Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Big Bang, God and Stephen Hawking

Books & Culture has a very interesting essay about cosmology and Stephen Hawking, perhaps the best-known interpreter of it to a popular audience. Hawking argues that the universe had no beginning, thus eliminating any need for God. Karl Giberson:
Hawking's theological naïveté is almost funny. He appears not to know that the heart of the Judeo-Christian doctrine of creation is that the world derives its being from God, not that God "started" the world, like some kid building a model airplane. Everyone from Augustine and Aquinas to Barth and Pannenberg has addressed this important distinction. The suggestion that a physical theory ruling out a well defined "beginning" to the universe removes God from creation is the sort of simplistic misunderstanding that might be tolerated in philosophy students' first term papers, but certainly not their second.
The article is long, appreciative of Hawking's accomplishments, and with descriptions of his writings and the current state of scientific thinking about the origins of the universe. But by claiming to disprove God, Hawking has gone much further than physics can take him:
.... All this would indeed be humorous if it were not in a book that has sold ten million copies. Hawking has done a great disservice to those purchasers of his book who have actually read it. He has misled them about the religious implications of science and the apparent motivations of scientists; he has made bogus claims about theology; he has juxtaposed science and theology as if they compete to explain the same things. Hawking's enthusiasm about doing away with God does not reflect the views of the scientific community, where there is widespread belief in God, and widespread disinterest in using science against religion.

Hawking is a major public intellectual, a leading scientist with a flair for popular exposition and a platform from which to explain science to an educated populace. He and his scientific allies—Richard Dawkins, Edward O. Wilson, Peter Atkins, the late Stephen Jay Gould, Steven Weinberg, Stephen Pinker and so on—shape public perceptions of science through their popular presentations, in books, articles, and public appearances. Their collective message—drilled home in many different ways—is that science is hostile to religion, scientists don't believe in God, and science competes with religion to explain natural phenomena.

None of these statements is true. [the essay]
The Guy in the Wheelchair - Books & Culture

Strengthen my faith

I came across this prayer by Martin Luther while looking through The Oxford Book of Prayer, a very good anthology. Luther makes clear his [and our] complete dependence:

Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it.
I am weak in the faith; strengthen Thou me.
I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent that my love may go out to my neighbour.
I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust Thee altogether. O Lord, help me.
Strengthen my faith and trust in Thee. In Thee I have sealed the treasures of all I have.
I am poor; Thou art rich and didst come to be merciful to the poor.
I am a sinner; Thou art upright. With me there is an abundance of sin; in Thee is the fulness of righteousness.
Therefore, I will remain with Thee of whom I can receive but to whom I may not give.
Amen.

Martin Luther, 1483-1546

Neutrality is impossible

Francis Beckwith's book, Defending Life, is reviewed in the next [Oct. 8] issue of National Review [the full review is here].

One of the many difficulties in addressing abortion as a public policy issue has always been simply getting the antagonists to actually hear the arguments. Those who are committed to the "pro-choice" position simply refuse to believe that those of us who are appalled by abortion could possibly be motivated by anything other than a bigoted, patriarchal, sectarian desire to impose religious dogmas or moral opinions on a woman at a very vulnerable and difficult point in her life.

But the first question has always been a factual, and then legal, question, not an emotional or religious one. Is the fetus a human being, and, if so, does it deserve the same legal protection under the Constitution and the law to which a "person" is entitled?
Beckwith begins by defusing the “don’t impose your morality” slogan. Everyone, he argues, recognizes the absurdity of being “personally opposed” to murder but refusing to “impose” that view on others. State neutrality is impossible; either the law recognizes the unborn as persons and protects them, or it does not and permits the killing of them. That the fetus is a person with rights is no more religious a claim than the assertion that the fetus is not. Our task is to determine which claim is true.

But Americans’ ability to decide this question was usurped by the Supreme Court’s Roe decision, which — together with its companion case Doe v. Bolton — provided a constitutional right to abortion for practically any reason throughout the entire nine months of pregnancy. Roe allowed states to protect the fetus in the third trimester, but mandated exceptions for the life and health of the mother; Bolton defined health broadly to include “all factors — physical, emotional, psychological,” and so on. Justice Harry Blackmun said that the Court “need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins.” But it did: Life doesn’t begin in a way that merits protection until after birth. ....
Beckwith apparently addresses at length various arguments attempting to distinguish life before birth from life after in such a way as to justify a legal and moral distinction between the two. Those arguments often turn on a definition of "human" that requires certain mental capacities, that is, human parentage isn't enough, to that must be added, for instance, "self-awareness."
Beckwith rejects these arguments because they rest on a faulty understanding of the human person, undermine human equality, and produce morally repugnant conclusions. For starters, when adults are asleep, unconscious, or temporarily comatose, they lack the immediate capacity to perform any rational acts. So do newborn babies until several months after birth. Do they therefore lack the right to life? Also, if human value depends upon certain capacities that human beings possess in varying degrees, there is no reason that fundamental rights shouldn’t also vary, thus destroying equality. As Beckwith notes, “some adult human beings are more or less rational and more or less self-aware” than others. Should those at the high end be treated better than those at the low end?
The book appears to be a good introduction to the anti-abortion case for those willing to deal with the real arguments.

http://www.winst.org/fellows/articles/RTA-20070925-Beckwith-DefendingLife.html

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The dogma is the drama

Dorothy L. Sayers became famous as a writer of mysteries and her Peter Wimsey books have never been out of print since they were first published in the 1920s and '30s. She was also one of those "Oxford Christians" who became especially well-known in the United States right after World War II. Not an Inkling [she was the wrong gender], she was nevertheless a close friend of many in the group and, like C.S. Lewis, she used her knowledge and ability in defense of the faith.

In 2005 Christianity Today interviewed Barbara Reynolds about Sayers. Sayers wrote a cycle of radio plays, The Man Born to Be King about the life of Christ, and before they were broadcast they were already controversial. Her response was characteristic of both her personality and her distinctly unsentimental approach to Christianity:
.... Before the play had even been produced, the press began reporting that Sayers had put "slang" in the mouths of the characters in a particular scene. There was an immediate response: Concerned Christians—never having heard the play itself—began a letter-writing campaign designed to pressure the BBC into toning down their writer's language. Some even went so far as to charge Sayers with blasphemy.

Sayers responded to this criticism in a letter to Dr. James Welch, the BBC's director of religious broadcasting, who had requested that she create the plays in the first place: "Nobody cares … nowadays that Christ was 'scourged, railed upon, buffeted, mocked and crucified,' because all those words have grown hypnotic with ecclesiastical use. But it does give people a slight shock to be shown that God was flogged, spat upon, called dirty names, slugged on the jaw, insulted with vulgar jokes, and spiked up on the gallows like an owl on a barn-door."

