The Pillars of the Earth

The Pillars of the Earth

I’m reading a book my dad recommended called The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett.  It’s wonderful to read for pleasure instead of reading to complete assignments or reading knowing that I’ll be graded.


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In the preface, Follett writes,

Nothing happens the way you plan it.  A lot of people were surprised by The Pillars of the Earth, including me.  I was known as a thriller writer.  In the book business, when you have had a success, the smart thing to do is write the same sort of thing once a year for the rest of your life.  Clowns should not try to play Hamlet; pop stars should not write symphonies.  I should not have risked my reputation by writing something out of character and overambitious.

What’s more, I don’t believe in God.  I’m not what you would call a spiritual person.  According to my agent, my greatest problem as a writer is that I’m not a tortured soul.  The last thing anyone would have expected from me was a story about building a church.

So Pillars was an unlikely book for me to write – and I almost didn’t.  I started it, then dropped it, and did not look at it again for ten years.

This is how it happened.

When I was a boy, all my family belonged to a Puritan religious group called the Plymouth Brethren.  For us, a church was a bare room with rows of chairs around a central table.  Paintings, statues, and all forms of decoration were banned.  The sect also discouraged members from visiting rival churches.  So I grew up pretty much ignorant of Europe’s wealth of gorgeous church architecture.

Later in the preface, Follett writes,

The hero of the story had to be some kind of man of God.  This was difficult for me.  I would find it hard to get interested in a character who was focused on the afterlife (and so would many readers).  To make Prior Philip more sympathetic, I gave him a very practical, down-to-earth religious belief, a concern for people’s souls here on earth, not just in heaven.

There are two ideas that strike me, even before I begin in chapter one.  

First, the metaphor of the church building (physical) versus the church building (spiritual).

For example, compare and contrast these two verses:

“But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go…” Deuteronomy 12:5

“…you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:5

As I read about the author’s, and consequently, main character’s view of the building, I consider the building not made by human hands in which God resides – the temple of humanity.  In what condition is this kind of “building”?  Is it burdened with rules and legalism, like the unadorned church building of Follett’s childhood?  Is it full of pride, built on the backs of the poor, like the pristine, cavernous European cathedrals?

Second, the idea that Follett writes the main character not “focused on the afterlife.”

Instead he has “a very practical, down-to-earth religious belief, a concern for people’s souls here on earth, not just in heaven.”  How interesting it is that this atheist author recognizes something that many religious people do not.  He writes the main character with the attitude of Jesus Christ:

When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples,“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:36-38

Notice how the verse from 1 Peter is a fulfillment of the verse from Matthew.  The “living stones” are “being built into a spiritual house,” but this spiritual house is different and better than “that place you must go” in Deuteronomy – the “place” is now as mobile as a human beings, because it comprised of human beings.  The “church” of 1 Peter is “into his harvest field,” while the “church” of Deuteronomy stays right where it is.

I’m looking forward to what other spiritual truths I might discover by way of Follett.

  • Lanny A. Eichert May 28, 2013 at 3:10 am

    The “church” of 1 Peter is “into his harvest field,”

    Sorry, dear Alice, but his harvest field is the WORLD from which the church is SEPARATED. The church is “carved from” the world and ministers to the world, but is itself not allowed to love the world. Again, what is the definition of ecclesia?
    ec ek out
    clesia calling
    an assembly of people called out

    Such an assembly requires WHAT they’ve been called out from to EXIST. That what is the world. As long as the church has existence there must be the world from which to distinguish it. The church only contains saints and the world sinners. As long as the world exists all humanity is not saved. The church therefore cannot convert the whole world because the church would then have nothing from which to be called out. Therefore everybody cannot be saved because if everybody were saved there’d be neither world nor church. Ecclesia proves Christian Universalism a logical impossibility simply by definition. Christian Universalism is illogical and unreal. Christian Universalism is a pipe dream and the opiate of the unbeliever.

    • admin May 28, 2013 at 10:40 am

      What we are separated from – this you understand. What we are separated to – this you don’t understand. Lanny, do two word studies: “first fruits” and “harvest.” Perhaps the Spirit of God will teach you.

      • Lanny A. Eichert May 28, 2013 at 2:01 pm

        Alice, if you understand “separated from” you logically know all cannot be saved, so why do you persist to war against the church?

  • Mary Vanderplas May 28, 2013 at 6:27 am

    I like what you say about the church not being a building, a physical structure confined to a particular location, but instead being the people of God given the vocation of serving God in the world – offering “spiritual sacrifices” as agents of reconciliation, reflecting the self-giving love of Jesus for broken and hurting people.

