The Gospel and Personal Evangelism: Book Review

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Mark Dever effectively relates in his book, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism with profound familiarity to what many people battle with when it comes to evangelism. Overall, I thought the book was a good reinforcement to what many people already know. It is more of a reminder of the Christians responsibility to evangelize without delving into any specifics.

This book is a diagnosis of the situation and the problem of why, as individuals in the Church do not evangelize. He attempts to get into the mind of the Christian to see what it is that keeps them from sharing the good news. He opens by giving a list of common excuses that are extremely personal and easily able to connect with. If anyone has even made the attempt to evangelize they have certainly dealt with at-least all of these excuses. He gives a total of five excuses. Examples include, “I don’t know their language (20),” and “Other things seem more urgent.” He then briefly shows why Christians are failing in all these areas. For all the excuses he boils it down to at-least 12 reasons.

The rest of the book then undertakes to uproot these excuses; by expanding some of the 12 reasons and by explaining what the Gospel is and ways one should evangelize. In this book Mark Dever shows that when it comes to share the Gospel there must be a balance between honesty, urgency, and joy. Honesty, because the Gospel is offensive and when one’s fear of man is greater then their fear of God they compromise the Gospel to make it more palatable. Urgency, because when the believer presents the Gospel of Salvation to an unbeliever, he has no other choice. There is no other “deal in town” to reconcile him with a holy God it is imperative that the unbeliever seriously thinks of the Gospel. Finally, Joy because the Gospel is good news and it is the life of the unbeliever to believe and accept.

Following from this point Mark Dever leads into the discussion of what evangelism is not. Commonly, Christians pursue apologetics and personal testimony, or social action, all of which are not evangelism but a means to serve evangelism. Another important emphasis that Mark Dever makes is that Evangelism is not imposition. He argues that because the Gospel is really not ours but God’s. It is God’s saving message for humans. It’s is God who brings Salvation, the responsibility of the believer is only to tell another person this good news.

He concludes by showing what a Christian should do after the Gospel has been presented. Mark Dever looks into different answers that people give and briefly unpacks what the person is going through. In addition to his concluding remarks he makes one final exhortation to our importance in evangelism. 

I Am A Church Member: Book Review

This book is small, but its content is extremely practical and convictional. In Tom S. Rainer’s book, I am a Church Member he challenges readers to search out their hearts and ask questions that are intensely personal about one’s membership to their Church. One common question that people are asking in their Church appears in some form of, “why is my Church failing?” This he argues, is a result of the members of the Church inability to see that they themselves are actually the one’s failing the Church. The Church is made up of a body of believers, and in today’s world the majority of people tend to think that Church membership is about them, and their rights. Tom S. Rainer calls it, “the country club mentality.” It is the idea that once one has paid their dues, they are immediately entitled to do what they want. They are entitled with an uncompromising I, and say, “I have served here for this long, I do not like this, I would rather do it like this,” and so on and on. In his book, however, Tom S. Rainer flips this idea on its head, and shows that as a member, one is functioning in the context of a body much greater then themselves. Church membership means one “Give[s] abundantly and serve[s] without hesitation . . . [giving] without qualification . . . [they] view tithes and offerings as joyous giving (14-15).” The Church is not a club he insists but it is a place where one’s involvement determines the success and well being of the Church as a whole.

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This is just one of the many ideas that the author uproots. He goes on further to add that members are to be unifiers and not the cause of division. Church members are functioning properly when they are encouraging, and building up the Church, not breaking it down. They are servants to each other by giving endlessly, and caring for each other by praying for the leaders and other members. Moreover, a church member gives up their own personal ambitions for the unity of the whole by being of the same mind. Finally, Rainer concludes by showing that Church membership cannot be bought, but that it is a gift. A gift that God the Father provided through his Son Jesus Christ, who died on a cross for this reason: to give his entire ministry in obedience to the Father in order that humanity could be in a right relationship with him. Once one has seen the value of Church membership in view of this, it is imperative for that person to function the way that Christ did, in complete submission to the Father and His will, and not our own.

The Anabaptist and Contemporary Baptist: Book Review

The most influential group of people in today’s modern day Baptist is largely contributed to the works of the early Anabaptist of the 16th century. This occurred during the time of the renaissance when it was experiencing an explosion of arts and new perspective on humanity in Italy and in Venice. This was a place where man’s intrinsic values were metaphorically put on a pedestal and emulated. While Germany also experienced its own renaissance, a revival in the Church, called the reformation was occurring too. All throughout the centuries since the New Testament Church people have always been trying to return to its value and its polity. The Pope had controlled the Church and they fell into deep heresies. Anyone who resisted the Churches interpretation was killed. The resistance grew weak and was nearly lost if it were not for the courage and conviction of a few men who choose to fear God instead of man. Balthasar Hubmaier was one of those men. He was an Anabaptist, a man devoted to scripture and its teachings, although his work was almost forgotten as well. Dr. Paige Patterson president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and College has brought to life the teachings of these great saints and are remembered in his writings and The Anabaptist and Contemporary Baptists, a book contributed and in honor of his contributions. In this book of compiled essays by some of the best scholars in the subject have shown the value of, and what we can learn from the Anabaptist.

The book is divided into three sections. The first section is devoted to the Anabaptist (1) Theology, (2) life and works of Balthasar Hubmaier, (3) and Anabaptist history. Beginning with the theology of the Anabaptist Dr. Paige Patterson writes the first essay entitled, “What Contemporary Baptist Can Learn from the Anabaptists (11).” It is important to note from his conclusion one main point. He leaves it with an opened ended question. The question of whether “certain connection” can be made between Baptist and Anabaptist (25). This is important because the entire book attempts to make this one connection. Indirectly, the connections are clear but never does this one question receive a full answer. It is left in ambiguity with the evidence brought together by scholars for the reader to decide whether there is one between the Anabaptist and the contemporary Baptist.

