.... His belief system is not the fundamentalist strain running through many of the Bible Belt megachurches—the “saved” us versus the “heathen” them. Nor is it the new-school “be a winner, praise the Lord,” Christian self-esteem-building ideology of Joel Osteen. Keller advocates something of a third option. He wants to call people’s attention to the emptiness of a way of living that overvalues worldly achievement and to help them see the spiritual benefits of accepting Jesus Christ, and all he stands for, as their savior. But Keller wants to do that in a way that’s not intellectually insulting or morally hectoring. What he refers to as “idols,” he says, are the things we’re so wrapped up in, it’s as if we worship them as gods, in place of the one true God. Traditional vices like sex and drink can be idols, he says, but more insidious can be traditional virtues like hard work and family—“good” things that we can mistake for “ultimate” ones. ....Why Are So Many New Yorkers Flocking to Evangelical Christian Preacher Tim Keller? -- New York Magazine
.... Keller insists his church allows for political diversity. “There’s this foolish idea that if you believe in God and Jesus is the Son of God, you’re going to be against gun control,” he says. “Actually, I think you simply can’t get orthodox Christianity into one political mold.”
But when it comes to sexual morality and gender issues, Keller takes a strict, traditional Christian line. That is to say, he believes things that enlightened urban Americans generally do not: that women should not be ordained as ministers (Kathy Keller opted out of becoming a pastor when she decided that female ministers were unbiblical); that abortion is unequivocally wrong; that sex out of wedlock and homosexuality are sins. Keller treads this ground cautiously. He knows these positions make Redeemer a potential target. They have significance in his ministry, he insists, not as cultural litmus tests but as expressions of God’s will as revealed in the Bible. ....
.... At Redeemer, I tell Keller, you may teach that you should treat your gay, pro-choice, or, for that matter, atheist neighbor with respect, even love, but as a matter of belief, you know that he or she has the misfortune of being wrong. “Well, you know what,” he says, “you can’t teach what we teach—that you must be born again through belief in Jesus Christ—without saying most of the world is wrong.” .... [more]
Monday, November 30, 2009
...Google Books has finished scanning all volumes of the two most important early histories of the British Baptists. Thomas Crosby (1685-1750) was a pastor in London and the first Baptist historian. He was also the son-in-law of Benjamin Keach, who was one of the three key leaders of the Particular Baptist during the 17th century. Joseph Ivimey (1773-1834) was a leading Particular Baptist pastor, especially during the decades right after the death of key leaders like Abraham Booth and Andrew Fuller. ....[more]Links to the books:
The History of the English Baptists by Thomas CrosbyClassic Baptist Histories Now Available at Google Books « Between The Times
A History of the English Baptists by Joseph Ivimey:
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Conjubilant With Song: William CowperHe was educated for a career in law, but felt unequal to the pressure of the necessary examinations for a position as a clerk to the House of Lords and attempted suicide three times. This led to his first confinement in an asylum for the insane at St. Alban's. Modern diagnosis of his condition generally supposes it to be manic depression or bipolar disorder. Upon his recovery, he moved to Huntingdon to be near one of his brothers, and took lodgings with the Unwin family. .... During this time, Cowper and the Unwins met John Newton, who suggested that they move to Olney, the parish where he was now curate.
Cowper and Newton shared an interest in hymnwriting, and each helped to encourage the other. Their influential collection, Olney Hymns, was eventually published in 1779. Cowper's sixty-eight contributions to that volume include a good number that are still sung today. Today's hymn takes its themes from the Sermon on the Mount (today's Gospel reading for Thanksgiving in my church) and from Habakkuk 3:17-18. Though this one may not have remained among his most popular, it is still one of my favorites.
Sometimes a light surprises
The child of God who sings;
A light from One who rises
On gentle, healing wings:
When comforts are declining,
God grants the soul again
A season of clear shining,
To cheer it after rain.
In holy contemplation
We sweetly then pursue
The theme of God's salvation,
And find it ever new;
Set free from present sorrow,
We cheerfully can say,
Let the unknown tomorrow
Bring with it what it may,
It can bring with it nothing
But God will bear us through:
Who gives the lilies clothing
Will clothe all people, too:
Beneath the spreading heavens
No creature but is fed;
And God who feeds the ravens
Will give all children bread.
Though vine nor fig tree neither
Their usual fruit should bear,
Though all the fields should wither,
Nor flocks nor herds be there;
Yet, God the same abiding,
Whose praise shall tune my voice;
For, while in God confiding,
I cannot but rejoice.
.... Visiting a church last weekend in Wisconsin, I discovered that I was unable to participate in very much of the singing portion of the service. .... This isn’t something inherent to visiting a church, sometimes I experience this in my own church. There are times when I can’t participate even a little in some of the songs because I’m given only words by projector, I have no access to any of the musical notation–unless it happens to be in a hymnal, which is rare in my experience.Another, only tangentially related, related thought of my own: What is often thought of as contemporary worship music attractive to those "seeking" is really just a Christian music subculture, bearing little relationship to what is actually being bought and listened to in the culture at large. Consequently, its primary appeal is to those looking for a new church rather than to non-Christians.
.... I recollect as a child that before I knew how to read music, I closely examined the musical notation in the hymnals. Worship was something I was always able to participate in because at the very least, I could follow the directionality of the notes. I knew when to sing higher or lower….and after more experience with the notation, I was able to determine which notes moved faster than others. Once I did learn how to read music, participation became even easier and, in my opinion, more fruitful. ....
...[C]orporate worship requires the involvement of each of us as individuals. I am left to wonder if, not only has the seeker movement or other similar phenomenons proved damaging to the church by adding the hi-tech aspects to worship in order to make it entertaining or friendly, [but] does the inability of the individual to participate reinforce the idea of the worship-performance team? ....
Worship in Silence » Evangel | A First Things Blog
This issue features information about the work of the Seventh Day Baptist Council on Ministry [COM] which includes encouraging and supporting the education of those called to pastoral ministry and intending to serve Seventh Day Baptist congregations. In addition to describing the programs and services offered, there are short articles by a number of those who have been involved in the programs.
And much more...
The Sabbath Recorder is the magazine of the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference and has been regularly published in some form since 1844.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
.... Twice in the past week, I thought I’d said something relatively clever only to have someone say, "It’s funny that you say that: I was reading something that C.S. Lewis wrote about that very idea not long ago...." If it’s not Lewis, it’s G.K. Chesterton: "Chesterton, of course, pointed out that...." I swear, I am sick to death of pulling myself up onto a new limb of thinking only to find one of those two guys sitting there smiling smugly. ...."I think Lewis said somewhere..." may be one of the most common phrases out of my mouth, but, even so, I really ought to use it more often. If not Lewis, then Burke, or.... I doubt that I have ever had an original thought - or even an original formulation of a thought.
...I am constantly reminded that the Preacher of Ecclesiastes was right when he reminded us, "Is there anything whereof it may be said, See, this is new? It hath been already of old time, which was before us" (1:10). For some reason, most of us believe our thoughts to be immensely wiser or more innovative than those of past thinkers. I suppose I could call this epiphany "chronological snobbery," an arrogant belief that what we think now is far superior to what the ancients had thought.
No...wait a minute...blast that C.S. Lewis!
I’m Sick and Tired of Lewis and Chesterton » Evangel | A First Things Blog
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
.... Playing a shocking song at the front of your Easter service may get headlines and upset religious people, but that's about all it does. Having rock music fans think you're a cool church is not the "win" you're really looking for. A smart church will be culturally discerning, but always biblically-driven first.Thanks to John Pethtel for the reference
On the other hand, the traditionalists' placement of reverence on external styles is also wrongheaded. Reverence is not first and foremost an outward expression. It is a quality of the heart. ....
.... We have to be mature enough to worship in different ways, even in someone else's ways. The so-called "blended service" has a typical formula of two songs for me and two songs for you and one song for that other guy. I think it is a sign of carnality and a lack of community in worship. Many times the blended worship service doesn't please anybody but maybe the pastor who has given up trying to cultivate consensus. The blended service is an equal opportunity to anger everyone. It can be a sad compromise.
I also believe we need to be careful about multiple services with specialized genres. What is the motivation? Is the division a compromise? We need to be cautious about pandering to the consumeristic side of Western Christianity. We need to ask ourselves what our motivation is, and be honest with our answer. If we're being mission-focused, that's a good and worthy goal. But if we're market-focused (and Christians are the market), we are off track. .... [more]
Ending the Worship War without a Truce - EdStetzer.com
.... Though Tallis did compose some works for keyboard, most of his compositions are sacred choral music. Due to the changes in the monarchs of England during his lifetime, he had to compose both in English for the services of the new Church of England, and at other times had to compose in Latin for the Catholic liturgy. Tallis himself was Catholic, and some scholars believe that his Latin pieces show his sympathy for that side. .... [more]That site calls attention to one of his still familiar hymns, "All praise to thee, my God, this night," sung to the tune known as the Tallis Canon [found here at CyberHymnal]. The first verse:
Another of his compositions was "If Ye Love Me." One of the performances available on YouTube:All praise to thee, my God, this night,
For all the blessings of the light!
Keep me, O keep me, King of kings,
Beneath thine own almighty wings.
Monday, November 23, 2009
In the year 200 AD, there were approximately 180 million human beings on the planet Earth. And at that time a Christian philosopher called Tertullian argued: "We are burdensome to the world, the resources are scarcely adequate for us… already nature does not sustain us." In other words, there were too many people for the planet to cope with and we were bleeding Mother Nature dry.Too many people? No, too many Malthusians | spiked
Well today, nearly 180 million people live in the Eastern Half of the United States alone, in the 26 states that lie to the east of the Mississippi River. And far from facing hunger or destitution, many of these people – especially the 1.7 million who live on the tiny island of Manhattan – have quite nice lives.
In the early 1800s, there were approximately 980 million human beings on the planet Earth. One of them was the population scaremonger Thomas Malthus, who argued that if too many more people were born then "premature death would visit mankind" – there would be food shortages, "epidemics, pestilence and plagues," which would "sweep off tens of thousands [of people]."
Well today, more than the entire world population of Malthus’s era now lives in China alone: there are 1.3 billion human beings in China. And far from facing pestilence, plagues and starvation, the living standards of many Chinese have improved immensely over the past few decades. In 1949 life expectancy in China was 36.5 years; today it is 73.4 years. In 1978 China had 193 cities; today it has 655 cities. Over the past 30 years, China has raised a further 235 million of its citizens out of absolute poverty – a remarkable historic leap forward for humanity.
In 1971 there were approximately 3.6 billion human beings on the planet Earth. And at that time Paul Ehrlich, a patron of the Optimum Population Trust and author of a book called The Population Bomb, wrote about his "shocking" visit to New Delhi in India. He said: "The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing, screaming. People thrusting their hands through the taxi window, begging. People defecating and urinating. People clinging to buses. People herding animals. People, people, people, people. As we moved slowly through the mob, [we wondered] would we ever get to our hotel…?"
You’ll be pleased to know that Paul Ehrlich did make it to his hotel, through the mob of strange brown people shitting in the streets, and he later wrote in his book that as a result of overpopulation "hundreds of millions of people will starve to death." He said India couldn’t possibly feed all its people and would experience some kind of collapse around 1980.
Well today, the world population is almost double what it was in 1971 – then it was 3.6 billion, today it is 6.7 billion – and while there are still social problems of poverty and malnutrition, hundreds of millions of people are not starving to death. As for India, she is doing quite well for herself. When Ehrlich was writing in 1971 there were 550 million people in India; today there are 1.1 billion. Yes, there’s still poverty, but Indians are not starving; in fact India has made some important economic and social leaps forward and both life expectancy and living standards have improved in that vast nation.
What this potted history of population scaremongering ought to demonstrate is this: Malthusians are always wrong about everything. .... [more]
Sunday, November 22, 2009
"The law cannot create faith because it tells us what is to be done. It can only announce to those who transgress it what they have not done; consequently, it brings despair in its wake.By Every Word...: Law and Gospel
"The promise [of the gospel], by contrast, tells us what has been done by someone else. That is why it brings life.
"Once the law's just sentence has been satisfied in Christ, it is no longer our executioner, but instead plots the course for our gospel-driven life...."
Michael Horton, The Gospel-Driven Life p. 139 (Baker Books 2009)
Saturday, November 21, 2009
.... To the extent that Catholics operate according to this Tridentine framework (i.e., defining their position over and against justification by faith alone), they appear to be skating on the same thin ice as Paul’s Galatian interlocutors and in imminent danger of falling into the frigid water of “another gospel.”It is, of course, unfortunately the case that a great many Protestants would do no better at correctly answering Professor Kreeft's question.
Yet, we must realize that many Catholics, including Pope Benedict himself, don’t understand justification in this Tridentine light. For instance, in the Pope’s sermon on justification in Saint Peter’s Square on November 19, 2008 he said, “Being just simply means being with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Further observances are no longer necessary. For this reason Luther’s phrase: ‘faith alone’ is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity in love.” A week later on November 26 in the Paul VI Audience Hall the pontiff continued this emphasis, “Following Saint Paul, we have seen that man is unable to ‘justify’ himself with his own actions, but can only truly become ‘just’ before God because God confers his ‘justice’ upon him, uniting him to Christ his Son. And man obtains this union through faith. In this sense, Saint Paul tells us: not our deeds, but rather faith renders us ‘just.’”
Lest you think the Pope’s statements were an out of turn, momentary flash in the pan, you can also read them in his recent book Saint Paul (Pope Benedict XVI. Saint Paul. [San Francisco: Ignatius Press], 82-85). This same note is hit by many Catholic theologians, particularly those like Beckwith who identify as evangelical Catholic.
Of more immediate concern to me is the penetration of the biblical gospel—the message of divine grace accessed through faith alone—into the hearts of Catholic people who haven’t a clue why Jesus died, much less how salvation is appropriated. Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft describes this problem:There are still many who do not know the data, the gospel. Most of my Catholic students at Boston College have never heard it. They do not even know how to get to heaven. When I ask them what they would say to God if they died tonight and God asked them why he should take them into heaven, nine out of ten do not even mention Jesus Christ. Most of them say they have been good or kind or sincere or did their best. So I seriously doubt God will undo the Reformation until he sees to it that Luther’s reminder of Paul’s gospel has been heard throughout the church” (Peter Kreeft. “Ecumenical Jihad.” Reclaiming The Great Tradition. Ed. James S. Cutsinger. [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997]. 27)..... [more]
Thanks to Kevin DeYoung for the reference.
By Every Word...: Chris Castaldo's book, "Holy Ground"
Friday, November 20, 2009
Christians, when they have lived up to the highest ideals of their faith, have defended the weak and vulnerable and worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society, beginning with the family.Once again the entire statement with the list of original signatories is here. Touchstone provides a summary of whose signatures can be found there.
We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:
Inasmuch as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
- the sanctity of human life
- the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
- the rights of conscience and religious liberty
.... In addition to many Roman Catholic and (7) Orthodox signers, there are Baptists, Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterian/Reformed, Church of God in Christ, and many others.If, after reading the statement, you wish to add your name, you may do so here. As of this posting 2153 [and counting] had signed.
22 Bishops signed, including:
14 Roman Catholic Bishops (Chaput, Cordileone, Dolan, Kurtz, Madia, Malone, Myers, Nuamann, Nienstedt, Olmsted, Rigali, Sheridan, Wuerl, and Zubik.)
2 Eastern Orthodox Bishops: Metropolitan Jonah (OCA) and Bishop Basil (Antiochian)
Heads (20) and faculty members (19) of Seminaries, Colleges and Universities: e.g. Albert Mohler, David Dockery, Robert Sloan, Duane Litfin, J.I. Packer, Tom Oden, Peter Kreeft, Cornelius Plantinga
46 Leaders of various ministries, associations, policy institutes and think tanks: e.g. Prison Fellowship Ministries, National Association of Evangelicals, Family Research Council, Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, Alliance Defense Fund, e.g. Charles Colson, Rav Zacharias, Maggie Gallagher, Ron Sider.
22 Pastors, e.g. Tim Keller
10 Publishers (Christianity Today, First Things, Kairos Journal, Touchstone, and World Magazine) ....
Thursday, November 19, 2009
The Best Church Hymns was published in 1899 by the Presbyterian Board of Publication. It was compiled by Louis F. Benson, who was the editor of that denomination's Hymnal of 1895. In his introduction, he lays out the criteria:The hymn is the people's share in God's praise, and is intended for congregational use. It can be tested only in actual use in the worship of the Church; and to propose any other test (such as the opinions of critics) is to confound literature with liturgics. (...) The “best church hymns” are those... which have come into actual use over the widest area, and by consent of the largest number of Christians in the different churches.Benson then lists these thirty-two hymns which appeared most often across 107 different US and UK hymnals of the late nineteenth century, spanning several denominations, and ranked from most frequent to least (all were in at least 80% of the hymnals).
The method used to determine the "best" hymns in this 1899 survey really discovered those hymns which were most popular with the editors of hymnbooks at the time, or at most, the hymns that were most popular. But even though popular is often not "best," the list is interesting and does include many very good hymns. The list is here and a pdf of the book can be downloaded here.
- Rock of ages, cleft for me
- When I survey the wondrous cross
- Jesus, lover of my soul
- All praise to thee, my God, this night
- Jesus, I my cross have taken
- Sun of my soul
- Awake, my soul, and with the sun
- Hark! the herald angels sing
- Abide with me
- Jerusalem, my happy home
- How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds
- Nearer, my God, to thee
- From Greenland's icy mountains
- O God, our help in ages past
- Jerusalem the golden
The Introduction made it clear that some issues regarding worship music are perennial:
Now, praise is the chief act of worship, but it is by no means the only one. Prayer is an act of worship, and the expression of our aspirations is an act of worship. These hymns include both. The element of praise is not quite absent from any one of them, perhaps, but not many could be classed as technically hymns of praise. This fact has its own importance just now; for, in the reaction from the use of sentimental and egotistical hymns that make much of ourselves and little of God and His Christ, quite a party has grown up which maintains that the only proper theme of a hymn is the adoration and praise of God. [emphasis added] .... Welcome as is the reaction, the movement, while in the right direction, is too radical. It needs to be corrected by the verdict of the Church. .... A good hymn is not necessarily a form of pure praise, but rather a form of worship, and it may take its theme from any of the proper parts of public worship. ....Conjubilant With Song: The Best Church Hymns (1899)
Since its first publication, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ has never been out of print. It outsold every book except the Bible until Gone With the Wind came out in 1936, and resurged to the top of the list again in the 1960s. By 1900 it had been printed in thirty-six English-language editions and translated into twenty others, including Indonesian and Braille.
The novel intertwines the life of Jesus with that of a fictional protagonist, the young Jewish prince named Judah Ben-Hur, who suffers betrayal, injustice, and brutality, and longs for a Jewish king to vanquish Rome. It has the appeal of a rollicking historical adventure combined with a sincere Christian message of redemption. ....
.... Wallace often told the story of how in 1875 he met on a train the well-known agnostic Colonel Robert Ingersoll. After hours of conversation in which Ingersoll questioned the evidence for God, heaven, Christ, and other theological concepts, Wallace came away realizing how little he knew about his own religion. “I was ashamed of myself, and make haste now to declare that the mortification of pride I then endured . . . ended in a resolution to study the whole matter, if only for the gratification there might be in having convictions of one kind or another.”Humanities: Ben Hur
So began Wallace’s journey into the world of first-century Judea. In true lawyer style, he hit the books: First the Bible, and then every reference book about the ancient Middle East he could find. ....
.... Wallace prided himself on scrupulously following the Bible in depicting the words and acts of Christ, except for this one scene. “The Christian world would not tolerate a novel with Jesus Christ its hero, and I knew it,” explained Wallace. “He should not be present as an actor in any scene of my creation. The giving a cup of water to Ben-Hur at the well near Nazareth is the only violation of this rule. . . . I would be religiously careful that every word He uttered should be a literal quotation from one of His sainted biographers.” Since that left a considerable gap of knowledge of about twenty years of Jesus’ life, Wallace centered the plot on a fictional contemporary’s struggles and had Jesus play a cameo role. ....
The most vivid scenes in the book are also the spectacular ones from the movie—the Roman fleet’s battle at sea, the chariot race between Ben-Hur and his enemy Messala, and the crucifixion. But Wallace’s favorite scene wasn’t one of thrilling action, or even one where Christ appeared. It is a quiet scene where Ben-Hur tells his friends about the miracles he’s seen Christ perform—from turning water into wine to raising a man from the dead—and asks them what they make of it. Balthasar, one of the original three wise men, replies, “God only is so great.“
“When I had finished that, ” Wallace confessed, “I said to myself with Balthasar, ‘God only is so great.’ I had become a believer. ” [more]
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate...we can not consecrate...we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Nazi Germany celebrated Christmas without Christ with the help of swastika tree baubles, 'Germanic' cookies and a host of manufactured traditions, a new exhibition has shown.How Hitler's Nazi propaganda machine tried to take Christ out of Christmas | Mail Online
The way the celebration was gradually taken over and exploited for propaganda purposes by Hitler's Nazis is detailed in a new exhibition. ....
"Christmas was a provocation for the Nazis - after all, the baby Jesus was a Jewish child," Judith Breuer told the German newspaper Spiegel. "The most important celebration in the year didn't fit with their racist beliefs so they had to react, by trying to make it less Christian."
The exhibition includes swastika-shaped cookie-cutters and Christmas tree baubles shaped like Iron Cross medals.
The Nazis attempted to persuade housewives to bake cookies in the shape of swastikas, and they replaced the Christian figure of Saint Nicholas, who traditionally brings German children treats on December 6, with the Norse god Odin. ....
Surprisingly, German churches put up little opposition to the Nazification of Christmas. "You would have expected them to protest loudly and insist that it was a Christian festival," said Breuer. "But instead they largely kept quiet, out of fear." .... [more]
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
After she died, it was as if I had broken my arm. A part of me ached all the time, and something that had been functional was now useless, and everything about my daily routine needed to be navigated differently. It was difficult, for instance, to stand in line at the post office or buy groceries or make dinner. Nothing seemed to matter anymore.Amy Julia Becker, writing about the death of her mother-in-law and the profound difference between optimism and hope.
When Penny first received her diagnosis—primary liver cancer—we were optimistic. Perhaps surgery would eradicate the disease. Perhaps she would live to know her grandchildren. Perhaps she would retire and travel to Italy again. We thought it might all work out. But then came the pathology report, the news that the cancer had gotten into her bloodstream. Those optimistic thoughts were no longer readily available. Optimism failed.The Reality of Hope | First Things
But hope is not optimism, and neither is it false piety. Once Penny died, it was tempting to ignore the sadness and focus upon the promise of eternal life. It was tempting to bypass grief. But I cringed when someone offered, “I guess God needed another angel in heaven.” In thinking only of the future, of heaven, that statement skips over the real loss in the present. It implies that God is needy, snatching people away to fill some cosmic void. It implies that it is acceptable for a fifty-five-year old woman to die a grueling death. Statements about God’s purpose in death can be used as a cudgel, a way to berate believers into pretending that the loss is not profound, devastating. “Pie in the sky by and by” is no consolation. False piety skips past grief altogether, and, like optimism, it ultimately fails. ....
Jesus did not ignore the reality of pain. Rather, he engaged it, even as he knew it would be overcome. He knew, for instance, that he would raise Lazarus from the dead, and yet he mourned. He knew God would be faithful, and yet he shed tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. He cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus had hope in the midst of grief, without denying the reality of suffering and loss. His life permits us to forgo false piety and admit that suffering and separation are an offense to God.
And yet, that Easter morning also reminded me that God has triumphed over death. Christian hope hinges on the fact that God has the power to give life to the dead, starting with Jesus, and one day, extending to us all. Hope is a place of tension, tethered between the Cross and the Resurrection, engaging pain and suffering while simultaneously looking ahead to restoration. .... [read it all]
Monday, November 16, 2009
When it comes to celebrating Christmas, actor Jim Carrey says he prefers the “Christian” traditions he and many other people in America grew up on as children.Big Hollywood » Blog Archive » Actor Jim Carrey Favors Traditional Christmas Celebrations and Transformational Redemptive Storytelling
“I’d hate to miss Christmas,” he added.
Carrey, who gives a remarkable performance in A Christmas Carol, the new brilliant masterpiece of the beloved novel by Charles Dickens from Disney and Writer/Director Bob Zemeckis, spoke about the movie at a recent press conference Movieguide attended in Los Angeles.
At the conference, Carrey also noted that he loves redemptive stories like A Christmas Carol.
“Everyone loves a good transformational story,” Carrey said. “You know, somebody who sees the light, who finally finds out what’s important in life. And, this is one of the greatest ones ever written. It’s just a beautiful story of redemption.” ....
Zemeckis noted, “The book hadn’t been realized before in the way that it was actually imagined by Dickens as he wrote it. I said, okay, this could be a perfect way to take a classic story everyone is familiar with and re-envision it in a new and exciting way.”
And indeed, the movie, which should become a Christmas classic, brilliantly takes moviegoers back to a bygone era, Victorian London, with amazingly detailed set designs.
The motion capture technology also allows the filmmakers and actors to interact in new ways with the world envisioned by Zemeckis through Dickens, including the wonderful special effects of ghosts, spirits, and supernatural events that Dickens describes. ....
It is the three spirits who teach Scrooge the real reason for the season, Jesus Christ and his salvation message of love, in this terrific, beautiful, powerful family movie. .... [more]
Saturday, November 14, 2009
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight. [C.S. Lewis, Preface, The Screwtape Letters]Yesterday I received my copy of Focus on the Family's Radio Theatre production of The Screwtape Letters. Screwtape is voiced by Andy Serkis, who was both voice and motion model for Gollum in the Lord of the Ring films. Geoffrey Palmer, who many of us have enjoyed in the British series "As Time Goes By," does Lewis. C.S. Lewis's stepson, Douglas Gresham, speaks as himself. There are several other actors in the dramatization as well — and that's what this is, not an audio book like the very well done reading of Screwtape by John Cleese, but a full scale audio play.
Although I've only had time to listen to a portion of it so far my impression is extremely favorable. There are four CDs and, in addition, for those who want a complete aural experience, the entire program is also provided on a DVD with 5.1 surround sound [there are several video documentaries on the DVD too].
I anticipate several enjoyable and instructive hours revisiting The Screwtape Letters in this form. It has actually been years since I read the entire book so I may have forgotten enough that much of the content will seem new.
If you are thinking about buying it, my impression is that the best price is to be had at the official site.
History shows that reform is a thing that is indeed needed from time to time. And usually it is botched up every time it is needed.Insight Scoop | The Ignatius Press Blog: Recovering The Lost Art of Common SenseIn the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it." This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, or that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.So, the problem with the reformers is that they so often want to do away with things they don't understand. They apparently regard their lack of understanding as proof that the thing is not needed. It does not occur to them that the tradition they are trying to destroy may have been put into place for a very good reason. Chesterton says, "A tradition is generally a truth", and, "Common sense often comes to us in the form of a tradition." The successful reforms in history have occurred when people reconnected with their roots and where they recovered their lost traditions. It is not the tradition that has gone wrong; it is we who have gone wrong. [The sources for the Chesterton quotations can be found here along with the rest of the article.]
Friday, November 13, 2009
An organ virtuoso and respected choral composer, Manz’s best known work is “E’en so Lord Jesus Quickly Come.” It was composed while his 3 year-old son lay dying, it was supposed, though he recovered from his illness, something Manz attributed to prayer. Here is a haunting performance of that piece, with the backdrop of Luther’s church in Wittenberg.
.... Ayn Rand was, of course, the founder of Objectivism – whose ethic, she said in a 1964 interview, holds that “man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself.” She has argued that “friendship, family life and human relationships are not primary in a man’s life. A man who places others first, above his own creative work, is an emotional parasite; whereas, if he places his work first, there is no conflict between his work and his enjoyment of human relationships.” And about Jesus she said:Which has little in common with:I do regard the cross as the symbol of the sacrifice of the ideal to the nonideal. Isn’t that what it does mean? Christ, in terms of the Christian philosophy, is the human ideal. He personifies that which men should strive to emulate. Yet, according to the Christian mythology, he died on the cross not for his own sins but for the sins of the nonideal people. In other words, a man of perfect virtue was sacrificed for men who are vicious and who are expected or supposed to accept that sacrifice. If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the nonideal, or virtue to vice. And it is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors. That is precisely how the symbolism is used. That is torture..... William F. Buckley Jr. himself wrote about her “desiccated philosophy’s conclusive incompatibility with the conservative’s emphasis on transcendence, intellectual and moral; but also there is the incongruity of tone, that hard, schematic, implacable, unyielding dogmatism that is in itself intrinsically objectionable.”
Yet there are some strands within conservatism that still veer toward Rand and her views of government (“The government should be concerned only with those issues which involve the use of force,” she argued. “This means: the police, the armed services, and the law courts to settle disputes among men. Nothing else.”), and many conservatives identify with her novelistic hero John Galt, who declared, “I swear — by my life and my love of it — that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” .... [more]
“For God so loved ithe world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [John 3:16]Objectively, Ayn Rand Was a Nut - Peter Wehner - The Corner on National Review Online
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this:‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” [Mark 12:28-31]
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. [John 15:12-13]
Thursday, November 12, 2009
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to UW-Whitewater objecting to the fact that the university invited students to attend a prayer vigil for a student killed in the Fort Hood shootings.Students were, of course, invited, not required, to attend. I must be missing something, but how is hearing a prayer any different than hearing any other spoken words? Hearing something doesn't "impose" acquiescence or agreement. Does the freedom to be a non-believer mean the right to shut up speech by believers? I suppose if this doctrine became widely accepted than we each would have the right not to hear anything expressed with which we disagree. Professors, visiting scholars, and guest speakers paid by the university, would be unable to say anything someone out there finds uncomfortable — because hearing it "imposes" on the listener. Silence would reign. If, on the other hand, prayer is unique in this respect then the protection the First Amendment provides for religious freedom is far less than for speech generally and the religious would be better off simply making arguments for free expression.
Amy Krueger, of Kiel, was a psychology major who had transferred to UW-Whitewater last year. She was one of two Wisconsin soldiers killed in the attack. ....
"It is appropriate and laudable for a public university to hold a memorial service for one its students tragically killed," wrote Freedom From Religion staff attorney Rebecca Kratz. "However, that service cannot be deemed a ‘prayer vigil.' The Unviersity of Wisconsin-Whitewater cannot sponsor a religious memorial service and impose prayer upon its students who wish to pay their respects to their classmate." [emphasis added]
On Campus: UW-Whitewater can't invite students to prayer vigil, foundation says
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
.... The last amen had sounded, the congregation was leaving the worship space and the organist, with the help of Bach, was taking the roof off the building.He offers this as an example:
I absolutely soaked it in. Could not get enough. If you have this sort of postlude possibility, I am officially envious.
Those postludes sent us out with JOY. Wonderful waves of the majesty of God, going out the doors, out the windows, right through us into that broken world that Jesus loves so much. .... [more]
Patrick Kennedy, the congressman from Rhode Island, wrote, “The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.”Every group, religious or not, has boundaries that define it. If the group doesn't distinguish itself from the world around it, it ceases to exist as anything meaningful. For Catholics one of the most important distinctives is accepting the teaching authority of the Church. Lacking that, being Catholic does come down to "baptism as an infant," "family ties," or "cultural heritage." For most of the rest of us the boundaries are less well defined — certainly far less so than just a few decades ago. It is worth thinking about what they are — some walls may need shoring up.
And Thomas J. Tobin, the bishop of Providence, replies:
.... What does it mean, really, to be a Catholic? After all, being a Catholic has to mean something, right?
Well, in simple terms—and here I refer only to those more visible, structural elements of Church membership—being a Catholic means that you’re part of a faith community that possesses a clearly defined authority and doctrine, obligations and expectations. It means that you believe and accept the teachings of the Church, especially on essential matters of faith and morals; that you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish; that you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly; that you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially.
Congressman, I’m not sure whether or not you fulfill the basic requirements of being a Catholic, so let me ask: Do you accept the teachings of the Church on essential matters of faith and morals, including our stance on abortion? Do you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish? Do you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly? Do you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially?
In your letter you say that you “embrace your faith.” Terrific. But if you don’t fulfill the basic requirements of membership, what is it exactly that makes you a Catholic? Your baptism as an infant? Your family ties? Your cultural heritage?
Your letter also says that your faith “acknowledges the existence of an imperfect humanity.” Absolutely true. But in confronting your rejection of the Church’s teaching, we’re not dealing just with “an imperfect humanity”—as we do when we wrestle with sins such as anger, pride, greed, impurity or dishonesty. We all struggle with those things, and often fail.
Your rejection of the Church’s teaching on abortion falls into a different category—it’s a deliberate and obstinate act of the will; a conscious decision that you’ve re-affirmed on many occasions. Sorry, you can’t chalk it up to an “imperfect humanity.” Your position is unacceptable to the Church and scandalous to many of our members. It absolutely diminishes your communion with the Church. .... [more]
Being a Catholic Has to Mean Something » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
A federal judge ruled Tuesday that South Carolina can't issue license plates showing the image of a cross in front of a stained glass window along with the phrase "I Believe."Needless to say, Americans United was the organization that filed the suit and the Baptist Joint Committee [with which Seventh Day Baptists are affiliated] applauded the decision.
U.S. District Judge Cameron Currie's ruling said the license plate was unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment ban on establishment of religion by government.
The BJC and others have been quick to point out that the "I Believe" plates are different from other specialty plates. These plates were the product of a special initiative of the South Carolina legislature rather than through the normal Department of Motor Vehicles approval process based on a private application by a private organization.Any bets on what position the BJC and Americans United will take on a private application? Won't approval by South Carolina's DMV constitute an "establishment of religion" in their peculiar interpretation of religious freedom?
Federal judge nixes SC license tag with cross - Breaking News - TheState.com
Kindle book buyers can now read their books right from their PCs without having to buy a Kindle reader.Many books are available free of cost. One of them, I was surprised to discover, is The Dude Abides a recent book about the religious significance of the Coen brothers films. I've also downloaded free editions of several books in the public domain: some mysteries and the Personal Memoirs of US Grant, reputedly one of the best military memoirs ever written.
Amazon on Tuesday made available its new Kindle for PC, free software that lets Kindle customers read their e-books on tablet PCs, Netbooks, notebooks, and other personal computers.
The software can be downloaded from the Kindle for PC page. The quick installation sets up the reader application, prompting you to log in and register with your Amazon account or create a new one. After logging in, you can download books that you've already purchased at the Kindle store or click on a link to buy new ones.
I may buy a Kindle some day, but in the meantime I look forward to taking advantage of this free offer.
Amazon debuts Kindle for PC | Digital Media - CNET News
.... What is really being said—in the way we abandon many families such as the Myersons to their own devices and look upon people like Emmy as if they are aliens—is why should we have to put up with these people? Not only are they unproductive—but more unforgivably—they remind us of the vicisitudes and mortality of our own lives.It’s Scary Time For People With Disabilities in the UK » Secondhand Smoke | A First Things Blog
Don’t get me wrong: I am not condemning Myerson. She has clearly loved her daughter very well in the face of official and societal indifference. But I also don’t think it is a coincidence that the Independent decided to feature her story on the front page—not in the context of demanding improved care and concern for people like Emmy—but rather, at a time when there is an increasing desire to see them, one way or the other, made dead. ....
A deadly form of the eugenics virus has returned to afflict us. It pretends to be about choice and compassion, but it is really about disdaining and abandoning the weak. ....
The Dictionary is balanced between Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Orthodox and Protestant/Evangelical traditions. Some of the articles are quite substantial. ...I highly recommend it for you or as a gift for that person you know who is seeking to get out of their own liturgical box into the broader, deeper, more ancient church.And whether you have any interest in liturgy or not, it is a very handy way to discover the what and why of the practices of our Lutheran, Episcopalian, Catholic and other fellow Christians. As he indicates, it isn't exclusively about their practices. "Non-liturgical" Protestants will find definitions and descriptions relevant to our traditions as well.
This Seventh Day Baptist turned almost immediately to see what it had to say about subjects about which I know something. I found brief entries titled "baptism, believers" and "baptism, infant" which accurately describe the justifications for each. There is a description of "congregational" as a form of church government. Seventh day Sabbath observers would be interested in the entry about:
Sabbath. Rooted in a Hebrew word for "rest," the Sabbath is the seventh and final day of the Jewish week (Saturday). The Sabbath begins at sunset Friday evening and ends at sunset on Saturday. This day is *holy in the Jewish religion, its proper observance being demanded in the *Ten Commandments (Ex 20:8-11). Many Christian churches have transferred the sanctity of the Sabbath to *Sunday, the primary day of Christian worship, though some Christian churches maintain keeping primary worship and rest on the Sabbath (e.g., Seventh-Day Adventists). Observance and strictures concerning the Sabbath or Sunday vary greatly among Christians, the author of the letter to the Hebrews even abstracting its meaning from calendrical observance (Heb 4:4-11; cf. Rom 14:5-6). As Saturday evening can be understood as the first part of the day of Sunday (according to OT reckoning), Sunday worship services in some churches are offered Saturday evenings. [note: the asterisk refers you to an entry on that subject]The article on Sunday is much shorter and alleges that evidence for corporate worship on that day "is found as early as the NT and *Apostolic Fathers" which is, of course, a common argument by those justifying the change.
The book is good on those things I know about and I will profit by having a concise source for those things less familiar. Spencer writes "I’m glad IVP gave me this book to review, because now I’m one of three Baptists who can identify a baldachino."
Recommendation and Review: Pocket Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship by Brett Scott Provance | internetmonk.com
Saturday, November 7, 2009
.... Because we are mortal, and because all religion responds to mortality, our intimations of the sacred arise from our experience of the tension between the mortal existence of humankind and the eternal life of God. In revealed religion, God’s time stands in contrast to the earthly time of days and years and the corporeal time of pulse and respiration. A creator God who stands outside nature also stands outside time itself. Eternity is incommensurate with natural time. God made the world ex nihilo before time existed and he will bring it to an end.Sacred Music, Sacred Time | First Things
Eternity breaks into the temporal world through revelation. For Jews, the sanctification of the Sabbath introduces an element of eternity into natural time; for Christians, the eschaton breaks into the natural time of human history through Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection. God’s time, the time of salvation in the coming of the Messiah or the second coming of Christ, stands in contrast to the natural time of ordinary existence. ....
Jews have a different sense of sacred time, for God sanctified the Sabbath, the last day of creation and creation’s goal. Sabbath observance is radically unique to Judaism and is the pivot of Jewish worship. Rather than journey to “the one day of the world of which all individual days of the world are but a part,” the Jews live in the seventh day, which God planted in temporality as a foretaste of the world to come.
.... For Jews, as Abraham Joshua Heschel put it, time is merely the mask of eternity...[which] is planted among us in the Sabbath. .... [more]
.... Kessler urges readers to eschew pasta, French fries, bacon cheeseburgers, candy, and other “hyperpalatable” foods that he and some people he interviewed for the book have trouble consuming in moderation. Kessler wants us to know he is powerless over chocolate-chip cookies and “those fried dumplings at the San Francisco airport.” Using himself and several similarly voracious acquaintances as models, he argues that “conditioned hypereating” is largely responsible for the “obesity epidemic.” He exhorts its victims to resist the machinations of the food industry, “the manipulator of the consumers’ minds and desires” (in the words of a “high-level food industry executive”).The Peril of Palatability - Reason Magazine
Kessler fearlessly accuses major restaurant chains of a crime they brag about, relying on unnamed “insiders” to reveal that comestible pushers such as Cinnabon and The Cheesecake Factory deliberately make their food delicious — or, as he breathlessly puts it, “design food specifically to be highly hedonic.” Kessler certainly has the goods on the corporate conspiracy to serve people food they like. “We come up with craveable flavors, and the consumers come back, even days later,” a “research chef at Chili’s” confesses to him. Kessler also reveals that Nabisco lures Oreo eaters through a dastardly combination of sweet white filling and crunchy, bittersweet chocolate wafers, achieving “what’s called dynamic contrast.” Or maybe it’s “what the industry calls ‘dynamic novelty,’ ” as Kessler claims in another Oreo discussion elsewhere in the book. Either way, it’s so good it must be bad.
Not only do these sneaky bastards create irresistible food; they then turn around and tell people about it. “With its ability to create superstimuli, coupled with its marketing prowess, the industry has cracked the code of conditioned hypereating and learned exactly how to manipulate our eating behavior,” Kessler writes. “It has figured out the programming that gets us to pursue the food it wants to sell.” .... [more]