Friday, October 31, 2008

God is the author of all truth

On the proper relationship of science to other revelation:
Pope Benedict reminds the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, as it contemplates evolution, that "there is no opposition between faith’s understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences."
To "evolve" literally means "to unroll a scroll", that is, to read a book. The imagery of nature as a book has its roots in Christianity and has been held dear by many scientists. Galileo saw nature as a book whose author is God in the same way that Scripture has God as its author. It is a book whose history, whose evolution, whose "writing" and meaning, we "read" according to the different approaches of the sciences, while all the time presupposing the foundational presence of the author who has wished to reveal himself therein. This image also helps us to understand that the world, far from originating out of chaos, resembles an ordered book; it is a cosmos. Notwithstanding elements of the irrational, chaotic and the destructive in the long processes of change in the cosmos, matter as such is "legible". It has an inbuilt "mathematics". The human mind therefore can engage not only in a "cosmography" studying measurable phenomena but also in a "cosmology" discerning the visible inner logic of the cosmos.
RNS Blog: "To 'evolve' means 'to unroll a scroll'"

Reformation

On this day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittemburg. In celebration Gene Edward Veith [whose site is called "Cranach"] offers this:


And, also focusing on the Reformation, Jared Wilson reflects on the continuing importance of "The Five Solas for Evangelicalism Today" and the necessity of the continuing reformation of the Church.

And Crossway.blog offers an excerpt from Stephen J. Nichols' book The Reformation.

Battle Hymn of the Reformation — Cranach: The Blog of Veith

Thursday, October 30, 2008

It isn't about you

Every kind and variety of Christian worship seems to develop patterns and traditional forms and every one runs the risk of becoming dry and repetitive and losing its proper focus. Trevin Wax reviews a new book that argues for liturgy as the best way to provide order and direction in worship:
It’s probably not a good idea for me to read too many books like Mark Galli’s Beyond Smells & Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy. (Paraclete, 2008).

After all, I have long desired a closer following of the church calendar. I have written of my love for more liturgical forms of worship. ....

Galli doesn’t try to make a biblical case for high-church. Trying to prove from the Bible that churches should adopt a liturgical worship service is nearly impossible. Instead, he wisely goes in the direction of common sense. Take for instance his view of the church calendar: this “cosmic daytimer” forms the way we look at time and challenges the other calendars that we live by (including sports!).

What I find most refreshing in liturgy is the way in which “liturgy puts a break on narcissism.” Galli says, “From the beginning, you realize that this service isn’t about you.” The fact that liturgy is not seeker friendly tells us something about the transcendence of God. ....

After reading this book, I realize that I am not so attracted to certain forms of liturgy, but to the rhythms of worship that flow through a liturgical worship service.

Let there be freedom and movement in worship. At the same time, let us be thoughtful about our worship. [more]
Book Review: Beyond Smells and Bells

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

An unbearable lightness

Tim Challies provides a good review of Michael Horton's new book, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church. A "good review" meaning one that makes the book seem very much worth reading. Challies says that "the most important statement in the book may just be this: 'It is not heresy as much as silliness that is killing us softly.'" Some excerpts from the review:
Amazingly, some of those called by the name of Christ actually deny him - perhaps not his existence but at least his uniqueness and his divinity. In Christless Christianity Michael Horton argues that such denial of Christ may not be too far from home. More and more evangelical churches, he says, are now essentially Christless. "Aside from the packaging, there is nothing that cannot be found in most churches today that could not be satisfied by any number of secular programs and self-help groups." Many churches have tossed out Christ and continue on without him, sometimes not even realizing that he has been lost along the way....

"I am not arguing in this book that we have arrived at Christless Christianity," says Horton, "but that we are well on our way. ... My concern is that we are getting dangerously close to the place in everyday American church life where the Bible is mined for 'relevant' quotes but is largely irrelevant on its own terms; God is used as a personal resource rather than known, worshiped and trusted; Jesus Christ is a coach with a good game plan for our victory rather than a Savior who has already achieved it for us; salvation is more a matter of having our best life now than being saved from God's judgment by God himself; and the Holy Spirit is an electrical outlet we can plug into for the power we need to be all that we can be." ....

Amazingly, it is not theological liberalism that has drawn the church away from her creed, away from her biblical foundation. Instead, it is a kind of unbearable lightness - a faith that eschews biblical theology in favor of whatever happens to be the flavor of the day. Says Horton, "My argument in this book is not that evangelicalism is becoming theologically liberal but that it is becoming theologically vacuous. ... We come to church, it seems, less to be transformed by the Good News than to celebrate our own transformation and to receive fresh marching orders for transforming ourselves and our world. ... Just as you don't really need Jesus Christ in order to have T-shirts and coffee mugs, it is unclear to me why he is necessary for most of the things I hear a lot of pastors and Christians talking about in church these days." [more]

Christless Christianity by Michael Horton : A Discerning Reader Review

Does he know any children?

Richard Dawkins apparently believed, when he was young, that the kiss of a princess could turn a frog into a prince. Perhaps he believed that rabbits wear waistcoats. He may have believed in the tooth fairy. It must have been a terribly disillusioning shock when he realized the truth. Carl Olson at Insight Scoop:
Really now, the man is simply deranged:
The prominent atheist is stepping down from his post at Oxford University to write a book aimed at youngsters in which he will warn them against believing in "anti-scientific" fairytales.