One overarching theme that is consistent throughout the entire compiled works is both the Anabaptist devotion to scripture and its practical application to ones life. It is clear to see that their complete devotion and studying of God’s Word instilled a reverent fear of God in them. Dr. Paige Patterson quotes, “The Bible alone was the guide to their newly found faith, and this Bible they read assiduously from cover to cover (14).” It was not only an Anabaptist distinctive but also what primarily lead to what is now contemporary Baptist theology. The Catholics and The Magisterial reformers did not share this view of the scripture. The Catholics rejected biblical truth, while the Magisterial reformers based everything on election (41). The Anabaptist focused on the transformed life in Christ. They respected scripture defined as, “allowing Scripture to provide its own form for Christian theology (31).” As a result to having a proper respect for scripture it naturally lead to right hermeneutics and therefore proper doctrines. One example includes the doctrine of the Trinity. Micheal Sattler revived this difficult doctrine of the Trinity. A doctrine that was vague and difficult at the time to understand the Anabaptist were unashamed to boldly state that God the Father was equally God the Son and God the Holy Spirit (38). Having this proper understanding of the Trinity affected all other doctrines. The doctrine of the Trinity explains everything that finite minds can know about God. From being a model for all our relationships and purpose in life to why sins of omission, and disunity are anti-biblical. This doctrine produced in the Anabaptist an impenetrable force against the Catholic and Magisterial reformers. When a group can come together they can accomplish more together then they ever would alone and the doctrine of the Trinity transformed their community. Their respect for Scripture did not just remain in their academics like many contemporary Christians today leave it encompassed every facet of their lives. The Anabaptist were courageous and enjoyed true freedom in Christ because they embraced the cross completely. William Schiemer teaches that a believer must, “submit to the cross and endure its pain [internally especially but possibly externally as well],” to receive the comfort of the Spirit (55). Dr. Wilkinson shows from this lesson one can learn from the Anabaptist that God intends to give us happiness but it is “often not what we expect or even want (63).”

Secondly, the life of Balthasar Hubmaier was also marked by strict devotion to the scriptures. When the Catholics and Particular Baptist were defending infant Baptism Balthasar Hubmaier appealed to Scripture to find that nowhere in the Bible does it support the baptism of infants. Against the Particular Baptist like Luther, and Calvin who defended election and God’s limited atonement Hubmaier showed the vanity of God’s commands, and exhortations if he did God did not give the people the choice of freewill. In Hubmaier’s Apologia he writes, “If people were deprived of their free will God could never by just judgment condemn the sinner on account of his sins (152).” It was also his appeal to the trichotomy of man that helped him understand the fall and what parts of man where lost. Unlike the Particular Baptist who rejected that there is any good in man Hubmaier explains the death experienced by Adam and Eve and all mankind after the fall was only a wounding of the Soul that could be, “repaired through the Word of God (160).” It was also Hubmaier that showed the Catholic Church the proper understanding of the Lords Supper. It was not the literal body and blood of Christ but it was, “the visual reminder of the covenant into which one entered at Baptist (175).” While defending that it was the Holy Spirit who served as mediator for the presence of God and not the actual flesh and blood.

Finally, one can also see from History that the Anabaptist were focused not on the opinions of men, the church, or the culture of the renaissance but the Word of God. Primarily focusing on Erasmus and his contribution and translation of the New Testament. He introduced a new and fresh academic approach to scripture that literally changed the vulgate. In the Vulgate he found mistakes including, “do penance” for “repentance (192)” A concept that the Catholic’s rejected in order to maintain their false system. Without Erasmus and his fresh interpretation of Scripture Luther would never have had the necessary scholarly work that contributed largely to his own German translation. Which, in addition to the printing press it is said that he would never have had the impact he had without his translation for the German people to read in their own language. Finally, we also see the devotion of the Italian Anabaptist and acceptance of the cross when thousands were massacred for defending Trinitarian theology in the midst of a culture that rejected this doctrine (254).

The question still remains, is there a connection between Anabaptist and contemporary Baptist? Perhaps not, that is in the sense that contemporary Baptist today are lacking that strong foundation the Anabaptist had in the Word of God. However, one can still learn from their example and from the proof of history, that when life is done according to the Bible it is inevitably going to change the culture. This book strongly supported its claim and defended it well. It is a fact in history that was nearly lost if it were not for the revival Dr. Paige Patterson caused among contemporary scholars and Baptist today to remember this example.    

What Churches can Learn from the Trinity

 What is it that distinguishes the true Church from the false church and therefore the world? This question is critically important because the dividing line between these two separate worldviews is getting smaller. The Church is losing its distinctive that makes it the Church because its foundation is loosely built on superficial solutions. Which inevitably, show their strength in times of intense pressure. Consistently, one can observe Churches closing their doors or separating on secondary issues.  The problem is not a new one and history teaches that this will continue to be a problem. However, there is a solution. The doctrine of the Trinity helps one understand a gospel that provides the context for encompassing one’s entire life.

“The gospel is Trinitarian and the Trinity is the gospel[1].” This is the heart of Fred Sanders book, The Deep Things of God: how the Trinity Changes Everything. As the potential affect when a Christian looks into the Trinity, Fred Sanders hopes that their lives will be radically changed because the Gospel is the Trinity. He develops his argument with three points. One by looking at the (1) extent of the gospel, (2) the form of the Gospel, and (3) the salvation given by Christ. The extent of the Gospel deals essentially with how big one sees God in our life to give humans salvation. He shows that the, “good news of salvation is ultimately that God opens his Trinitarian life to us.”[2] A phrase that seems meaningless almost entirely without taking a closer look into what the Trinity actually is. Sometimes Christians tend to think that the Gospel was a single moment in their life then they can move on to bigger and more difficult doctrines in Scripture. Yet, as one will see, “the Gospel is God-sized”[3] The reason for this is because God gave up everything to save humankind. If Jesus is truly God as He says in John 8:58, then the Gospel ought to impact believers in such a way that is fully committed to the example of this magnificent saving work.

