Tuesday, September 30, 2008

With affection and enthusiasm

At First Things, Eleanor Bourg Donlon laments the fact that most young people don't voluntarily read books anymore - something I noticed in my classes, even in the TAG class I used to teach. She believes, and I agree, that among the important reasons are which books are taught, and how they are taught:
In November 2007, the National Endowment for the Arts published a report titled To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence. .... Its findings are devastating. Teenagers are increasingly tossing aside books for other activities and a startling percentage of young adults (nearly 60 percent) don’t bother to pick the books up in the first place. ....

...Generations are rising who can only see Austen through the lens of schmaltzy Hollywood films—cannot see, say, Charles Dickens at all, unless they have a taste for gloriously interminable BBC dramas.

This distaste for Dickens is usually based on a single text, most often A Tale of Two Cities, Hard Times, or Great Expectations. What is this source of this plague of prejudice? Can it be that (with the exception of the established yuletide phenomenon that is The Christmas Carol—a story that persistently comes back like one of Jacob Marley’s fellow spirits, sometimes to haunt, sometimes to delight) Boz no longer has the power to entertain?

The answer has to be no, but this is a problem with two insidious sources—television and the classroom, and the latter is far more dangerous. ....

The true stage for the anti-Dickens crusade is the classroom. The uninspired pessimism of high-school teachers blights the young receptacle, already numbed into thinking that the Harry Potter series is “quality literature.”

Jack thinks Sydney Carton is a sap, and Jill doesn’t have the foggiest idea what is wrong with Miss Havisham. They agree, however, that the assignment is boring....

How then should Dickens be taught? As with all of literature, he must be taught with affection, with enthusiasm, with patience, and with a taste for eccentricity. A more fitting introduction for young minds might be found in the reckless youthful energy of Nicholas Nickleby, with its hero who descends to fisticuffs in defense of a downtrodden drudge or attacks strangers in defense of his sister’s virtue. It is perhaps easier to relate to the trials and tribulations of young Oliver Twist than to sympathize with Pip. The death of Nancy is far more dramatically accessible than that of Sydney Carton, and with the former there is the advantage of a cast of colorful, evocative characters—Fagin, Bill Sikes, Nancy, Jack Dawkins, Charlie Bates, and, above all, Bulls-Eye, unite to make the novel one of Dickens’ greatest achievements.

We need to recover the lost art of enjoyment—enjoyment that is not simply mind-numbing intoxication or drooling appreciation of a television hero. .... [more]
FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » Hard Times for Great Books

Friday, September 26, 2008

"Precious Lord..."

Precious Lord, take my hand,
Lead me on, let me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn;
Through the storm, through the night,
Lead me on to the light.
Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.

Thomas A. Dorsey, 1932
While reading Getting the Blues, I've been listening [not inappropriately] to Goodbye, Babylon, described below. It includes Blues and much more - country, western, southern gospel [both white and black] - all Christian music from a particular era, but all with the sensibility referred to in the previous post. The CD description:
In February 1999 a college radio disc jockey named Lance Ledbetter set out on a mission to compile rare and essential recordings of vintage religious music. Four and a half years later the result of this journey was released as a box set called Goodbye, Babylon.

The set consists of five CDs featuring 135 Songs (1902-1960) and one CD featuring 25 Sermons (1926-1941). Accompanying the CDs is a 200 page book with Bible verses, complete lyric transcriptions, and notes for each recording. ....
Bob Dylan and Neil Young liked it. Neil Young:
"I recently got a gift from Bob Dylan, a good old friend of mine. He gave me a gospel collection of great old American music and early country roots from old 78s. It's the original wealth of our recorded music; it's the cream of the crop and has the history of each recording. It's a great old set called Goodbye, Babylon, and it's incredible. It's in a wooden box and everything, and it's just so beautiful." — Neil Young on Weekend Edition
Audio samples at Dust-to-Digital.

Dust-to-Digital : Goodbye, Babylon [DTD-01]

"When my heart is full of sorrow"

I've been reading Steve Nichols' new book, Getting the Blues: What Blues Music Teaches Us about Suffering and Salvation and finding it very rewarding. The Blues are about a world of hardship and suffering - the world we live in - a fallen world, but not without hope. A significant part of the book's thesis is summarized in this passage from Chapter 4:
The stillness of Good Friday scares us. The immobile Redeemer, pierced and scarred and shut up in death, is too much for us. We prefer "Up from the grave He arose with a mighty triumph o'er his foes;” and rightly so. But failing to linger at Good Friday, failing to keep Good Friday as an essential piece of our senses diminishes and distorts the full weight of Christ's work. If we don't linger at Good Friday, we have no hope to offer those who suffer from great floods, or from injustices, or from any of the litany of curses in the fallen world. Without Good Friday there is nothing left to say to those left mourning in the shadow of swaying bodies hanging from trees. And without Good Friday, that dark, cold night, there would be no redemption. Because there is Good Friday, there is something to say to those under the curse. Because of Good Friday there is the redemption and the fullness Blind Willie Johnson sang of. It is the redemption and freedom that the Child brings to the sons and daughters of Adam.

