Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Without our aid..."

Know that the LORD is God indeed;
Without our aid He did us make;
We are His flock, He doth us feed,
And for His sheep He doth us take.
Old 100th

In the KJV, verse 3 of Psalm 100 reads "Know ye that the LORD He is God: it is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture." "Old 100th" reworks the second phrase to read "Without our aid He did us make." I've always liked that. It is an important reminder, particularly to those of us inclined to the sin of Pride, which is to say all of us.

In the late 1980s, browsing through CDs in a music store in London, I came across Psalms of Scotland by the Scottish Philharmonic Singers. It is a wonderful collection, beautifully sung, of twenty selections from the Scottish Psalter. The image here is of that CD. I was pleased to discover this morning that the same recording [with a different image] is available from Ligonier Ministries and, for a bit more, from the Westminster Bookstore.

A great resource for Psalm singing can be found here, on the Psalters page at Music for the Church of God, including The Scottish Psalter in several iterations, The Bay Psalm Book, the early New England Psalter, and Isaac Watts's version of the Psalms Imitated in the Language of the New Testament.

There have always been those who believe that only the Psalms should be sung in church. Like Watts, the early Seventh Day Baptist hymn writer, Joseph Stennett, was consequently very careful to establish the Biblical basis for hymns that were not paraphrases of the Psalms. Although singing only the Psalms seems needlessly restrictive, they should certainly be an important part of worship. That is, after all, what they are intended for, and there is a rich heritage to enjoy.

Thanks to James Grant for reminding me of Psalms of Scotland.

Monday, July 28, 2008

More than a "helping profession"

At Between Two Worlds Justin Taylor quotes from William Willimon's blog a list of insights from retired pastors on pastoring:
  • Successful pastoral ministry requires not only theological ability, biblical fidelity, and a good personality; it requires hard work! Pastors must be "self-starters" who proactively engage their parishioners and their communities by knocking on doors, engaging in conversation, making contacts and other efforts to reach people. Disciplined, determined work is required.
  • Faithful pastors must have a vivid sense of vocation, a sense of being summoned by God to do this work. The work that pastors do is too demanding to do it for any other reason than the conviction that one is called to do this work, that God wants you to do it.
  • The only enduring reasons for being in ministry are theological. Pastors must constantly refurbish their sense that this is a "God thing," that ministry is more than a mere "helping profession." Pastoral ministry arises out of theological commitments and is dependent upon what God is doing in the church and the world.
  • Though some seem to believe that pastoral visitation is outmoded, there is no substitute for meeting people where they live, from offering yourself to them through visiting in their homes and businesses.
  • Pastoral ministry is relational. Your people must believe that you care about them, that you know them individually, and that you are trying to love them.
Between Two Worlds: Willimon on Pastoral Wisdom

Friday, July 25, 2008

"Not forgiving yourself is not having faith..."

My light reading, unlike that of many of my friends, tends not to be fantasy or science fiction. I like detectives or spies and suspense in a recognizable world. I'm a major fan of Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis's space trilogy, and once read Heinlein and other science fiction writers — but not so much anymore. I do like good historical fiction — but only if it doesn't try to change history. I like my fiction to teach me something — about history, about some aspect of living that isn't familiar, about human nature, about an environment, about something real. Some science fiction and fantasy can do some of those things, too.

In the last few years I've read several of Andrew Klavan's books. They are tough, hard-boiled thrillers. For me, his are the kind of book that gets read in a day or two — compulsive reading — which isn't to say that I've been entirely comfortable with them. I like books that plumb the seedy, awful, sinful aspects of human nature to have some redeeming quality — a protagonist who has attractive, virtuous qualities, and even Klavan's heroes were a bit too flawed for my taste. I've been responding differently to his newest book.

Empire of Lies has a flawed protagonist all right — but he is a Christian, altogether aware of his fallibility, and capable of — at least sometimes — resisting temptation. For instance, when he comes within a hairsbreadth of ignoring his marriage vows, but doesn't:
I had done the right thing. I knew that. This adultery business — I mean, it's all right on TV and in the movies and such, in history books and in novels and so on, where no one gets hurt. But again, what's the point of telling a story if you don't at least try to tell the truth? And the truth is: My wife's life and happiness were all in our marriage. My children's happiness depended on ours. I was the head of our household—the man in charge—I had authority over all their lives and was responsible for them. Plus I loved them. I loved them. I didn't want them to become like ... well, like everyone else, you know: mere artifacts and relics of a feckless era. With those grim, cynical faces you see everywhere. With those hurt, bitter eyes. Saying: Well, that's the way of things. As we all know, that just the way. I want my family to be able to say instead: No. A man can live by his word. A man can do the decent thing. My husband did. My father did. So can I.

So I did it: the decent thing, the only wise, the only honest, the only honorable thing.
The book's plot involves Islamo-terrorists. The central charater, Jason Harrow, is not a professional detective or investigator. Rather, as with those in many of Hitchcock's films, he is drawn into an increasingly dangerous situation without realizing quite what is happening.

Recently Klavan gave an interview to the proprietor of Dirty Harry's Place ["Dirty Harry" refers to the Eastwood character in the movie of that name]. An excerpt:
Jason Harrow, your protagonist, is a very flawed individual with a large bag of rocks to haul around from his past. Without my spoiling any story points, I found his ability to live with what he’d done — to forgive himself, which is often the hardest thing to do — a unique way to explore the salvation of Christ. I’m not saying Jason didn’t have regrets, but he was able to move past his past life and not get stalled punishing himself. Not forgiving yourself is not having faith in Christ — a sin in a way.

What a beautiful way to put it. I’m taking some flak, you know, about Jason from conservatives. Why does he think such dirty thoughts, why did he do such terrible things, why can’t your heroes be more likable and so on. But that’s just asking me to gussy up the world and that’s not my job. I believe art is a vehicle for seeking the truth of human existence, of the experience of being human. And the human mind is messy – sinful if you want to put it in religious terms, but even in secular terms, the fact remains. To quote the Bible: the imagination of man is evil from his youth. And I think that’s true in one way or another even of the best of us. I find a lot of people – maybe all people – will do anything, say anything, believe anything rather than confront the evil inside them or the bad things they’ve done. That means that forgiveness becomes our only means of seeing clearly, our only means of setting rationalization and self-deceit aside. It ain’t easy either. It’s a long road.

There’s a very moving scene where Jason takes us back to the moment he found God. He describes the moment he realizes that the saying of the prayer was the answer to the prayer. Without getting too personal, as a writer, where did that come from?

A lot of Jason’s experience comes from two intellectual places. One is my reading of the Marquis de Sade – you know, the guy who gives us the term “sadism.” I read his work many years ago, when I was an atheist, and I thought, you know what? That’s the only fully honest atheist philosophy I’ve ever read, the only book that truly acknowledges the consequences of that belief system. So I put an aspect of that sadism into Jason’s character. (Very difficult because, as you know, personally I’m a sweetie-pie.) And another inspiration for his character is my reading of the book of Genesis, the garden of Eden story. And no, I don’t take it literally, I don’t think Darwin got everything wrong. But I do think it’s a story of stupendous depth and wisdom. And one of the things it speaks about is the centrality of shame in human nature, the way in which, the moment we come to a consciousness of good and evil, we see ourselves as naked, as needing to be covered up and to hide. People who believe we should throw off the shackles of repression and all get together and screw each other silly or whatever are missing the point – the shame’s still there, it’s inherent in the human condition. So I wanted to explore that shame and explore the central spiritual response of our culture, which is salvation through Christ. And, look, I don’t consider this a Christian book but it is a book about a Christian man. And even though I’m not preaching or trying to sell that experience to anyone, it’s an experience I’ve had and I used whatever skill I have to fictionalize it and convey it. Even if you’re not interested in questions of God at all or religious at all, I hoped that I could make it moving to you to see how this man reshapes his life and why. [more]
The book will not be to everyone's taste - some will even find it offensive - but if you, like me, enjoy thrillers, you should give this Klavan a try.