       The Father teaches Christians how to live their life in light of this reality. The Father chooses in humility to disclose himself through his Son. This is the very model that God called humans too. He is so gracious, loving, and despite not needing humanity he wants to “share with us,” the relationship he has with the Son and Holy Spirit.[4] If Christians could get ahold of this glorious truth then the relationships in the Church would look significantly different because there are no secrets in the Trinity. It is not based on competition or who is the smartest, best looking, charismatic, or even best orator. It doesn’t even matter if your an extrovert, introvert, or an ambivert.  Everyone would feel the sense of importance that they desire in this relationship that the Father express to wicked sinners because it demands of everyone to also model this pattern to one another. Furthermore, when looking at the Trinity’s involvement in our Salvation, one cannot escape the fact of how much the Father loved the Son. One will never understand how much God loved humanity until they understand how much God loved his Son. Salvation through Jesus Christ was not some afterthought of God’s saving work for humanity but it was his very heart. Fred Sander writes, “God gives nothing less than himself to be our Salvation.”[5]

       Secondly, the Trinity also has implications in one’s ministry in light of the shape of the gospel. In the chapter that deals with this concept it is shown the importance of the economy of salvation. The economy of salvation shows that salvation was not a work that was brought along by happen-chance or haphazardly put together, but that it had a purpose and each person has a significant role to play in it. Each of the three in the Trinity have distinct functions. Without one or the other there would have been no salvation. Beginning first with the Father, “who planned redemption and sent his Son into the world.”[6] Salvation would have been useless if the Son then did not choose to obey his Father by accomplishing redemption. However, this still was not enough if the Holy Spirit had not submit to the Son and empower dead sinners to make them holy and acceptable before God’s presence.[7] Carefully reflecting on this indicates that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were all fully active and necessary to complete what was the only thing that could save humanity (Acts 4:12). That means that the work on the cross was not a mistake and that there was no other way but for Christ to endure all that pain and suffering because God the Father loved mankind. 2 Corinthians 5:21 adds that God’s elect become “the righteousness of God.” Consequently, Christians are now able to experience the same enjoyment that the Son experiences from the Father.[8] Thus, letting the elect participate in the Trinity.

       Finally, the doctrine of the Trinity has implications for the Christian when looking at salvation given to the elect by Jesus. The most serious problem in Churches comes from their false view of Jesus in His saving work of mankind. As a result it potentially produces an independent and self-center model for relationships and therefore a dangerous view of God. That is because, although it is not wrong to focus on the Son, it is not right to forget or ignore what the Father and the Holy Spirit did in our Salvation.[9]  When Jesus becomes the center of man’s understanding of redemption it also become the model, “Jesus becomes my heavenly Father, Jesus lives in my heart, Jesus died to save me from the wrath of Jesus, so I could be with Jesus forever.”[10] This view effectively destroys all what was said before and makes redemption seem thoughtless. The model again shows no participation, no humility and worst of all no love. Love is the foundation of our Salvation and love cannot be expressed independently but can only exist in the context of two and three.

       Moreover, Dr. Matt Sander, a professor at The College of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, reminds Christians that Christ has taken away the penalty of death. Therefore Christians no longer have “to live in fear of the Darwinian concept of survival of the fittest.”[11] A concept that has metaphorically suffocated churches, and caused division. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 it says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.” If Christians would remember to live as if this verse were true in their life, they would remember that their ministry is an expression of the life of the Trinity in them; and remember that they have even overcame death. In the hope of remembering this it would demand Christians to quit being overly dogmatic and unforgiving, thoughtful and careless to the needs of a brother. When a person is truly converted and understands what Christ did on the cross they, “immediately turn to farming instead of war, and instead of arming their hands with swords stretch them out in prayer, and, in a word, instead of fighting amongst themselves, henceforth they arm themselves against the devil and the demons, subduing them with sobriety and virtue of soul.”[12]

            In summary of Fred Sanders book there were many strengths and weaknesses. The first strength was that it clearly showed that God opened the Trinity for his elect to participate in (as shown from the examples above). He also did well in showing how the Trinity should stir within Christians a new life. Sanders did this by asking reproducing similar conversations that appear in the Church like the example given on page 171. Other examples include giving biographical information of how the trinity changed the lives of other men and women like Nicki Cruz, Susanna Wesley, and even Henery Scougal. He did not do well however in examining the scripture enough to develop a stronger case for his argument. Many times it seemed that he only used a few verses and when he did the verses seemed as fillers because there was minimal interaction done directly with the text. Overall, the book challenges one to see the significance of the Gospel in all of their life by looking at the Trinity.

[1]Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God : How the Trinity Changes Everything (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2010), 10.

[2]Ibid., 98.

[3]Ibid., 103.

[4]Bruce A. Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit : Relationships, Roles, and Relevance (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2005), 56.

[5]Sanders, The Deep Things of God : How the Trinity Changes Everything, 125.

[6] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology : An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2000), 249.

[7]Ibid.

[8]Sanders, The Deep Things of God : How the Trinity Changes Everything, 161.

[9] Ibid., 170.

[10]Ibid., 171.

[11]Sanders Matt, Focus Study in the Trinity; Class Lecture at The College of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. 25 March, 2014

[12]Athanasius, On the Incarnation : The Treatise De Incarnatione Verbi Dei, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press “Popular Patristics” Series (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1996), 105.

