Thursday, November 29, 2007

"All that is not eternal, is eternally out of date."

It is C.S. Lewis's birthday. He was born on November 29, 1898, in Belfast.

Bruce Edwards, at Further Up and Further In, suggests several appropriate ways to celebrate Lewis's life. One of them rings especially true:
Take a brisk walk over some grassy hills with a hardy companion who likes to talk about myth.
And, one might add - at the end of the day, a chair by the fire, a pint in hand, and much more good talk.

Edwards also links to his annual birthday tribute to Lewis. Like many of us, Edwards has been much affected by what Lewis wrote about the Faith. He concludes with several of the things CSL taught him.
  • How not to be intimidated by the age in which I live.
  • How to anticipate and find patience in answering questions about my faith without losing hope.
  • How to integrate a Christian worldview with my vocation, my family life, and my inner self.
  • How to long for God and seek true joy.

Do you believe every word?

I don't think Huckabee is the best candidate for President, but he was most assuredly the right person on the spot to answer last night's YouTube question on the Bible.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"All or nothing" gets you nothing

Lisa Fabrizio explains why the anti-abortion position taken by Fred Thompson could actually save lives, while the alternative favored by Mike Huckabee would fail.
Short weeks after receiving the endorsement of the National Right to Life Committee, Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson apparently ran afoul of some in the pro-life movement, when, in an interview on Fox News Sunday, he revealed that he does not support a Human Life Amendment (HLA) to the U.S. Constitution.

Can one be pro-life and not in favor of a Constitutional Amendment which seeks a federal ban on abortion? The easy answer is that one can and probably should be both. But at this time in our history, the amendment process is, sadly, a pipe dream. Imagine trying to get two-thirds of both houses of our Democratic Congress to even propose such an amendment. Then further fantasize that three-fourths of the states would ratify it in the present political climate. This is an all-or-nothing approach that in all probability would save no lives.

Thompson correctly points out that working for the repeal of Roe v. Wade, then making the fight a state-by-state process, is a much more realistic and feasible goal. A states-rights argument should not only appeal to federalists, but ought to be seen as the best current solution by all who cherish life. I'm with the folks who say that abortion is murder, and in this country, murder and its consequences have always been defined by each individual state. And this is where the battle lines must be drawn.

One reason is that dealing with state legislators would be easier than battling their federal counterparts who are in the grips of lobbyists and other special interest groups; the locals are closer to the people they represent and therefore more accountable to them. Another, and probably more important, reason is that the pro-death faction fears this route the most.

They know that, should the question of abortion descend from the dark tower of judicial tyranny and land where it belongs, in the hands of the people, their "cause" is in trouble. Most believe that we are only one pro-life presidential Supreme Court nominee away from this. Planned Parenthood's Laura Lambert called the Court's recent decision to uphold the Partial Birth Abortion Act (PBA) "a clear signal to those who seek to dismantle the 34-year-old decision that the court will be receptive to ever more intrusive efforts to limit access to abortion... This expansive approach to a state's right to restrict and limit abortion is one of the most disturbing parts of the opinion." [more]
It is difficult to resist the thought that at least a few of those who were initially enthusiastic about the Thompson candidacy - but who abandoned him for Huckabee - suffered from something analogous to the rebound effect experienced by a disillusioned lover. Thompson disappointed - and suddenly there was what seemed a credible and attractive alternative. The more I learn about Huckabee, the more difficult it is to believe that it was a well-considered move.

The American Spectator

Sheer neglect

Leland Ryken, interviewed at The Resurgence, answers a question about attacks on the Scriptures, and argues that Evangelicals have only ourselves to blame:
The Bible has gone into eclipse in the evangelical world through sheer neglect. The enemy is within. The attacks from the outside are almost irrelevant. The Bible has been replaced by other things in the pulpits of evangelical churches, and church members tend to view the Bible as it is viewed in the church service. The evangelical church has only itself to blame for its well-documented biblical illiteracy. Several trends have gone hand in hand - the eclipse of expository preaching of the Bible, the loss of dignity in worship, in music, and in Bible translations, and the triumph of the modern media (including an obsession with entertainment) in the lives of Christians.
Thanks to Gospel Driven Church and Dying Church for the reference.

ESV: Now Available on Resurgence | TheResurgence

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"All things being equal"

I recently quoted a column by Peggy Noonan arguing that we are altogether too obsessed with the religious faith of the candidates for President. Mike Huckabee recently released a campaign ad which explicitly advertised his religious commitments seemingly appealing to co-religionists to support him. Ross Douthat explains how religious affiliation can properly affect a voter.
.... On the one hand, Mike Huckabee's attempt to brand himself as a "Christian leader" instinctively rubs me the wrong way. On the other hand, I have no difficulty with the notion of voters deciding not to vote for a candidate because they're put off by his religion, given how closely faith is usually bound up (and ought to be bound up, if the faith is sincere) with a politician's political worldview. As I said in my previous post, an American might reasonably decline to vote for a candidate because he belongs to a religion that institutionalizes practices alien to republican democracy (like polygamy or racial discrimination), or that opposes the separation of church and state, or that attempts to exert an untoward level of direct control over the everyday lives of its members.

These are somewhat extreme examples, though, so let me go further: All other things being equal, I would probably vote for a candidate who shares my religious beliefs if he were up against a candidate who doesn't, whether Jewish or Muslim or Hindu or agnostic. Now of course all other things aren't equal, and there are plenty of situations where I'd rather be governed by a wise Muslim than a foolish Christian. But religion effects values, values effect politics, and it isn't a coincidence that an awful lot of the people I disagree with politically I also disagree with theologically. And I don't mean this just as it applies to the liberal-conservative divide, since it's true within conservatism as well: I'm more likely to agree with the men (and women) of the Right who come to politics from a Christian perspective than those whose bedrock convictions don't partake of Christian belief, and many of the tendencies I dislike in contemporary conservatism (including, among other things, a disturbing consequentialism where issues of war-making and wartime conduct are concerned) are associated with the less-religious precincts of the Right. ....

If you want to know why George W. Bush defines himself as a "compassionate conservative" and his father didn't, it helps to know something about how evangelical theology has interacted with American politics. And so forth.

Moreover, when you're electing a President, you simply can't know every policy dilemma he'll face and every debate he'll be confronted with, so looking at policy positions alone inevitably leaves a large swathe of the map uncharted - and knowing about a candidate's religious beliefs can help to fill in those blanks. Thus I would be more likely to support, say, Rudy Giuliani if he were a sincere and devout Catholic rather than a seemingly-lapsed one even if all his professed political opinions were exactly the same as they are today, because knowing that he took the claims of Christianity seriously would give me more confidence that he'd make a decision I'd approve of in a situation whose contours I can't hope to foresee. .... [more]
Ross Douthat (November 27, 2007) - The Case For Religious Discrimination (Politics)

Mary: "A model for us all"

Evangelicals and Catholics Together are currently engaged in discussion about what they can agree to say about Mary, the mother of Jesus. First Things is publishing online over the next few days the preliminary papers that have been prepared for the discussion, and the first is by J.I. Packer. Early on, he makes his own position clear:
I do not believe in Mary’s immaculate conception, nor her perpetual virginity, nor her assumption, nor the appropriateness of prayer to her. As an Anglican, I have been drilled in the liturgical use of Mary’s song, the Magnificat, and have long taught that we should notice how she celebrates God as her Savior and should think of her as head of the line of sinners, saved by the atoning death and resurrection of her own son.
Packer's contribution deals with the New Testament passages that refer to Mary. He concludes "Thus, then, Luke and John present mother Mary to us as Jesus’ disciple: a model for us all." [the article]

FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » Mary: Mother and Disciple of Christ Jesus the Lord

Generosity

At his blog, which he describes as concerned with "Living on Earth as Citizens of Heaven," Trevin Wax argues that "God’s grace should overflow even from our pocketbooks" and that:
It is shameful that many restaurant servers cringe at the thought of working for the “Christians” on Sundays. What do they expect on Sundays? Demanding customers. Lousy tips. The infamous tract that looks like a $20 bill. Self-righteous snobbery. (Believe me; I used to work at a Cracker Barrel.)

So, let’s turn that around. Let’s astound people with generosity.

Why leave a 15% tip for good service? Let’s go above and beyond and give 20% to a good server. After all, why should Christians settle for “average” tipping?

So, here’s a key to Christian tipping:
  • Servers at a sit-down restaurant: 20%
  • Take-out meals at a sit-down restaurant: 15%
    Yes, I know that many don’t tip for take-out meals, but just remember this: the server who put all your food together in packets and set it all up for you is probably making $2.15 an hour.
  • Pizza Delivery Man: 20% (or a $2.00 minimum)
    They use their own cars. Plus, they make their money off tips. So don’t be cheap with them! [more]
How Much Should a Christian Tip? « Kingdom People

December 2007 Sabbath Recorder

The December, 2007, Sabbath Recorder is available online here as a pdf. Its theme is "What Does Church Mean to You?" There are articles on that topic based on the actual experiences of the authors with titles like "A Place of Unwavering Support," "Source of Strength and Comfort," "As Unto the Lord" and "My Church...My Family!" as well as an article by Conference President Andrew Samuels discussing the improbability of finding the "perfect church" and concluding "Instead of hungering for a perfect church this side of eternity, let’s hunger for a limitless God."

The
Sabbath Recorder is the magazine of the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference and has been regularly published in some form since 1844.

Apologies all around

Is it possible to repent the sins of someone else? Can I take responsibility for the actions of my ancestors, or alternatively, am I owed an apology from the descendant of someone who wronged an ancestor of mine? Gorman Beauchamp in The American Scholar criticizes the practice of apologizing for the actions of other people in other times. For example [and he gives many more examples than this]:
The current lieutenant governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn, personally presented the leaders of the Mormon church with a copy of his state legislature’s House Resolution 793, expressing “official regret” for the 1844 murder of Joseph Smith and the expulsion of his followers, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The language asking for “pardon and forgiveness” was toned down when certain lawmakers protested that they could not ask for forgiveness for acts that they had not personally committed — a retrograde notion, apparently, of individual responsibility. Tony Blair, as British prime minister, apologized to the Irish for his nation’s insensitivity to the plight of the victims of the Potato Famine in the 1840s. A hundred years after the event, the U.S. Congress offered a formal apology to the Hawaiians for the overthrow of their monarchy in 1893. The French parlement unanimously adopted a law stating that “the trans-Atlantic and Indian Ocean slave trade, perpetuated from the 15th century against Africans, Amerindians, Malagasies and Indians, constitutes a crime against humanity”: the centuries of slavery before the 15th and the slavery of other peoples do not, apparently, constitute such a crime, at least in France. ....

Our mania for apology stems from a radical sort of “presentism”: the belief, in practice, if not fully articulated, that the actions and actors of the past should be evaluated, and usually condemned, by present-day standards. In our relativistic age in which advanced opinion notoriously eschews universals and absolutes, the criteria obtaining at the moment in Cambridge and Chapel Hill, Ann Arbor and Palo Alto, Austin and Madison seem to have more than contingent status. The criteria appear perilously close to absolutes, the sort of absolutes obeisance to which allows moderately competent graduate students in sociology or culture studies to relish their moral superiority to almost any denizen of the benighted pre-Foucault past. ....

Presentism wants not only to judge the past by the criteria of the present, but, in a complete failure of historical imagination, can’t conceive of the criteria of the future being radically different from today’s. ....
And earlier in the essay:
I would never denigrate any civilized response of anyone for harm he may have done or misbehavior he may have engaged in. But apologies offered by people to their contemporaries for actions taken long before any of them were born strike me as vacuous and more than a little exhibitionistic. [the essay]
In an age when everyone is a victim and when the idea of individual responsibility seems almost to have disappeared, in an age of moral relativism, it is curious indeed that we should be making collective repentance for sins we did not commit.

Thanks to Arts & Letters Daily for the reference.

The American Scholar - Apologies All Around - By Gorman Beauchamp

Monday, November 26, 2007

"This far but no further..."

The SanDiegoReader reports on a panel discussion, "Catholics and Evangelicals in Dialogue" that took place recently at a session of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. It seems to have been another instance of what I have referred to elsewhere as "honest ecumenism" as opposed to the kind that behaves as though differences are unimportant. Excerpts from the report:
Mark Brumley, president of Ignatius Press, spoke next and related the story of his conversion from Evangelicalism to Catholicism. "My thinking was not that I was jettisoning anything, but it was an idea of coming to a completion, a fulfillment." He cited the Apostles' Creed as an expression of common faith and argued that "the nature of the Church" was the fundamental disagreement between the two denominations. Commenting on this disagreement, he said, "The Baptist who says, 'Out of fidelity of Christ, I can't go with you on the papacy'; he is actually closer to Christ and closer to his Catholic brother than the Baptist who says, 'In order to get along, I'm going to go along.'" There is a closer Christian communion among people who differ, precisely because they are being faithful to Christ in their differences."

Dr. Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School, took up the notion. He praised "the ecumenism of the trenches," wherein Catholics and Evangelicals had found themselves side by side in the struggle over issues such as abortion. "Having found one another, we began to develop a deeper sense of unity," one that led to the creation of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, a sort of religious think-tank that produced statements on the various issues of division. "This is what I have called an ecumenism of convictions, not an ecumenism of accommodation.... We must seek unity in truth. There is no unity worth having that is not unity in truth. We are committed to the truth because Jesus Christ said, 'I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life.' If we're committed to Him, we can be committed to nothing less than the truth.... That means, sometimes, that we can walk this far but no further on an issue. We have to say, in good conscience, under God, that we cannot walk together." ....

President Copan stepped in to offer his own comment on truth: "Is there a relativism within Christianity...? No. All these expressions cannot be right. If the Catholic understanding of the Church and the Mass is correct, then the Evangelicals are incorrect. There are genuinely conflicting truth claims."

