Saturday, May 31, 2008

Standfast

I have been re-reading the John Buchan thriller from which I took my blogging pseudonym, Mr. Standfast [it was only after I had done so that I recalled Pilgrim's Progress]. It is the third of four "Richard Hannay" adventures written during and just after the First World War and set in that period. I enjoy them all. I was in high school when I read The Thirty-Nine Steps — the first and shortest of the Hannay books - and I have read it every few years since. I hadn't read Mr. Standfast recently. In it, Hannay is up against a very dangerous German spy whose efforts may prolong the war for years, or even lead to German victory in the spring of 1918.

At one point Buchan puts these words in the mouth of one of his characters, a man named Wake, speaking to Hannay:
.... I hate more than I love. All we humanitarians and pacifists have hatred as our mainspring. Odd, isn't it, for people who preach brotherly love? But it's the truth. We're full of hate towards everything that jars our ladylike nerves. Fellows like you are so in love with their cause that they've no time or inclination to detest what thwarts them. We've no cause - only negatives, and that means hatred, and self-torture, and a beastly jaundice of soul. ....
This reminded me of Chesterton's poem in which he wrote of how:
I learned with little labour
The way to love my fellow-man
And hate my next-door neighbour.
Buchan's thrillers are better written than similar efforts from that period, and, although one reads them for the pure enjoyment of the adventure - often a lonely hero being pursued by both villains and the forces of law and order - there is rather more to them than just that, as the quotation from Mr. Standfast may indicate.

Buchan was a good story-teller. One of his fans was C.S. Lewis, who particularly liked Buchan's ability to describe the safe and homely - if only temporary - havens from danger that his heroes would discover. Scotland is a frequent setting for his stories - both the thrillers, and various historical novels.

Buchan's protagonists often express the bigotries common then. That can be unsettling to today's reader and may require a certain mental editing if the books are to be enjoyed. Or they can simply be accepted as an artifact of the time when the stories were authored. His characters also often exemplify virtues like loyalty, courage, steadfastness, patriotism - some of which begin to seem like artifacts of a different time, too.

One of my favorite critical appreciations of Buchan is to be found in Gertrude Himmelfarb's Victorian Minds: A Study of Intellectuals in Crisis and Ideologies in Transition, which takes into full account the racism and anti-Semitism which appear, to a greater or lesser extent, in each of the books. She concludes her essay:
Buchan - Calvinist in religion, Tory in politics, and romantic in sensibility - is obviously the antithesis of the liberal. It is no accident that he was addicted to a genre, the romantic tale of adventure, which is itself alien to the liberal temper. For what kind of romance would it be that feared to characterize or categorize, to indulge the sense of evil, violence, and apocalypse? It is no accident, either, that the predominance of liberal values has meant the degeneration of a literary form so congenial to the Tory imagination.
Buchan's first Hannay book, The Thirty-Nine Steps, was, with significant modification, made into a very good film by Alfred Hitchcock.

Note: Substantial revision and renaming early on Sunday, 6/1. I've also posted it at my other blog, which is called Standfast.

Friday, May 30, 2008

A solution, not an explanation

The Shack is an allegory that depicts the persons of the Trinity. Collin Hansen responds to the book in "The Trinity: So What?" by noting: "When authors experiment with allegory, they risk only failure and ridicule. Christian history, on the other hand, is littered with theologians who experimented with new conceptions of the Trinity. All they got for their efforts was the lousy title of heretic." He goes on to provide a very good concise explanation of the development of the doctrine:
What is the orthodox Trinitarian doctrine of God? Along with the Hebrews, Christians believe that God is one (Deut. 6:4, James 2:19). Yet Christians also teach that God is three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Phil. 2:6, Heb. 1, Acts 5:3-4). Finally, Christians affirm that each of these three persons is God (Matt. 28:19-20, 2 Cor. 13:14). The Council of Nicea in 325 was especially crucial for the church's understanding of the Trinity. Meeting in what is now Turkey, church bishops rejected Arianism, which compromised Jesus' full divinity by teaching that God created him. The subsequent Council of Constantinople in 381 solidified what we now recite as the Nicene Creed. This includes these famous lines about Jesus: "begotten of the Father before all the ages, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through whom all things were made."

Modalism, an earlier challenge to Trinitarian doctrine, actually upheld both the unity of God and the divinity of Jesus. But modalism, popularized in the early third century by Sabellius, taught that the one God reveals himself in successive modes as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These are not three distinct persons but rather three different names or functions for the one God. One common but mistaken analogy of the orthodox Trinity depicts modalism. The same bucket of water may appear as ice, liquid, or steam. But that water cannot simultaneously exist in every mode. God, on the other hand, exists simultaneously as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Dionysius, bishop of Rome from 259 to 268, attacked modalism as heretical. Modalism twists Jesus' words and makes him out to be deceptive or even a liar. After all, the Gospels, especially seen from John's perspective, recount the relationship Jesus shares with the Father. If God is not three at once, then how could Jesus pray to the Father? And what about Jesus' baptism, when the Holy Spirit descends on him like a dove and the Father says, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:16-17). Furthermore, modalism erred in teaching that the Father suffered with Christ as one and the same person. It also ran afoul of the leading Greek philosophies of the age, especially divine impassibility, the idea that God cannot suffer.

Given the doctrine's complexity, it's no surprise that we turn to analogies for help. But every analogy breaks down. "Most analogies drawn from the physical realm tend to be either tritheistic or modalistic in their implications," Millard Erickson writes in Christian Theology. Following Augustine's lead, Erickson therefore opts for analogies drawn from human relationships, though he admits that they, too, fail to convey the deep beauty of this central Christian confession.

"We do not hold the doctrine of the Trinity because it is self-evident or logically cogent," Erickson writes. "We hold it because God has revealed that this is what he is like."

This should be enough to answer our "So what?" question. We care about the Trinity because this is how God has shown himself to us in the Bible, even if we have to put the puzzle pieces together. [more]

When God provides us with information about Himself that seems contradictory, the course of wisdom is to doubt our ability to understand.

The Trinity: So What? | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory

What is "prayer time" like in your church? In mine, as in the church below, it is dominated by requests related to illness and the desire for healing and health. Apparently that was not always the case. At Books & Culture, Lauren F. Wimmer reviews Faith in the Great Physician: Suffering and Divine Healing in American Culture, 1860 -1900:
A friend of mine who pastors a large church in North Carolina recently totted up the prayer requests he gets from his parishioners. When they ask him for prayer, what do they want him to pray for? In short, healing. He realized what prompts the vast majority of these prayer requests is illness—something like 95 percent of their prayers are for healing, either for themselves or for someone else.