Prof Hawkins [sic] said: "The book I write next year will be a children's book on how to think about the world, science thinking contrasted with mythical thinking." ....

Prof Dawkins said he wanted to look at the effects of "bringing children up to believe in spells and wizards".

"I think it is anti-scientific – whether that has a pernicious effect, I don't know," he told More4 News.

"I think looking back to my own childhood, the fact that so many of the stories I read allowed the possibility of frogs turning into princes, whether that has a sort of insidious affect on rationality, I'm not sure. Perhaps it's something for research."
.... Most people know that children have wonderful imaginations, and are both credulous and very discerning, often in delightful (and occasionally bewildering) fashion. My three-year-old son, for example, is quite taken at the moment with Buzz Lightyear of "Toy Story" fame. "I'm Buzz Lightyear!" he announces, "I can fly high up into the sky! I have super powers!" But when asked if he can really fly, he says, with a knowing look: "No, I'm pretending." The same is true when he pretends to be a pirate or a soldier. "It's just pretend, Daddy." Duh, don't you adults get it? Yes, most of us do. But some apparently don't. ....
But Prof Dawkins, the bestselling author of The God Delusion who this week agreed to fund a series of atheist adverts on London buses, added that his new book will also set out to demolish the "Judeo-Christian myth".

He went on: "I plan to look at mythical accounts of various things and also the scientific account of the same thing. And the mythical account that I look at will be several different myths, of which the Judeo-Christian one will just be one of many.

"And the scientific one will be substantiated, but appeal to children to think for themselves; to look at the evidence. Always look at the evidence."
Indeed. Which is why the authors of the Gospels so often appealed to eye witness testimony, to evidence, to facts (cf., Lk 1:1-4; Jn 21:24-25). But I suspect that Dawkins' treatment of such matters will likely be just as shallow and lousy as were his philosophical engagements with theism.

Here are a couple of thoughts from J.R.R. Tolkien about fantasy and myth, taken from his essay, "On Fairy-Tales" and quoted by Richard Purtill in Lord of the Elves and Eldils: Fantasy and Philosophy in C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien:
... fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make .... For creative Fantasy is founded upon the hard recognition that things are so in the world as it appears under the sun; on a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it. ...

Fantasy can, of course, be carried to excess. It can be ill done. It can be put to evil uses. It may even delude the minds out of which it came. But of what human thing in this fallen world is that not true? Men have conceived not only of elves, but they have imagined gods, and worshipped them, even worshipped those most deformed by their authors' own evil. But they have made false gods out of other materials: their notions, their banners, their monies; even their sciences and their social and economic theories have demanded human sacrifice. Abusus non tollit usum. Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.
[more]
The Tolkien essay can be found here as a .pdf.

Update: Alan Jacobs notes a C.S. Lewis quotation:
Long ago, C. S. Lewis wrote, “About once every hundred years some wiseacre gets up and tries to banish the fairy tale.” Why? “It is accused of giving children a false impression of the world they live in. But I think that no literature that children could read gives them less of a false impression. I think what profess to be realistic stories for children are far more likely to deceive them. I never expected the real world to be like fairy tales. I think that I did expect school to be like the school stories. The fantasies did not deceive me; the school stories did.”
Insight Scoop | The Ignatius Press Blog: Richard Dawkins is a myth-hating, reality-despising fool, Sir Richard rides forth to slay another dragon | Culture | The American Scene

Monday, October 27, 2008

"While in Him confiding"

Kevin Butler at SDB Exec had called to his attention an old hymn written in another time of financial panic in 1871 and quotes material about it from CyberHymnal. The hymn is "The Rock That is Higher Than I." It was written during a time when hymns tended to drip with sentiment but it expresses what each of us needs to do when things get difficult.
Oh! sometimes the shadows are deep,
And rough seems the path to the goal,
And sorrows, sometimes how they sweep
Like tempests down over the soul.
O then to the Rock let me fly
To the Rock that is higher than I
O then to the Rock let me fly
To the Rock that is higher than I!
Oh! sometimes how long seems the day,
And sometimes how weary my feet!
But toiling in life’s dusty way,
The Rock’s blessed shadow, how sweet!

Refrain

Then near to the Rock let me keep
If blessings or sorrows prevail,
Or climbing the mountain way steep,
Or walking the shadowy vale.

Refrain
A hymn from the early 20th century "God Hath Not Promised" is another that I like. Also from that period, it is nevertheless pretty realistic in reminding us of what God does and doesn't promise:
God hath not promised skies always blue,
Flower strewn pathways all our lives through;
God hath not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.
But God hath promised strength for the day,
Rest for the labor, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above,
Unfailing sympathy, undying love.
God hath not promised we shall not know
Toil and temptation, trouble and woe;
He hath not told us we shall not bear
Many a burden, many a care.

Refrain

God hath not promised smooth roads and wide,
Swift, easy travel, needing no guide;
Never a mountain rocky and steep,
Never a river turbid and deep.

Refrain
But my favorite hymn for difficult times is William Cowper's "Sometimes a Light Surprises," from an entirely different time.
Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord, who rises with healing in His wings:
When comforts are declining, He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation we sweetly then pursue
The theme of God’s salvation, and find it ever new.
Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can say,
Let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.