Dirty Harry’s Place… » The New Iconoclasts: Andrew Klavan — The Interview

"If...he really died for me"

This morning the Wall Street Journal printed an account by Robert Costa of Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal's conversion to Christianity:
"I did not have an overnight epiphany like so many people do," said Mr. Jindal, calling his conversion a "very intellectual-based journey," where he studied countless religious texts. "Given my background and personality, that was an important part of the process." But, he notes, "I don't think you can 'read' yourself into faith. I had gotten to the point where I knew what history had to say about this person named Jesus and what he had done on Earth. . . . I think at some point you have to take a leap of faith."

As a teenager, Mr. Jindal said he sought out chaplains at nearby Louisiana State University as he grasped for a religious identity to call his own. During a youth group's Easter season musical production in 1987 at LSU's campus chapel, a black-and-white video of the Passion played during intermission. "I don't know why I was struck so hard at that moment," said Mr. Jindal. "There was nothing fascinating about this particular video. . . . But watching this depiction of an actor playing Jesus on the cross, it just hit me, harder than I'd ever been hit before," he said. "If that was really the son of God, and he really died for me, then I felt compelled to get on my knees and worship him."

"It was liberating," said Mr. Jindal about his moment. "Up until that point, my prayer life was like a child talking to Santa Claus - making deals with God saying 'I'll be good, but this is what I want in return.'" Soon after, Mr. Jindal began to pray and fervently read the Bible, principally parables in the New Testament. "It was like the words were jumping out of the page. It was literally as if it had been written just for me," he said. [more]
Rebel With a Cause: Bobby Jindal's Spiritual Journey - WSJ.com

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Seventh Day Baptist Historical Museum

This is what I've been working on this spring and summer [after procrastinating for almost two years], and it is essentially done apart from a few details. Nick Kersten, SDB Historian at SDB Exec:
The Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society is proud to announce that a new exhibit is open at the Seventh Day Baptist Center. The exhibit is a walk-through history of Seventh Day Baptists, including artifacts and photographs from more than 350 years of SDB history. For those travelling to General Conference or World Federation, the exhibit will be open in conjunction with the Open House at the SDB Center on Sabbath day, August 2, from 2:00-3:30pm. You are cordially invited to attend and see this new exhibit!
It was a very interesting project and I learned a great deal more than I already knew — and corrected some misunderstandings, too. I got a lot of help from Nick and from Historian Emeritus, Rev. Don Sanford. I couldn't have done it without Don's books. I'm sure there are errors that will need to be corrected and, of course, any of those would be mine. Now comes the interesting part. I made choices about what to exhibit and how to describe everything. Have I given offense? If I have, I hope to hear about it, and if corrections need to be made, they will be.

SDB Exec: July 2008

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"The echo of a tune we have not heard"

In Christianity Today, an excerpt from Mere Christians: Inspiring Stories of Encounters with C. S. Lewis: Philip Yancey's description of how Lewis's books influenced him and his writing. A portion from "Found in Space":
I first encountered C. S. Lewis through his space trilogy. Though perhaps not his best work, it had an undermining effect on me. He made the supernatural so believable that I could not help wondering, What if it's really true? What if there is a God and an afterlife and what if supernatural forces really are operating behind the scenes on this planet and in my life? ....

Alone of modern authors, Lewis taught me to anticipate heaven: "We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea."

Lewis saw the world as a place worth saving. Unlike the monastics of the Middle Ages and the legalists of modern times, he saw no need to withdraw and deny all pleasures. He loved a stiff drink, a puff on the pipe, a gathering of friends, a Wagnerian opera, a hike in the fields of Oxford. The pleasures in life are indeed good, just not good enough; they are "only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited."

I found in Lewis that rare and precarious balance of embracing the world while not idolizing it. For all its defects, this planet bears marks of the original design, traces of Beauty and Joy that both recall and anticipate the Creator's intent. .... [more]
Found in Space | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ink

Richard Cohen just doesn't understand why anyone would decorate themselves with something as permanent as a tatoo:
About 40 percent of younger Americans (26 to 40) have tattoos. About 100 percent of these have clothes they once loved but now hate. How can anyone who knows how fickle fashion is, how times change, how their own tastes have "improved," decorate their body in a way that's nearly permanent? I don't get it. ....

I asked a college professor what she thought of tattoos, and she said that for young people, they represent permanence in an ever-changing world. But how is that possible? Anyone old enough and smart enough to get into college knows that only impermanence is permanent. Everything changes - including, sweetie, that tight tummy with its "look at me!" tattoo. Time will turn it into false advertising. ....

...[T]he tattoos of today are not minor affairs or miniatures placed on the body where only an intimate or an internist would see them. Today's are gargantuan, inevitably tacky, gauche and ugly. They bear little relationship to the skin that they're on. They don't represent an indelible experience or membership in some sort of group but an assertion that today's whim will be tomorrow's joy. After all, a tattoo cannot be easily removed. It takes a laser -- and some cash.

I have decades' worth of photos of me wearing clothes that now look like costumes. My hair has been long and then longer and then short. My lapels have been wide, then wider, then narrow. I have written awful columns I once thought were brilliant and embraced ideas I now think are foolish. Nothing is forever.
Will it still look cool when you're old and wrinkled?

Richard Cohen - Ink-Stained Wretchedness - washingtonpost.com

Could you pass the test?

"Could you pass the latest citizenship test?" asks US News at MSNBC's website.
In October 2008 a new version of the U.S. citizenship test will be taken by all applicants. Could you pass it? The questions are usually selected from a list of 100 samples that prospective citizens can look at ahead of the interview. Some are easy, some are not. We have picked some of the more difficult ones.
The test.

I thought it was pretty easy. I got 100% - but then I would have been embarrassed if I hadn't - I taught secondary social studies for thirty-five years. It may be a bit harder as actually given. Apparently it is oral and there are not multiple choices offered.

Thanks to Kristin Chapman for the reference

Could you pass the latest citizenship test? - July 4 special- msnbc.com

Monday, July 21, 2008

Believer's baptism

David Mathis at Desiring God explains what baptism is and why it is important:
The drama of baptism gets its meaning from the gospel.

It pictures the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It's not mainly about ritual or tradition but Jesus and his magnificent saving work of dying for sinners and rising again in triumph.

Baptism is:
  1. a command of Jesus,
  2. that expresses union with him,
  3. by immersion in water,
  4. in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit,
  5. for believers only.
A sense of the continuity of the old and new covenants leads some people to baptize infants. But the argument for infant baptism doesn't work textually or covenantally.

