Thursday, April 30, 2009

Movie news about The Hobbit

Originally the plan was to have the first film cover the story as recounted in the book and the second the period between The Hobbit and LOTR. Plans have changed:
We’ve known for a while that Peter Jackson and Guillermo Del Toro’s eagerly-awaited adaptation of the Lord Of The Rings prequel, The Hobbit, would comprise two movies, due in December 2011 and 2012. But the make-up of those two movies has been up for debate… until now. ....

"We’ve decided to have The Hobbit span the two movies, including the White Council and the comings and goings of Gandalf to Dol Guldur," says Del Toro.

"We decided it would be a mistake to try to cram everything into one movie," adds Jackson. "The essential brief was to do The Hobbit, and it allows us to make The Hobbit in a little more style, if you like, of the [LOTR] trilogy."
That sounds good to me.

Empire: Movie News - World Excl: Jackson/Del Toro Talk Hobbit

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Christian Blogs

A new aggregator of Christian blogs has appeared: My Christian Blogs | all the best blogs for Christians on one site. It contains many of the blogs I frequent and link to in the column on the right. If you try to keep up with what is appearing online, this might be a convenient way to do it.

My Christian Blogs also includes a page collecting links to Christian Movie Reviews. Worth a look.

By Christians for Christians

Dallas Jenkins, a Christian and a filmmaker, on "Why are Christian Movies So Bad?"
.... The problem is that everyone knows good art should always put story and character above message. Message films are rarely exciting. So by their very nature, most Christian films aren’t going to be very good because they have to fall within certain message-based parameters. And because the Christian audience is so glad to get a "safe, redeeming, faith-based message," even at the expense of great art, they don’t demand higher artistic standards. ....

...[Y]oung Christians aren’t encouraged or trained to become great artists. If a young Christian wants to become a filmmaker, they are often either discouraged to do so because Hollywood is so dangerous, or if they do find encouragement, they have a hard time getting proper training. There are two primary things that can foster someone becoming a better artist: one, seeing and being inspired by hundreds of great films, and two, getting a great artistic education. .... This not only impacts potential filmmakers, but actors as well. ....

.... We can complain all we want about how Hollywood doesn’t reflect our values, but we lose that right if we’re not producing great projects and artists of our own. [more]
Those who have created a self-imposed Christian ghetto contribute to the problem:
Even though Christians didn’t want to see evil Hollywood films or listen to evil secular music, they still wanted to see movies and listen to music like everyone else. So what were they to do if the acceptable choices from Hollywood were so few and far between? They created a Christian entertainment subculture, where Christian movies and music were made by Christians, for Christians. Christian bookstores exploded, as families could feel safe shopping in an environment where the only entertainment available was Christian-based. Now Christians had no need to communicate to Hollywood what they wanted because they could get it from Christian media providers, and the relationship between Hollywood and the Christian community became even more distant. Combine the cynicism of Christians towards Hollywood with the annoyance or ignorance of Hollywood towards Christians, and you’ve got the perfect divorce. [more]
Big Hollywood » Blog Archive » Why are Christian Movies So Bad?

Thus spake the Lord

Exodus 20: 3-17, KJV
click on the image for a larger version

From Christianity Today's Imago Fidei, a 19th century Currier & Ives print [1876], "God's Words"

Christianity Today Imago Fidei: Currier & Ives: God's Words

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"I have a right to my opinion!"

After an unfortunate and painful experience not unlike the one described below, I took to informing my government and international relations students at the beginning of each semester that, "of course you have a right to your opinion" but that if that opinion was expressed aloud or on paper the student should be prepared to defend it. From The National Association of Scholars site:
A few years ago I was asked by the instructor of a philosophy class, then titled “Roots of War,” to discuss with his students the culture of the U.S. military community. After identifying myself as a former career military officer, I discussed my impression of our military’s culture. When I was done, a young woman who had been glowering at me and holding her arms tightly across her chest raised her hand. When called upon she vehemently said, “I don’t agree with you. I don’t think it is anything like that. You have just been brainwashed by the military.”

“OK,” I said, “what do you think our military’s culture is like?”

“Well, certainly nothing like that,” she sputtered. I could see some heads in the class nodding in agreement.

I asked, “Could you share with us your experience in or around the military?”

“I haven’t had anything to do with the military,” she indignantly replied.

“Have you extensively studied the U.S. military or worked with current or former members of the military?”

“No,” she angrily said.

“So where have you gotten your impression of the military’s culture?” I tried to ask softly.

“I am entitled to my opinion, and I think you are a Nazi!” was her voracious reply. The class was clearly enjoying her attack on me at this point and the philosophy professor sat smugly satisfied.

I decided to end this ridiculous exchange: “So let us review. You have no personal experience or knowledge of the military. You have not studied the military. You cannot explain why you disagree with me. And you think you are entitled to your opinion. Well, I agree with you on one point. You do have a right to an opinion, and I have a right to point out that yours is an ignorant opinion—ignorant because by your own admission it is not based on any facts, education, research, or experience. Your opinion is apparently based on nothing more than simple ignorant prejudice.”

The class was silent for a moment. The young woman began to sob and yell at me, “You can’t say that to me!”

I replied, “Yes I can, because it is the truth.”

The now visibly upset philosophy professor said, “Doug, you are being a little harsh on her.”

“No Ron, I am just stating the truth.”

“Well Doug, you have to respect her feelings.” Much of the class was nodding in agreement while attempting to soothe the young woman who was now obviously enjoying the attention.

“Gee Ron, I thought this was a university where we discussed subjects rationally using facts and logic.”

“A lot of us feel the same way she does,” the philosophy professor responded, as if that were justification for her ignorance and her personal insults.

Fed up with the charade, I walked out of the class.

Later, I sat in the campus office of a friend, relating the story. He smiled and occasionally laughed as I recounted what happened. “Of course you were right Doug, but you can’t say that here. Where do you think you are, America?” We both laughed, while knowing that it was no laughing matter.
Thanks to What's Wrong With the World for the reference.

NAS - The National Association of Scholars :: Articles The Classroom Without Reason 04/27/2009 Douglas Campbell

"Don't like slavery? Don't own one"

Kevin DeYoung perceives a great similarity between the 19th century debate over slavery and the contemporary one over abortion in today's post, "Lincoln's Legacy and the Unborn":
Lincoln understood what many politicians hope we will miss, that "declared indifference" is often "covert real zeal." "Don't like slavery? Then don't own one" is not a nice morally neutral position. Such bumper sticker logic gives implicit approval to the appropriateness of slavery and the legitimacy of those who seek its expansion. Popular sovereignty is a beautiful philosophy, but only when we are acting as sovereigns over ourselves. "When the white man governs himself," argued Lincoln, "that is self-government; but when he governs himself and also governs another man...that is despotism."

