Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Wandering vaguely: quite of her own accord"

When I was six one of my gifts was When We Were Very Young. That was my introduction to A.A. Milne. Pooh doesn't appear in the book [although Christopher Robin does]. The book is a collection of Milne's poems. The illustrator was Ernest H. Shepard, who did the drawings for all of Milne's children's books [and for my favorite edition of The Wind in the Willows]. I much prefer Shepard's work to the Disneyfied versions. This, like most good children's books, is best read aloud. The best children's books are just as much fun to read when you're grown — all the more so when shared with a child. My favorite of the poems, then as now, is "Disobedience" about the refusal of a mother to take excellent advice about the dangers of going alone to the end of town.

James James
Morrison Morrison
Weatherby George Dupree
Took great
Care of his Mother,
Though he was only three.
James James Said to his Mother,
"Mother," he said, said he;
"You must never go down
to the end of the town,
if you don't go down with me."
James James
Morrison Morrison
(Commonly known as Jim)
Told his
Other relations
Not to go blaming him.
James James
Said to his Mother,
"Mother," he said, said he:
"You must never go down to the end of the town
without consulting me."
James James
Morrison's Mother
Put on a golden gown.
James James Morrison's Mother
Drove to the end of the town.
James James Morrison's Mother
Said to herself, said she:
"I can get right down
to the end of the town
and be back in time for tea."
James James
Morrison's mother
Hasn't been heard of since.
King John said he was sorry,
So did the Queen and Prince.
King John
(Somebody told me)
Said to a man he knew:
If people go down to the end of the town, well,
what can anyone do?"
King John
Put up a notice,
"LOST or STOLEN or STRAYED!
JAMES JAMES MORRISON'S MOTHER
SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN MISLAID.
LAST SEEN
WANDERING VAGUELY:
QUITE OF HER OWN ACCORD,
SHE TRIED TO GET DOWN
TO THE END OF THE TOWN -
FORTY SHILLINGS REWARD!"
(Now then, very softly)
J.J.
M.M.
W.G.Du P.
Took great
C/0 his M*****
Though he was only 3.
J.J. said to his M*****
"M*****," he said, said he:
"You-must-never-go-down-to-the-end-of-the-town-
if-you-don't-go-down-with-ME!"

Human nature and ordered liberty

Russell Kirk [1918-1994] devoted himself to explaining the true meaning of conservatism at a time when to most people it just meant political opposition to FDR's New Deal. When, while in college, I read his The Conservative Mind it was my introduction to the history of Anglo/American conservative thought. He led me to Burke and many others — and I also read everything of Kirk's I could find. The Russell Kirk Center has placed online his essay, "Ten Conservative Principles." He begins by reminding us that conservatism is an attitude rather than an ideology and that consequently "the conservative movement or body of opinion can accommodate a considerable diversity of views on a good many subjects." His lists of conservative principles developed over time. The ten points in this one were his final effort — from 1993. I've excerpted from three of them. The entire essay is found here.
First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.

This word order signifies harmony. There are two aspects or types of order: the inner order of the soul, and the outer order of the commonwealth. [....]

Sixth, conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability. Human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults, the conservatives know. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created. Because of human restlessness, mankind would grow rebellious under any utopian domination, and would break out once more in violent discontent—or else expire of boredom. To seek for utopia is to end in disaster, the conservative says: we are not made for perfect things. All that we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk. By proper attention to prudent reform, we may preserve and improve this tolerable order. [....]

Ninth, the conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions. Politically speaking, power is the ability to do as one likes, regardless of the wills of one’s fellows. A state in which an individual or a small group are able to dominate the wills of their fellows without check is a despotism, whether it is called monarchical or aristocratic or democratic. When every person claims to be a power unto himself, then society falls into anarchy. Anarchy never lasts long, being intolerable for everyone, and contrary to the ineluctable fact that some persons are more strong and more clever than their neighbors. To anarchy there succeeds tyranny or oligarchy, in which power is monopolized by a very few. [....] [the essay]
The Kirk Center - Ten Conservative Principles by Russell Kirk

Saturday, January 30, 2010

"Never knowing where we're going, We can never go astray."

I have a couple of Kingsley Amis books in my library. Bradley Vasoli's review of Conversations with Kingsley Amis motivated me to get down one that Amis edited, which, I was pleased to discover, included a C.S. Lewis effort:

Evolutionary Hymn

LEAD us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future's endless stair;
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.
Ask not if it's god or devil,
Brethren, lest your words imply
Static norms of good and evil
(As in Plato) throned on high;
Such scholastic, inelastic,
Abstract yardsticks we deny.
Wrong or justice in the present,
Joy or sorrow, what are they
While there's always jam to-morrow,
While we tread the onward way?
Never knowing where we're going,
We can never go astray.
Far too long have sages vainly
Glossed great Nature's simple text;
He who runs can read it plainly,
'Goodness = what comes next.'
By evolving, Life is solving
All the questions we perplexed.
To whatever variation
Our posterity may turn
Hairy, squashy, or crustacean,
Bulbous-eyed or square of stern,
Tusked or toothless, mild or ruthless,
Towards that unknown god we yearn.
On then! Value means survival—
Value. If our progeny
Spreads and spawns and licks each rival,
That will prove its deity —
(Far from pleasant, by our present
Standards, though it well may be).

The new Amis book is a collection of interviews. One gets the impression that he is more easily enjoyed and admired from a distance, but that may be more typical than not with literary figures. Amis began his political engagement on the Left but moved right as he got older. Vasoli writes "He blasted conservatism in his youth, leftism afterward. The man truly knew his targets." By the time I discovered him he was saying things I found quite congenial:
The real thrill of protest, he explains, amounts to this: “You’re embattled, surrounded by people who feel as you do, and surrounded by girls, and it’s a way of being brave without any real fear of the consequences.”
Sadly, Amis considered himself impervious to faith:
.... Asked in one of the discussions if he is a Christian, he responded, “No. I wish I were. That would be fine. But I’ve never had any faith. I can’t remember such a thing. It’s a weakness, a limitation. Which doesn’t mean to say that all people with faith are better off than all people without it, more worthy somehow. But still, it’s a grave thing to be deprived of.”
Amis Speaks - Bradley Vasoli - National Review Online

Friday, January 29, 2010

"Don't make everything about 'Jesus'"

Kevin DeYoung publishes a "rant" [his term] this morning about those Christians who seem to want to avoid being known as "Christians." [I may do the same some day about people who seem to think "gospel" is the opposite of "religion."] And then he gets to "Jesus":
...[W]e should also be careful that we don’t make everything about “Jesus.” (Wait a second, did he just say that?!) Let me explain. I love Jesus. I love to pray to Jesus. I love to say the name “Jesus” in my sermons, a lot. I talk about following Jesus, worshiping Jesus, believing in Jesus, and having a big, glorious Jesus. No apologies necessary for saying “Jesus.” But then one time an older member of our congregation asked why I didn’t say “Christ” more often. I had never really thought about it before. I guess “Jesus” just packs a little more punch, has a little more edge, sounds a little fresher than Christ or Lord or the Son of God.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with referencing “Jesus.” The gospels do it a whole bunch. But we must not forget—and we must help our younger listeners remember—that we are not merely followers of a man named Jesus. We worship the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. We are disciples of this man Jesus, but this man is also our Savior and God. He is, after all, more than a carpenter.