Textually, the apostle Paul makes plain that baptism is for those who have been raised with Jesus through faith (Col. 2:12) and are sons of God through faith (Gal. 3:26–27). Baptism is not for those who don't have faith in Jesus—whether adult unbelievers or infants.

Covenantally, while the old-covenant sign of circumcision was administered to males after their physical birth into the national people of God, the new-covenant sign of baptism is to be administered to both males and females after their spiritual birth into the international people of God. New birth by the gospel now provides entrance into the people of God, not physical birth, and is marked by believer baptism, not circumcision.

Both baptism and local-church membership are serious and important. May God grant us the wisdom of Christ not to minimize either. [more, with a link to the series on baptism and church membership]

What Is Baptism, and How Important Is It? :: Desiring God

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Evangelical Catholic?

Francis Beckwith, once a leading Evangelical theologian, returned to the Catholicism of his youth, and is about to publish Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic. As a description of what an "Evangelical Catholic" is he suggests this at a site called "Be Doers of the Word." Several of the points are clearly unacceptable to Protestants, Evangelical or not, and, in fact, define significant and important differences between Catholics and Protestants. But the points I've selected below reaffirm some of what those of us who are committed to "mere Christianity" hold in common.
1. The Lord Jesus Christ is the crucified and risen Savior of all mankind, and no human person can fully understand his life or find his dignity and destiny apart from a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. It is not enough to know who Jesus is; we must know Jesus.
....

4. Through Word and Sacrament we are drawn by grace into a transforming union with the Lord Jesus, and having been justified by faith we are called to sanctification and equipped by the Holy Spirit for the good works of the new creation. We must, therefore, learn to live as faithful disciples and to reject whatever is contrary to the Gospel, which is the Good News of the Father’s mercy and love revealed in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
....

7. Being a follower of Christ requires moving from being a Church member by convention to a Christian disciple by conviction. This transformation demands that we consciously accept the Gospel as the measure of our entire lives, rather than attempting to measure the Gospel by our experience. Personal knowledge of and devotion to Sacred Scripture is necessary for this transformation to occur through the obedience of faith, and there is no substitute for personal knowledge of the Bible. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.

8. All the baptized are sent in the Great Commission to be witnesses of Christ to others and must be equipped by the Church to teach the Gospel in word and deed. An essential dimension of true discipleship is the willingness to invite others to follow the Lord Jesus and the readiness to explain His Gospel.
If I were composing point four, the words "and Sacrament" wouldn't be there, but the rest is unexceptionable, and there are other Protestants who would disagree with me about removing those words.

Update: In the post below I reference and excerpt Joseph Bottum's article in the current First Things. Something else he noted in that article:
There has emerged ... something we might call “Mere ­Religion.” A curious pattern grew in the Modernist-Fundamentalist controversies of the 1920s—a cross-denominational sympathy: the fellow feeling of people who, though their churches differ, nonetheless share a view of the world and a sense that they are all under attack from similar enemies. The pattern is worth marking, for it appeared not only in the 1920s but over and over again in the ensuing decades.

Indeed, it returned with a vengeance in our own post-Mainline age since the 1970s. You can see it today among the liberal managers of the old churches, and you can see it as well among conservative churchgoers, where the horizontal unity of Mere Religion cuts across denominations. Serious, believing Presbyterians, for example, now typically feel that they have more in common with serious, believing Catholics and evangelicals—with serious, believing Jews, for that matter—than they do, vertically, with the ­unserious, unorthodox members of their own ­denomination.
What is Evangelical Catholicism?

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Death of Protestant America

A very interesting article from the current issue of First Things: "The Death of Protestant America: A Political Theory of the Protestant Mainline", by Joseph Bottum, exploring the reasons for the decline of the Protestant mainline denominations and the unfortunate effects of that decline. A few short excerpts that do not do the article justice [read it all]:
...[T]he pollsters Benton Johnson, Dean R. Hoge, and Donald A. Luidens published in First Things their important 1993 analysis, “Mainline Churches: The Real Reason for Decline.” “In our study,” they wrote, “the single best predictor of church participation turned out to be belief—orthodox Christian belief, and especially the teaching that a person can be saved only through Jesus Christ. . . .”

....Over the past thirty years, Mainline Protestantism has crumbled at the base, as its ordinary congregants slip away to evangelicalism, on one side, or disbelief, on the other. But it has weakened at the head, too, as its most serious theologians increasingly seek community—that longed-for intellectual culture of people who speak the same vocabulary, understand the same concepts, and study the same texts—in other, stricter denominations. ....

.... Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran—the name hardly matters anymore. It’s true that if you dig through the conservative manifestos and broadsides of the past thirty years, you find one distressed cry after another, each bemoaning the particular path by which this or that denomination lost its intellectual and doctrinal distinctiveness.

After you’ve read a few of these outraged complaints, however, the targets begin to blur together. The names may vary, but the topics remain the same: the uniformity of social class at the church head­quarters, the routine genuflections toward the latest political causes, the feminizing of the clergy, the unimportance of the ecclesial points that once defined the denomination, the substitution of leftist social action for Christian evangelizing, and the disappearance of biblical theology. All the Mainline churches have become essentially the same church: their histories, their theologies, and even much of their practice lost to a uniform vision of social progress. Only the names of the corporations that own their properties seem to differ. ....

America was Methodist, once upon a time—or Baptist, or Presbyterian, or Congregationalist, or Episcopalian. Protestant, in other words. What can we call it today? Those churches simply don’t mean much any more. That’s a fact of some theological significance. It’s a fact of genuine sorrow, for that matter, as the aging members of the old denominations watch their congregations dwindle away: funeral after funeral, with far too few weddings and baptisms in between. .... [more]
The picture is of the Riverside Church

FIRST THINGS: A Journal of Religion, Culture, and Public Life

Don't immanentize the eschaton

On a great blog I just discovered, Christ is Deeper Still, a good quotation about utopianism:
Totalitarianism is the possession of reality by a political Idea - the Idea of the socialist kingdom of heaven on earth, the redemption of humanity by political force. To radical believers, this Idea is so beautiful it is like God Himself. It provides the meaning of a radical life. It is the solution that makes everything possible; it is the end that justifies every regrettable means. Belief in the kingdom of socialist heaven is the faith that transforms vice into virtue, lies into truth, evil into good. For in the revolutionary religion, the Way, the Truth and the Life of salvation lie not with God above but with men below - ruthless, brutal, venal men - on whom the faith confers the power of gods.

Peter Collier and David Horowitz, Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts about the Sixties, page 287.
Christ is deeper still: The idol of my generation, still active today

"Whatever divides us..."

Ray Ortlund directs this teaching to those who fall within his own Reformed camp, but the inclination he describes is present in every theological tendency, whether or not we consider ourselves Reformed:
Whatever divides us emotionally from other Bible-believing, Christ-honoring Christians is a “plus” we’re adding to the gospel. It is the Galatian impulse of self-exaltation. It can even become a club with which we bash other Christians, at least in our thoughts, to punish, to exclude and to force into line with us.