Hamlet and Calvin

Hamlet and Calvin

 In Shakespeare play, Hamlet, one of the questions that arise from the text is whether or not Hamlet has free will? It is difficult to reconcile the questions concerning why he seems to choose otherwise when the circumstances demand his action. Calvin’s doctrine of providence also adds an interesting contribution when considering Hamlet. The purpose of this paper is to juxtapose Shakespeare’s play Hamlet with Calvin’s doctrine of providence in his literary masterpiece The Institutes. It will be argued that Hamlet has a very limited free will that determines his end.

There are three reasons why Hamlet has a limited free will. The first reason is because Hamlet chooses to obey the voice of his father’s ghost (1.5.25). Hamlet accepts to avenge his father’s death and it is based on this choice his fate is determined. In an indirect way, as the reader knows, Hamlet is also willing to take responsibility for the consequences that come along with revenge. His father’s ghost came to Hamlet during a time of mourning and anger. Hamlet was upset that his father had died and is angry that his mother has married his Uncle. Hamlet is nearly lifeless, and arguably is willing to end his life. The ghost enters into Hamlet’s life with a purpose. Hamlet has no other reason to go on living, no ambitions, he has lost the right to the throne and the ghost comes into his life to compliment what Hamlet is missing. Hamlet cannot control the situation that he is in, Hamlet cannot be held responsible for the death of his father, and he is certainly not responsible for his mother’s marriage. Based off of what one knows of Hamlet this makes him angry and sad, something that he also has little control over. So Hamlet’s choices are very limited. He could choose to avenge his father’s death, or he could choose to continue to live without a sense of purpose. Both of them have negative consequences but the former weighs more in favor in contrast to the latter. This is Hamlet’s dilemma. As a result of finding his purpose in killing his Uncle, Hamlet’s decisions become even more limited. From this point onward Hamlet progressively puts himself in situations where the choices to do what is right is going to be nearly impossible to choose.

A second reason why Hamlet has a very limited fee will is because his choice has limited options to prevent him from his destruction. No longer are his options equally presented before him to choose otherwise. For example, once a man has chosen to purchase a yellow car with only 15,000 dollars, he cannot also chose to purchase a blue car that is the same price. That man has to deal with the consequences and choices of choosing a yellow car. In Hamlet’s situation he has chosen beyond the rationality of human persuasion and his own reasoning, and rationality to obey a ghost (1.4.46). Closely tied to this reasoning is reason three. Hamlet only has a limited free will because his life exemplifies times when he does not act when circumstances seemed best for him to do so. The first example of this is when Hamlet freely chose to wait and not kill his Uncle while he is praying (3.3.68-79). Hamlet still wants to kill his Uncle. He no longer contemplates the option of whether or not he wants to kill him that has been determined already. He contemplates how he wants to kill him, and the best possible way to kill his Uncle. The last example is Hamlets own destruction. Revenge has consequences and Hamlet choose all the negative choices that lead to his tragic death. Hamlet, was no longer presented with the equal choice, “To be or not to be” his purpose was attainable, he fulfilled that purpose and once his purpose was fulfilled he has no reason to go on living (3.1.56). Hamlet died because he chose to die, whether he knew that his choices would result it death or not.

On the other hand Calvin’s view of providence completely rejects the interpretation that is put forth above. There is no free will in Calvin’s understanding of providence. For example Calvin writes, “Has a murderer killed an innocent man? He has only, they say, carried out God’s will” (77). He adds further that no one “can oppose God, who had planned it all from eternity.” He draws upon Proverbs 16:9 to support his interpretation. In an earlier part Calvin also adds that God’s omnipotence is not idle and inactive, but rather he is also “caring, effective, energetic and always active” (71). In Hamlet, the interpretation that is put forth above does not completely dismiss free will. It also does not completely disagree with Calvin’s view. God knows Hamlet’s inevitable doom because of the choices Hamlet will make that will determine his end and destruction, but that does not mean that he was coerced to act against his will.

One of the reasons why Hamlet, the play, has survived its antiquity is because of Shakespeare extraordinary ability to make his characters believable. The readers are absorbed instantly into the character because one can relate with the same tragic downfalls, and joys that are experienced in the play. Hamlet is hardly fictional and Calvin wrote about reality as it presented itself to him. It was argued that Hamlet had a limited free will that determined his destruction. This view does not agree with Calvin who argues that God has already predetermined everyone’s choice.

 

Hamlet’s Revenge

Hamlet is a play of sad misfortune and determination that is all caused by the affects of revenge. Revenge like sin is a malfunction of the mind that grows like an uncontrolled cancer and once it has consumed the mind there is little one can do to focus its aim. Hamlet encapsulates all of humanity in this single feeling of revenge. Through his character the reader is allowed to explore the dangers of revenge and why one should avoid it. Revenge has consequences and in addition the reader is also able to embrace this vice by entering Shakespeare’s world without feeling the actual repercussions. Hamlet is a model that reinforces what the Bible teaches about when revenge is taken in the hands of sinful human beings. Hamlet is so intimately connected with posterity that one can see that revenge left uncontrolled can lead to madness, uncertainty followed by inaction and finally the destruction of the self.