Later on, Dr. George made a kind of reply: "I think doctrine matters. I think theology matters. I think truth matters. Where we have differences, I don't think we sweep them aside, but we continue to follow the prayer of the Lord Jesus to the heavenly Father in John 17: 'I pray that they may all be one, so that the world might believe.'"
Some portions of the discussion:

Imagine

Russell D. Moore asks "Who Would Jesus Bomb?" in an essay about "War, Peace and the Christian."

As you sort out the ethics of war, the stakes are high for your spiritual formation. Sure, you probably won't single-handedly decide whether the United States should invade Canada. But the way you think through the rightness or wrongness of military action tells you something about how you see your own personal story in light of the bigger story of the kingdom of Christ. Unbalanced and unbiblical attitudes about war often point to distorted views we hold about the meaning of peace, and even the gospel itself. [more]

"You can't pick and choose"

World Magazine prints an article about the unreliability of megachurch membership numbers and the rankings of those with the fastest growth. In it appears this:

Michael Horton, professor of theology and apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, said if growth alone is a sign of what God is doing, then AIDS and Islam could share a claim for God's blessing. "If numerical growth is invariably a measure of God's blessing," Horton said, "then you can't pick and choose which growing numbers are from God and which are not."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ecclesiastical cluelessness

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, may have many virtues, but as historian and political commentator he once again demonstrates why many of us discount political statements by religious leaders. Williams gave an interview to a Muslim magazine during which he compared the US involvement in Iraq unfavorably to the British imperial effort. His statement is first, then part of a comment by Victor Davis Hanson at NRO:

It is one thing to take over a territory and then pour energy and resources into administering it and normalising it. Rightly or wrongly, that's what the British Empire did - in India, for example. It is another thing to go in on the assumption that a quick burst of violent action will somehow clear the decks and that you can move on and other people will put it back together - Iraq, for example.

.... Williams should read a little about British military campaigns in India, and then count the corpses.

.... I don't recall the British, after their second year in India, fostering nation-wide elections.

If he is worried about the soul of civilization in general, and the U.S. in particular, he might equally ask his Muslim interviewers about the status of women in the Muslim world, polygamy, female circumcision, the existence of slavery in the Sudan, the status of free expression and dissent, and religious tolerance (i.e., he should try to visit Mecca on his next goodwill, interfaith tour).

All Williams will accomplish is to convince Episcopalians in the U.S. not to follow the Anglican Church, and most Americans in general that, if they need any reminders, many of the loud left-wing British elite, nursed on envy of the US, still petulant over lost power and influence, and scared stiff of the demographic and immigration trends in its own country, are well, unhinged. [
more]

A reasonable conclusion from the Archbishop's remark is that we should plan to stay in Iraq for a long time rather than "move on and [let] other people...put it back together.

The Corner on National Review Online

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Tempted to pretend

Peggy Noonan, in the Wall Street Journal, writes about the current fascination with the depth and sincerity of the religious convictions of Presidential candidates. She observes that the interest was not always so intense. She suggests that it would be better if we didn't care so much:
.... There are some people who believe faith doesn't belong in politics. But it does, and it is there inextricably. The antislavery movement, the temperance movement, the civil rights movement, the antiabortion movement, all were political movements animated in large part by religious feeling. It's not that it doesn't matter. You bring your whole self into the polling booth, including your faith and your sense of right and wrong, good and bad, just as presidents bring their whole selves into the Oval Office. I can't imagine how a president could do his job without faith.

But faith is also personal. You can be touched by a candidate's faith, or interested in his apparent lack of it. It's never wholly unimportant, but you should never see a politician as a leader of faith, and we should not ask a man who made his rise in the grubby world of politics to act as if he is an exemplar of his faith, or an explainer or defender of it.

We have the emphasis wrong. It's out of kilter. And the result is a Mitt Romney being harassed on radio shows about the particulars of his faith, and Hillary Clinton - a new-class yuppie attorney and board member - announcing how important her Methodist faith is and how much she loves wearing her diamond cross. For all I know, for all you know, it is true. But there is about it an air of patronizing the rubes and boobs.

We should lighten up on demanding access to their hearts. It is impossible for us to know their hearts. It's barely possible to know your own. Faith is important, but it's also personal. When we force political figures to tell us their deepest thoughts on it, they'll be tempted to act, to pretend. Do politicians tend to give in to temptation? Most people do. Are politicians better than most people? Quick, a show of hands. I don't think so either. [the column]
Wall Street Journal: Noonan - People Before Prophets

Which Narnia book is best?

David Mills at Touchstone's Mere Comments starts off a discussion of which Narnia books are favored by his readers:
Today our youngest and I read almost all of The Last Battle, the last of the Narnia Chronicles. It is my favorite of the set, perhaps because it so well mixes melancholy and hope, or better, transcends melancholy with hope. I find the last chapter almost unbearably moving.

So today's question is: which of the set is your favorite, and for that matter which is your least favorite, and why, if you care to say. (For some of you "least favorite" may mean in some cases "one you most dislike.") My least favorite is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, because it is the most didactic of the series and the analogies too straightforward and obvious. [read the responses and join the discussion.
Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments: Your Favorite Chronicle

The way life should be

Gene Edward Veith has drawn a lesson from not being able to watch the Packer victory in real time. The illustration may not work as well for Lion fans - but the lesson is absolutely solid.
This morning, as I write this, I am watching the recording we made of the Packer game before the power went out. When I called my brother last night, he let slip that the Packers won, and today’s paper told me that this victory over Detroit was another career highlight for Brett Favre, who completed 20 straight passes, setting a team record, and tying his career record with seven 300-yard games in a season.

As I watch this game, knowing how it will end, Favre’s first quarter fumble didn’t bother me. Nor did the way Detroit dominated the first quarter. I am enjoying it in a different way, free of anxiety.

This is the way life should be for Christians. We know how all of this ends. We have a happy ending ahead of us. We should not be paralyzed with worry or defeated by our troubles. From the aspect of eternity, our problems are not going to mean all that much.

True, this is not the best way to view football, since a big part of the fun is the suspense, tension, and agonizing, all of which accentuate the hope, the relief, and the joy that we also experience in the game as it unfolds in time. And this too speaks to us of life and why we go through what we do.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

All praise and thanks to God

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

May you and yours enjoy a blessed Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Stay out of our pulpits!

From World Magazine's blog:
In a new poll, churchgoers sent a message to political candidates: We don’t want you in our pulpits:
A new Fox 5-The Washington Times-Rasmussen Reports poll found that less than one in four of those surveyed said it’s appropriate to campaign at their religious services, and a whopping 62 percent said it’s not right. ... “There are lines that people feel you shouldn’t cross. Different people might draw them at different places, but they clearly exist,” said Scott Rasmussen, who conducted the survey. He said that doesn’t mean voters don’t want candidates to show up and attend their services, but they also “don’t want to see a sermon or something presented as a sermon by a presidential candidate.”
Sermons should be about far more important subjects than elective politics and political speeches shouldn't substitute for them. Moreover, the appearance that a church blesses a candidate or a campaign divides Christian from Christian and diminishes the proper roll of that church.

World On the Web » World New Media Archive » Politicians in the pulpit

Science solves a moral issue

From The Washington Post this morning:
Researchers in Wisconsin and Japan have turned ordinary human skin cells into what are effectively embryonic stem cells without using embryos or women's eggs - the two hitherto essential ingredients that have embroiled the medically promising field in a long political and ethical debate.

The unencumbered ability to turn adult cells into embryonic ones capable of morphing into virtually every kind of cell or tissue, described in two scientific journal articles released today, has been the ultimate goal of researchers for years. In theory, it would allow people to grow personalized replacement parts for their bodies from a few of their own skin cells, while giving researchers a uniquely powerful means of understanding and treating diseases.

Until now, only human egg cells and embryos, both difficult to obtain and laden with legal and ethical issues, had the mysterious power to turn ordinary cells into stem cells. And until this summer, the challenge of mimicking that process in the lab seemed almost insurmountable, leading many to wonder if stem cell research would ever wrest free of its political baggage.

As news of the success by two different research teams spread by e-mail, scientists seemed almost giddy at the likelihood that their field, which for its entire life has been at the center of so much debate, may suddenly become like other areas of biomedical science: appreciated, eligible for federal funding and wide open for new waves of discovery. ....
Thanks to Captain's Quarters for the reference.

Joseph Bottum at First Things:
If the news of major breakthroughs in cell research should turn out to be correct, we are about to witness something like victory in the fight over embryonic stem cells.

And that will open a nest of interesting questions, beginning with this one: All those editorialists and columnists who have, over the past ten years, howled and howled about Luddites and religious fanatics thwarting science and frustrating medicine—were they really interested in technology and health, or were they just using all that as a handy stick with which to whack their political opponents?
Researchers Report Stem Cell Breakthrough, First Things: Embryonic Stem Cells and Those Pro-Science Pro-Lifers

Monday, November 19, 2007

Wall of separation?

Thomas Jefferson was no enemy of religion, but his metaphor of a "wall of separation" has become a Constitutional doctrine. Gregory Koukl at Stand to Reason explains the First Amendment by simply reading it and pointing out its obvious meaning:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Notice, the Bill of Rights is a guarantee of freedom, and the first freedom protected - before the freedom of speech or press, by the way - is freedom of religion. The First Amendment was meant to secure liberty, including liberty of religion. The point: The non-establishment clause was meant to promote religious freedom, not restrict it.

Some people think this clause was written to protect atheists and restrict religion. It wasn't. It was written to protect religious people and promote their liberty in the public square.

There is no separation of church and state in the Constitution. Let me repeat: There is no separation of church and state in the Constitution. The Constitutional language is "non-establishment," not separation. There’s a difference.

When people ask me, "Don’t you believe in separation of church and state?" I say, "No. And neither should you. Instead, I believe in the Bill of Rights."

So next time the question of separation of church and state arises – whether in regard to a cross on a hilltop in San Diego, or “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance—remember what the First Amendment of the Constitution actually says and what its first clause was designed to do: protect and promote religious freedom.
Stand to Reason Blog: First Things First

"Precious Lord..."

Michael Hoinski writes about an effort to find and preserve black gospel:
This year marks the 75th anniversary of gospel’s bedrock song, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” Recorded by Chicago piano man Thomas Dorsey following the death of his wife and infant son in childbirth, it typifies the genre in its calling on a higher power in time of need. While Dorsey went on to become “the father of gospel music,” Robert Darden, a former Billboard gospel music editor turned professor of journalism at Baylor University, may become its savior.

In March, Darden started work on the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. Its mission is to identify and acquire black gospel recordings, primarily from the music’s mid-20th-century golden age, and digitize them to create a virtual encyclopedia of a musical style unparalleled in its religious zeal. [more]
Thomas Dorsey:

Bibles: Imitation leather binding

From Mark Bertrand at Bible Design & Binding, an appreciation of a new, comparatively inexpensive, far superior, imitation leather binding used for Bibles:
Here's the deal with the new imitation leathers - the stuff the publishers call TruTone, TuTone, NuTone and what have you. They overturn the traditional thinking. Used to be, imitation leathers were at the bottom of the value pyramid, followed in ascending order by bonded leather, genuine leather, various varieties of calfskin, and goatskin. These days, an imitation leather cover is more flexible out of the box than pretty much all the bonded and genuine leather options available. That means the most affordable cover is also the the most practical, especially at a time when the quality of affordable leather seems to be on a downward spiral. As a result of all this, I'm fond of saying that the best values in the Bible market are at the extremes: at the low end and the high end, you get your money's worth - in the middle there are no guarantees. ....
I have a couple of ESVs bound with this binding, and [for whatever my judgment in these matters is worth] I agree that it is leather like in feel and very flexible. I like it.

Bible Design and Binding: The Sincerest Form of Flattery: The New Imitation Leather

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The brave new world recedes?

NRO reports that those who opposed cloning may well win, not because of a political change, but because science has found another way.
The Telegraph reports that Ian Wilmut—creator of Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal—is giving up on his efforts to use cloning techniques in humans, to produce cloned embryos that could then be destroyed for their stem cells. Wilmut’s reason, the paper reports, is the potential of so-called “somatic cell reprogramming”, a technique to transform a regular adult cell into the equivalent of an embryonic stem cell but without the need for embryos. Wilmut says the new approach is not only “easier to accept socially” but also scientifically more efficient and, he says, “100 times more interesting” and capable of producing the same result. [more]
If these reports are true, the evil represented by creating embryos in order to destroy them will be evident. The only real argument for doing it was that it was necessary as a means to defeat other great evils - particular terrible diseases. Now those arguments will disappear and it will be conceded, even by those who considered it a lesser evil, that it should not happen.

I failed to see Amazing Grace when it was in the theaters, but now have watched it a couple of times on DVD. It is a very good film, not just as a movie, but because it is instructive about the political process of reform. Wilberforce persisted in his cause, not by going for "all or nothing," but by taking the cause step by step, using the political system, until public opinion and political circumstance shifted to favor his side of the debate.

Politics needs to guided by morality. Most political questions are ultimately moral questions. We need those who draw clear moral conclusions about issues like slavery and abortion, but getting from here to there requires political prudence and wisdom, clarity about the goal pursued with the "wisdom of serpents."

Sometimes stubborn obstruction is called for, until circumstances change. Sometimes gradual reform will eventually bring the best result.

The Corner on National Review Online

Friday, November 16, 2007

Come home

Michael Yon reports on hope for Christians in Baghdad [there are many pictures at the link]:
A Bishop came to St John’s Church in Baghdad today, 15 November, where a crowd of locals welcomed him home. They were joined at the service by soldiers from the 2-12 infantry battalion, many of whom had fought hard to secure these neighborhood streets. Members of the hard-fighting Iraqi Army 3rd Division were also here for this special day.

.... It was the local Muslims, according to LTC Michael, who first came to him for help to protect the Christians in his area. That’s right. LTC Michael told me more than once that the Muslims reached out to him to protect the Christians from al Qaeda. Real Muslims here are quick to say that al Qaeda members are not true Muslims. From charging “rent,” al Qaeda’s harassment escalated to killing Christians, and also Muslims. Untold thousands of Christians and Muslims fled Baghdad in the wake of the darkness of civil war. Most of the Christians are gone now; having fled to Syria, Jordan or Northern Iraq. ....


Today, Muslims mostly filled the front pews of St John’s. Muslims who want their Christian friends and neighbors to come home. The Christians who might see these photos likely will recognize their friends here. The Muslims in this neighborhood worry that other people will take the homes of their Christian neighbors, and that the Christians will never come back. And so they came to St John’s today in force, and they showed their faces, and they said, “Come back to Iraq. Come home.” They wanted the cameras to catch it. They wanted to spread the word: Come home. Muslims keep telling me to get it on the news. “Tell the Christians to come home to their country Iraq.” ....

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen any fighting. I can’t remember my last shootout: it’s been months. The nightmare is ending. Al Qaeda is being crushed. The Sunni tribes are awakening all across Iraq and foreswearing violence for negotiation. Many of the Shia are ready to stop the fighting that undermines their ability to forge and manage a new government. This is a complex and still delicate denouement, and the war may not be over yet. But the Muslims are saying it’s time to come home. And the Christians are saying it’s time to come home. They are weary, and there is much work to be done. [the story]
Michael Yon : Online Magazine » Blog Archive » Come Home

Religion and politics

Richard John Neuhaus recently participated in a debate sponsored by The Economist on the proposition “Religion and politics should always be kept separate.” He spoke against the proposition. This is the beginning of his opening statement:
I speak in favor of the separation of church and state, and therefore against the resolution that religion and politics should always be kept separate. Permit me to explain. To enforce the exclusion of religion from politics, or from public life more generally, violates the First Amendment guarantee of the “free exercise of religion.” The free exercise of religion is the reason for the separation of church and state—a principle that aims not at protecting the state from religion but at protecting religion from the state.

In the First Amendment, religious freedom is of a piece with, indeed is in the very same sentence with, free speech, free press, free assembly, and the right to challenge government policy. Hence the resolution put before this house flatly contradicts the guarantees of a free and democratic society enshrined in the Constitution of the United States.

Secondly, I urge you to oppose the resolution because it is foolish to attempt to do what by definition cannot be done. Such an attempt can only intensify confusions and conflicts, further polarizing our public life. To exclude religion is to exclude from politics the deepest moral convictions of millions of citizens—indeed, in this society, the great majority of citizens. Thus the resolution before this house is a formula for the death of democracy and should be resolutely defeated. [more]
FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » Debating the Separation of Religion and Politics / The Bishops’ Conscience Clause

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Beliefs have consequences

A hypocrite is someone who professes to believe something but doesn't, and whose behavior, as a result, is often inconsistent with his profession.

The American Catholic bishops speak to those who profess to be Catholic. From the Washington Times:
Roman Catholic voters and lawmakers must heed church teaching on abortion or risk losing their eternal salvation, U.S. bishops said yesterday.

"The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life is always wrong and is not just one issue among many," the bishops stated. "It must always be opposed."

The bishops didn't recommend specific policies or candidates in the 2008 election and emphasized "principled debate" is needed to decide what best promotes the common good. But they warned Catholics that their votes for politicians and laws affect more than just civic life.

"Political choices faced by citizens have an impact on general peace and prosperity and also may affect individual salvation," the bishops stated. "Similarly, the kinds of laws and policies supported by public officials affect their spiritual well-being."
Catholic voters warned on abortion - The Washington Times, America's Newspaper

The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass will be released to theaters in December, and there is a coordinated effort to promote Pullman's trilogy - not just the ordinary product promotion, but extensive promotion in the public schools. Tom Gilson at Thinking Christian has been reading the books and has posted extensively and well about their content and the issues they raise.

Objections to the Harry Potter books among Christians greatly exaggerated their danger. But now, the problem may be that Christian parents are underrating the danger, not so much of this film, as that it may draw those who enjoy it to Pullman's books.

Unlike the authors of the book below, based on my experience as a high school teacher and reflecting on my own behavior as an adolescent, I think it is futile to forbid teenagers to read what they wish. They will anyway, and if they do so in defiance of their parents' direction they will read secretly, thus precluding discussion. A far better approach is for parents to be prepared for the issues raised by books like these. A potentially useful source of information may be Pied Piper of Atheism: Philip Pullman and Children's Fantasy by Catholic authors Pete Vere and Sandra Miesel, which will be published soon. The authors were interviewed here. Extensive excerpts:
Q: The first movie of "The Golden Compass" trilogy is being released at Christmas. For those unfamiliar with the series, what kind of books are these and to whom do they appeal?

Vere: To begin, the books are marketed for 9-12 year olds as children's fantasy literature in the tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and J.K. Rowling. "If you're a fan of 'Lord of the Rings,' 'Narnia ' or 'Harry Potter,'" the critics tell us, "you'll love Pullman."

Personally, I just can't see a child picking up these books and reading them. I see them more as books that adults give kids to read.

Having said that, "The Golden Compass" (1995) is the first book in Pullman's trilogy. The second book is titled "The Subtle Knife" (1997) and it is followed by "The Amber Spyglass" (2000).

Collectively, the trilogy is known as "His Dark Materials," a phrase taken from John Milton's "Paradise Lost." This is appropriately titled in my opinion, since each book gets progressively darker - both in the intensity with which Pullman attacks the Catholic Church and the Judeo-Christian concept of God, as well as the stridency with which he promotes atheism.

For example, one of the main supporting characters, Dr. Mary Malone, is a former Catholic nun who abandoned her vocation to pursue sex and science. The reader does not meet her until the second book, by which time the young reader is already engrossed in the story. By the third book, Dr. Malone is engaging in occult practices to lead the two main characters, a 12-year-old boy and girl, to sleep in the same bed and engage in - at the very least - heavy kissing. This is the act through which they renew the multiple universes created by Pullman.

Another example is Pullman's portrayal of the Judeo-Christian God. Pullman refers to him as "The Authority," although a number of passages make clear that this is the God of the Bible. The Authority is a liar and a mere angel, and as we discover in the third book, senile as well. He was locked in some sort of jewel and held prisoner by the patriarch Enoch, who is now called Metatron and who rules in the Authority's name. When the children find the jewel and accidentally release the Authority, he falls apart and dies.

Additionally, Pullman uses the imagery of C.S. Lewis' "Narnia" chronicles. "His Dark Materials" opens with the young heroine stuck in a wardrobe belonging to an old academic, conversing with a talking animal, when she discovers multiple worlds. So the young reader is lulled early on with the familiar feel of Lewis.

Nevertheless, Pullman's work isn't simply about using fairy-tale magic to tell a good story. He openly proselytizes for atheism, corrupting the imagery of Lewis and Tolkien to undermine children's faith in God and the Church.

[....]

Q: The author, Philip Pullman, is an outspoken atheist. Does this come across in the books and the movie as a secularist position or more in the form of anti-Catholicism?

Vere: It's not an "either/or" situation. What begins as a rebellion against the Church turns into a rebellion against God. This then leads to the discovery that God - and Christianity - are a fraud.

The 12-year-old protagonists - Lyra and Bill - discover there is no immortal soul, no heaven or hell. All that awaits us in the afterlife is some gloomy Hades-type afterlife where the soul goes to wait until it completely dissolves. Thus Pullman uses anti-Catholicism as the gateway to promoting atheism.

Q: The trilogy is being compared to "Harry Potter" and "The Lord of the Rings." Is there a comparison to be made with either?

Vere: On the surface, yes. You've got wizards, heroines, strange creatures, alternate worlds, etc. Although for reasons already stated, the real comparison - by way of inverted imagery - is to C.S. Lewis' "Narnia" chronicles. Pullman, who has called "The Lord of the Rings" "infantile," has a particular dislike for Lewis and "Narnia." This is reflected in Pullman taking Lewis' literary devices and inverting them to attack Christianity and promote atheism.

As Pullman said in a 1998 article in The Guardian: "[Lewis] didn't like women in general, or sexuality at all, at least at the stage in his life when he wrote the 'Narnia' books. He was frightened and appalled at the notion of wanting to grow up. Susan, who did want to grow up, and who might have been the most interesting character in the whole cycle if she'd been allowed to, is a Cinderella in a story where the ugly sisters win."

Miesel: That nasty quote is factually wrong on both points. Lewis began corresponding with his future wife in 1950, the year the first "Narnia" book came out, and married her in 1956, the year the last one was published. Susan's problem isn't "growing up," but turning silly and conceited. She doesn't even appear - much less get sent to hell - in "The Last Battle." [more]
ZENIT - What Every Parent Should Know About "The Golden Compass"

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"Laus Deo"

Laus Deo, "Praise be to God" is engraved on the capstone of the Washington Monument. That is apparently one of the many acknowledgements of God to be found in public buildings and on public monuments in our nation's capital.

Newt Gingrich, whose first career was as a history professor, has produced a film titled Rediscovering God in America, described on its site:
This film follows Speaker and Mrs. Gingrich on their "walking tour" through Washington, D.C. At each stop of the walking tour we'll see evidence of God in America. From the National Archives and Capitol Building to Arlington National Cemetery and Library of Congress, the role of religion in our nation's founding is examined and explained. ....

The goal of this film is best stated by Gingrich himself, "The next time a friend or colleague says that religious expression has no place in the public square and that discussion of God has no place in our children's history and government classes, you will only need to tell them about what you experienced on this simple walk to remind them of God's role in America's history - and America's future."
James Antle, who attended the premier of the film last night, said of it:
Rediscovering God is an effective rebuttal to those who would banish religion from the public square, without overstating the historical case as some conservative "Christian nation" exponents tend to do. The film offers a balanced look at church and state in the United States, emphasizing that the idea that our rights come from God extends liberty to many faiths or none at all. The DVD wouldn't make a bad stocking stuffer.
Rediscovering God in America

Sparring partners

Peter Kreeft thinks that the participation of the new atheists is good because they, at least, behave as though the questions are worth debating:
In the past year or so, there has been a spurt of books, such as The God Delusion, assailing the idea of faith? What do you attribute this to? How serious do you see this?

I don’t know. Maybe it’s collusion. Certainly, atheists are panicking: Religion was supposed to dry up and disappear, according to their “progressive enlightenment” theory. But it isn’t. I welcome them to the public square. They usually believe in objective truth, and so are more honest than many religious believers who fear such arguments. They are the sparring partners we need to box with to put on muscle.
Insight Scoop | The Ignatius Press Blog: Peter Kreeft on Socrates, atheism, Jesus, and more

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Free rice

This came from one of my regular readers:
Since we've been talking about vocabulary, I thought I'd pass on this website. You play a vocabulary game and for every word you get right, 10 grains of rice are donated for world hunger. It's addictive, but for a good cause. I got up to vocabulary level 45, but then I slipped down. The FAQs say that there are 50 levels, but it's rare for anyone to go above 48.

http://www.freerice.com/index.php
The funds appear to come from the corporate sponsors of the site, who not only support charity but also encourage us to improve our vocabularies. Of course some economists argue that food aid in the Third World depresses comodity prices thus wiping out local food producers, especially in countries with corrupt governments that divert aid into the market. It isn't always easy to know whether good is being accomplished, even with unexceptional motives.

Too much Christmas

The stores are already full of Christmas decorations; "Christmas" music plays in the background; movies with Christmas themes are in the theatres - and it isn't even Thanksgiving yet. Joseph Bottum laments the loss of Christmas itself which has become an anti-climax.
Christmas has devoured Advent, gobbled it up with the turkey giblets and the goblets of seasonal ale. Every secularized holiday, of course, tends to lose the context it had in the liturgical year. Across the nation, even in many churches, Easter has hopped across Lent, Halloween has frightened away All Saints, and New Year’s has drunk up Epiphany.

Still, the disappearance of Advent seems especially disturbing—for it’s injured even the secular Christmas season: opening a hole, from Thanksgiving on, that can be filled only with fiercer, madder, and wilder attempts to anticipate Christmas.

More Christmas trees. More Christmas lights. More tinsel, more tassels, more glitter, more glee—until the glut of candies and carols, ornaments and trimmings, has left almost nothing for Christmas Day. For much of America, Christmas itself arrives nearly as an afterthought: not the fulfillment, but only the end, of the long Yule season that has burned without stop since the stores began their Christmas sales. [the article is behind a subscription wall - subscribe here. It's a very good magazine.]
FIRST THINGS: A Journal of Religion, Culture, and Public Life

Monday, November 12, 2007

National Right to Life to endorse Thompson

Reported at The Politico and elsewhere today:
Fred Thompson will pick up the support of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) tomorrow, according to two Republicans familiar with the decision. ....

NRLC is the most prominent anti-abortion group in the country, with affiliates in all 50 states and over 3,000 local chapters.

A spokesperson for the organization declined to comment on their endorsement decision, but Thompson was likely rewarded for his strong pro-life voting record in the Senate. As Thompson frequently touts on the stump, he rated out at 100% on the group's report card. ....
Nat'l Right to Life to endorse Thompson - Jonathan Martin's Blog - Politico.com

Songs about nothing

Rick Moore doesn't much care for Contemporary Christian music [I don't, either - but he's a gospel musician and speaks with much more authority.]:
Contemporary Christian music is the "Seinfeld" of Christian music - it's songs about nothing. The lyrics are vapid, mind-numbingly repetitive and completely unmemorable (unless, of course, the songwriter simply took a verbatim Biblical passage and set a meandering tune to it in which cases the lyrics are inspired of God).

The music is devoid of "hooks", themes, or even basic melodies that could be remembered all or in part 2 minutes later. I also have little use for three part harmony consisting of soprano, alto and castrated male, which is the usual vocal stack for praise choruses.

Not that there's anything wrong with that...

I remember sitting in a church prior to a Sunday morning concert appearance by the quartet, and the church was warming up with a collection of contemporary praise choruses. I leaned over to my baritone singer and bet him $100 on the spot that he couldn't sing to me any part of the song they were currently doing when the concert was over. He wouldn't take the bet.

Sorry, but I'm a traditionalist. I like songs that say something significant and have melodies and lyrics that can be remembered later.
HolyCoast.com: Contemporary Christian Music Explained

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Prayer

Trevin Wax at Kingdom's People, has a link to his "Prayer Room, intended to help others as he feels he has been helped to pray.
Several years ago, I found my prayer life was becoming dry. I had a list of requests, but no overall structure in which to present them. At the end of my prayer times, instead of feeling strengthened and nourished, I felt guilty and deflated. I seemed to be saying the same “spontaneous” prayers over and over again, without much meaning to my words.

A good friend gave me The Book of Common Prayer as a help to my prayer life. Written prayers were new to me. But they reinvigorated my prayer life. I approached the written prayers of past saints much as a child trying on the shoes of his dad. Would my feet ever fit into the spiritual shoes of the giants who have gone before me? I decided to pray those prayers, to pray Scripture, to pray the psalms, and to let my prayer life be shaped by the beauty of the written word.
For each day of the week, and for each part of the day, he provides prayers from Scripture and from the experience of the Church. I've just found the site, but my impression is that it will be very helpful.

Prayer Room « Kingdom People

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Church attendance

Christianity Today posts about a study reporting that regular church attendance is at about 25% and hasn't dropped much in recent years.
Presser and Chaves take a different route to tracking religious attendance in their study. They think that when asked directly about attending church, people tend to overreport their presence in the pews. In this study, the two sociologists pay more attention to time-use studies in which individuals say what they did on days of the week to avoid asking participants directly about church attendance.

According to the time-use studies, Presser and Chaves conclude that religious attendance did decline slightly in the period between 1950 and 1990. Mainline Protestant and Catholic service attendance also declined over that period. According to the authors, there is currently no theory of religious change that accounts for periods of stability alternating with periods of decline.

However, Presser and Chaves determine that attendance has been stable (at about 25%) since the 1990s. ....
"Not declining" is welcome news, growing attendance would be better.

Is Church Attendance Declining? | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Reading level

I just checked One Eternal Day's reading level at this site, and the result was:
cash advance

Should I be embarrassed? Should I take pride in the fact that, as a high school teacher for thirty-five years, I learned to express myself appropriately for my audience? Is the rating due to my writing, or to the writing of those I quote extensively? Does it have any validity at all?

I would have been much happier if the site had rated a higher level.

Directed by faithfulness

There is always a danger that we will confuse growth in numbers and a successful program with God's blessing, or their absence with His disapproval. Heaven knows that I would interpret growth in my tiny local church that way. But numerical growth and an exciting program can be deceiving. Current research indicates that far fewer than forty percent of the American population attend church every week, and that the growth of the mega-churches comes largely from other churches.

The Baptist Press quotes from Mark Dever speaking at a forum at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
"I would like to suggest that the most fundamental problem in the church is not that we are not relevant enough in relation to the world, but that the church is not distinct enough from the world. Our churches must reflect the character of God," said Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, D.C, and a trustee at the Louisville, KY., seminary. ....

The idea that the Gospel must be made relevant is a liberal assumption which, if taken to its end, can result in the theological liberalism of Friedreich Schleiermacher, the father of Protestant liberalism, Dever said, adding that numerous church models seek to be relevant and do not reach the unorthodox conclusions of liberalism but remain unhealthy because they are based on an unbiblical definition of success.

"The problem with the seeker-sensitive model, emerging church model and even the traditional model that say, 'Get as many people into a room as possible and share the Gospel with them,' is that they view success in light of visible fruit," he said. "All three of these approaches say, 'Change your techniques and let's get some numbers.'

"Instead of being directed by [visible] success, we should be directed by faithfulness. We should say, 'If the Lord doesn't like our product, we will change the product.' We shouldn't take the idea that if we don't have X number of conversions in our church, then we must be doing something wrong. ....

"You must have preaching that makes the point of the text the point of the message and where the Gospel is always present," Dever said, noting the first of the nine marks of a healthy church is expositional preaching.

"In the Bible, the people never create God's Word. Instead, God's Word always creates the people. That is how God has always worked. And that is how we should preach. That is how people are saved and how people are sanctified. God's Spirit works with His Word.

"Expositional preaching must first characterize a church that will be able to withstand the pressures of an increasingly secular culture," Dever added.

Second, sound theology will go hand-in-hand with expositional preaching, further helping people view the world through God's eyes. Biblical understandings of the Gospel, conversion and evangelism also will promote church health, he said. .... [read more]
Thanks to Church Matters for the reference.

Baptist Press - Dever cautions about 'relevant' mindset - News with a Christian Perspective

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Pro-life when it counts

Pro-life activists on Fred Thompson:
The head of National Right to Life says he's not troubled by Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson's opposition to federal legislation ending abortion, and therefore right-to-life activists across the U.S. should not be troubled as well.

The former Tennessee senator has drawn the consternation of some, but not all pro-life activists after saying that even though he believes life begins at conception, he would not support a federal constitutional amendment banning abortions. Thompson stated Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press: "I think people ought to be free at state and local levels to make decisions that even Fred Thompson disagrees with." ....

"You would have to change 20 to 25 votes in the Senate," says Osteen [director of National Right to Life] "You'd have to replace 20 to 25 senators to pass an amendment even there. It takes two-thirds of both houses of Congress [and] three-fourths of the states to ratify [an amendment to the Constitutional], so it's not practical to think that there would be a human life amendment passing Congress during the next presidential term - and of course, the president doesn't have a vote."

Osteen says "what's more important" is that Thompson had a solid pro-life record while in the Senate, wants to overturn Roe v. Wade, and would appoint judges who would reverse Roe. "He's pro-life, he's got a strong pro-life voting record in the Senate, [he] was a consistent vote for the pro-life side during the eight years he served in the U.S. Senate - and I think his record speaks for itself," he claims.
Here is National Right to Life's comparison of the candidates' positions on abortion.

National Right to Life praises Thompson's voting record (OneNewsNow.com)

Lee Strobel

Decision Magazine has put online an interview with "Atheist-turned-Christian Lee Strobel." It is an interesting interview, discussing the spate of atheist books published recently, calling attention to some of the arguments, and showing optimism about the growing number of young Christian apologists.

Strobel's newest book is The Case for the Real Jesus. In the interview he makes this point:
I think the attacks on the resurrection of Jesus are always troubling because they strike at the very heart of our faith. The Apostle Paul said, “If the resurrection isn’t true, then our faith is futile because we’re still in our sins” (Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:17). The resurrection is the lynchpin of our faith. One theologian said, “Christianity without the resurrection is not Christianity without its final chapter; it’s not Christianity at all.”

Everything depends on Jesus rising from the dead. Anyone can claim to be the unique Son of God, but Jesus proved it by conquering the grave. So whenever there are attacks on the physical resurrection of Jesus, we have to take them seriously and provide adequate and thoughtful responses to demonstrate once more that the historical case for Jesus returning from the dead is powerful, persuasive and cogent. As an atheist I found the evidence convincing that Jesus did indeed return from the dead, thus proving that He is the Son of God.
He goes on to argue that it makes no sense for us to be selective about what we find appealing in the Jesus described in Scripture:
Many people are picking and choosing what they want to believe about Jesus, discarding the more difficult teachings about sin, repentance or the doctrine of hell and instead merely focusing on the love of Jesus, the forgiveness of Jesus. They are coming up with their own versions of Jesus that may not bear any resemblance to the real Jesus. It’s called syncretism—the piecing together of various beliefs, many of them New Age beliefs, and creating their own “stew” of beliefs about God and Jesus Christ.

The problem with that is that it’s really irrelevant what you or I think about Jesus. I am free to believe that Jesus was a magician who used ancient incantations from Egyptian rites and was married to Mary Magdalene and had a family and never rose from the dead and who taught that we’re really gods, not sinners who need forgiveness. But that does not mean my beliefs are true. The question is, who is Jesus? Our role ought to be to discover what the evidence tells us about His identity and His teachings and His claims, not to come up with our own concoction of who we wish He were. [read it all]
Thanks to Desiring God for the reference. Desiring God also has provided a link leading to this collection of resources, including an interview with Antony Flew.

BGEA: Our Ministries: "Decision" Magazine

Pat Robertson endorses Giuliani

Will we see Evangelicals flocking to Rudy because of this endorsement? Somehow I don't think so. The assertion in the first sentence might have been accurate ten years ago.
Pat Robertson, one of the most influential figures in the social conservative movement, announced his support for Rudy Giuliani's presidential bid this morning at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Robertson's endorsement of Giuliani is a significant blow to Mitt Romney, who has worked hard to court evangelical leaders. ... Robertson's support was coveted by several of the leading Republican candidates and provides Giuliani with a major boost as the former New York City mayor seeks to convince social conservatives that, despite his positions supporting abortion rights and gay rights, he is an acceptable choice as the GOP nominee. [emphasis added]
Update: Denny Burke doesn't think Robertson has been very helpful.

Pat Robertson Endorses Rudy: Deems Him 'More Than Acceptable to People of Faith' - The Fix

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

"Expansive and yet vacuous..."

Alan Jacobs was asked to review The Collected Works of Kahlil Gibran. It is an appropriate review.
Expansive and yet vacuous is the prose of Kahlil Gibran,
And weary grows the mind doomed to read it.
The hours of my penance lengthen,
The penance established for me by the editor of this magazine,
And those hours may be numbered as the sands of the desert.
And for each of them Kahlil Gibran has prepared
Another ornamental phrase,
Another faux-Biblical cadence,
Another affirmation proverbial in its intent
But alas! lacking the moral substance,
The peasant shrewdness, of the true proverb.

O Book, O Collected Works of Kahlil Gibran,
Published by Everyman’s Library on a dark day,
I lift you from the Earth to which I recently flung you
When my wrath grew too mighty for me,
I lift you from the Earth,
Noticing once more your annoying heft,
And thanking God—though such thanks are sinful—
That Kahlil Gibran died in New York in 1931
At the age of forty-eight,
So that he could write no more words,
So that this Book would not be yet larger than it is. [much more!]
FIRST THINGS: A Journal of Religion, Culture, and Public Life

When stories become sermons

A screenwriter emails Jonah Goldberg at NRO to make an important point about what makes good [and appealing] art, and the difference between art and propaganda.
I’m a conservative screenwriter working toward my master’s degree at the University of Southern California. I enjoyed your article today on the current spate of anti-war movies. I certainly agree with your central point – that Americans are every bit as anti-anti-war as they are anti-war – but your piece fails to address the most salient factor in the failure of these movies: they’re terrible. Such is always the case when stories become sermons. This is the exact same reason evangelical Christians (of which I’m one) haven’t been able to crack Hollywood. When you just can’t contain your righteousness, your art suffers miserably.
The Corner on National Review Online

The humanly unspannable chasm

The Southern Cross, newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of San Diego, interviews Mark Brumley of Ignatius Press, about dialogue between Catholic and Evangelical Christians. It appears to be honest dialogue, neither exaggerating nor minimizing the differences - in other words, honest ecumenism.
SC: What is the current topic of dialogue between the Catholics and Evangelicals?

MB: There are a variety of topics under consideration. The unofficial dialogue known as Evangelicals and Catholics Together has looked at such things as justification/salvation, the nature of the Church and the authority of the Bible. ....


There has also been a lively discussion, especially on the Evangelical side, of the nature of Tradition, as a norm for belief and practice, and the place of liturgical worship in the Christian life. Catholics are learning from contemporary Evangelical biblical scholarship, which is coming into its own in the era of post-liberal theology. Some Evangelicals have even come out in support of a renewed Evangelical appreciation of Mary - with some notable caveats in place. Perhaps the most significant area of discussion is how Catholics and Evangelicals can collaborate in evangelization and other forms of cultural engagement.

SC: Has the election of Pope Benedict XVI had any significant impact on the dialogue, or do you expect some impact in the future?


MB: I think it has. A number of Evangelicals have told me that they see Joseph Ratzinger as “one of their own,” in a number of respects. Not least among those respects is Benedict XVI’s appreciation for what Catholic theologian and convert Louis Bouyer called “the positive principles of the Reformation,” as distinct from what he regarded as the negative aspects of it. For Benedict, I think this is underscoring Catholicism’s agreement with classical Protestantism on justification by grace and the divine inspiration of the Bible.

Of course many Evangelicals also appreciate Benedict’s forceful critique of moral and religious relativism. Many are thrilled with his thoughtful engagement of critical issues in biblical scholarship, as expressed in his recent book, Jesus of Nazareth.

I have heard some concerns about the recent CDF document on the nature of the Church, but usually when the document is explained to Evangelicals, they see that it is nothing new. They don’t agree with it, but they understand that it simply restates the Catholic understanding of what a “Church” is.

SC: People speak on the need to focus on what we have in common, on how we can act as partners on certain topics of life, but isn’t there still at least one chasm that cannot be spanned? What, in your view, are the unspannable chasms?

MB: I think one humanly “unspannable” chasm is the difference in our understanding of the nature of the Church of Christ. Evangelicals hold many different views of the Church, but one thing they agree on is that the Catholic view is incorrect in its fundamental premise. Catholicism sees the Church of Christ as subsisting in history as a specific, visible, concrete community of disciples with an externally manifest unity of faith, of sacraments, and hierarchical, pastoral authority, as well as an interior, spiritual unity. We can debate the finer points of different “models of the Church,” but the core of the Catholic view of the Church remains and its not going to change. And of course the Catholic Church sees herself as that historically subsisting Church, although elements of the Church are regard[ed] as existing outside her visible structure. This would include within Evangelical church communities.

Some other differences between Catholics and Evangelicals are related to disagreement about the nature of the Church - e.g., the Petrine ministry (papacy), certain Marian beliefs (Immaculate Conception, the Bodily Assumption), the ex opera operato aspect of the Sacraments. And so on.

Interestingly enough, I do not regard the differences on justification as “unspannable”, although I do not think finding agreement with most Evangelicals on that subject is easy. .... [read it all]
Thanks to Ignatius Insight for the reference.

The Southern Cross