What unifies the church is the gospel. What defines the gospel is the Bible. What interprets the Bible correctly is a hermeneutic centered on Jesus Christ crucified, the all-sufficient Savior of sinners, who gives himself away on terms of radical grace to all alike. What proves that that gospel hermeneutic has captured our hearts is that we are not looking down on other believers but lifting them up, not seeing ourselves as better but grateful for their contribution to the cause, not standing aloof but embracing them freely, not wishing they would become like us but serving them in love (Galatians 5:13).

My Reformed friend, can you move among other Christian groups and really enjoy them? Do you admire them? Even if you disagree with them in some ways, do you learn from them? What is the emotional tilt of your heart – toward them or away from them? If your Reformed theology has morphed functionally into Galatian sociology, the remedy is not to abandon your Reformed theology. The remedy is to take your Reformed theology to a deeper level. Let it reduce you to Jesus only. Let it humble you. Let this gracious doctrine make you a fun person to be around. The proof that we are Reformed will be all the wonderful Christians we discover around us who are not Reformed. Amazing people. Heroic people. Blood-bought people. People with whom we are eternally one – in Christ alone.[more]
Thanks to Between Two Worlds for the reference.

Christ is deeper still: Truly reformed

J.I. Packer on the Church and gay "marriage"

The issue of homosexuality has become a quandary for Christians who wish to be kind to their friends and neighbors who are gay, but who also affirm the authority of Scripture. There are a great many behaviors that are incompatible with God's holiness, and it is altogether too easy to condemn those that are not part of one's own set of temptations. Our Lord made very clear the dangers inherent in focusing on the sins of others rather than our own. We have all fallen short of the holiness of God. There a difference, however, between acknowledging that fact, and the Church affirming sinful acts as a positive good. J.I. Packer, in a video made available at Between Two Worlds, explains:


Between Two Worlds: J.I. Packer on Homosexuality

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ego boost

My Technorati score just went up by one because Andrew Camenga linked his site to mine. You, too, could improve my score [a pathetic 16], and if enough sites did I might approach blogdom respectability!

I also make a small amount of money every time you go to Amazon using a link from this site - whether you buy what I recommend or something entirely different.

In my end is my beginning

What does Scripture tell us about Heaven? Russell D. Moore thinks most of us only get it partly right:
.... Eternity is not a timeless beatific vision or an endless choir practice. But neither is it merely a family reunion in which the circle is seen to be unbroken after all. Eternity means Jesus (and, by extension, those who are in him) finally receives his promised inheritance: everything.

Heaven is defined in Scripture as the dwelling place of God, a place inhabited by the angelic armies, the redeemed of all the ages, and the ascended Jesus himself as he awaits the consummation of his kingdom. At the moment of death, the believer is ushered into the presence of Christ in heaven. Since Jesus is now in heaven, this is where the inheritance of the church waits for us, where our mother, the heavenly Jerusalem, is located. Our inheritance, our Jerusalem, and even our Christ do not stay in heaven though - and neither do we.

Many Christians think of their future existence as heaven, in the kind of disembodied, unearthly abode they know awaits them immediately after death. And yet the time between death and resurrection - what theologians call the intermediate state - is far from permanent. It is itself a time of waiting for the full blessing of salvation - the resurrection of the body and the coming of the kingdom. Karl Barth describes John Calvin's vision of this heavenly interlude for the dead in Christ with perfect clarity. Believers in heaven are conscious and active "but with the rest and assurance of conscience that comes with physical death, contemplating God and his peace, from which they are still at a distance, but of which they are sure." These believers are "not yet in possession of the kingdom of God" but they can nonetheless "see what here we can only believe in hope."

For believers, the intermediate state is blessedness, to be sure. But in heaven there is yet eschatology. The ultimate purpose of God is not just the ongoing life of believers but that his kingdom would come, his will would be done "on earth as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:10). That awaits the end of all ends, the return of Jesus and the final overthrow of death.

In Christian theology, the point of the gospel is not that believers should go to heaven when they die. Instead, it is that heaven will come down, transforming and renewing the earth and the entire universe. After the millennium, the final judgment, and the condemnation of the lost, John sees a New Jerusalem coming down from the heavens to earth (Rev. 21:2).

He then describes an eternal order that, consistent with the rest of biblical eschatology, is surprisingly "earthy." Eternity means civilization, architecture, banquet feasting, ruling, work - in short, it is eternal life. The new earth is not the white, antiseptic hyper-spiritual heaven some Christians expect as their eternal home. Nor is it simply an everlasting family reunion or the resumption of all the pleasures one enjoyed in this life. ....

Of heaven, Paul writes: "And from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself" (Phil. 3:20b-21). Christians lay up treasures in heaven, but the treasure does not stay in heaven. Christians focus their minds on heaven, but heaven comes down to earth. [the article]

The Henry Institute: Commentary

Lessons of Chivalry

The Inklings gives us "Michael Ward on Prince Caspian" from the May 14, 2008 Los Angeles Times. Michael Ward is the author of Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis. Excerpts:
As a believer in Natural Moral Law, C.S. Lewis thought that certain things were naturally good and other things were naturally bad. It wasn't just a question of human beings deciding what was good and what was bad. The very nature of the universe tells us something about how we ought to live.

One such thing it tells us to avoid - and where necessary to engage and defeat - is tyranny. In "Prince Caspian," Narnia suffers under a cruel, murderous tyrant, Miraz. His regime is not just an awkward political fact; it is a natural outrage. ....

This does not mean that one kind of tyranny is replaced by another. It means that strength can be justifiably put in the service of liberty and justice to restore the natural rule of law. As a seriously wounded veteran of World War I, Lewis knew all too well the horrors and stupidities of armed conflict. And, he was most certainly no warmonger. But he also felt that war could sometimes be warranted. ....

The world of "Prince Caspian" is not a chaos, but a cosmos, a carefully structured world, both morally and materially, in which all individuals and events have spiritual significance. The story reflects Lewis's belief that the real world, too, is ordered and coherent, all the way up to the planets and stars. "The heavens are telling the glory of God," according to the words of his favorite Biblical psalm. It is the glory of God's natural law, he believed, to pull down the overly mighty from their thrones and exalt the humble and meek. The knight saves us from a world "divided between wolves who do not understand, and sheep who cannot defend, the things which make life desirable" - so Lewis wrote in "The Necessity of Chivalry." And the lessons of chivalry, mercy, liberty and justice from "Prince Caspian" are more than ever necessary in our troubled world today. [more]

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Reason for God

World Magazine chooses its "Book of the Year":
WORLD's Book of the Year is Tim Keller's The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (Dutton, 2008).

Keller is the gifted pastor of an ecclesiastical semi-miracle, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. Few thought that young urban professionals would flock to a biblically orthodox church but Keller's flock now numbers over 5,000, and his church has birthed many others throughout the New York metropolitan area and around the world.

The Reason for God boldly takes aim at smug self-righteousness: "It is possible to avoid Jesus as Savior as much by keeping all the Biblical rules as by breaking them." As Keller explains, "Both religion (in which you build your identity on your moral achievements) and irreligion (in which you build your identity on some other secular pursuit or relationships) are, ultimately, spiritually identical courses to take. Both are 'sin.'"[more]
Get the book - and read it.

