Saturday, March 31, 2007

"Back to Bach"

At Bookforum, Paul Griffiths reviews two new biographies of Bach:
.... Williams asks us to contemplate a Bach who found nothing in his world that might conflict with a devout trust in, respect for, and devotion to the God of the New Testament. Having grown up, in organists' households, with a sense of music as divine worship, he could hardly separate the musical from the sacred. Williams underlines the composer's participation in coffeehouse concerts and even regrets Bach never had the opportunity to fulfill the potential for comic opera revealed in some of the secular cantatas (a regret he goes so far as to imagine Bach also feeling). But we may well be sharing Bach's view, both Williams and Geck suggest, if we interpret The Art of Fugue, the Goldberg Variations, and much of the other solo instrumental music as no less religious than the Passions.
Thanks to Harrison Scott Key at World Magazine for the reference.

Source: BOOKFORUM | Back to Bach

On slavery

On the occasion of the anniversary of William Wilberforce's success and the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire, Steve Burton at Right Reason asks how the history of slavery is being taught these days:
....[T]here are two going narratives of the history of slavery.

Narrative # 1: Once upon a time, Africans lived in peace, harmony and one-ness with the earth. They even built great civilizations, like the Kingdom of Dahomey.

But then the White Devils appeared. Because they were so evil, and so aggressive, they slaughtered without let or hindrance, and enslaved everyone they did not slaughter. And then they built what they called their "civilization" on the gigantic profits that accrued from the labor of their African slaves.

Narrative # 2: The practice of slavery is older than history. It was absolutely endemic to the ancient world. Ancient Sumeria, Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, India, the Maya, the Aztecs - you name it. It's actually quite difficult to come up with any civilizations that did not practice it. And it's even more difficult to come up with any civilizations that felt the least bit guilty about it. Even the early Christians took it for granted as part of the natural order of things - though St. Paul famously admonished slave-owners to treat their slaves kindly.

Sub-saharan Africa, so far as we can determine, was pretty typical. Then as now, it was a land of perpetually warring tribes and petty kingdoms, which routinely enslaved their prisoners. Some were kept, used and abused, others were sold.

Among the most enthusiastic buyers were the Arabs, who were already trading in African slaves by the time of Mohammed - who was himself a slave-owner. By the time Europeans got back into the act, in the 16th century, many millions of African slaves had already been sold to Arab masters. The Arabs also enslaved a great many slavs (whence the word "slave") and Western Europeans.

Meanwhile, European Christians were slowly abolishing the practice of slavery.

They began by abolishing it amongst themselves.

For a couple of centuries, the worst amongst them got involved in the ongoing African/Arab trade. But the best amongst them opposed it from the beginning, and ended by abolishing it altogether - despite the objections of wealthy and powerful interests.

It took them hundreds of years, but they - and only they - eventually did it.

They even managed to stamp the practice out (temporarily, at least) in their colonial possessions in Africa and the Middle East.

It was among the greatest moral advances in all of human history.

* * * * *

So. Which of the above narratives is the more "reality-based?"
Source: Right Reason: Slavery Narratives

“Imperialism, sexism, and racism, are not European inventions,
but European words, without which the evils they refer to would never
have been challenged.”
Bernard Lewis, 1995

"Angling for the rich moments"

From The Inklings:
In his book, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, C.S. Lewis writes:
"It is no good angling for the rich moments. God sometimes seems to speak to us most intimately when he catches us, as it were, off our guard. Doesn't Charles Williams say somewhere that 'The altar must often be built in one place in order that the fire from heaven may descend somewhere else?'" (Find this in chapter XXI)
Lewis is right on both counts. First there is no use in "angling for the rich moments." God is free and will meet us at the right moments. This very often is not at our bidding, but at our most inconvenient! God often interrupts my life at the busiest of times, not the quietest. .... Most of the time I believe God intersects our lives through the most ordinary and mundane moments, when we simply are not looking in his direction. To think that we can create a moment where it will insure that God is present is thoroughly presumptuous. I've known many a pastor and worship leader who will manipulate moments and simply try to create emotion that might pass for the Spirit of God. God is not often found in these moments. The rich moments are when we are "off our guard."

But this does not mean we shouldn't be disciplined in building the altar. .... At its best worship can be a sign and a foretaste of heaven, where for a few moments in our week, God can reveal himself to us. ....

So we build the altar week by week, not because we are angling for the rich moments with God, but because by so doing we are being prepared to see God's presence throughout the rest of our week. ....

Craig S. Williams
Orange County, California
Source: The Inklings: Letters to Malcolm....

Prayer

Martin Luther's advice to his barber about prayer, A Simple Way to Pray, emphasizes using things like the Lord's Prayer and the Psalms as ways to direct thought when praying.

ReformationSA summarizes some of Luther's advice:
Luther recommended that our prayers be numerous but short in duration. Luther taught that we should pray: “Brief prayers…pregnant with the Spirit, strongly fortified by faith…the fewer the words, the better the prayer. The more the words, the worse the prayer. Few words and much meaning is Christian. Many words and little meaning is pagan.”

The Lord’s Prayer and the Psalms were tools which Luther considered most important for any Christian’s prayer life. “A Christian has prayed abundantly who has rightly prayed the Lord’s Prayer.” The Lord’s Prayer is the model prayer of Christianity and it is not essentially a prayer of one individual, but a common prayer that binds all Christians together, uniting us with all believers, past, present and future, whether in Heaven, or on earth, in a Biblical Kingdom focused prayer.

Luther taught that praying the Psalms brings us: “into joyful harmony” with God’s Word and God’s Will. “Whoever begins to pray the Psalms earnestly and regularly will soon take leave of those other light and personal little devotional prayers and say, ‘Ah, there is not the juice, the strength, the passion, the fire which you find in the Psalms. Anything else tastes too cold and too hard.’” [more]
Thanks to Between Two Worlds and Stand to Reason for pointing the direction to this information.

Source: ReformationSA.com: Luther's Practical Program to Revive Your Prayer Life

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Seventh Day Baptist History II

Rhode Island to Independence
America, 1670-1790

Seventh Day Baptist Meeting House, Newport, RI
British colonial settlement in what later became the United States began in the early 1600s, first in Virginia and Massachusetts and then up and down the eastern seaboard. Most of these British colonies had government supported religious establishments. Often, even groups that had been persecuted in England were intolerant of dissent once they were in control. One of the few colonies which practiced religious tolerance on principle was Rhode Island. Another was Pennsylvania.

The First American Church. The first Seventh Day Baptists in North America, Stephen and Anne Mumford, came to Newport, Rhode Island in 1664. They worshiped with a Baptist church. In 1671 several members of that church who had become convinced of the Sabbath separated from it and joined with them to form the first Seventh Day Baptist church in America. From that Newport church came others in New England. Pennsylvania was a center of activity in the 1690s. In the early 1700s groups in New Jersey identified themselves with Seventh Day Baptists. All of these churches were soon in contact and cooperation with one another.

German Seventh Day Baptists. Also in Pennsylvania, some German Pietists became convinced of the seventh-day Sabbath and adopted it. From that developed, at Ephrata, a separate German Seventh Day Baptist group.

