An essay by Michael Phillips introducing the concept of bold thinking faith and the “Behind the Wardrobe” page of fatheroftheinklings.com.
This section of fatheroftheinklings.com contains articles, essays, reprints, and book selections mostly from my own writings, as well as pertinent selections from George MacDonald and others. Except where noted from previously published sources, all materials are published here for the first time.
The stated objective of Fatheroftheinklings.com is “Preserving the legacy and spiritual vision of George MacDonald for future generations.” To those words for this section might be added, “…including the writings of Michael Phillips.” I hope and pray that most of what I write does indeed help promote the spiritual vision of George MacDonald. I believe that George MacDonald was committed to what I call “bold thinking Christianity.” That is the primary focus of the writings that will be included in “Behind the Wardrobe.”
We who have fed on his words will have no more writings from George MacDonald’s pen. It is my hope that some of my own contributions, if not capable of entirely filling that void, will yet be of benefit to hungry and seeking Christian men and women traveling along the same path toward understanding God that MacDonald himself trod so many years ago. In that sense, though what you find here will primarily be my own writings, it is my prayer that they will generally point toward the same spiritual vision of God’s Fatherhood as shone out of MacDonald’s eyes.
There will, however, be some topics that bear no direct relation to George MacDonald. I hope readers will forgive me if they find this a troubling inconsistency. Several sections will be devoted to admittedly somewhat random topics that readers have requested me to address over the years. This seems an appropriate forum to respond to these requests, even though, as I say, not every one will have a direct connection to MacDonald.
“On Writing,” for example will contain much of the material and various writing principles and tips that I have used over the years in Creative Writing workshops. It also includes (with names changed!) correspondence with certain individuals to whom I have written about their specific writing and editing projects. I am often asked about the writing process in general and what advice I have to aspiring writers. I hope this section will prove helpful to fiction writers especially in developing the craft and technique of their novel writing. It is not that I possess any secrets that aren’t available to anyone. Far from it! I am continually reading the works of others (the true experts!) to try to improve my writing craft. But as I am frequently asked about writing technique, this section will act as a collective answer to such inquiries. (And I will tell who the real experts are, and point you to their work!)
Some of the articles, such as “On Redaction,” an apologetic for my work with George MacDonald, will be specific to a particular topic. Some represent responses I have written to address various issues or situations I have encountered, often connected with MacDonald but not in every case, or that have arisen at a particular time in my life.
I will serialize my new non-fiction books here as well, posting successive chapters as they are written. Some of these are listed in the contents. I may in time also include some unpublished, even perhaps unfinished, novels for the sake of those who enjoy my fiction and might possibly find such writings diverting.
The majority of the writings here, however, will fall generally under the heading of what I call “Bold Thinking Christianity,” and will thus, in an overarching sense, contribute to furthering George MacDonald’s vision of God and his work.
From almost the very beginning when I felt God’s call upon me to write, his commission was clear. It was not a call to change the world, entertain, make money, amass a following, fluff up my ego, give advice, speak to cultural or social issues, tell clever stories, or evangelize the non-Christian world. He set before me the responsibility to write primarily to Christians.
It was a commission with one purpose: To urge Christians to think more rigorously about their faith, about the nature and character of God, and about what are God’s ultimate eternal purposes in the universe.
With every book I write, that is the underlying foundation. I never expected to be a novelist. That particular development in my writing took me by surprise. Given George MacDonald’s primary influence in my life, it probably shouldn’t have. But even in my fiction writing, the foundational goal—to encourage Christians to think with vigor—remains fundamental to everything I do.
Over the years I have been roundly criticized from many quarters for trying to follow this commission. I have been criticized for not directing my writings to non-Christians and putting the plan of salvation in every book. I have been criticized by editors and publishers and reviewers for putting too much “theological content” in my stories. I have been criticized by the elitist George MacDonald and C.S. Lewis communities for attempting to simplify George MacDonald’s work and make it available to the masses. I have especially been condemned by rigid doctrinal traditionalists for raising “questions” about orthodox jargon in my quest for fresh and energetic thought within the Christian church.
Following a path God sets before you is not always an easy thing to do. But I remain committed to that same purpose in my writings that was established in the beginning, and I reaffirm it here as we embark on the publication of these writings in a new format.
It is a call to bold thinking Christianity.
The remainder of this introduction will explain in more detail what that phrase means, and why we have chosen to label this portion of the website “Behind the Wardrobe.”
Two kinds of people
There are, as the saying goes, two kinds of people in the world.
Through the years there have been dozens of terms and phrases used to identify the distinction between them, depending on the specific area of life one is talking about.
Conformists and non-conformists. Leaders and followers. Strong and weak. Night people and morning people. Conservatives and liberals. Shy people and outgoing people.
Almost every one of Solomon’s proverbs in some way contrasts wisdom and foolishness in humanity by their opposite responses. Jesus was keenly aware of these inherent distinctions and many more. He often used them to highlight the unique ways in which listeners responded to his teaching, and to the things of God in general.
We might then continue to draw a contrast between:
The spiritual and non-spiritual mind. The broad road that leads to destruction and the narrow road that leads to life. Even between heaven and hell themselves.
But Jesus was not merely speaking of the lost and the saved, to put it in its bluntest form. That is often the interpretation given to the contrasts drawn by Jesus. But that may be a simplistic read of his words. I think he is digging deeper into the human psyche than salvation alone.
To put it in very contemporary phraseology, I think Jesus is speaking of how people “process and respond to information.” He is especially pinpointing our response to fresh ideas about God and his ways that fall outside the boundaries of traditionally accepted dogma, terminology, and enforced orthodoxy. We see this emphasis very clearly in his parable of the sower, in his exchange with the rich young ruler, and in the parable of the talents. The call of God upon the human heart is universal. The seed of his Word is sown without distinction. Some individuals respond…others without sufficient root in themselves, turn away from the Voice, and bury the treasure of that call in the ground.
“Behind the Wardrobe” won’t be for everyone
At the outset, to save you time, the simplest way to describe the theological and scripturally-based articles which will be included in this page of Fatheroftheinklings.com might be to say that they are for the few not the many, the spiritually hungry not the spiritually satisfied.
In the Introduction to the book Make Me Like Jesus, the first section of the Introduction was entitled, “Four Reasons Not To Read This Book.” It probably wasn’t a very enticing way to encourage people to read it! But I prize efficiency. I dislike wasting time almost more than anything. I would genuinely prefer an individual not read what I write than waste their time if he or she is not at a point in their spiritual life where they will be able to get much out of it.
I made clear that such cautions were based on no value judgment of relative spirituality, but rather on the well known principle of different strokes for different folks. I am simply aware that my approach and my priorities as a communicator of Christian truth does not appeal to everyone. We might as well be clear about that from the beginning. I added my hope that some of those who chose not to read that book at a particular time might find it beneficial later in their spiritual pilgrimage. I’m sure you have experienced that same principle in your life too. I certainly have—something that was completely uninteresting to me at one time later turns into my favorite book! Indeed, such was the case with my most beloved George MacDonald novel. I would hope such might be the case here, too, with those of you who do not find the bold thinking articles and essays of “Behind the Wardrobe” meaningful in your life at this present time. Maybe you will find something here of interest to you later.
I concluded that Introduction to Make Me Like Jesus with this challenge:
After these four preliminary cautions, there may be very few of you left now reading my words. Books that promise the Christian blessings, like television programs of the same ilk, will always attract great throngs flocking to rejoice in the ease of their promised rewards. The crowds prefer joyful hands-in-the-air “experience” to bending the knees in self-abandonment. Thus, the path up toward Gethsemane will never be heavily trod. The prayer of Christlikeness, even among those calling themselves his followers, has never been a prayer for the multitudes. No shallow promises are given to those who venture there.
If you are one of those seeking the seclusion of that Garden where obedience is perfected because you want to know God more intimately and live in his presence, let us embark together on an inward journey of the soul. Even if many others set the book aside after reading the above, it is my prayer that you are perhaps one who is tired of the Christianity of these modern times and find yourself hungering for more. Therefore, even if this proves a solitary quest, it will be one richly rewarded—not with blessings capable of being seen with earthly eyes, but with the blessings of eternity.
Therefore, let us together seek God’s purpose, as in the quietness of our hearts we learn to whisper the sacred and holy prayers exampled to us by our Lord, through which was perfected the salvation of the world.
To be clear, then, about what you will encounter in the majority of writings contained in “Behind the Wardrobe,” I write for Christians hungry to boldly probe the ideas of their faith to discover higher meanings and more eternal purposes than the formulas of Christianity that are normally presented in most of its churches. I write to challenge unscriptural errors that have crept into certain doctrines we have been taught. I write to encourage bold thought, not to pamper complacent acceptance. The nature and character of God as the eternal Father of the universe, the truth of the Bible, and the commands of Jesus in the gospels will be our guides.
Those who are content and satisfied with the traditional presentation of Christian dogma they receive from week to week in their churches will probably not find much of interest here.
There will therefore be two responses to the content of the chapters of this website. There will be responses from those who say “Behind the Wardrobe” has opened huge new Narnia-like vistas in their view of God and his work. And there will be those who will write condemning me and criticizing MacDonald for rocking the placid boat of Christian orthodoxy.
Two kinds of people, two responses.
Open vs. closed
Some people respond to new and unfamiliar ideas with open-mindedness and a healthy curiosity about dimensions of truth that might be waiting to be discovered.
At first in the above sentence I had said “new truth that might be waiting to be discovered.” But I realized that there are really very few new truths to be had in the spiritual realm, only fresh discoveries and new dimensions of understanding of ancient truths that have been obscured and buried by the passage of time. I don’t honestly know whether such a thing as new truth exists. Maybe it does. If so, I am surely not an original enough or brilliant enough thinker to discover it. But I am a fresh thinker, a hungry thinker, a wide-dimensional thinker, an implicational thinker intent on the discovery of gospel truths that have been covered over by so many layers of doctrinal formulae that their radiance has been dulled, if not lost sight of altogether. If I occasionally call this “new” truth, please forgive the lapse.
What we will be trying to accomplish together is to dig with MacDonald’s Polwarth-spade in the garden of ancient scriptural ideas, perhaps turning them to the sunlight from new angles.
Polwarth went on digging, not once looking up. After a little while he resumed …
“Perhaps you are not aware, ma’am,” he began again, and ceasing his labor stood up, leaning on the spade, which was nearly as tall as he was himself, “that many of the seeds which fall upon the ground and do not grow, strange to say, retain the power of growth. I suspect myself that they fall in their pods or shells and that before these are sufficiently decayed to allow the sun and moisture and air to reach them, they get covered up in the soil too deep for those influences to get at them. They say fish trapped alive and imbedded in ice for a long time will come to life again. I cannot tell about that. But it is well known that if you dig deep in any old garden, such as this one, ancient—perhaps forgotten—flowers will appear. The fashion has changed, they have been neglected or uprooted, but all the time their life is hid below…
“I have sometimes wondered,” Polwarth again resumed, “about the troubles without end that some people seem born to—not the ones they bring on themselves. Are they ploughs, tearing deep into the family mold, that the seeds of the lost virtues of their race may be once more brought within reach of sun and air and dew? It is a pleasant, hopeful thought, is it not?”…
How many people would like to be good without taking any trouble about it! They do not like goodness well enough to hunger and thirst after it, or enough to sell all they have that they may buy it. They will not batter at the gate of the kingdom of heaven, but they look with daydreaming pleasure on this or that aerial castle of righteousness. They do not know that it is goodness all the time that their very being is longing for, and that they are starving their nature of its necessary food. (The Lady’s Confession, chapter 33)
As we dig in the garden of God’s ideas, we will bring open-mindedness to our aid as one of God’s primary truth-excavating tools.
There are many, however, who respond to unfamiliar ideas with closed-mindedness, rejecting fresh thinking without subjecting ideas they have not encountered before to the serious scrutiny of their own analysis and prayerful thought.
This is the operative distinction that helps us understand how people respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ: Open-mindedness vs. Closed-mindedness.
Here I am making a value judgment about the relative spirituality of the two. It is better to be open-minded than closed-minded. Jesus wants open-minded and open-hearted followers. Without open-mindedness, there would be no Christianity. Open-mindedness is a more advanced and mature character trait of wisdom than closed-mindedness.
It is this distinction Jesus had in mind when he said, To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
On the surface of it, Jesus is speaking about those who obey his teaching and those who disobey. But at a deeper level, he is also speaking of those who have the open-minded insight and wisdom to probe for the deeper truths of his teaching, in contrast to the ordinary religious mind that turns spiritual truth into rote doctrine.
In the educational and scientific disciplines, this distinction drives research, prompts an ever bubbling pot of new ideas, and in large measure frames the debate between traditional concepts and untried possibilities.
Galileo and Newton and all the great scientists through the years were willing to ask questions that lay beyond the boundaries of traditional thinking in their quest for greater truth. Most of them were roundly criticized, condemned, and even executed, not merely for their non-traditional beliefs, but for the mere audacity to ask whether there might be more to truth than traditional dogma was sufficient to explain. Galileo is the most obvious and oft-quoted example of the condemnation of traditionalists in support of currently held dogma. A few centuries earlier men were burned at the stake for the “heresy” of translating the Bible into English so that it might be read by the laity rather than only by the priesthood.
So we might also draw the distinction between Dogma thinkers and Non-traditionalists.
Revolutionary ideas become concrete
I think the distinction probes further into the marrow of our personhood than all these attempted either-or definitions. It probes to the heart of the question: How do we respond to ideas?
Are we eager to explore ideas that we have not encountered before, or resistant to them? I would contend, though many will disagree, that the distinction implies an openness or closedness to God himself.
Jesus came to the world bringing a revolutionary teaching, a genuinely new teaching. It was a new teaching about who God was. It was a new teaching about how God wanted people to live. It was especially new in light of the claims Jesus made about himself and the unique role in which he placed himself in that revelation. He said, “I have come from God to teach you these new things, to show you God, and to model for you the life he wants you to live. You must lay down your lives as I will lay down mine. In truth, I and the Father are one. Therefore, be my disciples. Follow me.”
It was shockingly, astonishingly, mind-blowingly new! It was only the open-minded who had “ears to hear.” Dogma thinkers and traditionalists did not have eyes to see Jesus for who he was. His teaching passed them by.
But through the centuries a curious thing happened. Christianity itself, once revolutionary, developed its own tradition and doctrine. It did not take long for that dogma to harden into concrete, exactly as had the Jewish dogma of first century Pharisaism.
Some of that hardening took the form of a coalescing and focusing of real truth. This was an entirely positive, necessary, and God-led process for the strengthening of the church and the combating of false ideas. But much of it was not positive, and only succeeded in incorporating erroneous ideas about God and his purposes into the mix of doctrinal concrete. Sadly, many of those erroneous ideas have remained ever since, embedded in the hardened concrete of Christian dogma, mixed in yet largely invisible along with Christianity’s truths.
Over the centuries there have been minor jostlings that have broken off bits and pieces of the concrete in an attempt to re-anchor the building on its gospel foundation. But mostly the doctrinal concrete has remained intact. Even the Reformation did not change as much to remove those embedded errors as many suppose. In fact, the many branches of Protestantism actually added whole new errors to their own mix of doctrinal concrete that they poured as foundations to their new additions onto the gigantic edifice called “Christianity.” The rise of the Evangelical movement a few centuries later significantly added an experiential component of “personal faith,” but likewise, changed very little in the underlying doctrine of Christianity. More and more additions were built onto the great Christian structure…but all the new-poured foundations hardened into error-ridden concrete just as surely as all the concrete undergirding those portions of the building that had come before. And like the Calvinism that emerged out of the Reformation, the Evangelical wing added new errors to the mix of its evangelical concrete, errors that hardened into the fabric of the evangelical belief system and that persist today.
This remains the state of affairs in which Christians still find themselves. Our doctrine is a solid block of concrete—hardened and inflexible, a complex mix of mostly truth but with significant, though often subtle, error added in. We exist in an environment in our churches that discourages bold thinking, discourages new ideas and fresh interpretations, discourages open-mindedness in matters of belief. No one wants us examining the concrete.
The most well-known of our teachers, the most glamorous of our televangelists and their wives, the most dynamic of our priests and pastors with their ten-thousand member ministries…they are all speaking and preaching and teaching from a platform of hardened concrete that contains myriad errors and misperceptions about God and his purposes that have been embedded in that dogma for centuries. The entire foundation is not faulty. I would contend that it is mostly sound. I am fairly generally orthodox in my overarching Christian worldview and theologic outlook. But our doctrinal foundation is weakened by the presence of many erroneous perceptions about God. These by necessity weaken the credibility of our witness and lessen our impact in the world. For the most part, however, Christianity’s leaders of all brands and stripes are too powerful, too content, and too lauded by their flocks to question the content of the concrete they are preaching and teaching from. The doctrines of the Christian faith have been well established, say these pastors and priests and elders and teachers. These doctrines are taught us from our spiritual infancies. It is heresy to question them.
Most people go along. They are Idea-accepters rather than Idea-explorers.
They have not been trained to think things through for themselves. They have not been taught that the ideas of the Christian faith are made real by a continually expanding and growing revelation. The principle is universal. Most people accept the dogma they are taught, whether that be Catholic dogma, evangelical dogma, Pentecostal dogma, atheist dogma, Mormon dogma, Muslim dogma.
They do not question the orthodoxy. They are comfortable and happy with the concrete. They don’t really care what might be mixed up in it.
Generation after generation of non-thinkers
By nature mankind is prone to dogmatize and systematize and legalize. It will always be the case that religious truth will be reduced by its adherents to lists, formulas, cliché, and jargon. In all things religious, reality always fades. Formula-doctrine takes its place. Thus, as has often been said, every generation anew must rediscover truth for itself.
However, Jesus’ teachings cannot be understood in their fullness by rote dogma thinking. Jesus did not merely want non-pharisaic, open-minded thinking in the first century, he wants an open-hearted mindset toward the things of God now as well. Jesus and Paul both taught throughout the New Testament that the revelation of God is continually expanding.
The Christian church through the centuries, however, has not only lost sight of that imperative New Testament principle, it has condemned and ostracized those who have tried to live by it.
Thus, it is more difficult than it sounds for every new generation to rediscover the vibrancy of New Testament faith. The doctrine and formula and dogma of belief is pressed ever more diligently upon the minds of successive generations by its elder-traditionalists, making fresh rediscovery all the more difficult. New and expanding revelation of truth is simply not part of the lexicon of values within most of the denominational orthodoxies of Christianity. Every new generation is taught to be just as non-thinking as the one that preceded it. New truth in all things spiritual is thus very difficult to come by.
Yet the call toward the high things of God goes on. Faint though it be, the Spirit of God continues to woo true hearts with intimations of more and deeper truth. It is a call to a land infused with higher music, a wonderful world where much that was previously confusing suddenly makes sense, a world where we see the truths of God from new angles of light. But it is not a world easily found. The doorways into it are invisible. It is a world not all Christians are capable of entering. This is not because they are not allowed to enter but because they do not open their eyes to see.
It is a world that exists behind the wardrobe.
Those who attune their ears to what the Spirit is saying will always necessarily be the few, not the many. The path to truth is indeed a narrow road, and there are not many who find it. But for those that do, the quest through that wardrobe into the bright, glorious world beyond is a quest that leads to the wide places of God. There vistas await of wondrous sights and unfathomable insights into God’s nature and being and purposes among the men and women of his creation.
The road less traveled
Many have been the attempts to illuminate this “narrow path,” this “wardrobe door” that some discover in life. The great American poet Robert Frost captured it in his immortal poem “The Road Less Traveled”:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Frost’s words have always moved me as profoundly descriptive of my own spiritual pilgrimage. He has captured the essence of the two roads in life that Jesus always set before his listeners. Jesus was continually saying, in a multitude of different ways, Two roads diverge in life…Follow me.
If I sometimes speak with a boldness that conveys perhaps too strong a critique of doctrinal formula, it is because for years I was bound up in that world too. It took me a long time and great spiritual struggle and much wrestling in prayer with God to discover the liberation of the road less traveled, to emancipate myself from my own formularistic wardrobe of belief. I speak with boldness now because the world of those constraints is a world I know intimately. Thus I write emphatically, to encourage seekers in the knowledge that they are not alone. There will be those who take offence at the vigor with which I speak. I do so to forcefully encourage those who need to be encouraged. I’ve been there. I struggled with these things. The spiritual pilgrimage to the high places is usually a lonely road. I speak strongly to encourage Christians to stand up and get out of their spiritual ruts.
Many years ago I began a series of books in which I intended to explore some of the lesser-traveled spiritual byways of my personal walk with God, inquiring into ideas that lay a little outside the evangelical mainstream of my Christian upbringing, probing the Scriptures to discover truth on a higher plane than the formulas by which evangelical Christianity customarily conveys its ideas to the world.
Two of these I titled The Yellow Wood Diaries and Perspectives from the Yellow Wood. I never finished them. I was in the process at that point in my career of learning two extremely disheartening lessons about writing. One, that publishers were very skeptical to publish anything even hinting at ideas falling outside the accepted evangelical mainstream. Publishers did not make money by being bold thinkers. Two, I learned that they were not likely to publish serious non-fiction from authors who were not famous enough to command huge sales. Absent raw fame, one needed to be the pastor of a mega-church, the head of a mega-organization, the host of a mega-media program, or to boast impressive letters after his name. The only other road toward publication was the use of the gimmicky or sensational. As I was not famous, had no media or organizational platform, and was unwilling to go the gimmick route, through the years I have had great difficulty getting my non-fiction writings into print. Those books of mine that have been published have languished, backed neither by much publisher enthusiasm nor “acclaim from the masses.” Because I explore spiritual “roads less traveled” within Christian doctrine and theology, though my fiction has done surprisingly well, my non-fiction writings have appealed to the few not the many. And the fact is, if your audience is the few, you don’t sell many books. I suppose those publishers who rejected my books knew what they were about.
In 2004, we launched the magazine Leben. It’s tag line read, “Dedicated to the legacy of George MacDonald and C.S. Lewis, and the spiritual vision of Michael Phillips.”
It was my hope that a new format might energize interest in the topics I felt it important to address. And though those who supported the magazine did so fervently, and for them we remain deeply and personally grateful, there simply weren’t enough such loyal readers to justify it. After three years we discontinued Leben for lack of sufficient interest. The cost was too great and the number of subscribers too few.
If I told you those numbers you would laugh. “No wonder you had to stop,” you would say. “No magazine can survive with a subscriber list of twenty people!” I was discovering that “the few” to whom my non-fiction writings spoke was very few!
C.S. Lewis’s World: God’s Narnia–The mysteries of the Kingdom
I have not published any non-fiction writings in the five years since. On advice from several close friends and spiritual counselors, however, we recently began to consider a new website as an alternative to what we have tried in the past. One of our sons, a successful blogger with a wide following, has strongly urged us to make my writings public by website rather than keeping them hidden away in my files.
At first I intended to call this website page “The Yellow Wood Diaries.” It occurred to me, however, that the world created by C.S. Lewis was entered in exactly the same way we enter the realm of bold thinking faith. All do not “see” that world. It is a world for the few not the many. We are “called” into that world from a Voice beyond, wooing us to experience what the masses do not. Some, even hearing about it, reject it. They are not interested in higher ideas or in wider vistas in their walks with God. They find the notion of bold thinking threatening to their spiritual stability.
The chief difference, of course, between Narnia and the world to which Jesus calls us and which he depicts by the phrase “the mysteries of the kingdom,” is that the world Jesus calls us to enter is open to all. Unfortunately, all do not want to venture beyond the safety of the four walls of their doctrinal wardrobes. They choose to huddle inside rather than follow Lucy out the back with wide-eyed wonder.
Once one has visited that world, for those with eyes to see, everything changes. All reality shifts. The world behind the wardrobe becomes the Reality. Everything that has come before fades into a shadowland of pale former religiosity.
I have termed the doorway that leads behind the wardrobe, “Bold thinking Christianity.” For greater detail about what I intend that term to mean, I would point you to the article “What is Bold Thinking Christianity?” In brief, quoting from that article:
“Bold thinking Christianity” brings to daily faith a vigorous courage to search for spiritual truth, and to probe the depths of God’s purpose, outside the box of learned dogma, cliché, and doctrinal formula. The bold thinking Christian seeks to know God intimately by the truth of his revelation as well as by common sense. He or she does not live by pat answers or proof-texts but by practical reality that engages heart and brain in a harmony of obedience to the instructions of Jesus. The desire of the bold thinking Christian is not to devise an intellectual framework by which to analyze God and man, but to prayerfully probe the Scriptures and the mind of God himself in order that his nature, character, and eternal purposes are more clearly illuminated. Such a bold thinking disciple will thus be enabled to understand, obey, and fall in with God’s purpose in a more dynamic and practical way…
“[Bold thinking Christianity] is founded in daily obedient discipleship where the ideas of faith are scrutinized only to aid and enhance that obedience. It is therefore altogether and entirely positive (what are the deeper truths that spiritual formulae doesn’t reach, how much more truth can be illuminated from Scripture, how much more intimately and personally can God be known, how can the Bible’s truth be expanded to fill yet more of life, how can moment-by-moment obedience to the gospel life of Christlikeness be deepened by a wide awake mentality of common sense faith…how much more alive is God than anyone knows!)
“To those whose comfort and security exist within spiritual formula, learned orthodoxy, and memorized clichés of doctrine, “bold thinking” after deeper truth appears frighteningly like “doubt” and “unbelief.” But only because they are so inexperienced at it. They have contented themselves with being spoon fed formulas of belief, rather than personally engaging the Holy Spirit in a vigorous tussle of ideas such as produces dynamic faith.
“Bold thinking” discipleship is not merely optional, it is vitally imperative if Christians are to engage the world in a way that makes people hungry for what they have to offer—a muscular gospel. Without it, we have little to offer but one more set of religious formulas. That will always appeal to certain types of people. But it will never conquer the world for Christ. Only bold thinking Christianity has the potential and power to do that.”
Aslan’s Truth: A bigger God…a bigger us
I invite you to join me on a quest into that world of ideas, where we see higher things in God’s truths, and where we expect big things of God. We will think hard together to understand God’s truth and ferret out some of the errors we can identify in the mix of doctrinal concrete we have long embraced.
Lewis may have written a fairy tale to help open our eyes. But the reality to which he points is anything but a fairy tale. God himself is the reality behind the wardrobe.
There will be some among you who may delve into these writings briefly, then turn away. Not everyone is comfortable with the world behind the wardrobe. Even among those who venture inside, there are Lucys who embrace the new world with awe and eagerness, and there are Edmonds who cannot perceive the wonder of what is all about them. Like Edmond, sight of the new world makes them angry. It remains astonishing to me the anger my writings occasionally generate from those who feel it their duty to defend the concrete. There are still others, the Peters and Susans, who, hearing of “wider vistas” but seeing nothing at first, initially reject them. Their time comes later.
Indeed, it has been my experience that most Christians are satisfied to keep their doctrines hanging tidily predictable, notwithstanding the persistent aroma of mothballs, in the four-walled wardrobes of their belief systems. As to anything more that might exist beyond those walls, it is a question they never consider. If you are one who has begun exploring the world behind the wardrobe, you will know what I mean. You will likely already have been criticized for raising “questions.” The further you go in this journey, the more you will be criticized. Count on it.
I have no idea how many Lucys there are among you. Judging from our experience with Leben a few years ago, there many not be many, perhaps only one who dares venture with Judy and me behind the wardrobe. I hope there might perhaps be two or three who come with us…even half a dozen!
Whoever you are, and however few or many we be, I welcome you stout hearts to continue the pilgrimage further up and further in. As we journey together we will find God getting bigger and bigger in our hearts and minds.
As Aslan reminds us:
“Welcome child,” he said.
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one.”
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
My hope is that you will find God bigger on the other side of the wardrobe as we journey together. In the process, as George MacDonald reminds us through the words of Donal Grant, he will make us bigger too!
“What is inside me, the thing I love with, and the thing I think about God with, and the thing I love poetry with, the thing I read the Bible with—that thing God keeps on making bigger and bigger. That thing is me, and God will keep on making it bigger to all eternity, though he has not even got me into the right shape yet.”
What can you do?
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We are not particularly tech-savvy. We do what we have to do to communicate in the changing climate of rapid technological developments, but sort of under protest. I still miss my favorite typewriters! Yet no one can deny the great benefit of computers to writers. Though I was a reluctant convert, I am one at last. However, I have no blog, we are not on Facebook, nor are we engaged in other forms of social networking at this time. I don’t even know my own cell phone number! We will therefore be making no major attempts to promote this website. I believe that God has called me to write, to address the world of ideas, and to help growing Christians think boldly about their faith. Finding and promoting avenues for those writings, and promoting myself in the process, may be the normal way to get one’s writings known…but it is not my way. I have to leave something in that equation to God.
And to readers.
If you would like to help make these writings more widely available to a broader cross-section of the Christian church, you can do so. Your efforts on behalf of bold thinking Christianity will be greatly appreciated, and will undoubtedly result in others finding the strength and courage to grow in new ways.
If my books and the magazine Leben and the writings on this website have encouraged you in your walk with God, you can help in several ways.
—Include the following link on your own website or blog and encourage others to visit Behind the Wardrobe: http://fatheroftheinklings.com/behind-the-wardrobe/. Encourage people you trust to also include the link on their networking sites as well, and the word will spread geometrically. You all know how links spread like wildfire. You can make that happen. These are things I cannot do myself. With you partnering with us, however, I believe we can make a significant difference within the lives of thousands of Christians toward a right knowing of God the Father, and a more complete understanding of the work of Jesus the Son.
—Continue to purchase my books through local Christian bookstores whenever possible. If you cannot find them, most titles are available through Amazon and AbeBooks, or from “The Bookstore” section of this website. But we would prefer you to purchase them—and talk about them when you do—through local bookstores.
—Let us hear from you. If there are questions of doctrine and theology and perspective that you feel it would benefit others for us to address in “Behind the Wardrobe,” we would like to know them. To some degree, future topics and articles will depend on you and the responses we get from others like you.
Michael Phillips, 2011