WORLD Magazine | Today's News, Christian Views

A Christian Libertarian

Alan Jacobs on "The Anguish of the Christian Libertarian" when it comes to deciding how to vote this November. He is more anguished than I am - I think there is clearly a "lesser evil" between the two major party Presidential candidates - but I think he gets this right:
I’m a Christian who takes very seriously St. Paul’s claim that Christians are never fully at home in any earthly polis, that our citizenship is not of this world, that Christians, wherever they live, are, as Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon put it, resident aliens. I am pleased and proud to be an American — I have always thought that it’s actually cool to be an American — but America will never be as important to me as the Church. That’s just how it is.

This means that when I think about American politics, I tend to ask what policies are best for the cause of Christianity — but unlike many of my fellow evangelicals, I don’t think this country ever should be “a Christian nation,” and do not want to see specifically Christian beliefs and practices embodied in the law of the land. I think such an eventuality would be bad for the country and even worse for Christianity. ....

My own long-considered view is that Christians ought to be, broadly speaking, libertarian in their orientation. In a society characterized by a great deal of personal freedom, Christianity will not appear as coercively “normal,” as something enshrined in the formal or informal political order. Instead it can appear as properly counter-cultural, and, indeed, if there is no possibility that Christians will have their views so enshrined, they will be free to be as counter-cultural as their beliefs lead them to be, without being caught up in the absurd entanglements of patriotism-as-piety. Moreover, in a libertarian society characterized by smaller government, Christians would also be able to do greater works of mercy and charity, encumbered by fewer governmental regulations. ....
the anguish of the Christian libertarian | Politics | The American Scene

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Singing and making music to the Lord

Michael Raiter at Matthias Media has noticed that congregational singing is on the decline. He thinks he knows some of the reasons why. He doesn't like the trend - for biblical reasons - not just personal taste. Brief excerpts [read it all here]:
I was at a convention recently, seated near the rear of the auditorium. The music team at the front were ‘leading’ (and I use that word advisedly) and we were singing. Well, we were meant to be singing. And so I did what I've done quite often lately: I closed my eyes and listened to the singing. The song leaders with their microphones were clear and distinct. I could identify each of the several instruments accompanying the singers. But if you blocked out the ‘worship team’, all that was left around the building was a barely audible murmur. I opened my eyes and looked around. Most folk were either standing silently, not even making a pretence of singing, or were little engaged in the activity.

I turned to a friend next to me and commented, “No-one's singing”. He looked at me as if I'd just observed that no-one was flying. Of course they're not singing; we haven't really sung here for years. Whatever was happening that morning, it was most decidedly not congregational singing. In many churches, genuine, heartfelt congregational singing has been in its death throes for some years now. ....

[I]t's time to reclaim congregational singing. As I indicated in my opening words, I'm at the point of despair with congregational singing. It's only because I've flown first class once or twice (upgraded, of course) that I find economy air travel so awful. Similarly, it's only because I've experienced true congregational singing—singing where the people of God are taught and led to truly sing—that I find it hard to endure the drab alternative that characterizes most gatherings. Of course, first class air travel is for the elite; edifying singing should be for all the saints.

It's time for congregations to sensitively but firmly rise up and reclaim congregational singing. We must remind song leaders (or, perhaps, teach them in the first place) the purpose of their ministry. Putting a microphone in the hands of someone who can sing no more makes her a song leader than, as the old proverb goes, sticking someone in a garage makes him a car. All the microphone does is make someone a very loud singer. The ministry of the song leader is, surely, to guide and lead the people of God in singing. The role of the song leader is to help us to sing, and they will know if they have fulfilled that ministry when they can hardly be heard because of the praises of the congregation filling the room.

I liken the ministry of song leaders to that of John the Baptist. They must decrease as the people of God increase (John 3:30). When the song begins, we may hear the voices of the leaders and the sounds of the instruments, but by the end of the song, it is the voices of the people of God that should dominate.

But sadly, in most churches, the very opposite is happening: John the Baptist won't leave the stage. John the Baptist has forgotten why he's come. As I travel around visiting churches, I've noticed again and again that, for all their good intentions (and the vast majority are, I believe, well-intentioned), the music teams are killing congregational singing. I know that sounds harsh, but I see it in case after case. I enjoy the sound of an electric piano, the beat of the drums, the rhythm of the guitars, and the backing of the saxes and flutes, but my favourite instrument is the human voice. Nothing lifts my soul like being a part of 50— 100—300 saints in full voice, singing the praises of God and the glories of the gospel. Unfortunately that's a disappointingly rare experience.

Finally, singing reminds us of our raison d'être. The reason God made us, redeemed us and sanctified us, and the reason he will glorify us is so that we might live to the praise of his glory. That's something we express with our lives, our minds, our wills, our hearts and our voices. Singing is indispensable in expressing that. That's why the New Testament's picture of heaven is not a celestial Bible study or an eschatological morning tea, but a heavenly choir forever lost in wonder, love and praise. I long here and now for more glimpses and foretastes of that. Don't you? [more]

Thanks to Jonathan Leeman at Church Matters for the reference.

The Briefing Library: The slow death of congregational singing

Tony Snow, R.I.P.

Tony Snow died this morning. We will all die, but he was only 53 and had young children. In an article for Christianity Today that he wrote well into his bout with cancer, he wrote:
Those of us with potentially fatal diseases—and there are millions in America today—find ourselves in the odd position of coping with our mortality while trying to fathom God's will. Although it would be the height of presumption to declare with confidence What It All Means, Scripture provides powerful hints and consolations.

The first is that we shouldn't spend too much time trying to answer the why questions: Why me? Why must people suffer? Why can't someone else get sick? We can't answer such things, and the questions themselves often are designed more to express our anguish than to solicit an answer.

I don't know why I have cancer, and I don't much care. It is what it is—a plain and indisputable fact. Yet even while staring into a mirror darkly, great and stunning truths begin to take shape. Our maladies define a central feature of our existence: We are fallen. We are imperfect. Our bodies give out.

But despite this—because of it—God offers the possibility of salvation and grace. We don't know how the narrative of our lives will end, but we get to choose how to use the interval between now and the moment we meet our Creator face-to-face.
May he be hearing the words "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Cancer's Unexpected Blessings | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Friday, July 11, 2008

"We shall not weary, we shall not rest"

Richard John Neuhaus delivered the closing address at this year's convention of the National Right to Life Committee. Brief excerpts:
...We contend, and we contend relentlessly, for the dignity of the human person, of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, destined from eternity for eternity—every human person, no matter how weak or how strong, no matter how young or how old, no matter how productive or how burdensome, no matter how welcome or how inconvenient. Nobody is a nobody; nobody is unwanted. All are wanted by God, and therefore to be respected, protected, and cherished by us.

We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until all the elderly who have run life’s course are protected against despair and abandonment, protected by the rule of law and the bonds of love. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every young woman is given the help she needs to recognize the problem of pregnancy as the gift of life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, as we stand guard at the entrance gates and the exit gates of life, and at every step along way of life, bearing witness in word and deed to the dignity of the human person—of every human person.....