It can bring with it nothing but He will bear us through;
Who gives the lilies clothing will clothe His people, too;
Beneath the spreading heavens, no creature but is fed;
And He Who feeds the ravens will give His children bread.

Though vine nor fig tree neither their wonted fruit should bear,
Though all the field should wither, nor flocks nor herds be there;
Yet God the same abiding, His praise shall tune my voice,
For while in Him confiding, I cannot but rejoice.
The last verse, of course, paraphrases Habakkuk:
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; He makes my feet like the deer’s; He makes me tread on my high places.
 (Habakkuk 3:17-19, ESV)
SDB Exec: October 2008, CyberHymnal

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A sense of the sacred

openDemocracy.net provides a lengthy, very interesting and helpful description of the background and significance of the liturgical - and theological - dispute within Catholicism about the Latin Mass in "Rediscovering Traditionalism" by John Casey. It clarifies for me why Vatican II caused such turmoil within Catholicism and why so many Catholics find a return to older traditions so attractive.
Vatican II decreed that the people should `actively participate' in the mass. To the older idea that active participation could take place largely in silence and stillness was opposed the feeling that the congregation should always be doing things, saying prayers aloud, reading passages of scripture, presenting the bread and wine for the mass. The priest became less one who offered an awe-inspiring sacrifice, and more like one who presides over a community meal. Altars were turned round, so that the priest faced the people, rather than praying on their behalf to the East, as had been done from ancient times. (Critics of the new order often suggest - rightly - that this leads to a cult of the priestly personality.) The first part of the liturgy is now given over to scripture readings, somewhat in Protestant style, so that when the priest goes to the altar to say the actual canon of the mass, this can seem like an afterthought, rather than the focal point of the whole proceedings. The priest''s genuflections and other ritual signs of assent to the real presence, which in the old mass enacted an idea of worship and transcendence, seemed to have been cut to a minimum. For many, the remarkable beauty of the Latin text itself, set by so many great composers over the centuries, and a profound influence on the authors of the Book of Common Prayer, had helped create a sense of the sacred which had now all but vanished.[much more]
Thanks to Arts & Letters for the reference.

Rediscovering Traditionalism | open Democracy News Analysis

New worlds

Will Vaus, the author of The Professor of Narnia: The C.S. Lewis Story, describes how he became interested in C.S. Lewis:
...[M]y fourth grade public school teacher read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to our class. After that, I was hooked. I had to read the rest of the Narnia stories. Before that time I wasn't much of a reader, nor had I ever read any fantasy stories. The Narnia books opened up whole new worlds to me - fantasy worlds, and the world of reading in general.

As I got older I gradually read more of Lewis's other works. I didn't come to faith in Christ through reading Lewis, but Lewis kept me in the faith - he helped me to see that Christianity was intellectually credible, at a time when I was having many intellectual questions about ultimate reality.

I kept reading Lewis all through college, seminary, and into adult life. But it wasn't until many years later that I read any biography about Lewis. And then a few years after that I would say I became more of a student of his life and works and started writing about Lewis for myself. It has been a gradual life long process.
He describes the audience that he anticipates will be interested in the book:
I read this book aloud to my three boys as I was writing it. It is written at a middle school reading level. So I think people from middle school age on up will find something of interest in it. As I have mentioned already, it is written for those who have already read the Narnia stories who want to learn more about the author without having to read a longer, more technical and scholarly biography. I think many adults will enjoy the book as well. Though as I wrote the book I was writing it as though directly speaking to middle schoolers. .... [more]
Another of those books I will buy. Read it, but read Lewis first.

A Reasonable Imagination: The Professor of Narnia: The C.S. Lewis Story

Friday, October 24, 2008

Hedging and trimming on abortion

In an essay that is not primarily about the abortion issue, Richard John Neuhaus once again emphasizes the importance of "the greatest human rights question of our time":
....From the early years of the Church’s life, Christians distinguished themselves from the surrounding pagan society by their refusal to abort or expose their children. And when, centuries later, they were in a position to influence public policy, their conviction that every human life was created and loved by God, and therefore ought to be cared for and protected by us, became the law. As it remained the law in the West until the 1970s.

Yes, there were times when people did not understand the biological facts of life. Some thought that a human life began at forty days or at the moment of “quickening” when the life of the child was physically felt in the womb. Science now leaves no doubt that life begins at conception. The smallest embryo—barring natural disaster, as in miscarriage, or intervention to destroy, as in abortion—will become what everybody recognizes as a human baby. When each of us says “I” we are speaking of the “I” that was once an embryo.

But now we see Christians hedging and trimming and tying themselves into intellectual and moral knots in order to support candidates, including a presidential candidate, who explicitly and adamantly support an unlimited legal license to kill the unborn. They are fearful lest they be perceived as “one-issue” voters, although the one issue is the greatest human rights question of our time. Namely, should it be permissible to kill human beings because of their location, dependency, stage of development, or burdensomeness to others? [more]
FIRST THINGS: A Journal of Religion, Culture, and Public Life

Revival and the gospel of grace

Darryl Dash, in an interview with Tim Keller:
Darryl Dash: You've said that we need to change significantly—beyond ordinary approaches like new programs or staff—in order to meet the challenges of a post-Christian culture. What are some of the deeper issues the Church needs to face?

Tim Keller: The first "deeper" issue is the one that Lloyd-Jones spoke of in his lectures on revivals. He heard people saying, in London in the 1950s, that the solution to the decreasing church attendance and Christian influence in society was better apologetics, more emphasis on church growth or, in the case of the mainline, adapting theology more to the modern mood.

But Lloyd-Jones, of course, believed the need was for spiritual revival. The trouble with naming this is that, unfortunately, in many evangelical circles, especially charismatic ones, "revival" is always said to be the cure-all for our ills. But Lloyd-Jones was thinking of the historic revivals and of a theology of revival of Jonathan Edwards. This means we must, as in all the revivals, recover the gospel of grace.

I agree with Lloyd-Jones on this, but this is a very unpopular view right now in much of the evangelical world. In parts of the Reformed world, Edwards' view of revival is under attack as individualistic and inimical to the importance of the Church. Oddly, in the emerging church Edwards' view of revival is unpopular for the same reasons, because of its emphasis on the "individualistic" views of substitutionary atonement, forensic justification and so on.

I think these attacks on (or indifference to) the importance of revival are very wrong. We live in a society in which revival is necessary. As Peter Berger shows in The Heretical Imperative in contemporary pluralistic societies, everyone who believes a faith has to make an individual choice to believe it. There are no longer inherited, authoritative faith traditions. Whether you raise a child Lutheran, Muslim or Baptist the child at some point will have to choose to make the faith of his parents his or her own. In other words, they will have to have a conversion experience.

When revival breaks out through a recovery of the gospel, three things happen:
  1. nominal church members realize they'd never been converted;
  2. sleepy, lethargic Christians are energized and renewed;
  3. outsider non-Christians are attracted into the beautified worship, community and lives of the converted and renewed church members.
That's how it works. We need it. [more]
Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture: An Interview with Tim Keller - Darryl's Blog

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sabbath Recorder November 2008

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

Those who are pro-life are often accused of being only "pro-life" until birth, unconcerned with what happens afterwards. This issue of the Sabbath Recorder has several articles by Seventh Day Baptists who have adopted. One of them, Scott Smith says:
Many churches complain about the evil of abortion of unwanted children. Our church, I’m proud to say, has taken the positive step of encouraging adoptive families—both in their advocacy and their finances.
There is also an article about the "orphan trains" of the 19th and early 20th centuries - and Seventh Day Baptist involvement.

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

The god they don't believe in isn't God

Gene Edward Veith has noted that atheists in Britain are going to place this slogan on London buses:

“There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”.

He comments:
It strikes me as odd that atheists think believing in God is a cause of worrying and not enjoying life. It supports my impression that many atheists are running away from God because of their guilt. They reject God so that they do not have to feel guilty, there being no one to judge them. That view of the God they do not believe in is sad, a reaction against a legalistic, law-only view of religion. They probably find it incomprehensible that belief in God–whom Christians see as gracious, forgiving, Incarnate, and redeeming–actually enables people to stop worrying and to enjoy their lives.
The BBC reports that:
The atheist posters are the idea of the British Humanist Association (BHA) and have been supported by prominent atheist Professor Richard Dawkins.
Atheist evangelism — Cranach: The Blog of Veith, BBC NEWS | UK | England | London | 'No God' slogans for city's buses

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Self-esteem

The Wall Street Journal provides an excerpt from a new book in "The 'Trophy Kids' Go to Work", about the newest entrants into the workforce:
Although members of other generations were considered somewhat spoiled in their youth, millennials feel an unusually strong sense of entitlement. Older adults criticize the high-maintenance rookies for demanding too much too soon. "They want to be CEO tomorrow," is a common refrain from corporate recruiters.

More than 85% of hiring managers and human-resource executives said they feel that millennials have a stronger sense of entitlement than older workers, according to a survey by CareerBuilder.com. The generation's greatest expectations: higher pay (74% of respondents); flexible work schedules (61%); a promotion within a year (56%); and more vacation or personal time (50%).

"They really do seem to want everything, and I can't decide if it's an inability or an unwillingness to make trade-offs," says Derrick Bolton, assistant dean and M.B.A. admissions director at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business. "They want to be CEO, for example, but they say they don't want to give up time with their families." ....

Where do such feelings come from? Blame it on doting parents, teachers and coaches. Millennials are truly "trophy kids," the pride and joy of their parents. The millennials were lavishly praised and often received trophies when they excelled, and sometimes when they didn't, to avoid damaging their self-esteem. They and their parents have placed a high premium on success, filling résumés with not only academic accolades but also sports and other extracurricular activities. ....

...This generation was treated so delicately that many schoolteachers stopped grading papers and tests in harsh-looking red ink. Some managers have seen millennials break down in tears after a negative performance review and even quit their jobs. "They like the constant positive reinforcement, but don't always take suggestions for improvement well," says Steve Canale, recruiting manager at General Electric Co. In performance evaluations, "it's still important to give the good, the bad and the ugly, but with a more positive emphasis." .... [more]
Genuine self-esteem is based on actual accomplishment and the most useful lessons are learned from hardship and failure.

The American has been surveying the attitudes of college students. One of the results seems particularly relevent to self-esteem [and to grade inflation as well]:The 'Trophy Kids' Go to Work - WSJ.com, The College Track: Onward and Upward — The American, A Magazine of Ideas

Inerrancy and the bishops

"Rome's Battle for the Bible" at Christianity Today, is a report on the debate about the Bible at an ongoing synod of bishops in Rome. The article includes a brief summary of the Catholic doctrine of inerrancy:
Catholic challenges to inerrancy in the late 20th century went against longstanding church teaching. No less an authority than Augustine of Hippo set the church's standard. "The authority of these books has come down to us from the apostles through the successions of bishops and the extension of the church, and, from a position of lofty supremacy, claims the submission of every faithful and pious mind," Augustine wrote in a response to Faustus the Manichaean. "If we are perplexed by an apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, 'The author of this book is mistaken;' but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood."

Pope Leo XIII cited Augustine in his landmark 1893 encyclical on the study of Holy Scripture. The Vatican subsequently launched a decades-long crackdown on higher criticism. At the same time, controversies over the authority of Scripture were wreaking havoc in Protestant seminaries and denominations.

More recently, Catholic seminaries and universities have tolerated scholars who deny the historicity of some biblical events, such as Jesus' miracles. Pope Benedict XVI is an Augustinian, and his years as a university professor have acquainted him with the challenges posed by critical scholarship. According to Allen, the pope advocates "canonical exegesis," which "takes the unity of the Bible for granted and aims at a theological rather than a simply literary-historical interpretation." ....

.... After fighting their own battles over inerrancy, Protestants will be watching.

"The only way forward in ecumenical dialogue is the biblical pathway," [Timothy] George said. "The Roman Catholic Church is taking the Bible more seriously now than it did 30 to 50 years ago. This is a good sign."

Rome's Battle for the Bible | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A "single-issue" vote

In a message he titled "Joseph Is a Single-Issue Evangelical," Russell Moore directly challenged those who would de-emphasize the importance of abortion. Denny Burke quoted part of the message on his blog:
There are churches, and there are pastors, and there are young evangelical leaders who are saying to us, "We ought not be single-issue evangelicals. We ought to be concerned about more issues than simply abortion." Which means that we ought to be willing to join ourselves and to vote for and to support candidates who will support legalized abortion, who will deny the personhood of children who are still in the womb, because we are able to support them on other issues . . . Many of them are in a desperate quest to say to their congregations and to people potentially in their congregations, "I’m not Jerry Falwell." And many of them believe that it is missional to speak to people while blunting or silencing a witness about the life of children so that you can reach them with the gospel. . . Some will tell us there are many other issues: economics, global warming—issues I’m very concerned about too. Previous generations have said that as well. Previous generations of preachers have stood in the pulpit and preached until they were red in the face about card-playing and movie-going and tax-policy and personal morality and tobacco-smoking and a thousand other issues, but would not speak to the fact that there were African-American brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus swinging in the trees! And there is judgment of God upon that. And there is here too.
Link to an mp3 of the message.

Denny Burk » Joseph Is a Single-Issue Evangelical

The nicest Bible?

If I didn't already have an Allan ESV bound in goatskin [mine is black], I would get this one. Alan Cornett [the picture is from his site] likes his a lot:
.... Allan takes sewn text blocks and then gives them luxurious bindings in leathers of the highest quality. Since my recent conversion to using the English Standard Version (ESV) I, of course, needed (yes, I did) to acquire some actual copies for pulpit, office and home (yes, I did). So I placed my order for the then upcoming R.L. Allan ESV from EvangelicalBible.com (a recommended source) and waited. Then waited. And waited some more. Hey, it's tough to catch those goats in the Highlands!

Yesterday, the awaited tome appeared on my doorstep. It was, as they say, worth the wait. The leather is incredibly soft. Incredibly soft. It doesn't feel delicate, though. The Bible flows in your hands, with almost no stiffness at all right out of the box. There is no problem with it opening flat, a testament (ha!) to both the sewn text, but also to the quality of the binding job. Without question, this is the nicest Bible I've ever owned. ....

Thanks to Bible Design & Binding for the reference.

theosebes

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Losing your faith and being mad at God aren't the same thing"

Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds links to an interview that Tim Keller did with Sally Quinn of the Washington Post:



Keller's most recent book is The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith and, if only a fraction as good as his last, it will be very good.

Between Two Worlds: Keller Interview at the Washington Post

Non-partisan?

At Christianity Today, Sarah Pulliam reports that, although the political priorities of evangelicals haven't changed much, the inclination to identify with a political party has:
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said he is seeing evangelicals move away from identifying themselves strongly with a particular party.

"They're not necessarily attached to a party but a set of issues," Perkins said. "I do think the issue set has broadened because our society is more complex. But I don't think the priorities have changed. It's life, it's marriage, it's family."

Cameron Strang, editor of Relevant, a magazine for Christians in their 20s, was registered as a Republican when he agreed to give a benediction at the Democratic National Convention. After he backed out of the benediction, he also announced that he would register as an independent.

"I want to vote because of values and convictions, not party affiliations," Strang said. "To me, that's an important part of being a thinking, values-minded Christian."

Many of the 20-something evangelicals Strang is trying to reach apparently agree: Identification with the Republican Party among evangelicals between the ages of 18-29 fell from 55 percent in 2001 to 40 percent in 2007, the Pew Forum found. Identification with the Democratic Party stayed relatively flat (from 16 percent to 19 percent). [more]

Partisanship, what some of the Founders called "party spirit," or "my party, right or wrong," is always foolish - whether practiced by a Christian or anyone else. A political party is a coalition of interests and ideological tendencies. I always told my students that they should first decide what they believe and then support the candidate or party that provides the best means of furthering those beliefs. But it is through party organization and party primaries that candidates are chosen, and it is the activist members of a party who determine the poltical party's orientation on the issues. If the decision to be "independent" rather than identifying with one party or the other means disengagement from the political process, then it means less influence over that process.

Gary Bauer makes the case for continued engagement:
"It's almost 'in' these days to do that," [that is, to disaffiliate from a party] "But it means that when the party organization is trying to figure out what kind of platform it's going to have and what kind of people it's going to have run, we lose our ability to influence that very important grassroots activity."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Pro-choice" or pro-abortion, continued

In an article titled "Obama's Abortion Extremism," Robert P. George considers whether one can be "pro-choice" without being pro-abortion, using the example of slavery as Carl Olson did in an article I quoted below.
According to the standard argument for the distinction between these labels, nobody is pro-abortion. Everybody would prefer a world without abortions. After all, what woman would deliberately get pregnant just to have an abortion? But given the world as it is, sometimes women find themselves with unplanned pregnancies at times in their lives when having a baby would present significant problems for them. So even if abortion is not medically required, it should be permitted, made as widely available as possible and, when necessary, paid for with taxpayers' money.

The defect in this argument can easily be brought into focus if we shift to the moral question that vexed an earlier generation of Americans: slavery. Many people at the time of the American founding would have preferred a world without slavery but nonetheless opposed abolition. Such people - Thomas Jefferson was one - reasoned that, given the world as it was, with slavery woven into the fabric of society just as it
had often been throughout history, the economic consequences of abolition for society as a whole and for owners of plantations and other businesses that relied on slave labor would be dire. Many people who argued in this way were not monsters but honest and sincere, albeit profoundly mistaken. Some (though not Jefferson) showed their personal opposition to slavery by declining to own slaves themselves or freeing slaves whom they had purchased or inherited. They certainly didn't think anyone should be forced to own slaves. Still, they maintained that slavery should remain a legally permitted option and be given constitutional protection.

Would we describe such people, not as pro-slavery, but as ''pro-choice''? Of course we would not. It wouldn't matter to us that they were ''personally opposed'' to slavery, or that they wished that slavery were ''unnecessary,'' or that they wouldn't dream of forcing anyone to own slaves. We would hoot at the faux sophistication of a placard that said ''Against slavery? Don't own one.'' We would observe that the fundamental divide is between people who believe that law and public power should permit slavery, and those who think that owning slaves is an unjust choice that should be prohibited. [more]
Denny Burke [who also posts on the George article], also comments on the "Against abortion, then don't have one" slogan:
There is a snarky pro-abortion bumper sticker that I have seen from time to time, and it reads like this. “Against abortion? Don’t have one.” I concede that it’s a pretty clever slogan, but the line actually amounts to an endorsement of moral anarchy. Libertarianism can never be an ultimate ethic, and no one would be able to tolerate it if it were tried as a matter of public policy.

If you don’t believe me, then consider a little thought experiment, and see if the bumper-sticker ethic really works. Try these on for size:

“Against wife-beating? Don’t beat yours.”

“Against rape? Don’t assault anyone.”

“Against murder? Don’t kill anyone.”

“Against slavery? Don’t own one.” [more]
The Witherspoon Institute, Denny Burk » Against Slavery? Don’t Own One.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The nature of God

Collin Hansen at Christianity Today reports on a debate about the nature of the Trinity in "Anathemas All Around":
Four evangelical scholars delivered charges and counter-charges over the Trinity during an October 9 debate before about 450 people at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The seminary's Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding hosted a four-man debate over the question: Do relations of authority and submission exist eternally among the persons of the Godhead? ....

Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware returned to the suburban Chicago seminary and argued the affirmative: relations of authority and submission do indeed exist among the persons of the Godhead. ....

Tom McCall...teamed up with Keith Yandell, philosophy professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to offer a different position. ....

Both sides employed technical, nuanced arguments derived from Scripture with help from philosophy. Subsequent responses between the two sides brought greater clarity to the perspectives that separate them. Ware and Grudem argued that in the economic Trinity of the Bible (the three persons as seen in the outworking of the "economy" of salvation) we see the relations between the three as they always have been and will be. But Yandell countered that what sounds biblical from Ware and Grudem actually comes through a filter of Greek philosophy that obscures the meaning of the Incarnation and Pentecost.

Yet the crowd, which filled the TEDS chapel nearly to capacity, hung on the scholars' words for three and a half hours. Yandell shared that his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin would regard this debate as pointless, like arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. So would many evangelicals, I suspect. But as the evening progressed, the intensity of discussion reminded us why the early church fought with such prolonged fervor over the Trinity. What could be more exciting and more important than sharpening each other's understanding of the nature of God?

The magazine's website provides links to excerpts from each side's opening statement as well as a "liveblog" of the actual debate.

Anathemas All Around | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fundamentalist?

"Fundamentalist," like "Fascist" is one of those terms that has lost almost all meaning because of its usefulness to the Left as a term of abuse - used indiscriminately against anyone of whom they disaprove. Terry Mattingly at GetReligion.org likes "Sarah, You're Not One of Us" because the columnist actually seems to understand what a "Fundamentalist" is:
Well, here is an interesting piece from columnist Susan Campbell of the Hartford Courant that address an issue that has received a lot of attention at this here weblog lately (and the general subject has drawn lots of attention in the past) — the question of whether mainstream journalists should use that other F-word (fundamentalist) to refer to Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.

Campbell has a rare and interesting angle, for a mainstream reporter, which is captured in the headline: “Sarah, You’re Not One Of Us.” Here’s the top:
Sarah Palin may be a lot of things, but she is not a fundamentalist Christian.

In fact, she is no more a fundamentalist than Barack Obama is a Muslim. The misinformation about both candidates (she’s evangelical, by way of Roman Catholicism and Pentecostalism; he’s a Congregationalist) has at its heart an ignorance that, like that fountain in the Sunday school song, runs deep and wide.

Understand that Palin will never be my candidate. I disagree with her on a woman’s right to choose, on marriage equality and on the sorry little wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, my list of reasons for not voting for her is so long that one hardly needs to bring religion into it. Still, she’s an evangelical, the tribe of Christians to which roughly 26 percent of Americans belong. A fundamentalist is a tiny, unique (roughly three-tenths of a percent) subgroup of that, and Palin doesn’t make the cut. ....

The word “fundamentalist” probably came from a series of tracts published with the money of two oil men worried that Christianity was losing its way. The tracts’ tone is fairly moderate, but people took the message — as people will do — and ran with it. The essays that stressed the authority of the Bible became bedrock for some. For years, a popular bumper sticker at my local Foodtown read, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”

Yet every religion — including that of a fundamentalist — is more nuanced than that. And just because you’ve never heard of a church is not necessarily a good reason to be scared. ....

Sarah Palin ain’t a fundie » GetReligion

Thursday, October 9, 2008

"Pro-choice" or pro-abortion?

Those who support the continued availability of legal abortion often object to being labeled "pro-abortion" and insist on calling their opponents "anti-choice." In the early years of the political debate over abortion, the sides were often simply referred to as "pro-abortion" and "anti-abortion." That has always seemed to me the least euphemistic way to describe the positions. But the supporters of Roe v Wade felt that "pro-abortion" put them at a rhetorical disadvantage and argued that they didn't favor the act - they merely wanted it to be an available legal choice for mothers and their doctors. Carl Olson at Insight Scoop answers a correspondent who accuses him of being "overly simplistic" in equating "pro-choice" and "pro-abortion" in "'Pro-choice' vs. 'Pro-abortion'? Or, 'Pro-choice' = 'Pro-abortion'?" Part of his argument uses as an analogy the issue of slavery:
...[W]hich of the following could reasonably be considered "pro-slavery"?:
  • Believing that slavery should be enforced on a certain group of people. (Yes, obviously.)
  • Supporting the right of others to be able to have slaves if they choose so. (I would say so.)
  • Insisting that the decision to have slaves is a matter for the potential slave owner to decide for himself and that such a decision should be protected by law. (Again, I would say so.)
  • Demanding that the government should not be involved in keeping people from having slaves if they so choose, and supporting legislation to that end. (Yes, without a doubt)
These actions and stances are all "pro-slavery"—that is, they each, in various ways, are in favor of the practice and reality of slavery even though not all of them are based on the belief that everyone in a certain group or class of society should have slaves. Put another way, the merely complacent position of believing that slavery is alright for some people can be fairly construed as being "pro-slavery," even if the person with that perspective never acts upon it. But if they do act upon it and work actively for the right to own slaves, etc., there can be no doubt that they support slavery and are thus "pro-slavery." ....

...[R]eturning to the analogy of slavery: imagine that someone who described themselves as "pro-choice" when it came to slavery supported legislation with the following language:
A man's decision to buy, trade for, own, and control a slave is a personal choice. As such, decisions regarding slavery are best made by certain men, in consultation with other slave owners or trusted associates, without governmental interference. A government may not--

(1) deny or interfere with a man's right to choose--
(A) to buy and own a slave;
(B) to sell a slave for financial gain or
(C) to terminate a slave where termination is necessary to protect the physical life or financial health of the slave owner and his family
He may call himself "pro-choice" when it comes to slavery. I may call him "pro-slavery." Regardless, this much would be clear: the white man/slave owner would enjoy rights, protection, and moral status, while the slave would not. The slave, in fact, would be legally considered either non-human or sub-human, and that legal status would mean a life of subjection, denied the basic rights due every person. ....

Those who call themselves "pro-choice" do so because they support the right to choose death for unborn children. They are "pro-abortion." .... [more]
Insight Scoop | The Ignatius Press Blog: "Pro-choice" vs. "Pro-abortion"? Or, "Pro-choice" = "Pro-abortion"?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The sins of the fathers

Amanda Shaw at First Things:
I’ve heard priests remark about the disconcerting tendency of penitents to confess other people’s sins. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. My spouse got angry because I misplaced the car keys . . . ” Then, there’s our curious compulsion to confess offenses that are long past....

... “False Apology Syndrome,” Theodore Dalrymple calls it in the Templeton Foundation’s In Character journal. Under the guise of assuming the guilt of the past, it sets the righteous present apart in self-congratulatory humility:
There is a fashion these days for apologies: not apologies for the things that one has actually done oneself (that kind of apology is as difficult to make and as unfashionable as ever), but for public apologies by politicians for the crimes and misdemeanours of their ancestors....

Let us examine briefly the apology for the Crusades as an example of the whole genre. It is not exactly a new discovery that the Crusaders often, perhaps usually or even always, behaved very badly. It is not in the nature of invading armies to behave well, even when discipline is strong, morale is high, and control of the foot soldiers is firm; it is no secret that these conditions did not exist during the Crusades, to put it rather mildly.

They were, however, rather a long time ago. The Crusades were an attempt to recover for Christendom what had been lost by force, with all the accompanying massacre, pillage, and oppression that the use of force in those days implied. No one, I think, expects an apology from present-day Arabs for the imperialism of their ancestors, either as a matter of moral duty or political likelihood. We are all born into the world as we find it, after all; we are not responsible for what went before us.
It is rather easy, after all, to apologize for the sins of others.

Albert Mohler, responding to Dalrymple's article, argues that while an apology may be inappropriate, acknowledgement of historical evil sometimes is:
In 1995 the Southern Baptist Convention struggled to find a way to deal with the fact that our denominational history is rooted in a defense of chattel slavery. We could not celebrate the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the SBC without recognizing that dark fact of history. ....

We worked for hours on the wording, and left the meeting with a final form we all felt was just about right. The convention adopted the statement and we celebrated 150 years of working together in the cause of the Gospel. Looking back, it's hard to see how we could have celebrated the anniversary of the SBC without that acknowledgement. ....

Perhaps honesty is the real issue here. Many of the apologies offered for past events seem false on the face. Others seem, at least to me, to be nothing less than necessary. We cannot repent for our ancestors, but we can confess the reality of historic wrongs. ....

First Things » Blog Archive » “Bless me, Father, for others have sinned…”, I'm Sorry, So Sorry -- "False Apology Syndrome"

How younger evangelicals will vote

Faith and Public Life's survey indicates that younger evangelicals don't differ from their elders as much as they do from their peers. From the Christianity Today politics blog:
Most young adults overwhelmingly support Obama (59 percent) while 35 percent plan to vote for McCain. On the other hand, 29 percent of young evangelicals plan to vote for Obama and 65 percent support McCain. Nearly 70 percent of older evangelicals plan to vote for McCain while 25 percent plan to vote for Obama.
Politics | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Friday, October 3, 2008

"Not every issue is of equal moral gravity"

The Catholic bishops of New York have issued guidance about how Catholics ought to decide how to vote. Their central point, that Catholics are called to look at voting as they should look at everything else - "through the lens of our faith" - is something every person of faith should acknowledge. Amanda Shaw at First Things quotes part of the statement:
We Catholics are called to look at politics as we are called to look at everything – through the lens of our faith. While we are free to join any political party that we choose or none at all, we must be cautious when we vote not to be guided solely by party loyalty nor by self interest. Rather, we should be guided in evaluating the important issues facing our state and nation by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of His Church.
. . .

It is the rare candidate who will agree with the Church on every issue. But as the U.S. Bishops’ recent document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” makes clear, not every issue is of equal moral gravity. The inalienable right to life of every innocent human person outweighs other concerns where Catholics may use prudential judgment, such as how best to meet the needs of the poor or to increase access to health care for all.

The right to life is the right through which all others flow. To the extent candidates reject this fundamental right by supporting an objective evil, such as legal abortion, euthanasia or embryonic stem cell research, Catholics should consider them less acceptable for public office.
First Things » Blog Archive » Faithful Citizens

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"Glib, dark hearted contempt"

Of all the newly prominent atheist celebrities, Bill Maher is the most insufferable because he makes no effort to understand the arguments - or contend with anyone who does. His "documentary," Religulous, apparently fits his pattern. Excerpts from Dirty Harry’s review:
There have been some fascinating debates between thoughtful believers and thoughtful atheists. I would describe a thoughtful atheist as one who responds to the theologian with his or her own theories to life’s unanswered questions, not Biblical gotcha!, or worse, that strange bitterness too many non-believers like Maher hold towards all thing religious — a bitterness that closely resembles jealousy.

But I suspect that even most atheists will have a hard time with much of Religulous. .... Not content to mock solely through selective editing, frequently a film clip or subtitle is inserted into the interview to further humiliate the subject. This is where Maher’s famously smug mean streak frequently gets the best him and undercuts what little sense of fair play there was.

Religulous isn’t only a cowardly hatchet job because of the deception used to catch its interview subjects off guard, but also because it becomes increasingly obvious that Maher simply doesn’t have the guts or enough self-confidence in his position to sit down with someone as prepared as he is (by a staff) for an honest, open debate. ....

By any objective standard Religulous is entertaining and the best left wing film since Michael Moore’s Sicko. I suspect for that reason it might turn a profit. But it’s also an empty-headed exercise, a reality show built on smug and ridicule. If those were the only tools available on which to hang my beliefs, I’d rethink my beliefs. But Maher enjoys his own cult; the cult of personality. No intellect required to join, just a glib, dark hearted contempt for everyone else. [more]
Dirty Harry’s Place… » DHP Review: Religulous