Hamlet’s conflict begins in Act II when he meets the ghost of Denmark, who is in the appearance of his father. Horatio, Bernardo, and Marcellus saw this ghost in the beginning of Act I. They tell Hamlet that they believe it was his father. Hamlet is a little unsettled yet he is interested in meeting this ghost. Consequently, Hamlet desires to know and decides to meet up with his three friends that night to see if the ghost is really his father. When night come almost suddenly the ghost does reappear and it demands Hamlets private attention. The ghost entices Hamlet by waving him three times to follow him. His friends attempt to not let him go but the ghost is successful by isolating Hamlet. This shows metaphorically that Hamlet would choose to reason with the dead rather then the living. During their encounter, Hamlet and his father begin discoursing. His father reveals to Hamlet the actual events that resulted in his death. He further discloses to Hamlet who killed him and to Hamlets surprise, the ghost tells him that it is his Uncle. His uncle apparently snook into the garden where Hamlet’s father was asleep and then poured poison in his ear. His father who is apparently upset, although he is dead, he wants to get even and tells Hamlet to avenge his death. The scene ends with some uncertainty on Hamlet’s part but when the next scene begins it is obvious that Hamlet starts to search out for the truth. Though there is little to no good reason for Hamlet to do this. Arguably speaking it is a way for Hamlet to get closure on his fathers death. He is terribly distressed that he has died, he is upset that his mother married his uncle, thus affecting his right to the throne, and Hamlet does not know what to do. He stated himself upon seeing the ghost, “let me not burst in ignorance”[1] and yet, he decides against his wisdom for his hunger of adventure, a sense of duty, and primarily revenge to listen to the ghost. It is as if now the ghost has entwined its spirit to Hamlet. He becomes the metaphorical puppet that the ghost can control to finally accomplish the desire of his dead father.

Evidence from a biblical perspective reveals other reasons why Hamlet should not have listened to this ghost. Four reasons that indicate that this was not a spirit from God but a demon. The first reason is that the ghost tells Hamlet to avenge his death. God never tells an individual to seek out vengeance. Matthew 5:39 states, “But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”[2] In Deuteronomy 32:35 and many others references it reads that God is the one who takes vengeance.[3]  Secondly, a divine spirit from God will not seek ways to fascinate one in a world that does not exist. Ephesians 2:2 states that Satan is, “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” If one relinquishes themselves to the temptations of Satan then it is within his power to do to that person what he wills. It is his intention to isolate people and place them in a fantasy world where rationality, the law, and gravity do not exist. Thus, he successfully removes one from reality, the actual world that God has created for man to have dominion over and work in, to a world that has no God and no existence. An imaginative world that has no God to keep one morally accountable can cause devastating results. This is the world that Hamlet has now entered. The third reason is that the ghost tells Hamlet himself that, “My hour is almost come, / When I to sulf’rous and tormenting flames / Must render up myself.[4] The Bible portrays hell as a place of pain and torment (Rev. 14:10). Another reason is that Hamlet himself concludes that the ghost was a demon!

 

I know my course. The spirit that I have seen / May be a devil, and the devil hath power/ T’assume a pleasing shape, yea, and perhaps / Out of my weakness and my melancholy, / As he is very potent with such spirits, /Abuses me to damn me.[5]

 

It seems obvious that Hamlet knows with certainty that it is a demon telling him to do this work. 2 Corinthians 11:14 says that, “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” Hamlet has surrendered himself to the will of Satan. Although the answer from where the ghost actually comes from is never decisively known it seems explicit that the ghost is not good.[6]

       The ghost is evil but it also seems to have done little to spur Hamlet’s madness though. The ghost simply gave Hamlet a purpose, a design for his madness to take hold of. Some of Hamlets most horrific lines begin when he is alone contemplating over his father’s death and his mother’s marriage to his uncle. Hamlet reflects on his own life and wishes to commit suicide if God did not prohibit it (1.2.129-35).[7] He is deeply depressed, wishing that his skin would melt off and further states that all the things in this world are to him like nothing and “stale.” It is in this state that the ghost strategically appears to Hamlet. individuals are most vulnerable to mental illnesses. During a time of deep despair the ghost gives Hamlet one last reason to live before he takes his life. Nothing can bring him satisfaction and completion in his life then murderous revenge because he no longer begins to moan over the death of his father. This purpose is enough to distract Hamlets minds from his former misery but what he does not know is that his new aim is only going to lead him into more misery.

 

The rest of the book unfolds the events on how Hamlet is going to accomplish this purpose. Hamlets inevitable future is foreshadowed by the words of Horatio, “What if it (the ghost) tempt you toward the flood, my lord, Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff . . . Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason / And draw you into madness.”[8] 

 

Another example of Hamlet’s madness is seen when he spontaneously kills Polonius.  Hamlet is told to meet up with his mother and he angrily agrees and begins lecturing to his mother about what a terrible person she is. Hamlet does not know whether or not his mother conspired in the death of his father but he assumes the worst. He demands her to look at herself in light of marrying Claudius just months after the death of Hamlets father. She cannot stand the conviction and begins to cry out for help. Polonius, who is hiding behind the curtains begins crying out for help too. Hamlet is surprised, and thinking it was Claudius, he thrust his sword into the curtain killing Polonius. This is strange. Hamlet is certainly willing to take a life and is not afraid to do it even if he is not certain of whom the life it maybe. But what is surprising is that his uncertainty did not cause him to hesitate when he drove his sword into uncertainty. This occurred only moments before Hamlet, who is still uncertain about Claudius, he hesitates to take action while he his praying. Hamlet’s character is certainly a conflicted one that is seeking for something else. Continuing however, back in the same scene with his mother the ghost reappears in Gertrude’s bedroom. The ghost comes to him to tell Hamlet that he has lost focus of his purpose and that he needs to stop procrastinating.[9] Unlike before however, Gertrude cannot see the ghost. Before Horatio, Bernardo, and Marcellus all witnessed the ghost in Act I scene I. The ghost really did appear to these three in the beginning but in Gertrude’s bedroom however, the ghost is just a figment of Hamlets imagination. It is never made explicit if this conclusion is correct because perhaps the former King of Denmark did not want to reveal himself to his wife in the form of a ghost. But, accepting the scene as it is, Gertrude opinion does seem rational, “Alas, he’s mad.”[10]

After this encounter Hamlet has no problem then to drag out Polonius’ body and hid it somewhere in the castle.[11] These are not normal events for one who is mentally sane. Death is not something that Hamlet is afraid of as further indicated by Hamlet’s character development when considering the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They were indirect targets of Hamlets insanity. Before, when Hamlet was in the room of Claudius he hesitated and decided not to kill him. If there is one person who honestly deserves to die it is Claudius. However, when Hamlet switches the letters that result in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern death he moves with impressive speed and a significant amount of wit. Hamlet is not completely foolish but his mind is obviously divided. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were doing the Kings will,  yet despite their manipulation that would have lead Hamlet’s own death they did not deserve to die. Hamlet does not even seem to care that these two innocents died.