Free exercise

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ..."
Richard John Neuhaus points out a common misinterpretation of the First Amendment:
... Although lawyers and courts routinely speak of the two religion clauses of the First Amendment, there is but one religion clause. The stipulation is that “Congress shall make no law,” and the rest of the clause consists of participial modifiers explaining what kind of law Congress shall not make. To point out that there is only one clause containing two provisions may seem like a small grammatical point, but it has far-reaching significance.

The no-establishment provision of the religion clause is entirely and without remainder in the service of free exercise. Free exercise is the end; no-establishment is a necessary means to that end. No-establishment simply makes no sense on its own. Why on earth should we need a no-establishment provision? Apart from the federal government’s promise that it will not interfere with religious establishments in the states, the answer is that no-establishment is required to protect the rights of those who might dissent from whatever religion is established.

In other words, no-establishment is required for free exercise. It is, one may suggest, more than a nice play on words that Mr. Jefferson’s bill of 1779 was called the “Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom.” The purpose of the non-establishment of religion is to establish religious freedom. It follows that any interpretation of no-establishment that hinders free exercise is a misinterpretation of no-establishment.

In recent history, especially in the last four decades, the priority of free exercise has been dangerously obscured. Indeed, one must go further. The two parts of the religion clause have been quite thoroughly inverted. One gets the distinct impression from some constitutional scholars and, all too often, from the courts that no-establishment is the end to which free exercise is something of a nuisance....
FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » Turning the First Amendment On Its Head

It's only Rock 'n' Roll

Whatever his failings in other respects, given the choice, the candidate gets this one absolutely right:
Sen. Barack Obama stopped by his Senate office before heading over to the White House this afternoon for the big bipartisan meeting on the financial meltdown.

Met at the door by a few reporters, he answered a key question - at least for his generation.

Beatles or Stones? asked a Congressional Quarterly reporter.

"Stones," Obama replied.
Obama Answers Critical Question - About Music | The Trail | washingtonpost.com

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Once upon a time...

The Madison Capitol Times recalls a Life magazine photo essay about Madison in 1948:
Brian Tobin, who lives in a southwest side neighborhood that was a farm field in 1948, can look through the photo spread and easily recognize the neighborhoods. ....


While the neighborhoods look the same, he said, the photos that feature children seem a world away. It's particularly the case with photos that show boys on a raft in a city lake, or swinging from a tree to jump in for a swim.

"Now those parents would be subject to an investigation for letting those kids on the lake by themselves," Tobin said.

The photos with the children were also what struck Rich and Angie Hoard. ....

The photo of the boys on the raft jumped out at her, too. Not that boys wouldn't want to do that now, she said, but that their parents likely wouldn't allow it.

"I did allow my kids to ride their bikes around the block by themselves the other day," she said of her daughters, a kindergartner and a first-grader. "That was pretty big. That's the big difference. The fear." ....

Worries about safety aside, current residents still see the city they know and love in those photos. They also still see many of the good things the magazine touted, such as parks, culture and pretty neighborhoods.

"I'm sure if you've lived here forever, you think the place is going to hell in a handbasket," Rich Hoard said. "But Madison is still a great place to live."
Although not in Madison then - I grew up in Milton - I well remember the time when our parents didn't worry if they didn't see us except at mealtime. We wondered, climbed, played, and did whatever we wanted. There were consequences if we got caught doing things we shouldn't, but no real concern about our safety. And we were safe. Times have changed.

77 Square: City Life: Features: 'The Good Life' revisited: Madison then and now

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Respect for the occasion

A while back J. Mark Bertrand noticed a quotation from C.S. Lewis's Preface to Paradise Lost:
The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather it proves the worshiper's inability to forget himself in the rite, and his readiness to spoil for everyone else the proper place of ritual.

Some issues are more important than others

Directed toward Catholic voters, this ad at CatholicVote.com is very well done and reminds all of us that some very important moral issues are at stake in this Presidential election:

“Every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

At HarperOne's C.S. Lewis blog, an interview with Peter J. Schakel, author of Is Your Lord Large Enough?: How C. S. Lewis Expands Our View of God Some excerpts from the interview:
In our finite humanness, we cannot comprehend God’s immensity, cannot take in God’s greatness. What we do is to form an image in our minds encompassing as much of God’s greatness as we can handle – and that image is inevitably too small. ....

Usually we don’t try to shrink God – it’s just impossible not to. What we need are reminders that we are prone to do it. We fall back on the same old images, the conceptions we’ve become accustomed to, and they begin to solidify. Lewis says in A Grief Observed that the images turn into idols, so that in effect we’re worshiping a god made of our own images instead of the true God. Our familiar images let us keep God in a box and give us a sense of control – we can manage this Lord, this “tame” version of God. .... In my own life Lewis’s writings have been particularly helpful, as for example Aslan’s wonderful words to Lucy in Prince Caspian, “Every year you grow, you will find me bigger.” ....