Gov. Samuel Ward, RI
The Revolution. Seventh Day Baptists were heavily involved in the American War for Independence. A few conscientiously objected to war. A few were Tories. But most supported independence and many expressed their support by serving in the Continental Army or the militia.

Samuel Ward of Rhode Island was the most prominent Seventh Day Baptist on the Patriot side. He was a member of the Westerly church [First Hopkinton SDB Church], a former governor of the state, a close friend and correspondent of General Nathaniel Greene, and a Rhode Island delegate to the Continental Congress. There he strongly supported military preparedness and, but for his death from smallpox, would have been a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The war had an especially strong impact on some of the churches. An Ephrata building was used as a hospital for the Continental Army. The Shrewsbury church in New Jersey was near the Monmouth battlefield. Newport was occupied and Piscataway, New Jersey, was pillaged by the British.

After the war, and as a result of the peace, territory opened for settlement in western New York and over the Appalachians. Seventh Day Baptists would soon be among those migrating west.

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


The first picture is of the high pulpit in the Newport, R.I., Seventh Day Baptist Church, the first Seventh Day Baptist Church in North America. The person pictured is Samuel Ward, governor of Rhode Island and delegate to the Continental Congress

The next in the series: "Seventh Day Baptist History III - A Denomination Takes Form"

This series begins with: "Seventh Day Baptist History I - Seventh Day Baptist Origins"

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.

Into Great Silence

Christianity Today reviews Into Great Silence, a documentary about monasticism. The reviewer, Brandon Fibbs, liked the film very much. Excerpts from the review:
.... Gröning lived as one of the monks for six months in the picturesque Grande Chartreuse monastery, a medieval enclave built into the side of a hill beneath the shadow of the monolithic French Alps outside Grenoble. He carted his own gear, shot his own footage, recorded his own sound—all without the benefit of assistance or supplementary lighting. Sometimes his camera captures exquisite clarity; other times it registers barely enough light to decipher an image—and yet, regardless, each and every shot is magnificent. ....

...The brothers of Grande Chartreuse have taken a vow of silence, and aside from prayers, chants, and a once-a-week excursion outside during which they are allowed to converse with one another, there is no dialogue in the film. Nor is there any sort of musical score. ....

It is a mistake to say this is a silent film. If anything the absence of human speech reveals how much sound we miss. This is a soundtrack of sandals slapping marble, gurgling brooks, songbirds, the swish of fabric, the rustle of pages, the ringing of bells. So powerful is the silence that it seems to embody a sound all its own. One begins to imagine the noise light makes as it streams through windows, splashes across wood, reveals dust particles dancing in the air. ....

As with their worship services, the hermit monks of Grande Chartreuse live their lives in the thrall of liturgy—a sacred rhythm of prayers, mass, study, work, physical labor—a ritual essentially unchanged in the order's thousand-year existence. ....

Once a week, after the Sunday noon meal, the monks are allowed four hours of rest time in which they take a walk into the forests surrounding the monastery. During this time, they are allowed to freely talk amongst themselves. More often than not, the conversation still turns to issues of spirituality, faith, philosophy and the daily practice. On one snow-bound outing, these pillars of religious devotion devolve into schoolboys, using their flowing robes as makeshift sleds to careen down steep hillsides to the giggling delight of their brothers below.

Punctuating the film like chapter markers, Gröning captures his subjects in close-up, pausing for long moments to allow the monks to look directly and often uncomfortably into the glass eye of their beholder. It is amazing how much individuality and personality these men have, despite the fact that we hear so few of them ever utter a word. ....

.... To watch this film is to be in awe. Into Great Silence is a transformative theatrical experience, a spiritual encounter, an exercise in contemplation and introspection, a profound meditation on what it means to give oneself totally and completely, reserving nothing, to God. .... [the review]
Source: Christianity Today: Quiet Time

Good stewardship

MinistryWatch keeps track of the financial behavior of Christian ministries. Its founder, Howard Leonard, says that most of them are responsible - what he calls "Shining Lights" - but his organization also calls attention to those that don't seem to be good stewards.

Every good work and generous impulse seems to attract those who would take advantage and one of the unfortunate results is often cynicism about charitable and evangelistic ministries. MinistryWatch believes that each and every ministry ought to be transparent about its finances. ABC's John Stossel did a story on 20/20 illustrating MinistryWatch's work:

"It's All About You?"

More about The Secret from Albert Mohler's blog:
Ever heard of the "Law of Attraction?" Rhonda Byrne learned it from a book entitled The Science of Getting Rich, written by Wallace Wattles in 1910. Wattles was an evangelist for positive thinking and he promised readers that they could attract everything they wanted - including money, fame, success, or love - by using his "Law of Attraction." ....

In the end, The Secret points to the most basic question of life. Is is all about us, or about the glory of God? The elevation of the self in The Secret is truly breathtaking:
The earth turns on its orbit for You. The oceans ebb and flow for You. The birds sing for You. The sun rises and it sets for You. The stars come out for You. Every beautiful thing you see, every wondrous thing you experience, is all there for You. Take a look around. None of it can exist, without You. No matter who you thought you were, now you know the Truth of Who You Really Are. You are the master of the Universe. You are the heir to the kingdom. You are the perfection of Life. And now you know The Secret.
There is no real secret to The Secret. It is just the same old self-worship packaged for a new generation. [more]
Source: It's All About You? The Truth About "The Secret"

Monday, March 26, 2007

Tolerance and human rights

The future, if what is known as multi-culturism prevails? How far should tolerance go?
She worked at the Red Lobster in Times Square and lived with her husband near Yankee Stadium. Yet one night, returning home from her job, Odine D. discovered that African custom, not American law, held sway over her marriage.

A strange woman was sitting in the living room, and Ms. D.’s husband, a security guard born in Ghana, introduced her as his other wife.

Devastated, Ms. D., a Guinean immigrant who insisted that her last name be withheld,
said she protested: “I can’t live with the woman in my house — we have only two bedrooms.” Her husband cited Islamic precepts allowing a man to have up to four wives, and told her to get used to it. And she tried to obey. ....

.... Immigration to New York and other American cities has soared from places where polygamy is lawful and widespread, especially from West African countries like Mali, where demographic surveys show that 43 percent of women are in polygamous marriages.
Source: New York Times: In Secret, Polygamy Follows Africans to N.Y.

And as we redefine marriage, why not polygamy?

[Note: I have removed a story about Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) because of genuine doubt about its accuracy. See the comment on this post and reports elsewhere.]

The Secret

In the print edition of National Review [April 2, 2007], Jason Lee Steorts summarizes the "thesis" of The Secret, the current best-selling non-religious [or, at least, non-Christian] version of the "health and wealth" gospel.
The Secret isn’t much of a secret, but here’s an executive summary in case you’ve missed it. An Australian TV producer named Rhonda Byrne recently began moonlighting as prophetess-in-the-desert. In this more exalted station she made a film and wrote a book, both called The Secret and both claiming to reveal The Secret. The Secret to what? Why, to everything: wealth, health, relationships, happiness, world peace. Want to be a millionaire next month? Consult The Secret. Feel like eating whatever you wish and having 8 percent body fat? It’s in The Secret. Need to re-grow that diseased kidney? The Secret tells you how.