The connections with the pro-slavery argument and the pro-abortion argument should be obvious. Both argue for choice. Both, at least in their more civilized forms, pretend moral neutrality. And both rely for their inner logic on strikingly similar propositions: blacks are not human persons with unalienable rights; and neither are the unborn. .... [more]
The President [a professed Lincoln admirer] took office promising to find "common ground" on the abortion issue. Given his background and record, it always seemed unlikely that he would seriously try to do so, and thus far—apart from rhetoric—he has not. Echoing Cardinal George's disappointment, Frank Page, past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Obama supporter, and member of the President's Faith Council, hasn't lost hope — yet:
I've been disappointed that instead of looking for what he has often said, he's looking for some middle ground, some common ground I don't think he has really sought that.

I have not been surprised by anything our President has done but I have been surprised at the rapidity with which he has done what he has done, removal of what few protections there are for example regarding innocent unborn babies. This has happened quickly.

By and large I have not been very encouraged by our President's first 100 days in regards to pro-life issues, in regards to sensitivity to the Evangelical community. ....

"I would say that I am cautiously optimistic because indeed it's been a short time at this point. There is hope that yet there may be some policies enacted that might indeed reduce the number of abortions and that might indeed help responsible fatherhood in our nation, etcetera. So I do have hope. I have not lost all hope yet though it's difficult to sit back and see policy after policy changed, executive order made or removed that affects the life of the unborn." [more]
DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: Lincoln's Legacy and the Unborn, Dr. Frank Page "Disappointed" in Obama's First 100 Days - The Brody File: David Brody Blog - CBN News

Monday, April 27, 2009

Preaching

Theocentric Preaching provides a whole bunch of good, very much related, posts about what constitutes a worthwhile Christian sermon:

From Kevin DeYoung reviewing Why Johnny Can't Preach:
....After wrestling with the nature of preaching for 25 years, Gordon has concluded that the content of Christian preaching should be the person, character, and work of Christ. Kind of makes sense. Of course, preaching will included moral exhortation, but it is never appropriate, says Gordon, “for one word of moral counsel ever to proceed from a Christian pulpit that is not clearly, in its context, redemptive. That is, even when the faithful exposition of particular texts require some explanation of aspects of our behavior, it is always to be done in a manner that the hearer perceives such commended behavior to be itself a matter of being rescued from the power of sin through the grace of Christ” (70-71). So much for all our “relevant” messages helping us live more fulfilled lives. So much for emergent kingdom rhetoric that fails to mention the mercy of the King. So much for more than a few of my sermons over the years.

Gordon sees four alternatives to this type of gospel preaching: Moralism, How-To, Introspection, and Social Gospel/Culture War. That is, instead of preaching Christ crucified and the grace of God, we end up preaching “be better” or “here are three steps to being better” or “are you really a Christian?” or “we need to do more to fight the bad guys out there.” It’s not that we can’t do any of this as preachers—Gordon says there is a place for three of the four (everything but the how-to)—but “the pulpit is almost never the place to do this” (91). What must predominate in our preaching is the person, character, and work of Christ. And everything else should manifestly flow from these things. Don't leave the congregation wondering where grace come in to play. Don't make them assume you are rooting this application in the person and work of Christ. Connect the glorious dots for them. .... [more]
An experience from the past that may well seem familiar today:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer studied for a year in New York City. He visited a number of churches there, and this is what he concluded: “One may hear sermons in New York upon almost any subject; one only is never handled, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, of the cross, of sin and forgiveness.”
And then this. from Garrison Keillor:
I’ve heard a lot of sermons in the past 10 years or so that make me want to get up and walk out. They’re secular, psychological, self-help sermons. Friendly, but of no use. They didn’t make you straighten up. They didn’t give you anything hard. … At some point and in some way, a sermon has to direct people toward the death of Christ and the campaign that God has waged over the centuries to get our attention. (Garrison Keillor, Leadership, Vol. 6, no. 3)
Theocentric Preaching, DeYoung: Why Johnny Can't Preach

Lively, but not deep

It is impossible to be a good teacher of anything without studying, and studying, and studying - and in most areas of knowledge that means reading, and reading, and reading. Ray Ortland gives us this from John Wesley writing to a pastor:
What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear, to this day, is want of reading. I scarce ever knew a preacher who read so little. And perhaps, by neglecting it, you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep; there is little variety; there is no compass of thought. Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this. You can never be a deep preacher without it, any more than a thorough Christian. Oh begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercises. You may acquire the taste which you have not; what is tedious at first will afterwards be pleasant. Whether you like it or no, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days, and a pretty, superficial preacher. Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer. Take up your cross and be a Christian altogether. Then will all the children of God rejoice (not grieve) over you; and in particular yours." [D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge, Letters Along The Way, page 169]
Christ is deeper still: Reading, meditation, prayer

Yes!

When I was a teacher my voicemail message provided my e-mail address. My answering machine at home informs people that I seldom answer and that they shouldn't leave a message unless reasonably confidant that I will respond. I am very much in agreement with Matthew Yglesias about voice mail:
If you leave a message on my cell phone, I might get back to you one of these days. If you leave a message on my office voicemail, forget about it. I’m not even entirely sure I know how to check it. Definitely the whole time I was employed at The Atlantic I never once returned a voicemail. I figure that anyone who’s really eager to get in touch with me will email me. In general, I’m not a fan of talking on the phone, but listening to recorded messages of other people talking to me on the phone is absolutely the worst.
Matthew Yglesias » The End of Voice Mail

Saturday, April 25, 2009

God is His own interpreter


Justin Taylor reminds us that:
On this day in history, 1800, the incredibly gifted but frequently and deeply depressed William Cowper died at the age of 68.
And he refers us to John Piper's Insanity and Spiritual Songs in the Soul of a Saint, a good summary biography and reflection on the life of the poet and hymn-writer, who, undoubtedly a Christian, suffered from melancholy and depression all of his adult life.

He wrote the lyrics to many hymns which, with even more hymns by John Newton, were published. Among the best known of Cowper's contributions are "There is a Fountain Filled With Blood," and "Sometimes a Light Surprises." But, agreeing with Piper, the one I appreciate the most is "God Moves in a Mysterious Way."

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purpose will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain:
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

Between Two Worlds: William Cowper, Insanity and Spiritual Songs in the Soul of a Saint :: Desiring God Christian Resource Library

Sleeping the big sleep

Micah Watson demonstrates how our attitudes about aspects of morality have deteriorated by using an old [and very good] movie as his illustration:
.... Consider the classic Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall film, The Big Sleep (1946), from Raymond Chander's equally classic Philip Marlowe novel of the same name (1939). My wife and I watched this film the other night on Netflix instant. ....

Consider the plot of the film and the book. A world-weary and hard-boiled detective, Philip Marlowe, is called in to assist with the blackmail of an elderly patriarch of a very wealthy family. General Sternwood has two beautiful and rather wild daughters. In his investigation Marlowe discovers that the blackmail revolves around pornographic pictures taken of the younger daughter, Carmen. The pornographer runs his business in the back of an antique bookstore and the men who purchase his wares must surreptitiously conduct their business in a password-protected backroom. A young man who has fallen in love with the Carmen confronts and kills the pornographer in an attempt to defend her honor, and the remainder of the movie depicts Marlowe pursuing the twists and turns as he and the cops attempt to figure things out while keeping the Sternwoods from experiencing the public humiliation that would ensue if the daughter's escapades came to light.

Where to start? The worries of the characters in the film seem almost quaint in today's culture. Consider first the pornography business. In the 1930s and 40s it was taken for granted that such bookstores were not only seedy, but illegal. ....

And not to give any more attention to one who is overexposed in so many ways, but compare the Sternwood family to one of our famous wealthy families, the Hiltons. ....

In The Big Sleep, the goal is to save the daughter from the ruin of pornography. With Paris Hilton, pornography is the means by which she has achieved social notoriety and "success." The pornographer Geiger had to be sponsored by a gangster and hide his wares behind a front business; today, the porn business is broadcast online, on television, and in the Hilton Hotels. Pornographers then had to hide from law; pornographers today hire lobbyists to influence the law.

...[H]ow vices are greeted in public reveals a great deal about the nature of the culture. So check out The Big Sleep and judge for yourself. Of course, if you're awake you probably don't have to see the movie to agree the moral ecology has changed for the worse . . . but it's a really good movie.
Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments: Moral Ecology and the Movies

He wants to agree

Cardinal George of Chicago has an interview with the President and comes away with an interesting insight into his personality.
...Cardinal George offered a candid assessment of his 30-minute meeting with the president at the White House March 18. ....
"It's hard to disagree with him because he'll always tell you he agrees with you," he said. "Maybe that's political. I think he sincerely wants to agree with you. You have to say, again and again, 'No, Mr. President, we don't agree (on abortion).' But we can agree on a lot, and we do, and that's why there is so much hope. I think we have to pray for him every day."

Cardinal George said he told the president he was concerned about his decision to rescind the Mexico City policy, which resulted in providing taxpayer money to fund abortion overseas.

"He said we weren't exporting abortion," the cardinal said. "I said, 'Yes we are.' He would say, 'I know I have to do certain things here. ... But be patient and you'll see the pattern will change.' I said, 'Mr. President, you've given us nothing but the wrong signals on this issue.' So, we'll see, but I'm not as hopeful now as I was when he was first elected."
The besetting temptation of a politician [or a teacher, or anyone whose success depends in part on being liked], is to say things to be pleasing rather than to say what he really believes [if he actually knows what he really believes].

Insight Scoop | The Ignatius Press Blog: "I think he has his political debts to pay, and so he's paying them."

Friday, April 24, 2009

Sabbath and the Puritans


Dr. Kenneth E. Smith, in 1959, recounted a curious episode in the development of Puritan Sabbatarianism involving Nicholas Bownde:
Dr. Kenneth E. Smith
...[N]ot until 1606 and the publication of a book by Nicholas Bownde (also Bound), D.D., a clergyman at Norton, in Suffolk [England], was the opinion ever widely held that the sanctity and authority of the seventh-day Sabbath were transferred to the first day of the week. The importance of Bownde’s work in understanding contemporary popular opinions regarding the observance of Sunday cannot be overlooked.

The book [entitled Sabbathum Veteris et Novi Testamenti: or, The True Doctrine of the Sabbath] could not have been published at a better time for a favorable reaction from the English public. ....

We are told that within a few years of the publication date, the English observance of Sunday underwent considerable change. Those who opposed Bownde’s views were hesitant to take up the pen. But finally the continental views were reaffirmed by the official church, and the issue was very much a live one.

From 1600 to 1675, we have a Sabbath controversy which for heat and intensity is unique. It was during this period that Traske (1620) and Brabourne (1628) entered the fray on the side of the continuing sanctity of the seventh-day Sabbath.

What did Bownde say to create such an upheaval and change the observance of English Protestantism? I will attempt a brief outline.
  1. The seventh-day Sabbath was given at creation before it was given on Sinai.
  2. The Gospel has not abolished the observance of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is not Jewish either in origin or intent.
  3. The Sabbath is upon the seventh day, and no other. The Lord has given no authority to the church to change the day from the seventh to any other. God hath set down this "very Seventh Day."
  4. Only God has the authority to sanctify.
Now how does Bownde escape the inevitable logic of these assertions? Watch him closely, for a shadow forms over his previous clarity:
"The Sabbath day must needs be upon the seventh day as it always hath been, and upon this seventh day that we now keep. But concerning this very special seventh day, that now we keep in the time of the gospel, that is well known that it is not the same it was from the beginning which God himself did sanctify, and whereof he speaketh in this commandment, for it was the day going before ours, which in Latin retaineth his ancient name, and is called the Sabbath, which we also grant, but so that we confess, it must always remain, never to be changed anymore, and that all men must keep holy this seventh day and none other, which was unto them not the seventh, but the first day of the week, as it is so called many times in the New Testament, and so it still standeth in force that we are bound unto the seventh day, though, not unto the very seventh. Concerning the time and persons by whom and when the day was changed, it appeareth in the New Testament that it was done in the time of the Apostles, and by the Apostles themselves, and that together with the day, the name was changed, and was in the beginning called the first day of the week, afterwards the Lord’s Day."
Surely by all laws of logic it is simply impossible to understand that crucial paragraph. It is what A.H. Lewis called a "boomerang of retroactive logic."

Just to be sure that we did not misunderstand Dr. Bownde, let us quote from an earlier section: "I do not see… where the Lord hath given any authority to his Church ordinarily and perpetually to sanctify any day, except that which he hath sanctified himself… and so we see that the Sabbath must needs be still upon the seventh day as it has always been."

It is simply impossible to reconcile these statements, which are repeated frequently, with the first paragraph quoted. The church has not been given authority to change the day, he asserts, but the apostles did change the day, and apparently with Dr. Bownde’s blessing.

Here, then, is a lengthy work (479 pages) which holds that the Sabbath must never be changed or abrogated, but buries in a mysterious paragraph, the admission that it has been changed from the very seventh day to this very seventh day. In every other respect the author shows himself to be a learned scholar and a lucid writer, hence one can only conclude that he got into difficulty by his consistency with the facts, and got out of difficulty by a momentary lapse into obscurantism.

All of this might be amusing but for the fact that Bownde set the pattern for a nation and a culture in regard to a day of rest. Unlike the reformers of Germany, Switzerland, and France, he insisted upon Sabbath observance for Sunday. The use of the term Sabbath for Sunday is our heritage from Nicholas Bownde and the Puritan movement.

Perhaps these voices from the past help to explain the variety of opinion regarding the Sabbath that is evident in the United States. As a melting pot of nations we are aware of three major opinions on this issue:
  1. The English influence, particularly the free-church, coming by way of Colonial New England has been a transference of sanctity and authority from Sabbath to Sunday. This group is most likely to call Sunday the Sabbath and is most particular about its observance.
  2. The European Protestants claim that all days are sacred and are quite indifferent about the observance of Sunday.
  3. The Roman Catholic Church element has found authority for Sunday observance in their doctrine of the Church.
Thus the Catholic agrees with the Puritan that the Sabbath is transferred, but the Catholic has the easier position to maintain since he can demonstrate that the Church made the transferal.

The Puritan, claiming Biblical authority, has nothing more substantial than Dr. Bownde’s mysterious paragraph.
The full article is reprinted in the May, 2009, Sabbath Recorder.

Sabbath Recorder, May 2009

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

This issue of the Sabbath Recorder has an emphasis on the Sabbath, including an article by Conference President Ed Cruzan about his own Sabbath experience. Part of what he writes:
...[W]hen I only look at the dos and don’ts of Sabbath, and how Sabbath is to be “observed,” I become a law-keeper. ....

So what do I do on Sabbath? I gather with the saints for corporate worship (including singing; I love singing), partake in prayer and communion with the body of Christ, engage in group Bible study, and eat fellowship meals with my brothers and sisters. I do things that cause me to experience God’s presence.

However, I believe that Sabbath is not about what I do or don’t do. For me, Sabbath is a foretaste of heaven!

Sabbath is about “being,” not doing. Sabbath is about being a Mary rather than a Martha.

Sabbath is about experiencing the presence of God with a clear conscience, which is only possible through the freedom I receive in Christ Jesus!

Sabbath is not having to do anything, but having the freedom to do everything to the glory of God the Father.
In addition to everything else, this issue contains the registration materials for the General Conference sessions at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania from July 26 to August 1. It is also possible to register online here.

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

Grace before meal


What God gives, and what we take,
'T is a gift for Christ His sake:
Be the meal of Beans and Pease
God be thanked for those, and these:
Have we flesh, or have we fish,
All are Fragments from His dish.
Robert Herrick

Bless these Thy gifts, most gracious God,
From whom all goodness springs;
Make clean our hearts and feed our souls
With good and joyful things.

Pray we to God, the Almighty Lord,
That sendeth food to beasts and men,
To send His blessing on this board,
To feed us now and ever. Amen.


The prayers and the illustration are from The Children's Book of Rhymes, by Cicely Mary Barker

"I love...thy woods and templed hills"

When I was growing up the streets of my hometown, like almost every Midwestern town and city, were lined with elms. Dutch elm disease ended that. Elms were beautiful trees for that purpose. The maples that replaced them have an entirely different shape and will not assume a comparable size for many years. Someone who plants a tree is thinking, not of himself, but of those yet to be born.

Instead of Earth Day, Mark Krikorian at NRO thinks that we should focus on what seems to me an inherently conservative environmental holiday,
...Arbor Day, the national observance of which comes on the last Friday in April.... It's American in origin, started in Nebraska in 1872 by Julius Sterling Morton, and can be combined with our history by planting cuttings and seedlings from historic trees — a red maple from Mount Vernon, a white oak from Lincoln's tomb, an oleander from Edison's Florida estate, etc. Our superior policies on the environment will get a hearing when people believe that we believe the second verse of "My County, 'Tis of Thee":
My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture thrills,
Like that above.
The first Arbor Day was on April 10, 1872, in Nebraska. Nebraskans planted over a million trees that day.

"Each generation takes the earth as trustees."
J. Sterling Morton

'I Love Thy Rocks and Rills . . .' - Mark Krikorian - The Corner on National Review Online

Thursday, April 23, 2009

That stupid book

Another of Dan Brown's historically idiotic books is about to hit the screen. How outraged should Christians be? As Miss California demonstrated this week, simply stating your position can be important and effective. It can also be a teaching opportunity.

Amy Welborn describes her response to the first book:
So immediately, the teacher in me started working...this struck me as one of those teaching moments. All of a sudden, people are interested in, you know...THE COUNCIL OF NICAEA. In some homily Gregory the Great gave in 591. For God's sake, why not answer their questions about it? ....

I never called for any kind of boycott beyond, "Why would anyone want to spend money on something really stupid?" ....

This was about using an opportunity to teach.

As one of my publishers said at the time, "You could have a program in a parish called 'The history of Catholicism from 300-325' and 8 people would show up. But you have a program about 'Fact and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code and hundreds come — and you're able to teach the same substance"

And he was absolutely right. I loved the opportunity to talk to people who'd never thought before about the origins of the Gospels, about the nature of Jesus' ministry and teaching, about the formation of the canon of Scripture. To explore the Catholic traditions about Mary Magdalene — it is such interesting stuff, and it is substantive, and people were curious about it, roused by that stupid book. [more]
Angels, Demons and Other Creatures - Via Media

Must we get smaller to grow?

Mark Galli at Christianity Today observes that "Evangelicals have become the unmatched experts in church growth, but often end up with a truncated gospel. If we are to live into the full counsel of God in the years to come, I believe we'll need a few experts in church shrink." Many of the biggest churches are big because they are undemanding:
.... As a former minister, I know how often a pastor has to weigh what needs to be said with what can be received. In a culture saturated with the therapeutic, fewer and fewer attenders can hear something challenging without "feeling unloved" or "having issues" with the church. ....

This is the dilemma we evangelicals find ourselves in at the beginning of the 21st century — how to present the gospel in an emotionally and spiritually shallow culture. It is a commonplace that in this effort evangelicals have succumbed to the culture. So it may be time to move the conversation forward and suggest a practical solution: church shrink conferences. I'm not kidding.

Many pastors and lay leaders recognize that they are in a superficially successful church, and that it's time to introduce the harder edges of the gospel. But how? How do we get comfortable people to listen to a gospel that includes a lot of discomfort? How do you deepen discipleship without introducing despair? How do you insist firmly on faithfulness without becoming legalistic?

Most important, how do you manage the loss in membership? That will happen. The more strictly you adhere to the teachings of Jesus, the smaller the church will "grow." [more]
How to Shrink a Church | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Keeping it real

Nathan Finn at Between The Times offers this: "Front Cover of a New Gospel Tract Published by SEBTS." It's a pretty good response to the "health and wealth" heresy.

The caption: "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life."

Front Cover of a New Gospel Tract Published by SEBTS « Between The Times

Eschatology matters

Russell D. Moore has been listening to a recording of Willie Nelson singing "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder." I owned that album once and discover that it is available on CD. My enthusiasm for Willie Nelson has diminished over time, but I still like his renditions of several good hymns on that record: The Troublemaker

The hymn inspired Dr. Moore to think and write about eschatology. Like some of those to whom he refers, I tend to shy away from people who have a very specific and detailed certainty about how the end of history is going to unfold. I once told a guy who approached me on a city bus wanting to persuade me of his version of the end times, that I was, in fact, a Christian and that the possibility that he or I might die at any minute was sufficient to focus my mind.

Dean Moore:
.... Now, what most Christians mean when they say eschatology doesn’t interest them is that prophecy charts don’t interest them, or that debates over millennial views or Rapture positions don’t interest them. That’s another story altogether (although these things are still important).

I’m emphatically not a dispensationalist, but I can gladly share fellowship with dispensationalists (how could I not? It was a church of dispensationalists who led me to Christ in the first place!). I’m not an amillennialist, but I can respect that view, and love learning and serving with my amil brothers and sisters. I don’t know a postmillennialist (unless you’re a friend of mine and you’ve been really quiet about it), but I enjoy reading a lot of godly dead postmillennialists (such as my hero Andrew Fuller).

We can’t, though, share a common witness with those who deny the resurrection of the body or the return of our Messiah Jesus or the judgment of wickedness. Those things are essential not only to our belief in the truthfulness of Scripture but to the gospel that saves.

Eschatology ought to fire up your adrenal glands. When you think about that Eastern sky exploding you ought to feel the zeal to evangelize, to congregationalize, and to live in the gratitude that when the roll is called up yonder, you’ll be there.
The hymn:
When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and time shall be no more,
And the morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair;
When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

Refrain:
When the roll, is called up yon-der,
When the roll, is called up yon-der,
When the roll, is called up yon-der,
When the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there.


On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise,
And the glory of His resurrection share;
When His chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

Refrain

Let us labor for the Master from the dawn till setting sun,
Let us talk of all His wondrous love and care;
Then when all of life is over, and our work on earth is done,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

Refrain
Moore to the Point by Russell D. Moore, When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sola scriptura

Ronald K. Rittgers at The Christian Century reviews Alister McGrath's Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution—A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First. The "dangerous idea" was "that the Bible is the main source of authority for the Christian religion and that all Christians have the right to interpret it for themselves." The review explains why the idea was dangerous, but also valuable, and also why Protestantism needs Catholicism. Some excerpts from the review:
Protestantism is dangerous. It is an explosive and ultimately uncontrollable force that can destabilize and undermine church and government. It can reject time-honored truths, traditions and institutions—including its own—and posit new ones in their place, only to repeat this process again and again. Protestantism is infinitely restless, constantly moving in many divergent directions at the same time. Like evolution, it possesses astonishing power to create highly adaptive religious organisms and equally astonishing power to destroy them if they fail to develop appropriately.

This is how Alister McGrath, professor of historical theology at the University of Oxford, depicts Protestantism in Christianity's Dangerous Idea. Why is Protestantism so dangerous? Because it is based on a dangerous idea: that the Bible is the main source of authority for the Christian religion and that all Christians have the right to interpret it for themselves. This conviction is the source not only of Protestantism's vitality and flexibility, but also of its lack of fixedness and its innate tendency toward schism. ....

The only thing the early Protestants shared was the dangerous idea. And they quickly learned just how dangerous it could be when they found themselves unable to reach consensus on important matters of doctrine. After examining the failure of Luther, Zwingli and others to resolve their differences on the Lord's Supper, McGrath observes, "We see here the fundamental difficulty that the Reformation faced: the absence of any authoritative interpreter of scripture that could give rulings on contested matters of biblical interpretation."

Protestants attempted to remedy this problem by constructing various interpretative authorities—Luther's catechisms, Calvin's Institutes, the marginalia of the Geneva Bible—but none could furnish truth claims that were accepted by all Protestants. Whatever external coherence early Protestants had was largely dependent on the presence of a defining other—Catholics in the early modern period and secularists in the later modern era. This need for an external source of self-definition became part of the core of Protestantism.

...McGrath moves on to consider several fundamental questions regarding the identity of Protestantism, especially its relationship to the Bible. Here he emphasizes Protestants' need to return constantly to scripture to reevaluate current beliefs, practices and structure and make sure that they reflect as faithfully as possible the light of the gospel. In this sense, Protestantism is more a method of doing theology than a specific set of doctrines or practices. This method does not and cannot yield an ample supply of eternal verities, but Protestants believe that it does provide sufficient clarity on the vital matter of "things that are necessary to salvation," which is the real concern behind their belief in the Bible's perspicuity. McGrath notes that the Protestant method is not for those "who like everything to be rigorously and clearly defined," but it does appeal to those who believe that the gospel must be creatively and continually reincarnated in its ever-changing surroundings.

It is true that the defining Protestant idea is dangerous. But one can question whether McGrath has plumbed the full depths of its threat. The real danger is that when confronted with the competing Protestant truth claims about crucial matters of faith—including those that touch on salvation—theologically reflective Protestants may lose confidence in their ability to interpret or even trust scripture, and thus their ability to know God. ....

Some people view the Bible largely as a human artifact that contains important human wisdom about God but needs to be supplemented and corrected by more modern sources of wisdom. McGrath makes clear that such liberal Protestants are a small minority in the Protestant world. It seems that most—including McGrath, perhaps—continue to believe in the perspicuity of scripture. It is remarkable, after all, that the vast majority of Protestants agree with one another and with most non-Protestant Christians about the essentials of salvation—that is, that it comes only through Christ and requires grace and faith. But one wonders if this surprising agreement is not owing to another yet dangerous idea that was present in the primordial materials from which Protestantism burst forth and that thus became part of its genetic code: the importance of clinging to the ancient rule of faith. If this is the case, Catholicism did not simply motivate the construction of a unified Protestant front; it also provided Protestants with a certain immunity against the most destructive possibilities of their core idea. [more]

Lost pleasure

This morning The Inklings blog quotes this from The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia by Laura Miller. It describes an experience I share.
A lot of people remember the bliss of their earliest reading with a pang; their current encounters with books offer no more than faint echoes of what they once felt. I’ve heard friends and strangers talk about the days when they, too, would submerge themselves in a story, surfacing only to eat and deal with the minimal daily business of children. They wonder why don’t they get as much out of books now. If you dig deep to the roots of what makes someone a reader, you’ll usually find the desire to recapture that old spell. But as we get older we acquire another set of reasons for picking up a book: because reading is “good for you,” for example, or because it was assigned by a teacher. People read to fend off the boredom of long flights, to find out what kinds of books get published nowadays, to stay abreast of what’s new, to catch up on what they should have learned in school, to hold their own in cocktail party conversations, to be able to say they’ve read Moby Dick.

.... In a slender volume entitled An Experiment in Criticism, one of the best books about reading I have ever found, [C.S.] Lewis suggested that the literary preferences of children are significant because, “children are indifferent to literary fashions. What we see in them is not a specifically childish taste, but simply a normal and perennial human taste, temporarily atrophied in their elders by a fashion.”
The Inklings: Literary Fashion

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hope

William Lane Craig maintains an interesting site where he responds to questions about the faith. The site currently features this letter and Dr. Craig's response. The letter:
I read your article “Does God Exist” and in it you stated this:
“If God does not exist, then we must ultimately live without hope. If there is no God, then there is ultimately no hope for deliverance from the shortcomings of our finite existence.”
I have to simply disagree with this. I think as an atheist one can certainly live with tremendous hope. I mean if there is no God then there is no ultimate accountability. No fear going before a Just and Holy God to give an account of one’s life. One can live the life of their choosing as a result of this, with no fear of retribution. This is hope to the atheist.

Can you refute this kind of hope?
I've encountered that argument several times in my life — perhaps because in my professional life I was constantly in contact with young adults who found the moral constraints of Christianity rather onerous. Dr. Craig's response, in part:
...Christianity...not only provides hope of deliverance from evil and from aging, disease, and death, but it also furnishes the hope which you yourself cherish: deliverance from the hands of a just and holy God. This was Martin Luther’s great insight. The same righteousness of God that wrought his condemnation as a sinner outside of Christ, that very same righteousness became the source of salvation for him as one who by faith is united with Christ. For when you trust Christ as your Savior and Lord, God reckons to your account Christ’s righteousness. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8.1).

Thus any hope the atheist might entertain is enjoyed many times over by the Christian, for we enjoy, not merely escape from judgement, but positive salvation. ....

One final point: you’ve described the atheist’s hope. How firm is that hope? How well-founded is it? .... What if you’re wrong? [more]
Reasonable Faith: Q & A with Dr. William Lane Craig

Uncool

A.N. Wilson on why he rejected Christianity and why he returned to it:
.... For much of my life, I, too, have been one of those who did not believe. It was in my young manhood that I began to wonder how much of the Easter story I accepted, and in my 30s I lost any religious belief whatsoever.

Like many people who lost faith, I felt anger with myself for having been 'conned' by such a story. I began to rail against Christianity, and wrote a book, entitled Jesus, which endeavoured to establish that he had been no more than a messianic prophet who had well and truly failed, and died.

Why did I, along with so many others, become so dismissive of Christianity?

Like most educated people in Britain and Northern Europe (I was born in 1950), I have grown up in a culture that is overwhelmingly secular and anti-religious. The universities, broadcasters and media generally are not merely non-religious, they are positively anti.

To my shame, I believe it was this that made me lose faith and heart in my youth. It felt so uncool to be religious. With the mentality of a child in the playground, I felt at some visceral level that being religious was unsexy, like having spots or wearing specs.

This playground attitude accounts for much of the attitude towards Christianity that you pick up, say, from the alternative comedians, and the casual light blasphemy of jokes on TV or radio. ....

My own return to faith has surprised no one more than myself. Why did I return to it? Partially, perhaps it is no more than the confidence I have gained with age.

Rather than being cowed by them, I relish the notion that, by asserting a belief in the risen Christ, I am defying all the liberal clever-clogs on the block....

But there is more to it than that. My belief has come about in large measure because of the lives and examples of people I have known — not the famous, not saints, but friends and relations who have lived, and faced death, in the light of the Resurrection story, or in the quiet acceptance that they have a future after they die. ....

Easter confronts us with a historical event set in time. We are faced with a story of an empty tomb, of a small group of men and women who were at one stage hiding for their lives and at the next were brave enough to face the full judicial persecution of the Roman Empire and proclaim their belief in a risen Christ. ....

Materialist atheism says we are just a collection of chemicals. It has no answer whatsoever to the question of how we should be capable of love or heroism or poetry if we are simply animated pieces of meat.

The Resurrection, which proclaims that matter and spirit are mysteriously conjoined, is the ultimate key to who we are. It confronts us with an extraordinarily haunting story.

J. S. Bach believed the story, and set it to music. Most of the greatest writers and thinkers of the past 1,500 years have believed it.

But an even stronger argument is the way that Christian faith transforms individual lives - the lives of the men and women with whom you mingle on a daily basis, the man, woman or child next to you in church tomorrow morning. [more]
Religion of hatred: Why we should no longer be cowed by secular zealots | Mail Online

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Decline and fall?

"The Decline and Fall of Christian America" was on the cover of a recent Newsweek. Jon Meacham, in the cover article, noted that:
According to the American Religious Identification Survey...the percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen 10 percentage points since 1990, from 86 to 76 percent. The Jewish population is 1.2 percent; the Muslim, 0.6 percent. A separate Pew Forum poll echoed the ARIS finding, reporting that the percentage of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith has doubled in recent years, to 16 percent; in terms of voting, this group grew from 5 percent in 1988 to 12 percent in 2008—roughly the same percentage of the electorate as African-Americans. (Seventy-five percent of unaffiliated voters chose Barack Obama, a Christian.) Meanwhile, the number of people willing to describe themselves as atheist or agnostic has increased about fourfold from 1990 to 2009, from 1 million to about 3.6 million. (That is about double the number of, say, Episcopalians in the United States.) [more]
In his Washington Post column, Michael Gerson first noted that the title of the Newsweek story rather sensationalized what the article actually described, and then provided information that filled in some gaps:
So Meacham's arguments are accurate, even wise — but they also are incomplete. John Green, a polling expert at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, qualifies the Newsweek findings in several ways:
First, the rise of the religiously nonaffiliated is a trend — but a very gradual one. According to Green, there is "no real difference between 2000 and 2009" on this measure.

Second, he notes that the unaffiliated are not identical to the nonreligious. In addition to a hard core of genuine secularists (who often seem positively theological in their proselytizing zeal), the unaffiliated include deeply religious people who distrust organized religion, along with people who are young or recently relocated and haven't gotten around to adopting a religious preference.

Third, Green observes that this group is "bigger, but not static." While some have consciously left their religious traditions, others raised without a religious tradition will eventually adopt one. Faith in America is fluid.

Fourth, Green argues, "the growth in the unaffiliated has not come at the expense of evangelicals, who continue to grow. It has come at the expense of mainline Protestants and white Catholics." The decline of the Protestant mainline is not a development I choose to cheer, because the Protestant mainline has often represented the best of liberal idealism, particularly during the civil rights era. But one reason for the decline of the mainline is the very malady Meacham diagnoses on the right. The mainline has become pale, anemic and shrunken as it has become a reflection of trendy liberalism — miniaturizing the Kingdom of God to fit a political ideology.

Fifth, Green warns that the polling could reflect not changing numbers of the unaffiliated but changing pressures in society. "There used to be a strong stigma against being religiously unaffiliated. That has declined." When the pollster calls, it may simply be that "people are being more honest."
Green concludes that Newsweek has "told half of the story." "There are certain people moving to the left on cultural grounds. . . . But we can't ignore the other side, the growth of more conservative believers — evangelicals and conservative Catholics. . . . We may not be seeing the decline of Christian America, but polarization on religious grounds."

This polarization is reason to mourn. But Green warns that we should be careful in allocating blame. "One reason could be the growth of a secular reaction against the Christian right. But it could be the other way around — the reaction of the Christian right against the growth of secularism. Or they could feed off each other."
Thanks to E.E. Evans at GetReligion.org for the reference.

Meacham: The End of Christian America | Newsweek Religion | Newsweek.com, Michael Gerson - Red Faith, Blue Faith

Friday, April 17, 2009

The most important decisions

From the time I learned of Kevin DeYoung's Just Do Something, I wanted to read it. When I read an interview with him about the thesis of the book, my anticipation only increased. I have now read all but the final chapter. This is one of the books I will buy to give away. There are other good books on discerning the will of God, but this does the job clearly, concisely, Biblically, and with a sense of humor.

In Chapter 4, "Our Magic 8-Ball God," DeYoung discusses five pretty common errors Christians fall into as we worry about whether a decision is "within God's will." One of them is a tendency to obsess over the wrong things:
First, the conventional approach to discovering God's will focuses almost all of our attention on nonmoral decisions. Scripture does not tell us whether we should live in Minnesota or Maine. It does not tell us whether we should go to Michigan State University or Wheaton College. It does not tell us whether we should buy a house or rent an apartment. It does not tell us whether we should marry a wonderful Christian named Tim or some other wonderful Christian guy. Scripture does not tell us what to do this summer or what job to take or where to go to grad school.

Once, while preaching on this topic, I said in a bold declarative statement, "God doesn't care where you go to school or where you live or what job you take." A thoughtful young woman talked to me afterward and was discouraged to hear that God didn't care about the most important decisions in her life. I explained to her that I probably wasn't very clear. God certainly cares about these decisions insofar as He cares for us and every detail of our lives. But in another sense, and this was the point I was trying to make, these are not the most important issues in God's book. The most important issues for God are moral purity, theological fidelity, compassion, joy, our witness, faithfulness, hospitality, love, worship, and faith. These are His big concerns. The problem is that we tend to focus most of our attention on everything else. We obsess over the things God has not mentioned and may never mention, while, by contrast, we spend little time on all the things God has already revealed to us in the Bible.

In other words, we spend most of our time trying to figure out nonethical decisions. When I say nonethical or nonmoral matters, I'm talking about decisions between two or more options, none of which is forbidden in Scripture. Choosing between a career in biology and a career in politics is a nonethical decision, provided—and this is a big proviso—that your motives are right and what you'll be doing is right. So if your career in medicine means you work as a doctor who performs abortions, that would be wrong, as would a career in politics in which you slander and cheat your way to the top. But if you are motivated by right and doing right, then your career choice is not a moral decision. The Bible simply does not address every decision we must make.

Of course, this doesn't mean we shouldn't be thoughtful in choosing a career, nor that we should ignore how God has wired us or the command to do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). My point is that we should spend more time trying to figure out how to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (as instructed in Micah 6:8) as a doctor or lawyer and less time worrying about whether God wants us to be a doctor or lawyer. [pp. 44-45]

Thursday, April 16, 2009

"Secularism" or credulity?

There are those who are happy about the ten per cent decline in those who identify with orthodox Christian faith and celebrate what they interpret as an increase in "secularism." If, as seems often the case, what has happened in Europe prefigures what will happen here, it may not be "secularism" that is on the rise. For instance, the decline in orthodox belief in Great Britain seems to more closely resemble the behavior suggested in a quotation attributed to G.K. Chesterton: "When men stop believing in God they don’t believe in nothing: they believe in anything”.
Four out of ten people in Britain believe in ghosts and more than half believe in life after death, according to research to be published today.

Research by Theos, the theology think-tank, shows that seven out of ten people believe in the human soul and more than five out of ten believe in heaven. One in five believes in astrology or horoscopes, one in ten in Tarot or fortune telling and nearly three in ten people believe in reincarnation.

ComRes, the company that carried out the research, surveyed more than 2,000 people for Theos. The results suggest that we are more superstitious than 60 years ago, at a time when orthodox religious belief is declining and secularism is on the rise. ....

Research by Gallup in 1950 found that just one in ten people believed in ghosts, and a mere 2 per cent thought they had seen one. In 1951, fewer than one in ten said they believed in predicting the future by cards or stars. ....

Paul Woolley, the director of Theos, said: "The enlightenment optimism in the ability of science and reason to explain everything ended decades ago. The extent of belief will probably surprise people, but the finding is consistent with other research we have undertaken. [more]
E.E. Evans at GetReligion comments:
...I wonder why we aren’t getting more coverage of the “unorthodox” forms of belief over here from the mainstream media? Isn’t it possible that the fight isn’t between faith and “secularism” but between traditional beliefs and various ancient forms of supernaturalism? ....

Belief in reincarnation, astrology, Tarot and other forms of faith in the supernatural has been around almost as long as many of the world's great religions. Ignoring the possibility that such practices shape and affect the behavior ordinary Americans seems like walking over the elephant in contemporary religious life. Is it because both traditional and progressive elites find this idea rather unpalatable? It also poses a challenge to those who claim that ‘secularism’ is on the rise — without defining what ‘secularism’ is. [more]
Update 4/17: I removed the selection from the interview with Ed Stetzer [well worth reading] because its relationship to the rest of the post seemed a bit of a stretch and also renamed the post.

Four out of ten Britons believe in ghosts -Times Online, Spectres and secularism » GetReligion

Friends

Diana Glyer, author of The Company They Keep, writes about C.S. Lewis and friendship:
There’s a rumor going around that C. S. Lewis was an irritable introvert, isolated and lonely and scared to death of girls. Maybe it all comes from some grim stereotype of smart people or college professors or, maybe, published writers. That whole image is completely wrong. Lewis wasn’t an introvert. Or a loner. No—he was a large man with a booming voice, a hearty laugh, a robust enjoyment of everyday life.

And that is why he was a man with friends.

It makes sense if you think about it. His writing is so warm. His ideas are so engaging. His approach is so inviting. The lively, personal voice that emerges from the written page reflects the heart of a man who lived his life in community. Every season of Lewis’s life was marked by strong personal connections. He was very close to his brother, Warren. As the two boys grew up together, they wrote stories and illustrated them with maps and watercolors. Later, he became good friends with Arthur Greeves, a neighbor, and they shared boyhood secrets and favorite books. In college, Lewis became a member of a small circle of serious poets, and from that literary circle, he and Owen Barfield emerged as fast friends. When he started his first teaching job, he got to know a bright young linguist named Tolkien. They discovered common ground in their love of Norse mythology. .....

Lewis and Tolkien continued to meet, week after week, to talk and joke and criticise one another’s poetry. Over time, these literary critiques proved to be so interesting and so useful that they invited other writers to join them. The group just kept growing. Eventually, a total of 19 men became members of the Inklings. Their meetings moved from Monday mornings to Thursday nights. Late nights. The members arrived around 9:00, or 9:30, or even later.

When half a dozen members had assembled, Warren Lewis would produce a pot of very strong tea, the men would sit down and light their pipes, and C. S. Lewis would call out, “Well, has nobody got anything to read us?” Someone always did. Out would come the rough draft of a story or a poem, and the others would settle down to listen, to encourage, to critique, to correct, to interrupt and argue and advise. They’d continue this way, reading aloud, energetically critiquing, until two or three in the morning. And meetings went on like this every week for nearly twenty years. ....

Lewis was effusive in expressing his appreciation for the Inklings. To emphasize their importance, he said, “What I owe them all is incalculable.” And to emphasize their enjoyment, he asked, “Is any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a good fire?” Lewis was a man with friends. [more]
C. S. Lewis Blog: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the Inklings

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tone deaf

From A.N. Wilson's New Statesman article, "Why I believe again."
When I think about atheist friends, including my father, they seem to me like people who have no ear for music, or who have never been in love. It is not that (as they believe) they have rumbled the tremendous fraud of religion – prophets do that in every generation. Rather, these unbelievers are simply missing out on something that is not difficult to grasp. Perhaps it is too obvious to understand; obvious, as lovers feel it was obvious that they should have come together, or obvious as the final resolution of a fugue.

I haven’t mentioned morality, but one thing that finally put the tin hat on any aspirations to be an unbeliever was writing a book about the Wagner family and Nazi Germany, and realising how utterly incoherent were Hitler’s neo-Darwinian ravings, and how potent was the opposition, much of it from Christians; paid for, not with clear intellectual victory, but in blood. Read Pastor Bonhoeffer’s book Ethics, and ask yourself what sort of mad world is created by those who think that ethics are a purely human construct. Think of Bonhoeffer’s serenity before he was hanged, even though he was in love and had everything to look forward to.
New Statesman - Why I believe again

Monday, April 13, 2009

Global warming, again

What is the optimal climate for humans? That would seem to be an important question and a question that should be answered well before panicking about changes in the climate — whether real or imagined, whether warming or cooling. Matt Patterson reminds us that climate does change and that warming isn't the worst that can be imagined:
  • Around the 3rd century B.C., the planet emerged from a long cold spell. The warm period which followed lasted about 700 years, and since it coincided with the rise of Pax Romana, it is known as the Roman Warming.
  • In the 5th century A.D., the earth’s climate became cooler. Cold and drought pushed the tribes of northern Europe south against the Roman frontier. Rome was sacked, and the Dark Ages commenced. And it was a dark age, both metaphorically and literally — the sun’s light dimmed and gave little warmth; harvest seasons grew shorter and yielded less. Life expectancy and literacy plummeted. The plague appeared and decimated whole populations.
  • Then, inexplicably, about 900 A.D. things began to warm. This warming trend would last almost 400 years, a well documented era known as the Medieval Warm Period. Once again, as temperatures rose harvests and populations grew. Vineyards made their way into Northern Europe, including Britain. Art and science flourished in what we now know as the Renaissance.
  • Then around 1300 A.D. things cooled drastically. This cold spell would last almost 500 years, a severe climate event known as the Little Ice Age. Millions died in famine as glaciers advanced all over the world. The plague returned. In Greenland, the Norse colony that had been established during the Medieval Warming froze and starved. Arctic pack ice descended south, pushing Inuit peoples to the shores of Scotland. People ice skated on the Thames; they walked from Staten Island to Manhattan over a frozen New York Harbor. The year 1816 was remembered as the year without a summer, with some portions of the Northern Hemisphere seeing snowfall in June.
  • But around 1850 the planet began to warm up yet again. Glaciers retreated. Temperatures rose. This is the warming period which we are still enjoying today. And once again, the warmth brought bounty: The last 150 years have seen an explosion in life expectancy, population, and scientific progress like never before. [more]
A little knowledge of history almost always helps put things into perspective.

Thanks to Power Line for the reference.

Pajamas Media » No SUVs Around During the Roman Global Warming ‘Crisis’

Saturday, April 11, 2009

He is risen, indeed!


Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands

   For our offenses given;
But now at God’s right hand He stands
   And brings us life from heaven.
Therefore let us joyful be
And sing to God right thankfully
   Loud songs of alleluia!
      Alleluia!

Here the true Paschal Lamb we see,
   Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursèd tree—
   So strong His love—to save us.
See, His blood now marks our door;
Faith points to it; death passes o’er,
   And Satan cannot harm us.
      Alleluia!

No son of man could conquer death,
   Such ruin sin had wrought us.
No innocence was found on earth,
   And therefore death had brought us
Into bondage from of old
And ever grew more strong and bold
   And held us as its captive.
      Alleluia!

So let us keep the festival
   To which the Lord invites us;
Christ is Himself the joy of all,
   The sun that warms and light us.
Now His grace to us imparts
Eternal sunshine to our hearts;
   The night of sin is ended.
      Alleluia!

Christ Jesus, God’s own Son, came down,
   His people to deliver;
Destroying sin, He took the crown
   From Death’s pale brow forever:
Stripped of pow’r, no more he reigns;
An empty form alone remains;
   His sting is lost forever.
      Alleluia!

Then let us feast this Easter Day
   On Christ, the bread of heaven;
The Word of grace has purged away
   The old and evil leaven.
Christ alone our souls will feed;
He is our meat and drink indeed;
   Faith lives upon no other!
       Alleluia!

It was a strange and dreadful strife
   When life and death contended;
The victory remained with life,
   The reign of death was ended.
Holy Scripture plainly saith
That death is swallowed up by death,
   Its sting is lost forever.
      Alleluia!

Martin Luther, 1524

Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands