Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Though the mountains shake

The Boston Globe has put online "The year 2008 in photographs", including the one below. It is a spectacular collection. They encourage reactions and recommendations for the best one.

Click on the picture for a larger and clearer image.
"Lightning bolts appear above and around the Chaiten volcano as seen from Chana, some 30 kms (19 miles) north of the volcano, as it began its first eruption in thousands of years, in southern Chile May 2, 2008. Cases of electrical storms breaking out directly above erupting volcanoes are well documented, although scientists differ on what causes them. Picture taken May 2, 2008. (Carlos Gutierrez)" [Boston Globe]
Thanks to Noel Sheppard for the reference.

The year 2008 in photographs (part 1 of 3) - The Big Picture - Boston.com

Justice or vengeance?

Avery Cardinal Dulles died recently and his death occasioned considerable discussion of his life and thought. He was widely regarded as one of the most important Catholic theologians of the modern era. Today the Weekly Standard publishes an article by Mark Tooley that explains Cardinal Dulles's [and Catholicism's] position on the death penalty.
Dulles observed that Scriptural support for the death penalty was consistent, starting with God's covenant with Noah: "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image." The Mosaic code, obviously, ordained it for numerous offenses beyond murder. In the New Testament, he wrote, "the right of the State to put criminals to death seems to be taken for granted," including by Jesus. St. Paul, in Romans, apparently referenced the death penalty when he wrote that the magistrate who holds authority "does not bear the sword in vain; for he is the servant of God to execute His wrath on the wrongdoer." ....

"The mounting opposition to the death penalty in Europe since the Enlightenment has gone hand in hand with a decline of faith in eternal life," Dulles observed. Capital punishment's demise in secularized countries seems tied to the "evaporation of the sense of sin, guilt, and retributive justice, all of which are essential to biblical religion and Catholic faith."

Dulles insisted that Catholicism has "never advocated unqualified abolition of the death penalty." He recalled "no official statement from popes or bishops, whether in the past or in the present, that denies the right of the State to execute offenders at least in certain extreme cases." Catholic teaching has justified capital punishment "on the ground that the State does not act on its own authority but as the agent of God, who is supreme lord of life and death." Problematically, the modern state today is "generally viewed simply as an instrument of the will of the governed," Dulles wrote, so that the death penalty is commonly seen as vengeance by a self-assertive, angry society rather than a divine judgment on objective evil.

Unlike the church, whose main focus is mercy, the state's focus is justice, Dulles explained. "In a predominantly Christian society, however, the State should be encouraged to lean toward mercy provided that it does not thereby violate the demands of justice." State agents who administer executions can do so without hatred and with respect, knowing that "death is not the final evil," and hoping that the condemned will "attain eternal life with God."

Dulles quoted from Pope John Paul II's 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, which declared "as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system," cases mandating execution "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent." The Pope, with the church's bishops, have prudentially, but not infallibly, concluded that modern states, although retaining their right to execute the guilty, should largely avoid the practice, "if the purposes of punishment can be equally well or better achieved by bloodless means, such as imprisonment." Dulles concluded: "I personally support this position."[more]
Dulles and the Death Penalty

A humble appeal

President-elect Obama made an interesting choice when he asked Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the Inauguration. The pastor answered some questions from Terry Eastland of the Weekly Standard about how he is preparing. A portion of the interview:
How do you think about the kind of prayer to be given at a (any) public event, given that the audiences at such events usually have various faiths represented?

It doesn’t bother me at all when an Imam prays a Muslim prayer in [a] public arena or when a Rabbi prays a Jewish prayer in public or when anyone expresses their personal faith in public. This is America. We don’t deny our differences but we are respectful of all of them. I’m a Christian pastor so I will pray the only kind of prayer I know how to pray.

By which I mean both what is prayed for and how it is prayed?

Prayers are not to be sermons, speeches, position statements, nor political posturing. That’s the fastest way to kill a prayer. They are humble appeals to God. My hope is that all Americans will pray for the new President.
The Weekly Standard

God is not safe

Today Trevin Wax continues his good interview with Timothy Stoner. It is all very much worth reading, and I particularly appreciated the first answer:
Trevin Wax: You write about worshipping a God who “lets you drop,” who lets you get hurt. How does this view of God counter the popular belief that “God is always there for me”?

Timothy Stoner: God is not safe; nor can He be manipulated. He is perfect in His wisdom and love and knows much better than we what we really need. And He is not averse to allowing/causing pain, struggle and disappointments that He knows are essential for our maturation, growth, refinement and strengthening.

He tells us that He is like a gardener who will not let sympathy for his plants dissuade Him from trimming or cutting off (sometimes ruthlessly) branches that are unproductive or that are preventing maximum fruit bearing.

Because of our inveterate selfishness and idolatry it is not unusual for God to orchestrate deep suffering that we might learn to draw our comfort from Him alone and to shape us into vessels filled with comfort for others.

God is always there for me only in the sense that He is working all things: pain, sorrow, loss, sickness, defeat, sins and successes, together for my maximum good and His ultimate glory. [more]

Interview with Tim Stoner 2: Longing for the Untamable God « Kingdom People

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My neighborhood

Responding to the designers of a State of Wisconsin website that used a Minneapolis skyline rather than that of Madison, the Badger Blogger took this picture and made it freely available. The building in which I live is located just off to the left of this picture. [Click on the image for a much larger picture]

Badger Blogger » Blog Archive » My personal gift to PCC Technology Group, LLC of Bloomfield CT

Sabbath Recorder, January 2009

The January, 2009, Sabbath Recorder is available online here as a pdf.

This is a missions issue of the Sabbath Recorder with several articles about Seventh Day Baptists in Nicaragua, Congo and Lebanon, and in the US in Alaska, Washington state, and on the Oglala Sioux reservation.

There are, as usual, a variety of other articles and columns including one by 2009 Conference President, Ed Cruzan. His Conference theme is "Pray" and this month he reflects on how peace is found in prayer. He concludes:
As believers, we already have the peace of God dwelling within us. Jesus gave it to us; it is part of the fruit of the Spirit.

Let God’s peace be released in you through prayer so you may truly and continually experience the peace of God that transcends all understanding through Christ Jesus!
The Sabbath Recorder is the magazine of the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference and has been regularly published in some form since 1844.

Emergent before it was cool

Trevin Wax interviews Timothy Stoner, author of The God Who Smokes: Scandalous Meditation on Faith, about what he likes and doesn't like about the "Emerging" Church. I like the distinctions:
Trevin Wax: You write about being “Emergent” before it was cool, but now that Emergent is cool, you no longer consider yourself “Emergent.” What aspects of the Emerging Church do you appreciate?