Most of what we know about Hamlet is by his words and not his actions. Hamlets revenge has not only driven him to madness but his revenge has also led to a divided mind. His mind is divided. Hamlet contemplates life or death in his famous soliloquy, “To be or not to be (3.1.56).” His division leads to his downfall. In Mark 3:23 it says that, “a house divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” Consequently, Hamlet never is able to decide whether or not he is certain of anything. Hamlets love with Ophelia displays symptoms like bipolar disease. One day he loves her and would give anything for her, and the other day he tells her to join a nunnery and then when she dies, Hamlet appears to be in love with her again. His mind is divided he tells the queen that he has been feigning madness but Hamlet treats Ophelia like she is less then human. No one would risk the possibility of losing the one true lover by mistreating the other person. Hamlet has no leash and is like a wild dog that cannot be controlled. Only one time out of the three encounters Hamlet has with Ophelia he shows his love for her. As a result it can be argued that Hamlet indirectly caused the death of Ophelia. His attitudes were certainly detrimental toward Ophelia and when she contemplated whether it was better to live or die, she chooses to die. This all supports possible neuroses that Hamlet suffered under as well. These mental illnesses unlike psychoses, which last continually, only occur spontaneously. It is, “manifested by disturbances of though, emotion and behavior which is irrational, unrealistic and inappropriate.”[12] Hamlet shows signs of all three of these characteristics.

Other example’s of his madness that is produced by his revenge leading to inaction is the time when he fails to act upon perfect opportunity to complete his purpose. Hamlet, who is uncertain whether the ghost is really telling him the truth decides to put on a play. The play is a reenactment of how Claudius killed Hamlet’s father. When the actor poor’s the poison in the other actors ear Claudius is frightened. He recognizes the scene and thinks that someone may know that he actually was responsible for the death of the former king. He leaves and demands everyone else to leave as well. Hamlet is convinced now but still uncertain whether or not Claudius really killed his father. His revenge has blinded him and he is incapable of judging correctly Claudius’s reasoning. Claudius the King goes into a private room and begins praying seeking a way to find forgiveness and freedom from his guilt. He admits to killing his brother and he is unable to find forgiveness because he does not want to give up his Kingdom and the Queen. Hamlet walks in behind seeking to kill Claudius but decides against to because he does not want Claudius to go to heaven. He concludes that it would not be revenge but a favor, and deliverance, an answer to Claudius’ prayer. Samuel Taylor Coleridge agrees and adds:

 

The determination to allow the guilty King to escape at such a moment is only part of the indecision and irresoluteness of the hero. Hamlet seizes hold of a pretext for not acting, when he might have acted so instantly and effectually: therefore, he again defers the revenge he was bound to seek, and declares his determination to accomplish it at some time, ‘When he is drunk asleep or in his rage, / Or in Th.’ incestuous pleasures of his bed.’[13]

 

His opportunity is there however to take the life of Claudius, to satisfy his purpose in this life but he refuses to. His madness has blinded him of his purpose and even though he has better reason now to believe that ghost was actually telling him the truth he chooses act by not acting. The ghost gave him one task and it has lead to inaction. Hamlet has lost the opportunity. It appears though, that his madness desires more then just to see the death of Claudius but for Claudius to suffer in excruciating pain.

Hamlet entertains hundreds of ideas but fails to execute on any of them. What he does successfully is done spontaneously and unplanned. It might be because Hamlet does not actually want to kill king Claudius. The greatest fear in most people are accomplishing what they think is their pinnacle achievement and once it is accomplished they see no meaning in their life.[14] Perhaps, like all those who aspire to achieve their dreams they wish to see it done in the most perfect way and Hamlet cannot decide what way that should be. There are many unexplained interpretations to why he decides not to choose life and pursue the ghost’ commands.

One early example in the 20th century that illustrates Hamlet’s conflict is in the life of Howard Hughes. Howard Hughes was a billionaire who lived life much like a prince. He was a director and had a deep love for aviation. After a terrible plane crash that happened in 1946 he retreated from the world. For some unexplained reason he no longer enjoyed the public life and he locked himself up in a hotel room in Las Vegas and lived in different hotels to avoid paying taxes. While he was there, there was little to no interaction with the outside world. (Howard Hughes: His Life and Madness) He only made contact with his second wife, Jean Peters through phone, which eventually lead to a divorce. He was diagnosed with OCD and as a result of avoiding public appearances his business was indirectly affected.[15] His uncertainty to participate in worldly affairs, due to his OCD, lead to his insignificant death because of his becoming reclusiveness.

Hamlet’s revenge has not only leaded him to madness, uncertainty and inaction but also the destruction of himself. This is most clearly seen by his own death due to the inevitable consequences of revenge. When Hamlet is in the graveyard he begins to speak to the gravediggers and acting irregular around the corpses as the diggers through up the skulls. What normally gives people repulsion he sees fascination. He picks up one of the skulls and begins talking to it. It is as if he is willing to accept the consequences of his sins by looking into the skulls eyes and seeing the vanity of his own life.[16] This behavior is certainly abnormal for a Prince. Presumably, he would have been brought up under the best treatments of being the Son of a King, he may have seen, and he shows a strong connection with death. He is even speaking to the skull, which implies that the body has rotten and already released a fowl odor and he acts completely indifferent to it, as if he was talking to a live human being.[17]

       At the end Hamlet chooses to take the challenge against Laertes the son of Polonius. Laertes is also motivated by revenge and wants to avenge his father’s death. Hamlet accepts but even in this decision it indicates that Hamlet has lost sight of his purpose. He is supposed to avenge his father by killing Claudius. Once Laertes strikes Hamlet he discovers it is with a poisoned tipped sword, that lead to Laertes death when Hamlet strikes Laertes. At this point the queen has already drank from the poison in the cup and she dies. Hamlet then understands the cynical plan that Claudius and Laertes had planned to kill him. Thus, Hamlet strikes the king, and makes him drink the poison. When Hamlet dies, Fortinbras who came to visit Claudius assumes control of the Kingdom and everything is lost. Revenge has consequences and it should never be pursued no matter how small it is. Benjamin Franklin’s poem illustrates this well: “For want of a nail the shoe was lost; for the want of a shoe the horse was lost; and for want of a horse the rider was lost, being overtaken and slain by the Enemy, all for the want of care about a horse-shoe nail”[18] Hamlet’s father had already died. There was nothing Hamlet could do to bring him back to life. He chooses revenge rather then to morn. His revenge caused him to loose focus of his purpose that directly affected all the people around him. As a result of his revenge losing focus Hamlet loses his life. This was all in want to take justice in his own hands by trying to avenge his father.           

       Hamlet made his choice to take matters into his own hands. A sinner himself he would not deny but seems to think he can take justice into his own hands. God does not give human beings the power to avenge because of our sinfulness. Sin is a malfunction of the brain and it negatively affects the ability to discern what is true justice. God does however establish human judges in Roman 13. However, God is the ultimate avenger who will determine ones eternity because he is the only morally objective anchor that does not look at mans outside but mans heart (1 Samuel 16:7). The gospel’s never explicitly tell believers why one should not take vengeance in their own hands but it is obvious what the Bible does tell believers to do. For example, believers are to be forgiving (Matt. 18:22) and not let the sun go down on their anger (Eph. 4:26). In James he writes, “for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (1:20).” The parable of the merciful King teaches individuals that one is “never more like God than when he forgives.”[19] Therefore, the opposite is true, never is one more unlike Christ when we do not forgive. Metaphorically speaking, humanity is swimming in an ocean of God’s grace and forgiveness that is demanded of them to show unto others.

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

 

Barlett, Donald L., and James B. Steele. Howard Hughes  His Life & Madness. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004.

 

MacArthur, John. Matthew 16-23. Chicago: Moody Press, 1988.

 

Milt, Harry. Basic Handbook on Mental Illness. New York: Scientific Aids Publications, 1965.

 

Penn, Robert, and Benjamin Franklin. The Wit and Wisdom of Benjamin Franklin : For Satb Chorus, Unaccompanied. Macomb, Ill.: Roger Dean Pub. Co., 1975.

 

Robert Ornstein, “From the Moral Vision of Jacobean Tragedy” in The tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York, Ny Penguin Group 1998.

 

Samuel Taylor, Coleridge, “From The Lectures of 1811-1812, Lecture XII,” in The tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York, Ny, Penguin Group 1998.

 

Shakespeare, William, and Sylvan Barent. The tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. New York, Ny: Penguin Group, 1998.

 

Sylvan Breach, “Introduction,” in The tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. ed. Sylvan Barnet New York, Ny, Penguin Group, 1998

 

[1]Shakespeare, William, and Sylvan Barent. The tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. New York, Ny: Penguin Group. (1.4.46).

[2]I have used the ESV translation throughout this paper, unless otherwise noted.

[3]Lev. 19:18; Duet 32:35; 1 Sam. 26:10, 11; Ps. 94:1; Prov. 20:22; Rom. 12:17; Eph. 4:27; 1 Thess. 4:6; 2 Tim. 4:14

[4]Shakespeare, William, and Sylvan Barent. The tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. New York, Ny: Penguin Group.(1.5.4).

[5]Ibid., (2.2.610-15).

[6]For additional textual reason refer to: Sylvan Breach, “Introduction,” in The tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. ed. Sylvan Barnet New York, Ny, Penguin Group, 1998.lxix.

[7]Shakespeare, William, and Sylvan Barent. The tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. New York, Ny: Penguin Group. (1.2.129-35).

[8]Ibid., (1.4.69-70,73-74).

[9]Ibid., (3.4).

[10]Ibid., (3.4.106).

[11](4.2.1).

[12]Harry Milt, Basic Handbook on Mental Illness (New York: Scientific Aids Publications, 1965), 15.

Samuel Taylor, Coleridge, “From The Lectures of 1811-1812, Lecture XII,” in The tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York, Ny, Penguin Group. 175

[14]Shakespeare, William, and Sylvan Barent. The tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. New York, Ny: Penguin Group. Lxxxi.

[15]Barlett, Donald L., and James B. Steele. Howard Hughes : His Life & Madness. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004. 226-250.

[16]Robert Ornstein, “From the Moral Vision of Jacobean Tragedy” in The tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York, Ny Penguin Group. 220

[17]I have personally talked with two gentlemen who are not only ethnically Malagasy but they were born and raised in Madagascar for the most part of their lives. They have told me that in Madagascar they practice a ritual called Famadihana or “turning of the bones.” This ritual occurs every year and they dig up all the remains of their ancestors to rewrap them. This is not a time of morning though. Apparently, they are celebrating and drinking in honor of their ancestors. My friends tell me that the stink is horrendous and they are not allowed to say anything about it because it would be disrespectful.

[18]Robert Penn and Benjamin Franklin, The Wit and Wisdom of Benjamin Franklin : For Satb Chorus, Unaccompanied (Macomb, Ill.: Roger Dean Pub. Co., 1975), 86.