....We can believe and still have doubts. To doubt and question can be evidences of a living, active, honest faith (or search for faith), in contrast to a passive or non-growing faith. Lewis believed in intellectual honesty and rigorous critical thought in all sectors of life, including religion, even if they lead one to reject Christianity, as he did for over a decade; he came back to Christianity after he found answers to the questions he raised about it. It seems clear that his faith, when he returned to it, was stronger and deeper than it would have been without going through that questioning process. .... [more]
C. S. Lewis Blog: How C. S. Lewis Expands Our View of God

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Decision making and God's will

S.M. Hutchens at Touchstone reacts wisely to foolishness:
A young woman whose family I have known for years called me for advice. She had just been told by a young man that after long and earnest prayer, after seeking the face of God for days, the Holy Spirit had informed him it was God’s will she form a romantic attachment with him. With little deliberation and equal gravity I informed her she could tell her swain and his Spirit to go jump in the lake, and add a boot in my name to their collective backside with her good riddance.

There was a time I would have been more cautious about contravening the earnestly sought will of God in this way, since I was raised in a tradition that, while not charismatic, gave a good deal of respect to decisions earnestly prayed about - the earnester, the better. ....

But I am more confident now that the Holy Spirit, while mysterious, infinitely subtle, and often counter-intuitive is for all that no fool. The gabbling of enthusiasts is not his favored means of communication, nor is he a private gentleman. If he has a message for one who speaks for him, it meets what he has already placed in many of his own, and agrees. He is a friend to reason because he invented it, a friend of counsel, because he is eternally in counsel himself (some would even say, and not without reason, that he is Counsel), and a friend to the wisdom of age and experience, for he is the one who has given it, presumably for use toward his ends. ....
Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments: Quenching the Spirit

"When people stop believing in God..."

Mollie Hemingway in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, "Look Who's Irrational Now," notes the tendency in some quarters to disparage orthodox Christian belief:
On the "Saturday Night Live" season debut last week, homeschooling families were portrayed as fundamentalists with bad haircuts who fear biology. Actor Matt Damon recently disparaged Sarah Palin by referring to a transparently fake email that claimed she believed that dinosaurs were Satan's lizards. And according to prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins, traditional religious belief is "dangerously irrational." From Hollywood to the academy, nonbelievers are convinced that a decline in traditional religious belief would lead to a smarter, more scientifically literate and even more civilized populace.

The reality is that the New Atheist campaign, by discouraging religion, won't create a new group of intelligent, skeptical, enlightened beings. Far from it: It might actually encourage new levels of mass superstition. And that's not a conclusion to take on faith - it's what the empirical data tell us.
Chesterton supposedly said "When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing - they believe in anything." That appears to be demonstrable. From the column:
"What Americans Really Believe," a comprehensive new study released by Baylor University yesterday, shows that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology. It also shows that the irreligious and the members of more liberal Protestant denominations, far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians.

The Gallup Organization, under contract to Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion, asked American adults a series of questions to gauge credulity. Do dreams foretell the future? Did ancient advanced civilizations such as Atlantis exist? Can places be haunted? Is it possible to communicate with the dead? Will creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster someday be discovered by science?

The answers were added up to create an index of belief in occult and the paranormal. While 31% of people who never worship expressed strong belief in these things, only 8% of people who attend a house of worship more than once a week did.

Even among Christians, there were disparities. While 36% of those belonging to the United Church of Christ, Sen. Barack Obama's former denomination, expressed strong beliefs in the paranormal, only 14% of those belonging to the Assemblies of God, Sarah Palin's former denomination, did. In fact, the more traditional and evangelical the respondent, the less likely he was to believe in, for instance, the possibility of communicating with people who are dead. ....

Surprisingly, while increased church attendance and membership in a conservative denomination has a powerful negative effect on paranormal beliefs, higher education doesn't. Two years ago two professors published another study in Skeptical Inquirer showing that, while less than one-quarter of college freshmen surveyed expressed a general belief in such superstitions as ghosts, psychic healing, haunted houses, demonic possession, clairvoyance and witches, the figure jumped to 31% of college seniors and 34% of graduate students. [read it all]
Look Who's Irrational Now - WSJ.com

Sabbath Recorder October 2008

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

This month's issue of The Sabbath Recorder introduces a new gospel tract "Do You Really Know the Facts of Life?," providing images of its pages.

It also includes an article from this site - the first of the series I did here about Seventh Day Baptist history.

An uncle, my father's brother, Rev. Victor W. Skaggs, gives a testimony about his experiences surrounding a recent near fatal fall.
Most of you know that I have had a series of traumas over several years. Sometime back in that series, I learned a prayer so that following emergency service and lying in bed I could pray: “Father, if this is to be the end of my earthly life, take me Home and I will rejoice. If I am to continue this life, give me strength and the wisdom to use it for Your purposes.”

Then I could relax and wait for His decision. I was at peace. ....

His care is always there. Look for it!

May God keep us all in the faith of Christ and the joy of life both here and hereafter!!
There are, as usual, many interesting and informative articles.

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

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A self evident truth?

The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty presents a film about the relationship between the two: The Birth of Freedom. The contention that all men are equal isn't obvious since human beings are obviously so unequal in so many ways. The very idea of human equality, and of human rights, comes from somewhere else.

The American founders said that all men are created equal and are endowed with certain unalienable rights—that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They called this a self-evident truth. Eighty-seven years later, Abraham Lincoln reaffirmed this idea on the Civil War battlefield of Gettysburg. And in 1963 these same words echoed from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as Martin Luther King, Jr. urged America to fulfill the promise of its founding. But humans are separated by enormous differences in talent and circumstance. Why would anyone believe that all men are created equal? That all should be free? That all deserve a voice in choosing their leaders? Why would any nation consider this a self-evident truth?
The film answers the question. Thanks to the Evangelical Outpost for the reference. The Birth of Freedom - A Documentary on the History of Freedom which asks: How is Freedom Born?

"Gotta serve somebody"

A DVD about Bob Dylan and Christianity is about to be released: Inside Bob Dylan's Jesus Years: Busy Being Born... Again! From the cover notes as quoted on the website:
In late 1978, Bob Dylan fell into the Arms of the Lord through the Vineyard Christian Fellowship Church. In his first-ever interview, Dylan's Bible class teacher, Pastor Bill Dwyer, details Bob Dylan's embrace of Jesus Christ and Christianity. Dylan then made three Gospel albums, winning a Grammy for Gotta Serve Somebody. However, Dylan's radical new direction alienated fans and enraged critics as he preached apocalyptic messages from the Book of Revelation.

Director Joel Gilbert weaves the intimate story Inside Bob Dylan's Jesus Years through revealing interviews, including legendary Slow Train Coming producer Jerry Wexler, background singer Regina McCrary, keyboardist Spooner Oldham, iconic San Francisco Chronicle rock reporter Joel Selvin, award-winning songwriter Al Kasha, Jews for Jesus pioneer Mitch Glaser, and Dylanologist AJ Weberman.

Included are rare photos and exclusive live concert footage from 1978-1981, while Bob Dylan himself explains the impact of Jesus on his art and soul in a recently unearthed TV news interview from 1981. ....
The trailer for the film:

Thanks to RightWingBob.com for the information. Home - Inside Bob Dylan's Jesus Years: Busy Being Born... Again!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Is Mormonism Christian?

Every issue of First Things presents interesting material. Some of it is made immediately available online, but to read all of each issue you need to subscribe. Ten issues online cost only $30. This month, the free article is an exchange between a Mormon and an Evangelical about "Is Mormonism Christian?"

Bruce Porter, the Mormon, concludes:
Are Mormons Christian? By self-definition and self-identity, unquestionably so. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affirms that it is a Christian-faith denomination, a body of believers who worship Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and who witness that salvation is possible only by his atoning blood and grace. By the simple dictionary definition of a Christian as one who believes in or worships Jesus Christ, the case is compelling. To the title Christian a critic of Mormonism may add any modifiers he deems appropriate—unorthodox, heretical, non-Nicene, different—but blanket assertions that we are not Christian are a poor substitute for informed argument and dialogue.
Gerald McDermott ends his response:
In sum, then, Mormon beliefs diverge widely from historic Christian orthodoxy. The Book of Mormon, which is Mormonism’s principal source for its claim to new revelation and a new prophet, lacks credibility. And the Jesus proclaimed by Joseph Smith and his followers is different in significant ways from the Jesus of the New Testament: Smith’s Jesus is a God distinct from God the Father; he was once merely a man and not God; he is of the same species as human beings; and his being and acts are limited by coeternal matter and laws.

The intent of this essay is not to say that individual Mormons will be barred from sitting with Abraham and the saints at the marriage supper of the Lamb. We are saved by a merciful Trinity, not by our theology. But the distinguished scholar of Mormonism Jan Shipps was only partly right when she wrote that Mormonism is a departure from the existing Christian tradition as much as early Christianity was a departure from Judaism. For if Christianity is a shoot grafted onto the olive tree of Judaism, Mormonism as it stands cannot be successfully grafted onto either.
The whole article, well worth reading if you care about the issue, is here.

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

Dark was the night

Justin Taylor interviews Steve Nichols about his new book, Getting the Blues: What Blues Music Teaches Us about Suffering and Salvation. One of my former students encouraged me to listen to the Blues - I started and haven't stopped. I'm getting this book. A portion of the interview:
What motivated you to move from simply enjoying the blues to wanting to write a book about it?

As I mentioned, it didn’t take me long to see that there is a lot of theology here, but the kind of theology we don’t always dwell on. The blues is more about the “fellowship of his suffering,” than it is about the “power of the resurrection.” The blues reminds us of the curse, of our limitations and of our fallenness. The blues is also about the cross. The blues reminds us that while we celebrate Easter Sunday, we do well sometimes to pause over Good Friday. Our theology tends to be more triumphant, more major key. I liked the theology I was hearing in the blues because it was a theology we don’t always hear in our typical contemporary American evangelical contexts.

In the course of reading for the book, I didn’t spend all my time in research just listening, I came across the term theomusicology. That’s what I’m doing in this book, a theomusicology of the blues. Again, I think it’s a theology or a slant on theology that we, the “us” in the subtitle of the book, don’t always pay attention to but should.

For those unfamiliar with the music, where should they start?

At the end of the book I offer a discography of three or so CDs that complement each chapter in the book. I’ll pull a few out of there for you. You can’t go wrong with the standards: Son House (Delta Blues), Charley Patton (Primeval Blues, Rags, and Gospel Songs), Robert Johnson (Complete Recordings, and Muddy Waters (The Anthology). I’m also partial to the smooth vocals of Mississippi John Hurt (Avalaon Blues: The Complete 1928 Okeh Recordings). For the more raspy vocals, it doesn’t get any better that Blind Willie Johnson (The Complete Blind Willie Johnson). His moaning version of “Dark Was the Night,” a song about Good Friday, was launched into space on the Voyager.

If you’ve not listened to the blues before, then I’d start with Hurt before moving on. If you were into the whole British rock scene, then you need to start with Eric Clapton’s “Me and Mr. Johnson,” his tribute to Robert Johnson. In fact, I think I’ll go have a listen myself. [more]
Between Two Worlds: An Interview with Steve Nichols on Getting the Blues

Monday, September 15, 2008

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom"

In a post titled "The Therapeutic Gospel" David Powlison describes a gospel that is about using God to fix what I think is wrong in my life rather than one that is about bringing me into His Kingdom, one that has Him serving what I think are my needs rather than one that brings me to love Him and to serve Him and to want what He wants:
In this new gospel, the great evils to be redressed do not call for any fundamental change of direction in the human heart. Instead, my deepest problems are merely limited to what has happened to me. It's not something about me that has also gone woefully astray.

It's only about my sense of rejection because others have not loved me thoughtfully and well. It's my corrosive experience of life's vanity, because I haven't been able to have the impact I want, to be recognized as Somebody Who Matters. It's my nervous sense of self-condemnation and diffidence, because my self-esteem is wobbly. It's the imminent threat of boredom if my music is turned off. It's how so much of life is routine; I love the adrenaline rush, and I don't like it when a long, slow road lies ahead.

The gospel is enlisted to serve these particular cravings; Jesus and the church exist to make you feel loved, significant, validated, entertained and charged up. This gospel ameliorates distressing symptoms. It makes you feel better. The logic of this therapeutic gospel is a jesus-for-Me who meets individual desires and assuages psychic aches. ....

Such a gospel massages self-love. There is nothing in its inner logic to make you love God and love any other person besides yourself. This therapeutic gospel may often mention the word "Jesus," but He has morphed into the meeter-of-your-needs, not the Savior from your sins. It corrects Jesus' work. The therapeutic gospel unhinges the gospel.

The real gospel is the good news of the Word made flesh, the sin-bearing Savior, the resurrected Lord: "I am the living One, and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore" (Rev. 1:18). This Christ turns the world upside down. One prime effect of the Holy Spirit's inworking presence and power is the rewiring of our sense of felt needs.

Because the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, we keenly feel a different set of needs when God comes into view and when we understand that we stand or fall in His gaze. My instinctual cravings are replaced (sometimes quickly, always gradually) by the growing awareness of true, life-and-death needs:
  • I need mercy above all else: "Lord, have mercy on me." "For Your name's sake, pardon my iniquity for it is very great."
  • I want to learn wisdom, and unlearn willful self-preoccupation: "Nothing you desire compares with her."
  • I need to learn to love both God and neighbor: "The goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith."
  • I long for God's name to be honored, for his kingdom to come, for his will to be done on earth, for his whole church to be glorified together.
  • I want Christ's glory and lovingkindness and goodness to be seen on earth, to fill the earth as obviously as water fills the ocean.
  • I need God to be my refuge and deliverer, setting me free from enemies, sufferings, sorrows, death, temptations.
  • I long for the Lord to wipe away all tears.
  • I need God to change me from who I am by instinct, choice, and practice.
  • I want him to deliver me from my obsessive self-righteousness, to slay my lust for self-vindication, so that I feel my need for the mercies of Christ, so that I learn to treat others gently.
  • I need God's mighty and intimate help in order to will and to do those things that last unto eternal life, rather than squandering my life on vanities.
  • I want to learn how to endure hardship and suffering in hope, having my faith simplified, deepened, and purified.
  • I need to learn, to listen, to worship, to delight, to trust, to give thanks, to cry out, to take refuge, to obey, to serve, to hope.
  • I want to attain the resurrection to eternal life: "We groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body."
  • I need God himself: "Show me your glory." "Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus." [more]
Thanks to Theocentric Preaching for the reference.

The Therapeutic Gospel: Part 1

Friday, September 12, 2008

The name of the Lord

For many years - before the advent of the NIV, and then the ESV - my favorite modern translation of the scriptures was The Jerusalem Bible, at least partly because J.R.R. Tolkien was involved in its English version, but also because it reads so well. One of its characteristics is the use of "Yahweh" for the name of God, for example, here:

Happy the man
who never follows the advice of the wicked,
or loiters in the way that sinners take,
or sits about with scoffers,
but finds his pleasure in the Law of Yahweh,
and murmurs his law day and night.

[Psalm 1:1-2]

The Jerusalem Bible is a Catholic version - but, according to Christianity Today, neither it nor the New Jerusalem Bible can be used without modification in Catholic worship any longer:
Observant Jews have traditionally not used the name Yahweh, refusing to pronounce the so-called proper name of God out of respect, or to be sure they do not misuse it. Now neither will Roman Catholics, at least in their worship services.

"In recent years the practice has crept in of pronouncing the God of Israel's proper name," said a June letter from the Vatican. "As an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty of God, it was held to be unpronounceable and hence was replaced during the reading of sacred Scripture by means of the use of an alternate name: Adonai, which means 'Lord.'" In August, U.S. bishops were directed to remove Yahweh from songs and prayers.

Protestants should be following their lead, said Carol Bechtel, professor of Old Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. "It's always left me baffled and perplexed and embarrassed that we sprinkle our hymns with that name," she said. "Whether or not there are Jewish brothers and sisters in earshot, the most obvious reason to avoid using the proper and more personal name of God in the Old Testament is simply respect for God." ....

Other evangelicals have been debating not only the word Yahweh but also Jehovah, said John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. ....

Both Yahweh and Jehovah have been removed from the Christian Reformed Church's Psalter Hymnal, turning "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah" into "Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer." ....

Protestantism has long traditions of both using and avoiding the name Yahweh, according to Witvliet. "Some people said using Yahweh emphasized for them the transcendence of God, which you might say is precisely the goal of not saying the term."
Primarily because of friends who feel strongly about the question, I have become uncomfortable about using "Yahweh" in conversation and in worship, but until reading this, had never considered "Jehovah" the least bit controversial.

Barring Yahweh | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

History online

Nick Kersten, Historian for the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society has found that some of the most interesting books about Seventh Day Baptist history are becoming available online:
There is good news for Seventh Day Baptists regarding out-of-print SDB and SDB-related publications!

The Historical Society frequently receives requests for information which come from out of print volumes. These requests are sometimes accompanied by inquiries about where these out of print volumes can be found for purchase. Purchasing the books through used or rare books dealers is frequently very expensive, and so this alternative is less expensive. Through the Google Books project, many of these volumes are available online in .pdf format. ....

A list follows of some of the volumes which are available in this way:

Seventh Day Baptists in West Virginia, by Corliss F. Randolph

The German Sectarians of Pennsylvania, by Friedrich Sachse

It is important to note that not all of the volumes which are currently out of print are available in this way and not all books listed are available in a downloadable format, but searches of key topics like "Seventh Day Baptist" or authors names can be a tool used to determine what books may be available in your area of interest. ....
SDB Exec: September 2008

"It's not our evil deeds..."

Some guys are born where they want to be - Catholic, Jewish, Baptist, whatever. My life has been more like one of those Outward Bound programs where they drop you far from home and you have to make your way back with a piece of string and a matchbook.
Peter Robinson uses that quotation to begin a segment of his interview with Andrew Klavan:
Andrew Klavan gives a tour of his life in — and out of — faith. Early on, he was raised in the Jewish faith, but as he says “without faith”; then as a young man he rejected God and faith entirely; finally, in what he calls “the atmosphere of unknown,” he “made the decision to believe.”
The "belief" segment of the interview:

Two quotations - on forgiveness:
It's not our evil deeds that we are asking to be forgiven for. It's our humanity.
and on understanding:
Having made the decision to believe I feel that I understand reality far better.
Watch it here. The other parts of the interview can be found here.

Uncommon Knowledge on National Review Online

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Not really about growth

USA TODAY notes that the "megachurch" growth rate has slowed and describes some of the reasons. In the process, the article also describes the more serious problem of the increasing number of those not attracted to or affected by any church at all. Much church growth is simply a matter of attracting people from other churches - not bringing the good news to those who are not Christians.
The unchurched remain untouched. While the number of people who say they attend at least once a week hovers around 30% year after year, the number who say they "never" go to church climbs.

The tally of "Nevers" varies from 16% in Gallup surveys to 22% in the General Social Survey, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, to 32% in an Ellison Research survey this year. The new "Nevers" come from the pool of people who once attended monthly or a few times a year.

Many slide away from church to find other answers to their spiritual quest or another church where the preaching or music or family programs better suit their style.

"The megachurch story is not really about growth, it's about shifting allegiances. People want to feel good about who they already are," says Philip Goff, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University in Indianapolis. "If church is too challenging or not entertaining, they'll move on."
Amid dwindling numbers, megachurches seek the 'seekers' - USATODAY.com

Monday, September 8, 2008

All law imposes someone's convictions

Archbishop Chaput comments on Biden's confused position on whether abortion ought to be legal. Biden, answering a question on Meet the Press yesterday, says that "I'm prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception. But that is my judgment. For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout than I am seems to me is inappropriate...." So Biden is perfectly willing to permit the killing of what he believes is a human life. The bishops of Biden's tradition understand both logic and the moral responsibility of public servants considerably better than he does. Chaput:
Asked when life begins, Sen. Biden said that, "it's a personal and private issue." But in reality, modern biology knows exactly when human life begins: at the moment of conception. Religion has nothing to do with it. People might argue when human "personhood" begins - though that leads public policy in very dangerous directions - but no one can any longer claim that the beginning of life is a matter of religious opinion.

.... Abortion is a foundational issue; it is not an issue like housing policy or the price of foreign oil. It always involves the intentional killing of an innocent life, and it is always, grievously wrong. If, as Sen. Biden said, "I'm prepared as a matter of faith [emphasis added] to accept that life begins at the moment of conception," then he is not merely wrong about the science of new life; he also fails to defend the innocent life he already knows is there. ....

In his Meet the Press interview, Sen. Biden used a morally exhausted argument that American Catholics have been hearing for 40 years: i.e., that Catholics can't "impose" their religiously based views on the rest of the country. But resistance to abortion is a matter of human rights, not religious opinion. And the senator knows very well as a lawmaker that all law involves the imposition of some people's convictions on everyone else. That is the nature of the law. .... Other people have imposed their "pro-choice" beliefs on American society without any remorse for decades.
Insight Scoop | The Ignatius Press Blog: Archbishop Chaput comments on Senator Biden's comments

Friday, September 5, 2008

Screwtape

Justin Taylor has found that John Cleese's reading of The Screwtape Letters, once available on cassette, but not yet on CD, can be downloaded from Audible.com for $10.49. That is a bargain - Cleese is the perfect reader for Screwtape's letters to his nephew, Junior Tempter Wormwood.

In the very first letter, Screwtape advises that Wormwood should emphasize jargon, not logic, as he attempts to prevent the conversion of his "patient" to Christianity:
...Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don't waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous - that it is the philosophy of the future. That's the sort of thing he cares about.

The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy's own ground. He can argue too; whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I am suggesting He has been shown for centuries to be greatly the inferior of Our Father Below. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient's reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it "real life" and don't let him ask what he means by "real".
If you've never read it, then listen to it in this great recording or read The Screwtape Lettersthe old fashioned way for about the same cost.

Between Two Worlds: John Cleese Reading Screwtape Letters

"Meeting together...and being accountable and real"

Julie R. Neidlinger explains "Why I Walked Out of Church", and, although she references certain stylistic things that she finds offensive, she isn't actually attacking styles but what she thinks they represent in a lot of churches. Trendiness, salesmanship and manipulation are some of her targets.
Today, I went to Bismarck Evangel Temple, sat through the worship and most of the sermon, and then...walked out before it was done.

I don't blame that church; it is my own inability to fit that literally forced me to leave. I don't really doubt their sincerity, and that many people love the programs and opportunities that church provides. I've even found, in the past, a few sermons to be interesting. But...

I believe what I believe - my Christian faith - not because of tradition or because I was raised that way. Not because I want fire insurance or hell-avoidance. Not because I want to find a group or place to belong. I believe it on my own, I believe it to be real, I believe it to be important and valid, and I believe the way we have made Christianity out to be is completely wrong. And that's why I have such a hard time going to church as it is now done. ....

I'm not going to be one of those starched-collar Christians who, based on personal preference, say that this is a sign we're going to hell in a handbasket and that all things are wrong unless they are done as they were with the Puritans. What I'm saying is that I can't stand the phoniness, or trendiness, or sameness - or whatever I'm trying to say here - that the church seems to catch onto at the tail end, not even aware of how lame it is. The fact that this is not only actually successful in appealing to people, but attracts them, also disgusts me.

It makes me want to throw up.

It's buying into some kind of lie or substitution of cool culture as being relevant when it isn't.

If I see another cool Bible college student or pastoral studies major wearing the hemp choker necklace, flip-flops, open-at-the-collar shirt that's untucked, and baggy jeans, saying words like "dude" and "sweet", I will kick their ass. It's like the Christian version of annoying hipsters, an overly-studied and homogenized "with-it" faux coolness. ....

I'm not looking for starched Baptist legalism, but Casual Friday Church is as equally fake and disgusting.

I miss my own, small church, from back home. It's filled with uncool, normal people who just want to help and talk and connect and be real and accountable to each other. It's filled with people who want to go to the Dairy Queen after service and maybe have an ice cream cone. People who help change a flat tire in the parking lot. The building isn't huge or fancy. The church doesn't have programs and any other accessories to attract sub groups, like teens or kids events or anything that smacks of entertainment; there's no program there to attract me to stay, but instead, it is the real relationships that have done the trick. We greet people not as a job or because we're the assigned greeter, but because we see they're new and we want to get to know them.