This Secret works according to something called the law of attraction, which governs the Universe (a word always capitalized by Ms. Byrne, who uses it much as a Christian or a Jew would use “God”). “The law of attraction says like attracts like, and so as you think a thought, you are also attracting like thoughts to yourself.” Not merely thoughts: “If you can think about what you want in your mind, and make that your dominant thought, you will bring it into your life.... Your thoughts become things!”

...“Thoughts are magnetic, and thoughts have a frequency. As you think, those thoughts are sent out into the Universe, and they magnetically attract all like things that are on the same frequency. Everything sent out returns to the source. And that source is You.”

The Universe, then, will give Me whatever I want if only I think about it with sufficient frequency and intensity. It makes no difference whether my wish is good or bad. “The law of attraction ... is as impartial and impersonal as the law of gravity.” It is “the mightiest power in the Universe.” It is also colossally stupid: “The law of attraction doesn’t compute ‘don’t’ or ‘not’ or ‘no,’ or any other words of negation” — so if I think, “I don’t want to catch the flu,” I’m actually telling the Universe, “I want the flu and I want to catch more things.” (The example is Byrne’s.)

There is no limit to the audacity of the conclusions Byrne draws from her silly little premise. “Write out your perfect weight and place it over the readout of your scale, or don’t weigh yourself at all.” That’s Byrne’s advice on how to svelten up, since, you know, obesity comes from “thinking ‘fat thoughts.’” To enrich yourself, go to The Secret’s website and download a “check” from the Bank of the Universe. Fill out this check with the amount of money you’d like to have, put it somewhere you’ll see it regularly, and you’ll be on the Forbes list in no time. .... Elsewhere, Byrne says medicine is okay, but only for its instrumental value in “eliminat[ing] pain, which then allows the person to be able to focus with great force on health.”) Whatever you do, don’t think about how to achieve your goals: “When you are trying to work out how it will happen, you are emitting a frequency that contains a lack of faith .... The how is not your part in the Creative Process.”

There are 3.75 million copies of this nonsense in print. Oprah Winfrey devoted two shows to it. .... The Secret is the top-selling book and the top-selling DVD on Amazon.com. Ms. Byrne has no doubt become a very rich woman.

Source: National Review, April 2, 2007, pp. 40-41

"Education is part of any faith at work!"

John Mark Reynolds asks "What is a classical, traditional, Christian education?" and offers the answer:
Education is becoming what God meant humanity to be.

Education cannot save anyone. It cannot begin itself given the broken and sinful human condition. Humanity requires redemption first, but education is of great value for the redeemed.

Education is part of any faith at work!

Is it Biblical?

It has as its Biblical mandate John 1: 1-14.

True education begins in the Revelation of God the Word as Creator and ends with the ability of humans to see His grace and truth in the Incarnation of that Word.

Why is it Classical, Traditional, Christian education?

It is Christian, because it accepts that only Christianity is wholly true, good, and beautiful and rejects the notion that any good, true, or beautiful idea, thing, or person cannot be reconciled to it.

It is traditional, because it accepts that the full council of God includes what God has said to all people at all times and rejects the impiety of assuming that our fathers and mothers in the faith have nothing to teach us.

It is classical because it accepts that the “common grace of God” in all men gives non-Christians much to teach us and rejects the assault on God’s providence of assuming that the cultural context of the birth of Christianity was accidental or unimportant. The Greeks and Romans matter in a way unique to non-Christian cultures.

It is “education,” because it recognizes that all humans (not just children) are not what they can be. After redemption, there exists the possibility of being to express what humans were meant to be when created by God. This cannot be done fully in this life, but education is the faithful start. [much more]
Source: The Scriptorium: What is a classical, traditional, Christian education?

April 2007 Sabbath Recorder Online

The April, 2007, Sabbath Recorder is available online here. Communication among Seventh Day Baptists, especially internet communication, is a theme of this issue.

Friday, March 23, 2007

"A mystery is not an excuse to stop thinking"

Once, some years ago, at a General Conference, there was a discussion initiated by some people who found no biblical warrant for the Trinity. I remember saying that the doctrine of Trinity is not an explanation; it is a solution. If, as Scripture says, the Father is God, Jesus Christ is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, but there is only one God, then the Trinity is necessary, whether the word appears in Scripture or not.

In 2002 Fred Sanders was interviewed by Biola Connections about the doctrine of the Trinity.
Q. What are common analogies people use to explain the Trinity that are misleading?

A. Almost all analogies for the Trinity end up being misleading. Usually they each have one point of helpfulness and that’s it. Legend has it that when Saint Patrick was explaining the Christian faith to the barbarians of Ireland and got to the part about the Trinity, they said, ‘How can that possibly be true?’ And he picked up a shamrock and converted the whole nation of Ireland. So, it was good enough to get an incredible piece of evangelistic work done. But if you continue thinking about a shamrock, it gets less and less like the Trinity. It would be similar to using the analogy of a pizza that is cut into three pieces (like the three shamrock leaves). God the Father is not a third of God. Each person of the Trinity is fully God.

Another common analogy is water. It can exist in three forms: liquid, ice or steam. The major problem is you can’t have the same piece of water being liquid, solid and gaseous at the same time. But the Bible shows the three Persons of the Godhead existing simultaneously.

Q. What is the simplest way to accurately explain the Trinity?

A. As soon as you use an analogy to explain the Trinity, you introduce complexity. It’s ironic, but the simplest way to explain the Trinity is to tell the story of Jesus Christ. Jesus is sent by the Father to earth where He is empowered by the Holy Spirit. When he ascends to the right hand of the Father, he sends the Holy Spirit to us.

A good analogy can be helpful sometimes, but can’t possibly please God when the word ‘Trinity’ makes us think primarily about ice cubes and shamrocks rather than the incarnation of the Son and the outpouring of the Spirit.

Q. What is a common misconception people have about the Trinity?

A. Probably the most common misconception is the fear that it really doesn’t make sense. That somehow we became Christians and that committed us to believe in certain things and, unfortunately, one of those things is rationally impossible.

But the Trinity is not irrational in any direct sense. I think the main intellectual problem with the Trinity is that it’s so dense. When we say ‘the Trinity,’ we are really saying all the basic elements of the gospel at once. So it’s a very dense formula, sort of like e=mc2 is difficult to understand — not because it’s logically contradictory, but because there’s so much information packed into it.

The Trinity would be irrational if it were self-contradictory — for example, if it said that there are three persons in God and yet only one person. Or if it said that God is one being and God is three beings. But for God to be one Being who is three Persons in no way contradicts the laws of logic. Now, it may be beyond our understanding in some way because we don’t know of any other being like that. It’s a mystery, but a mystery is not an excuse to stop thinking. A mystery is something that is bigger than our minds can take in and invites us to a lifetime of intellectual wrestling.
Source: The Scriptorium: For Saint Patrick: Two Cheers for Trinity Analogies

Politics, marriage and divorce

Until Ronald Reagan Americans had never elected someone who had been divorced as President. Today, among the Republican candidates, only the Mormon, Mit Romney, hasn't been divorced. Newsweek on changing evangelical attitudes about divorced candidates:
In a country where nearly half of all marriages collapse, divorce is not necessarily a political disqualifier—even among conservative Christians. "I don't think there's an evangelical family in the country that hasn't been touched by divorce," says Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention.

