Saturday, December 5, 2015

Polycarp: A destroyer of our gods - by Rick Lambert

Polycarp: a destroyer of our gods is a novel about the life of Polycarp, known as one of the early church ‘fathers’. Beginning with Polycarp as a young boy, the narrative follows him into adulthood, old age and finally, his death. There are only a few details known about the actual Polycarp, one of which is that he was purported to have been taught by the Apostle John (who features as one of Polycarp’s mentors in this book). Because so much about Polycarp is unknown, the author is able to take liberties and present the life of Polycarp in this way.

It is written from the perspective of Polycarp, who begins his account starting from his life as a young boy born into slavery who is experiencing drastic changes, having to come to grips with his parents’ death, and shortly after, being sold at the slave market where he is bought and freed by a Christian lady who adopts him as her own. He begins attending church assemblies with his adopted family and eventually meets the Apostle John. After several years of being amongst Christians and hearing the Word of God, he has a heartfelt conversation with John about his apprehensions of God being angry with him. John discusses the situation with him and is able to be an instrument in Polycarp’s conversion. Polycarp, having become a Christian, aspires to be a pastor and becomes apprenticed to John. He goes through many spiritual trials, learns many spiritual
lessons, and is enabled to teach others as he grows in the faith.  
Because of the style of this book, the events that take place in Polycarp’s life allow for a large range of topics to be addressed, ranging from basic theology, like justification and sanctification, to the practical application of the Bible’s truths, such as what friends you should have and how one should deal with false teachers.   Other things are addressed in passing, but are still significant, such as a subtle reference to Christians following the precepts of 1 Corinthians 6 when a secular official comments that Christians are rarely seen in court because they take care of their issues amongst themselves instead of taking each other to court. 
One of the parts I liked in particular is where Polycarp has made some questionable friends and defends his choice leading to an exchange with Polycarp’s uncle and the Apostle John, a few excerpts of which I give here:
“I recall Decimus instructing me while at work that wrong friends will make my heart yearn for sin more than it usually does.  Compromises will be easier and wisdom will be replaced with folly.  I just figured that they didn’t know him, and therefore were judging him.  Plus, I told them that Erebus …was interested in becoming a Christian, and that was the basis of our friendship.  My biggest mistake was when I told John that Jesus spent time with sinners far worse than Erebus.  ‘Oh foolishness, you forget I was with Jesus when he was in the homes and company of sinners,’ John chided.  ‘Jesus did not come to make friends, but to call sinners to repent.  Do that long enough and let’s see how many friends you pick up…His visits were hardly a social call…He did not save any lost soul by living like that lost soul…until Erebus sees Christ in you, you are guilty of leading him astray as I’m afraid he is leading you astray...As I see it, friendships are grown when you are all going in the same direction, and can help, encourage and protect all involved.  Friendships are not to be reckless, but constructive and purposeful where you are building each other up and improving each other’s character.  If this isn’t that inner, guiding principle of all the friends you hold, then in what direction is it actually going, and what good will be derived from it?  If friends are not making each other better, then they’re fulfilling the role of our spiritual enemy by tearing down what is good and ruining what had potential……”
The book is full of thought provoking statements like the following, “Remember, Paul was not one who had reached the goal, but anyone could clearly see he was in the race…” and “The old nature is not capable of producing the faith required to destroy itself. Polycarp’s thought as he contemplates his potentially ‘awful’ death: “I was actually encouraged to see how His grace would sustain me through the dreadful pain of it all.”
Also, the translations/paraphrases of Scripture are the author’s own, and I thought they were very well done; I give a sampling here: 
“No man contending for victory allows himself to be distracted by anything not associated with victory, so that his ambition is perfectly aligned with the ambition of his superior.”(2 Tim 2:4)
“Didn’t Solomon exhort us in his Proverbs that our trust in the Lord didn’t need the support of our own understanding?”

I like these because having the Scriread in the same style as the rest of the book helps with the idea that, at the time period of this story, the NT had only recently been given, so the people reading the letters and books of the New Testament would have been reading them in their common vernacular and these paraphrases/translations really helps give that impression.  The book also pushes for verse-by-verse, expositional preaching and encourages “expositional listening”.
It has its funny moments. For instance, one that I found humorous, in an odd way, is where the apostle John exhibits embarrassment as he reminisces about the time when his mother asked the Lord if her sons could sit on the Lord’s right and left hand in the Kingdom.    And it has its sad moments as well; I teared up many times while reading, not just because of the ‘sadness’ of the events, but because of the stirring response of Polycarp and others to these events.  As an example, when a close friend dies Polycarp, instead of giving in to bitterness or despair, acknowledges the fact that this believer is in Heaven, and is enabled to exhort others who have lost loved ones to keep their perspective, and to submit to God’s will. 
At one point Polycarp, in counseling a person struggling with sin, exhorts him to keep focused on what God’s word says about the victory we already have by Christ over sin, and then ultimately makes the statement: I’m not struggling against sin, but struggling to advance in godly obedience.”  I think that statement is a great summary of the Christian characters in this book. They are excellent illustrations of people who are struggling to obey and submit to God’s will, not merely being those who are focused solely on the ‘remnants of their old self’, but focused on discovering who God says they are in Christ, and so looking to become who they really are. It really encourages you to look at everything from God’s perspective, not merely our human perspective. 

Most novels are entertaining, carrying you along by the emotions and imagination and, although they are certainly enjoyable to read, it is a bit discouraging that, when one is done with them, one is left with the feeling of having catered to oneself rather than having grown in any way. This book is an edifying novel, wherein you learn along with the main character rather than merely being an observer of him and the different events in his life. You are carried along by a desire to learn, not merely a desire to be entertained. While most novels inspire you to read more novels, this one inspires you to read God’s word. Instead of making you want to live in a different time, a different place, have a romance, an adventure, become an admired hero, this book inspires you to get out into the fray of your own battles and discover the lessons promoting spiritual growth that God has for you in your own life. I highly recommend it as, not just a good read, but an inspiring one. It gives an illustration of the life of a Christian living out the reality of victory over sin and death that Christ has provided for him. 
 
This book may be purchased at Amazon.com 
For more purchasing options see the book's website:  http://www.polycarpthenovel.com/

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