This past year has been challenging to say the least. Concerns about climate change, the environment, and stewarding the earth’s finite resources, to human rights concerns, to political and economic upheaval, to civil disobedience and sometimes violent protests, to a global pandemic… Many folks are looking forward to turning the page on their calendars and starting a fresh new year. But if hindsight is 20/20, then we should see clearly that our problems are much bigger and much harder to solve then a mere change in date. As my friend and publisher, Chance Faulkner, recently noted, humanity’s hope is not in 2021 but in Christ alone. Christ is our future hope, and he is our past and present hope. As we enter this new year, let us look to Christ, the only hope of the nations (Matthew 12:17–21; Isaiah 11:10; Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 49:6, 51:4-5; Isaiah 61:4-5; Isaiah 61:6; 1 Peter 2:9-10). In him you will find peace and rest and justice in turbulent times; in him you will find light and joy in dark times.
Below is my poem “Violent Winds,” which appears in my collection of poems Undiminished Returns: Poems of a Christion Life (H&E Publishing, 2020). The poem is a prayer to God to rescue us not only from the challenges of our present world crisis but also from our self-made mess of sin and destruction. It is a fitting prayer for this New Year.
"Violent Winds," a sonnet, read by the author.
Here is the final video from my advent poetry series. In this episode, I read two poems reflecting on Mary, the mother of Jesus. Within Protestant circles, Mary is often overlooked. However, she stands as a beautiful example of grace, humility, and faith. I hope and pray you will be blessed by this reflection. Merry Christmas!
In this Christmas poem, "A winter feast," I embed a line from C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where he describes Narnia before the coming of Aslan as "always winter but never Christmas." My poem is about what our lives are like before Christ breaks in and changes our cold, dark December into a merry time of lights, beauty, joy, and peace. I hope you enjoy it!
For one week only (Monday, December 7 to Saturday, December 12), you can purchase directly from the author copies of Undiminished Returns: Poems of a Christian Life (H&E, 2020) and All Things New: Essays on Christianity, culture & the arts (Joshua Press, 2018). The price for a single copy of either book is $12. If you buy two or more, the price is $10 each. No shipping if pick-up or delivery is in Hamilton and area. Send an email to email@example.com to place your order.
Note: Unfortunately, this sale does not apply to US or international sales. Please see H&E Publishing or Amazon.
All Things New: Essays on Christianity, culture & the arts
Joshua Press, 2018 SALE PRICE $12 ea. or $10 ea. for two or more copies
This is a collection of essays on Christianity, culture & the arts, most of which appeared in Barnabas magazine over the past decade. The essays are split into six sections, focusing on art & creativity, the artist’s call, literature, music, cinema and faith & culture. The idea of the essays is to engage Christians to think through how their faith impacts their interaction and involvement with arts & culture, specifically in seeing the value of the imagination, the enrichment creativity brings to all of society and the delight the arts bring to daily life.
During a fresh morning snowfall, I took the opportunity to read a couple of my Advent poems from my new book of poetry, "Undiminished Returns: Poems of a Christian Life" (H&E Publishing 2020). Enjoy these wintery readings!
This weekend is the American Thanksgiving. Our friends to the south are experiencing one of the most challenging Thanksgivings in years, with social, economic, and political upheaval, coupled with a global pandemic and restrictions on personal liberties like travel and family gatherings. My brother and his family live in North Carolina, so it has been impossible for them to cross the border and visit loved ones in Canada.
This reminded me of the earliest American settlers, the Pilgrims, who faced extreme hardship for many of their first autumns and winters. One particular Pilgrim that I have been reflecting on is the Puritan poet, Anne Bradstreet (1612–1672). She is on my mind because I am currently working on an annotated collection of her poems.
Anne Bradstreet was a remarkable pioneer in two ways—she was a pioneering settler in 17th-century New England, helping to establish a new community in the New World. She was also a pioneering poet.
Anne Bradstreet is known as America’s first published poet and she is also one of the first professional female poets in English literature. Despite these incredible “firsts,” she is not as well-known as some of her American contemporaries like William Bradford, John Winthrop, or Cotton Mather. Nor is she as well-known as her female poetic successors, such as Aphra Behn, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the Brontë sisters, or Emily Dickinson. Although Bradstreet was born in England, the reason she holds the unique title of the first “published American poet” is because she was among the original English settlers during the early colonial period in America. She participated in the historic pilgrimage to build a “City upon a Hill,” having left her home in England and travelled to America with her husband, parents, and siblings in 1630. Sailing with John Winthrop’s fleet across the Atlantic Ocean, Anne Bradstreet helped to establish a settlement in the rough and wild country of the newly formed Massachusetts Bay Colony. The famed “Plymouth Rock” Pilgrims had already made landfall in the New World ten years before Anne arrived on the east coast of North America. However, the continent was far from “settled,” and in spite of a decade of European presence, the area of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was still a relatively hostile and undeveloped wilderness.
As an aspiring poet, Anne did not write a great deal during those early days in Massachusetts. No doubt this is due to the amount of work required to establish a new colony in a seemingly inhospitable and foreboding land. Anne and her family, along with the other Puritan settlers, faced several debilitating challenges upon their arrival. There were limited supplies of food, textiles, tools, building materials, and other necessities for survival. The previous settlers had suffered significant losses, including illnesses and death, and they were unable to plant sufficient crops or build enough houses for themselves, much less the newly arrived Winthrop pilgrims. The Bradstreet’s first winter in Massachusetts (1630–1631) is known as “the great starving time” when two hundred settlers ended up fleeing back to England and tragically two hundred more perished. Early life in the New World was not only difficult but deadly.
During her years in the New World, Anne often experienced serious sicknesses. In a time when death was common both in the Old World and the New, Anne often assumed her illnesses would result in her death. She also experienced the loss of friends and loved ones, including her parents, grandchildren, and a daughter-in-law. Such frequent brushes with mortality gave Anne a sense of sober contemplation on the priorities of life, which she frequently reflects on in her poems. The theme of her life and her poetry can be summed up with the words of the Apostle Paul, who writes in Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Over the course of her life she also embodied the truth espoused by the Apostle Paul who asserts in 1 Timothy 6:6, “godliness with contentment is great gain” (KJV). Like the Apostle Paul, Bradstreet learned contentment in all circumstances: “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12–13). Because of her Puritan theology grounded in the Sovereignty of God, she believed wholeheartedly in the goodness of her heavenly father both in this life and the next. This is why Anne and her fellow Puritans could make the best of this world, working hard to establish a new community—content with setbacks and grateful for successes—but they knew that this fallen earth was not their final home. Ultimately her greatest joys lie ahead beyond the grave. This is why Anne’s priorities—as her poems clearly show—were with delighting in God and living her life in a God-glorifying way. She knew how she must answer the rhetorical question posed by Jesus: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36, KJV). Rather than fearing death and cowering from the wrath of God, Bradstreet’s contentment—whether in life or in death—is amplified by her absolute trust in the grace and goodness of God through Jesus Christ. This does not mean that she never struggled with doubts or fears—which she also reflects in her poetry—but it does mean that she lived with a grounded hope in God’s care both in this life and the next.
A Poem of Thanksgiving by Anne Bradstreet
Anne Bradstreet wrote this poem in 1661 after her husband recovered from a serious illness. At a time when so many people perished due to illness, Anne is so thankful that her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ not only carried her through her time of uncertainty, but also healed her husband.
 This famous phrase is from John Winthrop’s sermon written on board the Arbella in 1630. He and his company of English Puritans were seeking to establish a new, model community (“City upon a Hill”) as a beacon of hope for the world and a fulfilment of Jesus’ call to Christians to be “the light of the world. A city set on a hill, cannot be hid” (Matthew 5:14).
 The Works of Anne Bradstreet. Edited by Jeannine Henley (Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard UP, 2010), xlvi.
 Anne Bradstreet, “To My Dear Children” in Poems of Mrs. Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672): Together with Her Prose Remains (London, UK: FORGOTTEN Books, 2012), 315.
 Anne Bradstreet, “To My Dear Children” in Poems of Mrs. Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672): Together with Her Prose Remains (London, UK: FORGOTTEN Books, 2012), 315.
Check out my chat with Cody Kaufmann on the Poetry Piper Podcast! I count it a great privilege to be a guest on Cody's podcast. In this episode, we talk about poetry, pipes, my new book of poems, and all sorts of tantalizing tidbits... "Episode 7 - Jeremy W Johnston." Be sure to subscribe, listen to his other episodes, and keep tuning in for future podcasts!
In this short chat, I discuss the poet George Herbert and a couple of his concrete poems. Concrete poetry is a form of poetry where the words on the page are shaped to align with the meaning of the poem. We also take a close look at my own concrete poem, "A Cruciform King," as we consider this interplay between the arrangement of words and the meaning conveyed by the poem. "A Cruciform King" and other poems are published in my book Undiminished Returns: Poems of a Christian Life released by H&E Publishers (2020). Here's the link to order!
In this short chat, I discuss the history and importance of words, particularly the Word of God. I also show a few old copies of the Scriptures that I have in my study and I read a 14-line poem about Christ, the Incarnated Word. This poem (and others) are published in my book Undiminished Returns: Poems of a Christian Life released by H&E Publishers in the Autumn 2020. Here's the link to order!
A big shout out to Malcolm Guite, the true master of these sorts of delightful library chats. His poetry and his video chats are the inspiration for the work that I am attempting to do here. Check out his series called "A Spell in the Library". They're truly brilliant!
Christians have a tendency to divide secular and sacred concerns; in fact, everything belongs to the Lord. “All that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours,” writes the author of Chronicles. “Yours is the kingdom, O Lord and you are exalted as head above all” (1 Chron 29:11). All aspects of creation—“all that is in the heavens and in the earth”—belong to God. So what does the Lordship of Christ mean for the world of arts and creativity? Should Christians ignore or shun the arts? Embrace or utilize the arts? Appreciate and enjoy the arts? I wrote this article--"Glorifying God through Arts & Culture"--to help us answer this question: what are Christians supposed to do with the arts? Published in edited form for TGC Canada, this article was originally published as the introduction to my book, All Things New: Essays on Christianity, culture & the arts.
I just received in the mail the proof copy of my new book of poems. Hot off the press and fresh from my publisher! I get to proofread this copy looking for any remaining errors, typos, or layout problems... My book, "Undiminished Returns: Poems of a Christian Life," will be available this Fall 2020. Pre-order discount available now!
One of the most published and widely recognized books of all time is John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Since its first appearance in 1678, the impact of Bunyan’s masterpiece on the Church of Jesus Christ is incalculable. The famous 19th century poet preacher C. H. Spurgeon read The Pilgrim’s Progress over one hundred times during his lifetime, and he regularly encouraged saints to read and re-read it. C.S. Lewis, the author of the Chronicles of Narnia, called The Pilgrim’s Progress “a book that has astonished the whole world.” Even the famous twentieth century agnostic playwright, George Bernard Shaw, stated that Bunyan’s novel greatly influenced him (he had portions of it read at his funeral), and Shaw believed it surpassed the works of William Shakespeare in quality, form and style.
John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory, meaning that the characters, settings and events in the book hold symbolic significance beyond the story itself. The story represents a Christian’s journey of faith by following the adventures of a redeemed pilgrim, who was once named “Graceless” but who now bears the name “Christian.” Like all who call on the name of the Lord, Christian is fleeing his hometown (named “The City of Destruction”) and he is heading toward the wonderful City of God. Along the “narrow” way, he encounters many temptations, many foes of his faith, and many faithful friends, each symbolizing the real challenges all Christians face and the real help God gives his people as they seek to live according to the Way.
Although it is a work of marvellous fiction, The Pilgrim’s Progress is biblically saturated: there are over two hundred direct quotations from the Bible, as well as countless paraphrases, references and allusions. About Bunyan’s biblical richness, Spurgeon states, “Why, this man [Bunyan] is a living Bible! Prick him anywhere, and you will find that his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows through him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his soul is full of the Word of God.”
One of the great strengths of Bunyan’s book is its ability to convey complicated theological truths in a clear and simple way. C.S. Lewis praises Bunyan’s unencumbered style of writing: “the light is sharp; it never comes through stained glass.” In other words, Bunyan preaches without being “preachy;” he exposes human sin and foolishness without a “holier-than-thou” disposition. Nevertheless, there is no “tickling of ears” here: sin is squarely addressed as loathsome to God, and Bunyan’s characters—who bear names reflecting their wickedness and folly—are clearly condemned. The difference is that Bunyan gives us warnings in a sincere, compassionate and humble manner. He writes with the heart of a pastor who lovingly cares for his flock.
Beyond its richness in theological truths and spiritual applications, The Pilgrim’s Progress is a superb story—that is, entertaining, engaging and exciting. Leland Ryken, Professor Emeritus of Literature at Wheaton College, notes that “the book is like Homer’s Odyssey or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings—a continuous series of narrow escapes and threatening ordeals.”
Similar to life itself, John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress contains moments of electrifying adventure, deep despair, great delight, gripping sadness and enjoyable humour. Woven into the fabric of his story, Bunyan beautifully entwines the spiritual, psychological and physical aspects of the human and Christian experience; with biblical insight into the heart of humanity, Bunyan portrays an admonishing, encouraging and instructive narrative of what it means to be a real Christian in this world. Pick it up, read it, enjoy it and learn from it!
See below for a poem I wrote about reading The Pilgrim's Progress, as well as a and video chat about various editions of the book.
Video notes: Readers who are less familiar with the King James Version of the Bible may have difficulty with the original seventeenth-century English edition of The Pilgrim’s Progress. There are, however, many updated and revised versions of The Pilgrim’s Progress available today. My recommended edition is The Pilgrim’s Progress in Modern English revised by L. Edward Hazelbaker—“sensitively revised for the 21st century reader”—which includes explanatory notes, a timeline and a study guide.
 Thomas Spurgeon, introduction to C.H. Spurgeon, Pictures from The Pilgrim’s Progress: A Commentary on Portions of John Bunyan’s Immortal Allegory (Pasadena: Pilgrim Publications, 1992), 5.
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: Comprising the Case for Christianity, Christian Behaviour, and Beyond Personality (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), 75.
 E.E. Stokes, “Bernard Shaw's Debt to John Bunyan,” The Shaw Review 8, no. 2 (1965), 42–51, www.jstor.org/stable/40682054.
 Thomas Spurgeon, introduction to C.H. Spurgeon, Pictures from The Pilgrim’s Progress: A Commentary on Portions of John Bunyan’s Immortal Allegory (Pasadena: Pilgrim Publications, 1992), 6.
 C.S. Lewis, Selected Literary Essays, ed. Walter Hooper (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 148.
 Leland Ryken, Christian Guides to the Classics: Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 13.
Our God reveals himself in Genesis as a Creator. We also learn that we, too, are made in his image and we have the ability and desire to be creative. This is why we see artistic creations in every time and place in history. Yet Francis Schaeffer observes that Christians “have tended to relegate art to the very fringe of life… The rest of human life we feel is more important. Despite our constant talk about the lordship of Christ, we have narrowed its scope to a very small area of reality” (Art in the Bible). Many Christians ask whether time and energy should be invested in enjoying and creating works of art. What does the gospel have to do with the arts?
Whether we fully understand it or not, art matters. We see this in the increasing value of fine art at auctions and the cultural place art holds in museums and art galleries; but we also see the importance of art in historic and contemporary iconoclasm. The impulse to destroy of artistic images and monuments for political or ideological reasons ironically testifies to the enduring significance human beings place on art. In times of great cultural and ideological shifts, works of art have been targeted and destroyed and new art put in its place. Whether demolishing statues of royal predecessors in Ancient Egypt, plastering over church icons in Muslim conquered regions, or shattering stained-glass windows during the Reformation; in more recent times, iconoclasm is seen in the destruction of monuments dedicated to dictators and newly labeled social pariahs.
The reason is because art is a language. Art speaks to our emotions as well as our minds; it moves us holistically. Art also reveals what a given time, place, or culture values most. If you want to get a pulse of the prevailing worldviews of a culture, look at the art they create and the art they destroy. Francis Schaeffer, the great 20th-century apologist devoted a great deal of time and energy seeking to understand the world of the arts because he believed it clearly shows the shifting values that shapes our current cultural context. If Christ is calling his church to be “salt and light” in this time and in this place, then Christians ought to know where this culture came from and where it is going. Art is one of the best ways to see these broad stroke shifts and changes.
If interested in finding out more, join me for an online seminar Christ & Culture on July 10, 2020. I will be delivering two sessions. The first session is called Francis Schaeffer: The Gospel & the Arts, and it's designed to challenge Christians to not only see the value and beauty of the arts, but also to become more art literate to that we can effectively engage our world with the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
The second session asks the question “How Should We Then Live?” We live in unsettled and uncertain times. Fundamental truths about God and humanity are now viewed as offensive at best or hate speech at worst. Disagreement is often viewed as harmful and “truth” has been relegated to the subjective realm of personal experiences. How do we engage our current culture, which is not only opposed to God’s truth but also isn’t interested in what is true at all? To help us answer this question, we will consider the life and ministry of Francis Schaeffer, as he challenges us to live authentic, gospel transformed lives before a watching world.
Friday July 10, 2020
7:30 pm: Francis Schaeffer: The Gospel & the Arts | Q&A
9:00 pm: Francis Schaeffer: How Should We Then Live? | Q&A
Jeremy W. Johnston
Christian, husband, father, teacher, writer.
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