It's a safe bet that surveys of your church would turn up similar results. How did we come to pray so fervently for recovery from illness? As Heather Curtis notes at the outset of her fascinating first monograph, it has not been ever thus. Although one can certainly find prayer for healing popping up throughout church history, for much of the last 2,000 years those prayerful desires for healing went hand in hand with a certain veneration of bodily affliction. Suffering was seen as a privileged spiritual state: bodily pain presented the believer an opportunity to identify in an especially intense way with the suffering Christ..... [more]

Rise and Walk - Books & Culture

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Free exercise

Although almost never enforced, there is a provision in the tax code that threatens the tax exempt status of churches that support or oppose political candidates. It is not based on interpretation of the First Amendment, and is, in fact, arguably in violation of it. Jill Stanek reports that the Alliance Defense Fund [ADF] is going to court:
ADF will challenge one specific part of the code, the prohibition of a pastor to speak from the pulpit about views on political candidates. ADF considers this a violation of a pastor's First Amendment rights. This has never been challenged in court.
Stanek explains where the standard originated:
Challenged will be a 1954 change in the code called the Johnson Amendment, after then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson.

Johnson proposed the amendment to silence opponents to his second Senate race. Two nonprofit foundations were pouring money into a publicity campaign calling Johnson soft on communism.

There is no legislative history for the Johnson Amendment. According to the scant Senate record, then-Democrat Minority Leader Johnson stood up on the floor and proposed it as an attachment to an existing bill. After Johnson said the bill sponsor was in agreement, the presiding officer simply called for a voice vote. There was no debate. ....

Prior to 1954, churches were free to evaluate political candidates' positions on moral issues without fear the IRS would revoke their tax-exempt status.

The ramifications to the Johnson Amendment have been sweeping and catastrophic to the mission of the Church.

The Rev. Barry Lynn and his Americans United for the Separation of Church and State rely on this amendment to intimidate churches and pastors from expressing any opinion on any political issues whatsoever.

Many churches and pastors, wanting to live the biblical principle of behaving "above reproach," have overreacted to avoid criticism or risk losing their tax-exempt status and are today silent on topics this amendment does not even implicate, such as abortion. ....

On May 16, the Palm Beach Post posted a good op-ed on ADF's plan, stating in part:
The government can regulate – and tax – not-for-profit political action committees, but tax-exempt status for religious institutions is based on the First Amendment, not on a law passed in 1954. Congress cannot overrule the First Amendment protection of the free exercise of religion in its effort to regulate other not-for-profits. ...

This Supreme Court may well find for the church regardless of the merits of its case. [more]
I would rather not hear a pastor's political views from the pulpit. I would much rather hear the gospel preached, and I think the congregants fully capable of working out the implications for themselves. But I am also inclined to think that regulating what the pastor says is the business of the congregation - not the government.

Revolt of the pastors

Joy is the uproarious labor by which all things live

John Piper celebrates G.K. Chesterton's birthday [tomorrow, he was born on May 29, 1874] by recommending GKC's book Orthodoxy, from which Piper extracts several quotations, and from which I have chosen these:
“Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom.”

“The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens in to his head. And it is his head that splits.”

“The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything but his reason.”

“The ordinary man... has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradictions along with them.”

“Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labor by which all things live.”

“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.” [Piper's article]

Just as I have little interest in arguments about the end times [I am content with knowing that my life on earth will end], I am also largely uninterested in the Calvinist/Arminian dispute that Piper injects into his appreciation of Chesterton - I'm just glad he and others of us who are not Catholic can appreciate what GKC has to offer.

How A Roman Catholic Anti-Calvinist Can Serve Today’s Poet-Calvinists :: Desiring God Christian Resource Library

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Scary and intense - but not gory

Some of us have been rather concerned that Guillermo del Toro, given his answer - "I was never into heroic fantasy. At all. I don't like little guys and dragons, hairy feet, hobbits - I've never been into that at all. I don't like sword and sorcery, I hate all that stuff," was probably a pretty bad choice to direct the Hobbit films. An interview with del Toro and Peter Jackson is reassuring. They touch on many aspects of their plans for The Hobbit. Mr. del Toro reveals that he has been a fan of the Tolkien book since he was eleven. I've excerpted below some of the answers particularly focusing on his plans for Smaug:
WetaHost - ...My question is to Guillermo, what can we expect from your vision and approach with this picture and I'm guessing there will be alot of dark elements to this film, but how far will you go in terms of horror and violence?

Guillermo del Toro - I hope that Mirkwood can be pretty scary but not graphic, I hope "Riddles in the Dark" has an element of fear and suspense and to be deeply atmospheric but still allow the ingenious, engaging contest to take place. And Smaug should be all shock and awe when he unleashes his anger so, it will be pretty intense but not gory. [....]

WetaHost - In the Hobbit book, we have talking trolls and the Eagles and Smaug talks as well, however in the LOTR Trilogy, trolls did no more than grunt, Fellbeasts screamed, and the Eagles, who were meant to talk, just stayed silent. How much will the portrayal of such animals change in The Hobbit?

Guillermo del Toro - I think it should be done exactly as in the book- the “talking beast” motif has to exist already to allow for that great character that is Smaug. It is far more jarring to have a linear movie and then – out of the blue – a talking Dragon. [....]

WetaHost - I always thought creating Gollum would pose a great artisic challenge to the artists whose job it would be to adapt the Lord of the Rings. With The Hobbit I believe Smaug will pose one of the great challenges. Now we have all seen dragons in movies. But for The Hobbit I personally am expecting nothing less than unbelievable. ....

Guillermo del Toro - .... Smaug should not be "the Dragon in the Hobbit movie" as if it was just "another" creature in a Bestiary. Smaug should be "The DRAGON" for all movies past and present. The shadow he cast and the greed he comes to embody- the "need to own" casts its long shadow and creates a thematic/dramatic continuity of sorts that articulates the story throughout.

In that respect, Smaug the CHARACTER is as important, if not more important, than the design. The character will emerge from the writing - and in that the magnificent arrogance, intelligence, sophistication and greed of Smaug shine through-

In fact, Thorin's greed is a thematic extension of this and Bilbo's "Letting go" and his noble switching of sides when the dwarves prove to be in the wrong is its conceptual counterpart (that is a hard one to get through, Bilbo's heroism is a quiet, moral one) and the thematic thread reaches its climax in the Bilbo/Thorin death bed scene.

Anyway, back to Smaug: One of the main mistakes with talking dragons is to shape the mouth like a snub Simian one in order to achieve a dubious lip-synch. .. A point which eluded me particularly in Eragon, since their link is a psychic one.

To me, Smaug is the perfect example of a great creature defined by its look and design, yes, but also, very importantly, by his movement and - one little hint - its environment - Think about it... the way he is scaled, moves and is lit, limited or enhanced by his location, weather conditions, light conditions, time of the year, etc. That's all I can say without spoilers but, if you keep this curious little summary you'll realize several years form now that those things I had in my mind ever since doodling the character as a kid had solidified waaay before starting the shoot of the film. [the interview]
Weta Holics: Updates and News about what's happening @ Weta - An Unexpected Party Chat transcript now available!