Following Jesus is a movement. Believing in Christ is a faith. .... [more]
Ain’t No Shame – Kevin DeYoung

N.T. Wright on Hell

"Half a God is not God at all"

I have a friend who came to orthodox Christian belief via Unitarianism. Someone once said that God is unscrupulous — He will use just about anything to bring us to Himself. Tim Keller recently decided he ought to read The Shack, did so, acknowledges it as a "noble effort," and and tells us that he has "heard many reports of semi-believers and non-believers claiming that this book gave them an answer to their biggest objections to faith in God." Nevertheless, Keller has some objections:
.... Anyone who is strongly influenced by the imaginative world of The Shack will be totally unprepared for the far more multi-dimensional and complex God that you actually meet when you read the Bible. In the prophets the reader will find a God who is constantly condemning and vowing judgment on his enemies, while the Persons of the Triune-God of The Shack repeatedly deny that sin is any offense to them. The reader of Psalm 119 is filled with delight at God’s statutes, decrees, and laws, yet the God of The Shack insists that he doesn’t give us any rules or even have any expectations of human beings. All he wants is relationship. The reader of the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Isaiah will learn that the holiness of God makes his immediate presence dangerous or fatal to us. Someone may counter (as Young seems to do, on p.192) that because of Jesus, God is now only a God of love, making all talk of holiness, wrath, and law obsolete. But when John, one of Jesus’ closest friends, long after the crucifixion sees the risen Christ in person on the isle of Patmos, John ‘fell at his feet as dead.’ (Rev.1:17.) The Shack effectively deconstructs the holiness and transcendence of God. It is simply not there. In its place is unconditional love, period. The God of The Shack has none of the balance and complexity of the Biblical God. Half a God is not God at all.

There is another modern text that sought to convey the character of God through story. It also tried to ‘embody’ the Biblical doctrine of God in an imaginative way that conveyed the heart of the Biblical message. That story contained a Christ-figure named Aslan. Unlike the author of The Shack, however, C.S. Lewis was always at pains to maintain the Biblical tension between the divine love and his overwhelming holiness and splendor. In the introduction to his book The Problem of Pain, Lewis cited the example from the children’s text The Wind in the Willows where two characters, Rat and Mole, approach divinity.
“Afraid?” murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. “Afraid? of Him? O, never, never. And yet — and yet — O Mole, I am afraid.”
Lewis sought to get this across at many places through his Narnia tales. One of the most memorable is the description of Aslan.
“Safe?…Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
That’s better. [more]
The Shack – Impressions – The Gospel Coalition Blog

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Not a bad public, that."

Something I was asked to write for this month's Sabbath Recorder:
In the film of Robert Bolt’s play, A Man for All Seasons, a young friend asks Thomas More for a place at Court. More tells Richard Rich that he won’t give him what he wants but that he may have another position for him:
Rich: What post?
More: At the new school.
Rich: A teacher! [….]
More: Why not be a teacher? You'd be a fine teacher. Perhaps a great one.
Rich: lf I was, who would know it?
More: You! Your pupils. Your friends. God. Not a bad public, that.
One of the great affirmations of the Protestant Reformation was the “priesthood of all believers” and along with that the realization that the idea of vocation applied to all believers, not just those ordained to holy orders. Our lives can’t be compartmentalized. Our work — how we earn our living — is in service to God, just as every other aspect of life. Whether we gain wide acclaim is irrelevant. What matters is whether we are faithful. Who will know? “God. Not a bad public, that.”

I didn’t come to that realization right away. For as long as I can remember I had planned to be a teacher, but because it was something I thought I could do well that would provide me with a living, not as a calling. In fact I became a public school teacher rather by default because I feared the kind of debt I would incur by continuing in graduate school. In 1970 I put out my credentials [teachers were in short supply then] and was contacted by a principal in Madison. I taught in that school district — secondary history and political science — for thirty-five years.

I was a mediocre teacher when I started, making serious mistakes — especially in disciplining students — but I learned from my mistakes and eventually achieved a certain competence. I learned very little of value in the education courses I was required to take. Teaching is as much an art as a skill and perfecting the art is largely a matter of trial and error. Each teacher needs to discover the style that works for him or her. I always told my student teachers to commit to at least four or five years before deciding they couldn’t do it.

What makes a good public school teacher? You need to like kids and love your subject matter. Most students will do just about anything a teacher asks if they believe the teacher cares about them, knows what he is talking about and teaches it well. That means knowing your subject thoroughly, and that means reading a lot. The easiest way to earn the contempt of adolescents is to pretend to know more than you do. The best teachers are those who can convey what is most important clearly and interestingly — and that is almost impossible if you are always operating at or close to the limit of your knowledge. Otherwise what makes a good teacher is what makes any good person: integrity, the willingness to admit error, intolerance of cruelty, a sense of proportion and good humor, meeting your commitments and obligations punctually, “doing unto others…,” etc.

These days, in the public schools, there is much less opportunity for Christian teachers to talk freely about our faith than was true even a few decades ago. Nevertheless, I found, at least in high school, that if the subject came up naturally as part of the curriculum or in student initiated discussion, it was possible if the subject was approached descriptively, if disagreement could be freely expressed, and nobody felt pressured. The most important witness a Christian teacher can make in a classroom, though, is behavior consistent with belief. For high school students there is no greater sin an adult can commit than seeming to be hypocritical.

“Be a teacher.” It is an honorable profession. And your Sabbaths will almost always be free.
When I started blogging at "One Eternal Day" I made it a practice to link each month to the magazine published by my denomination, The Sabbath Recorder. Since it can be easily found elsewhere, I've decided instead to place a permanent link in the sidebar. Some one of my friends will no doubt observe [quite fairly] that I waited to do this until an issue was published in which something I wrote appeared. Many of the articles in this issue, like mine, are about the choice of a career.

Who is the true Christian?

Richard Dawkins thinks Pat Robertson has been unfairly attacked by Christians who don't understand the implications of the faith we profess. Christopher Hitchens has no quarrel with religious believers who really don't believe in much.