In her letter to Dr. Welch, Sayers confessed to being "frankly appalled at the idea of getting through the Trial and Crucifixion scenes with all the 'bad people' having to be bottled down to expressions which could not possibly offend anybody." The Roman soldiers, she insisted, "must behave like common soldiers hanging a common criminal, or where is the point of the Story?" I think this really exemplifies her deep conviction that we must be true to life both in our own artistic work and in our understanding of the Incarnation.
The interview is a good introduction to Sayers and can be found here.

Dorothy Sayers: "The Dogma Is the Drama" | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

The Gospel in 6 Minutes

Many Christian sites have made this portion of John Piper's sermon available. I found it at Evangelical Outpost where you can also find a complete transcript.

Piper:
What’s the gospel? I’ll put it in a sentence.

The Gospel is the news that Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, died for our sins and rose again, eternally triumphant over all his enemies, so that there is now no condemnation for those who believe, but only everlasting joy. That’s the gospel.
For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.
(1 Th 5:9-10, ESV)

Evangelical Outpost: The Gospel in Six Minutes

"Grace...that will yet strengthen..."

John Bunyan, in The Saint's Privilege and Profit:
Mercy is that by which we are pardoned, even all the falls, faults, failings and weaknesses, that attend us, and that we are incident to, in this our day of temptation: and for this mercy we should pray, and say, "Our Father, forgive us our trespasses." For though mercy is free in the exercise of it to usward, yet God will have us ask, that we may have; as he also saith in the text, "Let us come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy." That is what David means when he says, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."

And again, "When I say my foot slippeth; thy mercy, O Lord, held me up."

This then is the conclusion, that as there is mercy to be obtained by us at the throne of grace, for the pardon of all our weaknesses, so there is also grace there to be found that will yet strengthen us more, to all good walking and living before him.
John Bunyan: The Saint's Privilege and Profit

Friday, September 28, 2007

"My hope is built on nothing less..."

At Challies.com, a review of Respectable Sins, by Jerry Bridges. Bridges practices a discipline he calls "preaching the gospel to yourself," He describes the practice:
Since the gospel is only for sinners, I begin each day with the realization that despite my being a saint, I still sin every day in thought, word, deed, and motive. If I am aware of any subtle, or not so subtle, sins in my life, I acknowledge those to God. Even if my conscience is not indicting me for conscious sins, I still acknowledge to God that I have not even come close to loving Him with all my being or loving my neighbor as myself. I repent of those sins, and then I apply specific Scriptures that assure me of God’s forgiveness to those sins I have just confessed.

I then generalize the Scripture’s promises of God’s forgiveness to all my life and say to God words to the effect that my only hope of a right standing with Him that day is Jesus’ blood shed for my sins, and His righteous life lived on my behalf. This reliance on the twofold work of Christ for me is beautifully captured by Edward Mote in his hymn “The Solid Rock” with his words, “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Almost every day, I find myself going to those words in addition to reflecting on the promises of forgiveness in the Bible.

What Scriptures do I use to preach the gospel to myself? Here are just a few I choose from each day:
  • As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)
  • “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25)
  • All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)
  • Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. (Romans 4:7-8)
  • There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
There are many others, including Psalm 130:3-4; Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 38:17; Micah 7:19; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 8:12; and 10:17-18.
A regular part of Morning Prayer in the old Book of Common Prayer was the "General Confession." Confession reminds us that we are entirely dependent on God's grace in Christ, both for our salvation, and in every moment.
Almighty and most merciful Father: We have erred, and strayed from Thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against Thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But Thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus Our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen
Challies Dot Com :: Jerry Bridges Preaches the Gospel to Himself

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Living faith

The most important, and most effective, witness for the faith is a life lived by it.
  • At GetReligion, a report on a series of stories published by the Seattle Times about a dying girl named Gloria Strauss and her family. Their experience affected those who wrote the stories and the community.

      The series, titled “A prayer for Gloria,” covers too much ground for us to review here (nine installments), but here is a recent story that movingly describes the young girl’s battle with cancer and how the family’s faith is the essential element in their lives.

  • Internet Monk writes "Dumb Up, Brother: A Spirituality of Ignorance." He recounts being in a hospital with his dying mother and a pastor, who was no theologian or Bible scholar, did what was needed:

      He was the Bible for me that day. He put flesh and blood on God and hung out with me. He thought for me when I couldn’t think clearly. He knew my heart and he helped me listen to my heart at a very confusing moment. He treated me with love and dignity that brought joy into one of the worst days of my life.

      Walter showed me that day that if you are going to measure life by how it’s lived, and not by how people talk about what they believe, he knows a lot more about God than I do. He’s not read anywhere close to the books that I’ve read and he doesn’t have my vocabulary or degrees. He has the the book that matters, and its author, in him. Compared to Walter’s embodiment of Jesus, I’m stupid.

Yearning for respectability

At First Things, Wilfred McClay writes about the seeming inability of Christian spokesmen to address public issues with any depth of understanding or moral clarity.

Part of the difficulty is an unwillingness to recognize one's limitations. Authority in one field does not transfer to another. Really good actors demonstrate this truth with depressing frequency. A fine novelist may know a great deal about the human condition, but nothing about the environment, except what he read in the New York Times. I've studied, read, thought, and taught politics and international relations all of my adult life, but am completely out of my depth among genuine biblical scholars.

McClay describes some of N.T. Wright's unfortunate - even silly - opinions about American foreign policy. Other examples include An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture, endorsed by the National Association of Evangelicals, and their statement For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility, in each case seemingly more about "re-branding" Evangelicalism than seriously engaging the issues:
...the NAE seems to have lost its bearings, getting onboard, for example, with trendy environmental positions about which it has nothing much to offer but a chirpy “me too,” thereby succumbing to one of the greatest moral temptations coiled at the heart of modern American evangelicalism: the yearning for mainstream respectability.
No doubt, those who have made these statements are sincere. And if the motive is to demonstrate independence from the "religious Right," it is not ignoble. The faith should not be captive to any political ideology, left or right. The real danger is for Christians to be seen as lightweights because we don't really know what we are talking about - and even more so when transparently responding to the Zeitgeist.

FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » Theology and Civil Authority in Time of War

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Difficult, not easy

Stand to Reason objects, for good reason, to this shirt:
If you own this shirt, throw it away. If you know someone who owns this shirt, tear it from their body and then throw it away. They'll thank you later. ....

Jesus-As-Easy-Button theology is certainly a characteristic mistake of a consumeristic, invidualistic, instant gratification oriented culture. An older author like G.K. Chesterton provides a corrective: "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."
Stand to Reason Blog: Jesus is NOT an Easy Button

Standfast

After about nine months hiatus, I have resumed posting about politics, international relations and social issues over at Standfast [not that those topics have been entirely absent here].