Timothy Stoner: I appreciate Emergent’s critique of a tendency within certain streams of fundamentalism and evangelicalism toward a divisive, narrow intolerance of those it considers enemies, and a mean-spirited, fear-based rejection of culture which it considers synonymous with “the world”.

I affirm its emphasis on wholistic and integral mission and its priority for justice and mercy.

I also believe its call to affirm the goodness of the creation, the value of listening to and respecting those who hold divergent opinions to be a very healthy and helpful corrective.

Trevin Wax: So why would you distance yourself from the movement today?

Timothy Stoner: I disagree with its equating authority with oppression, eliminating the element of wrath from God’s character, deconstructing the gospel so that it centers around politics (Jesus died to subvert a cruel, violent oppressive system) and ethics (the purpose of the cross was to give us an example to follow) rather than being essentially about man’s sin, God’s mercy, justice and glory in paying for man’s redemption and appeasing His wrath that rebels might be forgiven and restored. I also find no biblical warrant for its denial of an eternal hell for unrepentant sinners who persistently reject God’s love in Christ.

Most troubling is its universalist trajectory which denies the exclusivity of faith in Jesus and provides a back door to salvation for the sincere who do good. This is, of course, an utter denial of the necessity of the Cross. [more]
Interview with Tim Stoner 1: Emerging’s False Dichotomies « Kingdom People

Monday, December 29, 2008

Stalin

The AP is reporting that a whole lot of Russians still admire Stalin:
MOSCOW – Television viewers have voted Soviet dictator Josef Stalin — who sent millions to their deaths in the Great Purge of the 1930s — Russia's third-greatest historical figure. ....

The project, called "The Name of Russia," culminated with the announcement Sunday night that Russian medieval leader Alexander Nevsky had been voted the greatest Russian, with more than 524,000 Internet and SMS votes. Stalin garnered more than 519,000 votes, and even led in early voting.

Nevsky defeated various European invaders during his 13th-century reign and was subsequently canonized.

In second place was Pyotr Stolypin, a prime minister early in the 20th century under Czar Nicholas II. Stolypin was recognized for land reform but gained notoriety for his brutal quashing of leftist revolutionaries. He saw to it that thousands were hanged for attempting to overthrow the imperial rulers. Stolypin received more than 523,000 votes.
At a time when the current Russian government is increasingly authoritarian, large-scale popular approval of one of the most brutal mass-murderers in world history [Saddam Hussein's idol and model] ought to be a matter of considerable worry.From Gordon Chang at Commentary:
...[T]he clear message for us is that we should start seeing Russia as it sees itself. The Russians obviously hold values we find abhorrent. That should, at a minimum, make us rethink the nature of our cooperation with them and their government.

We should remember we tried working with Stalin once. Maybe Putin is no communist dictator, but he is reasserting hardline rule when he is not trying to destabilize the international community. It’s time to take a fresh look at him and his Russia.
Dictator Stalin voted third-greatest Russian - Yahoo! News, Democide in Totalitarian States, Commentary » Blog Archive » Stalin Comes in Third

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Humility

Christianity Today gives us another very good article by Tim Keller. This one is about the central importance of the virtue of humility - a virtue which, as soon as you think you have it, you probably don't. The full article is here. Two excerpts:
Christian humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less, as C. S. Lewis so memorably said. It is to be no longer always noticing yourself and how you are doing and how you are being treated. It is "blessed self-forgetfulness."

Humility is a byproduct of belief in the gospel of Christ. In the gospel, we have a confidence not based in our performance but in the love of God in Christ (Rom. 3:22-24). This frees us from having to always be looking at ourselves. Our sin was so great, nothing less than the death of Jesus could save us. He had to die for us. But his love for us was so great, Jesus was glad to die for us. ....

There are two basic narrative identities at work among professing Christians. The first is what I will call the moral-performance narrative identity. These are people who in their heart of hearts say, I obey; therefore I am accepted by God. The second is what I will call the grace narrative identity. This basic operating principle is, I am accepted by God through Christ; therefore I obey.

People living their lives on the basis of these two different principles may superficially look alike. They may sit right beside one another in the church pew, both striving to obey the law of God, to pray, to give money generously, to be good family members. But they are doing so out of radically different motives, in radically different spirits, resulting in radically different personal characters.

When persons living in the moral-performance narrative are criticized, they are furious or devastated because they cannot tolerate threats to their self-image of being a "good person." ....

But those who understand the gospel cannot possibly look down on anyone, since they were saved by sheer grace, not by their perfect doctrine or strong moral character..... [more]

We are saved by grace. Obedience earns nothing. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (Jn 14:15, ESV).

The Advent of Humility | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Plowing on Sunday

The Free Library has placed online "A Rock and a Hard Place" by Nick Kersten of the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society. It recounts the particular difficulties seventh day Sabbath observance has sometimes created for those of us with that conviction.
Seventh Day Baptists observe the fourth commandment (Ex. 20:8-11) literally. In addition, they take seriously the prohibition from work, though in keeping with Baptist principles, they leave it to individuals to be convicted on the specifics of observance after careful study and prayer. Seventh Day Baptists worship collectively on the Sabbath (Saturday) and observe the day as a period of rest, consecrated to God. The purpose of this article is not to explore the specifics of Seventh Day Baptist theology, but to understand this basic foundational conviction is necessary in order to understand what follows. Seventh Day Baptists must be kept distinct from other Sabbath observing groups, which perhaps are better known because of their larger size. While Seventh Day Baptists may share some common Sabbath convictions with other denominations, they are the only denomination that also explicitly adheres to Baptist beliefs

For nearly as long as Baptists have searched the scriptures for direction, Sabbath-keepers have been represented in their number. In England, like other Baptists, the Sabbath-observing Baptists suffered various persecutions at the hands of the government and of the religious authorities because of their convictions. In those days, they were also singled out for their Sabbath observance. The experience of Francis Bampfield, an early Seventh Day Baptist leader, was typical of those early English Seventh Day Baptists. He was imprisoned on a nearly yearly basis between 1660 and 1684 for both his Sabbath and Baptist convictions, and he died in Newgate prison. Another Seventh Day Baptist leader, John James, was hung for treason in 1661 because of his political and religious convictions. ....
In the American colonies and the United States, laws intended to enforce Sabbath observance on Sunday punished those who, having rested on the Sabbath [Saturday - the seventh day], worked on Sunday. For example, in Pennsylvania:
.... The Nottingham church suffered greatly as a result of the Sunday laws of 1794, which enforced Sunday as a day of rest. Because of their convictions, these Sabbath-keepers were forced into hardship because of their unwillingness to work on Sabbath and their legal obligations not to work on Sunday. One member of that church, Richard Bond, was selected for jury duty, and when he refused to serve on Friday night and Saturday because of his conscience, the presiding judge labeled him and his congregation as "a set of hypocrites." Many of the Pennsylvania congregations eventually migrated to West Virginia in order avoid the restrictive nature of the Sunday laws. This experience of the Seventh Day Baptists in Pennsylvania was not unique, and none of the Philadelphia area churches survived, although most of the members of those churches did move to places where Sabbath observance was tolerated, including New Jersey and Rhode Island, or to the frontier where laws that challenged Sabbath-keeping were not enforced.