Alive even in death....dead even in life

Christianity makes sense only if this life is lived in the context of eternity. Spengler, at Asia Times, reviews Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews:
Resurrection draws a red line from the earliest response to death in the Hebrew Bible, to the promise of resurrection in the flesh in the 2nd century BC Book of Daniel and in Christian doctrine. Madigan and Levenson show how basic to Jewish and Christian belief is the promise that a loving God will redeem his faithful from death, in the full unity of body and soul. This is the promise of redemption that has sustained Jews and Christians through the centuries, and given them a perception that their life in this world participates in eternal life. Thus they are alive even in death.

But what of those who feel abandoned to death? By the same token, they are dead even in life. From this existential experience of life and death, the authors show how deeply the hope of resurrection in the flesh is embedded in the Hebrew Bible. Their object is to show continuity between the religion of ancient Israel the Christianity and Judaism that have come down to us from late antiquity, contrary to a scholarly consensus that views resurrection as a later innovation. ....

Why Christianity and Judaism stood their ground on the issue of resurrection in the flesh against internal and external skeptics requires a second thought. Neither religion, observe the authors, can claim a "radical uniqueness" with respect to the other. The priestly elite of Second Temple Judaism, the Sadducees, denied resurrection, as did the Gnostics against whom the Church fathers fought so bitterly during the first three centuries of Christian life. "In rabbinic theology God was not thought to have fulfilled his promises until the whole person returned, body included ... the person is not 'the ghost in the machine' (that is, the body) but rather a unity of body and soul."

For Christians the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is the revelation on which the faith is founded. Resurrection in Christian doctrine is the reward of the individuals who leave their Gentile nations to take part in the new people of God and become part of Christ's resurrection. Christian identity is as just as social as Jewish identity, for Christians believed they are saved through adoption into a new people. Madigan and Levenson show that the sacrament of baptism for early Christians was inextricably tied to rebirth and resurrection. Thus Christians rescued themselves from the maelstrom of death that took hold of the late Roman Empire.

It is a conceit of modern materialism that identity no longer is social, but rather individual; we choose our pleasures, and, if the mood strikes us, shop for a religion the way we might choose a neighborhood. We fancy ourselves rational beings. If we are not quite beyond good and evil, for law and custom still discourage rapine and murder, we certainly are beyond sin and redemption, which we have replaced by stress and therapy.

Modern materialism has weaned the industrial world off spiritual food, like the thrifty farmer who trained his donkey to eat less by reducing its rations each day. "Just when I got I had him trained to live on nothing," the farmer complained, "the donkey had to die!" Like the donkey, the modern world has died when its spiritual rations were cut to nothing. We refuse to acknowledge that our deepest needs are no different from those of Biblical man. We fail to nourish them and we die. ....

The hope of traditional society for life on this Earth - for men cannot tolerate life on this earth without the promise of eternal life - is precisely the same as it was in late antiquity. Four hundred million Christian converts in Africa and perhaps a hundred million in China are evidence enough that much of the world will abandon broken traditions and embrace the promise of life. Man is still Biblical man, and the Bible yet again may prove a guidebook to life as it did two millennia ago. [
the review]
Asia Times Online :: Asian News, Business and Economy.

Monday, May 26, 2008

C.S. Lewis for adults



Via Evangelical Outpost, Agent Intellect has noticed the attention the Narnia books have received because of the films, but
I thought it would be a good idea to draw attention to his fictional works written for adults, which I appreciate much more.
And so he does.

Agent Intellect: C. S. Lewis's Fiction for Adults

In Memoriam

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. [From US Memorial Day]


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
John McCrae 1915
Also posted at Standfast

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Stennetts


The Reformed Reader, a website which describes itself as "committed to historic Baptist beliefs," includes a very interesting online collection of historic Baptist books and documents. One of them is Baptist History from the Foundation of the Christian Church to the Close of the Eighteenth Century by J.M. Cramp, published in 1869. In it I found this informative and appreciative account of the English Seventh Day Baptist pastors from four generations of the Stennett family.
Edward Stennett
The Baptist denomination is under deep obligations to the STENNETT family. EDWARD STENNETT was some time pastor of the church at Pinner's Hall, London, where he was succeeded by his son Joseph, in the year 1690, who presided over the Church till his death, in 1713. Both were Sabbatarians. Distinguished among his brethren for the extent and variety of his literary acquirements, his earnestness of soul, his profound and practical wisdom, and his unswerving integrity, Mr. JOSEPH STENNETT was held in high esteem by all religious parties. If he would have conformed to the Church of England, he might have attained an exalted position; but he was proof against temptation, though liberal offers were made him. His influence was known to be powerful, and strenuous efforts were employed by the Court, in the latter end of Queen Anne's reign, to gain him over to the Tory policy, in the hope that other Dissenters might be induced to follow him. Mr. Stennett understood the principles of freedom too well to be caught in such a trap. His firmness had a happy effect on others. Numerous treatises on religious subjects, and a considerable number of poetical compositions, were published by Mr. Stennett. A collected edition of his works was issued after his death. He is most advantageously known among Baptists by his Answer to Russen, a learned and elaborate work on baptism, to which succeeding writers have been much indebted.

His son and grandson were also "shining lights." Dr. JOSEPH STENNETT, who died February 7th, 1758, was upwards of twenty years pastor of the Church in Little Wild Street, London. He distinguished himself for loyalty and patriotism during the rebellion in 1745. He enjoyed the esteem of the King George II, and was on terms of friendship with some of the great ones of the day. Adverting to an interview with the then Bishop of London, Dr. Gibson, he said, in a letter to a friend, "I told his Lordship that I more than ever saw the usefulness of the Book of Common Prayer; for, considering how little the Scriptures are read by the common people, and how little the Gospel preached by the clergy, if it were not for what is said of Christ in the Prayer Book, multitudes would forget there was any such Person. He heartily joined in my observation, and told me he had lately heard a sermon by an eminent preacher, who seemed to labour to keep the name of Christ out of it. 'For my part,' added he, 'my time is now short, and therefore my charge to all my clergy is short too.' I say to all of them that come to me: 'See to it that you preach Jesus Christ; don't preach Seneca, nor Plato, but preach Jesus Christ.'"

Samuel Stennett
DR. SAMUEL STENNETT, son of the above, succeeded his Father at Little Wild Street, and held the pastorate till his death. He had been assistant-pastor for ten years previously. Few men have risen so high in general estimation. His learning-his discretion-his benevolence-his earnest zeal-his holy and uniformly consistent conduct, secured for him an amount and power of influence rarely enjoyed. His pulpit labours were highly appreciated; his writings were acceptable and much valued. Besides two treatises on the baptismal controversy, he published three volumes of discourses On Personal Religion, On Domestic Duties, and On the Parable of the Sower.