In the new NEWSWEEK Poll, only 5 percent of evangelicals said they would not vote for a candidate who had divorced. Rhonda Kelley, a professor of women's ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, says evangelicals can forgive mistakes. "I'm looking for a willingness to say, 'Hey look, I blew it. I am so sorry' ... Being willing to admit fault is a mark of maturity in a leader." That would seem to be good news for McCain, who has taken responsibility for his failed first marriage and remains on good terms with his ex-wife.

Evangelical Republicans might not be as forgiving of Giuliani, who played out his ugly second divorce in the tabloids and reportedly has a strained relationship with his son, Andrew, and daughter, Caroline. The NEWSWEEK Poll showed that 26 percent of respondents would not vote for a candidate who was involved in a nasty public divorce, and 43 percent said they wouldn't support a politician who'd had extramarital affairs. (Of course Giuliani, who supports abortion and gay rights, has other troubles with evangelicals.) Newt Gingrich, another Republican mulling a possible White House run, has tried to soften that resistance. Now on his third marriage, he admitted to cheating in the past and recently asked forgiveness for "moral failings."
Source: Newsweek: We're a happy family

Passion

Christianity Today reports on the 2007 Passion Conference in Atlanta. In the course of a long article describing the background, purposes and plans for Passion, one of the topics was the worship music. Songs introduced by the Passion organization have become important in contemporary worship. Louie Giglio:
"People have to remember when they're sitting in church holding the hymnal that they're looking at the top 100 hymns of all time," Giglio said. "I think as the church emerges 200 years from now, the best of the best of these new songs will survive." ....

For many years, critics have also landed blows against modern worship music for fostering individualism. Giglio hasn't been deaf to such criticism, and he's challenged Passion artists to resist the temptation. As Tomlin composed "How Great Is Our God," Giglio exhorted him to exclude any verses about our relationship with God. "If we keep saying it's all about God," Giglio said, "then every now and then a song will come along that doesn't have anything about us in it."

And if you keep calling your songs worship music, maybe that's what you'll get.

"You're going to lean away from singing about church," said John Piper, bestselling author and Minnesota pastor. Giglio has invited Piper to speak at every Passion conference. "You're going to sing about God. You'll look for stuff about God that awakens emotions and affections. You can go the intimacy route, which sounds like love songs. Or you can go the magnificence route, for transcendence." [more]

Source: Christianity Today: Passion takes it higher

Thursday, March 22, 2007

"Beyond beyondism"

At First Things, Joseph Bottum writes about "Beyondism," as in "Let's get beyond these old liberal/conservative distinctions."
That demand to get beyond politics itself exists in a political context—and its proposals always end up breaking for one camp or the other: The way to get beyond the liberal/conservative divide is for all of you on the other side to agree with me. It seems to be a rule that every beyondist is actually doing a little bait and switch—like the tire store that advertises discounted radials they just happen to be out of, though they’re happy to sell you these more expensive whitewalls instead. ....
He then describes an example of "Beyondism" from a commentator on the traditionalist/liberal divide in Catholicism:
....[H]e ends up urging liberals to ponder the failures of their techniques, while urging conservatives to ponder the failures of their conclusions. Liberals have failed “in not appreciating or even condemning certain religious movements and practices because these offend our liberal sensitivities.” Conservatives have failed because they are “focused so exclusively” on mostly sexual issues that they “no longer see the larger moral picture.”

There’s beyondism’s invariable bait and switch. In religious circles, Fr. Rolheiser is by no means the most egregious (that would be Tony Campolo or Jim Wallis), but he ends where all beyondists end: selling one side in the name of overcoming sides. The left needs to see that the right has all the best techniques for extending and maintaining a position, while the right needs to see that the left has all the best positions. Now can’t we all get beyond our pesky divisions?
Source: First Things: Beyond Beyondism

"In case of rapture, this blog will be unmanned"

GetReligion is a site that reports on the reporting about religion in the mainstream press, and whether they "get it." Today they review a Reuters story about differences among Christians with respect to the "Rapture." Excerpts:
.... The article begins with a good moderate Christian’s unverified story about a bad fundamentalist boss who believed in the rapture. It goes on to relay how moderate Christians are fighting back against the theology of the Left Behind novels.

Later on in the piece, coauthor Tim LaHaye paints the theological debate as having two sides: the good, Bible-believing folks like himself who love Jesus and the bad, “socialist” Bible-deniers. That LaHaye would say such a thing is in his best interest. He’s better off not admitting that many other Christians reject his rapture theology, including some who believe the Bible is inerrant and literally God’s word.

But reporter Hopkins paints the rapture debate in precisely the same way. There are two sides — moderates and fundamentalists — and they disagree on whether to take a “fundamentalist” or interpretive view of Revelation.

I suppose it’s too much to ask reporters to read a general book on the beat they cover but this is where D.G. Hart’s Lost Soul of American Protestantism could be useful. The typical American Protestant vignette painted by reporters and academics is liberal mainline vs. conservative evangelical. ....

He focuses on a third group: confessional Presbyterian, Anglican, Lutheran and Reformed Protestants. These are Protestants who emphasize creeds, doctrines, sacraments, liturgy, etc. They have an otherworldly or non-political emphasis — they believe that the main purpose of the church is to share the Gospel and administer the sacraments rather than save the world or reform earthly institutions. ....

Another problem with the piece is that it never really shows the actual rapture views of either group. The reporter says that fundamentalists believe that Christians will be taken immediately to heaven, leaving their fillings behind. Moderates apparently believe that Revelation is a story about Jesus confronting the evils of the Roman Empire. ....

... This part was my favorite, though:
The success of the graphic novels is just one indication of the strength of belief in rapture, Armageddon, and the subsequent second coming of Jesus Christ. A 2006 survey for the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found 79 percent of American Christians believe in the second coming, with 20 percent believing it will happen in their lifetime.
To conflate Left Behind theology of the rapture with the doctrine that Jesus will come again? I’m kind of speechless. Does Hopkins not know of the Nicene Creed that includes this belief? It’s only the most widespread ecumenical creed of the Christian Church, after all. And it includes a line professing belief that Jesus will “come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.” ....
Link to In case of rapture, this blog will be unmanned » GetReligion

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Via Dolorosa

Mark D. Roberts, a Presbyterian, posts about the use of the "Stations of the Cross" as a devotional guide during Lent:
As near as I can remember, I first became aware of The Stations of the Cross while on vacation in San Francisco, California. As I visited St. Mary's Cathedral, I noticed around the sanctuary of the church a series of visual reminders of Jesus's last hours. These seemed to encourage the Catholic faithful in their personal devotion. ....

In 2003, millions of people became familiar with the traditional Stations of the Cross without even knowing it. These stations provided the structure for Mel Gibson's blockbuster film, The Passion of the Christ. Little did many of us know that as Jesus fell three times while carrying His cross in the movie, or as He met His mother, that He was doing that which Roman Catholic tradition had popularized for centuries through The Stations of the Cross.

The origin of this tradition is not entirely clear, though it seems to be associated with Christian pilgrimages to Jerusalem in the early Christian centuries. ... [S]ince the vast majority of Christians were not able to go to Jerusalem to pray in the actual location where Jesus was crucified, The Way of the Cross enabled them to engage in a mini-pilgrimmage of sorts....

When I first followed The Stations of the Cross, I related readily to about half of the scenes. But the other half seemed odd to me because the statues depicted unfamiliar events, including: three falls of Jesus, an encounter between Jesus and His Mother, and an encounter between Jesus and a woman named Veronica. These stations were not derived directly from Scripture, but rather from ancient church tradition. Though I wasn't offended by the traditional nature of the unfamiliar scenes, since they were in no way contrary to Scripture, I found myself more drawn to the seven stations that were clearly based on the biblical record. ....

Well, as it turns out, Pope John Paul II seems to have shared my concern about the lack of biblical foundation for the traditional Stations of the Cross.... [I]n 1991 the Pope himself instituted a new series of fourteen Stations of Cross, each of which was based on Scripture alone....

Last year some folks at my church decided to offer The Stations of the Cross as a devotional experience for Holy Week. For obvious reasons, we opted for the Pope's biblically-based version. .... For many members of my church and community it was a precious time of drawing near to the Lord in anticipation of Good Friday and Easter. We're going to do the same thing this year.
Source: Mark D. Roberts: The Stations of the Cross: Introduction

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

IX Marks

What are the characteristics of a healthy church? The 9Marks site contends that at least these nine things should be true, that they are biblical and that they are achievable.
1. Expositional Preaching
This is preaching which expounds what Scripture says in a particular passage, carefully explaining its meaning and applying it to the congregation. It is a commitment to hearing God’s Word and to recovering the centrality of it in our worship.

2. Biblical Theology
Paul charges Titus to "teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Our concern should be not only with how we are taught, but with what we are taught. Biblical theology is a commitment to know the God of the Bible as He has revealed Himself in Scripture.

3. Biblical Understanding of the Good News
The gospel is the heart of Christianity. But the good news is not that God wants to meet people's felt needs or help them develop a healthier self-image. We have sinfully rebelled against our Creator and Judge. Yet He has graciously sent His Son to die the death we deserved for our sin, and He has credited Christ's acquittal to those who repent of their sins and believe in Jesus' death and resurrection. That is the good news.

4. Biblical Understanding of Conversion
The spiritual change each person needs is so radical, so near the root of us, that only God can do it. We need God to convert us. Conversion need not be an emotionally heated experience, but it must evidence itself in godly fruit if it is to be what the Bible regards as a true conversion.

5. Biblical Understanding of Evangelism
How someone shares the gospel is closely related to how he understands the gospel. To present it as an additive that gives non-Christians something they naturally want (i.e. joy or peace) is to present a half-truth, which elicits false conversions. The whole truth is that our deepest need is spiritual life, and that new life only comes by repenting of our sins and believing in Jesus. We present the gospel openly, and leave the converting to God.

6. Biblical Understanding of Membership
Membership should reflect a living commitment to a local church in attendance, giving, prayer and service; otherwise it is meaningless, worthless, and even dangerous. We should not allow people to keep their membership in our churches for sentimental reasons or lack of attention. To be a member is knowingly to be traveling together as aliens and strangers in this world as we head to our heavenly home.

7. Biblical Church Discipline
Church discipline gives parameters to church membership. The idea seems negative to people today – “didn’t our Lord forbid judging?” But if we cannot say how a Christian should not live, how can we say how he or she should live? Each local church actually has a biblical responsibility to judge the life and teaching of its leaders, and even of its members, particularly insofar as either could compromise the church’s witness to the gospel.

8. Promotion of Christian Discipleship and Growth
A pervasive concern with church growth exists today – not simply with growing numbers, but with growing members. Though many Christians measure other things, the only certain observable sign of growth is a life of increasing holiness, rooted in Christian self-denial. These concepts are nearly extinct in the modern church. Recovering true discipleship for today would build the church and promote a clearer witness to the world.

9. Biblical Understanding of Leadership
What eighteenth-century Baptists and Presbyterians often agreed upon was that there should be a plurality of elders in each local church. This plurality of elders is not only biblical, but practical — it has the immense benefit of rounding out the pastor’s gifts to ensure the proper shepherding of God’s church.

In identifying and promoting these nine marks, we are not intending to lay down an exhaustive or authoritative list. There are other significant marks of healthy churches, like prayer and fellowship. We want to pursue those ourselves as well, and we want you to pursue them with us. But these nine are the ones we think are most neglected in most local churches today, with the most damaging ramifications. Join us in cultivating churches that reflect the character of God.
Source: IX Marks: Is your church shaping the culture, or reflecting it?

Who gets to define Islam?

In a review of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, perhaps the best book to read about the origins of contemporary Islamic terrorism, Stephen Prothero explains that the real "clash of civilizations" is not between Islam and the West, but within Islam:
In a chapter on [Sayyid] Qutb called "The Martyr," Wright portrays Qutb (who was hanged in Egypt in 1966) as the progenitor of contemporary Islamist politics - for his claims that Islam is at war with modernity, that Muslims today must return to the pure Islam of Muhammad and his companions, and that all subsequent innovations to the tradition (including the Shiite and Sufi traditions) are but bastardizations of the one true faith. What is most chilling about Qutb's thought, however, is not so much his theological primitivism as his insistence that Muslims who disagree with him on any of these key points are apostates. His world is neatly divided into two warring parties - true Islam and barbarism - and any Muslim who disagrees with him is a barbarian. As Wright convincingly argues, it was this intellectual sleight of hand that "would open the door to terror."

To understand why this line of thought matters, it is important to note that the Qur'an plainly forbids the killing of other Muslims. As Wright discusses, the Qur'an does not shrink from war with idolaters. "Slay the idolaters wherever you find them," it reads, and "fight those who do not believe in God." Yet the Islamic tradition, including its four main schools of jurisprudence, also says that women and children must be spared in combat, and that Muslims must not target fellow Muslims for death. Commit the latter crime and you will spend eternity in hell.

In the World Trade Center, of course, many Muslims were murdered. The killings of Muslims in suicide bombings by al-Qaeda operatives and their imitators in Afghanistan and Iraq continue to mount. ....

...[T]he point this book really brought home is that what we are witnessing here is not so much a "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West as a clash of Islamic civilizations - a culture war between, on the one hand, Muslims who believe that the Islamic tradition means what it says when it comes to killing women and children and Muslims and, on the other hand, those who don't - between Muslims who accept at face value the professions of faith of their fellow Muslims and those who excommunicate by imagination anyone who disagrees with their narrow interpretation of the one true faith. ....
Source: Who Gets to Define Islam? - Books & Culture

Monday, March 19, 2007

"The Jesus of testimony"

The claims of Christianity are founded on events that really happened. As Paul makes clear in I Corinthians 15, actual events really matter. Consequently the strength of the historical evidence for those events is important.

One of the best popular arguments is The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? by F.F. Bruce. The Why Faith blog provides a link to an ebook version of Bruce's classic which can be found here. Why Faith? also recommends The Historical Reliability of the Gospels and an interesting sounding new book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, described at Amazon, in part, as follows:
This new book argues that the four Gospels are closely based on eyewitness testimony of those who knew Jesus. Noted New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham challenges the prevailing assumption that the accounts of Jesus circulated as "anonymous community traditions," asserting instead that they were transmitted in the name of the original eyewitnesses. To drive home this controversial point, Bauckham draws on internal literary evidence, study of personal names in the first century, and recent developments in the understanding of oral traditions. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses also taps into the rich resources of modern study of memory and cognitive psychology, refuting the conclusions of the form critics and calling New Testament scholarship to make a clean break with this long-dominant tradition. Finally, Bauckham challenges readers to end the classic division between the "historical Jesus" and the "Christ of faith," proposing instead the "Jesus of testimony."

Sunday, March 18, 2007

C.S. Lewis

At The Inklings site, the announcement of a new set of books about C.S. Lewis and his work:

A portion of the description:
.... Here, experts in the field of Lewis studies examine all his works along with the details of his life and the culture in which he lived to give readers the fullest complete picture of the man, the writer, and the husband, alongside his works, his legacy, and his place in English letters.

About the Author BRUCE L. EDWARDS is Professor and Associate Dean at Bowling Green State University. His works include The C.S. Lewis Readers Encyclopedia, for which he served on the editorial board and wrote 25 entries, The Taste of the Pineapple: Essays on C.S. Lewis as Critic, Reader, and Imaginative Writer.

All four volumes are to be published on 30th April 2007 by Praeger Press (USA)
Source: The Inklings

"The argument is over"

In the April edition of First Things [subscription required] Richard John Neuhaus comments on the current state of public discourse:
"The argument is over," announced former Vice President Al Gore. The subject was global warming. The television announcer then asked, "You mean there is no argument about global warming?" Gore solemnly nodded and said again, very much like a judge pronouncing the final verdict, "The argument is over." When and where, one might well ask, did the argument take place? Who was invited to take part in the argument? There are many very reputable scientists expressing skepticism or disbelief with respect to global warming. Never mind, they're too late; the argument is over. As the presumed moderator of public discourse, Mr. Gore declares that the argument is over and that his side won. Writing in the Boston Globe, Ellen Goodman goes further, comparing global-warming skeptics with Holocaust deniers. They are not only ignorant, they are culpably ignorant. In fact, they are evil. One detects a growing pattern of refusing to engage in argument by declaring that the argument is over. It is not only global warming. Raise a question about the adequacy of Darwinian theory, whether scientifically or philosophically, and be prepared to be informed that the argument is over. Offer the evidence that many who once coped with same-sex desires have turned out, not without difficulty, to be happily married to persons of the opposite sex and you will be told politely - or, more likely, impolitely - that the argument is over.

It does seem that there is a new spirit of anti-intellectualism abroad. Public discourse is increasingly aimed not at exploring the truth of a matter but at terminating the discussion. Conversation is displaced by propaganda. Self-appointed thought police patrol the conceptual borders against ideas and facts they find inconvenient .... Some arguments are rightly declared to be over. For instance, the argument for the legal segregation of the races. For instance, the argument that real communism hasn't been tried yet. For instance, the argument that people should divorce for the sake of the children .... But there are subjects - for example, whether we are facing catastrophic climate change caused by human behavior, whether reason and spirit emerge from mindless matter, whether sexual desire is identity and destiny - that are eminently deserving of intelligent discussion. ....

One of the places where such intelligent discussion can still be found is in the articles, letters and responses of First Things.

Source: First Things, The Journal of Religion, Culture and Public Life [subscription required]

"A lesson in real morality"

Mark Steyn continues the celebration of the life of William Wilberforce, and the Victorian Age whose identifying characteristics owed so much to the causes he championed. The history of Britain in the 19th century is evidence that a thoroughly corrupt and decadent society can be reformed. There is nothing inevitable about social disintegration. The primary vehicle of reform then was religious revival.
...[T]he life of William Wilberforce and the bicentennial of his extraordinary achievement remind us that great men don't shirk things because the focus-group numbers look unpromising. What we think of as "the Victorian era" was, in large part, an invention of Wilberforce that he succeeded in selling to his compatriots. We children of the 20th century mock our 19th century forebears as uptight prudes, moralists and do-gooders. If they were, it's because of Wilberforce. His legacy includes the very notion of a "social conscience": In the 1790s a good man could stroll past an 11-year-old prostitute on a London street without feeling a twinge of disgust or outrage; he accepted her as merely a feature of the landscape, like an ugly hill. By the 1890s, there were still child prostitutes, but there were also charities and improvement societies and orphanages. It is amazing to read a letter from Wilberforce and realize that he is, in fact, articulating precisely 220 years ago what New Yorkers came to know in the '90s as the "broken windows" theory: ''The most effectual way to prevent greater crimes is by punishing the smaller.''

The Victorians, if plunked down before the Anna Nicole updates for an hour or two, would probably conclude we're nearer the 18th century than their own. ....
Source: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Mark Steyn :: Victor Victorians. A lesson in real morality

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Compassion fatigue

Chesterton wrote:
... I learned with little labor,
The way to love my fellow man,
And hate my next door neighbor.

Our "love for my fellow man" is easy, abstract and usually impotent. We need to find ways to effectively care for both our neighbor and for humankind. From an article by Paul Slovic in Foreign Policy:
"If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” This statement uttered by Mother Teresa captures a powerful and deeply unsettling insight into human nature: Most people are caring and will exert great effort to rescue “the one” whose plight comes to their attention. But these same people often become numbly indifferent to the plight of “the one” who is “one of many” in a much greater problem. ....

...[D]espite many brief episodes of generosity and compassion, the catalogue of genocide—the Holocaust, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur—continues to grow. The repeated failure to respond to such atrocities raises the question of whether there is a fundamental deficiency in our humanity: a deficiency that—once identified—could be overcome. ...

A recent study ... found that donations to aid a starving 7-year-old child in Africa declined sharply when her image was accompanied by a statistical summary of the millions of needy children like her in other African countries. ....

Other recent research shows similar results. Two Israeli psychologists asked people to contribute to a costly life-saving treatment. They could offer that contribution to a group of eight sick children, or to an individual child selected from the group. The target amount needed to save the child (or children) was the same in both cases. Contributions to individual group members far outweighed the contributions to the entire group. A follow-up study by Daniel Västfjäll, Ellen Peters, and me found that feelings of compassion and donations of aid were smaller for a pair of victims than for either individual alone. The higher the number of people involved in a crisis, other research indicates, the less likely we are to “feel” for each additional death.

When writer Annie Dillard was struggling to comprehend the mass human tragedies that the world ignores, she asked, “At what number do other individuals blur for me?” .... Our research suggests that the “blurring” of individuals may begin as early as the number two. ....
Source: Foreign Policy - Numbed by Numbers

Books

In the course of a longer post about discovering good things in a book that he had owned but not read, Justin Taylor says this about his personal library:
I'm not bothered by owning a lot more books than I've read, nor am I moved by people saying that they're not going to buy any more books till they've read the ones already on their shelves. Years ago Iain Murray drew a connection between God's providence and the timing of reading books. He pointed out that if he had read Jonathan Edwards's Religious Affections as a younger man it would have meant little to him at that stage in his life, but years later - in God's timing - it was revolutionary. I've also been helped by my friend Rick Gamache's comparison of books to "tools in a toolbox." Years may go by without using a certain tool, but when a project comes along where you need it, you're very glad it's in the toolbox. [My wife has heard that illustration on more than one occasion to justify buying more books!]
Source: Between Two Worlds, Counsel from Newton

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Perennial issues

At SDB Exec, Sabbath Recorder editor, Kevin Butler quotes from a 1976 article titled "Why have Conference every year?"
"Gatherings at Conference are safeguards against apostasy and disintegration. They cultivate acquaintance and create aspiration for holiness and Christian labor. They often result in conversions, broaden our conceptions of Christian doctrines and duty, and in many ways are worth vastly more than they cost...."
And then Kevin notes:
Here’s the fun thing. This 1976 SR was quoting from another Sabbath Recorder—July 20, 1896!
Source: SDB Exec: Why Have Conference Every Year?

"Taste and see...."

At Christianity Today, Agnieszka Tennant celebrates ordinary delights:
There are no ordinary pleasures.

Every good thing, no matter how trivial, can elicit delight. And delight is potent. Something of little significance provokes glee, and the spirit leaps. If you pay attention - and if you count all good things as coming from God - then the mundane can help you glimpse the maker of all delight.

Momentous thrills - a wedding day, the birth of a child, reconciliation between hardened enemies, and a stunning answer to prayer when you're low on hope - point to God more noticeably. So do tragedies, mistakes, and sins. But I'm talking about delights that we encounter more frequently, those we have at our disposal and to which we have become accustomed - the terrain of the trivial, the minor, the normal, the everyday, the routine, even the boring. They, too, reside in the realm of providence. ....

"Love, and do as you please," said Augustine in a sermon on 1 John 7, 8. Folded into this advice is an implicit warning against addiction: You are not free to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind when you're owned by pleasure. But when you experience enjoyment within the constraint of loving God, it can only be good.

Besides being enjoyable, everyday pleasures can be useful. During those darker times when I cannot bring myself to face God, I still cannot turn off delight. I am stuck with goodness. Sometimes, it seems as though all I have to hold on to is one small enjoyment. Something feels good, and no one can take it from me - sun rays on my face, a toddler's hand in mine, managing to tell the truth, a shower, a day without a headache, the five minutes I spend reading an article in The Economist that makes my world both stranger and easier to grasp.

On those unguarded occasions when I can taste, see, feel, smell, and know that, in Gerard Manley Hopkins's words, "the world is charged with the grandeur of God," I revel a little. I notice. Something must have propelled the sun from behind the clouds. Some power must have suspended it in just the right spot.

Suddenly, without putting much thought into it, I find myself saying thank you. A lungful of marvel becomes a prayer of gratitude. Supposedly ordinary acts turn sacramental, with no effort on my part.

This, too, is worship: to receive all good things and to bow our heads in the knowledge that they come from God. To take whatever is lovely, splendid, pure, noble, and true—and to follow where it leads. To taste and see that the Lord is good.
[more]
Source: Ordinary' Delights | Christianity Today

Monday, March 12, 2007

"Problems with Premillennialism"

Between Two Worlds has problems with premillennialism. Admittedly I have never had enough interest in [or knowledge about] the subject to develop a strong opinion, but this is interesting and the reactions will be too.
For those interested in studying eschatology - and who are open to considering an articulate case on behalf of amillenialism - check out this series of studies by Sam Storms. (Sorry, the link won't work in Firefox, you have to use Explorer.)

I recently read Storms's overview on Problems with Premillennialism, which shows why premillennialism can't be squared with passages like 1 Cor. 15:22-28; 1 Cor. 15:50-57; Rom. 8:18-23; 2 Pet. 3:8-13; Matt. 25:31-46; 2 Thess. 1:5-10; and John 5:28-29.

In my (hopefully humble) opinion, these passages are clear that when Christ comes, it's "curtains" on sin and death. There will be a final judgment and a final resurrection, with a new heaven and a new earth.
[more]
More at Between Two Worlds [3/14]:
...[B]ecause so few have been able to access Sam Storms's article successfully, I thought it'd be worth making available in a different way. As it turns out, Storms has expanded the article into a chapter for a forthcoming book on eschatology. ...

So here it is: Sam Storms on Problems with Premillennialism.
Source: Between Two Worlds: Problems with Premillennialism


Source: http://www.nyu.edu/fas/projects/vcb/ChristianMedia/prophecy_premdisp.html

Religious illiteracy

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Stephen Prothero, a Professor at Boston University, writes about the religious ignorance of his students and how to remedy this kind of illiteracy:
For the past two years, I have given students in my introductory religious-studies course at Boston University a religious-literacy quiz. I ask them to list the four Gospels, Roman Catholicism's seven sacraments, and the Ten Commandments. I ask them to name the holy book of Islam. They do not fare well.

In their quizzes, they inform me that Ramadan is a Jewish holiday, that Revelation is one of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, and that Paul led the Israelites on the Exodus out of Egypt. This year I had a Hindu student who couldn't name one Hindu scripture, a Baptist student who didn't know that "Blessed are the poor in spirit" is a Bible quote, and Catholic students unfamiliar with the golden rule. Over the past two years, only 17 percent of my students passed the quiz.

"Cultural literacy" has been hotly debated ever since E.D. Hirsch Jr.'s best seller of that name injected the desideratum into the culture wars in 1987. Today religious illiteracy is at least as pervasive as cultural illiteracy, and certainly more dangerous. Religious illiteracy is more dangerous because religion is the most volatile constituent of culture. Religion has been, in addition to one of the greatest forces for good in world history, one of the greatest forces for evil.

Nonetheless, Americans remain profoundly ignorant about their own religions and those of others. According to recent polls, most American adults cannot name even one of the four Gospels, and many high-school seniors think that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A few years ago, no one in Jay Leno's The Tonight Show audience could name any of the Twelve Apostles, but everyone was able to shout out the four Beatles.
[more]
Source: The Chronicle: 3/16/2007: Worshiping in Ignorance

"Living with the Darwin fish"

Some Christians are convinced that the creation/evolution debate can only be resolved by concluding that the Genesis account is literally history. Another approach assumes that God's revelation in Scripture is true, but that science is also a way to discover truth about the work of the Creator of the universe. That requires a willingness to tolerate ambiguity now, in the expectation that all will eventually be made plain. Stan Guthrie in Christianity Today does not lose faith because of the conclusions of scientific research:
...[M]illions of Christians - including the late John Paul II - have believed in both evolution and God without apparent spiritual harm. They say evolution is the method God used to create us. Francis Collins, who heads the Human Genome Project, is one of them.

"The evidence mounts every day to support the concept that we and all other organisms on this planet are descended from a common ancestor," Collins told me. "When you look at the digital data that backs that up - which is what DNA provides - it is extremely difficult to come to any other conclusion. There are many things written within our instruction book that not only tell us how we function but also represent DNA fossils left over from previous events. And those fossils, in many instances, are found in other species in the same place, in the same way. Unless you're going to propose that God placed them there intentionally to mislead us, which does not fit with my image of God as the Almighty Creator, then I think one is, like it or not, forced to the conclusion that the theory of evolution is really no longer a theory in the sense of being untested. It is a theory in the sense of gravity. It is a fact."

This "fact," interpreted through the lens of faith and not doubt, can perhaps deepen our understanding of our Creator, who works all things according to the counsel of his own will. If evolution, messy and circuitous as it appears, is true, then God is more mysterious than I imagined....

And accepting the idea of common descent doesn't mean abandoning our belief that the created order declares the glory of God. Increasing numbers of world-class scientists, as a matter of fact, are in awe of the apparent design and fine-tuning of Creation. "The more I examine the universe and the details of its architecture," physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson notes, "the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known we were coming.
Source: Living with the Darwin Fish | Christianity Today

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Former Sen. Fred Thompson

Christian and traditionalist conservatives may want to consider this guy as they think about a Presidential candidate for 2008. Chris Wallace interviewing former Senator Fred Dalton Thompson:
WALLACE: As we said, perhaps the main reason that people are talking about you is this uneasy feeling among conservatives that there is not one of their own, a true conservative, in the field.

So let's do a lightning round - quick questions, quick answers, a variety of issues - to see where Fred Thompson stands.

THOMPSON: Um hmm.

WALLACE: Abortion.

THOMPSON: Pro-life.

WALLACE: Do you want to overturn Roe vs. Wade?

THOMPSON: I think Roe vs. Wade was bad law and bad medical science. And the way to address that is through good judges. I don't think the court ought to wake up one day and make new social policy for the country. It's contrary to what it's been the past 200 years. We have a process in this country to do that. Judges shouldn't be doing that. That's what happened in that case. I think it was wrong.

WALLACE: Gay rights.

THOMPSON: Gay rights? I think that we ought to be a tolerant nation. I think we ought to be tolerant people. But we shouldn't set up special categories for anybody. And I'm for the rights of everybody, including gays, but not any special rights.

WALLACE: So, gay marriage? You're against.

THOMPSON: Yes. You know, marriage is between a man and a woman, and I don't believe judges ought to come along and change that.

WALLACE: What about civil unions?

THOMPSON: I think that that ought to be left up to the states. I personally do not think that that is a good idea, but I believe in many of these cases where there's real dispute in the country, these things are not going to be ever resolved. [the entire interview]
If Giuiani, Romney and McCain are all unsatisfactory for one reason or another, not to mention Clinton and Obama, the best choice may be waiting in the wings.

Source: FOXNews.com - Former Sen. Fred Thompson on 'FOX News Sunday' - Chris Wallace

"The Great Global Warming Swindle"

There has been a recent tendency on the part of some Evangelicals to join in the alarm about global warming and the advocacy of massive government programs and major changes in human behavior in response. A recent documentary raises serious doubt, not about the fact of warming, but about the extent to which it is caused by human activity. It also argues that adoption of many of the environmental proposals to combat it will have a very negative impact on the poorest people in the world.

Even those who are very capable in their own field of knowledge may look foolish when they attempt to speak authoritatively outside of that field. And the temptation to so speak is especially great when the conventional wisdom all seems to point in one direction. Global warming is an issue like that.

The UK Channel 4 documentary is available online here. The program is long and somewhat repetitive but devastating to those who argue that global warming is caused by human activity.

The responses so far have been largely ad hominem, accusing the participants of suspect motives, questioning their qualifications, or contending that what they said has been misrepresented. It would be more helpful if they attacked the evidence and the arguments. Watch it and see what you think.

Link to lgf: The Great Global Warming Swindle

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Self-esteem

Click on the cartoon for a larger image

Via several sites - Thank you! - a searchable Calvin & Hobbes.

Does the Resurrection matter?

Some years ago the music department at the public high school where I taught performed Jesus Christ Superstar as the annual musical. The cast was a cross-section of the student body, theists and atheists, Jews and Christians and members of other faiths. One of the Jewish students in the cast told me one day, rather wonderingly, that Christian students involved in the production "don't know what they believe."

Sometimes people outside the faith understand better than some of those who think they are in it "what they believe." Rabbi Marc Gellman on The Jesus Family Tomb:
.... If this was indeed the tomb of Jesus, then not only is the Christian Testament false but, worse, Christianity is a cruel deception, à la The Da Vinci Code, foisted on the world by Jesus' panicky followers to help market a faith led by a dead messiah. I don't think that is how Christianity was born....

Some Christian respondents to this film have said that even discovering the bones of Jesus would not seriously undermine their faith. They say that 2,000 years of tradition does not just get canned because somebody found some bone boxes in the basement of the Israel Museum. I know many Christian clergy who have told me that the main truth of Christianity for them is to love as Jesus loved and that no archeological discovery can change that spiritual lesson. I love these folks but, as an outsider, I just don't agree that decisive refutation of Jesus' resurrection would have no effect on Christian faith. Unlike Judaism and Islam and Hinduism and even Buddhism, which are built on God's teachings, Christianity is built both on God's teachings as well as on an historical event proving a transcendental miracle. If the Red Sea never really split, there would still be the Ten Commandments and the Torah for me. What is left of Christianity if Jesus died and then just remained dead? .....

The divide separating Christians from non-Christians is not between those who think loving all people is good and those who think loving all people is bad. The real divide is between those who believe that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day as proof that he was indeed the Messiah sent by God, and those who do not believe this article of faith and this audacious historical claim.
Source: Newsweek: Jesus R.I.P.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

"Nothing but the blood"

At Christianity Today, David Gushee asks how the Baptist tradition of salvation holds up against what Jesus actually taught:
...[O]n the two occasions in Luke when Jesus was asked about the criteria for admission to eternity, he offered a fourfold answer: love God with all that you are, love your neighbor (like the Samaritan loved his neighbor), do God's will by obeying his moral commands, and be willing, if he asks, to drop everything and leave it behind in order to follow him. ....

In my Baptist tradition, especially, we direct people to "invite Jesus into your heart as your personal Savior," an act undertaken using a formula called the "sinner's prayer." Or we simply say, "Believe in Jesus, and you will be saved."

But Jesus never taught easy believism. .... [H]e called people to abandon their own agenda and trust him radically. Radical trust calls for both belief and action.

I suggest that we tend to confuse the beginning of the faith journey with its entirety.... [more]
Source: Christianity Today - Jesus and the Sinner's Prayer