The greatest obstacle faced by Sabbath-keepers in colonial America were the blue laws, which were set forth as early as the 1610s. These laws affirmed both the state and local governments as institutions ordained by God and set out what specifically was demanded of citizens. .... [T]he blue laws enacted in Pennsylvania...limited Sabbath-keepers, including article 36 (1686), which read: "That according to the good Example of the Primitive Christians, and for the ease of the Creation, every First Day of the Week called the Lords Day, People shall abstain from their common daily Labour, that they might the better dispose themselves to Worship God according to their Understandings."

Clearly, the freedom to worship in Pennsylvania was first contingent on the acceptance of the First Day as the day of rest, a concession no Seventh Day Baptists could make in good conscience. Because of the existence of blue laws, Pennsylvania remained a difficult place for Sabbath-keepers into the twentieth century, and legal action continued to be brought against those who attempted to work on Sunday.

In 1846, German Seventh Day Baptists at Snow Hill, Pennsylvania, were in their fields on a Sunday working to get their crops in before a storm arrived. The church's neighbors reported a group of "lewd fellows of the baser sort" to the authorities for harassing the Snow Hill church's meetings, and the "lewd" group was punished. In retribution, those same "lewd fellows" reported several church members for their violation of the state's 1794 Sunday law, and the members were arrested. The same neighbors of the church who reported the harassment earlier then counseled the arrested church members to appeal their sentence. The neighbors wrote letters to the judiciary asking for the Seventh Day Baptists to be excused from keeping that portion of the law. The legal battle continued for the next two years until the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania finally decided against the Seventh Day Baptists in Specht v. the Commonwealth, upholding the fine and sentence imposed. In 1848, the Sabbath Recorder reported that three members were again imprisoned under a similar set of circumstances, noting that "Had they been nominal observers of Sunday, they might have been acquitted on the plea of necessity, as provided by the act of 1794. But they were connected with a Society which observes the Sabbath; hence the law is enforced with all its rigor and these three men have paid the penalty of its violation by suffering imprisonment six days." .... [more]
A rock and a hard place: Seventh Day Baptists, religious liberty, Sabbath-keeping, and civil authority. - Free Online Library

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The best St. Nick

Of all the portrayals of the modern St Nicholas - Santa Claus - this is my favorite. From the cover of St. Nicholas magazine, December, 1916:

God rest you merry

The Choir of King's College, Cambridge, with David Willcock's arrangements of God Rest You Merry and the Sussex Carol:

Now to the Lord sing praises,

All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All others doth deface:

O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy;
O tidings of comfort and joy.



All out of darkness we have light.

Which made the angels sing this night:
"Glory to God and peace to men,
Now and forevermore. Amen."

Monday, December 22, 2008

This single Truth


No love that in a family dwells,
No caroling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.
John Betjeman

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Unique among gods and men

Dorothy L. Sayers:
...Jesus Christ is unique—unique among gods and men. There have been incarnate gods a-plenty, and slain-and-resurrected gods not a few; but He is the only God who has a date in history. And plenty of founders of religions have had dates, and some of them have been prophets or avatars of the Divine; but only this one of them was personally God. There is no more astonishing collocation of phrases than that which, in the Nicene Creed, sets these two statements flatly side by side: "Very God of very God.... He suffered under Pontius Pilate." All over the world, thousands of times a day, Christians recite the name of a rather undistinguished Roman pro-consul—not in execration (Judas and Caiaphas, more guilty, get off with fewer reminders of their iniquities), but merely because that name fixes within a few years the date of the death of God.
From Dorothy L. Sayers, The Man Born to be King, 1943.

Too nice not to

From: Robert L. Short, The Gospel According to Peanuts

Saturday, December 20, 2008

King's College

The New York Times this morning describes King's College, a Christian college in Manhattan: "In a Worldly City’s Tallest Tower, a College With a Heavenly Bent."
Out of the myriad and random tenants that fill the Empire State Building, there is one that seems both perfectly situated, yet jarringly out of place.

It is the King’s College, an evangelical Christian school that is all but hidden in plain sight, occupying three of the building’s floors — two of them subterranean — since 1999. On the one hand, it seems apt that a school claiming close adherence to God’s word would occupy New York’s tallest skyscraper. ....

Its setting, college leaders say, was a deliberate move. They wanted students to be exposed to new ideas and hone their intellectual chops far from the “holy huddle,” places that are religiously and ideologically sealed off from the rest of the world.

“There are pockets of Christians in America that don’t combine rigorous thinking with Christianity,” said David Lapp, 22, a senior from Lancaster, Pa. “But you can be a rigorous thinker and a very serious Christian as well.” ....

The college’s mandate, Mr. Mills said, is to encourage students to engage people with differing viewpoints, and ideally to shape public discourse “in a way that is winsome, and not screechy from the Christian right.”

The college’s main offices are on the Empire State Building’s 15th floor, flooded with light and home to a grandfather clock that gongs every 15 minutes. The two basement levels are windowless and cozily lighted, and house classrooms, a student lounge and the library. ....

For the most part, the college imposes few strictures on its students. Beyond abiding by a basic honor code — to not lie, cheat or steal — “you’re basically on your own,” said Hope Hodge, 21, who is from Waltham, Mass., and is the editor of the school paper. “If you want to see the seedy underbelly,” she said, “it’s right there.”

There is no on-campus housing; instead, most freshmen live, unsupervised, in nearby college apartments. Nor is there any religious service on campus, though many students attend “Tent,” a student-run service dedicated to Bible readings and Christian songs. [more]
The American Spectator published an article describing the college this past September. A couple of excerpts:
The skittish insularity of many self-professed Christian colleges is entirely absent, replaced by a confidence and openness that is rare if not unique. The discussion is well versed and polite, never devolving into demagoguery or dismissive invective, but at the same time firm and grounded. “The secular world shouldn’t be allowed to think we’re hiding or intimidated,” Oakes said. “If secularists do a better job of winning over the country, well, they’ve earned the right to set the national agenda. We plan to train our side to compete vigorously, though.” ....

...King’s College boasts one of the thinnest residential life books in the history of higher education: Don’t lie, cheat, or steal. Otherwise, do what you know is right.

“This isn’t the typical stereotype of a Christian college where guys and girls can’t hold hands after seven or aren’t allowed to watch certain movies or listen to certain songs,” recent graduate Anthony Randazzo said. Yet, the school is hardly slouching toward Gomorrah. There is no mandatory chapel, yet students have a robust faith life with attendance at student-generated worship services and Bible study sessions rivaling or exceeding those at other religious schools. The student living quarters in high-rises—“Houses” with names like Bonhoeffer, Churchill, Reagan and Susan B. Anthony, “like Hogwarts from Harry Potter” one young woman explained—are student-run. However, they are Animal House-esque only if some director’s cut exists with scenes of John Belushi mentoring under-privileged youth and moderating intra-house theological debates. [more]
It sounds ideal. If I were in high school and looking for a college, this one would be very appealing.

Empire State Building Journal - An Evangelical College in Manhattan, Where the Sin Is - NYTimes.com, American Spectator: King's of New York

Friday, December 19, 2008

Harsh, stern and stifling

Stephen Nichols has been reading "Apostasy Lit" - books by those who have rejected the faith of their parents - and has found that the experiences they describe may contain some important lessons:
...[A]postasy lit is valuable for those Christian parents who care for their children and hope that their children embrace and not run away from the faith. Among the many potential teaching moments apostasy lit provides, two stand out: the warning against sternness or harshness and the warning against creating a stifling environment. And herein lies the lesson that should not be ignored by readers of apostasy lit. If harshness and sternness coupled with a stifling environment are what make a piece of literature apostasy lit, then those two may be guilty of causing the apostasy in the first place. ....

Perhaps this harshness and sternness derive from a desire, albeit well-intentioned, to control. Christian parents, and I readily identify with this since I am one, desperately want their children to be at peace with themselves and at peace with their world, and they know that such peace will only come when they are at peace with God. They want to, in the words of Jonathan Edwards to his daughter, meet there at last in heaven as a family. And this desire can be strong, so strong that it morphs into something precariously close to ugliness. I'll drive it into them, and it will be for their own good, becomes the impulse. This inclination towards sternness, towards doling out justice over grace, is inched along as a reaction to the cultural pressures of an acceptance-no-matter-what value. Christian parents should be able to fret over their teen-ager's sexual activity. Christian parents do believe that actions have consequences and that some actions shouldn't be overlooked. Nevertheless, sometimes the sternness overtakes otherwise good intentions. No doubt, this gets complicated. Only God has mastered the dance between grace and mercy and justice and wrath. All we can do is strive to approximate it.

The second teaching moment of apostasy lit concerns the Christian environment. Thankfully, correcting the stifling environment is far less challenging than responding to the sternness problem. This is, after all, God's world. His kingdom does not stop at the gated entrance to the Christian camp or the security detectors at the doors of the Christian bookstore. Can the rest of the radio dial also be tuned in from time to time? Christians, despite there being some good ones out there, aren't always the best writers, painters, and musicians. Beauty, justice, even truth may live in those seemingly dark corners untraversed by the Christian family. Even non-Christian friends may turn out to be not sired by the devil after all. Finding one's way here could, admittedly, be tricky at times. But it's not as treacherous as we think. .... [more]
Thanks to Justin Taylor for the reference.

Apostasy Lit: Why Do They Leave? - Reformation21

Joy shall be theirs in the morning

From The Wind in the Willows, Christmas at Mole End:
"What's up?" inquired the Rat, pausing in his labours.

"I think it must be the field-mice," replied the Mole, with a touch of pride in his manner. "They go round carol-singing regularly at this time of the year. They're quite an institution in these parts. And they never pass me over—they come to Mole End last of all; and I used to give them hot drinks, and supper too sometimes, when I could afford it. It will be like old times to hear them again."

"Let's have a look at them!" cried the Rat, jumping up and running to the door.

It was a pretty sight, and a seasonable one, that met their eyes when they flung the door open. In the forecourt, lit by the dim rays of a horn lantern, some eight or ten little fieldmice stood in a semicircle, red worsted comforters round their throats, their fore-paws thrust deep into their pockets, their feet jigging for warmth. With bright beady eyes they glanced shyly at each other, sniggering a little, sniffing and applying coat-sleeves a good deal. As the door opened, one of the elder ones that carried the lantern was just saying, "Now then, one, two, three!" and forthwith their shrill little voices uprose on the air, singing one of the old-time carols that their forefathers composed in fields that were fallow and held by frost, or when snow-bound in chimney corners, and handed down to be sung in the miry streets to lamp-lit windows at Yule-time.
CAROL

Villagers all, this frosty tide,
Let your doors swing open wide,
Though wind may follow, and snow beside,
Yet draw us in by your fire to bide;
Joy shall be yours in the morning!

Here we stand in the cold and the sleet,
Blowing fingers and stamping feet,
Come from far away you to greet—
You by the fire and we in the street
Bidding you joy in the morning!

For ere one half of the night was gone,
Sudden a star has led us on,
Raining bliss and benison—
Bliss to-morrow and more anon,
Joy for every morning!

Goodman Joseph toiled through the snow—
Saw the star o'er a stable low;
Mary she might not further go
Welcome thatch, and litter below!
Joy was hers in the morning!

And then they heard the angels tell
"Who were the first to cry Nowell?
Animals all, as it befell,
In the stable where they did dwell!
Joy shall be theirs in the morning."
The voices ceased, the singers, bashful but smiling, exchanged sidelong glances, and silence succeeded—but for a moment only. Then, from up above and far away, down the tunnel they had so lately travelled was borne to their ears in a faint musical hum the sound of distant bells ringing a joyful and clangorous peal.

