The PFG image


Once, there was an ordinary, young Christian girl called Sophie. One night, in the witching hour, that period of the night when nobody else is awake, she was looking out of her window, and she saw an enormous book, twenty-four feet high, creeping silently through the streets of London and throwing dreams in through people's windows. She was spellbound. Transfixed by the book's cleverness, its ability to drop ideas and thoughts into people's minds, and above all its astonishing size, she kept staring at it - until it suddenly noticed her, strode across the street, stifled her scream, swept her out of her bedroom window, and carried her off to a faraway land. Sophie's life was about to change forever. She had encountered the PFG.

Initially, she was understandably scared of her new acquaintance. He was unfeasibly big - at sixteen hundred pages, his bibliography alone was larger than many books - with an acute sense of hearing, which translated into an uncanny ability to know what was going on everywhere in his field. His unique gift, it emerged, was the ability to store thoughts in bottles, put them in his net, and cleverly throw them into the minds of unsuspecting people, who would immediately think like he wanted them to but without knowing why. But as Sophie got to know him, she found that he seemed to operate unlike every other book she had met, combining his enormous size, knowledge and capacity to influence with an unusual vocabulary, including whimsical words and ideas she had never heard before, and a kindly, avuncular manner which belied his otherwise intimidating stature. He was a giant, and a big one at that, but Sophie couldn’t help feeling that he was somehow a friendly giant.

When they finally reached the faraway land, Sophie concluded her instinct was right, and she was dealing with one of the good guys after all. In her world, where all the books were two hundred pages or so, the PFG was a frightening behemoth with some freakish characteristics who would certainly scare people; but in the context of his own world, surrounded by even bigger creatures of terrifying proportions - they would sit around ripping up, and then eating, Christian men and women, and had names like “the Bloodbottler” and “the Sarxlumpeater” - he was accessible, kind, and not even especially large. One day she asked him how, surrounded by such monstrosities, he had become such a gentle giant, albeit one with some unsettling quirks; he replied, rather mysteriously, that he had studied at Oxford while drinking George’s Marvellous Medicine, and then had developed his ideas alongside someone he called Dunny the Champion of the World. Sophie nodded.

In many ways, Sophie discovered, the PFG was very much like her, and like the ordinary Christians she knew back home; it was just that he did everything on a much bigger scale, as if implicitly in dialogue with the other giants, rather than ordinary people. For instance, whereas in Sophie’s world books said “God is three persons: Father, Son and Spirit”, the PFG would say, “Paul continued to hold to second-temple monotheism, but his monotheism was freshly reworked in the light of Jesus and the divine spirit.” In Sophie’s world, people referred to Jesus as “Christ” and “Messiah” interchangeably, without seeing the need to defend it; the PFG had dozens of pages explaining why that was appropriate, and why the other giants (most of whom disagreed with him) were wrong. At times, it seemed to Sophie that the PFG enjoyed making things difficult. But the PFG reassured her that, though it sometimes looked that way, the complexity was necessary. After all, there were giants in the land, whether they turned up in Sophie’s world or not.

There were a few thoughts, safely stored in their bottles, that the PFG felt especially proud of. He showed them to Sophie one day, and explained that he very much wanted to throw them into the minds of the giants while they were asleep. One was marked “Yahweh’s return to Zion”, which (he said) was perhaps the best argument for Paul’s christological monotheism. Another was marked “Election in the Messiah”, which was all about showing how Jesus, as Israel’s representative, fulfilled what Israel was always supposed to do, and incorporated all of God’s people in himself. Another said, “The Spirit in Justification”, which surprised Sophie enormously, since she had always assumed the Spirit and justification would be in different bottles. These, the PFG confided, were the game-changers, the ones which would bring nightmares (or “trogglehumpers”) to the rest of the giants if they ever got out of their bottles. Ideas can be like that sometimes, he said.

There were times when Sophie disagreed with the PFG, of course. She loved much of what he affirmed about justification and imputation, but was unpersuaded by some of the things he denied. She giggled sometimes at the tangle he got himself into with certain passages, like Romans 4 and 2 Corinthians 5. From time to time, he would see something in a text that Sophie couldn’t see herself (things like “covenant” and “exodus” and one or two others), and she wasn’t sure whether it was his imagination or her eyesight that wasn’t working. And the way he explained what other books said made her a bit hesitant, because she didn’t always recognise the descriptions of books that she had read herself. But overall, she loved the PFG, and was very glad she had met him. Somehow, Sophie felt, he had helped her see that giants were nothing to be afraid of.

When the day came for her to finally say goodbye to the PFG, Sophie had mixed feelings. She was somewhat sad to be leaving her new-found friend, but she was also pleased to be going back to the world of normally sized books, and looked forward to seeing how all the PFG’s ideas worked out in her normal life. When she explained to her parents what had happened, and what sorts of things took place in the land of the giants, they said - perhaps unsurprisingly - that they found it hard to believe her. But they did remark that they thought Sophie looked taller.

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