In the midst of the encroaching darkness of the culture of death, we have heard the voice of him who said, “In the world you will have trouble. But fear not, I have overcome the world.” Because he has overcome, we shall overcome. We do not know when; we do not know how. God knows, and that is enough. We know the justice of our cause, we trust in the faithfulness of his promise, and therefore we shall not weary, we shall not rest. [more]

FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » We Shall Not Weary, We Shall Not Rest

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Seventh Day Baptists and Abolitionism

In the course of some research I've been doing about the history of Seventh Day Baptists, I came across several references to their involvement in the abolitionist movement. A few examples of what I found:

Pardon Davis
Prisoner in Louisiana

Pardon Davis was a Seventh Day Baptist who was arrested in Louisiana in 1854, charged with aiding escaping slaves, and sentenced to twenty years. The fleeing slaves had come to him for refuge, and he had provided them with food and shelter. They were discovered by a slave-catcher, and – upon being flogged – confessed that Davis had assisted them. They apparently knew of him as someone from whom they could get help. Whether he had previously assisted escaping slaves is not known, but he was clearly an abolitionist. From jail, he wrote to his home church in Berlin, Wisconsin:
If you could be on the plantation near where I lived, and at night, when the cotton was weighed, out of two hundred, not less than twelve are whipped every night – O! could you hear the shrieks, cries, groans, prayers – yes, if you could see the victim on his knees praying with all the earnestness a man is capable of, to that brutal overseer, and promising to strain every nerve on the morrow to pick more cotton – it is enough to melt the heart of any one. Who can look on such scenes as these, and not be moved? …. I wait with the greatest anxiety to hear from you, to know whether I shall receive your sympathies and prayers, or whether I have done wrong, and am considered a heathen.
He did, indeed receive their sympathies and prayers – and their efforts to gain his release. He regained his freedom in 1856.

[the article is from the July 5, 1855, Sabbath Recorder, the denominational newspaper]

See also "Pardon Davis: A Prisoner in Louisiana" by Don Sanford


The Greenmanville Church

The Greenmanville Seventh-Day Baptist Church was built at the height of shipbuilding activity in Mystic, Connecticut, about 1850. The congregation was an offshoot of the Greenman brothers' church in Westerly, R.I.

George Greenman
The Greenman brothers were abolitionists and active supporters of the cause, going so far as to subsidize free state emigrants to Kansas, as well as supporting the Underground Railroad. The Greenmanville church made abolition a point in its Statement of Faith. The eleventh article of the Greenmanville Seventh Day Baptist Chuch’s Statement of Faith is unequivocal with respect to slavery:
11th That slavery is a violation of the principles of Christianity and therefore a sin against God.
The church was located in the midst of the shipyards. Although, of course, the Greenman yard didn’t work on the Sabbath, other shipyards did. On at least one occasion, worship was interrupted so the congregation could cheer a launching. With the decline of the shipyard during the 1870s and 1880s, the congregation was depleted and the church was finally closed in 1904.

Today the church building is a part of Mystic Seaport museum. The original site of the church is adjacent to the present main entrance to Mystic Seaport.


Joseph Goodrich

Joseph Goodrich was born in Hancock, Massachusetts, in 1800; he married Nancy Maxon in 1819, and in 1821, moved to Alfred, New York. He lived in Alfred until 1838, when he and his family moved to Milton, Wisconsin, where he was a founding member of the town and of the Milton Seventh Day Baptist Church. Goodrich built the Milton House, a stagecoach inn, and one of the first poured grout buildings in the United States, in 1844.

Milton House, Milton, Wisconsin
Joseph Goodrich was well-known in the area as a strong anti-slavery man. “. . . He was for many years a decided anti-slavery man, a member of the old Whig party . . .” [U. S. Biographical Dictionary, Wisconsin Volume, 1877]
In the stirring days during which the fugitive slave law was the most important matter of public interest the good people around Milton and Albion did not generally advertise their participation in resistance to it in the face of imprisonment in a federal prison and a $1,000 fine. However, it has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt that the territorial road and the stations along its route in the basement of the Milton House and the Albion church constituted part of the extensive system provided for the escape of the fugitive slaves. [Old Albion Academy . . ., August 4, 1949]
The Milton Seventh Day Baptist Church of which Goodrich was a founding member was actively abolitionist. In 1854 the church adopted this resolution:
That the action of the present administration of the government of the United States, in the passage of acts promoting and extending the system of slavery, is unworthy of the support of liberty-loving voters, and that any person supporting this Administration, or any one not pledged against Slavery, by his vote, commits an act which ought to exclude him from membership in [the Seventh Day Baptist Church]...
[The picture of the Milton House is early 20th century. Escaping slaves are thought to have been hidden in a tunnel running from the basement to a log cabin behind the inn]

John James

John James
?-1661

The overthrow of the Puritan Commonwealth and the restoration of the monarchy in late 1660 placed nonconformists in difficult circumstances. Charles II, suspected of being a secret Catholic, sought the overthrow of all nonconformist privileges and freedoms. His plan was inadvertently aided by a Fifth-Monarchist revolt in January 1661. Fifth Monarchists looked for the soon-coming kingdom of God on earth (the fifth monarchy of Daniel 2). The more radical Fifth Monarchists sought to set up Christ's rule through arms.

Charles II found a seventh-day Sabbatarian a convenient target for his wrath. The pastor of London's Seventh Day Baptist Mill Yard congregation was John James, a poor silk weaver by trade. A Fifth Monarchist, though not a revolutionary, his favorite scripture was Revelation 11:15, "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ and he shall reign forever and ever" (KJV). His martyrdom is one of the most thoroughly documented of that decade.

On the Sabbath of October 19, 1661, while preaching before his flock, the king's officers dragged him from his pulpit. They accused him of treason, not of being a Jew or keeping the Sabbath. This was a political trial, though it had clear religious overtones.

No credible evidence was submitted to substantiate the charges against him. Witnesses against him contradicted each other. Brave souls testified for him that they had heard the witnesses talk among themselves of how the state had bribed or threatened them into testifying. Others stepped forward on his behalf, denying he ever spoke treason. Still, he was found guilty. His sentence read:
John James, thou art to be carried from hence to the prison, and from thence to the place of execution and there to be hanged by the neck, and being yet alive, thy bowels to be taken out (a fire having been prepared before hand) and to be burned before thy face. Thy head to be severed from thy body and thy body quartered, thy head and body to be disposed according to the king's pleasure.
The king's pleasure was to have James' head placed on a stake outside the congregation's meeting hall.

In speaking of his beliefs, he acknowledged that he was a baptized believer who accepted the principles in Hebrews 6:1-2 and such doctrines as faith in God, repentance from dead works, baptism, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment, ending with the affirmation that he owned the Commandments of God, the Ten Commandments as expressed in Exodus 20, and did not dare willingly to break the least of those to save his life. He also declared, "I do own the Lord's holy Sabbath, the seventh day of the week to be the Lord's Sabbath." (Sanford, A Choosing People, 69)

Before being executed, James stated he was prepared to die, denied the charges and asked for God's mercy on the executioner. The hangman, who had not received the expected bribes to reduce James' agonies, had promised to multiply James' torments. So moved was the hangman by John James' speech that he mercifully waited until James died before drawing and quartering him.

Adapted from From Sunday to Sabbath, http://www.wcg.org/lit/law/sabbath/sun-sab1.htm

"Can I do less?"