"In fact and in truth..."

Dorothy L. Sayers, in Creed or Chaos, 1941:
What does the Church think of Christ? The Church's answer is categorical and uncompromising, and it is this: That Jesus Bar-Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, was in fact and in truth, and in the most exact and literal sense of the words, the God "by whom all things were made." His body and brain were those of a common man; His personality was the personality of God, so far as that personality could be expressed in human terms. He was not a kind of demon or fairy pretending to be human; He was in every respect a genuine living man. He was not merely a man so good as to be "like God"—He was God.

Now this is not just a pious commonplace; it is not commonplace at all. For what it means is this, among other things; that for whatever reason God chose to make man as he is—limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game He is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself. He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worth while.

One person, two natures

A new book by Fred Sanders and others. I've quoted him here before on matters Trinitarian:
Hot off the presses from Broadman & Holman Publishing is my book Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Introductory Christology. In this book, Klaus Issler and I bring together six chapters by six authors who argue that the savior who died on the cross and rose from the dead is the eternal second person of the Trinity. ....
At Scriptorium, Sanders goes on to list the chapter titles and quotes endorsements by several well-known scholars and theologians .

Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective | Scriptorium Daily

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Evangelical, or Catholic, or Christian?

Michael Spencer tried to be a "mere Christian" and, as a result, got attacked from all sides. I liked his effort, and him for making it. I hope he doesn't give up.

internetmonk.com » Blog Archive » A Better Writer Gets A Turn

Evangelicals and the environment

J.W. Richards at NRO argues that Evangelicals who take stands on public issues "have a moral obligation to distinguish their theological principles from how they apply them in any given instance" and, furthermore, that they haven't done so while taking positions on environmental issues.
The big publicity started in February 2006 ... when several major media outlets reported the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI). The brief document was signed by 86 Evangelical leaders, who announced their support for what The New York Times called “a major initiative to fight global warming.” As part of the Evangelical Climate Initiative, they called for “federal legislation that would require reductions in carbon dioxide emissions through ‘cost-effective, market-based mechanisms.’ ” Similar stories have followed the views of Richard Cizik, of the National Association of Evangelicals, who is a strong believer in catastrophic, human-induced global warming. ....

With respect to the environment, the theological principles are uncontroversial: human beings, as image bearers of God, are placed as stewards over the created order. We bear a responsibility for how we treat and use it. We are part of the creation, as well as its crowning achievement. God intends for us to use and transform the natural world around us for good purposes. Proper use is not misuse. But as fallen creatures, we can mess things up. No serious Evangelical thinker questions these basic principles.

Prudential judgments are another thing entirely. When it comes to global warming, for instance, there are at least four separate questions.
  1. Is the planet warming?
  2. If the planet is warming, is human activity (like CO2 emissions) causing it?
  3. If the planet is warming, is it bad overall?
  4. If the planet is warming, we’re causing it, and it’s bad, would the policies commonly advocated (e.g., the Kyoto Protocol, legislative restrictions on CO2 emissions) make any difference and, if so, would their cost exceed their benefit?
Tough questions all, and theology doesn’t provide much help in answering them. ....

The problem with the chief defenders of the Evangelical Climate Initiative is that they haven’t thought through these four questions, at least not publicly. What they have done is label their position as the authentically Evangelical one. ....
Jay W. Richards on Evangelicals & Energy Policy on National Review Online

Blogs

Ted Olsen at Christianity Today on "The Death of Blogs." Blogs disappear and others are created [and some are reincarnated]:
Tech researcher Gartner Inc. reported earlier this year that 200 million people have given up blogging, more than twice as many as are active.

"A lot of people have been in and out of this thing," Gartner analyst Daryl Plummer told reporters. "Everyone thinks they have something to say, until they're put on stage and asked to say it." Given the average lifespan of a blogger and the current growth rate of blogs, Gartner says blogging has probably peaked.

Which isn't to say that blogging is dead. Quite the opposite. Blog aggregator Technorati estimates that 3 million new blogs are launched every month.
....
I used to be one of those annoying people who emailed articles to all and sundry. One of the advantages of blogging is the ability to share what interests me without intruding. Friends and acquaintances, and total strangers, can look in and see, but only if they wish to do so.

The Death of Blogs | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Where we come in

Charles J. Chaput, Catholic archbishop of Denver, in an address to a conference of Catholic men:
....Christianity ... means believing definite things about history and about our own respective places in history. We don’t just profess belief in the Incarnation. We say we believe that God took flesh at a precise moment in time and in a definite place. Pontius Pilate and Mary are mentioned by name in the creed—and the reference to Mary, his mother, guarantees Christ’s humanity, while the reference to Pilate, who condemned him to death, guarantees his historicity.

All this ensures that we can never reduce the Incarnation to an abstract concept, a metaphor, or a pretty idea. It ensures that we can never regard Jesus Christ as some kind of ideal archetype or mythical figure. He was truly a man and truly God. And once he had a place he called home on this earth. There’s something else, too. We believe that this historical event, which happened more than 2,000 years ago, represents a personal intervention by God “for us men and for our salvation.” God entered history for you and me, for all humanity.

These are extraordinary claims. To be a Christian means believing that you are part of a vast historical project. And it’s not our project. It’s God’s. We believe that since the beginning of time God has been working out his own hidden purposes in the history of nations and in the biography of every person. He’s still unfolding his purposes today, and each of us here has a necessary part to play in his divine plan. Again, no other religion makes anywhere near these kinds of claims about the meaning of human life—and not just “human life” in general, but each and every individual human life. God willed each of us to be here. He loves us personally.

Let’s go back to the creed for a minute. We believe the Incarnation was a real historical event. For our salvation, Jesus came down from heaven at that point in history when Pilate was Caesar’s officer in Judea. And we believe that event changed everything. It’s the center and meaning of history. Everything before that was a prologue and a prelude. But what about everything after that? Well, that’s where we come in. ....
FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » Renewing the Church, Converting the World

Monday, September 24, 2007

Fasting

Gospel Growth vs. Church Growth

Capitol Hill Baptist Church presents a conference " for pastors, evangelists and ministry trainees" titled "Gospel Growth vs Church Growth: Understanding the Difference Sets You Free."
Understanding what the New Testament means by growth, and how that growth happens, sets us free. It liberates us from anxiety and self-doubt, and from the slavery of chasing the latest program. ....

At this conference, you will learn about the growth that is central to God's plan, and how that growth is achieved. But the conference will not just be about biblical ‘principles’. It will also be about the practicalities of what these principles mean for your local ministry, and about making you more effective in it.
Sounds interesting.