"Very well sung, boys!" cried the Rat heartily. "And now come along in, all of you, and warm yourselves by the fire, and have something hot!"
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows, Chapter Five: Dulce Domum

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Let no tongue on earth be silent

Michael Mckinley at IXMarks Church Matters recommends:
...[T]hree songs about the incarnation that I particularly like to use in corporate worship this time of year:
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendour
Of The Father's Love Begotten
I'm unfamiliar with the second, but "Of the Father's Love Begotten" has become one of my favorites. Selected verses:
Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!

He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing, evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!
Church Matters: The 9Marks Blog

We Glorify Thy Name


Sometime in the mid-1940s the American Sabbath Tract Society decided to publish "a collection of Seventh Day Baptist hymns and songs." The Tract Society was the predecessor of the current Tract and Communication Council of the Seventh Day Baptist denomination. It was the then publisher of the Sabbath Recorder, as well as denominational tracts, pamphlets and books. My uncle, Rev. Victor W. Skaggs, then the Secretary of the Tract Society, along with Rev Lester G. Osborn and Howard Savage, the organist for the Plainfield, New Jersey, Seventh Day Baptist Church, comprised the committee responsible for producing the collection.

The result of their work was published in 1946. Titled We Glorify Thy Name, it was only thirty-two pages long and contained only twenty-five hymns and songs. The committee explained their intention in a Foreword:
.... Seventh Day Baptists have shown their interest in worshipful song in their compilations of others' songs and in the composition not only of hymns and songs related to the Sabbath, but also of hymns and songs of Christian faith and life. This present collection does not purport to be exhaustive or complete. It is a selection from the available works of Seventh Day Baptists of the past and of modern times. We present it to you with the hope and the prayer that it may inspire us all with the message of our faith—Christ and His Holy Sabbath Day.
For many years there has been no explicitly denominational hymnbook. Each church chooses whatever they believe will enhance their own worship style. So far as I know, there has been no new collection of distinctively Seventh Day Baptist worship music. We Glorify Thy Name remains one of the best collections of songs and hymns by Seventh Day Baptists. It is probably time for another committee to prepare another collection, but until that happens I thought it might be a service to make this one available. We Glorify Thy Name can be downloaded as a pdf here or through the cover image above.

There are three Stennett hymns, including "Another Six Days Work is Done" by Joseph Stennett [on the left - click on it for a larger image], and Samuel Stennett's two most famous hymns, which can be found in many hymnbooks. Others include some still well-known to Seventh Day Baptists, for example "God of the Sabbath" and the "Young People's Rally Song" [with its original wording], as well as some that probably should be. The music for several was composed by J.M. Stillman, a long time music instructor at Milton College who achieved some prominence in his time. There are a few choruses, including "To Know Him!" which some older Seventh Day Baptists will remember from campfires. Others may deserve to rest in obscurity.

In any event, here is We Glorify Thy Name.

Liberty requires virtue

December 9 was the 400th anniversary of John Milton's birth and this has occasioned recognition of his literary contribution more than of his Christian convictions and political thought. Theo Hobson thinks, instead, that "Milton ought to be celebrated as England's greatest religious thinker, and one of the truly great Protestants, who points beyond the arid opposition of 'religious' and 'secular' and invites fresh thinking about both." At openDemocracy in "John Milton’s vision" he argues that Milton's view of the proper relationship between church and state has been realized much better in this country than in his own.
It is far more accurate to say that Milton was a key founder of the American liberal tradition, than of the British one. This is not just because of his republicanism: even more important to him than republicanism was his aversion to religious establishment. During the interregnum (1649-60) he worried that England's revolution was uncertain until Oliver Cromwell had clearly separated church and state, and instituted an explicitly secular liberal state (which Cromwell never quite did). This was the ideological obsession of Milton's life. ....

The ideological cause of his life was not simply "liberty" but a specific story about liberty. True political liberty, he believed, was rooted in a common acknowledgment that a new form of Christianity had emerged, by God's grace. This new form of Christianity was not simply "Protestantism", for that word points in various directions, most of them wrong. It was a specific version of Protestantism that was only now coming into being - a politically mature form of Protestantism. ....

So was he an early "secular liberal"? Not in the dominant contemporary sense, which assumes that politics should be post-religious. He thought it should be post-ecclesial, but that liberal Protestant Christianity was the necessary foundation of a free society. This must be the national ideology, but it must not be identified with any religious institution. In effect, he was inventing the American approach to church-state relations.

So those who claim him as a secular radical, or a great British liberal, must be sharply told: no, he wanted a constitutional revolution, on Christian grounds. He wanted a revolution in Christian identity, away from church allegiance. The enlightened Christian should affirm the authority of the liberal state. ....[more]
John Milton on liberty:
[S]tories teach us, that liberty sought out of season, in a corrupt and degenerate age, brought Rome itself to a farther slavery: for liberty hath a sharp and double edge, fit only to be handled by just and virtuous men; to bad and dissolute, it becomes a mischief unwieldy in their own hands: neither is it completely given, but by them who have the happy skill to know what is grievance and unjust to a people, and how to remove it wisely; what good laws are wanting, and how to frame them substantially, that good men may enjoy the freedom which they merit, and the bad the curb which they need.
John Milton’s vision | open Democracy News Analysis, Milton on Liberty’s Sharp and Double Edge (Harper's Magazine)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Reconceptualizing Jesus

Russell Moore quotes and then comments on Christopher Hitchens reaction to a new book:
“The second essay is a review by Mark Tooley of a terrible-sounding book called Jesus for President by a terrible-sounding person named Shane Claiborne. You know the sort of thing very well: Jesus would have been a ‘human shield’ in Baghdad in 2003; the United States is the modern equivalent of the Roman Empire. It’s the usual ‘liberation theology’ drivel, whereby everybody except the inhabitants of the democratic West is supposed to abjure violence. (To the question of whether the plan to kill Hitler was moral or not, Claiborne cites no less an authority than the Führer’s own secretary to claim that “all hopes for peace were lost” after the 1944 attempt. That, as should be obvious even to the most flickering intelligence, was chiefly because the attempt was a failure. What an idiot!)”
Now, Hitchens’ response doesn’t tell us whether or not Claiborne is right about Jesus. If the Bible did give us the Jesus as Che picture some of our friends present (or the Jesus as Rush picture some of our other friends would prefer), Hitchens would still hate him. ....

But that’s just the point.

I suspect Hitchens’ response to warmed-over liberation theology is quite similar to the majority report. It appeals to disaffected religious people who want to keep Jesus, but have the vibe of whatever Utopian movement is the order of the day. Those who think politically reconceptualizing Jesus is going to make him more attractive to unbelievers are as naive about human nature in apologetics as they are about…well, how to stop Hitler. ....
Christopher Hitchens on Jesus for President

"If God is dead, so is reason."

Michael Novak explains the dependence of scientific reasoning on belief in the God of the Bible in "Science and Religion" at FIRST THINGS. Excerpts:
According to the conventional narrative, science and religion have been at war for some three hundred years. But the reality is deeper and more complex. The English philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote in his Science and the Modern World (1925) that without devotion to the God of Israel, modern science would not have come into being. When humans learned that the God of Israel was the fountain and origin of all that is, and of all the stunning intelligibility within every part of creation, they had a motive for dedicating their whole lives to unlocking the secrets hidden in creation. More important, they had great confidence that this search would not be in vain. .... In the cultures shaped by the Bible, human beings had confidence that all questions can be answered if diligently pursued. They had confidence that all those disparate answers would point to a coherence and almost mathematical beauty that is breathtaking to contemplate. ....

Of course, many today hold that all this talk about God, Creator, Prime Intelligence, and the Act of Existence is gibberish. Yet even they must admit that it was to their good fortune that, in a small family of cultures, a decisive number of inquirers, scholars, and copyists of ancient manuscripts did learn to expect pervasive intelligibility in the universe because of their faith in an ordering Intelligence. That is why they were willing to invest most of the hours of their humble lives in preparing the way for modern science.

In other words, the belief shared by (at first) a few million of the Earth’s inhabitants that a light emanates from the Creator of the world, and suffuses all things, gave them a strong motivation for devoting their lives to scientific efforts. They wanted to learn more about God by studying the world He made. ....


This idea of a transcendent Creator assures us that in examining and experimenting with nature, we are violating no taboo, and not defiling God. It is through experimentation that we come to understand and to appreciate the work of His creative genius. By contrast, those peoples who identified their God with some creature within creation—the serpent, the jaguar, the rain—were afraid, lest by inquiry or experiment they might arouse His anger. It is by experiment that, today, many who do not believe in an intelligent Creator encounter the intelligibility that suffuses all things. Even unbelievers, by their actions if not their words, show their confidence in the unified intelligibility of all things. This confidence is the cultural patrimony bequeathed them by generations of believers.

Today, roughly half of all scientists are atheists. Yet, insofar as they are scientists, they share the same confidence that the sacrificing of one’s whole life to the pursuit of asking questions is a noble and worthy vocation. In this conviction, they act as if they believed in God. .... [more]

FIRST THINGS is a superb magazine. If you are the least bit interested in the intersection of religion with politics and the culture, it is indispensable. Subscribe here [I get the electronic version]. The website and blog also always have interesting material.

The image is of an older issue, February, 2007. The mix of articles in this issue is fairly typical, and, since it is an older issue, they are accessible to non-subscribers. A subscription would not be a bad Christmas gift to yourself or someone else.

FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » Science and Religion

Never surrender!


Thanks to Joe Carter for the reference.

The Confabulum » Blog Archive » An Inspired Video

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Chronicles

I was somewhat surprised to discover that the university in my city offers online courses with continuing education credit [CEU] about The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and Prince Caspian. The teacher is David Werther, a Ph.D. in the Department of Liberal Studies and the Arts. Good for the University of Wisconsin even if they are non-credit.

Online theology/philosophy course: C. S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Parents should parent

Mona Charen explains some of "The Good Obama Can Do."
...Michelle and Barack Obama, just by modeling good parenting, have the capacity to set a great example. A report from the Chicago Tribune suggests it has started already. “Seven-year-old Ava Childers will soon be responsible for making her own bed every day. . . . Ava’s mother, Danita, got the idea after hearing that the soon-to-be first daughters . . . are required to make their beds in the morning.“

Obama has not shrunk from lecturing his audiences about parenting. Back in May, at a campaign stop in Gary, Ind., the future president gave his audience a pretty good harangue:

“Parents, if you don’t parent, we can’t improve our schools. You’ve got to parent. You’ve got to turn off the television set in your house once in a while. You’ve got to put the video game away once in a while. You should meet with the teacher and find out what the homework is and help that child with the homework. And if you don’t know how to do the homework, don’t be embarrassed, find someone to help you.”

Obama is setting a fine example. And good for him. His father walked out on him. Rather than repeat that destructive pattern, he is doing the opposite. Is it a total stretch to imagine him lecturing young people about the need to get married before having babies?

But he can do more than that. He has said that he will continue some of the faith-based programs that President Bush initiated. He should also maintain and expand the marriage promotion policies that began under the current administration. ....
The Good Obama Can Do by Mona Charen on National Review Online

Monday, December 15, 2008

Perelandra

I first read C.S. Lewis's science fiction trilogy well before I discovered Narnia. I am no particular fan of either science fiction or fantasy, tending - when I do read fiction - rather toward historical fiction or mysteries. But I both enjoyed and admired Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by Tolkien, and at about the same time - not yet realizing that Tolkien and Lewis were friends - I read Out of the Silent Planet and then the others. My favorite of the three by Lewis is Perelandra [or Voyage to Venus in Britain]. Lewis was particularly good at helping you imagine something beyond your experience, for instance the fruit that grew on the floating island on Perelandra:
.... He picked one of them and turned it over and over. The rind was smooth and firm and seemed impossible to tear open. Then by accident one of his fingers punctured it and went through into coldness. After a moment's hesitation he put the little aperture to his lips. He had meant to extract the smallest, experimental sip, but the first taste put his caution all to flight. It was, of course, a taste, just as his thirst and hunger had been thirst and hunger. But then it was so different from every other taste that it seemed mere pedantry to call it a taste at all. It was like the discovery of a totally new genus of pleasures, something unheard of among men, out of all reckoning, beyond all covenant. For one draught of this on earth wars would be fought and nations betrayed. It could not be classified. He could never tell us, when he came back to the world of men, whether it was sharp or sweet, savoury or voluptuous, creamy or piercing. "Not like that" was all he could ever say to such inquiries. As he let the empty gourd fall from his hand and was about to pluck a second one, it came into his head that he was now neither hungry nor thirsty. And yet to repeat a pleasure so intense and almost so spiritual seemed an obvious thing to do. ....
A fine site called bethinking.org has published a "lightly edited" doctoral thesis by Pete Lowman about the absence of any presence of the real God in the contemporary novel. The introduction is "The Loss of God in the Novel." Among the chapters available online are those about The Lord of the Rings and Lewis's science fiction trilogy:
Read the books themselves first.

The image is of the paperback cover of my first copy of the first book in the trilogy.

bethinking.org - Who are you God? - Chronicles of Heaven Unshackled - Part 0 - Introduction

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Barbarians within the gates

Theodore Dalrymple, onetime prison doctor, is a British essayist who has been quoted here more than once [here, here, here, and here], and someone who I obviously think is worth reading. Not a believer, he nevertheless has a profound understanding of human nature, and little patience with utopianism. A new collection of his essays has been published, Not With a Bang But a Whimper: The Politics and Culture of Decline, and it has been reviewed by Patrick Keeney of the Canadian National Post. Excepts from the review:
He believes that man is a fallen creature and so is dismissive of the idea of perfection or utopian thinking of any kind. He is unmoved by Marxism, or indeed any other ideological system that posits causation by abstract social forces. For Dalrymple, the locus of moral concern falls on personal behaviour rather than on social structure, and he is caustic about any notion that negates the idea of personal responsibility, or that suggests that we are simply passive victims of our environment. And unlike so many of the intelligentsia, he is ever mindful that, in this world at least, we do not get something for nothing: Improvement usually comes at a cost. Ideas that arise from the very best of intentions often result in disastrous social consequences.

Dalrymple knows how potent and costly ideas can be. As a physician, he spent his working life among the poor, the imprisoned and the indigent. ....

...[E]ven as the welfare state ensures that no man goes hungry, we are met with new kinds of social pathologies, ones that result in what at best might be termed a sort of vulgar coarsening of the social fabric, at worst a senseless and random kind of violence that spares no one but that is particularly perilous for the poor. In an essay titled "Real Crime, Fake Justice," he references "the unholy alliance between politicians and bureaucrats and .... liberal intellectuals who pretend to see in crime a natural and understandable response to social injustice." The result of this "experiment in leniency" is that it has debased the lives of millions of citizens, especially the poor, who suffer disproportionately from rapes, murders, muggings and a general collapse of the criminal justice system.

Dalrymple's essays provide a kind of eulogy for those public virtues that the world once associated with Britain: reasonableness, honour, stoicism, fair-mindedness, civility and courteousness. His analysis of the British fall from grace also provides fair warning to those nations, such as our own, which, having travelled some way along the path pioneered by Britain, might yet avoid such a fate.
Decline, fall and then some

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Imagined perfection and imperfect reality

R.R. Reno believes "It’s wrong to wring our hands over the shrill and intensely competitive nature of politics. The alternatives are so much worse: tyranny or indifference." Nevertheless, he thinks that our political divisions are becoming dangerous, that we are "careening toward an ever-deeper split, one that threatens the underlying unity of our nation." The reason is "that progressives are socially divisive. We forget that revolutionaries seek revolutions, because we tend to think of progressives as idealists, people who just want to make the world a better place." As many have done before, Reno finds Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France a source of wisdom. From "Conservatism and the Culture Wars" at FIRST THINGS:
In his Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke helps us see beyond our usual moral sentimentalism. He recognized the way in which abstract principles can become objects of devotion. The great patrons of liberty and equality in revolutionary France loved their ideas of justice, so much so that they would willingly destroy the actual goods of their imperfect society in order to implement an imagined state of perfection. Nothing is so selfish as to attack reality—and to do so on the basis of one’s own ideals.

Burke had an epithet for these selfish idealists. They were “men of theory,” and they so often seem to have the rhetorical advantage. The imagined world is shiny and spotless, unlike the real world and its hopelessly compromised institutions. It’s easy to compliment your moral insights when you juxtapose the ideal with the real.

“The pretended rights of these theorists are all extreme,” he wrote, “and in proportion as they are metaphysically true, they are morally and politically false.” And more than false. Reflections on the Revolution in France is a very passionate book, urgent and strident in tone, because Burke thought the “men of theory” wicked.

The wickedness comes from a crucial fact about progressive politics: Our social world needs to be destroyed in order for moral and political ideals to be realized, unsullied by the past. ....

Burke’s insight in the imperialism of theory helps explain why culture wars seem to be escalating. Economic progressives are not terribly influential, as Obama’s cabinet appointments demonstrate. But the cultural progressives are very much in ascendancy. Every desire has an equal right to its fulfillment. And this ideal can only be realized if every desire feels free to speak its name.

Therefore, establishing an empire of desire requires more than political triumph, more than legal protection. Like all progressive ideals, it requires the destruction of the sentiments and pieties that lead people to think otherwise. This ideological project takes on the familiar distortions of all modern propaganda. “Words take on new meanings,” James Kalb writes in The Tyranny of Liberalism, “hatred comes to include opposition to liberal initiatives, while inclusiveness requires non-liberals to abandon their principles and even their identity. Tolerance treats objections to liberalism as attacks on neutrality that are oppressive simply by being made.” [more]

FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » Conservatism and the Culture Wars

In defense of teasing

Datcher Keltner, a professor of psychology, writes "In Defense of Teasing." The argument is that teasing - as opposed to bullying and harassment - is important for learning how to be human. One of the difficulties with making rules or laws against harassment is that the distinctions seem impossible for the often obtuse rule enforcers to make. From the New York Times Magazine:
.... Today teasing has been all but banished from the lives of many children. In recent years, high-profile school shootings and teenage suicides have inspired a wave of “zero tolerance” movements in our schools. Accused teasers are now made to utter their teases in front of the class, under the stern eye of teachers. Children are given detention for sarcastic comments on the playground. Schools are decreed “teasing free.”

And we are phasing out teasing in many other corners of social life as well. Sexual-harassment courses advise work colleagues not to tease or joke. Marriage counselors encourage direct criticism over playful provocation. No-taunting rules have even arisen in the N.B.A. and the N.F.L. to discourage “trash talking.”

The reason teasing is viewed as inherently damaging is that it is too often confused with bullying. But bullying is something different; it’s aggression, pure and simple. Bullies steal, punch, kick, harass and humiliate. Sexual harassers grope, leer and make crude, often threatening passes. They’re pretty ineffectual flirts. By contrast, teasing is a mode of play, no doubt with a sharp edge, in which we provoke to negotiate life’s ambiguities and conflicts. And it is essential to making us fully human. ....

.... Productive teasing is rarely physically hurtful and doesn’t expose deep vulnerabilities — like a romantic failure or a physical handicap. Off-record markers — funny facial expressions, exaggeration and repetition — also help mark the tease as playful rather than hostile. And social context means a lot. Where teasing provides an arena to safely explore conflict, it can join people in a common cause. Especially when they’re allowed to tease back. ....