James Bowman on Hollywood's failure to provide audiences with the films they would really like to see:
...American movies have forgotten how to portray heroism, while a large part of their disappearing audience still wants to see celluloid heroes. I mean real heroes, unqualified heroes, not those who have dominated American cinema over the past 30 years and who can be classified as one of three types: the whistle-blower hero, the victim hero, and the cartoon or superhero. The heroes of most of last year’s flopperoos belonged to one of the first two types, although, according to Scott, the only one that made any money, “The Kingdom,” starred “a team of superheroes” on the loose in Saudi Arabia. What kind of box office might have been done by a movie that offered up a real hero?
There’s no way of telling, because there haven’t been any real movie heroes for a generation. This fact has been disguised from us partly because of the popularity of the superhero but also because Hollywood has continued to make war movies and Westerns, the biggest generators of movie heroism, that are superficially similar to those of the past but different in ways that are undetectable to their mostly young audiences, who have no memory of anything else. ....

[I]t is “3:10 to Yuma” that offers the most interesting contrast between the old-fashioned sort of Western and the new breed. It was a remake of a movie first made in 1957, directed by Delmer Daves and starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin. Like so many other Westerns of the period, it was a parable of the heroism of the ordinary people who brought civilization, peace, and prosperity to the Wild West. Heflin’s character, Dan Evans, is a simple farmer in danger of losing his farm to drought who, for the $200 it would take to pay the mortgage, accepts the task of escorting Ford’s Ben Wade, a dangerous killer, to catch the eponymous train to trial. At a moment when it looks as if he is sure to die in the attempt, Evans explains to his wife that he is no longer escorting the prisoner for the money but as a civic duty. “The town drunk gave his life because he thought people should be able to live in peace and decency together,” he said. “Can I do less?”

Needless to say, there is no comparable line in the remake. The Dan Evans of 2007, played by Christian Bale, is an almost helpless victim, a Civil War veteran who lost his leg in a friendly-fire incident and whose motivation would remain merely mercenary but for the fact that, like us, he is meant to become rather fond of Crowe’s fascinating Wade—and vice versa. James Mangold, the director of the remake, has turned it into a meet-cute buddy picture. In the original, Evans stands four-square for due process and saves Wade from a vigilante. Ford’s Wade, having the rough sense of frontier honor of old-fashioned Western villains, repays the favor, even at the cost of having to make the train. He doesn’t like owing anything to anyone, he says. The remake ends with a general shootout in which it is unclear why anyone, especially Wade, does what he does. Poor Evans remains only a victim. ....

...[T]he American movie hero—who once so impressed the world that he personified heroism for people far beyond our borders—has been missing in action for decades. From the days of Tom Mix and other silent-screen cowboys up until the 1970s, America’s heroes were the world’s heroes. During and after World War II, real-life heroes themselves often looked to the likes of John Wayne or Gary Cooper to see what a hero was supposed to look and act like. Such men hardly exist anymore, except in old movies. .... [more]

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Preaching is not the place for politics

None of us, if we are Christians, whatever our politics, should want to hear them preached from the pulpit. Preachers have much more important things to tell us about, and there is great danger of mistaking the political passions of the moment for matters of ultimate importance. Russell D. Moore on "Jeremiah Wright & the Conservatives Who Preach Just Like Him":
But one does not have to be a political radical to bypass Jesus at church. White, upwardly mobile, pro-America preachers preach liberation theology all the time, with all the fervor of Jeremiah Wright, if not the anger.

Just take a look at the best-selling authors in Christian bookstores. Listen for a minute or two to the parade of preachers on Christian television and radio. What are they promising? Your best life now. What are they preaching about? How to be authentic. How to make good career choices. How Hillary Clinton fits into Bible prophecy.

How many times have we heard conservative preachers use the Bible in exactly the same way that Jeremiah Wright uses it? Wright uses the Scripture as a background to get to what he thinks is the real issue, psychological or economic or political liberation from American oppression. Others use the Scripture as a background to get to what they think is the real issue, psychological or economic or political liberation through the American Dream.

Either way, Jesus is a way to get to what the preacher deems really important, be it national health care or “your best life now.” Either way, the end result is hell for the hearer who accepts this gospel, regardless of whether God damns or blesses America. ....

In both cases, the preachers fit Jesus into a preexisting storyline. They did not call upon their hearers to find themselves in the storyline of the crucified, buried, and resurrected Jesus. For them, Jesus is a mascot, just for different agendas, none of which will last a minute past the Judgment Seat. ....

Where anything other than Christ is preached, there is no truth offered, and thus, there is no freedom proclaimed. There may be shouts of affirmation or silently nodding heads, there may be left-wing politics or right-wing politics, there may be culturally liberal psychotherapy or culturally conservative psychotherapy, there may be almost anything people think they want, but there’s nothing but judgment in the air. [more]

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

How we feel...rather than God's glory

Introducing the upcoming Desiring God Conference, The Power of Words and the Wonder of God, several introductory YouTube videos by the conference presenters have been made available. One of them is by Bob Kauflin - someone who has thought and written a lot about the proper use of music in worship. His contribution is about "The importance of singing truth":



Stories, Faith, Facebook, and More :: Desiring God

Saturday, July 5, 2008

"People in poor countries cannot afford enough to eat."

The Guardian [UK] reports that the use of biofuels like ethanol has pushed up food prices, inconveniencing people in wealthy countries like the US, and starving people in poor countries. This would be unacceptable even if it reduced greenhouse gasses and even if there were good evidence that such gasses cause global warming. Speculation about what may happen has caused the adoption of policies that cause actual harm today. The greed of agribusiness, the misplaced fanaticism of environmentalists, and the pandering of politicians have converged to do real damage. The Guardian:
Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% - far more than previously estimated - according to a confidential World Bank report obtained by the Guardian.

The damning unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally-respected economist at global financial body.

The figure emphatically contradicts the US government's claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises. It will add to pressure on governments in Washington and across Europe, which have turned to plant-derived fuels to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce their dependence on imported oil....

"Political leaders seem intent on suppressing and ignoring the strong evidence that biofuels are a major factor in recent food price rises," said Robert Bailey, policy adviser at Oxfam. "It is imperative that we have the full picture. While politicians concentrate on keeping industry lobbies happy, people in poor countries cannot afford enough to eat." ....

President Bush has linked higher food prices to higher demand from India and China, but the leaked World Bank study disputes that: "Rapid income growth in developing countries has not led to large increases in global grain consumption and was not a major factor responsible for the large price increases."

Even successive droughts in Australia, calculates the report, have had a marginal impact. Instead, it argues that the EU and US drive for biofuels has had by far the biggest impact on food supply and prices. ....

"Without the increase in biofuels, global wheat and maize stocks would not have declined appreciably and price increases due to other factors would have been moderate," says the report. The basket of food prices examined in the study rose by 140% between 2002 and this February. The report estimates that higher energy and fertiliser prices accounted for an increase of only 15%, while biofuels have been responsible for a 75% jump over that period.

It argues that production of biofuels has distorted food markets in three main ways. First, it has diverted grain away from food for fuel, with over a third of US corn now used to produce ethanol and about half of vegetable oils in the EU going towards the production of biodiesel. Second, farmers have been encouraged to set land aside for biofuel production. Third, it has sparked financial speculation in grains, driving prices up higher. [more]

Also posted at Standfast

Secret report: biofuel caused food crisis | Environment | The Guardian

Friday, July 4, 2008

Samuel Ward

Samuel Ward
Samuel Ward was Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, son of a governor of Rhode Island, three times governor himself, and presiding officer over the Continental Congress when it was meeting in Committee of the Whole.

