Monthly Archives: December 2011

Irish Providential Serendipity

Vicky and I did some Christmas shopping yesterday, and ended up at the Toys R Us in Dufferin Mall. So, there I am, standing in line with an arm-full of toys, Vicky’s taken the kids to the car, and I hear an Irish lilt behind me. Ever the sucker for an Irish accent, I make a comment to the couple standing in line after me about the chaos of the store. After the exasperated agreement from the man, I say, “Is that an Irish accent?” That started us on a very serendipitous encounter.

We got on talking about Ireland. The man explained that they are originally from Limerick, and have been in Canada for a couple of years. They ask if I’ve ever been, to which I delightedly answer, “Yes. To Belfast and Dublin, and I toured around the North a bit, saw the Giant’s Causeway and all that.” They asked why I was there, and I reply: “On a research trip…”

Now, only the Irish do this, but they kept asking questions. Most people don’t care about others, what they do, why they do it, whether it was a good time or not. But there must be something about the Irish that makes them actually care about people; so they asked, “What were you researching?”

I often chuckle to myself when I explain that I’m a pastor, or that I’m studying church history. Most times the response from the other person is a glazed over expression that says, “I wish I hadn’t asked.” Not this time. Laughingly I said, “I’m studying church history.” The look on my face was sort’ve of the can you believe it? variety.

“Get out,” says the guy, his wife standing beside him with a wide-eyed expression, “We’re church historians!” I nearly fell over.

It turns out that I was speaking with Patrick and Stephanie Healy (well, Hayes-Healy). Both received PhD’s from Trinity College Dublin in medieval history, and Stephanie is currently at St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto. Both were Mellon Fellows at the Pontifical Institute for Medieval Studies. They’ve each taught history at Oxford as well. Patrick wrote his dissertation on Hugh of Flavigny and Stephanie wrote hers on pilgrimages in early medieval Ireland. As I’ve done a bit of Googling, I see Stephanie’s also edited some pretty substantial volumes on the medieval period with Palgrave, and I see she’s written on St. Patrick’s Confessio. They knew about James Ussher, the subject of my master’s thesis, and knew or knew of some of the same people I know or know of.

There were so many little things that could have spun us on a different path from one another, so it’s so strange that I should meet two people with interests in Irish church history, as well as medieval and patristic studies. It really was an encouragement and delight to chat with them. I couldn’t believe it. When would I ever meet two historians who are interested in topics somewhat related to my own?

Of course, I told them to go to Crux, as they are so close by. Hopefully they’ll drop in the store when I’m working, and I’ll spring for a free coffee on the house.



Filed under church history, crux books, ireland, medieval

The Local Theological Bookstore

Tim Challies has a post on his blog called “The Local Christian Bookstore,” spurred by an article at Slate on the recent marketing tactic that many decry as being anti-small-business. In the post, Tim talks about not agreeing with those who say there is an ought required in the argument for Christians to support local Christian bookstores. He says this especially because so many Christian bookstores sell junk–whether of the published, or trinket variety–and aren’t worth supporting in the first place. Why not support Westminster Books or even Amazon, when you can cut through the garbage, and get good bargains?

I agree with most of what Tim says on this. I’m hard pressed to find an ought involved in the discussion, and I also agree that so many Christian bookstores aren’t worth the time spent perusing their shelves.

But, I do want to add something to Tim’s post that gives shade of a different perspective; one that comes mostly from my own experience. I’m not writing this at all to force my experience on others, only with the hopes of adding a bit of nuance and perspective.

I work at Crux Books that is housed at Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto. While many may want to call us a Christian bookstore, I don’t look at what we do that way (Note: I am speaking solely for myself, and am not speaking officially for the store or the owners!); rather, I see us as a theological bookstore. It may sounds like semantics, but for me, it makes a world of difference. At Crux, you will find books that cut across a wide spectrum in terms of denominations and theological content. We carry books by John Piper, D. A. Carson, and Wayne Grudem, alongside ones by Pope Benedict, John Meyendorff, and Gerd Thiessen. We have books on Reformed theology, Catholic theology, and eco-theology. You’re as likely to find a book by Daniel Dennett on our shelves as you are books by Alvin Plantinga. What you won’t find, is Jesus Junk, Testamints, or hokey books by the lowest-common denominator evangelicals or otherwise. The difference between Crux and Christian bookstores is that we trade primarily in quality books related to theology that represent the wide swathe of Christianity.

One of the reasons for the variety of theological perspectives at Crux has little to do with the store’s own theological bent. Rather, we sell textbooks to the theological colleges of Toronto School of Theology and the University of Toronto, as well as some other departments in classics and philosophy. So, we do textbooks for the low-Anglican Wycliffe College, the high-Anglican Trinity College, the United Church Emmanuel College, the Department of Religious Studies at U of T, the Roman Catholic St. Michael’s College and Regis College, the Presbyterian Knox College, and interestingly, Toronto Baptist Seminary.

And I think what we do is a great service to the wider theological, and yes, church community. Although I am proudly a Reformed Baptist, I am glad that there is a place that I can go to buy books by theologians who differ vastly from my perspective. It is important for me, as an historical theologian (in training!) to be reading the Orthodox historian John Behr, as much as it is that I be reading Peter Leithart. I need a place to go where the staff are mostly trained in theology, some of whom are working on or have PhD’s, who can recommend all of the latest and most relevant books on whatever subject I’m looking for. I can talk to Ronnie about which Greek/Hebrew grammar to buy, to Heather about standard books on women’s studies, Cindy on spirituality, Alain on classics, etc. We are like a walking annotated bibliography that will only be a help to those wanting to know more about books in their field.

And probably most relevant to the whole Amazon discussion (Amazon is a curse-word in our store!), is that we offer our books at an awesome price! First-time customers come in the store and see our price-tags that have two prices listed on them. They always ask, “Am I paying the higher or lower price?” We delight to explain to them that the higher price on the tag is the regular retail price that they would have to pay at most stores (including Amazon), and that the lower price is our own, discounted price. Typically (though not always), Crux sells their books at a cost of 20% less than the typical retail store. We also will have crazy discounts on certain items, sales that range from 50% to 90% off, and we have a phenomenal used section upstairs where great bargains are found. Most often, we undercut our competition. If a customer needs to order a book, we can typically get it in 3-5 business days. We ship all across the world (sometimes we’ve shipped to missionaries on remote islands), and will do conference book-tables anywhere we’re needed. We also have great coffee, hot chocolate, tea and cappuccino! So if price is an issue, which I think is legitimate (especially for starving theology students), then Crux is still the place to go.

So, with this shameless appeal, I want to make sure that Crux is distinguished from the kitschy bookstores that Tim is talking about. And I want advocate for a differentiation in language between “Christian” bookstores and “theological” bookstores, because the latter has a broad range of subject matter reflecting a broad range of theological orthodoxy, that serves the church as well as the academy.


Filed under books, challies, crux books

January Issue of Credo

Credo Magazine has just released the cover page and table of contents of their upcoming January issue entitled “In Christ Alone,” dealing with inclusivism. It looks to be quite good with articles by Gerald Bray, Ardel Caneday, Nathan Finn; interviews with David Wells, Michael Horton; shorter pieces by Trevin Wax, Michael Reeves; and reviews by Fred Zaspel, Steve Cowan. I’m thankful to have a review in this issue as well; it is on Michael Haykin’s Rediscovering the Church Fathers.


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Filed under articles, credo magazine, michael haykin, Resources, reviews

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

I was saddened this morning when I tuned into Facebook to find out that author, intellectual, journalist, and debater Christopher Hitchens died last night, succumbing to pneumonia as part of complications with esophageal cancer (two obituaries are by his brother Peter, his sparring partner Doug Wilson). I find it strangely providential that yesterday I contributed to The Hitchens Project and sent along a short clip of myself wishing him the best just hours before he died. While a strident and virulent atheist, I found Christopher Hitchens to be a compelling writer, and in many respects I count him as a major influence. I’ve read a good number of his books, countless essays, and watched hours and hours of interviews and debates. Without wanting to slip into sentimentality, I do believe that we have been deprived of one of twenty- and twenty-first centuries greatest writers.

After watching a number of post-diagnosis interviews, I was struck by how touched Hitch was over the care and concern expressed to him in letters, emails, etc. He said that if ever you are tempted to write to someone who is ill to show solidarity and sympathy, you should do it. It will only encourage the recipient, and would never be anything but something positive. So I did just that, and mailed a letter to him through his contact address at Vanity Fair. I’ve heard that Hitchens read all of the fan-mail that he received, so I really do hope that he read my letter and took some encouragement from it. I recall being sickened to hear that “Christians” were gloating over his cancer as a “just desserts” from God, and I wanted, as a Christian, to express my prayerful desire that he would get better. I also wanted to share the ways in which I am thankful to God for Hitchens’ impact on my life.

So, with a bit of fear that I’ll look cheezy for sending this, I post my letter that I mailed, dated May 21, 2011:

Dear Christopher,

I apologise at the outset for addressing you on a first-name basis, but to refer to you as “Mr. Hitchens,” as I no doubt would if we met, seems somehow improper. As a letter of appreciation, I feel as though such formality would put a distance between you and I (at least in my mind) that leaves me uncomfortable. For some time now I have felt the compulsion to write to express my admiration, not only for the handling of your current circumstance, but also for the life that you have lived. It has finally come to that point where if I don’t write now, I may never; so here it is.

Let me pause for a moment before I continue to share briefly a little biographical detail so that you might have some indication of who this groupie is that you are reading (if in fact you are reading this). As you have likely deduced from the envelope, I am Ian Clary and I write from Toronto, Ontario. For the last three or four years I have slowly, but strongly, become an admirer of your writing and ideas. This has come as somewhat of a surprise to me, as I am an evangelical Christian of the Calvinist and Baptist variety. There was a time when I felt a certain odium at the hearing of the name “Christopher Hitchens.” I am glad to say that this has changed into respect, in spite of some of our differences in viewpoint about Jesus, the Bible and Christianity. Of those I won’t bore you as you are most likely aware of what my beliefs are.

My mother was born in Manchester in 1944 and moved to Canada with her immediate family in 1972. As I was, and am, close to that side of my family who are still living, I have always felt that a large part of my identity is bound up with post-war England. I had the typical boyhood fascination with Churchill. My grandad fought with the British Army, and I lived out those days vicariously through the (few) stories he would tell me. We drank tea (from boiling water!), watched Benny Hill and Steptoe & Son, and shopped at Mark’s and Spencer’s when it was still in my hometown of Windsor, Ontario. To add to my feeling of Britishness, I married a Welsh-girl from the town of Newport, and so have married into a family whose traditions and customs are that of my own. Vicky’s grandmother recently made her annual trip to Canada, this time to celebrate her hundredth birthday. So when I read of your life growing up in England and of your new identity as a North American, I feel a certain affinity.

I first came into contact with your writing in the form of your pamphlet (I use that in the best sense of the word) on Mother Teresa, with which, as you might not be surprised, I agreed with whole-heartedly. I later read your exchange on the Christianity Today website with Doug Wilson that I re-read in the subsequent book and watched in the documentary. In the past year alone I have read your letters to a young contrarian; the book on Clinton; your introductions to Waugh’s Scoop, Amis’ Everyday Drinking, Huxley’s Brave New World and the recent collection of the best American essays. I’ve slowly read through voluminous archived articles from a variety of periodicals, as well as your book on religion, and of course the memoir (by far my favourite). On top of the reading, I have listened to and watched hours of interviews and debates on the internet. So, in that strange experience of delving into the work of another, I have come to feel a little like I know you.

While I am quite hopeful that doctors will find a cure for your illness, and I do regularly pray to that end, I believe that I would regret my failure to write if one day I read in the news that you have passed. In these last couple of years you have had an impact on my way of thinking, and interestingly, on how I view myself as a Christian writer (I have two graduate degrees in theology and am in the early stages of drafting a prospectus for a doctoral thesis). If I may, the bottom of what I most want to express to you is a hearty thanks for the number of ways that you have influenced me.

First of all, your prose has been a tremendous encouragement to me as a writer (surely not evident in this letter—for this reason alone I am mortified at the thought of you reading it). Lucidity, vocabulary, sublimity, punch, these are all traits of yours that I long to develop and use. Sometimes as I read your works, I stop and re-read sentences only for the sheer pleasure of how they sound in my ears. Thank-you for failing to neglect that gift! Second, I would like to thank-you for the power in which you express your moral convictions. While I do not believe that the Triune God is the god of a tribunal, I do think that the rigour with which you express your opinions is nothing but helpful. You draw lines in the sand, put up your fists and are willing to take blows as well as give them. That, I believe, is a trait sadly lacking in this relativistic world. When you debated George Galloway at Baruch College—which I have watched and re-watched just for the entertainment value of it—I found a certain delight in your eagerness to drop the gloves and scrap. There is a time and a place for niceties, but more-often-than-not, we need to punch with our full weight behind us. Third, you introduced me to Johnny Walker Black. ‘Nuff said. Fourth, and probably most importantly, your memoir especially introduced me to the world of twentieth-century British literature. In the last ten years I have been consumed with reading theology, philosophy and history to such a degree that I have rarely taken the time to slow down and appreciate literature. I am thirty-two, and while I feel like I am becoming interested in literature much too late (I shall not neglect my son Jack in this manner!), I do hope that I have some time left in which to enrich myself with the greats like Waugh, Eliot, Auden, Wodehouse, Orwell (especially) and the others whom you so easily reference and quote in your writings. Of course, I have read the standard works forced upon hapless students in highschool, but now as I turn to these luminaries, I do so in a very different frame of mind. That is in the largest part thanks to you. I recently finished A Clergyman’s Daughter, which gave me much food for thought as a would-be minister who is about to have a daughter (my wife is due in August). I have pillaged my aunt’s library which is full of the classics both of general and radical literature; she was a highschool teacher and should have gone to get a doctorate in Yeats, which she never did, so I am not at a loss for resources. Your memoirs function as a reading-list of sorts for me, and I hope one day for my children as well.

It would be disingenuous of me to say that I not only pray for your physical healing, whether by miracle of creation or providence (there is a distinction), but I also pray that you would come to love Jesus your Messiah and Lord; a thought that I know repulses you, so I won’t go on. Suffice it to say, you have done much in a short time for this young Canuck that I hope in some way you will meet with a happy return. On the day that you finally pass, whether in the near or (Deus vult) distant future, I will raise a glass of the water of life in your name, as a thanks to God for a life well-lived and a lasting legacy.


Ian Clary


Filed under christopher hitchens

Ron Paul’s Foreign Policy

Ron Paul - Air Force Veteran

I’ve been fairly attentive to the Republican primaries this year. My interest mainly has to do with Ron Paul, the Texas congressman who espouses a libertarian political philosophy. While in the last primary Ron Paul was looked on as more of a fringe candidate whose views were extreme, this time around the language of the debate shows that he’s had a very positive impact. Now other candidates are talking about auditing the Federal Reserve, which is a big part of Paul’s economic agenda.

If there is one area where Republicans and conservatives continue to think that Ron Paul is extreme is his foreign policy. As a constitutional expert, Ron Paul knows that US foreign policy is non-interventionist (note: not isolationist). This means that the US are not to be the world’s policeman, nor are they to occupy other countries with their military bases, nor are they to intervene in sovereign states. Since the close of the Second World War this non-interventionist policy has not been followed, often to disastrous effects. Take for instance the ongoing situation in the Middle East, specifically with Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq. Ron Paul has taken a lot of heat from within his own party for being staunchly against the Middle East wars and his calling for troop pullouts in Iraq. What people don’t realise is that Ron Paul has history, the CIA, and academics all on his side.

The Ron Paul campaign has produced some excellent videos, but the following dealing with his foreign policy is the best so far. If you want to find out about Paul’s view, and more broadly, if you want to learn about US foreign policy, and consequences like “blowback,” you really should spend the 10 minutes or so and watch this video. There’s a reason why veterans of the recent wars are so supportive of Ron Paul. It’s also a good reason why, if you’re American, that you should vote for Ron Paul both in the GOP primary and for president.


Filed under libertarianism, politics, republican, ron paul, war

Christians and Literature Interview

Mark Nenadov, who blogs at All Things Expounded, asked me and some other people ten questions about literature and reading habits. You can see my answers here: Christians and Literature – 10 Questions for Ian Clary.

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Filed under interviews, literature, mark nenadov