In seeking to protect our children from bullying and aggression, we risk depriving them of a most remarkable form of social exchange. In teasing, we learn to use our voices, bodies and faces, and to read those of others — the raw materials of emotional intelligence and the moral imagination. We learn the wisdom of laughing at ourselves, and not taking the self too seriously. We learn boundaries between danger and safety, right and wrong, friend and foe, male and female, what is serious and what is not. We transform the many conflicts of social living into entertaining dramas. No kidding. [more]

Thanks to Arts & Letters Daily for the reference.

In Defense of Teasing - NYTimes.com

Scrubbing history

It seems to be a struggle to get the government to acknowledge the actual part religion has had in American history, much less keep the public square open to those whose political views are affected by their religious convictions. David Waters in "God Bless America", at the Washington Post's On Faith blogsite, recounts some of the battles:
.... Take the new $621 million capitol Visitor Center, which opened this week to mixed reviews. Among the critics were Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican who several weeks ago noticed that something was missing from a center's replica of the House Speaker's rostrum. The words "In God We Trust" - engraved over the actual rostrum in 1962 - were not included in the replica.

The center identified "E. Pluribus Unum" (rather than "In God We Trust") as the official national motto. Displays deleted these words from Article 3 of the Northwest Ordinance; "Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind..."; and the words "in the Year of Our Lord" from Article 7 of the Constitution.

DeMint and dozens of other congressmen objected and the deleted phrases were restored. ....

DeMint and other concerned evangelicals say this is only the latest in a series of attempts to erase God from public life in Washington.
  • Neither the World War II Memorial (2004) nor the FDR Memorial (1997) - Washington's two newest monuments - contain references to God. The WWII memorial includes a God-related quote from Eisenhower's D-Day message, but it ends just before the general seeks "the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking."
  • In 2007, a replica of the Washington Monument's aluminum cap, on display inside the monument, recently was turned so that the words "Laus Deo" (Latin for 'Praise be to God') were no longer visible to vistors. After receiving 28,000 email complaints, the National Park Service said it was a simple mistake and they'd turn it back.
  • In 2007, after protests from House Republican Leader John Boehner and others, the Office of the Architect of the Capitol reversed its stated policy of removing references to God or religion from certificates that were given to citizens along with flags flown ceremonially over the Capitol.
  • The new John Quincy Adams Presidential Dollar, released earlier this year, contained the words "In God We Trust" along the edge of the coin rather than on its face. After receiving many complaints, the U.S. Mint announced that the motto will appear on the heads side of the 2009 Adams dollars.
FDR talked publicly about God as much as any president. Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Churchill and other leaders delivered public prayers during World War II. Nearly every major public building and monument in Washington has at least one reference to God.

Separation of church and state is vital to our liberty. But trying to scrub from American history or public life every reference to God or faith isn't just silly. It's inaccurate and misleading.
Under God: God Bless America - On Faith at washingtonpost.com

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Newsweek, religion, and gay marriage

Newsweek, in the person of its religion editor, Lisa Miller, has decided to instruct us about what ought to be the Christian position on gay marriage. The opening quotation below is from that Newsweek cover article.
Let’s try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does. Shall we look to Abraham, the great patriarch, who slept with his servant when he discovered his beloved wife Sarah was infertile? Or to Jacob, who fathered children with four different women (two sisters and their servants)? Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel—all these fathers and heroes were polygamists. The New Testament model of marriage is hardly better. Jesus himself was single and preached an indifference to earthly attachments—especially family. The apostle Paul (also single) regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust. “It is better to marry than to burn with passion,” says the apostle, in one of the most lukewarm endorsements of a treasured institution ever uttered. Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple—who likely woke up on their wedding day harboring some optimistic and newfangled ideas about gender equality and romantic love—turn to the Bible as a how-to script?
It is no wonder that the uninstructed in our increasingly secular and Biblically illiterate society might become confused about what the Scriptures do teach about Christian marriage - especially if they read Newsweek. Mollie Hemingway, in "Sola scriptura minus the scriptura" at GetReligion comments on the validity of the argument [and that's putting it mildly!]:
....[I]f you are going to pretend that opposition to same-sex marriage is based Scriptura, could we at least get our Scripture right?

This is such hackery that it’s offensive. Abraham and Sarah, while certainly noted for their eventual trust in God were basically poster children for marital disobedience when they didn’t trust God to provide them with children. Even though he promised them they would have offspring. Sarah was a jealous and cruel slavemaster and Abraham was pliant and cowardly during their Hagar offensive. In fact, if you are reading the Old Testament as a self-improvement book based on anything other than the commandments from God, you are an idiot. God’s chosen people, some of them with great and abiding faith, are sinful disasters — the lot of them.

I hold sacred the New Testament model of marriage and find Miller’s comments to be beneath contempt. I also wonder what, if anything, she has read from the New Testament.

When my husband read the opening graph of this train wreck of a hit piece, he wondered if these words of Jesus, found in the Gospel of Matthew, indicated indifference to family:
And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Would that be the indifference that Miller is referring to? Because it really just doesn’t sound indifferent to me. This quote from Jesus comes in a larger section on, well, earthly attachments. One part notes that only those who have the gift of celibacy are to be celibate. I have no doubt that my elementary school-age nieces know these things. Shouldn’t Lisa Miller?

And while St. Paul does endorse single life enthusiastically, for those who are able (a key point left out of Miller’s little opening paragraph), he writes extensively about marriage. In fact, he’s normally picked on for his clear endorsement of traditional marriage, as in Ephesians 5:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
There is nothing lukewarm about this. In fact, there is nothing lukewarm about any of the writings of Paul. ....

The piece then goes on to pretend that homosexuality isn’t really mentioned much in Scripture (except when it’s talking about, you guessed it, King David and Jonathan!) and, of course, discounts St. Paul’s teachings on the matter as not really about homosexuality but modern-day sins having nothing to do with homosexuality. Not that the actual New Testament passages, such as this one, are included in the story:
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
Some may find that passage ambiguous. Many will not. But what’s amazing is that Miller actually also writes that Scripture never once refers to sexual relations between women. Um, if you don’t know what the Bible says, you probably shouldn’t preach about it, you know? .... [much more]
I once subscribed to Newsweek, years ago when it was still a news magazine.

Update: Rob Bowman explains its "Fallacies in Biblical Interpretation" in response to Newsweek’s "Defense of Gay Marriage."

Sola scriptura minus the scriptura » GetReligion