitter threads. Do anything to keep him away from what the Enemy’s Forces call “right doctrine.”

Farewell, for now

I have so much more to tell you, Frederick. You have so much to learn! But don’t worry – I’ve given you more than enough to get you started. Employ these methods, and see if they don’t have an immediate impact. The goal is to drive the Cursed One away from his mind; to keep Him abstract, aloof and remote from real life. Keep Him “in church,” and not out in the real world.

Times like these are our greatest opportunities, Frederick. You’ve taken your first steps into a larger world. Our Father Below greets you, and wishes you well. May the Enemy be defeated, and the Cursed One be blasphemed.

Your dearest uncle,

Legion

Notes

[1] Some readers will recognize this letter is inspired by C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece The Screwtape Letters, which is a fictional set of letters between a high-ranking demon (Screwtape) and his young nephew, Wormwood. In these letters, Screwtape offers young Wormwood some practical advice about how to ruin the life of an ordinary young man who has recently become a Christian.

Lewis was a Christian, and this work functions as sort of a mirror into one’s own soul. It’s one of the most brilliant pieces of literature written, I believe. I can’t hope to match Lewis’ style and content, but I can at least give it a shot.