Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"Halloween's not a pagan festival after all"

From beliefnet, by a Catholic priest who is an assistant professor at the University of Virginia. If its origins aren't pagan, where did it come from?
"It’s true that the ancient Celts of Ireland and Britain celebrated a minor festival on October 31 - as they did on the last day of most other months of the year. However, Halloween falls on the last day of October because the Feast of All Saints, or 'All Hallows,' falls on November 1. The feast in honor of all the saints in heaven used to be celebrated on May 13, but Pope Gregory III (d. 741) moved it to November 1, the dedication day of All Saints Chapel in St. Peter’s at Rome. Later, in the 840s, Pope Gregory IV commanded that All Saints be observed everywhere. And so the holy day spread to Ireland.

The day before was the feast’s evening vigil, 'All Hallows Even,' or 'Hallowe’en.' In those days Halloween didn’t have any special significance for Christians or for long-dead Celtic pagans...

...What about those in the other place? It seems Irish Catholic peasants wondered about the unfortunate souls in hell. After all, if the souls in hell are left out when we celebrate those in heaven and purgatory, they might be unhappy enough to cause trouble. So it became customary to bang pots and pans on All Hallows Even to let the damned know they were not forgotten. Thus, in Ireland at least, all the dead came to be remembered - even if the clergy were not terribly sympathetic to Halloween and never allowed All Damned Day into the church calendar." [The article, with more of the history.]
In my youth, long ago, our church held an annual Halloween party. There was a costume competition, bobbing for apples, and a good time. More often than not the costume competition was won by a senior saint. Obviously, it had nothing to do with Satanism, worship of Mother Earth, primitive feminism or any other "ism." It wasn't about remembering those in Hell or "Purgatory" either. It was a lot of fun.

Confession

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. I John 1:9 KJV
My walk this bright cold morning took me past one of our large old Roman Catholic churches. As I passed the church the parochial school kids were at recess, happy and loud. I noticed an elderly man walk from the church to a waiting car. His demeanor was serious and it occurred to me that he might have just then come from confession. For much of the rest of my walk I thought about confession and how we practice it.

Faithful Catholics "make confession" to a priest on a regular basis. After confession the priest reassures them of God's forgiveness and may assign penance. Those of us who affirm the "priesthood of all believers" reject the necessity of that approach and tend to assume that it lends itself to a rote general recitation of sins and a too easily achieved clear conscience. I'm not so sure. Needless to say, every communion has its nominal followers, but failure to live up to a standard doesn't discredit the standard. If it did, there would be none.

I do not think that a Christian needs to confess to another person in order to receive God's forgiveness - in fact, I am convinced that is not so - but I do think a regular discipline of confession would compel me to reflect more often on my failings and my dependence on God's grace in Christ. If I knew that I would have to say something to someone who was physically present perhaps I would engage in more genuine introspection and, consequently, more meaningful repentance.

The more liturgical churches include a prayer of confession followed by assurance of forgiveness in every worship service. Baptists tend not to do that. Even the use of the Lord's Prayer with it's "forgive us our trespasses" seems increasingly uncommon as many of our churches turn away from any regular order of worship.

Both individual devotions and corporate worship need to include confession.

Monday, October 30, 2006

TIME: In touch with Jesus

Does the Church finally recognize that in a post-Christian society Christian students need real grounding in the faith? From TIME:
"Youth ministers have been on a long and frustrating quest of their own over the past two decades or so. Believing that a message wrapped in pop-culture packaging was the way to attract teens to their flocks, pastors watered down the religious content and boosted the entertainment. But in recent years churches have begun offering their young people a style of religious instruction grounded in Bible study and teachings about the doctrines of their denomination. Their conversion has been sparked by the recognition that sugarcoated Christianity, popular in the 1980s and early '90s, has caused growing numbers of kids to turn away not just from attending youth-fellowship activities but also from practicing their faith at all."The rest of the article.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The recovery of authentic worship

Albert Mohler posted a three-part article on worship this summer. I came across it while looking at a site called Reformed Praise. The Mohler article is well worth reading and can be found here:

Two excerpts:
Roger Scruton, a well-known British philosopher, has suggested that worship is the most important indicator of what persons or groups really believe about God. These are his words: "God is defined in the act of worship far more precisely than he is defined by any theology." What Scruton is saying is, in essence: "If you want to know what a people really believe about God, don't spend time reading their theologians, watch them worship. Listen to what they sing. Listen to what they say. Listen to how they pray. Then you will know what they believe about this God whom they worship."

My haunting thought concerning much evangelical worship is that the God of the Bible would never be known by watching us worship. Instead what we see in so many churches is "McWorship" of a "McDeity." But what kind of God is that superficial, that weightless, and that insignificant? Would an observer of our worship have any idea of the God of the Bible from our worship? I wonder at times if this is an accidental development, or if it is an intentional evasion.
And:
We must not be satisfied with a laissez-faire, cafeteria-style worship combination at our pleasure. There is a biblical pattern that must be followed. Will styles change? Yes. But the worship must always be God directed. Will there be a diversity of styles in worship? Yes, but there must be one glorious purpose following this clear biblical pattern: to measure everything by the norm of scripture, in which God has revealed how He wishes to be worshiped. We must learn from each other in this process that as the people of God we must get this right as we stand before God and under scripture.
We were created to worship God. The whole story of our redemption retells how we were created to worship God but by our sin became disqualified from that true and authentic worship. By God's redemption in Jesus Christ, we were created anew for the purpose of worshiping God. And every glimpse of heaven we have in Scripture indicates that worship will be our eternal occupation. It is for that purpose that we are being prepared even in the present.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

November, 2006 Sabbath Recorder Online

The November, 2006, Sabbath Recorder is available online here. This month the emphasis is on Thanksgiving.

BJC intervenes

The Baptist Joint Committee has decided to involve itself in the deliberations of Seventh Day Baptists about affiliation with it. At the SDB website (but not, at least anywhere obvious, on the BJC website), a news release, letter and resolution - "BJC Resolution supports SDB participation":
"At their annual meeting October 2-3, Directors of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC) spent considerable time discussing their relationship with the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference.

In light of the upcoming vote at Conference 2007 (for SDBs to either withdraw or remain with the BJC), the Directors of the Baptist Joint Committee unanimously approved a “Resolution of Recognition, Encouragement and Hope,” conveying their desire that Seventh Day Baptists maintain their historic relationship with the BJC."

There follows the letter and resolution adopted by the BJC Board of Directors. In the cover letter appears the following:
"In anticipation of this subject being addressed by Seventh Day Baptist churches prior to and during your Annual Conference in 2007, our BJC staff soon will be sending additional educational information to be provided through your churches as well, further amplifying our mission and highlighting our cooperative endeavors on behalf of the cause of religious freedom."
This is an interesting development. The Baptist Joint Committee and its affiliates are, of course, not members of the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference. The Conference is a member of the BJC. Shouldn't the debate be between SDB advocates and SDB opponents of affiliation? I have no problem with Seventh Day Baptist supporters of affiliation soliciting (and using) ammunition from the BJC for their cause - but should the BJC itself intervene in the debate? Should those of us opposed to affiliation invite outside groups to intervene? I won't.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Dr. Marjorie Bass: "One week's experience"

Marjorie Bass is a member of the Madison Seventh Day Baptist Church and a medical doctor. In this article, originally published in her local paper, she remembers a part of her medical training:
“A portion of your training on the gynecology service,” the chief resident told the third year medical students, “will be spent in the University of Wisconsin Hospital abortion clinic. You will be expected to work on that service for one week unless you elect to refuse to do so for conscientious considerations.”

As I had always stood for pro-life ideals, I assumed I would be one of the students who would request absentia from the abortion rotation. However, as I considered my options, I decided to work at the abortion clinic for the required week in order to benefit from behind-the-scenes experience. The students were not allowed to actually be present at the abortion procedures but we interviewed the patients and performed the admission physical exams.

There were several unwed teenage girls who came in each day, but I did not expect the number of married women who were scheduled for an abortion. In fact, I was shocked to hear some say, "We don't want the baby this year, maybe in a year or so." I thought to myself, "It won't be this baby whom you are now murdering. It will be another child whom you allow to come to birth."

One day the resident came back from performing an abortion under staff supervision. He stated that the woman who was undergoing the surgery had bled so profusely that they had been forced to perform an emergency hysterectomy. As I was a mother of five children, I empathized with that patient and was stunned to hear the resident pass the situation off lightly with the remark. "Oh well, she's already got a kid!" He certainly displayed his ignorance concerning a woman's desire for children.

This one week's experience on the abortion service taught me several lessons:
  • Medical students were always told to observe and learn from every patient and every procedure. The fact that we were not allowed to actually attend an abortion points out the barbaric nature of the process.
  • Abortion was being abused as a means of contraception.
  • Abortion in a university hospital clinic can be as dangerous as the proverbial coat-hanger.
  • Performing this inhumane procedure had the effect of causing the involved doctor to become callous to women and their pain, whether emotional or physical.
  • Abortion is an attack not only on the unborn child who will never get her chance for life, but is also an attack on the woman who undergoes the invasive procedure.
  • If you are one who believes abortion is a good or necessary woman's "right," think over the following questions:
  • Which is more important, a woman's right to abortion or her child's right to life? What about responsibility?
  • Did you know abortion is legal up until birth?
  • Did you know the ban on partial-birth abortion has been signed into law, but activist judges may overrule the will of the people?
  • Did you know partial-birth abortion is legal infanticide?
  • Think about your children or grandchildren. Perhaps some of them have already been aborted. Were not those lives as precious as the ones now living?
  • Could not the vast sums of money charged by unscrupulous doctors and clinics be better spent to help the women faced with "problem pregnancies?"
  • What about the millions of loving couples who could have given these babies good adoptive homes?
  • In the three minutes it has taken you to read this article, sixteen more babies' lives have been cruelly snuffed out, 40,000,000 since Roe v. Wade; more than four times the number murdered during the Holocaust; more than the number of soldiers killed in all the wars our country has fought. This continues to be a veritable slaughter of the innocents.

    Tuesday, October 24, 2006

    Belief and emotion

    From How To Be A Christian And Still Go To Church:
    "It is quite appealing in a ministry role to manipulate emotion. In my day in Young Life we were masters at it. Not only is it easy to manipulate emotion, it's really easy in adolescents. Like counting butts in pews, emotional response is another tempting, but misleading, method to measure ministry effectiveness.

    In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis says
    'Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable; but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods 'where they get off,' you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion.'
    In ministry we seek to help people develop genuine faith. That is terribly hard work. Frankly it is work only the Holy Spirit can do, reducing us as ministers to simply placing ourselves in that same Holy Spirit's hands to use and to produce result.

    It is so tempting to control 'the weather,' by building a nice facility with all the right programs and technology, and help people have 'good digestion,' Starbucks in the Narthex - lunch after service, and achieve the emotional result we desire, an emotional result that produces the illusion of genuine faith, but a faith that disappears with the change in weather and the lousy meal.

    Will faith in Christ change our emotional state? Absolutely, but our emotional state DOES NOT produce faith in Christ. We cannot afford to substitute mere emotional manipulation for genuine ministry. We cannot allow the temptations of the measurable to substitute for the reality of God's immeasurable grace."
    Our faith is based on reality. Emotions come and go - but God remains.

    Bonhoeffer and abortion

    Richard John Neuhaus quotes Bonhoeffer on abortion after describing the historical context in which he wrote:
    The Nazi doctrine of Lebensunwertes Leben (life that is not worthy of life) had the widest possible applications, from euthanasia to the elimination of the handicapped to the mass killings at Auschwitz. While the Third Reich opposed the abortion of the "genetically superior," Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood that the logic of abortion was integral to a regime that presumed to exercise total power over life and death. Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the regime in April of 1945, spoke of four divine "mandates" in the ordering of human life: family, labor, government, and Church. The following passage from his Ethics occurs in a discussion of the family:
    "Marriage involves acknowledgment of the right of life that is to come into being, a right which is not subject to the disposal of the married couple. Unless this right is acknowledged as a matter of principle, marriage ceases to be marriage and becomes a mere liaison. Acknowledgment of this right means making way for the free creative power of God which can cause new life to proceed from this marriage according to His will. Destruction of the embryo in the mother's womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder. A great many different motives may lead to an action of this kind; indeed in cases where it is an act of despair, performed in circumstances of extreme human or economic destitution and misery, the guilt may often lie rather with the community than with the individual. Precisely in this connection money may conceal many a wanton deed, while the poor man's more reluctant lapse may far more easily be disclosed. All these considerations must no doubt have a quite decisive influence on our personal and pastoral attitude towards the person concerned, but they cannot in any way alter the fact of murder."

    "Nothing But the Blood"

    Last May, in Christianity Today, Mark Dever's article "Nothing But the Blood" defended the doctrine of the Atonement:
    "'I've just been told that I'm too Atonement-centered.'

    My sister in Christ was serious, humble, and a little confused. I said, 'What do you mean 'too Atonement-centered'?' I had never heard the charge.

    A Christian friend told her that she talked too much about Christ's death, which dealt with our guilt due to sin. I responded that knowing and accepting this truth was the only way to a relationship with God, and that I didn't think it was possible to be 'too Atonement-centered.'

    Few other doctrines go to the heart of the Christian faith like the Atonement. Congregations sing at the top of their lungs: 'My sin, not in part but the whole, has been nailed to the cross, so I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!' ('It Is Well with My Soul'). The priestly work of Christ separates Christianity from Judaism and Islam. Not surprisingly, the Cross has become the symbol for our faith.

    Still, God's work on the Cross leaves us with plenty of questions. In fact, there have always been a few Christians who question whether we need the Atonement, including, in recent years, some evangelicals who have challenged the dominant understanding of Christ's death on the Cross as the substitute for our sins."
    Read the rest. Even if you are already convinced, he makes the arguments with great clarity.

    Monday, October 23, 2006

    America's founders and religion

    Christopher Levenick and Michael Novak at NRO respond to an article in the Nation by Brooke Allen which contends that the Founders were in no sense Christians:
    "In her litany of statements that intend to prove that 'the Founding Fathers were not religious men,' she cites one line from a letter written by John Adams. According to Allen, 'As an old man, [Adams] observed, 'Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been upon the point of breaking out, 'This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!''' Pretty damning evidence, right? Well, no: Allen neglects to include the next two sentences from Adams: 'But in this exclamati[on] I should have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without Religion, this World would be Something not fit to be mentioned in polite Company, I mean Hell.'

    Allen commits plenty of other errors in her argument, but we'll confine ourselves to looking at just a few.

    She asserts that '[i]n the Declaration of Independence, [God] gets two brief nods.' Not true. As every schoolboy knows, the Declaration mentions God four times: 'the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God,' 'endowed by their Creator,' 'Supreme Judge of the world,' and 'divine Providence.' Equally problematic is her dismissive description of these invocations as 'brief nods.' (In fact, if you exclude the long list of grievances against George III, the Declaration on average invokes the name of God just about once every paragraph.) More important than its frequency is the indispensability of divine sovereignty to the document's overarching natural-law argument. The source of human rights, according to the Declaration, is not located in mutual human consent but rather in the creative activity of God." The rest.
    They go on to enumerate errors with respect to Madison, Washington, Jefferson and Franklin.

    Religion, madness and secular paranoia

    Via Brothers Judd, Michael Medved comments on the inundation of newly published books worrying about the influence of the "Religious Right" in "Religion, madness and secular paranoia":
    "Those who believe that religious conservatives want to impose a nightmare of intolerance and oppression on those who disagree with them must classify the nation’s heroic past, from its founding through the landmark school-prayer cases of 1961, as representative of a similar nightmare. It’s secularists and leftists who seek to alter the long-term essence of this deeply religious, majority Christian country (as Sam Harris, for one, freely acknowledges), rather than believing fanatics who want to remake the nation as an alien, unrecognizable theocracy.

    Why, then, the current paranoia over the often exaggerated prominence and power of religious conservatives? In Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris unwittingly provides the answer. Addressing his believing fellow citizens, he dramatically declaims: “If the basic tenets of Christianity are true, then there are some very grim surprises in store for nonbelievers like myself. You understand this. At least half of the American population understands this. So let us be honest with ourselves: in the fullness of time, one side is really going to win this argument, and the other side is really going to lose.”

    Mr. Harris, in other words, seems to worry that people assume he’s bound for damnation and an eternity of regret because in one tiny corner of his mind, at least, he fears they may be right. In the argument he describes, it’s not possible that Christian believers are “really going to lose.” If Mr. Harris is right about humanity and materialism, then there will be no sense of regret or despair if religious people fail to reach heaven after death. If we are, indeed, just spiritless chemicals and soulless matter, then we won’t be around in any sense to feel remorse over a life wasted in prayer, religious fellowship, love of family and good deeds. When he suggests that one side is “really going to lose” he can only have his own side in mind."

    Sunday, October 22, 2006

    Seventh Day Baptist History I

    Seventh Day Baptist Origins
    England, 1590-1670

    Our final authority. One of the great principals of the Protestant Reformation was sola scriptura, or “Scripture alone,” meaning that the only reliable authority for faith and human behavior is the Bible. In England, as elsewhere, the study of the Scriptures led devout believers to doctrinal conclusions which differed from previous tradition. With the Bible as their principle guide, some Christians became convinced that the Sabbath should not only be observed, but be observed on the seventh day of the week.

    Gravestone of Dr. Peter Chamberlen
    The Sabbath is rediscovered. Some, like John Traske and Theophilus Brabourne considered the Sabbath and tried to persuade others to adopt it, but, failing to do so, went no further. After the English Civil War and the establishment of the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell there was more freedom for Protestant dissenters. From 1650 to 1660, a number of Baptists chose the Sabbath. Among those were James Ockford, William Saller, John Spittlehouse, Thomas Tillam and Dr. Peter Chamberlen, physician to three English monarchs. Several congregations of Sabbath-keeping Baptists were established, including the oldest still existing Seventh Day Baptist church, later named Mill Yard.

    Samuel Stennett
    Sabbathkeepers are persecuted. After the fall of the Commonwealth and the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, it again became more difficult for those outside the established Church of England. John James, a leader of the Mill Yard congregation, was executed in 1661 on charges of being a Fifth Monarchist. Because of his Sabbath convictions, Edward Stennett was forced to change his profession and worship behind closed doors. Francis Bampfield came to the Sabbath while in prison for holding illegal worship. There he began the preaching which led to the founding of the Pinners' Hall Seventh Day Baptist Church. That church continued for over 175 years after Bampfield died in prison.

    Sabbbath comes to the American colonies. About 1664 two Sabbathkeeping members of the Baptist congregation at Tewkesbury, Stephen and Anne Mumford, emigrated to Rhode Island where they were instrumental in helping to found the first Seventh Day Baptist church in North America.

    During the 17th and 18th centuries English Seventh Day Baptists included several distinguished individuals including the hymn writers Joseph and Samuel Stennett and the lexicographer, Nathanael Bailey.

    Adapted from Don Sanford, A Choosing People: The History of Seventh Day Baptists, 1992

    The first picture shows part of the inscription on the tomb of Dr. Peter Chamberlen at St. Margaret's Chapel near Woodham Mortimer in Essex. The second is Samuel Stennett, Seventh Day Baptist hymn writer and pastor.

    The next in the series: "Seventh Day Baptist History II - Rhode Island to Independence"

    Links to all of the posts about Seventh Day Baptist History can be found here.

    This series of short summaries of Seventh Day Baptist history is part of a project undertaken for the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society, which maintains its archives and a museum in Janesville, Wisconsin.

    Who has controlled the Middle East?

    Via evangelical outpost: a good way to visualize the history of the Middle East over the millennia.
    Who has controlled the Middle East over the course of history? This time-lapse map shows in 90 seconds all of the empires and nations that have controlled this section of the world from 2000 B.C. to 2006 A.D.

    Friday, October 20, 2006

    Top ten books

    At Justin Taylor's Between Two Worlds, Ligon Duncan lists his choices for the Top Ten Books:
    The following list is from the Reformed side of evangelicalism, the books are from the last 50 years or so, there is a heavy emphasis on theology and devotional material. Naturally, it emphasizes what should be the top ten, as opposed to what has been the top ten.
    The list.

    "Of making lists there is no end." Philip Ryken's list, C.J. Mahaney's list, Sam Storms' list, Eric Thoennes' list, Jim Hamilton's list - all at Reformation21.

    Leadership

    Jollyblogger reflects on "Leadership Unto Suffering" as he finds it described in Hebrews:
    "On Sunday I preached from Hebrews 13:7-17 which is a section on leadership and it gave me a different perspective on the nature of leadership.

    One friend pointed out to me that when he reads the book of Hebrews and gets to that point, he is nearing the end and tends to move fast through these verses. I do the same - in the past I have seen pretty much the whole of Hebrews 13 as disjointed practical exhortations.

    But, as I studied I found that verses 7-17 hang together real well, and rather than being disjointed they provide a picture of the kind of leaders we should be following." [The rest]

    Sixteen words

    Neuhaus on the First Amendment in First Things:
    "The sixteen words, of course, have to do with the first freedom of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Religion Clause—note that it is one clause with two provisions, no-establishment and free exercise—has been turned upside down, with the result that free exercise, which is the entire purpose of the clause, is again and again trumped by no-establishment. In recent years, the Supreme Court has been increasingly candid about the incoherence of its Religion Clause decisions, admitting that they are riddled through with contradictions. There is reason to believe that the Court just may be ready to return to the original meaning of the text, which is to protect the free exercise of religion.

    Meanwhile, however, the battles continue. Just yesterday, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that religious institutions must cover contraception services in their employee health plans. The appeal of Baptist and Catholic groups for an exemption was denied. The ruling clearly burdens the free exercise of religion for those who believe that paying for artificial contraception is complicity in evil. Defenders of the decision say the decision only marginally inhibits the free exercise of religion. But free exercise means free exercise. When the exercise of religion is inhibited, it is not
    free exercise."

    Thursday, October 19, 2006

    "In the beginning was the Word"

    Stephen Barr at First Things is happy that he doesn't have to read Dawkins' latest book:
    "Surfeited as I am with Dawkins’ highly polished put-downs and elegant sneering at his intellectual foes, I am happy to be able to experience his latest book (The God Delusion) at second hand through the philosopher Thomas Nagel’s incisive review in the New Republic.

    Nagel is not impressed by Dawkins’ “attempts at philosophy.” One of Dawkins’ pet arguments against God as an explanation of design in the world is that it leads to an infinite regress: “A designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right.” As Nagel points out, this argument would only have force if theists conceived of God as a complicated brain rather than as an incorporeal being."
    Later Barr writes:
    As one moves deeper into nature—to levels about which the natural historian and zoologist can tell us nothing—one encounters not less and less form but increasingly magnificent mathematical structures, structures so profound that even the greatest mathematicians are having difficulty understanding them. This is what Pope Benedict was referring to in his Regensburg lecture when he spoke of “the mathematical structure of matter, its intrinsic rationality, . . . the Platonic element in the modern understanding of nature.” It is what the great mathematician Hermann Weyl meant when he said, “[I]n our knowledge of physical nature we have penetrated so far that we can obtain a vision of the flawless harmony which is in conformity with sublime reason.” It is what the great astrophysicist James Jeans meant when he said, “The universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine.”

    At the foundations of the natural world, we do not find merely slime or dust or some dull insensate stuff. We find ideas of sublime beauty. Dawkins looks at mind and sees atoms in motion. Physicists look at those atoms, and deep below those atoms, and see—or, at least, some of them have seen—the products of “sublime reason,” “a great thought,” a Mind.

    In other words, in nature we see a different arrow: It moves from Mind to ideas and forms, and from ideas and forms to matter. In the beginning was the Logos, St. John tells us, and the Logos was God.
    Added on 10/21: Dawkins' most recent book is eviscerated in a review by someone not especially sympathetic to orthodox Christianity:
    "Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology."

    "The cross is our symbol of hope."

    An employee of British Airways was recently disciplined for wearing a cross. The Telegraph [London] recounts the reaction of the Anglican Archbishop of York:
    Dr Sentamu made his comments as he opened the David Young academy in Leeds, during which he put a hand-made wooden cross and an anti-slavery medallion into a time capsule which is to be buried by the school.

    Referring to the 'controversy in the news', he said: 'The cross is a symbol used by Christians to remind them of hope. It is the hope of light overcoming darkness, life victorious over death and good triumphing over evil.'

    He added: 'For those of us who wear a cross, there is not only hope but also a responsibility. The responsibility that goes with claiming the name of a Christian. The responsibility to act and to live as Christians.

    'Those wearing a cross proclaim themselves followers of Christ and have the duty of acting accordingly; of showing love to our neighbours of all faiths and none, of forgiving those who offend or persecute us, or choosing a life of service to those we meet in this community be they students or teachers, the cool or the uncool, the weak or the strong. Our duty is to show love to them all."
    A good reminder not only to those who wear crosses but also to those who display Christian slogans on their cars. In fact, a good reminder for all Christians always.

    Wednesday, October 18, 2006

    "Marriage and the Public Good"

    This document - "Marriage and the Public Good" from The Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, NJ, has an impressive list of academic signatories. The abstract includes the following:
    The purpose of this document is to make a substantial new contribution to the public debate over marriage. Too often, the rational case for marriage is not made at all or not made very well. As scholars, we are persuaded that the case for marriage can be made and won at the level of reason. Marriage protects children, men and women, and the common good. The health of marriage is particularly important in a free society, which depends upon citizens to govern their private lives and rear their children responsibly, so as to limit the scope, size, and power of the state. The nation's retreat from marriage has been particularly consequential for our society's most vulnerable communities: minorities and the poor pay a disproportionately heavy price when marriage declines in their communities. Marriage also offers men and women as spouses a good they can have in no other way: a mutual and complete giving of the self. Thus, marriage understood as the enduring union of husband and wife is both a good in itself and also advances the public interest.
    The case for the traditional Christian understanding of marriage must be made in a public arena where there are many who will not accept arguments based on Scripture or doctrine. Here it is defended because of the unquestionable benefit it confers on individuals, society and the health of the Republic.

    America as a “Christian nation”

    Often discussions about whether the United States is a "Christian nation" fail because the participants have neglected to define the term. They mean entirely different things when they affirm or deny that the nation is "Christian." The author of "Religion, politics and semantics" defines his terms:
    "America is a Christian nation in that it contains more Christians than most nations do–it has always been more Christian than its progenitors in Europe, and that is more true today than it has ever been ....

    America is a Christian nation in that you can generally convince us to do the right thing by appealing to Christian notions–the civil rights movement, for example, prospered as long as it demanded that white Christians behave like Christ, then foundered as it left its religious roots. America is a Christian nation in that we have done more than any other nation to secure the rights of Christians around the world to worship God.

    America is a Christian nation in that we were the first such nation that applied Christ’s teaching to “do unto others” even to those in power (for what else is democracy but that?).

    On the other hand, America is not a Christian nation in the sense that America is a conglomeration of many different people, some of whom know Christ and some of whom don’t.

    It is not a Christian nation in the sense that our government, being a system of laws written down on paper, has no relationship with Christ."

    Tuesday, October 17, 2006

    Faith and science

    At NRO's Phi Beta Cons, an explanation of why ID, or "Intelligent Design," doesn't meet the requirements of a scientific hypothesis:
    "Science, by definition, seeks to provide natural—not supernatural—explanations for the things that we see in the world around us. Why? Because natural theories can be tested and falsified based on empirical observations. Questions and doubts about these natural theories can be settled according to a standard methodology. If you give up on this methodology and start positing unobservable supernatural entities to explain the phenomena you see around you, then you’re no longer doing science. You’ve gone beyond the limits of empirical observation. You’ve moved into the realm of philosophy or theology—which is fine, just as long as it’s not masquerading as science." More
    Science is defined by its method and it deals only with those questions which can be addressed by that method. Of course people like Dawkins and Dennett claim much too much for science - arguing that "scientific" knowledge is the only kind of knowledge and that any other claims to "know" are nonsensical.

    Dawkins:
    Obviously, a lot of people find the theistic answer satisfying on another level. What do you see as the problem with that level?
    What other level?
    At whatever level where people say the idea of God is very satisfying.
    Well, of course it is. Wouldn’t it be lovely to believe in an imaginary friend who listens to your thoughts, listens to your prayers, comforts you, consoles you, gives you life after death, can give you advice? Of course it’s satisfying, if you can believe it. But who wants to believe a lie?
    Dennett:
    So what can you tell us about God?
    Certainly the idea of a God that can answer prayers and whom you can talk to, and who intervenes in the world - that's a hopeless idea. There is no such thing.
    Yet faith, by definition, means believing in something whose existence cannot be proved scientifically. If we knew for sure that God existed, it would not require a leap of faith to believe in him.
    Isn't it interesting that you want to take that leap? Why do you want to take that leap? Why does our craving for God persist? It may be that we need it for something. It may be that we don't need it, and it is left over from something that we used to be.
    They are both making claims about reality ("...who wants to believe a lie?," "There is no such thing.") that are beyond the ability of science to demonstrate. Science is actually rather limited by its method and cannot now (or perhaps ever) address the most important questions we ask - questions about meaning and purpose. Science was never designed to answer such questions. Its method limits what it can do. It doesn't follow that there is no answer. Experience, reason, history and, yes, revelation, can give us knowledge that may never be amenable to testing by the scientific method.

    Stephen M. Barr:
    ...We would all be better off if more scientists simply admitted that there are things we don’t understand about the hows and whys of evolution. What we have seen instead is an intolerance of any questioning on this subject that is totally inconsistent with a true scientific spirit.

    Moreover, the scientific community has sat by while certain scientists and philosophers, claiming the authority of science, have waged war against religion using the neo-Darwinian account of evolution as a metaphysical weapon. There have been three main prongs of this offensive. The first is the promotion of an extreme form of naturalism and reductionism, sometimes called “scientism.” According to this philosophy (a hang-over from positivism, and widespread among scientists), all objectively meaningful questions can be reduced to scientific ones, and only natural explanations are rational.

    The second prong is an attack on the idea of design in nature: Biologists like Richard Dawkins and philosophers like Daniel Dennett claim Darwinian evolution has explained how complex biological structures arise from unconscious physical processes and thus destroyed the Argument from Design for the existence of God, conquered the last bastion of teleology and final causation in science, and showed that the universe and life are without ultimate purpose....

    If biology remains only biology, it is not to be feared. Much of the fear that does exist is rooted in the notion that God is in competition with nature, so that the more we attribute to one the less we can attribute to the other. That is false. The greater the powers and potentialities in nature, the more magnificent must be nature’s far-sighted Author, that God whose “ways are unsearchable” and who “reaches from end to end ordering all things mightily.” Richard Dawkins famously called the universe “a blind watchmaker.” If it is, it is miracle enough for anyone; for it is incomparably greater to design a watchmaker than a watch.

    Monday, October 16, 2006

    Same-sex marriage and religious liberty

    Most Christians of my acquaintance believe both in the preservation of traditional marriage between a man and a woman and in the toleration by society, government and law of what are often called "alternative lifestyes." That is to say, while not condoning homosexual behavior, there is no desire to inflict hardship or even inconvenience.

    Consequently many orthodox Christians [myself included] favor laws prohibiting discrimination, or protecting inheritance rights, or hospital visitation rights, etc., for same-sex couples. That doesn't mean we favor "gay marriage."

    But legal recognition of same-sex marriage may, quite apart from moral, social and religious considerations, raise serious questions about religious liberty. The evangelical outpost:
    "When same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land, can the government force religious groups to treat it like traditional marriage? Will non-discrimination laws trump five thousand years of tradition? Would Christians be silenced and treated as 'bigots' for refusing to accept the normalcy of gay marriages? [...]

    [Maggie] Gallagher asked the Beckett Fund, one of the leading law firms that defend religious liberty, about the seriousness of the threat. Last December, the firm brought together ten religious liberty scholars of right and left to look at the question of the impact of gay marriage on the freedom of religion. Anthony Picarello, President of the Beckett Fund, summarizes their findings: "All the scholars we got together see a problem; they all see a conflict coming. They differ on how it should be resolved and who should win, but they all see a conflict coming."
    "The impact will be severe and pervasive," Picarello says flatly. "This is going to affect every aspect of church-state relations." Recent years, he predicts, will be looked back on as a time of relative peace between church and state, one where people had the luxury of litigating cases about things like the Ten Commandments in courthouses. In times of relative peace, says Picarello, people don't even notice that "the church is surrounded on all sides by the state; that church and state butt up against each other. The boundaries are usually peaceful, so it's easy sometimes to forget they are there. But because marriage affects just about every area of the law, gay marriage is going to create a point of conflict at every point around the perimeter."
    The scholars at the Beckett Fund agreed that when traditional values clash with the homosexual agenda, religious freedoms are likely to lose."

    Friday, October 13, 2006

    Ecumenical honesty

    Commenting on an article in the New Republic, Richard John Neuhaus, at the First Things site, makes the following observation.
    "Mr. Nirenberg seems to assume—and a good many Christians, regrettably, share the assumption—that “dialogue” requires that truth claims be set aside or can only begin from the stipulation that all truth claims are equally true, or false, as the case may be. But genuine dialogue is not pretending that our differences make no difference. Genuine dialogue is the engagement of our deepest differences within the bond of civility and mutual respect." [my emphasis]
    Whether in personal relationships, political disagreements, or efforts at genuine ecumenism, the same rule holds true - no progress can be made until there is first an identification of significant disagreements. Papering over disagreement with pretense is dishonest and prevents the discovery of actual areas of accommodation or agreement.

    "Don't make outreach a primary goal"

    SmartChristian.com directed my attention to DashHouse.com where we find the following:
    Common wisdom says that inwardly focused churches need to focus on outreach in order to change. Dallas Willard challenges this wisdom in Renovation of the Heart:
    "It is, I gently suggest, a serious error to make 'outreach' a primary goal of the local congregation, and especially so when those who are already 'with us' have not become clear-headed and devoted apprentices of Jesus, and are not, for the most part, solidly progressing along the path. Outreach is one essential task of Christ's people, and among them there will always be those especially gifted for evangelism. But the most successful work of outreach would be the work of inreach that turns people, wherever they are, into lights in the darkened world.

    A simple goal for the leaders of a particular group would be to bring all those in attendance to understand clearly what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and to be solidly committed to discipleship in their whole life. That is, when they are asked who they are, the first words out of their mouth would be, 'I am an apprentice of Jesus Christ.' This goal would have to be approached very gently and lovingly and patiently with existing groups, where the people involved have not understood this to be part of their membership commitment."
    Is this the right approach?

    "Women in Ministry: Biblical examples"

    Via Intellectuelle, the Jesus Creed blog takes up the topic of women in the ministry. It begins:
    "RT France’s last chp in Women in the Ministry of the Church deals with women who are examples of ministry in the Bible. It begins with the Old Testament: Miriam (Ex 15:20), Deborah (Judg 4:4-5), Huldah (2 Ki 22:12-20), Noadiah (Neh 6:14), along with others (Ezek 13:17ff; Joel 2:28-32), and the wise women (2 Sam 14:1-20; 20:16-22).

    Then to Jesus. Anna (Lk 2:36-38), women as present (Luke 8:1-3; cf. Mark 3:31-35) and Luke 10:38-42. More could be listed. Then to women in the apostolic church. Priscilla mentioned before Aquila.

    Paul: Phil 4:2-3 with Romans 16:1-16 is not without significance. Mary (v. 6), Tryphaena and Tryphosa (v. 12), Persis (v. 12) who “labored” (a word Paul uses to describe his own ministry). Prisca, a “co-worker” — elsewhere used for men; Junia — about whom there is lots of discussion today — is said to be prominent in the opinion of the “apostles” or one of the apostles. If this is a woman, and the evidence is in favor of that, we may have a major ministry being described for a female. France thinks it calls her a prominent missionary-apostle. Phoebe is a “deacon” and is “prominent” (16:1-2)."
    There is more, and the comments continue with an interesting discussion.

    "The Church and Trends"

    At Blogotional a very good question is asked:
    "Why does the church have 'trends?' Oh, I understand it sociologically, but I am asking in a more theological vein. This post from the Out of Ur blog sent me to asking that question.
    My friend's comment got me thinking because over the years I have seen the church get excited about 'small groups', or about being 'seeker sensitive,' or 'Vineyard worship music' and other various bandwagons the church jumps on for a season. And there have been many other trends that I wasn?t a part of like cell churches, or using the baseball diamond for assimilation, or the breakouts of laughing in the Spirit by certain types of churches, or radio preaching, or whatever it may be. Whatever the trend the routine is the same. First there is excitement, then early innovators adopt them (maybe not the laughing in the Spirit), then in time most churches may do it. But eventually, it passes and we wait for the next ?new? thing.
    The whole idea of 'trends' in institutions definitionally devoted to the eternal and unchangable causes cognitive dissonance in me. Somehow when we chase the current, when we evaluate the fad, we lessen God. I mean to think a God about whom it has been said
    Heb 13:8 - Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever.
    Rev 1:8 - 'I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty."
    is worried about a "trend?" Somehow I think what is important today to such a God was important yesterday and will be important tomorrow."
    "All that is not eternal, is eternally out of date." C.S. Lewis

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    Abortion and human life

    From an exchange in the The New York Review of Books. A non-religious, pro-abortion liberal gets the question right:
    "Notwithstanding their claim to be neutral on the moral status of the fetus, liberals cannot defend the right to abortion without implicitly denying that the fetus is a person. For consider: if the Catholic doctrine were correct—if the fetus were morally equivalent to a child—then even the important principle of the woman's right to choose would be morally outweighed by the importance of respecting human life. This is why Nagel is wrong to insist that the distinction between public and private morality can, by itself, decide the question. If abortion were tantamount to infanticide, it would not be a merely private choice. Where one draws the public/private distinction depends on how one resolves the underlying moral question."
    If the fetus is a person, its right to life is more important than any other person's right to anything - except, possibly, that person's right to life. That has always been the issue - and so anyone addressing abortion needs to begin there. Is there any point after conception when you, or I, or anyone, "became" a person? The idea that a "person" could justly be killed for a "privacy right," or because of disability, or financial hardship, or eugenics, or any other reason short of saving another life, is a regression to savagery, however disguised as "humanitarianism."

    "God or Country?"

    A TIME writer agonizes over the results of a poll:
    "What Pew actually did over two weeks in May was ask 820 self-identifying American Christians 'Do you think of yourself first as American or as Christian?' And in this case, 42% of Christians did actually answer 'Christian first.' Another 48% answered 'American first,' while 7% ducked and said they thought of themselves as both.

    Not surprisingly, the 'Christian first' response emanated disproportionately from self-identified Evangelicals, 62% of whom said 'Christian first.' By contrast, the figures for other major Christian sectors were nearly reversed, with 62% of Catholics and 65% of Mainline Protestants saying 'American first'."
    The really shocking thing, of course, is that 100% of the Christians didn't say "Christian first."

    Most Americans see no conflict between the two loyalties - and especially between Christianity and the principles of a liberal, democratic United States. How does the columnist think a secular American should respond if asked whether his first loyalty is to his fundamental principles or to the country?

    The United States is not a despotism. It stands for political and humanitarian principles which I believe to be the hope of this world. I suspect that religious Americans are among the most patriotic Americans. Nevertheless, the first loyalty of any Christian, anywhere, is to the Ruler of the universe.

    Tuesday, October 10, 2006

    "Where Faith Abides, Employees Have Few Rights"

    The New York Times reports on how the law and the First Amendment affect the relationship between religious organizations and their employees:
    "As a rule, state and federal judges will handle any lawsuit that is filed in the right place in an appropriate, timely manner. But judges will almost never agree to hear a controversy that would require them to delve into the doctrines, governance, discipline or hiring preferences of any religious faith. Citing the protections of the First Amendment, they have ruled with great consistency that congregations cannot fully express their faith and exercise their religious freedom unless they are free to select their own spiritual leaders without any interference from government agencies or second-guessing by the courts."
    With any freedom comes responsibility. And especially for Christians there is the necessity to act with integrity and love toward those who work for the Church.

    Sabbath Resources Online

    It was recently brought to my attention that several valuable Seventh Day Baptists resources are currently available on the internet.

    One of these resources, Spiritual Sabbathism, by A.H. Lewis, the famed Sabbath Reformer of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth century is out of print and unavailable another way. If you haven't perused any of Lewis's work, the following link would be an excellent place to start:

    Spiritual Sabbathism

    In addition, a more recent study of Sabbath-keeping by the late Rev. Larry Graffius, True to the Sabbath, True to our God, is also available here, at the webpage of the current SDB mission project at the Rez Connection. Other Sabbath related writings are also available on the Rez Connection page, including other works by A.H. Lewis.

    Politics as religion

    Today at CQOD, appeared this quotation - relevant both to the review of Amazing Grace below, and to our desultory conversation about Christian political involvement [e.g. below].

    Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury, and many other evangelicals, have been leaders in social reform, but it was not their religion. Their efforts succeeded because they put first things first, and believed firmly in the Word of God, in the conversion of the individual, in prayer, and in using spiritual means for spiritual work. G. T. Manley, Christian Unity, 1945
    The only ultimate commitment we have is to God Almighty. All others give way to that. None may conflict with that. Every other aspect of life is determined - insofar as we can discern His will - by that commitment. His will isn't obvious with respect many things - and those are the things orthodox Christians seem to dispute with the greatest vehemence. But there should be no dispute about whether Christians should be involved in politics. Many issues that arise in politics - like abortion, or gay marriage, or participation in the military - are issues both of personal Christian behavior and also broader political questions. Christians will disagree on the implications of our faith both personally and politically, but withdrawing from political involvement should not be an option.
    I was heavily influenced in my views on this subject by Charles Colson's 1989 book Kingdoms in Conflict.

    Sunday, October 8, 2006

    "The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals"

    Christianity Today selects The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals:
    "These are books that have shaped evangelicalism as we see it today—not an evangelicalism we wish and hope for. Books that have been published since World War II—not every book in the history of Christianity. Books that over the last 50 years have altered the way American evangelicals pray, gather, talk, and reach out—not books that merely entertained.We asked dozens of evangelical leaders for their suggestions, and they sent in their nominations. Then we vigorously debated as a staff as we ranked the 50 books."
    The list.

    Back in 2000, they chose the hundred books of the [last] century - found here.

    Friday, October 6, 2006

    Called back to pietism?

    From Christianity Today, "Replacing Rallies with Revivals," a review by James K. A. Smith of a book which argues that the church should withdraw from the public square. He thinks the author goes much too far:
    "The unfolding story of American evangelicals' involvement in politics has a certain rhythm to it. Like a pendulum swinging from one extreme to another, evangelicals have swung from a kind of pietistic stance of withdrawal and suspicion to a strident, triumphalistic program for 'taking America back for God.'

    The Myth of a Christian Nation, a new book by St. Paul pastor and former professor at Bethel College Greg Boyd, provides a sign that the pendulum might be headed back the other way.

    But first we need to appreciate the story thus far. Once upon a time, evangelicals considered the Great Commission their primary mission and calling. What mattered was eternity. What was most urgent was the salvation of souls. While evangelistic work was often attended by charity and acts of mercy, few evangelicals could justify expending energy on 'worldly' tasks such as politics."
    In fact, those then promoting more religious involvement in politics were usually liberals emphasizing the importance of speaking "prophetically" to poverty, or racism or war. Paradoxically, today it is the "Religious Right" that excites the greatest concern - and motivates Boyd's book.
    "Boyd's stark dichotomies relegate politics to a realm basically untouched by the gospel. Though he draws heavily from Anabaptists, Boyd seems more Lutheran on this point, sketching a kind of two-kingdom picture that discusses politics with an apathetic 'whatever'—or, more specifically, 'however.' In a number of places, Boyd remarks that however we decide to think about legal and ethical issues, what really matters is 'our heart and motives.'...."

    "Boyd's relegation of politics to a matter of indifference means that, ultimately, Christ's call to discipleship doesn't touch the public square. His constant refrain is simply to 'vote your conscience'—which points to the persistent individualism that dominates his account. While Boyd is eloquent about what the church can do to embody a sacrificial, 'power-under' love for the world, when it comes to politics, you're on your own."
    Faith is lived out in the world and, especially in a democracy - where we can influence policy - we have a responsibility to affect the political environment for good just as we ought to do in every other aspect of our lives.
    "Boyd employs a number of distinctions that amount to nothing more than old-fashioned dualism. In particular, he paints a stark divide between 'the kingdom of the sword' and the 'kingdom of the Cross' and between the 'kingdom of the world' and the kingdom of God. As he writes: 'The contrast is … between two fundamentally different ways of life, two fundamentally different mindsets and belief systems, two fundamentally different loyalties.' ...."

    "Because of his dichotomy, Boyd must conclude that 'no version of the kingdom of the world is closer to the kingdom of God than others.' This saddles him with a strange sort of relativism that precludes any ability to judge whether one configuration of society is better than another. Boyd couldn't say, for instance, whether South Africa better reflected the kingdom of heaven during Apartheid or after Apartheid, or whether South Korea's democracy is a more just system than Kim Jong-il's tyranny. But can't we see in-breakings of the coming kingdom here and now, better in some places than others?"
    The entire review.

    Thursday, October 5, 2006

    Assessing the strength of your convictions

    Once again, a selection from Paul Manuel's article in the last Sabbath Recorder:
    Just as you must be prepared to defer to the sensitivities of other believers, so you must recognize your own sensitivities and distinguish what is truly significant from what is simply trivial. In others words, you must be careful about assuming a stance that is unequivocally confident (dogmatic). You must recognize that there are different degrees of assertiveness for the positions you hold, and you must be able to gauge (and identify) the strength of your convictions appropriately.
    Although I do none of these (i.e., peas, wine, idols), I do not avoid them with the same degree of conviction.
    • If someone invites me to dinner and serves peas, I will probably eat some to be polite. But I would decline a second helping, because that is my personal preference.
    • If my host offers me a glass of wine, I will decline, because I do not drink wine as a general principle. But if am taking communion in a church that uses wine, I may accept, because my conviction is not based on a scriptural prohibition against it.
    • If a Hindu acquaintance invites me to offer incense to Krishna, I will decline, because my conviction is based on a biblical precept. To violate that precept would damage my relationship with God.
    Likewise, if you do not make such distinctions, if you accord all your convictions the same status (whether or not they have the same support of Scripture), you will either feel unnecessarily guilty when you fail to keep them or you will impose an unwarranted expectation on others to keep them.
    • If you accord an issue less status than Scripture gives it (e.g., permitting idolatry), you will fall short of the mark. You will not be holy, as the Bible prescribes.
    • If you accord an issue more status than Scripture gives it (e.g., prohibiting wine), you will overshoot the mark. You will be holier than the Bible prescribes.
    As you formulate your convictions or evaluate them, assess their relative strength. Is the stand you take on a particular issue a matter of preference, principle, or precept?

    "Amazing Grace"

    Introduced at the Toronto Film Festival and coming to theaters in February, Amazing Grace [from Walden, which produces the Narnia films] recounts the struggle to abolish slavery in the British Empire [Variety Reviews via Filmchat]:
    "In 1797, 34-year-old Evangelical antislavery firebrand William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd), consumed by his cause, exhausted by the vicious Parliament in-fighting and wracked by colitis, retires to the country home of his friends Henry and Marianne Thornton (Nicholas Farrell, Sylvestra Le Touzel). While on the mend, he recounts his struggles to admirer Barbara Spooner (Romola Garai).

    Cut to eight years prior, when Wilberforce, whom everybody seems to call 'Wilbur,' is persuaded by close friend and future Prime Minister William Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch) to introduce legislation to end the slave trade in the British Empire.

    Wilberforce, who was only 21 when he was elected to the House of Commons, joins Pitt, who at 24 became the youngest P.M. in Britain's history, to lead a contentious and complex fight for antislavery legislation against chief opponents Lord Tarlton (Ciaran Hinds) and the Duke of Clarence (Toby Jones)."
    The film title, of course, comes from the hymn by John Newton, former slaver, Christian convert, and active abolitionist, who was an ally of Wilberforce in the cause.

    As in the United States, the anti-slavery movement in Britain was led by evangelical Christians motivated by their faith and despite self-interest.

    I am reminded of Bernard Lewis' statement: “Imperialism, sexism, and racism, are not European inventions, but European words, without which the evils they refer to would never have been challenged.”

    "Jesus Camp"

    A documentary recently released has caused dismay among many Christians because of the image of the faith it presents to the secular world. A reaction to the reviews of "Jesus Camp" at the "Looking Closer" site:
    "Jeff Sharlet at The Revealer reviews Jesus Camp and says, 'I can't recommend it strongly enough. Jesus Camp turns out to be perhaps the best work of journalism -- or art -- dealing with contemporary Christian conservatism.'

    Let's say that he's right, and Jesus Camp really is the best work of journalism dealing with contemporary Christian conservatism.

    Then why is it that 9 out of 10 Christian conservatives I've talked with, or read, say that the film is far too narrowly focused on one extreme corner of the map of Christian conservativism? Why is it that I can't even get through the preview without feeling rather sick to my stomach and thanking Jesus's Father that I never attended Sunday schools like that one?

    I mean, yes, this kind of activity does go on, these people do exist, and this kind of teaching does take place. But if anybody watches Jesus Camp and comes away believing that they've got a good idea what American Christianity is about, well, that's kinda like tasting Welch's Grape Soda and then claiming that you've experienced what soda pop is all about."

    Tuesday, October 3, 2006

    Pleasing God

    We are saved by faith, through grace. So, what role does the law serve? From "The Soul Set Free" by Paul Manuel in the Sabbath Recorder, Oct 2006:
    When Paul says, “Love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10), he does not mean that love is a substitute for obeying the law, as if God replaced the specific precepts with this general principle. Rather, love is the stimulus for obeying the law.

    Love motivates us to please God by heeding what God says will please Him, rather than what we think will please Him or, more often, what will please us. Without the anchor of God’s law, love drifts into “situation ethics,” the notion that love—as we understand it—dictates how we should act in any given circumstance. That sounds good until we encounter a situation that comes in conflict with God’s law.

    For example, a woman confides in a male coworker that her husband neglects her. He is not abusive, just disinterested. He sits on the couch, night after night, watching TV, and has no desire to spend time with her.

    The coworker, who happens to find the woman attractive, is sympathetic to her plight. If he is not to transgress the law’s prohibition against adultery, he must maintain a certain distance in their relationship. Since, in his mind, the law is no longer relevant, he decides to apply Jesus’ admonition—“love your neighbor as yourself”—by giving her the attention and affection her husband is not.

    If, in the words of John Lennon, “Love is all you need,” and if love is a substitute for obeying God’s law, there is nothing wrong with this man’s decision. Is that what Paul means when he says, “Love is the fulfillment of the law”?…

    It is not. Love is not a substitute for obeying the law; love is a stimulus for obeying the law. It is what motivates us to please God, which we do by obeying God. And we know what God expects—what pleases Him—because He has revealed that in His law.

    Religion to meet our expectations

    From Touchstone: Ain't It Shiny?:
    "'How could the Hebrews have been so stupid!' one of my students spluttered the other day, remarking that they had just been led by the Lord from Egypt across the Red Sea, and almost without time to catch their cultural breath had fashioned for themselves the golden calf.

    I chalked it up to the blockheadedness of man, and most of the time that's as good an explanation as any. But I also suggested that maybe the Hebrews were surprised to hear that they had committed idolatry. Who knows but that they intended the golden calf to represent their Lord? ....

    Or maybe also a certain pride. One of my friends labels it OSD: Original Sin Disorder. The people who compelled Aaron to fashion the calf sinned not by irreligion exactly, but by religion -- by insisting on a religion to meet their specifications. In their case, they wanted to be like Other People. Other People enjoy worshipping at the feet of idols; why should not we, especially since our god has been so good to us?"
    More.