[19]John MacArthur, Matthew 16-23 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988). Ch. 15

Here I Stand: Book Review

Roland Bainton summarizes in his words the central thesis. He writes, “Luther was above all else a man of religion (2).” Since this is a biographical work Bainton is going to try and prove his thesis chronologically. As indicated early on he only intends to cover areas that do not support his argument for the purpose of supplying content to the biography. One small digression here is to be noted. This is a weakness. If it cannot be proven all throughout Luther’s life that he is a man of religion, which is the main thesis, then the argument is suspended. Arguably the problem with the thesis is that it is not narrow enough, and it is not explicitly defined. Bainton does not tell the reader that he is going to defend this thesis either. The reader assumes that he will highlight and support this argument. He does indicate that he will only spend a short amount of time in Luther’s early years for the purpose of getting into later years of Luther’s life.

Bainton’s outline for the way in which he defends his thesis follows accordingly. Only significant points that strongly support his thesis will be given. Beginning with his early years in the Augustinian monastery. Here is the genesis of his search. While Luther is here, he understands that no amount of works could ever free him from his internal agony and dissatisfaction with the Catholic Church. Next, Bainton moves into Luther’s years when he was contemplating his new understanding of scripture. While teaching through the book of Romans, Luther learns that man is justified by faith alone and not by works. Martin Luther was so convinced of his truth that he nailed 95 theses on the doors of the Wittenberg Church. This event indicates that Luther was willing to stand for what he thought was right. From here the big debates follow, including the one with John Eck. The debate with John Eck shows Luther’s unrelenting work to support his newly discovered truth and to seek out the truth. After the Diet of Worm’s, Bainton highlights the self-discipline that Luther submitted himself to while he was in the Castle of the Wartburg. Luther fought daily so that he could remain in good concise of the truth by translating the Bible into the vernacular. Finally, Bainton closes with Luther’s influence on the home, the German people and the development of his ecclesiology.

The first strength of this work on a pure literature level is that the author assumes that reader already knows a significant amount about Martin Luther’s life already. This is incredibly relaxing for any reader and a good strategy because the writer does not have to go on ad nauseam to explain every detail. However, this is also a weakness. While something’s may be understood by doing a little research, other material including the chapters spent on Luther’s influence in Church politics, economics, and the Anabaptist can be a bit confusing. What Bainton does well is that he was able to capture in this book a picture of a man who desired beyond his strength for the knowledge of salvation. Examples include giving up his father’s dream for him to become a lawyer and abandon his friends to go to the monastery. While in the monastery Luther is pictured as a man crying out in agony, fasting, and nearly freezing to death to assure his salvation (26). His debate with Jon Eck shows his courageousness. While Luther was not certain of John Hus’ complete work, a heretic who was burned in the last century for his doctrine, he went to the library during a lunch break to seek out what he believed, and he came back and agreed with all of John Hus’ doctrine (102-03). His struggle in the Wartburg Castle is an extraordinary example of this man’s fight against the devil. After the diet of Worm’s, he struggled with depression and the thoughts of temptations that he may have been leading others astray (189-190). Most people would break under these pressures and give up their convictions entirely, but Martin Luther was not afraid to stand-alone even if that meant that no one was willing to agree with him. This is Bainton’s most significant achievement in this work. Even later in his life Luther constantly devoted himself to the studying of the Bible by revising and editing his translation. Which was a demonstration that Luther committed his life to excellence. He sought to ensure that his meaning was as close to the original all the while he developed the German Language (336-49).

There are not much weakness in this book most of them are very minor and insignificant. Bainton argues his thesis well but if there were some weakness this is what they were. It ‘s hard to write about Martin Luther and ignore the endless tangents of the remarkable life that he lived and focus on this one theme. The author failed to make explicit a few reasons why certain parts of Martin Luther’s life support his thesis. These occur more frequently towards the end of the book. The first being is his marriage to Katherine. This is an important detail, but despite the fact that Martin Luther was willing to break cultural norms by marrying a nun, Bainton does not tell why this supports his thesis. Another confusing weakness at the end of the book is the summary that the author provides. He subsequently adds under the subheading “The Measure of a Man” three critical areas that Luther affected. One of the three is his main thesis but the other two being, (1) his influence he had on the German people and (2) his influence on the church are more like byproducts of Luther’s agony in search of God. From Bainton’s main thesis Luther never pursued the influence of the people or the influence of the church. He was primarily concerned with getting the truth correct and his own righteousness before God. Another weakness is that the book really seems to have two purposes. The first half moves really fast through the incredible trials that Martin Luther had over come then it slows down right about half way through, and it sporadically deals with other parts that Luther influenced. This section about 200 pages and onward is like a miscellaneous section to support the thesis all the while cutting out the important bibliographic information. It seemed like the author got tired and when he realized that it took him 200 pages to write the first 25 years of Luther’s life consistently he did want to follow the same structure. Consequently, he lost the flow and it indirectly hurt his thesis because it was distracting.

In conclusion the reader will thoroughly enjoy this work by Bainton. Immediately, one is captured by the emotional struggles that Luther under goes and his search becomes the readers adventure. How did Luther overcome all of the difficulties that life threw at him? Well the answer to that question from the book was a resounding statement that God honors those who seek his kingdom first.   In addition, this book displayed the strength and the power that one man can have if they rest on the foundation of the Word of God. Today, in our world it may seem large and impossible to reach but in Luther’s day there was literally no institution that taught what he believed, and there was hardly even anyone who believed what he believed. His life is an example that one should not be afraid to stand for their convictions. The book’s value lies in the fact that struggles will come in this life and only those who are serious about what God says in his Word will be able to withstand the devils temptations even at his gates.