Friday, October 24, 2014

A list

The Church Times,"the world's leading Anglican newspaper," provides a selection of the "100 best Christian books."
.... Best is, of course, a value judgement. We have kept it for this project because it is so obviously subjective. “Best” does not just cover a book’s intrinsic worth: it also prompts a consideration of what a book can achieve. Throughout our debate, we found ourselves balancing a title’s historical position with its place in our memories. A different set of judges on a different day — perhaps even the same set of judges — would certainly have come up with a different list. ....

An influential phrase from early on was “enduring value”.... It meant that we were drawn to books that had made an impact, and that this impact had been tested by time. It also meant that, with more modern titles, we had to judge how they would be viewed by future generations. ....

We decided early on to exclude the Bible and liturgy, such as the Book of Common Prayer and Hymns Ancient & Modern: they were judged to be too seminal, too much woven into the Church’s life to be considered as books in themselves. Besides, they would have blocked the top places in the list. .... [more]
The list is interesting and I would judge pretty good even though I know many of the works only by reputation and a few of them are entirely unfamiliar to me. I am somewhat embarrassed that I have read so few and those primarily titles the judges would consider "modern" and thus not yet time-tested.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

"Encroaching on territory not its own"

An essay, "Evolution and Ethics, Revisited," by the always worth reading Gertrude Himmelfarb, sends me to John Henry Newman's Idea of a University, from which:
[N]o science whatever, however comprehensive it may be, but will fall largely into error, if it be constituted the sole exponent of all things in heaven and earth, and that, for the simple reason that it is encroaching on territory not its own, and undertaking problems which it has no instruments to solve. ....

.... What happens to the ignorant and hotheaded, will take place in the case of every person whose education or pursuits are contracted, whether they be merely professional, merely scientific, or of whatever other peculiar complexion. Men, whose life lies in the cultivation of one science, or the exercise of one method of thought [....] must have something to say on every subject; habit, fashion, the public require it of them: and, if so, they can only give sentence according to their knowledge. .... Hence it is that we have...principles, all of them true to a certain point, yet all degenerating into error and quackery, because they are carried to excess, viz. at the point where they require interpretation and restraint from other quarters, and because they are employed to do what is simply too much for them....

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

And no one cares

From Ray Ortlund today, "How blessed are those who care":

click to enlarge
In Breughel’s Icarus...how everything turns away quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, but for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone as it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on. W.H. Auden
.... If you look closely, in the lower right hand corner of the painting you can see Icarus with melted wings falling into the sea. Ovid’s point was the danger of hubris; Brueghel had another idea.

In Brueghal’s version of the myth, Icarus falls and no one cares. Sailors on their ships, farmers and others are unconcerned, going about their own business, unaware of the calamity unfolding in front of their eyes. All are apathetic in the face of appalling tragedy and heartbreak.

Few of us are aware of the sadness all around us; we go our way inattentive and unmoved, too busy with our own business to respond to human need. Something amazing has happened: “a boy falling out of the sky”—right in front of our eyes—but we have “somewhere to get to and sail calmly by.” .... [more]

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fury

There are fine films that I have no need to watch more than once. They are films like Schindler's List that are well made and convey something real, even admirable, but also realistically terrible. Films that I'm glad were made but that are hard to sit through precisely because they are so well made. The reviews are making Fury sound like one very good war movie, comparing it favorably to films like Saving Private Ryan and Blackhawk Down, but few of them discern the message that the reviewer at World magazine finds admirable. I hope I do. I will see this film sooner or later and although I may like it chances are it will fall into the "watch once" category. From the World review:
Perhaps not since Saving Private Ryan has a war film featured such harrowing, realistic scenes of bloodshed as Brad Pitt’s latest, Fury. Yet while the carnage is frequent and unrelenting (along with regular profanity, it earns the film a strong R rating), with the exception of one brief scene, it doesn’t feel gratuitous. ....

The story centers on tank commander Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Pitt) and his embattled crew. They are in the final days of World War II, deep in German territory, in a Sherman tank that is far inferior to the ones they’re up against. They have just lost a long-time brother-in-arms and discover that his replacement is a young typist with no battlefield experience. ....

Introducing a rookie into a group of grizzled, been-everywhere-seen-everything veterans is a common war-film setup, but it’s still gripping to watch the green, erudite Norman (Logan Lerman) learn what service and honor are really about. ....

Throughout the film Collier and his men joke that being a soldier is “the best job I ever had.” .... Though they will bear the physical and psychological scars of their time in the fight for the rest of their lives, the fight is worthy. This is especially evidenced by the character of Boyd “Bible” Swan (played by a phenomenal Shia LaBeouf).

This may go down hard with some readers, but I actually like that the evangelical Boyd drinks, smokes, and swears with the rest of the crew, though he does not join them in soliciting sex or stealing. He is a real, flesh-and-blood proselytizer who sometimes makes light of his Christian persona but never makes light of his Christianity. Yes, at times Boyd’s fleshly fear and grief win out over his reborn spirit (as it would with anyone in his situation), yet his faith is deeper than superficial rule-keeping. When other soldiers are stripping dying German combatants of their valuables, Boyd holds their hands and whispers into their ears, urging them in their last moments to call on the name of Christ and be saved. He offers an affecting image of an unconflicted heart carrying out the duties of country and Creator simultaneously. .... [more]

"Subject to the governing authorities"

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. 
For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 
Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God:
and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
Romans 13:1-2, KJV

Thomas Kidd considers a question every serious American Christian had to consider in Revolutionary times: "Does the Bible Prohibit Revolution?" The issue doesn't disappear in non-revolutionary times. When may a Christian disobey government?
My graduate students and I recently read James Byrd’s terrific Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution. This book is a treasure trove of information about how the Patriots and Loyalists actually used the Bible during the Revolution. The most surprising fact I learned from the book is that Romans 13 – in which Paul commands submission to the “higher powers” – was the most commonly cited biblical text in Revolutionary America. This passage, alongside a similar passage in I Peter 2, are precisely the texts I might have imagined that Patriots would have avoided. How does one “honor the king” while engaging in revolution?

These passages would seem, on a plain reading, to have prohibited Christians from participating in the American Revolution. Indeed, some former Patriot leaders such as Savannah pastor John Zubly withdrew when they realized that the protests against British taxes were likely to morph into violent revolution, which Zubly believed was not an option for Christians.

But instead of avoiding Romans 13 and I Peter 2, Patriot pastors (to their credit) took them on frequently and directly. They usually replied to Loyalist critics that the command to submit was never unconditional – just as it is not unconditional in marriage, in church, or in any other social setting. The Bible was replete with stories of resistance against unjust rulers. Even Peter and Paul routinely confronted and flouted the authority of Jewish and Roman officials, saying that they must obey God rather than man. .... [more]
Professor Kidd refers to a sermon preached by New England clergyman Jonathan Mayhew, Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers (1750), a sermon described by John Adams as having “great influence in the commencement of the Revolution.”


“What God says is best, is best, 
though all the men in the world are against it.”
John Bunyan

 Does the Bible Prohibit Revolution?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

In loco parentis

Colleges used to be expected to act in loco parentis, that is "in place of the parent" with respect to the students on that campus, most of them away from direct parental supervision for the first time. Most of that went away in the '60s at about the same time the age of majority came down (along with the drinking age). In "Neo-Victorianism on Campus" Heather MacDonald contends that similar adult supervision is returning in the form of elaborate codes of sexual behavior. And, she argues, that is not a bad thing.
.... To be sure, the new campus sex regime puts boys in danger of trumped-up assault charges heard before kangaroo courts. But the solution is not more complex procedural protections cobbled over a sordid culture, the solution is to reject that culture entirely. Just as girls can avoid the risk of what the feminists call “rape” by not getting drunk and getting into bed with a guy whom they barely know, boys, too, can radically reduce the risk of a rape accusation by themselves not getting drunk and having sex with a girl whom they barely know. Mothers worried that their college-bound sons will be hauled before a biased campus sex tribunal by a vindictive female should tell them: “Wait. Find a girlfriend and smother her with affection and respect. Write her love letters in the middle of the night. Escort her home after a date and then go home yourself.” If one-sided litigation risk results in boys taking a vow of celibacy until graduation, there is simply no loss whatsoever to society and only gain to individual character. Such efforts at self-control were made before, and can be made again.

Unlike the overregulation of natural gas production, say, which results in less of a valuable commodity, there is no cost to an overregulation-induced decrease in campus sex. Society has no interest in preserving the collegiate bacchanal. .... [more]

Monday, October 13, 2014

The wrong discoverer?

On Columbus Day, via Instapundit, from 2002, "Celebrating Wrong Italian?":
.... I do not particularly sympathize with the demonization of Columbus Day by the politically correct, although I do not think the injustices suffered by our Siberian-American fellow immigrants should be glossed over. However, I think Columbus Day should be reconsidered as a U.S. holiday for a different reason. I am fundamentally in agreement with the Hispanosphere nationalists on one point: Columbus's voyage was very specifically the initiation of the contact between Spain and Spanish America. .....

It makes more sense to think of the European encounters with the Americas as three distinct main streams: one was the Spanish movement to the Caribbean, Mexico, Peru, and ultimately other areas, stemming from Columbus's voyage; another was the Portuguese movement to Brazil, which was intimately linked to their explorations of Africa predating Columbus; and the third was the stream of peoples from the British Isles and ultimately elsewhere to North America....

Although Cabot's voyage to Newfoundland was undoubtedly spurred by news of Columbus's voyages, the expanding English maritime enterprise would sooner or later have recapitulated the Viking achievements in the North Atlantic. ....

Whatever the realities of these theories, it is the expansion of the cultures and traditions that form the template on which today's societies in the U.S. and English Canada that we should commemorate. Columbus, whatever his merits and demerits may be, is in this regard beside the point. If Americans of Italian descent wish to point with pride to a predecessor in discovery, perhaps we should look at Giovanni Caboto, another Italian navigator. Moving to England, he adopted the English style of his name and became known to history as the discoverer ... John Cabot.

Not only did Cabot's discoveries spark the great stream of human migration that became the English-speaking New World, he was himself a precursor of the millions of Italians who crossed the Atlantic to North America and became part of the English-speaking world, to its and their own enrichment. ....

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Right brain and left brain

The assumption that "the science is settled" has often been shown wrong. (e.g. Think of Galileo's experience contra the scientific consensus of his day). Describing current thinking about neuroscience, Andrew Ferguson raises doubt about some of the orthodoxies educators of my generation came to take for granted:
.... “Everybody’s interested in the brain and likes to talk about it, because everybody’s got one” said Duncan Astle, a researcher at Cambridge’s Cognition and Brain Science unit. But the popularity of neuroscience, along with the loose talk of journalists and other popularizers, has led to a large number of what Astle called “neuromyths.” ....

There is no persuasive evidence...for the popular, and allegedly scientific, belief that “right brain learning” is somehow different from “left brain learning.” “We use both sides of our brain for most tasks,” Astle said. Nor has any experimental basis been found for the theory of the three learning styles—auditory, visual, and tactile—that many educators now accept as dogma. “Everybody pretty much learns the same way,” Astle said. The idea of learning styles, pounded into children from an early age, can even impede learning. If you convince a child over years of schooling that he’s an auditory learner, he won’t learn as well if he thinks you’re teaching him visually—even though the teaching style is the same.

MRIs are commonly brought out when fads like this are questioned. But MRIs, as Astle noted, measure only blood flow: Any activity not associated with blood flow won’t be captured by the image of the brain. In “reading” an MRI, we can only infer brain activity, not observe it. .... [more]

Friday, October 10, 2014

Brainstorming

In the current Weekly Standard, Andrew Ferguson on a phenomenon that not only affected "corporate and academic culture" but also Christian institutions. Much that I was happiest to escape when I retired from teaching:
Kingsley Amis, the British novelist, once explained that everything that had gone wrong with his country in the second half of the last century could be summarized in the word “workshop.” His point is sound. No two syllables better conjure up the mandatory “sharing,” the regimented bonhomie and bogus cheerfulness, the mincing and posturing, the smiley-faced Maoism that descended upon corporate and academic culture a generation ago and show no signs of abating. The word alone suggests a string of horrifying cognates: “team work,” “role playing,” “brainstorming,” “trust building,” “leadership” ... Brrrr.


Weekly Standard, Oct. 20, 2014, p. 13

"The mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his church"

Last weekend the North Central Association of Seventh Day Baptists annual sessions were held at the Albion Seventh Day Baptist Church in Albion, Wisconsin. The theme was "Abide in His Love" (John 15:10) and centered about the relationship between Christ and the Church that St. Paul described in Ephesians 5:25-27: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish." I've been thinking about that subject this week.

This morning Kevin DeYoung posts about what the Church has always taught concerning the meaning of marriage and quotes the introductory section of "The Form of the Solemnization of Matrimony" from The Book of Common Prayer as exemplifying that:
Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this Congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honorable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprized, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.

First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy name.

Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.

Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The caring for souls

Most of the churches in my denomination are small. No doubt it can be very discouraging for the pastor of a church small in numbers that doesn't grow. Brian Croft asks "Should a pastor be discouraged about his small church?" and quotes:
...The 19th century Scottish pastor and trainer of pastors, John Brown, [who] wrote a letter to one of his students newly ordained over a small congregation and extended this word to him:
I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small, in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ at his judgment seat, you will think you have had enough.
Pastors, regardless the pressures you face in your congregation to “produce the numbers,” focus on caring for souls. Be faithful to evangelize, preach the gospel every week, pray for conversions, but make sure your primary focus is on caring for souls. When we stand before God to give an account for the souls of our flock, God will not be concerned with our increased numbers, as much as how faithfully we cared for the souls of those that make up that number.

"My music is not Christian—Lecrae is"

I'm not a fan of Lecrae's music but that doesn't mean I disapprove of it. I've never been able to enjoy rap. I do very much approve of the way he thinks about his work as described in "Lecrae: 'Christians Have Prostituted Art to Give Answers'," from which:
"My music is not Christian—Lecrae is," he said. "And you hear evidence of my faith in my music." ....

"We’ve limited Christianity to salvation and sanctification," he said. "Christianity is the truth about everything. If you say you have a Christian worldview, that means you see the world through that lens—not just how people get saved and what to stay away from." ....

"The exploitation of believers just to turn a profit—so you care less about making a quality product, you just want to keep telling the same stories and repackaging them over and over just to exploit people—I have a problem with that," he said. ....

...He doesn't see music as a vocation or calling, so to speak, but that "everyone’s job, everyone’s vocation, is an extension of their faith and how they see the world. Every job is an act of service," he said. "If I was working at a call center collecting debts from people who have credits calls, I would call and try to help them, and try to serve them." .... [more]

Sunday, October 5, 2014

"Yet sometimes in the midst of these dreams..."

Dwight Longenecker on Thomas Traherne (c.1636-1674):
.... A simple country parson and chaplain to a nobleman, Traherne was never known in his lifetime, and his work was discovered in dusty family archives, rescued from smoldering trash heaps, uncovered in archbishop’s libraries and winkled out by curious bibliophiles from second-hand books stalls just before burning. ....

His work glories in the revelation of God within his creation. Traherne sees within the natural world the glory of God burning in every mystical moment. Traherne’s vision is shared by Hopkins who cries out that “the world is charged with the glory of God”....

.... His work is overflowing with a joyful immanence. God’s joy presses in on us here and now in this world, and he wants us to be happy, child like, free and abundantly alive. So he writes, “Your enjoyment of the world is never right, till every morning you awake in Heaven: see yourself in your Father’s palace; and look upon the skies, the earth, and the air as celestial joys: having such a reverend esteem of all, as if you were among the angels.”

In his philosophical musings Traherne deals with the question of desire, turning away from negative notions that desire brings unhappiness and claiming instead that human desire good at heart and is always a longing for what is beautiful, good and true. .... Rather than being that which drags us down, desire is that which lifts us up, and it is that desire reaching and knowing the beauty of the created order that brings us to a genuine experience of God in and through, and knowable in his creation. .... [more]
Centuries can be purchased at Amazon.

In that collection, one of Traherne's meditations that, it seems to me, anticipates C.S. Lewis' experience as he approached his conversion:
Being swallowed up therefore in the miserable gulf of idle talk and worthless vanities, thenceforth I lived among dreams and shadows, like a prodigal son feeding upon husks with swine. A comfortless wilderness full of thorns and troubles the world was, or worse: a waste place covered with idleness and play, and shops, and markets, and taverns. As for Churches they were things I did not understand, and schools were a burden: so that there was nothing in the world worth the having, or enjoying, but my game and sport, which also was a dream, and being passed wholly forgotten. So that I had utterly forgotten all goodness, bounty, comfort, and glory: which things are the very brightness of the Glory of God: for lack of which therefore He was unknown.

Yet sometimes in the midst of these dreams, I should come a little to myself, so far as to feel I wanted something, secretly to expostulate with God for not giving me riches, to long after an unknown happiness, to grieve that the World was so empty....

Friday, October 3, 2014

Lives not worth living

The UK Parliament is considering a proposal to legalize euthanasia. Consequently there is great interest in the experience of those places that have already done so, including our state of Oregon.
The number of mentally-ill patients killed by euthanasia in Holland has trebled in the space of a year, new figures have revealed.

In 2013, a total of 42 people with ‘severe psychiatric problems’ were killed by lethal injection compared to 14 in 2012 and 13 in 2011.

The latest official figures also revealed a 15 per cent surge in the number of euthanasia deaths from 4,188 cases in 2012 to 4,829 cases last year.

The incremental rise is consistent with a 13 per cent increase in 2012, an 18 per cent rise in 2011, 19 per cent in 2010 and 13 per cent in 2009.

The rise is also likely to confirm the fears of Dutch regulator Theo Boer who told the Daily Mail that he expected to see euthanasia cases smash the 6,000 barrier in 2014.

Overall, deaths by euthanasia, which officially account for three per cent of all deaths in the Netherlands, have increased by 151 per cent in just seven years. ....

Professor Boer, who has reviewed 4,000 cases of euthanasia in his role as a regulator, told Parliament in the summer: ‘Don’t go there.’

Once a firm advocate of euthanasia, he said that he now [believes] the Dutch were ‘terribly wrong’ to think they could control it. ....

He was also gravely concerned at the extension of killing to new classes of people, including the demented and the depressed. ‘Some slopes truly are slippery,’ he said.

Doctors in neighbouring Belgium, which this year legalised euthanasia for children, are now killing an average of five people every day by euthanasia, according to latest figures, with a 27 per cent surge in the number of euthanasia deaths in the last year alone.

In one of the most shocking cases, a Brussels man last week described how he arranged the double euthanasia of his octogenarian parents who wanted to die because they were afraid of loneliness.

It has also emerged that a Dutch woman in her 80s was killed by her doctors just because she did not want to live in a care home. ....

Thursday, October 2, 2014

"As were the days of Noah"

I expect — and very much hope — to be "left behind."
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away ("took them all away" KJV), so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. (Matthew 28:36-42)
Those taken in the days of Noah were not the fortunate ones.

Get off the porch

The headquarters of the Freedom From Religion is only a couple of blocks from where I live. Some years ago, being interviewed by a reporter for a local paper, I wondered why atheists were so angry about something they don't believe exists. Actually I think most non-believers aren't particularly exercised about religion. But this from Chesterton's The Everlasting Man may explain the attitude. Chesterton via Kevin DeYoung:
.... They cannot get out of the penumbra of Christian controversy. They cannot be Christians and they cannot leave off being Anti-Christians. Their whole atmosphere is the atmosphere of a reaction: sulks, perversity, petty criticism. They still live in the shadow of the faith and have lost the light of the faith.

Now the best relation to our spiritual home is to be near enough to love it. But the next best is to be far enough away not to hate it. It is the contention of these pages that while the best judge of Christianity is a Christian, the next best judge would be something more like a Confucian. The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgments; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.... It would be better to walk past a church as if it were a pagoda than to stand permanently in the porch, impotent either to go inside and help or to go outside and forget. ....

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The blood of a martyr

Timothy George "remember(s) Polycarp and all of the martyrs" for just as then "Christians...are still called to be faithful amidst persecution and harassment, faithful even unto death."
[O]ne Sunday, around 2:00 in the afternoon, in February of the year 155....Polycarp, the eighty-six-year-old leader of the Christian church in Smyrna, was cruelly put to death by fire and sword because he refused to renounce Jesus Christ. ....

To proclaim the God of the Bible in Polycarp’s world was to invite conflict with the dominant power structures of the day. And so the persecutions came. ....

It is not as though the Christians were violent revolutionaries bent on the overthrow of the state. No, they wanted to be good citizens. As they repeatedly told those in authority, we willingly pay our taxes, and we gladly pray for those in authority, including the emperor. It is our duty to pray for the emperor, but we cannot pray to him. For we are also citizens of another realm. We belong to the ecclesia, the church, and we worship another King who sits on a different throne. ....

This was not revolutionary in the usual sense of that word, but it was subversive. For it was a way of saying that Caesar is not everything. There is a divinely appointed distance between church and empire. Because the Christians had embraced the Hebrew Scriptures, they knew the Ten Commandments, especially the first one: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery: you shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:2–3). The state is ordained by God, as Paul taught, but it is not God. It is not sacred in itself. ....

...[I]n the afternoon, with the sun high in the sky, it was time for the execution of criminals. They were slaves, war captives, arsonists, murderers, and those, like Polycarp, who had committed sacrilege by refusing to honor the godhead of Caesar and who would not take the easy way out.

The proconsul said to Polycarp: “Take the oath, and I will let you go. Revile Christ.” But Polycarp said: “For eighty and six years have I been his servant, and he has done me no wrong, and how can I now blaspheme my king who saved me?” Polycarp offered a prayer in the name of the triune God, and then he was bound. The faggots were lit. Like Jesus, who was crucified naked, Polycarp entered the flames without his clothes, but when they saw that his body could not be consumed by fire the executioner was ordered to stab him with a dagger. And so the ground of Smyrna was made holy by the blood of the martyr. .... [more]

Monday, September 22, 2014

"God hath promised strength for the day..."

Randall Hardman would prefer that you not promote the new Left Behind movie with Nicolas Cage because he believes its theology is bad. In Why “Left Behind” should be... left behind" he explains the origins of dispensationalist theology and why it not only wrongly interprets scripture but poorly prepares Christians for what will come:
.... Christians have always affirmed the second coming of Christ, but only in the system which Darby, Scofield, and later dispensationalists developed were there three comings. This was a brand new take on the end, and while Christians throughout the centuries have always wondered whether their day was the last day (including Paul), with some interpreting contemporary events in such a way, the establishment of a system and a timetable was entirely new, as was the presupposition that Jesus would exorcise his Church from the last days.

When Paul refers to some being “caught up” (1 Thessalonians 4:17) he's not referring to a rapture which will precede a time of tribulation in the modern world: He is giving his audience hope in the midst of persecution and death and reminding them of the hope that all Christians share, that Christ will come again (just not again and then again!) When Jesus speaks of “one being taken” (Matthew 24:40) he is not referencing how Christians all across the world will escape from a period of trial; rather, he is referencing the Genesis flood story (vv 37-40) and, as the context makes clear, being “taken away” is actually unfortunate, as it is the one who is “taken away” that faces judgment.

I could go on with a verse by verse analysis of all the “rapture verses” but there exists an underlying problem with rapture theology, one which has the ability to affect so many aspects of how Christians interact with the problems of this world: It embraces escapism as a solution. Rapture-based theology teaches us to think and hope for an escape from this world, not endurance to persevere in it. In this view, Jesus loves his Bride too much to let it go through the intense suffering and judgment the world will face (very similar to the popular notion that suffering doesn't happen to godly people). But that is not the message of Scripture, nor is it the message of Revelation in particular. Sometimes terrible things do happen to good people and Scripture doesn't promise us an “out.” It promises us a “how.” ....

Jesus did not, though he certainly could have, escape from the cross. Likewise, the message of hope is not that we won't face our cross — many of us will — but that God stands alongside of us as we take it up and gives us the strength and the hope to die with him. “Fleeing to the mountains” or “flying to the clouds” is not redemption; it's escape and it's a belief that God won't let us endure tribulation. Revelation, however, calls us to the opposite: It encourages us to remain faithful even when we feel like it must be the end of the world. [more]

Friday, September 19, 2014

"Cautious out of prudence"

Federal Appeals Judge Richard Posner responded to some of the argument in favor of Wisconsin's law prohibiting same-sex marriage by saying "Can tradition be a reason for anything?" That inspired this response at Ricochet:
.... Tradition is the foundation of rational conduct, and the means through which mankind passes on the social capital which has accumulated through the experience of thousands of generations that have already confronted the vicissitudes of life. As T.S. Eliot noted in the context of poetry: “he is not likely to know what is to be done unless he lives in what is not merely present, but the present moment of the past… not of what is dead, but what is already living.” (emphasis added). ....

There can be no doubt that the loss of essential legal traditions would destroy the courts. The doctrine of stare decisis, for example, requires courts to abide by prior decisions and the rulings of higher courts. The doctrine emerged from centuries of common law jurisprudence, a legal framework steeped in respect for tradition.

It’s nearly impossible to define tradition in rationalist language. Burke explained that traditions — though he used the word “prejudice” synonymously — are “cherished because they are prejudices and the longer they have lasted, and the more generally they prevail, the more we cherish them.”

Why? Because:
We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason: because we suspect that the stock in each man is small, and that individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages.
Critics of tradition insist, of course, that those who adhere to past wisdom are cranky old know-nothings. In a sense they’re right. A traditionalist will agree that he knows only a little: that is his greatest virtue. Traditionalists are pessimistic by nature, and cautious out of prudence. Adam Smith said “it is acquired wisdom and experience that teach incredulity, and they very seldom teach it enough.” For this reason, a traditionalist is humble because he knows that unrestrained novelty invites disaster. .... [more]
G.K. Chesterton:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. (The Thing)

Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. (Orthodoxy)

"Until He return...at the last day"

From Ray Ortland today, "The Second Coming of Christ is not a peripheral doctrine." The painting Ortland uses is one of Doré's 19th century illustrations for the English Bible:

Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones and all things appertaining to the perfection of man’s nature; wherewith he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until he return to judge all men at the last day.
Article IV, The Thirty-Nine Articles
The Second Coming of Christ is not a peripheral doctrine