The celebrated John Howard honored Dr. Stennett with his friendship, and was accustomed to attend his ministry when he visited London. In a letter addressed to him from Smyrna, dated August 11, 1786, he says:-"With unabated pleasure I have attended your ministry; no man ever entered more into my religious sentiments, or more happily expressed them. It was some little disappointment when any one occupied your pulpit. Oh, sir, how many Sabbaths have I ardently longed to spend in Wild Street on those days I generally rest, or, if at sea, keep retired in my little cabin. It is you that preach, and I bless God I attend with renewed pleasure. God in Christ is my rock, the portion of my soul. I have little more to add-but accept my renewed thanks. I bless God for your ministry; I pray God reward you a thousand fold." Dr. Stennett died August 24th, 1795.
The Quiet Period, Chapter I

The Gospel of Judas

The Gospel of Judas, we were told by National Geographic, portrays not a traitor but a hero who was doing exactly what Jesus wanted him to do. Thomas Bartlett, for The Chronicle Review, reports fascinatingly on the scholarly disputes that ensued. The translation seems, at the very least, to have been rather flawed.
When the Gospel of Judas was unveiled at a news conference in April 2006, it made headlines around the world — with nearly all of those articles touting the new and improved Judas. "In Ancient Document, Judas, Minus the Betrayal," read the headline in The New York Times. The British paper The Guardian called it "a radical makeover for one of the worst reputations in history." A documentary that aired a few days later on National Geographic's cable channel also pushed the Judas-as-hero theme. The premiere attracted four million viewers, making it the second-highest-rated program in the channel's history, behind only a documentary on September 11.

But almost immediately, other scholars began to take issue with the interpretation of Meyer and the rest of the National Geographic team. They didn't see a good Judas at all. In fact, this Judas seemed more evil than ever. Those early voices of dissent have since grown into a chorus, some of whom argue that National Geographic's handling of the project amounts to scholarly malpractice. It's a perfect example, critics argue, of what can happen when commercial considerations are allowed to ride roughshod over careful research. What's more, the controversy has strained friendships in this small community of religion scholars — causing some on both sides of the argument to feel, in a word, betrayed. [the article]

The National Geographic "The Lost Gospel of Judas" site

Thanks to Arts & Letters Daily for the reference. That site almost invariably links to two or three interesting articles or book reviews each and every day.

The Betrayal of Judas - ChronicleReview.com

Friday, May 23, 2008

No overlap

From Religion News Service:
Former French presidential candidate Segolene Royal is apparently quite miffed that the Parisian mag Match has published photos of her praying in an Italian church. She's actually suing them.

'I'm in favour of the secular state and therefore that question (of my religious beliefs) is a private matter and there is no reason why I should be hounded,' Royal said on a radio program, according to Reuters.

Royal also said that: 'There is no overlap between public commitments and private beliefs or religious faith."

"I think that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties they lead their country by a short route to chaos." Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons

RNS Blog: "Eglise et Etat"

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sabbath Recorder June 2008

The June, 2008, Sabbath Recorder is available online here as a pdf.

This month's issue of The Sabbath Recorder has a youth emphasis - many of the articles [and poems] are written or selected by Seventh Day Baptist young people.

There is also an interesting account explaining why Seventh Day Baptists in Kenya are known as “Sabbatarian Church of the Immersed in Kenya.” [It has to do with the fact that other churches were already using the terms "seventh day" and "baptist."]

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

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"If everything is a priority, then nothing is."

Commenting on those Evangelicals [and he could have included Catholics] who argue that abortion is only one among many issues about which we should be concerned, Stan Guthrie at Christianity Today in "We're Not Finished":
In other words, these and other voices seem to be saying that fighting legalized abortion—the deliberate, state- sanctioned taking of 50 million unborn human lives from their mothers' wombs since 1973 (and the accompanying national guilt)—should simply be one item among many on an ever-expanding evangelical to-do list. I agree that we have multiple responsibilities as Christians, and different callings. But if everything is a priority, then nothing is. While no one is saying that defending unborn human life is optional, the way we sometimes talk about our broader agenda appears to minimize the importance of abortion. ....

And faltering now would be doubly tragic, because the tide is turning. According to the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, the abortion rate has dropped to its lowest level since 1974. The number has also fallen, from 1.6 million abortions in 1990 to 1.2 million in 2005. While that's still far too many, and the prospect of actually overturning Roe seems distant, it's real progress nevertheless.

For example, Americans United for Life notes that over a 14-year period, Mississippi passed 15 pro-life laws, such as the Abortion Complication Reporting Act. As a result, the number of abortions has declined by 60 percent, and six of seven abortion clinics in the state have closed. ....

Thanks to pregnancy care centers, ramped up adoption efforts, increased access to ultrasounds, and the judicious use of pro-life arguments (such as those in Francis Beckwith's book Defending Life), we are also winning hearts and minds. The Pew Research Center reports that 18- to 29-year-olds (many of whom consider themselves abortion survivors) consistently favor tougher abortion restrictions than do those 30 and older. In 2003 Gallup found that 32 percent of teens surveyed said abortion should be illegal in all cases—compared with 17 percent of adults.

Opposing abortion is not simply another agenda item for evangelicals. It is our sacred duty. Whatever other good deeds we are called to do—and there are many—we cannot say abortion is someone else's business. It's our business.

We're Not Finished | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Monday, May 19, 2008

"What's missing is Jesus"

There is nothing wrong with Veggie Tales - in fact there is a great deal of good - but they don't present the gospel, and if we go no further, we haven't gone nearly far enough. Russell Moore in "Beyond a Veggie Tales Gospel: Why We Must Preach Christ from Every Text":
Have you ever seen the episode of Veggie Tales in which the main characters are martyred by anti-Christian terrorists? You know, the one in which Bell Z. Bulb, the giant garlic demon, and Nero Caesar Salad, the tyrannical vegetable dictator, take on the heroes for their faith in Christ. Remember how it ends? Remember the cold dead eyes of Larry the cucumber behind glass, pickled for the sake of the Gospel? Remember Bob the tomato, all that remained was ketchup and seeds?

No, of course you don't remember this episode. It doesn't exist - and it never will. Such a concept would be rejected out of hand by the creative minds behind the popular children's program, and the evangelical video-buying public wouldn't hand over the cash to buy such a product. It would be considered too disturbing, too dark, for children. Instead, the Veggie Tales episodes we've all seen are bloodless. They take biblical stories, and biblical characters, but they mine the narrative for abstractions - timeless moral truths that can help children to be kinder, gentler, and more honest. There's almost nothing in any episode that isn't true. But what's missing is Jesus.

There's plenty of Veggie Tales preaching out there, and it's not all for children. .... There's also such a thing as Veggie Tales discipleship, Veggie Tales evangelism, even erudite and complicated Veggie Tales theology and biblical scholarship. Whenever we approach the Bible without focusing in on what the Bible is about - Christ Jesus and His Gospel - we are going to wind up with a kind of golden-rule Christianity that doesn't last a generation, indeed rarely lasts an hour after it is delivered. .... [read it all]
The Henry Institute: Commentary

Caspian Delivers

Trevin Wax liked Prince Caspian. I hope to see it soon.

Caspian Delivers « Kingdom People

Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents"

David Wells, author of The Courage to Be Protestant, was interviewed by Collin Hansen at Christianity Today. Excerpts:
Why does it take courage to be a Protestant today?

It takes no courage simply to sign up as a Protestant. But Protestantism at its best has been defined by its understanding of biblical truth, and it is that truth that is at odds with both postmodern assumptions and with the operating assumptions of many in evangelical churches. This is a defining moment. The day is long past when anyone can safely go with the evangelical flow. However, swimming upstream is not easy.

Many voices today say evangelicals don't need renewed focus on orthodoxy. They say these beliefs haven't always led to godly behavior, so we should focus on orthopraxy. So why should we still try to get our doctrine right?

Of course orthodoxy can be dead! No one simply professing orthodox beliefs as the Pharisees did is, on that account, saved from the corruptions of their own hearts. But nor are the pragmatists who now dominate the evangelical world and who, however unknowingly, are substituting "acting" for "being." The problem with business know-how and therapeutic savvy, served up at the core of Christian faith, is that so much of it is saturated with cultural assumptions that do not pass biblical muster. Getting our doctrine right means taking into our minds the truth God has given us in his Word so that we might live godly lives by also being culturally savvy. ....

You decry the cultural captivity of market-driven and Emergent churches. In what ways has culture adversely affected classical evangelicalism's theology?

If the marketers and Emergents, in their different ways, have been rolling over to our culture, I see classical evangelicals as having failed, not so much in compromising with it, as in not engaging it. ....

You suspect that the children of church "marketers" and Emergents will become "full-blown liberals." How do you counsel those leaders from each group who want no such thing?

I would counsel them not to be so naïve about the capacities of postmodern culture to remake all of us in its own image. I would further counsel them to think afresh about what apostolic Christianity looked like. At its heart was the apostolic teaching, which we now have in Scripture, which was the be "guarded," "taught," and passed on to the next generation. That is where the breakdown is happening.

You have written a number of jeremiads against evangelicals over the years. Looking back, which criticism has hit the bull's eye? Have subsequent events eased your concerns on any point?

I am greatly encouraged that I am no longer a lonely voice! I am finding more and more people, especially in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, who are fed up with marketed faith, which they see as a massive sellout to consumerism, and with the Emergents, who are making such sorry capitulations to postmodern attitudes. I am seeing more and more people who are turning away from these trendy experiments because they want the real thing. .... [the interview]
No Place for Complacency | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Friday, May 16, 2008

Beliefs have consequences

If you believe you should, often you will:
A new study shows that people of faith in America have a huge heart in terms of giving to Third World countries - and the study cites a surprising dollar figure.

Carol Adelman of the Hudson Institute cites the information in a study done with Notre Dame University. "We didn't realize it would be as large as it was, and we came out with a number of $8.8 billion worth of goods and services that churches are giving overseas to developing countries," she points out.

That figure represents nearly 40 percent of the foreign aid provided by the United States to the same region - and the money from churches is apparently doing a lot of good, says Adelman. ....

According to Adelman, U.S. foreign aid to those same countries is $23.5 billion.
Religious Americans are generous (OneNewsNow.com)

"Is it easy to love God?"

From Timothy Keller's The Reason for God [pp. 47-50]:
One of the principles of love—either love for a friend or romantic love—is that you have to lose independence to attain greater intimacy. If you want the "freedoms" of love—the fulfillment, security, sense of worth that it brings—you must limit your freedom in many ways. You cannot enter a deep relationship and still make unilateral decisions or allow your friend or lover no say in how you live your life. To experience the joy and freedom of love, you must give up your personal autonomy. The French novelist Francoise Sagan expressed this well in an interview in Le Monde. She expressed that she was satisfied with the way she had lived her life and had no regrets:
Interviewer: Then you have had the freedom you wanted?
Sagan: Yes ... I was obviously less free when I was in love with someone. . . . But one's not in love all the time. Apart from that . . . I'm free.
Sagan is right. A love relationship limits your personal options. Again we are confronted with the complexity of the concept of "freedom." Human beings are most free and alive in relationships of love. We only become ourselves in love, and yet healthy love relationships involve mutual, unselfish service, a mutual loss of independence. C. S. Lewis put it eloquently:
Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.
Freedom, then, is not the absence of limitations and constraints but it is finding the right ones, those that fit our nature and liberate us.

For a love relationship to be healthy there must be a mutual loss of independence. It can't be just one way. Both sides must say to the other, "I will adjust to you. I will change for you. I'll serve you even though it means a sacrifice for me." If only one party does all the sacrificing and giving, and the other does all the ordering and taking, the relationship will be exploitative and will oppress and distort the lives of both people.

At first sight, then, a relationship with God seems inherently dehumanizing. Surely it will have to be "one way," God's way. God, the divine being, has all the power. I must adjust to God—there is no way that God could adjust to and serve me.

While this may be true in other forms of religion and belief in God, it is not true in Christianity. In the most radical way, God has adjusted to us—in his incarnation and atonement. In Jesus Christ he became a limited human being, vulnerable to suffering and death. On the cross, he submitted to our condition—as sinners—and died in our place to forgive us. In the most profound way, God has said to us, in Christ, "I will adjust to you. I will change for you. I'll serve you though it means a sacrifice for me." If he has done this for us, we can and should say the same to God and others. St. Paul writes, "the love of Christ constrains us" (2 Corinthians 5:14).

A friend of C.S. Lewis's was once asked, "Is it easy to love God?" and he replied, "It is easy to those who do it." That is not as paradoxical as it sounds. When you fall deeply in love, you want to please the beloved. You don't wait for the person to ask you to do something for her. You eagerly research and learn every little thing that brings her pleasure. Then you get it for her, even if it costs you money or great inconvenience. "Your wish is my command," you feel—and it doesn't feel oppressive at all. From the outside, bemused friends may think, "She's leading him around by the nose," but from the inside it feels like heaven.

For a Christian, it's the same with Jesus. The love of Christ constrains. Once you realize how Jesus changed for you and gave himself for you, you aren't afraid of giving up your freedom and therefore finding your freedom in him.

Better on film

Frederica Mathewes-Green likes the movie of Prince Caspian better than C.S. Lewis's book:
Every once in awhile, a movie improves on the book on which it is based. In my bold opinion, Prince Caspian, the second Disney film drawn from C. S. Lewis’s beloved Chronicles of Narnia, is such a movie. Criticism of C. S. Lewis is rightly taboo, but facts are facts: Prince Caspian, the book, is a dud.

It was the second to be written in the series, and it’s rushed and thin. You’ll remember from the first book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, that the four Pevensie siblings find their way into the land of Narnia through a mysterious wardrobe. In Prince Caspian they are called back to Narnia again, where they must help young Prince Caspian claim his rightful throne. Unfortunately, they land nowhere near Caspian, so most of the book is occupied with the Pevensies’ struggle to cross mountains and rivers to get to him. (The action also pauses for four chapters so that a dwarf can fill us in on Prince Caspian’s life so far.) When they finally meet Caspian there is a brief battle and a happy ending, and before you know it you’re running into the opening pages of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (a much better book).

Prince Caspian, the movie, fixes all this. It knits a whole lot more story around that spare frame, and the plot gains traction while the characters gain complexity. The movie is just plain better than the book.
She has surveyed friends to find other instances where the "movie trumps book." I enjoyed some of the books more than she, or her friends, did - perhaps because I read them before seeing the movies. A few of their nominations [I've provided links to Amazon for a few of them]:
The Godfather. The movie is something magnificent — those sets, those actors, that whole heady atmosphere, marching steadily and inexorably to beautiful tragedy. I wonder if it is the sheer richness that viewers appreciated, in contrast to the book. Mario Puzo conceived of good scenes, but the big screen provided more punch.

Perhaps for similar reasons, a number of classic noir movies were nominated as being better than their books. The foggy-lonely-street-lamp look of films like The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon established a kind of atmosphere that didn’t come across on the page. Take a look at Hitchcock’s brilliant The 39 Steps, darting from a clamorous London music hall to the moonlit wilds of Scotland, and then open John Buchan’s thin novel. Then close it. ....

Blade Runner. The movie was based on a short story by sci-fi author Phillip K. Dick, and some respondents cited another of his works, Minority Report. There were a number of authors whose books kept cropping up like this — Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton, Stephen King, John Grisham, and Robert Ludlum, among others. Some authors have terrific ideas, but don’t express them at the acme of perfection. A creative filmmaker can draw on original raw material and produce something more satisfying. ....

The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Them’s fightin’ words, I know. Among respondents there was a feeling that the series, as J. R. R. Tolkien wrote it, is just plain ponderous. .... Director Peter Jackson had a better idea. He saw the essential beauty of the story, and brought it to the screen unimpeded.

The situation is nearly opposite with The Chronicles of Narnia. While Tolkien’s works are vast and grave, Lewis’s Narnia stories feel unaffected, sympathetic, homey. If in The Lord of the Rings someone is always swinging an axe at the head of a monster, in The Chronicles of Narnia he is getting out of the rain, warming up by the fire, and having some tea and biscuits. I think that Lewis had a better knack for storytelling than Tolkien did....

But as charming as the Narnia stories are, the movies give them more body, more strength. ....

It’s entertaining to think of movies that excel their sources, if only because they aren’t that common. Most of the time, the book is better than the movie, if only because greater length allows for greater depth. That depth doesn’t always happen; sometimes there’s more potential than the author explored, as with Prince Caspian. But the names of movies that came nowhere near the achievement of the book are too numerous to list. I’ll close with just one example: The Greatest Story Ever Told. [the article]

Personality takes a back seat

"Put not your trust in princes" ... or in pastors. Everyone needs to be responsible to someone. When the personality of the preacher is the center of the church, the fallibility of that preacher - and we are all fallible - is the weakness of the church. Skye Jethani writing at Out of Ur about the "Church Celebrity Deathmarch":
The spring issue of Leadership includes an interview with the pastoral team at The Next Level Church in Denver. After building a booming church around the dynamic gifts of a senior pastor, TNL imploded. The senior pastor/preacher left amid controversy and the church’s attendance dropped like Wiley Coyote from a cliff. In the aftermath, the remaining pastors reorganized TNL sans senior pastor. They’ve opted for a team approach with leaders sharing equal authority and responsibility. ....

Other young church leaders are forgoing the traditional senior pastor model. They prefer a flattened structure with shared responsibility where a team, rather then an individual, has the steering wheel. Thus no one achieves celebrity status in the congregation. .... The reason is linked to the scary rate of failure seen among senior pastors. ....

Having a single “face with the place,” a senior pastor who fills the pulpit and whose personality permeates the entire congregation, has been the popular model for evangelicals, but these ecclesial celebrities crash and burn at a rate greater than a sub-Saharan airline. As Gray points out, the problem is the system and not just the pastors. So many younger evangelicals are seeking churches liberated from the celebrity death spiral. ....

In my area we are seeing a striking number of younger evangelicals move toward high-church traditions—particularly Anglican. .... At first glance one might see this as being completely out of phase with the trend outlined above. After all, high church traditions are all about structure and hierarchy. There are priests, and bishops, and even archbishops.

But a closer examination reveals that this trend may also be coming from the same discontentment with personality-driven congregations. Anglican worship is built on a time-honored liturgy that emphasizes prayer, Scripture, and the Eucharist. While preaching is certainly present, the preacher and his/her personality does not dominate corporate worship. The same could be said of the worship leader. Personality takes a backseat to tradition.

Similarly, while some churches are trying to minimize risk through a team structure, high-church traditions protect congregations from the failures of a single leader through a hierarchy that stretches far above the local church. This is one example where the much-derided denomination still has an advantage over non-denominational churches. [the article]
Each form of polity has advantages and disadvantages. Hierarchy is not insurance against error - a hierarchical structure can make things worse - decentralization can be insurance against corruption of various kinds. But giving too much attention and authority to any individual is asking for trouble - we each need to be under authority.

Church Celebrity Deathmatch | Out of Ur | Conversations for Ministry Leaders

Honoring the day

Iain Campbell believes that Sunday is the Christian Sabbath. I believe the seventh day of the week is the Sabbath set by God.* It is a difference that can only exist among those who believe that the idea of Sabbath is important. Behavior like that described here does honor to God - not because it earns anything - we are saved by grace - but because it is the appropriate response to the love He has demonstrated for us. It is also a good example for those of us who, although we may go to church on the Sabbath, otherwise treat that day like any other in the week. Campbell in a post titled "Them that honour me...":
Some of today's Scottish newspapers are running a story about our local school's girls' football team. Against all the odds, they beat off older teams from larger schools all over Scotland, to reach the final of a national tournament sponsored by Coca-Cola - only to discover it was scheduled to be held on a Sunday. To not a little disappointment, the decision was taken to pull out of the opportunity to win the national tournament because of the religious convictions of our community. ....

I'm not sure what other evangelicals think of the decision of our local girls to pull out of the final: I suspect that on the whole issue of observing the first day of the week as the Christian Sabbath, many evangelicals have capitulated to the world's way of doing things, and would see nothing wrong with holding, or attending, sports events on the Lord's Day.

If this week's headlines demonstrate anything, they show that there is one God-given opportunity for us to nail our Christian convictions to the social mast - to honour the Lord publicly by honouring his day, and making it altogether different from every other day of the week, whatever the cost.
The story, and its title, calls to mind the great film, Chariots of Fire, and Eric Liddell's refusal to run on Sunday in the 1924 Paris Olympics.

*“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 
Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 
but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. 
(Ex 20:8-10, ESV)

Them that honour me... - Reformation21 Blog

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Democracy in America

Eight years ago sixty-one percent of California's voters supported an initiative including this language: "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California." Today four California Supreme Court justices overturned that decision, saying that it violated the “fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship.” From the AP:
In a monumental victory for the gay rights movement, the California Supreme Court overturned a voter-approved ban on gay marriage Thursday in a ruling that would allow same-sex couples in the nation's biggest state to tie the knot.

Domestic partnerships are not a good enough substitute for marriage, the justices ruled 4-3....

Outside the courthouse, gay marriage supporters cried and cheered as news spread of the decision.

The city of San Francisco, two dozen gay and lesbian couples and gay rights groups sued in March 2004 after the court halted the monthlong wedding march that took place when Mayor Gavin Newsom opened the doors of City Hall to same-sex marriages. ....

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Marvin Baxter agreed with many arguments of the majority but said the court overstepped its authority. Changes to marriage laws should be decided by the voters, Baxter wrote.
From the San Francisco Chronicle:
Baxter, writing for himself and Chin, accused the court majority of substituting "by judicial fiat its own social policy views for those expressed by the people." ....

The court "does not have the right to erase, then recast, the age-old definition of marriage, as virtually all societies have understood it, in order to satisfy its own contemporary notions of equality and justice," Baxter said.
From the third dissenting justice:
From associate justice Corrigan’s separate dissent: “The principle of judicial restraint is a covenant between judges and the people from whom their power derives.… It is no answer to say that judges can break the covenant so long as they are enlightened or well-meaning.… If there is to be a new understanding of the meaning of marriage in California, it should develop among the people of our state and find its expression at the ballot box.”
James M. Kushiner:
Let's just close down our legislatures, burn or toss our voting booths, and swear fealty to the justices of the courts.
Judges create new law, by fiat, out of their own values, and then the people must campaign to get it overturned. The people of California will probably have the opportunity to reassert democracy by constitutional amendment in November.

California's top court overturns gay marriage ban - Yahoo! News, SF Gate: State Supreme Court says same-sex couples have right to marry, Bench Memos on National Review Online

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What is an "Evangelical," anyway?

Several people respond to the Washington Post question: "Some Christian leaders issued An Evangelical Manifesto last week to depoliticize the term 'evangelical.' 'We evangelicals are defined theologically, and not politically, socially or culturally,' they said. In your mind, what is the definition of an evangelical?" - including Charles Colson, Cal Thomas, Martin Marty, N.T. Wright, and - Deepak Chopra?!

On Faith at washingtonpost.com

Faith and politics

Richard Land, who is President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Commission, has not signed the "Evangelical Manifesto" even though he approves of most of the signers and agrees with ninety percent of the document's argument. He explains why he isn't signing in a Baptist Press article excerpted here:
Lastly, the Manifesto turns to finding "a new understanding of our place in public life." I agree, and have said publicly many times, that as Christians and evangelicals we should never be "completely equated with any party, partisan ideology, economic system, class, tribe, or national identity." I have often said that our ultimate allegiance is to God, never any candidate or political party.

However, the Manifesto acknowledges and lauds the impact and influence of prominent evangelical political reformers such as William Wilberforce and movements such as "the abolition of slavery and women's suffrage." The question must be asked, "How did Wilberforce end the slave trade?" He was a Member of Parliament, and he used the political process to end the slave trade.

Just so, the abolitionists used the political process to end slavery. If the mid-19th-century Democratic Party tried to be pro-choice on slavery while the abolitionists, President Lincoln, and the Republicans were adamantly anti-slavery, did the slavery issue become a partisan issue? If so, whose fault was that, the pro-slavery and pro-choice party or the anti-slavery party?

If these men and groups had stayed above the fray, beyond the reach of the rough and tumble political process, their goals would have been reached, if ever reached completely, over a much longer time frame and after much additional suffering by those being victimized by societal evil. ....

.... In the midst of an eloquent plea for freedom of conscience and religious liberty, the Manifesto declares that "we have no desire to coerce anyone or to impose on anyone beliefs and behavior that we have not persuaded them to adopt freely...."

.... As an evangelical Christian I am also a citizen who has an obligation to be salt and light in society and a right to expect the divinely ordained civil magistrate (the government) to punish those who do evil (Romans 13:1-7). Consequently, it is my duty as a Christian to work to persuade my fellow citizens to enact laws which will coerce the behavior of those who are victimizing and brutalizing others against their will. I do want to support the government coercing the behavior of slaveholders, of pedophiles, of rapists and of murderers. I am not content to allow pedophiles and rapists to continue their bestial behavior until I have "persuaded them" to stop.

I don't think the Manifesto intends to say this, but I can assure you that secularist adversaries in our society will pounce on this statement's lack of clarity to assert that some evangelicals have renounced any legislation of morality. [the article]
Baptist Press - FIRST-PERSON: Why I am not signing the 'Evangelical Manifesto' - News with a Christian Perspective

The Jesus of yesterday and today and forever

The excerpts below are from another review of Why We're Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be, this one by another who, in many ways fits the pattern, but nevertheless doesn't belong to the "emerging church." Kristen Scharold at First Things from "The Emerging Church and Its Critics":
.... I, like DeYoung and Kluck, should be an emergent Christian. In my more presumptuous moods, I call myself a writer, and I’m a fan of Dave Eggers. I grew up in an evangelical church. I live in a part of Brooklyn whose edges are rougher than the hipster paradise of Williamsburg. I love to listen to bands, which if named, will instantly lose their indie appeal. I drink lattes. I hate easy answers. I enjoy deep conversations. So shouldn’t I be craving a new kind of Christianity that will undo my traditional evangelical upbringing while satisfying my newfound love for diversity, social justice, and, of course, soul searching?

Not at all. Despite my hipster leanings and stale Christian pedigree, I am not emergent, if emergence is defined by its theology instead of just its ethos. And after reading this book, I am even more grateful that I never jumped onto the emergent bandwagon. I am not the only young Christian who appreciates many aspects of postmodern culture but who also yearns for the absolute conviction that DeYoung and Kluck present.

“Some of us long for teaching that has authority, ethics rooted in dogma, and something unique in this world of banal diversity,” DeYoung writes. “We long for Jesus—not a shapeless, formless good-hearted ethical teacher Jesus, but the Jesus of the New Testament, the Jesus of the church, the Jesus of faith, the Jesus of two millennia of Christian witness with all of its unchanging and edgy doctrinal propositions.”

This Jesus is the Jesus of traditional doctrine, the Jesus of yesterday and today and forever. He is not a Jesus who will go out of style along with skinny jeans, tight cowboy shirts, and aviator sunglasses.

Throughout the book, the authors make the case that the emergent church is simply a fad. In fact, the emergent church seems to be going down the same accommodationist path as the mainline, bourgeois, modern churches that they are reacting against. And, like the baby boomer’s megachurches, the emergent church is sweating to make the gospel entertaining and comfortable to their generation. “The mainline church bent over backward to accommodate modernism, and its members have budget crunches and shrinking churches to show for it. Will the emerging church go down the same nondoctrinal path as the mainline church relative to postmodernism?” DeYoung asks. In an attempt to “reimagine” the gospel, emergent teachers have merely repackaged the modern, seeker-sensitive approach. ....

In the end, the authors of Why We’re Not Emergent are not making a case for a new kind of Christianity. They are not trying lure emergent Christians into their fold with a hipper take on things. They are simply trying to replace the errors of the emergent church—which is, nonetheless, making important contributions to evangelicalism—with scripturally sound theology.

And it should not be so counterintuitive that young evangelicals such as myself prefer theology rooted in tradition to a spirituality waffling in relativism. We want a story with a climax so profound that it leaves us worshiping God, not reducing him to fit into our cultural paradigm. And if that story comes with a Guinness and some Coldplay, great. If not, no big deal. [the review]
Thanks to Mark Olson for the reference.

FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » The Emerging Church and Its Critics

Movies that redeem the time

Philip Anschutz is the billionaire, and Christian, whose companies are responsible for Amazing Grace, The Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Prince Caspian [in theatres this Friday], the upcoming [2009] film of C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, and much else - none rated "R". Christianity Today profiled him today:
Anschutz, 69, now owns two production companies—the family-friendly Walden Media and the more broadly focused Bristol Bay Productions. The companies' creative teams have brought us such films as Amazing Grace, Charlotte's Web, Bridge to Terabithia, Ray, and, most prominently, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, the first of seven planned movies based on C. S. Lewis's beloved Chronicles of Narnia. The second Narnia film, Prince Caspian, is due this month. Bristol Bay is also adapting The Screwtape Letters for the big screen, likely due in 2009.

Such cinematic bounty is a result not just of Anschutz's deep pockets: he's also a lifelong film buff committed to bringing more wholesome options to the local multiplex. ....

Anschutz and his wife, both Presbyterians, attend a local church and support various local charities, including Step 13, a Denver home for alcoholic men.

One longtime friend says Anschutz's faith informs everything he does.

"His set of values and beliefs permeates his life," said Jim Monaghan, a spokesman who has worked with Anschutz for 24 years. "He is a composite of religious values, ethics, and morals, but he doesn't wear it on his sleeve. He walks the talk." ....

Douglas Gresham, C. S. Lewis's stepson, who manages much of the Lewis estate, says he decided to sell the film rights to the Narnia franchise to Walden because he liked their vision—and Anschutz.

"The main reason I went with Walden," he told CT Movies in 2005, "is because of their mandate to produce good, entertaining movies that also educate, not merely in factual matters, but in matters of ethics and values and morality.

"But the clincher for me was meeting Phil Anschutz, and growing to respect him enormously and spending time in prayer with him. Walden Media has exactly the right idea what we should be using cinema for." Which is exactly what Anschutz wanted. [the article]
Hollywood Hellfighter | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"Simple, feel-good solutions"

Tony Payne explains why it isn't enough to have good intentions, especially when dealing with complex social, political and economic problems. In fact, things can be made much worse - an alternative meaning for "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." In this case the feel-good "solution" is to purchase "Fair Trade" products. From "Smell the Coffee" at the Sola Panel:
Trying to solve pricing problems on the other side of the world through our shopping choices may make us feel better, but it is unlikely to have much effect, except possibly to make the situation worse. Basic economics tells us that the usual reason prices for a particular commodity are low is that too much of it is being produced: supply and demand. This normally motivates some farmers to move into other crops that are in shorter supply, and thus have a higher price, giving greater return to the farmer. It's why those nasty free markets tend to promote efficiency and prosperity.

However, artificially propping up the price of a commodity distorts this process and removes the incentive for farmers to diversify. In fact, it does the opposite: it creates an incentive for others to start producing that crop (since it has a guaranteed higher price), thus increasing output and putting an even further downward pressure on price. So there is a reasonable chance that the well-meaning ‘Fairtrade’ movement may actually make things worse in the long run for the majority of third world farmers. The world is very complex place, and solving problems in the world (economic and otherwise) is very difficult. The intuitively obvious action (let's give some farmers more money for their coffee by buying Fairtrade) may, in fact, end up having larger negative consequences we haven't stopped to consider.

The same is true for nearly all the practical, secular problems we face. And the larger, more complex and more distant the problem, the more resistant it is to simple, feel-good solutions. ....[more]
The Sola Panel | Smell the coffee

What is truth?

Sam Storms begins a five-part review of Why We're Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be, a book I've recommended before. Storms likes the book - a lot - as I did.

Obviously Evangelicalism has had and continues to have problems of definition and witness [see below], but this doesn't seem like much of an answer. The emerging emergent church seems like the current version of the "seeker-sensitive" church, but for this generation rather than the baby-boomers, except that it combines that inclination with old-fashioned liberal theology.

Brian McClaren - one of the guys most identified with the emerging/emergent whatever - doesn't help much with his inability to actually answer this question:
Q: On the theology behind the emerging church, you reject the idea that there's an absolute truth. So what boundaries are there on theology that churches are teaching? Can any church just call itself an emerging church?

A: Obviously that's a challenge. The flip side of that question is look at the Catholic Church: For all of its orthodoxy, it could have bishops covering up for molesting priests. And evangelicals, for all their claims of orthodoxy, can be barbaric to gay people and can blindly support a rush to war in Iraq and can be, as we speak, fomenting for war with Iran. ... Obviously, I have a lot of critics and they often say, 'You're wanting to water down the Gospel to accommodate to post-modernity.' I say, 'No, I really don't want to do that. But what I do want to do is acknowledge first the ways we've already watered down the Gospel to accommodate modernity.' ... I think the naivete of some of those critics is that they're starting with a pure pristine understanding of the Gospel. It seems to me we're all in danger of screwing up.
And what exactly are the boundaries? Is there truth?

Enjoying God Ministries > A Review Of Why Were Not Emergent By Two Guys Who Should Be Part One, Q&A: How 'emerging church' movement could change U.S. religious landscape