I feel more like part of the body than an attendee when I go there. I have a place, an integral part, just like all the rest of the people. As it is, the more I attend these larger churches and hear about programs and activities and see places to sign up for classes and possible facility expansion projects...the less I want anything to do with it. I feel like a barcode in the pew, and little else.

I'm having difficulty putting this into words.

I hate to church hop. I don't want to waste my time here going from one church to the next. I would like to find just a small group of people and meet and talk about our beliefs and struggles and study the Bible and connect on a real level, and let that be church. Because isn't that what the church is, meeting together with other believers and being accountable and real with each other in our walk?

Thanks to Mark Olson for the link to The Thinklings whence I was guided to this post - which I appreciate and would never have found otherwise. There are lots of comments following the article and most of them actually respond to what Julie Neidlinger says.

Why I Walked Out of Church

Thursday, September 4, 2008

"Singing and making melody..."

John Piper on "The Importance of Corporate Singing":
Thirteen years ago we asked: What should be the defining sound of corporate worship at Bethlehem, besides the voice of biblical preaching?

We meant: Should it be piper organ, piano, guitar, drums, choir, worship team, orchestra, etc. The answer we gave was "The people of Bethlehem singing."

Some thought: That’s not much help in deciding which instruments should be used. Perhaps not. But it is massively helpful in clarifying the meaning of those moments.

If Bethlehem is not "singing and making melody to the Lord with [our] heart," (Ephesians 5:19), it’s all over. We close up shop. This is no small commitment.
The Importance of Corporate Singing :: Desiring God

"You knitted me together in my mother’s womb"

The argument against abortion can be made in purely secular terms - and in a secular political environment probably should be. But Speaker Pelosi's ignorance of the historic position of the tradition to which she belongs has inspired many responses reminding us that long before there was accurate scientific knowledge about the development of the unborn child, Christianity had a definite position on the issue. James Grant promotes some research by one of his commenters that provides evidence:
"You shall not kill the child by obtaining an abortion. Nor, again, shall you destroy him after he is born." (Barnabas, 70-80 AD, 1.148)

"You shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill one who has been born." (The Didache, 80-140 AD, 1.377)

"We say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder. And we also say that we will have to give an account to God for the abortion." (Athenagoras, 175 AD, 2.147)"In our case, murder is once for all forbidden. Therefore, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier way to kill a human. It does not matter whether you take away a life that has been born or destroy one that is not yet born." (Tertullian, 197 AD, 3.26)

"Indeed, the Law of Moses punishes with appropriate penalties the person who causes abortion. For there already exists the beginning stages of a human being. And even at this stage, [the fetus] is already acknowledged with having the condition of life and death, since he is already susceptible to both." (Tertullian, 210 AD, 3.218)

"Are you to dissolve the conception by aid of drugs? I believe it is no more lawful to hurt a child in process of birth, than to hurt one who is already born." (Tertullian, 212 AD, 4.57)

"There are some women who, by drinking medical preparations, extinguish the source of the future man in their very bowels. So they commit murder before they bring forth." (Mark Minucius Felix, 200AD, 4.192)

"The womb of his wife was hit by a blow of his heel. And, in the miscarriage that soon followed, the offspring was brought forth, the fruit of a father’s murder." (Cyprian, 250AD, 5.326)

"The soul is not introduced into the body after birth, as some philosophers think. Rather, it is introduced immediately after conception, when the divine necessity has formed the offspring in the womb." (Lactantius, 304-313AD, 7.297)

"You shall not slay your child by causing abortion, nor kill the baby that is born." (Apostolic Constitutions, 390 AD, 7.466)
Thanks to Gene Edward Veith for the reference.

In Light of the Gospel » Blog Archive » Quotes on Abortion from the Early Church

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

As a servant

Dan Gilgoff at God-o-Meter interviews Kaylene Johnson, the author of a biography of Governor Sarah Palen. A few questions and answers from the interview:
How does her faith influence her worldview and politics?

It's really central to who she is and how she views the world and her job. One of the things I felt with talking with her is that, unlike with a lot of politicians who are running for office, there's not a sense of political ambition as much as there is a sense of service. I think that' s unique. She comes at her job as a servant. ....

.... Did she make her faith and values an issue in her campaign for governor?

Her faith didn't play a big role. It's a very big part of who she is but she's also very private. It's not something she uses as a campaign tool. I don't think she would hold it secret at all if asked about it directly. She would freely speak her mind about it. It would be interesting to see how she responds to that question because it's such an important part of her life.

Palin has become a darling of the nation's conservative evangelical leadership. Was she close to that community in Alaska? Did they play a big part in her election as governor?

No, not really. I would not say that I was sort of amused [by Palin's rollout as a family values candidate] because she is a family person and is not shy about saying so. But it's not something used in her campaign. Her campaign was really about her call for ethics in government. That's what clinched the deal.
God-o-Meter - A scientific measure of God-talk in the elections