Samuel Ward
He was the only colonial governor who refused to enforce the Stamp Act, and was actively involved in resistance to British authority – organizing committees of intelligence in every Rhode Island community.

Ward was elected to the Continental Congress in 1774. There he was a close ally of Samuel Adams and John Adams of Massachusetts. Perhaps his closest friend and political ally was Benjamin Franklin. He is remembered as the man who nominated George Washington as commander of the Continental Army. He was a close friend of and correspondent with Nathanael Greene - perhaps Washington’s best general. He advocated an American navy and introduced the resolution authorizing the construction of its first ships.

He died of smallpox in Philadelphia on March 25, 1776, having delayed inoculation out of fear that it would incapacitate him when important work needed to be done. The entire Congress attended his funeral.

He was a Seventh Day Baptist, a member of the Sabbatarian Church of Christ in Westerly & Hopkinton. His profession of faith and request for membership is in the possession of the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society.
To the Sabbatarian Church of Christ in Westerly & Hopkinton:

Being fully satisfied that Baptism is a Christian Duty I desire to be admitted to that Ordinance this Day: my Life & Conversation are well known; my religious Sentiments are That there is one God the Father of whom are all Things and one Lord Jesus Christ by whom are all Things, That the Universe thus created has been preserved and governed by infinite Wisdom, Power and Goodness from the Beginning, That mankind having fallen into the most gross & unnatural Idolatry, Superstition and Wickedness it pleased God for their Recovery to make a Revelation of his mind & will in the holy Scriptures which (excepting the ceremonial Law and some part of the Judicial Law peculiar to the Jews) It is the Duty of all mankind to whom they are made known sincerely to believe and obey: my Sins I sincerely & heartily repent of and firmly rely upon the unbounded Goodness and Mercy of God in his only begotten Son Christ Jesus for Pardon & eternal Life: and I sincerely desire and Resolve by his Grace for the future to walk in all the Commandments and Ordinances of the Lord

Sam: Ward
August 5, 1769
information from Kenneth E. Smith, Sam: Ward: Founding Father, Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society, 1967

Update: A site devoted to the Ward family provides this about Samuel Ward:
...[I]n 1763, he won election as Governor of Rhode Island. He was reelected in 1765 and held office until 1767. When the British parliament passed the infamous Stamp Act which imposed taxes on imports into the American Colonies — without any representation of these colonists in that legislative body — the Americans became infuriated. Samuel was the only one of the governors of the 13 colonies who refused to sign a required oath to sustain and enforce it.

He was appointed a delegate from Rhode Island to the Continental Congress to be held at Philadelphia as tensions heightened in the period leading up to the American Revolution.

The drama of revolution and war opened with all its horrors of bloodshed and devastation, and all its glorious scenes of devotion to the rights of man, and determination to obtain liberty, at any and every cost. Samuel played a prominent part in these scenes and performed it well. Samuel wrote a letter in 1775 to his brother, speaking of his own position and his feelings; he said:
"I have traced the progress of this unnatural war, through burning towns, devastation of the country, and every subsequent evil. I have realized, with regard to myself, the bullet, the bayonet and the halter; and, compared with the immense object I have in view, they are all less than nothing. No man living, perhaps, is more fond of his children than I am, and I am not so old as to be tired of life; and yet, as far as I can now judge, the tenderest connections and the most important private concerns are very minute objects. Heaven save our country, I was going to say, is my first, my last, and almost my only prayer"
Samuel took an active part in helping organize the Rhode Island Militia for the war. His son Samuel Jr., recently out of college, entered the Colonial Army with the commission of captain.

When the Continental Congress met, Samuel was chosen Chairman of the "Committee of the Whole". The committee recommended "...that a general be appointed to command all the Continental forces raised, or to be raised, for the defence of American liberty." This was passed and George Washington was chosen by ballot to take command of American forces.

Samuel was a devoted admirer of Gen. Washington, and a sincere advocate of his election. A few weeks after the appointment, he wrote to Gen. Washington:
"I most cheerfully entered upon a solemn engagement, upon your appointment, to support you with my life and my fortune; and I shall most religiously, and with the highest pleasure, endeavor to discharge that duty."
We find Governor Ward a most active member of Congress, and untiring in his efforts to organize and advance the preparations for defence on the part of the colonists. He was warmly in favor of pronouncing a declaration of independence; and, although he did not live to sign the Declaration, yet he was one of the most active and determined among those who consummated it.

During the Congress, Samuel contracted smallpox and fell ill in March 1776. He last attended sessions on Mar 15. He died 26 Mar and was buried at the First Baptist Church Cemetery in Philadelphia. All the members of the Congress and a large crowd of friends and supporters attended his funeral.

The remains of Governor Ward were exhumed and removed to the Old Cemetery at Newport, Rhode Island in 1860. The slab over his grave, contains the following inscription, written by John Jay (Supreme Court Justice):
"In memory of the Honorable Samuel Ward, formerly Governor of the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations; afterwards delegated from that colony to the General Congress; in which station, he died, at Philadelphia, of the small pox, March 26th, 1776, in the fifty-first year of his age. His great abilities, his unshaken integrity, his ardor in the cause of freedom, his fidelity in the offices he filled, induced the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations to erect this grateful testimony of their respect."
Wards in the United States Congress, Part 2

"A holy day of deliverance"

The United States isn't, and never was, a "Christian nation," but it has been one whose founders and leaders acknowledged the role of Providence. It is a country that embedded religious freedom in its Constitution and relied on "the protection of Divine Providence" in that document celebrated on Independence Day. Steve Waldman, author of Founding Faith:
.... suggests that Americans treat Friday as a holy day of deliverance and reflect on the crusade for religious freedom that distinguishes our nation from so many others.

"If you really look at the sweep of American history one of the greatest achievements, one of the real points of differentiation between us and other nations and other Western nations, is our very unique approach to religious freedom," ....

"We tend to think about [the American Revolution] in terms of taxation and political liberties. But in their minds political liberty and religious liberty were very closely connected. They felt that you could not have religious liberty without political liberty and vice versa. ... It was one of the first holy wars in history that resulted in religious freedom rather than the tyranny of a particular religion."

Never thought of July 4 as a religious holiday? Perhaps that’s because the nation’s founders have long been misunderstood and misrepresented by activists on the right and left, Waldman said.

He contends that George Washington and James Madison never set out to establish a Christian nation as the Religious Right would have us believe. Nor did Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin intend to build a wall separating church and state, as some secularists on the left insist. Instead, the Revolutionary War was fought to secure religious liberty – a novel way to promote faith by simply leaving it alone, Waldman said.
The Seeker - A personal and professional quest for truth | Chicago Tribune | Blog

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Believe

Andrew Camenga, the executive for the Seventh Day Baptist Board of Christian Education, has been playing with Wordle. He entered the Seventh Day Baptist Statement of Belief and his result can be found here. The most prominent word by far is "believe" [which does not indicate any affinity with a particular Presidential candidate] because each section begins with "we believe." I decided to enter the same words, play around with the format, and see what came up. My result is on the right and at Wordle. Click on the image for a larger version.

"Wordle," Wordle says, "is a toy"...
for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends.