I invite you to look at--

My Website where you will find: ordering information and chapter summaries for The Beauty of God for a Broken World; audio sermons; a few poems and hymns; and some other essays.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Burning Books

And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver (Acts 19:19).

My first reaction to this verse is to wince at the lost cultural heritage. It would be fascinating to know what kinds of spells and potions the people of Ephesus were using. Evangelical scholar, John Warwick Montgomery has an extensive collection of medieval texts on magic, which gave him the necessary background to write Principalities and Powers (1973). What would it mean to someone like him to have hundreds of first-century manuscripts on the subject?

My reaction is a thoroughly modern one based, I suppose, on my love of old books, my suspicion of government-sponsored censorship,[1] and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In this 1953 book, Bradbury envisioned a bleak future in which television had turned the majority of the populace into mindless, self-centered morons. Wow what prescience! Since most people no longer read books anyway, the government was able to capitalize on their ignorance, and it banned the reading of books. Firemen no longer put out fires; they burned books. Sometimes whole houses full of books. Sometimes with the owner still inside.

But the book-burning at Ephesus was different. In the first place, people brought their magic books voluntarily because they saw that the power of the gospel was greater than the power of the dark side. These people were not at all interested in 21st century anthropological concerns. They knew by experience the great spiritual harm those books had done to them, and they wanted to be free.

The reason we have trouble entering into their mind-set is that most of us have never experienced the fear close contact with evil spirits engenders. At least, we have seldom recognized the presence of spiritual evil. If we had grown up on the island of New Guinea or in certain parts of the Caribbean, Africa, or Asia, we might more easily sympathize with the courage it took for the Ephesian Christians to destroy such talismans of power.

[1] It is not censorship when a public library decides not to purchase a book that offends community standards. Nor is it censorship if a government agency declines to pay for art that is offensive to many citizens. (Oh how I wish that would happen more often!)