    I like, too, the questions you pose about the condition of the “building” in which God dwells, though Follett’s comment itself doesn’t suggest a negative judgment of the cathedrals as reflective of unjust practices and misplaced priorities. (It suggests, rather, a negative judgment of churches that hold an exclusivistic, “one-true-church” mentality.) I agree that where the church is hindered in fulfilling its vocation by legalistic, enslaving religion or by misuse of resources on the part of wealthy power-brokers, God’s Spirit is grieved.

    The book sounds interesting. It’s great that you now have time to read for pleasure and personal edification.

  • Stephen Helbig May 28, 2013 at 9:05 am

    As believers in Jesus Christ these are great things to dwell upon.

    p.s. ~ Church you are bought with a price ~ the ransom has been paid ~ and yes you are FREE INDEED so as not to be inactive ,~ Have the mindset of the LOVE OF GOD and The Reality of Christ in you ~ For greater is HE that is IN You than he that is in the world. ~ Let this same mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus who thought it not robbery to be equal with God but became obedient unto…. .

    p.s.s. ~ Be practical ~ Be Resurrected ~ Build upon the great foundations in Christ Jesus as lively stones

    • Lanny A. Eichert May 28, 2013 at 9:00 pm

      Stephen, your Be practical ~ Be Resurrected is bad theology since resurrection relates only to the physical body and the creeds declare bodily resurrection of the physically dead. I seriously doubt that you possess your immortal body today. The best I can conceive is that you mean a “spiritual” resurrection which is never so called in Scripture. Itstead it is called born again by Jesus Who should know how to term it correctly. Bad theology is for unbelievers.

      • Stephen Helbig May 30, 2013 at 1:41 am

        Lanny ~ It is not, however, the easiest thing in the world to preach clearly, with judicious blending, the operations of the Spirit, and the doctrine of COMPLETE salvation by faith in Jesus Christ; however clear our utterance, we shall seem sometimes to make one truth entrench upon the other. Yes indeed one must rightly divide the Word of truth; but this right dividing is so far from being an easy thing, that it must be taught us by no less a teacher than God the Holy Spirit. When our Lord addressed Nicodemus, he experienced the same difficulty which at this day every watchful minister observes in his hearers; he found that a description of the inner work must be accompanied by the publication of the gospel of faith, or it would only cause bewilderment and depression. Our Lord began, in the third chapter of John’s gospel, by telling Nicodemus that he must be born again, and explaining to him the mysterious character of the new birth. Whereupon Nicodemus was filled with wonder, and unbelievingly exclaimed, “How can these things be?” He does not seem to have made the smallest advance towards faith by hearing of the new birth, and therefore on the selfsame occasion our Lord turned aside from the doctrine of regeneration, the inner work, to speak to him of the doctrine of faith, or the work of Christ, which is the object of saving faith. Thus it comes to pass that the very same chapter which has in it that searching passage, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” contains also these encouraging words, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” So I say in your stead “Be Alive” instead of my stated ~ “Be Resurrected” in my above post which you have disliked ~ stating Bad Theology.
        ~SO BE ALIVE

        “Reckon. yourselves. alive unto God,” “as those that are alive from the dead” (Romans 6:11:13 the King James Version). This term ALIVE is better and is vital with the creative energy of God; the healing, redemptive, resurrection life of Christ;

        Luke 15:24 for this, my son, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found.’ They began to celebrate

        Romans 8:10 If Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit is alive because of righteousness.

        2 Corinthians 4:11 For we, alive though we are, are continually surrendering ourselves to death for the sake of Jesus, so that in this mortal nature of ours it may also be clearly shown that Jesus lives. (WEY NIV)

        Ephesians 2:1 You were made alive when you were dead in transgressions and sins, (WEB ASV RSV)

        Colossians 2:13 You were dead through your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh. He made you alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,

        However if permited I wish also to say that indeed by grace I have been made a partaker in and of Christ, and I am now enjoying the resurrected Life in Him and am also being clothed upon in this resurrected body ~ not being found naked

        • Lanny A. Eichert May 30, 2013 at 4:52 pm

          Stephen, I thought I helped you remove the frying pan from the fire and now you jump from the pan again into the fire. Your “not being found naked” is really a reference to the saint’s existence between physical death and the resurrection {2 Corinthians 5: 3 & 6} and I know you haven’t departed your physical body since you still are posting here. Such an error shows the foolishness of unbelief.

          • Stephen Helbig June 1, 2013 at 7:58 am

            Clothe yourselves with compassion kindness humility gentleness & patience ~ Colossians 3 :12

            New International Version (©2011)
            Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

            Weymouth New Testament
            Clothe yourselves therefore, as God’s own people holy and dearly loved, with tender-heartedness, kindness, lowliness of mind, meekness, long-suffering;

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