Ross Douthat writing today about "Fundamentalists and the Atheists Who Love Them":
...Dawkins’ “defense” of Robertson, against the “milquetoast” Christians who rushed to disavow the televangelist’s suggestion that the Haitian earthquake victims were being singled out for divine punishment, offers an interesting illustration of militant atheism’s symbiotic relationship with religious fundamentalism. Here’s the new atheist:
Loathsome as Robertson’s views undoubtedly are, he is the Christian who stands squarely in the Christian tradition. The agonized theodiceans who see suffering as an intractable “mystery”, or who “see God” in the help, money and goodwill that is now flooding into Haiti, or (most nauseating of all) who claim to see God “suffering on the cross” in the ruins of Port-au-Prince, those faux-anguished hypocrites are denying the centrepiece of their own theology. It is the obnoxious Pat Robertson who is the true Christian here. [....]
The piece continues in this vein for some time. Dawkins is quite right, of course, that Christianity lays a heavy emphasis on sin, atonement, and (yes) the possibility of damnation. But whether this means that Christians are obliged to interpret the disasters that befall human beings in this life as God’s punishment for specific sins is another question entirely. Let’s consult one of Christianity’s leading authorities on the matter (the emphases are mine):
I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father who is in Heaven. For He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:44-45)
Or again:
There were present at that season some who told Him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

And Jesus answering said unto them, “Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, nay; but unless ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

Or those eighteen upon whom the tower of Siloam fell and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all other men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, nay; but unless ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5) [....]
There’s a heavy stress on sin and the possibility of ultimate punishment here, obviously. (Plenty for Richard Dawkins to find obnoxious, in other words.) But Jesus also lays a heavy emphasis on the idea that we shouldn’t interpret the vicissitudes of this life as God’s way of picking winners and losers, or of punishing particularly egregious sinners. Until the harvest, the wheat and tares all grow together, the rain falls on the just and unjust alike, and those who survive natural disasters are as liable to judgment as those who perish in them. .... [more]
Kathryn Jean Lopez at NRO linked to this interview with Christopher Hitchens, another of the "new atheists." The interviewer was a Unitarian minister who doesn't appear to know the difference between orthodoxy and fundamentalism:
The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make any distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

Let me go someplace else. When I was in seminary I was particularly drawn to the work of theologian Paul Tillich. He shocked people by describing the traditional God—as you might as a matter of fact—as, “an invincible tyrant.” For Tillich, God is “the ground of being.” It’s his response to, say, Freud’s belief that religion is mere wish fulfillment and comes from the humans’ fear of death. What do you think of Tillich’s concept of God?”

I would classify that under the heading of “statements that have no meaning—at all.” Christianity, remember, is really founded by St. Paul, not by Jesus. Paul says, very clearly, that if it is not true that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then we the Christians are of all people the most unhappy. If none of that’s true, and you seem to say it isn’t, I have no quarrel with you. .... [more]
Fundamentalists and the Atheists Who Love Them - Ross Douthat Blog - NYTimes.com, Portland Monthly Magazine / Arts & Entertainment / Books & Talks / Detail

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Even unto old age

In the course of answering a young person who wants to get a tattoo over the objection of his parents, Russell Moore tells us just what we owe our parents:
.... The command to honor father and mother never ends. It is part of the holy will of God, and is applicable to every person, regardless of age. When you’re ninety, you’ll still have an obligation to honor your parents, even if only in memory and in speech. The way one honors one’s parents changes, though, throughout the span of life. Jesus lived this life before you. His honoring of his father Joseph and his blessed mother Mary was of obedience in all things in childhood (Luke 2:51), of listening to pleas for help in adulthood (John 2:1-5), and of caring for weakness at the end of life (John 19:26-27). All of this was an honoring of father and mother. .... [more]
Moore to the Point by Russell D. Moore

The rehabilitation of US Grant

When I took classes in US history the conventional wisdom was that, although he may have been a great military leader, US Grant was a complete failure as President deserving to be considered one of the worst. That evaluation is changing according to Sean Wilentz's review of U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth, by Joan Waugh. He summarizes his evaluation of Grant here:
.... A superb modern general who, with Lincoln, finally unleashed the force required to crush the slaveholders’ rebellion, Grant went on, as president, to press vigorously for the reunification of the severed nation, but on the terms of the victorious North and not of the defeated South. Given all that he was up against—not simply from Confederates and Southern white terrorists but, as president, from high-minded factional opponents and schismatics from his own Republican Party—it is quite remarkable that Grant sustained his commitment to the freedmen for as long and as hard as he did. The evidence clearly shows that he created the most auspicious record on racial equality and civil rights of any president from Lincoln to Lyndon B. Johnson. He also formulated some remarkably humane and advanced ideas on subjects ranging from federal Indian policy to public education. Given the limitations imposed on executive power by the Constitution, it is all the more remarkable that he acted as boldly as he did. .... [more]
The Return Of Ulysses | The New Republic

Monday, January 25, 2010

Rebuke

Baptists and creeds

Kevin Butler gives us a quotation from an address by Neville Callam of the Baptist World Alliance, in which he uses Trinitarianism to explain the relationships of Christians [and particularly Baptists] to one another:
When 3,000 Baptists from 26 countries gathered in London in 1905 for the inaugural congress of the Baptist World Alliance, they performed one corporate act of worship that was meant to affirm what those who gathered believed — and what they wished to communicate to fellow Christians around the world — about themselves. They stood together and repeated the words of the Apostles’ Creed — a creed structured on the conviction of faith in the Trinitarian nature of God.

Relating is part of God’s nature. When the Father acts, the Son is acting and the Holy Spirit too. When the Son acts, the Father is acting and also the Spirit. When the Spirit acts, the Father and the Son are also at work. Any successful attempt to characterize the relations in the Trinity must necessarily reflect the love that binds Father, Son and Spirit in a relationship that is indivisible.

If the church is the body of Christ, then, we cannot escape the responsibility to reflect the characteristic of the inner life of God. We are a people who belong to each other, who are called to live in love with each other and who have an obligation to enter into partnership with each other. .... [more]
In 1905, apparently, the Apostles Creed was acceptable to a diverse body of Baptists. The Nicene Creed, if it had been recited, might have made the point more clearly.

Seventh Day Baptist - SDB Exec Blog

Sunday, January 24, 2010

"Provoke not your children to anger..."

I have never been a parent — although I was once a child. I do recall both paddlings [the paddle was kept on top of the refrigerator - hiding it didn't work] and "time-outs" when I was young — don't recall just when they ended, but it was well before adolescence. I doubt that was what warped my personality. Mollie Hemingway writes about a recent study of spanking in "Spare the Spanking, Spoil the Report Card?":
...[A]t some point in the past century, child-rearing books began discouraging spanking and encouraging such new proverbs as "let's all take a 'timeout' so that our anger might melt away, leading to fruitful conversation, peace and harmony in the home."

Some parents have taken the advice to such an extreme that they're hesitant to impose any consequences at all on their children. ....

Those parents who still use physical discipline keep it on the down-low. That's not just because spanking is no longer politically correct but because some lawmakers are attempting to ban even the most benign swat. .... Antispanking advocates say that physical discipline isn't just immoral but also detrimental to a child's long-term adjustment.

Yet a new study by Calvin College's Marjorie Gunnoe found no evidence to support the claim. In fact, it found that those adolescents who were spanked as young children actually ended up having a sunnier outlook and were better students than those who were never spanked.

Compared with those who had never experienced physical discipline, those who endured parental swats between the ages of 2 and 6 were much more likely to report positive academic records and optimism about their future. Even those who received their last spanking between the ages of 7 and 11 reported that they volunteered more, compared with those who had never been spanked. In fact, the never-spanked group never scored the best on any of the 11 behavioral variables analyzed. ....

.... The group that had the worst overall social adjustment was made up of children who were spanked into their teenage years. .... [more]
I wonder whether the alternatives to a whack on the behind — haranguing, yelling, sarcasm, negative character evaluations, guilt-inducing, and, of course, permissiveness — don't have much worse effect on a child than a simple spanking by a loving parent ever could.

Spare the Spanking, Spoil the Report Card? - WSJ.com

Saturday, January 23, 2010

What can be learned from Lutherans?

Rev. Paul T. McCain has two posts at Evangel about two things that I very much suspect the Lutherans get right and that the rest of us should consider. They both rest on the Scriptures. The first is theological, concerning the ever vexing issue of predestination:
The other day, my son asked me, “Dad, why are some people saved, and others are not.” I said, “Aha! You are taking Latin, so tell me what this means. You are asking about the crux theologorum.” He thought for a moment and said, “The cross of theologians?” “Correct you are, sir,” I said, “What you are asking is the old question that has proven the downfall of many theologians through the ages, ‘Why some, not others?’ ” And from there we proceeded into an interesting conversation about a feature of Lutheranism that makes both Calvinists “God predestines some to hell, others to heaven”, on the one hand, and Arminians “I have chosen to follow Jesus!” folks, on the other, frustrated with us. Lutheranism, as does Sacred Scripture, simply does not answer the question why some are saved, and not others. ....

Some answer this question by pointing to man’s “free will”–only those are saved who “choose” to be saved. Lutherans reject this answer as unscriptural because according to the Bible even man’s will is “dead” and powerless to “choose” God and his grace in Christ. We are saved not because we “choose” to be saved but because the Holy Spirit works faith in our heart through the Gospel (even faith is a gift!). Others answer this question by pointing to God’s sovereign will: God himself predestines from eternity some to be saved and others to be damned. Lutherans reject this answer as unscriptural because according to the Bible God sincerely desires all to be saved and has predestined no one to damnation.

So how do Lutherans answer this question? The answer is that Lutherans do not try to answer it, because (we believe) the Bible itself does not provide an answer to this question that is comprehensible to human reason. Lutherans affirm, with Scripture, that whoever is saved is saved by God’s grace alone, a grace so sure that it excludes all human “action” and “choice” but rather rests on the foundation of God’s action in Christ and his “choice” (predestination) from before the beginning of time. Lutherans also affirm, with Scripture, that those who are damned are damned not by God’s “choice” but on account of their own human sin and rebellion and unbelief. From a human perspective, there is no “rational” or “logical” way to put these two truths together. Lutherans believe and confess them not because they are “rational” and “logical,” but because this is what we find taught in Scripture. .... [more]
The second entry that interested me is about worship, specifically use of The Church Year as the framework for worhip:
The Christian Church Year is such a blessing. Many people who are new to the Lutheran Church, or other liturgical churches, coming from general evangelical protestantism, are unfamiliar with the ancient custom of observing a series of festivals, also known as “feasts,” and unique times throughout the year, known as “seasons.” in what is known as the “liturgical year.” While the basic structure and words of the core components of the liturgy do not change from Sunday to Sunday, there are changes in other texts, particularly the various readings from Holy Scripture appointed for every Sunday and festival day, that give the various times in the Church Year their unique emphases and nuances. ....

.... Some people think that having a rigid order of every-Sunday readings is too restricting. I must respectfully, but strongly, disagree. I’ve noticed, so often, in congregations that do not follow the Church Year and the appointed readings that there sets in an impoverishment of teaching, it is easy to miss the major events of Christ’s life and the chief doctrines of God’s Word when there is not a thorough presentation of the Scriptures main stories and teachings, as is made possible through the Church Year and its appointed readings. .... [more]
Why are some saved, and not others? » Evangel | A First Things Blog, The Church’s Calendar » Evangel | A First Things Blog

Friday, January 22, 2010

$1.64 million an hour

According to Christianity Today:
Starting on the day after the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, major American charities have received donations at the average rate of $1.64 million per hour.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy yesterday released a report indicating donations of $355 million for the period Jan. 13 through Jan. 21. Do the math and it works out to an average of $1.64 million per hour.

Keep in mind these donations are independent of the US government support and this report excludes international donations. Among Christian groups on the COP list, Catholic Relief Services and World Vision were top recipients, with $19 million and $15 million in gifts, pledges, and cash respectively.
The need is great. Keep it up.

World Vision
Red Cross
Salvation Army
SDB United Relief Fund, SDB Center, PO Box 1678, Janesville WI 53547.

US donations to Haiti average $1.64 million per hour | Liveblog | Christianity Today

January 22, 1973

Today is the anniversary of one of the most shameful decisions of the Supreme Court. From Ed Whelan at NRO:
1973—For the second time in American history, the Supreme Court denies American citizens the authority to protect the basic rights of an entire class of human beings. In Roe v. Wade—the Dred Scott ruling of our age—Justice Blackmun’s majority opinion feigns not to “resolve the [purportedly] difficult question of when life begins,” but in fact rules illegitimate any legislative determination that unborn human beings are deserving of legal protection from abortion. Roe and Doe v. Bolton (decided the same day) impose on all Americans a radical regime of essentially unrestricted abortion throughout pregnancy, all the way (under the predominant reading of Doe) until birth.
In 1973 there were those who believed a Court decision would settle what was, at the time, a growing political battle. They were wrong.

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—January 22 - Ed Whelan - Bench Memos on National Review Online

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Religious freedom

In countries where Christian communities have existed since the time of the Apostles—even for centuries under the rule of Islam—Christians are being persecuted and driven out today. There are those who worry about intolerance in the West while ignoring those places where it actually exists. The necessity for tolerance seemingly applies only to those who believe in it. From "The War Against the Infidels" by Clifford D. May at NRO:
.... In Nigeria this week, Muslim youths set fire to a church, killing more than two dozen Christian worshipers. In Egypt, Coptic Christians have been suffering increased persecution including, this month, a drive-by shooting outside a church in which seven people were murdered. In Pakistan, Christian churches were bombed over Christmas. In Turkey, authorities have been closing Christian churches, monasteries, and schools, and seizing Christian properties. Recently, churches in Malaysia have been attacked, too, provoked by this grievance: Christians inside the churches were referring to God as “Allah.” How dare infidels use the same name for the Almighty as do Muslims!

In response to all this, Western journalists, academics, diplomats, and politicians mainly avert their eyes and hold their tongues. They pretend there are no stories to be written, no social pathologies to be documented, no actions to be taken. They focus instead on Switzerland’s vote against minarets and anything Israel might be doing to prevent terrorists from claiming additional victims.

Many Muslims, no doubt, disapprove of the persecution of non-Muslims. But in most Muslim-majority countries, any Muslim openly opposing the Islamists and their projects risks being branded an apostate. And under the Islamist interpretation of Sharia, Islamic law, apostates deserve death.

Not so long ago, the Broader Middle East was a diverse region. Lebanon had a Christian majority for centuries but that ended around 1990 — the result of years of civil war among the country’s religious and ethnic communities. The Christian population of Turkey has diminished substantially in recent years. Islamists have driven Christians out of Bethlehem and other parts of the West Bank; almost all Christians have fled Gaza since Hamas’s takeover. .... [more]
Jewish communities have long existed in these same places and are subjected to the same persecution.

The War Against the Infidels by Clifford D. May on National Review Online

Monday, January 18, 2010

Doing good work

This is a great day for an Inklings fan — two blogs bring me to two good essays I haven't read for a long time.

Lydia McGrew sends me searching online for a great C.S. Lewis essay from 1959: "Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism," in which he questions the judgment of Bultmann, among others:
.... First then, whatever these men may be as Biblical critics, I distrust them as critics. They seem to me to lack literary judgment, to be imperceptive about the very quality of the texts they are reading. [....]

[Bultmann] "The personality of Jesus has no importance for the kerygma either of Paul or of John ... Indeed the tradition of the earliest Church did not even unconsciously preserve a picture of his personality. Every attempt to reconstruct one remains a play of subjective imagination."

So there is no personality of Our Lord presented in the New Testament. Through what strange process has this learned German gone in order to make himself blind to what all men except him see? What evidence have we that he would recognize a personality if it were there? For it is Bultmann contra mundum. If anything whatever is common to all believers, and even to many unbelievers, it is the sense that in the Gospels they have met a personality. .... [more]
And then, at Justin Taylor's blog, there is a link to an essay by a friend of Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers, "Why Work?".
[....] The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.

Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly – but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that made Heaven and earth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie.

Yet in Her own buildings, in Her own ecclesiastical art and music, in Her hymns and prayers, in Her sermons and in Her little books of devotion, the Church will tolerate or permit a pious intention to excuse so ugly, so pretentious, so tawdry and twaddling, so insincere and insipid, so bad as to shock and horrify any decent draftsman.

And why? Simply because She has lost all sense of the fact that the living and eternal truth is expressed in work only so far as that work is true in itself, to itself, to the standards of its own technique. She has forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred. Forgotten that a building must be good architecture before it can be a good church; that a painting must be well painted before it can be a good sacred picture; that work must be good work before it can call itself God’s work.

Let the Church remember this: that every maker and worker is called to serve God in his profession or trade – not outside it. .... [more]
Lewis on Biblical Criticism: Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism, songlight for dawn: ‘Why Work?’ by Dorothy L. Sayers

"Just remember that death is not the end"

Right Wing Bob likes this version of "Death is Not the End" better than the only one Dylan recorded:
Someone who heard the song from a bootleg tape of those Infidels sessions was the singer Mike Scott of a combo called the Waterboys. He heard a different kind of spirit in the song, and, while performing live on an Irish radio show (The Dave Fanning Show) round about 1986 he and bandmates Steve Wickham and Anthony Thistlethwaite belted it out with some gusto, vigor and a fair bit of vim. .... [more]


Oh the tree of life is growing
Where the spirit never dies
And the bright light of salvation
Shines in dark and empty skies

RightWingBob.com » Death is not the end

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Memorization is not enough

Several of the bloggers I often read have referred to this article by David R. Nienhuis, a professor at a Christian college, who has discovered that many of his students, although coming from evangelical backgrounds, are biblically illiterate. After referring to some of the studies indicating rather shocking deficiencies, and describing some of his own experience in the classroom, he discusses some of the reasons. One of them would be familiar to teachers of any subject — knowing facts is absolutely necessary but not sufficient to provide understanding. Parts of his discussion of Bible memorization:
.... Before I go on, let me be clear that I have a deep respect for the venerable and immensely valuable tradition of memorizing Scripture. Indeed, it is a central component in learning the language of faith. The deliberate, disciplined, prayerful repetition of those texts the church has come to especially value has long been a strategy for inscribing the Word of God directly on the heart and mind of the believer (Jer. 31:31-34). My comments thus far, however, should make it plain that I do not see how a person trained to quote texts out of context can truly be called biblically literate.

I observe two common problems with students who have become "familiar with the Bible" in this way. First, many of them struggle to actually read the text as it is presented to them on the page. Just last week, several of my Bible survey students expressed their surprise and disappointment that "years of church attendance and AWANA Bible memory competitions" never trained them to engage the actual text of the Bible. They weren't trained to be readers; they were trained to be quoters. One in particular noted that all these years she had relied on someone else to tell her what snippets of the Bible were significant enough for her to know. ....

Second, this method leads students to uncritically assume that doctrinal reflection is exhausted by the capacity to quote a much-loved proof-text. In doing this they suppose not only that the passage they are quoting is entirely perspicuous as it stands (in complete isolation from its literary and historical context), but also that the cited text is capable of performing as a summary of the entire biblical witness on the matter at hand. .... Those of my students who are quick to quote Ephesians 2:8-9 ("For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast") are sometimes shocked to read the subsequent verse Ephesians 2:10 ("For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life"). Those who have memorized Romans 10:9 ("If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved") are often horrified to read Jesus' words in Matthew 7:21 ("Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven"). In fact it requires both a far more substantive grasp of Scripture and a capacity for careful doctrinal reflection to know how to negotiate the rich plenitude of the biblical witness. Unfortunately my students' encounter with the Bible's depth and breadth often leaves those who have been raised to quote verses feeling very insecure in their faith. .... [more]
The Problem of Evangelical Biblical Illiteracy: A View from the Classroom

Saturday, January 16, 2010

"Being reformed, I’ve never put my hands in the air for any reason"

Ted Kluck has been commissioned by Moody Press to write a book "part of which involves me listening to only Christian music for a whole year" including attending only Christian rock concerts. As someone who has absolutely no experience attending such concerts [i.e., the Christian variety], I found his account of one very interesting. Although in different environments, this sentence struck me as describing something I had experienced:
Growing up evangelical taught me one thing: If there’s a tinkling piano in the background, there’s going to be some sort of heartstring-pulling talk, followed immediately by an appeal for money and/or an appeal to come up front and get saved.
Kluck's experience at the concert.

Chapter () Excerpt, Tentatively Titled “I Want to Go Home” or “Do You Guys See What You’re Doing to the Blinds?”

"Being hurt is easier than being right"

"We don’t discuss ideas or debate arguments, we try to figure out who is most offended," writes Kevin DeYoung in "Why Are We So Offended All the Time?":
...[B]eing hurt is easier than being right. To prove you’re offended you just have to rustle up moral indignation and tell the world about it. To prove you’re right you actually have to make arguments and use logic and marshal evidence. Why debate theology or politics or economics if you can win your audience by making the other guys look like meanies?

There’s nothing like being offended to nail your opponent. .... No one wants to come off as a free-wheeling dealer of pain. As a result, we end up held hostage by the possible taking of offense. It’s rarely asked whether such offense is warranted or whether it even matters. No, if there is offense, there must be an offender. And offenders are always wrong.

So we demand apologies. Sometimes, no doubt, because a genuine sin has been committed. But often we demand apologies just because we can. It’s a way to shame those with whom we disagree. It forces them to admit failure or keep looking like a weasel. The weakest offense-taker can now bully multitudes of intelligent men and women through the emotional manipulation that goes with chronic offendedness. .... [more]
Why Are We So Offended All the Time? » Evangel | A First Things Blog

Seeing through rather than looking at

Perhaps one reason for the absence of genuine debate among those who disagree about fundamental principles is simply an unwillingness to believe that there is such a thing as being right or wrong. Skepticism is replaced by cynicism. Michael Roth writes about the effect of "critical thinking" in humanities education and on society:
.... A common way to show that one has sharpened one's critical thinking is to display an ability to see through or undermine statements made by (or beliefs held by) others. Thus, our best students are really good at one aspect of critical thinking­—being critical. For many students today, being smart means being critical. ....

The skill at unmasking error, or simple intellectual one-upmanship, is not completely without value, but we should be wary of creating a class of self-satisfied debunkers or, to use a currently fashionable word on campuses, people who like to "trouble" ideas. In overdeveloping the capacity to show how texts, institutions, or people fail to accomplish what they set out to do, we may be depriving students of the capacity to learn as much as possible from what they study. In a humanities culture in which being smart often means being a critical unmasker, our students may become too good at showing how things don't make sense. ....

.... We no longer have the courage of our lack of conviction. .... To declare that one wanted to disprove a view would show too much faith in the ability to tell truth from falsehood. And to declare that one was receptive to learning from someone else's view would show too much openness to being persuaded by an idea that might soon be deconstructed (or simply mocked).

.... The confident refusal to be affected by those with whom we disagree seems to have infected much of our cultural life: from politics to the press, from siloed academic programs (no matter how multidisciplinary) to warring public intellectuals. .... [more]
Beyond Critical Thinking - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Thursday, January 14, 2010

If you can't tip, buy frozen

Some years ago one of my student teachers had earned part of his living during his education by delivering pizza — a not very well paid and sometimes dangerous occupation. He educated me about tipping. This is good advice: via Already and Not Yet, what to tip the pizza guy.

Protect and serve

A mother comes to terms with one of the ways boys [and men] tend to be different in "The Killer Instinct" by Sally Thomas:
.... What I think I have come to understand about boys is that a desire to commit violence is not the same thing as a desire to commit evil. It’s a mistake for parents to presume that a fascination with the idea of blowing something away is, in itself, a disgusting habit, like nose-picking, that can and should be eradicated. The problem is not that the boy’s hand itches for a sword. The problem lies in not telling him what they are for, that they are for something—the sword and the itch alike. If I had told my aggressive little son not, “Be gentle,” but, rather, “Protect your sister,” I might, I think, have had the right end of the stick.

Several years ago, two boys in our parish, faced with a school assignment to form a “good-citizenship club,” surprised their mother by deciding to start a Eucharistic-adoration society. ....

If it seems a little unlikely, this vision of twenty teen and preteen boys choosing to spend hours of their time kneeling silently in church, let me divulge two secrets. The first is the name of the club: the Holy Crusaders. They chose, deliberately, a title that evokes knighthood, even war. No pastel, goody-two-shoes club, this. ....

These Holy Crusaders are, after all, ordinary boys—sweaty and goofy and physical. For them to take the Cross—to take it seriously—requires something like a sword. For them to take the sword, knowing what it’s for, requires the Cross. Heaven forbid, we always say, that our boys should have to go to war. Still, what even a symbolic knighthood accomplishes is the recognition that a boy’s natural drive to stab and shoot and smash can be shaped, in his imagination, to the image of sacrifice, of laying down his life for his friends. In the meantime, this is the key to what brings these boys to church. It’s not their mothers’ church or their sisters’ church; it is theirs, to serve and defend. .... [more]
The Killer Instinct | First Things

The cobbler should stick to his last

David B. Hart, in "The Dawkins Evolution", commends the most recent book by the notorious enemy of theism, Richard Dawkins, because this time he sticks to what he knows and explains it well:
The first lesson to be learned from Richard Dawkins’ new book is a purely practical maxim: One should always do what one does best, while scrupulously avoiding those tasks for which neither nature nor tuition has equipped one. This is not, obviously, what one could call a moral counsel; it is merely a counsel of prudence. Another way of saying it would be, try not to make a fool of yourself. ....

With The Greatest Show on Earth, Dawkins has returned to what he does best. He makes occasional mention of subjects he ought not to touch on—Plato, for instance, or the “great chain of being,” or God—with predictable imprecision; but these are only momentary deviations. The purpose of the book is simply to lay out, as clearly as possible, the evidence for the truth of special evolution. It recently occurred to him, he says, that over the years he has written about evolutionary theory but never taken the time to provide his reasons for believing in it for those who have not had the benefit of his training. And this is what he does here, very well, proceeding by discrete steps: the observable plasticity of plant and animal species, the verifiability of macro-evolution, the geological record of the earth’s age, the fossil evidence (including the wealth of fossil remains of intermediate special forms), observable and experimental mutation, morphology, genetics, and so forth. In short, The Greatest Show on Earth is an ideal prĂ©cis of the evolutionary sciences and the current state of evolutionary theory that can be recommended for the convinced and the unconvinced alike. .... [more]
The Dawkins Evolution | First Things

Haiti

The Desiring God blog suggests:
If you're looking for an organization to channel your money through for Haiti—and you probably should be—here are some options.

1. Compassion International
2. Feed My Starving Children
3. Food for the Hungry
4. World Vision
5. World Relief
6. Samaritan's Purse
7. Love a Child
8. Northwest Haiti Christian Mission
9. Compassion Weavers
10. Mennonite Central Committee
11. Water Missions International
Julia Duin at the Washington Times reacts to Pat Robertson:
Mr. Robertson also said that, because of a pact with the devil the republic's founders supposedly made in 1791, Haiti has been cursed ever since. ....

Seems to me it's dangerous to postulate why any disaster happens. Even Jesus, when asked by his disciples about a tower that collapsed and killed 18 people, did not give a reason for the tragedy. Nor did God explain things to Job.
Albert Mohler on Twitter:
Just talked on radio about Pat Robertson's embarrassing comments about Haiti. Theological arrogance matched to ignorance.
About Pat Robertson and Haiti - Belief Blog - Washington Times

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The one book that can change the world

I thoroughly enjoy re-watching Road Warrior and would probably have sought out this film just because its subject involves a loner in peril from the forces of evil in a post-apocalyptic world. Also it stars Denzel Washington. I'm not certain giving it explicit religious significance will make it easier to enjoy - my hypercritical inclinations may be triggered.


Carl Kozlowski at Big Hollywood reviews "The Book of Eli":
.... Eli is carrying a copy of the last Bible on the planet, since all other religious texts – including Torahs and Korans – were rounded up and destroyed 30 years before after religious strife was believed to have caused a devastating global nuclear war. Eli believes he’s heard the voice of God telling him to bring the Bible to an unspecified place in the West, but a ruthless despot named Carnegie (Gary Oldman) knows that if he gets his hands on the precious book, he can distort its teachings and have total control over the minds and spirits of the people who live in his empire of revived, Old West-style towns.

With Eli joined by Samara...the race is on between the duo and the tyrant’s small army of henchmen and weapons to maintain final control over mankind’s destiny. And that means Washington will slice, dice, sever or shoot anyone who gets in his way. ....

The Book of Eli wears its heart on its sleeve from beginning to end, clearly crediting the Bible as the one book above all that can change the world. And while Oldman’s Carnegie has plenty of fun as the film’s face of evil, the film as a whole never strays from its vision of Eli and Samara as unshakably right and Oldman as unmistakably wrong..... [more]
Big Hollywood » Blog Archive » REVIEW: ‘Book of Eli’ Finds Perfect Mix of Action, Religion

Moral responsibility

The Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco attempts to explain to his flock, including the Speaker of the House, that "human freedom does not legitimate bad moral choices":
.... As the parable of the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, makes so beautifully clear, God did not want humanity to be mere automatons, but to have the dignity of freedom, even recognizing that with that freedom comes the cost of many evil choices.

However, human freedom does not legitimate bad moral choices, nor does it justify a stance that all moral choices are good if they are free: “The exercise of freedom does not imply a right to say or do everything.” (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1740) Christian belief in human freedom recognizes that we are called but not compelled by God to choose constantly the values of the Gospel—faith, hope, love, mercy, justice, forgiveness, integrity and compassion.

It is entirely incompatible with Catholic teaching to conclude that our freedom of will justifies choices that are radically contrary to the Gospel—racism, infidelity, abortion, theft. Freedom of will is the capacity to act with moral responsibility; it is not the ability to determine arbitrarily what constitutes moral right. ....
Thanks to Insight Scoop for the reference.

Catholic San Francisco

Q.E.D.

Mollie Hemingway, at GetReligion, quotes Pope Benedict:
Sadly, in certain countries, mainly in the West, one increasingly encounters in political and cultural circles, as well in the media, scarce respect and at times hostility, if not scorn, directed towards religion and towards Christianity in particular.
and then comments on a Washington Post “On Faith” panel that, in the context of the Brit Hume controversy, was asked "Is there widespread media bias against Christianity? Against evangelicals such as Hume and Palin? Against public figures who speak openly and directly about their faith? Against people who believe as you do?" Her summary of the responses:
And a quick look at the panelist answers is interesting. Rabbi Brad Hirschfield says bias against Christianity is real, but also understandable. Secular Coalition for America President Herb Silverman says the only bias on display against Brit Hume was against pomposity. Gustav Niebuhr wonders what’s the big deal since Jesus said Christians would be persecuted for their beliefs. C. Welton Gaddy says the notion is silly. Atheist apologist Daniel Dennett says it’s about time that the religious were under more intense scrutiny by the media. Professor of Islamic Studies John Esposito says religious bias begins at Fox News. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite says that Palin and Hume are merely reaping what they sowed. Rabbi Jack Moline says that Hume had no integrity. Comparative religions professor Matthew N. Schmalz says it’s Hume who is biased against pluralism. And author and reporter Susan Jacoby says the idea is ludicrous (and that Michael Gerson’s piece in the Post really angered her).

Only one of the panelists, Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard Muow, agrees that the media is biased against Christians.

So for those keeping score at home, that’s 10 Washington Post/Newsweek “On Faith” panelists saying that the Pope and Brit Hume are crazypants or get what they deserve and one panelist saying he thinks that they have a point.

Maybe this was just a particularly clever experiment from the minds of Meacham and Quinn to prove the point? .... [more]

Saving Christianity from itself

The new issue of the 9Marks ejournal is concerned with "The New Evangelical Liberalism" [a pdf can be downloaded here]. The articles are about the inroads of theological — not political — liberalism. I haven't read all of them, but those I have read contain some good cautionary words. For instance,
From "How to Become a Liberal Without Attending Harvard Divinity School" by Michael Lawrence:
.... The pastors I want to talk to are pastors like me. .... And I'm not a rock star evangelist who's built a mega-church by walking the fine edge between relevance and faithfulness, always in danger of falling off that edge into a soft liberalism that loves Jesus, but mainly for what he can do for me, rather than for who he is. ....

A good and faithful pastor must love the sheep. That's the model Jesus set for us (John 10). But in fact, the New Testament never tells us as pastors to "love the sheep." Instead we're told to feed the sheep (John 21:15-17), to guard the sheep (Acts 20:28), and to set an example for the sheep (1 Pet 5:3).

But let's face it: the sheep don't always like the meals we've prepared for them; they sometimes chafe under the safeguards we put in place for them; they're not always impressed with the example we set for them. And it's at this point that our own wrongly ordered love for the sheep can lead us astray.

On the one hand, we can be so afraid of losing the love and affection of our sheep that we hold back from saying hard but true things that need to be said. This isn't typically the young pastor's failing, I think, so much as the well-established pastor's temptation. ....
And from Albert Mohler in "Air Conditioning Hell: How Liberalism Happens":
Theological liberals do not intend to destroy Christianity, but to save it. As a matter of fact, theological liberalism is motivated by what might be described as an apologetic motivation. The pattern of theological liberalism is all too clear. Theological liberals are absolutely certain that Christianity must be saved…from itself. ....

Interestingly, the doctrine of hell serves very well as a test case for the slide into theological liberalism. The pattern of this slide looks something like this.

First, a doctrine simply falls from mention. Over time, it is simply never discussed or presented from the pulpit. Most congregants do not even miss the mention of the doctrine. ....

Second, a doctrine is revised and retained in reduced form. ....

Third, a doctrine is subjected to a form of ridicule. ....

Fourth, a doctrine is reformulated in order to remove its intellectual and moral offensiveness. ....
And much more.

January/February 2010 9Marks eJournal - 9Marks

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Eden before the Fall?

The only thing I really liked about James Cameron's Titanic was the special effects — the recreation of the ship itself and then the encounter with an iceberg and its consequences. I had read A Night to Remember long before and the romantic fantasy Cameron created simply wasn't as good as the real story. I haven't been tempted to seek out the film again. Cameron's most recent film, Avatar, doesn't recreate an historical event but otherwise I gather that it has similar virtues and defects — even more vastly spectacular special effects but a very thin, utterly predictable plot. I may see it someday — I like well-done special effects and it apparently provides a well-imagined alternative world. The film has certainly had a powerful effect on many of its viewers.
James Cameron's completely immersive spectacle "Avatar" may have been a little too real for some fans who say they have experienced depression and suicidal thoughts after seeing the film because they long to enjoy the beauty of the alien world Pandora.

On the fan forum site "Avatar Forums," a topic thread entitled "Ways to cope with the depression of the dream of Pandora being intangible," has received more than 1,000 posts from people experiencing depression and fans trying to help them cope. ....

A post by a user called Elequin expresses an almost obsessive relationship with the film.

"That's all I have been doing as of late, searching the Internet for more info about 'Avatar.' I guess that helps. It's so hard I can't force myself to think that it's just a movie, and to get over it, that living like the Na'vi will never happen. I think I need a rebound movie," Elequin posted.

A user named Mike wrote on the fan Web site "Naviblue" that he contemplated suicide after seeing the movie.

"Ever since I went to see 'Avatar' I have been depressed. Watching the wonderful world of Pandora and all the Na'vi made me want to be one of them. I can't stop thinking about all the things that happened in the film and all of the tears and shivers I got from it," Mike posted. "I even contemplate suicide thinking that if I do it I will be rebirthed in a world similar to Pandora and the everything is the same as in 'Avatar.' "

Other fans have expressed feelings of disgust with the human race and disengagement with reality. ....

Ivar Hill posts to the "Avatar" forum page under the name Eltu. He wrote about his post-"Avatar" depression after he first saw the film earlier this month.

"When I woke up this morning after watching Avatar for the first time yesterday, the world seemed ... gray. It was like my whole life, everything I've done and worked for, lost its meaning," Hill wrote on the forum. "It just seems so ... meaningless. I still don't really see any reason to keep ... doing things at all. I live in a dying world." ....
I remember, soon after reading The Lord of the Rings the first or second time, wishing that I could dream being there, but that fantasy land was much more moored to this earth and no reader could imagine it a perfect, harmonious place.

Matthew J. Milliner, writing at Public Discourse, thinks the film has this kind of appeal because it represents an unfallen world:
.... The blue people do it better. Harmony with nature, respect for food sources, sensitivity to the earth, liturgical vitality, rites of passage, lifelong marriage commitments, horse whispering—all the key ingredients to a harmonious agrarian society. How could one not be attracted to the ideals so beautifully presented in this film? The problem is, Avatar is not describing how the world might be if Wendell Berry were president; it’s describing a world without a Fall.

It is odd that amidst the innumerable citations the reviewers have noticed in the unoriginal script of Avatar, there has been (to my knowledge) no mention of C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, which ushered the Christian imagination into space long before the emergence of Star Wars or Star Trek. Lewis paints a picture of space—better termed the heavens—as an “empyrean ocean of radiance.” A dazzling variety of planets singing to their Creator, one of which—our own—is tempted by “The Bent One,” in turn losing this music to become “The Silent Planet.” When visitors from our Silent Planet visit planets that have not experienced a similar rebellion, the scenario is very much like the earthlings visiting Pandora in Avatar. Fallen humans, in comparison to the inhabitants of Lewis’ distant, unfallen planets, are inevitably corrupted. ....

...[O]ne of the lessons of Lewis’ Space Trilogy is that the pleasures of unfallen worlds are impossible for a fallen race (humans) to handle. Seen not only through 3-D glasses, but through the lens of Lewis’ Space Trilogy, Avatar emerges not as a defense of Pantheism, an anti-American screed or as a vision of ideals realizable on this planet: Instead, it’s a depiction of Eden.
Audiences experience 'Avatar' blues - CNN.com, Avatar and its Conservative Critics « Public Discourse

Monday, January 11, 2010

We are not worthy

Stephen T. Asma believes environmentalism has become a substitute religion for the non-religious. And while I obviously don't accept much of what he [or Nietzsche, or Freud] attributes to Christian believers, much of what he says about radical environmentalism rings true. From his essay, "Green Guilt" at The Chronicle Review:
.... Not too long ago, at a party, a friend confessed in a group conversation that he didn't really recycle. It was as if his casual comment had sucked the air out of the room—I think the CD player even skipped. He suddenly became a pariah. A heretic had been detected among the orthodox flock. During the indignant tongue-lashing that followed, people's faces twisted with moral outrage.

Many people who feel passionate about saving the planet justify their intense feelings by pointing to the seriousness of the problem and the high stakes involved. No doubt they are right about the seriousness. There are indeed environmental challenges, and steps must be taken to ameliorate them. But there is another way to understand the unique passion surrounding our need to go green. ....

Instead of religious sins plaguing our conscience, we now have the transgressions of leaving the water running, leaving the lights on, failing to recycle, and using plastic grocery bags instead of paper. In addition, the righteous pleasures of being more orthodox than your neighbor (in this case being more green) can still be had—the new heresies include failure to compost, or refusal to go organic. Vitriol that used to be reserved for Satan can now be discharged against evil corporate chief executives and drivers of gas-guzzling vehicles. Apocalyptic fear-mongering previously took the shape of repent or burn in hell, but now it is recycle or burn in the ozone hole. In fact, it is interesting the way environmentalism takes on the apocalyptic aspects of the traditional religious narrative. The idea that the end is nigh is quite central to traditional Christianity—it is a jolting wake-up call to get on the righteous path. And we find many environmentalists in a similarly earnest panic about climate change and global warming. There are also high priests of the new religion, with Al Gore ("the Goracle") playing an especially prophetic role. .... [more]
Given the intensity of the new religion, it is perhaps important to note that I do re-cycle and I do believe we have a responsibility to be good stewards of God's Creation.

Green Guilt - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Religious liberty in a liberal democracy

The dispute over Brit Hume's recommendation to Tiger Woods has inspired some good commentary about the nature of religious liberty in our democracy. Yesterday, it was Ross Douthat in The New York Times:
Liberal democracy offers religious believers a bargain. Accept, as a price of citizenship, that you may never impose your convictions on your neighbor, or use state power to compel belief. In return, you will be free to practice your own faith as you see fit — and free, as well, to compete with other believers (and nonbelievers) in the marketplace of ideas.

That’s the theory. In practice, the admirable principle that nobody should be persecuted for their beliefs often blurs into the more illiberal idea that nobody should ever publicly criticize another religion. Or champion one’s own faith as an alternative. Or say anything whatsoever about religion, outside the privacy of church, synagogue or home. ....

This doesn’t mean that we need to welcome real bigotry into our public discourse. But what Hume said wasn’t bigoted: Indeed, his claim about the difference between Buddhism and Christianity was perfectly defensible. Christians believe in a personal God who forgives sins. Buddhists, as a rule, do not. And it’s at least plausible that Tiger Woods might welcome the possibility that there’s Someone out there capable of forgiving him, even if Elin Nordegren and his corporate sponsors never do.

Or maybe not. For many people — Woods perhaps included — the fact that Buddhism promotes an ethical life without recourse to Christian concepts like the Fall of Man, divine judgment and damnation is precisely what makes it so appealing. The knee-jerk outrage that greeted Hume’s remarks buried intelligent responses from Buddhists, who made arguments along these lines — explaining their faith, contrasting it with Christianity, and describing how a lost soul like Woods might use Buddhist concepts to climb from darkness into light.

When liberal democracy was forged, in the wake of Western Europe’s religious wars, this sort of peaceful theological debate is exactly what it promised to deliver. And the differences between religions are worth debating. Theology has consequences: It shapes lives, families, nations, cultures, wars; it can change people, save them from themselves, and sometimes warp or even destroy them.

If we tiptoe politely around this reality, then we betray every teacher, guru and philosopher — including Jesus of Nazareth and the Buddha both — who ever sought to resolve the most human of all problems: How then should we live? .... [more]
Op-Ed Columnist - Let’s Talk About Faith - NYTimes.com