Gospel Growth vs. Church Growth

Prince Caspian


Disney and Walden Media announce that the next episode in the Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian, will be in the theaters next May, but Voyage of the Dawn Treader won't be released until 2010. [click on the image for the first Prince Caspian poster]

News: Reel News | Christianity Today Movies

Human rights and justice

When Christians choose to speak to social issues we need to be careful to make a credible argument. From Books & Culture, "Human Rights and Justice in an Age of Terror" makes clear the inadequacies of "An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture."

Web Exclusive: Human Rights and Justice in an Age of Terror - Books & Culture Magazine

October 2007 Sabbath Recorder Online

The October, 2007, Sabbath Recorder is available online here as a pdf. It includes a sermon from Conference by George Lawson, "Are You in the Book?" There is also a tribute to Dave Clarke, who served the denomination faithfully in many capacities for many years, and who died in July. As usual, there is much else of interest to Seventh Day Baptists.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

"There ain't no blues in Heaven"

I just listened to a CD by Ben Calhoun called I'm a Dreamer. He is very good. One of my favorite tracks is "Blues in Heaven" [listen to it here - as well as several other songs from the CD].
When I go on up to glory, I'll be done with this ol' life.
When I go on up to glory, I'll be singin' of new times.
When I finally get to see Him, I'll be doin' just fine.
There ain't no blues in heaven,
That's why I'm gonna sing 'em down here.
Said there ain't no blues in Heaven,
That's why I'm gonna sing 'em down here.
Cus when I get on up to Heaven,
All my blues will disappear.
MySpace.com - Ben Calhoun - ELGIN, Illinois - Indie - www.myspace.com/bencalhounmusic

"Just a closer walk with Thee"

RightWingBob posts a link to Johnny Cash singing, accompanied by Bob Dylan, on Just a Closer Walk With Thee:
....during their famed session together in 1969. Johnny sings it, with Bob contributing some ethereal harmonies. Cash does ask Dylan if he wants to do a verse, but Bob declines, which prompts Johnny’s great question at the close of the tune: “What’s one you know, Bob?”
RightWingBob.com » To Thy shore

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Intolerance wins

Once again the prospect that someone might take offense has resulted in a victory for the anti-religious. In the home of "sifting and winnowing" free expression gives way to the sensitivities of the supposedly offended. By such decisions, step-by-step, the public square is emptied of any recognition of the place of faith in the life of the nation. I would have thought better of this Attorney General.

In an article titled "Prayer nixed at rite for victims" [in what sense a rite?], The Capitol Times reports:
The Wisconsin Department of Justice has removed religious content from a memorial service for murder victims planned for next week after a watchdog group complained.

A religious hymn called "This Too Shall Pass" and a closing prayer by a Lutheran pastor will not be included in the ceremony as initially planned, department spokesman Kevin St. John said Friday.

The Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation complained Tuesday that the hymn and the prayer at the state-sponsored event would violate the separation of church and state guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.

After a review, St. John said the department agreed the content was on shaky constitutional footing.

"Rather than create the unintentional appearance that the state was endorsing religion or a particular creed, the department amended the program to exclude those parts," he said. "We certainly wouldn't want to have an appearance of a potential church-state violation overshadow the event." ....

The foundation, the nation's largest group of atheists and agnostics, praised Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen's office for quickly addressing its protest. The group said it complained on behalf of family members of murder victims and state employees who will take part in the event.

In the complaint, group co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said the lyrics to the religious hymn would offend some in the audience "by advancing the idea that the murder of their beloved child was part of a deity's plan!"

She cited the following passage: "He'll never give you more than you can bear/This too shall pass / So in this thought be comforted/It's in His hands."

"Grieving and vulnerable families should not be proselytized by state government or be told how or what they are expected to believe," Gaylor wrote. "The state should not be selecting which minister, which denomination or which religion should confer blessings, thereby excluding all the rest of us." ....
The effect of which is that the sensitivities of non-believers are respected, and all the rest of us are excluded.

Why do non-believers care? They think it is all nonsense anyway. They obviously can't be compelled to pray or offer worship to a deity which they believe doesn't exist. And they aren't even asked to pretend - mere presence at an act of worship doesn't mean participation. Wouldn't it be simple courtesy, an act of generosity, from their point of view, to permit the benighted and superstitious among us to be comforted by what they think are meaningless acts? Is tolerance a one-way street?

This seems like a pretty weak-kneed cave-in by Van Hollen's Justice Department. It is not what one would hope for from a conservative Republican.

The Capitol Times: Prayer nixed at rite for victims

Protestants, Catholics, and the authority of Scripture

The Internet Monk answers five questions in an effort to explain his, quite sympathetic for a Protestant, view of Catholicism. I find myself largely in agreement with him.

Here is part of his answer to the second question he asks himself, "What’s your issue with church authority?"
....Where I come down differently than my RC friends is that I believe once scripture is canonized, then scripture becomes the judge of tradition and the primary source of authority. I see Luther being the conservative and the RCC as the innovators going beyond a legitimate use of tradition. Popes can err, councils can err, churches can err, and scripture is the final authority over them all. I understand that scripture must be interpreted, but I don’t see an infallible interpreting person or body as necessary.

I’d describe my view as James Leo Garrett’s “Prima Scriptura” as opposed to “Sola Scriptura” as Catholics understand it. (But I believe that the reformation idea of Sola Scriptura WAS Prima Scriptura.)

I would rather have 20,000 “little popes” with their Bibles, all believing they can err and be corrected by scripture, rather than one pope who cannot err or be corrected by scripture.
It is all interesting and can be found here.

internetmonk.com » Blog Archive » Five Questions on The iMonk and Catholicism (where I also discuss some of my thoughts on how various kinds of Christians should appreciate and love one another.)

I’m NOT in love with Jesus

John Stackhouse is not in love with Jesus, and explains why not:
.... Today our congregation was asked to sing, “Jesus, I’m in love with you”– a line that shows up, in one permutation or another, in several songs that occur frequently in our worship leaders’ rotation.

Well, I didn’t sing it. It’s wrong, and I try not to sing wrong lyrics.

First, I’m not in love with Jesus. The locution “in love with” is one I reserve for one person only: my wife. I love my sons, I love my siblings and parents, I love my friends, I love my country, I love my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I love God. But I’m not “in love” with any of them. And I daresay most of the rest of us use this phrase in exactly the same, highly-restrictive way. ....

.... Jesus is not your boyfriend, not your fiancé, and not your eventual husband.

By God’s grace, Christians get to enjoy a wide range of relationships with Jesus. We are described in the New Testament variously as Jesus’ slaves, Jesus’ servants, Jesus co-workers, Jesus’ friends, and even Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Since the plural form of each of these is used, it is correct then for me to say, “I am Jesus’ slave, servant, co-worker,” etc.

But the New Testament never calls Christians Jesus’ fiancées or his brides. Instead, it is the Church collectively, and only the Church as a whole, that relates to Jesus this way – just as individual Israelites did not relate to Yhwh as so many spouses, but only the nation of Israel as nation was his beloved bride.

So I’m not singing to Jesus that I’m in love with him, because I’m not. I love him, and I aspire to loving him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. But I do not aspire to being in love with him, and I’m sure he understands.

I wish our worship leaders and songwriters did, too.
Thanks to Between Two Worlds for the reference.

Jesus, I’m NOT in Love with You « Prof. John Stackhouse’s Weblog

Friday, September 21, 2007

Real Age

Another of those quizzes. This one asks you to answer a series of questions about your life and health and then tells you your "real" age, as opposed to your biological age, and your life expectancy. It could be valid. It is interesting.

My results:
Biological age: 61
Real age: 53.3
Average life expectancy: 79
Your [my] life expectancy: 86.7

realage.swf

Mark Driscoll

A fascinating description of Mark Driscoll's ministry in Seattle from Christianity Today.
....If he hasn't offended you, you've never read his books or listened to his sermons. On any given Sunday at Mars Hill, it's possible that a visiting fire marshal will get saved. But it's just as likely that a guest will flip him off before walking out.

The spectrum of response speaks to his sharp tongue—his greatest strength and his glaring weakness. But Driscoll also disturbs many fellow evangelicals because he straddles the borders that divide us. His unflinching Reformed theology grates on the church-growth crowd. His plan to grow a large church strikes postmoderns as arrogant. His roots in the emerging church worry Calvinists. No one group can claim him. Maybe that's why they all turn their guns on him. [more]
Some time ago I posted this video from Driscoll about church planting.

Pastor Provocateur | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Great Lake

I'm back and paying attention to the blog again after several extremely pleasant days on the western shore of Lake Michigan. My brother and I are both single and retired and thus free to take off somewhere when the weather is good and an opportunity beckons. Both conditions obtained this week. It was a good time. Fortunately, we enjoy many of the same things.

The picture on the left was taken an hour or so after sunrise this morning. The one below yesterday afternoon. I was re-reading one of Dick Francis's early thrillers, Bonecrack. Almost all of his mysteries are set in the context of horse racing in England, and I enjoy his early ones the most. Enough time had passed since I last read it that I remembered very little of the plot. The sun was warm, but there were too many annoying flies - repellent goes in the bag next time.

When not reading, we were walking or eating and drinking. Our favorite restaurant in Sheboygan is a place called Rupp's, which probably hasn't changed very much since the middle of the last century. We stayed at a place called Blue Harbor, quite new and right on the lake. School has started and we were there on weekdays, so it was very quiet [and significantly less expensive than usual]. The place has a water park and caters to families with children but there were few about. It was peaceful and very relaxing.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"Don't know much about history..."

The teaching of US History and civics is failing. High schools do it poorly [classes in politics and government are seldom required], and colleges do nothing to rectify the ignorance. From USA Today:
Students don't know much about history, and colleges aren't adding enough to their civic literacy, says a report out today.

The study from the non-profit Intercollegiate Studies Institute shows that less than half of college seniors knew that Yorktown was the battle that ended the American Revolution or that NATO was formed to resist Soviet expansion. Overall, freshmen averaged 50.4% on a wide-ranging civic literacy test; seniors averaged 54.2%, both failing scores if translated to grades.
Some selected specifics:
  • Harvard seniors had the highest average at 69.6%, 5.97 points higher than its freshmen but still a D+. A Harvard senior posted the only perfect score.
  • ....Yale, with the highest-scoring freshmen (68.94%), along with Princeton, Duke and Cornell, were among eight schools with freshmen outscoring seniors.
  • "Several of the colleges at the lower end of our survey are some of the most prestigious in the country, with average tuition, room and board somewhere north of $40,000 a year," ....
One of the responses is to indict high schools:
Still, "in many cases, these students are coming from high schools where the subject matter has already been covered," notes Tony Pals of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. "It would be a waste of their tuition dollars to sit through the courses again."

...William Galston, Brookings Institution senior fellow of governance studies....: "Less is being expected of secondary and post-secondary education in the way of civic education, and because less is expected, less is achieved," he says.
You can take the test here. As a former history and politics teacher I ought to have done well, and I did - my score was 93.33%, A- on the scale I used to use. I missed four questions - three of them having to do with economics: Questions #39, #53, #58 and #60. Missing even those is embarrassing.

College students struggle on history test - USATODAY.com

Heaven and Hell

Via Challies.com, sermon series by Edward Donnelly about Heaven [from 1999] and Hell [from 1997]. Challies reviewed the book that came of these sermons, Biblical Teaching on the Doctrines of Heaven and Hell, here.

A La Carte (9/18) :: Challies Dot Com SideBlog

Monday, September 17, 2007

Young evangelicals adrift

Ignorance of important theological distinctions, denominational origins, and the Modernist/Fundamentalist dispute seems prevalent among young Evangelicals, says Dean Curry of Messiah College. He is concerned.

We are all always subject to being "...tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine..." We are also all influenced by the spirit of the age - and tolerance for other opinions, often meaning not caring - is very much a part of that spirit in our age. It is, in fact, vitally important to understand how doctrine came to be, and why the lines were drawn where they were. There may well be disputes that no longer matter - but it is impossible to know unless the reasons those disputes occurred are also known. As the founder of Faber College wisely observed, "Knowledge is Good."

In the October First Things, in an article titled "Evangelical Amnesia," [not online] Curry writes:
.... Without theological moorings, young evangelicals are without a spiritual rudder and thus at the mercy of the prevailing winds of personal feeling and the cultural zeitgeist. Indeed, as young evangelicals have drifted from denominational and theological moorings, it is no wonder that many have found haven in postmodern categories of the "emerging church" movement that, in the words of one of its enthusiasts, encourages "a new way of doing church and being the church, one that resonates not only with ... the first fully postmodern generation."

This new way of doing church finds its focus in the postmodern holy grails of tolerance, diversity, generosity, openness, inclusion, antidogmatism, and subjectivity. Traditionally understood, Christian theology is about drawing lines between truth and error. Postmodern Christian theology, however, is suspicious of line-drawing, emphasizing instead epistemological skepticism and relational integrity.

To be sure, the mosaic of contemporary American evangelicalism defies easy generalization. The research of Smith and others suggests that American young people remain religious and that predictions of the total secularization of American youth culture are premature. Nevertheless, the fading light of theological literacy among younger American evangelicals raises questions about American evangelicalism's century-long role as the bearer of Christian orthodoxy among American Protestants. Without a clear Christology and understanding of the Church, biblical authority, common grace, and soteriology, it is no wonder that young evangelicals are increasingly unable to articulate and defend the historic Christian worldview and are drawn instead to postmodern ways of thinking.

The damage done here is not only to theological fidelity but also to Christian apologetics. To a generation for whom being tolerant and tolerable is the sine qua non of social etiquette, there is little motivation to defend robustly a distinctive Christian theology. Pressing, as it does, absolute truth claims, traditional Christian apologetics is bound to offend the embracing postmodern sensibilities of open-ended theological hospitality.

It should not be surprising that the faith commitment of these young evangelicals is so shallow. ....
First Things, October, 2007, pp. 15-17

C.S. Lewis on Tyranny

More C.S. Lewis. The Acton Institute quotes him:
Here’s justly famous quote from C. S. Lewis on why the danger posed by a nanny government can be much more oppressive than that posed by the consolidation of economic power:
Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
They also provide a link to the excellent essay from which the quotation was taken: "The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment," an essay I regularly used in my high school political science classes when we were discussing the legal system and theories of punishment for criminals.

Lewis on Moral Tyranny - Acton Institute PowerBlog

Sunday, September 16, 2007

THE WAR

PBS provides an extended preview of The War, Ken Burns new series about World War II and how it was experienced by Americans. The series begins on PBS one week from today, September 23. Ken Burns says his intention is to tell people what war is like, through the direct experiences of those who were in it. Burns:
The War is a kind of bottom-up, experiential look at the Second World War told not from the familiar perspectives of celebrity generals or politicians or an overweening interest in strategy or tactics or the distraction of weaponry and guns but from so-called ordinary people. There are no experts in the film. If you weren't in the war or waiting anxiously for someone to come back, you're not in our film. ....

We're losing 1,000 [World War II] veterans a day in this country, our kids think we fought with the Germans against the Russians, it's horrible, and I couldn't abide. I'm in the memory business, and each time a person dies, it's a whole library of memories that leave. ....
PBS.org: The War, US News: The War

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Screwtape

Last January Dr. Bruce Edwards answered thirteen questions about C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters for a documentary on the subject. Lewis wrote that imagining himself into the way a devil might think was a very unpleasant ordeal. Edwards explains what he wanted to achieve by doing so:
Lewis’s main intention is to illuminate the psychology of temptation for believers—but also to illustrate the severe limitations and outright ignorance that the underworld has of God’s purposes. Screwtape never understands why the Enemy loves the patient, even to the point of giving up his life for another.

He also wanted to show that there was no “romance” in rebellion, and that those who align themselves with hell are not only choosing the losing side, they are choosing the most banal, boring, bloated, uninteresting creatures. Along the way, he uses Screwtape to point out the foibles and stupidities of human life—identifying the pressure points of pride and vanity undergirding so much of our day to day living.

Its brilliance lies in depicting the everyday and showing how from a demonic point of view, the devotion and care Christians show to their fellow men and women, mirrors of the love God has shown to them, is unfathomable to the desperately lost and unreflectively wicked.
Later Dr. Edwards gives what he believes to be the "most important lesson to be learned from The Screwtape Letters."
That satanic lies can be resisted and refuted by steadfastly holding on to the truth of Who God is, and who we are in Him, and by being knowledgeable and vigilant to oppose the devil’s schemes, through prayer, Scripture, worship, and the company we keep.
Those interested in Lewis will also find Edward's blog, Further Up & Further In both interesting and rewarding.

Edwards very much liked The Company They Keep, the book about the Inklings which I noted in an earlier post, and gives a brief review here.

(And no, this is not becoming a blog exclusively about the Inklings and C.S. Lewis. I've just been coming across a lot of good stuff on those subjects recently.)

Further Up & Further In » Screwtape: What’s Going On?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Inklings

The Times Literary Supplement has a review of a new book, The Company They Keep, about the Inklings and the influence they had on one another - and particularly how they influenced one another's work. From the review:

Tolkien and Lewis formed the spine of the Inklings, regularly convening to read and discuss one another’s work in Lewis’s rooms at Magdalen College. There were nineteen members in all, and Glyer excels at depicting their world, with its petty rivalries, joshing honesty (“he is ugly as a chimpanzee”, wrote Lewis of fellow Inkling Charles Williams), its wit and learning and championship of scholarship for its own sake. The Inklings were often supportive and sympathetic (“the inexhaustible fertility of the man’s imagination amazes me”, wrote Lewis in 1949 on receipt of another installment of The Lord of the Rings), but were capable of ferocious criticism if it was felt that a member had done anything less than his best (“You can do better than that. Better Tolkien, please!”). Tempers must surely have become frayed at times – as Tolkien became unyieldingly critical of Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia (“about as bad as can be”) or as the English don Hugo Dyson met the latest bulletin from Middle Earth by (according to Tolkien’s son Christopher) “lying on the couch, and lolling and shouting and saying, ‘Oh God, no more Elves’”.
Not that all of them were ever present at the Magdalen reading meetings: often no more than six or seven would turn up, while the rest preferred to save themselves for the more raucous social gatherings in the Oxford pub The Eagle and Child.

Inkling James Dundas-Grant recalls a typical scene:
“we sat in a small back room with a fine coal fire in winter . . . . back and forth the conversation would flow. Latin tags flying around. Homer quoted in the original to make a point . . . . Tolkien jumping up and down, declaiming in Anglo-Saxon.”
Endearingly eccentric though this might sound, the group have been accused of cliquey provincialism, of being hermetically sealed in their nook at “The Bird and Baby” from those evolutions which were occurring in the wider world of literature. John Wain, a former pupil of Lewis’s and an occasional Inkling himself, wrote a hostile account of the group in 1962, stating that they were “politically conservative, not to say reactionary; in religion...in art, frankly hostile to any manifestation of the ‘modern’ spirit”. ....

Yet this mistrust of modernity was part of the group’s essential spirit. Most of the Inklings were veterans of the Trenches and had little cause to applaud a world descending once again into conflict. The image that Glyer’s expert account will sometimes conjure up, of ageing scholars swapping tales with a pint of ale in hand, seems tellingly familiar – reminiscent of a convocation of hobbits back from the war and living out their days in comfort in the Shire. .... [more]
[Thanks to Mere Comments for the reference]

Down the pub with Tolkien and Lewis - TLS Highlights - Times Online

The Chasm

Another of C.S. Lewis's lectures found online: De Descriptione Temporum, his inaugural lecture upon appointment as Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University in 1954.

I am very leery of the way the term "post-modern" is used [e.g. the post below], and part of my skepticism derives from my reading of Lewis. Here and elsewhere he does an effective job of making many of the traditional divisions that we learned in history and literature classes seem very artificial.
All lines of demarcation between what we call "periods" should be subject to constant revision. Would that we could dispense with them altogether! As a great Cambridge historian has said: "Unlike dates, periods are not facts. They are retrospective conceptions that we form about past events, useful to focus discussion, but very often leading historical thought astray." ....
In this lecture he identifies himself as a representative - "a specimen" - of Old Western Culture, a culture that has had more continuity than not until quite recently:
... It is by these steps that I have come to regard as the greatest of all divisions in the history of the West that which divides the present from, say, the age of Jane Austen and Scott. The dating of such things must of course be rather hazy and indefinite. No one could point to a year or a decade in which the change indisputably began, and it has probably not yet reached its peak. But somewhere between us and the Waverley Novels, somewhere between us and Persuasion, the chasm runs. ...
Lewis offers four reasons for this argument. First, that politics - how we are governed - has changed:
In all previous ages that I can think of the principal aim of rulers, except at rare and short intervals, was to keep their subjects quiet, to forestall or extinguish widespread excitement and persuade people to attend quietly to their several occupations. And on the whole their subjects agreed with them. They even prayed (in words that sound curiously old-fashioned) to be able to live "a peaceable life in all godliness and honesty" and "pass their time in rest and quietness". But now the organisation of mass excitement seems to be almost the normal organ of political power.
Secondly, in the arts:
I do not think that any previous age produced work which was, in its own time, as shatteringly and bewilderingly new as that of the Cubists, the Dadaists, the Surrealists, and Picasso has been in ours. And I am quite sure that this is true of the art I love best, that is, of poetry. .... In the whole history of the West, from Homer - I might almost say from the Epic of Gilgamesh there has been no bend or break in the development of poetry comparable to this. ....
Third, what he calls the "un-christening" of the West - not a reversion to paganism or mysticism, but to a "post-Christian" society:
A post-Christian man is not a Pagan; you might as well think that a married woman recovers her virginity by divorce. The post-Christian is cut off from the Christian past and therefore doubly from the Pagan past.
Finally, he cites the impact of technology, along with the popular understanding of Darwin - the sense that what is newer is better, of the inevitability of progress and the relative worthlessness of what is old:
From the old push-bike to the motor-bike and thence to the little car; from gramophone to radio and from radio to television; from the range to the stove; these are the very stages of their pilgrimage. But whether from this cause or from some other, assuredly that approach to life which has left these footprints on our language is the thing that separates us most sharply from our ancestors and whose absence would strike us as most alien if we could return to their world. Conversely, our assumption that everything is provisional and soon to be superseded, that the attainment of goods we have never yet had, rather than the defence and conservation of those we have already, is the cardinal business of life, would most shock and bewilder them if they could visit ours.
This division in the history of the West has made much of the past incomprehensible. I'm doubtful that the "post-moderns" will be much help in recovering it, since much of what they dismiss belongs to it.

De Descriptione Temporum

"Take off your shoes..."

A new book by Ben Witherington, Making a Meal of It: Rethinking the Theology of the Lord's Supper, is intended "...to tease your minds into active thought, and challenge some of the basic assumptions that lead to the practice of these things in ways that don't actually comport with what the NT says or suggests...."

Baptists [Witherington is a Methodist] tend to view Baptism and the Lord's Supper as symbols rather than sacraments - with an implicit "only" in front of the word "symbol." But a symbol stands for something, and re-thinking the significance of what these acts represent ought to remove the "only."

Witherington writes about his book at his blog and offers some good reasons for considering seriously whether we should continue doing what we do:
When we approach the sacraments we need to have the approach that Moses had with the burning bush - it is God in Christ we are encountering here, and a high and holy moment is involved. Take off your shoes, and repent of your sins. Secondly, we have entered what is called post-modernism, and in a post-modern age mystery and ritual are already playing a much bigger role in various venues than in the past. There are many young people specifically choosing to go to churches where there is liturgy, drama, mystery, and the very regular practice of the sacraments. When worship, practically speaking, serves as the major calling card and tool of evangelism in our culture, it behooves us to figure out what moves us and leads us into the very presence of the Lord, and seek to better facilitate that.
Ben Witherington: Making a Meal of It-- Rethinking the Theology of the Lord's Supper

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Seventh Day Baptists are not the same

The Seventh Day Baptist denomination, to which I belong, is small and, because of its name, often confused with the much larger and better known Seventh-day Adventists. A post at SDB Forums has once again emphasized that error. There are really quite a few differences - one of which is that Adventists are not Baptists. Here is a comparison of the beliefs of Seventh Day Baptists with those of Seventh-day Adventists. For those with sufficient interest: the SDB Statement of Belief and the SDA Fundamental Beliefs. Also a brief history of Seventh Day Baptists.

SDB/SDA Compare

Giving God the first fruits of your time

In the course of an article with good advice for Christian college students, Kevin Offner suggests this:
Take the idea of the Sabbath seriously. Busyness is one of the greatest idols of contemporary America and when we purpose to do no work one day out of seven, this idol loses some of its hold on us. In the Ten Commandments we read, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work . . .” (Exodus 20:9-10) The point here is not legalism, but rather that a habit of intentionally refraining from work is a continual reminder to us of our need for God.

Why not keep a day a week (Sunday is a good choice) to worship with others, rest, write snail-mail letters, take long walks, drop in on friends, read fiction or play with children? Spend concentrated time in prayer, reflecting on your last week and preparing for the upcoming week. Keeping a day a week to rest is giving God the first fruits of your time, showing him that you trust him to help you accomplish all he is calling you to do.
Making the most out of college - StudentSoul.org

To believe as He believed

Did Jesus believe in the "verbal, plenary inspiration" of the Scriptures? J.P. Moreland says he did, and makes the case at Scriptorium.

What Did Jesus Believe About Scripture? | Scriptorium Daily

More about Madeleine L’Engle

From GetReligion, a good, informative, entry about Madeleine L'Engle.
Wherever L’Engle went, people kept asking her to explain her beliefs, from heaven to hell, from sex to salvation, from feminism to the arts. The writer did not hide her views, but rarely used the kind of language that so-called “Christian writers” were supposed to use.

Thus, her career was defined by a paradox: Many of her strongest admirers were evangelical Christians, as were most of her fiercest critics. Thus, it’s symbolic that she donated her personal notes and papers to Wheaton College — the Rev. Billy Graham’s alma mater — where they are part of a collection best known for its materials about the life of Christian apologist C.S. Lewis. [more]
Update, 9/14: There is good column in the Wall Street Journal today by Meghan Cox Gurdon about "reading Madeleine L'Engle as a child and as an adult."
A child is inclined to take away very different lessons from a novel than is an adult. For one thing, "A Wrinkle in Time" is infused with Christian faith to such a degree that, were it newly published today, it would probably be relegated to the religious section of the bookstore.

...As a heathen child, I missed entirely the biblical references, the significant mention of Jesus and the way a loving God's sovereignty over the universe is understood even as the characters battle an expanding force of pure evil. Meg's father, at one point, urges her to be courageous in confronting IT. "We were sent here for something," he tells her, echoing Romans 8:28. "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."

Clearly, American society wasn't as twitchy about Judeo-Christian content 40-odd years ago. In fact, over the decades "A Wrinkle in Time" has been criticized as insufficiently Christian, a claim that pained its Episcopalian author. [more]
Tesser well, Madeleine L’Engle » GetReligion

Harry Potter and the Christian critics

Mark Shea, in First Things, answers arguments critical of the Harry Potter books of "the sort one only finds in the hothouse of Extremely Earnest Conservative Christianity," and concludes:
One need not find the novels to their taste. One can complain about Rowling's style, etc. But the assertion that the books are spiritually dangerous or anti-Christian is, in my view, unfounded and, indeed, counterfactual.
FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » Harry Potter and the Christian Critics

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Science and religion

The current issue of First Things includes "God and Evolution" by Avery Cardinal Dulles. [The entire essay is available online.] He is concerned primarily with the Roman Catholic response to the issues raised by Darwinism and identifies three approaches, described briefly, and then summarized:
.... All three of these Christian perspectives on evolution affirm that God plays an essential role in the process, but they conceive of God’s role in different ways. According to theistic Darwinism, God initiates the process by producing from the first instant of creation (the Big Bang) the matter and energies that will gradually develop into vegetable, animal, and eventually human life on this earth and perhaps elsewhere. According to Intelligent Design, the development does not occur without divine intervention at certain stages, producing irreducibly complex organs. According to the teleological view, the forward thrust of evolution and its breakthroughs into higher grades of being depend upon the dynamic presence of God to his creation. Many adherents of this school would say that the transition from physicochemical existence to biological life, and the further transitions to animal and human life, require an additional input of divine creative energy.
Dulles, himself, inclines to the third position. Note that none of these arguments is compatible with the young earth, seven-literal-day, Creationist position.

Inevitably, his discussion of evolution raises the broader question of the relationship between religion and science generally, and the contention by some that science is the exclusive way to know and that religion is simply superstition. Dulles responds in the latter part of the essay:
Some contemporary scientific atheists are so caught up in the methodology of their discipline that they imagine it must be the only method for solving every problem. But other methods are needed for grappling with questions of another order. Science and technology (science’s offspring) are totally inadequate in the field of morality. While science and technology vastly increase human power, power is ambivalent. It can accomplish good or evil; the same inventions can be constructive or destructive.

The tendency of science, when it gains the upper hand, is to do whatever lies within its capacity, without regard for moral constraints. As we have experienced in recent generations, technology uncontrolled by moral standards has visited untold horrors on the world. To distinguish between the right and wrong use of power, and to motivate human beings to do what is right even when it does not suit their convenience, requires recourse to moral and religious norms. The biddings of conscience make it clear that we are inescapably under a higher law that requires us to behave in certain ways and that judges us guilty if we disobey it. We would turn in vain to scientists to inform us about this higher law.

Some evolutionists contend that morality and religion arise, evolve, and persist according to Darwinian principles. Religion, they say, has survival value for individuals and communities. But this alleged survival value, even if it be real, tells us nothing about the truth or falsity of any moral or religious system. Since questions of this higher order cannot be answered by science, philosophy and theology still have an essential role to play.

Justin Barrett, an evolutionary psychologist now at Oxford, is also a practicing Christian. He believes that an all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good God crafted human beings to be in loving relationship with him and with one another. “Why wouldn’t God,” he asks, “design us in such a way as to find belief in divinity quite natural?” Even if these mental phenomena can be explained scientifically, the psychological explanation does not mean that we should stop believing. “Suppose that science produces a convincing account for why I think my wife loves me,” he writes. “Should I then stop believing that she does?”

A metaphysics of knowledge can take us further in the quest for religious truth. It can give reasons for thinking that the natural tendency to believe in God, manifest among all peoples, does not exist in vain. Biology and psychology can examine the phenomena from below. But theology sees them from above, as the work of God calling us to himself in the depths of our being. We are, so to speak, programmed to seek eternal life in union with God, the personal source and goal of everything that is true and good. This natural desire to gaze upon him, while it may be suppressed for a time, cannot be eradicated.

Science can cast a brilliant light on the processes of nature and can vastly increase human power over the environment. Rightly used, it can notably improve the conditions of life here on earth. Future scientific discoveries about evolution will presumably enrich religion and theology, since God reveals himself through the book of nature as well as through redemptive history. Science, however, performs a disservice when it claims to be the only valid form of knowledge, displacing the aesthetic, the interpersonal, the philosophical, and the religious.

The recent outburst of atheistic scientism is an ominous sign. If unchecked, this arrogance could lead to a resumption of the senseless warfare that raged in the nineteenth century, thus undermining the harmony of different levels of knowledge that has been foundational to our Western civilization. By contrast, the kind of dialogue between evolutionary science and theology proposed by John Paul II can overcome the alienation and lead to authentic progress both for science and for religion.
FIRST THINGS: God and Evolution

Luther, Calvin and Predestination

Internet Monk questions a Lutheran, Josh Strodtbeck, about God's sovereignty and the differences between the Calvinist and Lutheran approaches to the doctrine. In his answer to what appears to be the beginning of a series of questions and responses, Strodtbeck notes that:
...for Lutherans, divine sovereignty isn’t a significant driving force in theology. As we see it, God’s attributes are in some sense inscrutable. Theology begins and lives where God is known, which is in Christ given to us in the Word and the Sacraments, not in abstract formulations of attributes or rigorous, logically consistent assertions about the nature of divine decrees.
The Internet Monk also links to a description of Luther's position on predestination compared to Calvin's. In that comparison, after a description of the Calvinist position and responses to it, Don Matzat quotes Luther:
A dispute about predestination should be avoided entirely... I forget everything about Christ and God when I come upon these thoughts and actually get to the point to imagining that God is a rogue. We must stay in the word, in which God is revealed to us and salvation is offered, if we believe him. But in thinking about predestination, we forget God . . However, in Christ are hid all the treasures (Col. 2:3); outside him all are locked up. Therefore, we should simply refuse to argue about election.

Such a disputation is so very displeasing to God that he has instituted Baptism, the spoken Word, and the Lord’s Supper to counteract the temptation to engage in it. In these, let us persist and constantly say, I am baptized I believe in Jesus. I care nothing about the disputation concerning predestination.
Martin Luther did not know of the confusion and contentions that would later exist among Christians and the major heresies such as Universalism and the rebirth of Pelagianism that would arise as the result of the debates over the doctrine of predestination. If he had known, he most certainly would have reminded us of his words: "For this you should know: All such suggestions and disputes about predestination are surely of the devil."
Internet Monk: God's Sovereignty in Lutheranism, Martin Luther and the Doctrine of Predestination by Don Matzat