Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Ain't No Grave"

Sean Curnyn reviews for First Things the most recently released of Johnny Cash's "American Recordings," American VI: Ain't No Grave:
As goes Scripture, so goes country music: The great lines are reused forever. Just listen to the final song that Johnny Cash composed, titled “I Corinthians 15:55,” and the refrain, which goes like this:
Oh death, where is thy sting?
Oh grave, where is thy victory?
Oh life, you are a shining path
And hope springs eternal just over the rise
When I see my Redeemer beckoning me
The first two lines are the ones cited in the title, from St. Paul, but Paul in his turn was quoting Hosea 13:14 in that particular passage. Cash would have known well that he was invoking both the Old and New Testaments there, and the resonance of a promise that doesn’t fade. ....
That song by itself, Curnyn says, makes the album worth buying, even though some other tracks are weaker. He concludes the review:
I only recently saw the 1972 film that Johnny and June made called The Gospel Road, a story of Jesus Christ utilizing both music and actors. To my chagrin, I found it almost unwatchable; to me (even as a believer) it was excessively didactic and awkward. But no such weaknesses accompany the way Cash puts over a song of faith, whether “Ain’t No Grave” here or his rollicking version of “The Old Account” from back in 1959. His sound has always been that of a man aching for his Redeemer, desperately in need of that redemption, and at the same time filled with joy at the softest touch from above, already received. And there surely ain’t no grave gonna hold his body down. [more]
Sean Curnyn is the blogger at RightWingBob.com, one of my favorite blogs, combining as it does my religious, political and musical enthusiasms.

Johnny Cash: One More Time | First Things

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"God's law rather than man's"

I have previously posted information about Seventh Day Baptist involvement in the abolitionist movement before the Civil War. Another instance is reported in the Olean Times Herald: "Friendship farmer was agent on Underground Railroad," by Douglas Roorbach. The farmer was a man named Ethan Lanphear.
Mr. Lanphear’s parents, Samuel and Hannah Lanphear, moved from Rhode Island to Alfred, N.Y., when young Ethan was just two years old. He had two brothers and three sisters, all raised by their parents to live upright, moral lives in accordance with the Bible.

Just before he turned 20, Ethan took over the operation of a grist mill that his father had built and five years later he married Lois Greenman, a local schoolteacher.
Frederick Douglass
In 1844 the couple moved to Nile, at the time an enclave of Seventh Day Baptists two miles south of Friendship. At his doctor’s urging, Mr. Lanphear quit the mill and became a farmer, a trade at which he was quite successful for at least two decades.

During those years, Mr. Lanphear became active in politics as a Republican and an early supporter of Abraham Lincoln. He also supported the abolitionist movement, especially after 1850.

That was the year Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law, requiring that runaway slaves be returned to their previous owners and making it a federal offense to harbor them. Like many others, Mr. Lanphear took part in what would become our nation’s first major act of civil disobedience.

“This (the Fugitive Slave Act) was too much for Christian men to bear,” he wrote years later, “and they revolted on the ground that it was their duty to obey God’s law rather than man’s.” ....
It was in 1851 that Frederick Douglass came to Allegheny County, spoke in several Seventh Day Baptist churches, and probably met Mr. Lanphear:
Ethan Lanphear
The next day Mr. Douglass went on to Friendship, speaking “to a large and attentive audience,” Mr. Cole wrote, which was “alive with interest, frank, intelligent,” Mr. Douglass put in his report.

Friendship Town Historian Mark Voorheis surmises that, given Mr. Lanphear’s abolitionist activities, he was likely to have been in the audience that day — Oct. 1, 1851 — and may well have met Mr. Douglass.

Perhaps it was Mr. Lanphear that convinced Mr. Douglass to add a lecture at Nile, where Mr. Lanphear was prominent in the Seventh Day Baptist community. Mr. Douglass spoke there that evening, in the chapel, “an exceedingly neat little building … filled with a quiet and tidy-looking congregation,” he wrote. ....

...Mr. Douglass spoke at Alfred Center, perhaps, again, at the behest of Mr. Lanphear. The Alfred stop had not been on the original tour agenda. Mr. Lanphear had lived in Alfred with his parents, and still had many ties there, including with Rev. Hull, the Seventh Day Baptist minister who entertained Mr. Douglass at his home.

It turned out to be the largest meeting of the series, Mr. Douglass wrote. “There is here a flourishing Seminary … [which] has students to the number of 200, about all of whom attended my meeting … the school being adjourned for the purpose.”

Mr. Douglass was so popular he held a second meeting in Alfred that evening, “Where again I had a full house,” he wrote. ....

Mark Voorheis, historian in the town of Friendship, notes that although there is no record of Mr. Lanphear and Mr. Douglass meeting at the time, the two did become friends and remained close for the rest of their lives.

In their later years, after the Civil War and after the Lanphears had moved to Plainfield, N.J., Mr. Douglass was a regular guest at their home.

Whether or not it was Mr. Douglass who did so, it is clear that Mr. Lanphear was encouraged to continue his activities with the Underground Railroad.

“I was an early abolitionist when it was an unpopular position to take, and my home was a resting-place for many a poor slave that was endeavoring to find freedom,” Mr. Lanphear wrote in his book.
The three part series in the Olean Times Herald: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Friendship farmer was agent on Underground Railroad

Trinity?

Some students at a university founded by Presbyterians object to the vestigial remnents of Christian influence still present. James Taranto:
"A group of students at Trinity University is lobbying trustees to drop a reference to 'Our Lord' on their diplomas, arguing it does not respect the diversity of religions on campus," reports the San Antonio Express-News:
"A diploma is a very personal item, and people want to proudly display it in their offices and homes," said Sidra Qureshi, president of Trinity Diversity Connection. "By having the phrase 'In the Year of Our Lord,' it is directly referencing Jesus Christ, and not everyone believes in Jesus Christ."

Qureshi, who is Muslim, has led the charge to tweak the wording, winning support from student government and a campus commencement committee. Trustees are expected to consider the students' request at a May board meeting. . . .

The debate started last year when Isaac Medina, a Muslim convert from Guadalajara, Mexico, noticed the wording while looking at pre-made diploma frames in the Trinity bookstore. When Medina applied to Trinity, university staff told him it wasn't a religious institution and that it maintained only a historical bond to the Presbyterian Church.

So the godly reference "came as a big surprise," said Medina, who graduated in December. "I felt I was a victim of a bait and switch."
Whatever you do, don't tell Qureshi and Medina what "Trinity" means!
And the Latin motto on that seal on the diploma might be a problem, too. And what is that book? And then there's the name of the city...

Birth of a Notion - WSJ.com

Self-esteem is self-absorption without self-examination

Theodore Dalrymple on "Self-Esteem vs. Self-Respect":
With the coyness of someone revealing a bizarre sexual taste, my patients would often say to me, "Doctor, I think I'm suffering from low self-esteem." This, they believed, was at the root of their problem, whatever it was, for there is hardly any undesirable behavior or experience that has not been attributed, in the press and on the air, in books and in private conversations, to low self-esteem, from eating too much to mass murder.

Self-esteem is, of course, a term in the modern lexicon of psychobabble, and psychobabble is itself the verbal expression of self-absorption without self-examination. The former is a pleasurable vice, the latter a painful discipline. An accomplished psychobabbler can talk for hours about himself without revealing anything. ....

When people speak of their low self-esteem, they imply two things: first, that it is a physiological fact, rather like low hemoglobin, and second, that they have a right to more of it. What they seek, if you like, is a transfusion of self-esteem, given (curiously enough) by others; and once they have it, the quality of their lives will improve as the night succeeds the day. For the record, I never had a patient who complained of having too much self-esteem, and who therefore asked for a reduction. Self-esteem, it appears, is like money or health: you can't have too much of it. ....

The problem with low self-esteem is not self-dislike, as is often claimed, but self-absorption. However, it does not follow from this that high self-esteem is not a genuine problem. One has only to go into a prison, or at least a prison of the kind in which I used to work, to see the most revoltingly high self-esteem among a group of people (the young thugs) who had brought nothing but misery to those around them, largely because they conceived of themselves as so important that they could do no wrong. For them, their whim was law, which was precisely as it should be considering who they were in their own estimate. It need hardly be said that this degree of self-esteem is certainly not confined to young thugs. Most of us probably suffer from it episodically, as any waiter in any restaurant would be able to tell us.

In short, self-esteem is but a division of self-importance, which is seldom an attractive quality. That person is best who never thinks of his own importance: to think about it, even, is to be lost to morality. Self-respect is another quality entirely. Where self-esteem is entirely egotistical, requiring that the world should pay court to oneself whatever oneself happens to be like or do, and demands nothing of the person who wants it, self-respect is a social virtue, a discipline, that requires an awareness of and sensitivity to the feelings of others. It requires an ability and willingness to put oneself in someone else's place; it requires dignity and fortitude, and not always taking the line of least resistance. ....

Self-respect requires fortitude, one of the cardinal virtues; self-esteem encourages emotional incontinence that, while not actually itself a cardinal sin, is certainly a vice, and a very unattractive one. Self-respect and self-esteem are as different as depth and shallowness. .... [more]

Blood and gore

I have an early memory of sitting in the car with the door open while my father and our pastor stood near me talking. The only thing I remember of the conversation was the pastor saying that he didn't want any of those gory hymns in our church. One of the most famous "bloody" hymns was written by the great English poet, William Cowper, "There is a Fountain Filled With Blood," a hymn we can't use in my church because of the images it arouses for one member. Russell Moore, yesterday, asked "Is Your Church Losing Blood?:
American Christianity is far less bloody than it used to be.

Songs like “Power in the Blood” or “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood” or “Are You Washed in the Blood?” are still sung in some places, but fewer and fewer, and there aren’t many newer songs or praise choruses so focused on blood. The Cross, yes; redemption, yes; but blood, rarely. We’re eager to speak of life, but hesitant to speak of blood.

And this is not only a Protestant phenomenon. Roman Catholics—centered as they are on the Eucharist—often seem to go out of their way to speak of the “real presence” of Jesus in the elements, without going so far as to mention that this presence is believed to be that of his body and blood, as well as soul and divinity. Even Catholic communion hymns, I’m told, prefer terms like “the Cup” to “the Blood.”

The eclipse of blood in American Christianity has quite a bit to do, I suspect, with American prosperity. .... [more]
Today, he explains "Why Blood Shocks.

Moore to the Point by Russell D. Moore

Monday, March 29, 2010

But, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try

Stephen Hebert, writing at Withering Fig, has been thinking about "What’s Wrong with Systematic Theology" and particularly some presentations of it. Perhaps there is a reason revelation comes to us through a collection of disparate documents rather than the words of a single prophet or a logically organized manifesto. From Withering Fig:
.... To me, what is most interesting and compelling about Christianity are the paradoxes. For example, Jesus Christ himself represents the most incredible paradox: God and Man in one. Serious reflection on this idea requires pages and pages and pages of thought to work out.

Another example of a paradox is systematic theology itself. Here we have a human attempting to systematize, categorize, and make easily referenced that which defies and even denies systematization. As Paul says in 1 Cor 13:12: “For now we see in a mirror dimly…” Sure, we understand some attributes of God. We can offer some kind of mental assent to God’s infinitude and the paradoxes inherent within (e.g., love and justice | eternal and temporal | etc.). But, at the end of the day, we only have a faint impression of his fullness. The best Christian thinkers are like Monet in his later periods, stricken with cataracts that alter his perception of color — we are painting a half-blind impression of the fullness of God.

So what’s wrong with systematic theology?

Infinitude defies finite system.

But, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try…
But as we try, a certain amount of humility is in order.

What’s Wrong with Systematic Theology. | Withering Fig

"It's just what it is."

In an article, "Christian faith: Calvinism is back" in The Christian Science Monitor, Josh Burek describes the ministry of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, the church pastored by Mark Dever in Washington, D.C.  Much of what he describes is appealing even to those of us disinclined to call ourselves Calvinists:
.... "A lot of people think religion is something you piece together [from] ideas you think are sweet and that you personally find beneficial," says Mr. Dever. "No. It's like a doctor's report.... It's an objective reality. It's just what is."

More broadly, the Calvinist revival reflects an effort to recast the foundation of faith itself. From conservative evangelical churches to liberal new-age groups, the message of much modern teaching is man's need for betterment. Not New Calvinism; its star is God's need for glory. And the gravity of His will is great: It can be denied, but not defied. ....

As morning light filters into a fourth-floor room on a Sunday, students huddle on tiered seats, listening to a lecture on substitutionary atonement. The teacher poses a tough question, but a hand shoots into the air, eager to answer with a recitation of the week's memory verse from I Peter 3:18: "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God."

Scholars and seminarians call this systematic theology. Kindergartners at CHBC just call it Sunday school. ....

Membership at CHBC isn't for the faint of holy. Classes on theology and Christian history are required before joining. At the "Lord's Supper" once a month, members stand and recite an oath that ties them to one another. In addition to Sunday worship and Wednesday night Bible study, they spend hours each week in small-group study or one-on-one "discipling." They say those sessions – a time for confessions, encouragement, and prayer – are the most challenging and rewarding feature of church life. ....

Many members were drawn to CHBC precisely because they had yearned to be "convicted of their sin" again and grown frustrated with "watered-down preaching." School vice principal Jessica Sandle says she came after the pastor at her former church read a book on growth and became consumed with filling pews. "So he stopped talking about sin, and why we need God," she says. .... [more]
Christian faith: Calvinism is back / The Christian Science Monitor - CSMonitor.com

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bacon is good for you



Woody Allen seems to have been only half right about dietary science. But who knows, hot fudge may turn out to be a health food too. "The misguided war on fat may be making us sicker":
.... Ultimately, saturated fat—named because it contains no double bonds, so all of its carbon atoms are saturated with hydrogen atoms—may be neutral for the heart. Meanwhile, some mono-unsaturated fats (which have one double-bond and are found in many nuts) and some poly-unsaturated fats (which have multiple double bonds and are found in fatty fish) could be good for the heart. For instance, a meta-analysis published in PLoS Medicine this month reports that the substitution of polyunsaturated fat for saturated fat can cut heart disease risk.

If saturated fat doesn't adversely affect cardiovascular health, what does? Sorry, Nabisco: We should be giving a closer look to foods with a high glycemic index—a measure that reflects a food's influence on blood sugar levels, based on how quickly it is digested and absorbed. Typically, that means carbohydrates like cereal, bread, chips, and cookies. ....

...[I]t seems that processed carbohydrates are America's most deserving nutritional enemy. And our misguided war against fat has just made us more addicted to them, because when people cut out fat, they typically turn to "diet" foods high in carbs—SnackWells, Baked Lays, even low-fat Jif, which contains the same number of calories as the regular version, with less peanut butter and more "corn syrup solids." That's not to say that all carbs are bad; fiber is a carbohydrate, and an important one. And there is still a lot left to be desired about certain fats. Trans fats really are bad for you, and foods very high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fats—such as corn oil and margarine—are not particularly healthy, either. But overall, Americans could stand to start replacing carbs with fat. More bacon, fewer Bacos. .... [more]
The misguided war on fat may be making us sicker. - By Melinda Wenner Moyer - Slate Magazine

Misdirected compassion

Roman Catholicism is enduring unremitting criticism with respect to the sexual abuse of minors by priests and other religious. Needless to say, those guilty of such abuse, and those who failed to act to stop such abuse, or who actually acted to cover it up, deserve censure and/or punishment. But increasingly, it seems to me, the justified outrage against the guilty has become an unjustified attack on the institution, and a weapon wielded against the faith by those who wish Christianity ill.

A case in point is that of a Wisconsin priest, undoubtedly guilty, whose crimes are now being used to attack Pope Benedict for supposedly intervening to protect him. Since the Milwaukee diocese knew of his behavior decades before Rome was informed, the fault would seem to lie here rather than there, especially since his last known offense occurred  a quarter century before his trial was scheduled to begin. Raymond J. de Souza lays out the facts at NRO:
The New York Times on March 25 accused Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, of intervening to prevent a priest, Father Lawrence Murphy, from facing penalties for cases of sexual abuse of minors.

The story is false. It is unsupported by its own documentation. Indeed, it gives every indication of being part of a coordinated campaign against Pope Benedict, rather than responsible journalism. .... [much more, including a timeline of events]
Since the bulk of these crimes seem to have taken place in the seventies and eighties a reasonable surmise might be that the generally loosened standards of that period might be at least partly to blame as this writer, reporting on the situation in Ireland, notes:
.... Canon law, or Church law, has been blamed for forcing bishops to cover up the allegations, to hide them, and certainly it is true that anyone taking part in a canonical investigation is required to swear an oath of secrecy, or confidentiality.

But the Murphy report itself is very interesting about canon law. It points out that a big problem with this law isn’t that it was used, but that it wasn’t used.

It says: “The Church authorities failed to implement most of their own canon law rules on dealing with child sex abuse...canon law appears to have fallen into disuse and disrespect during the mid 20th century. In particular, there was little or no experience of operating the penal (that is, the criminal) provision of that law... for many years offenders were neither prosecuted nor made accountable within the Church.”

Why did it fall into disuse and disrespect? It was because priests and bishops began to regard it as being overly legalistic and too focused on punishment. They decided it lacked compassion.

Therefore, they stopped using it. No longer did priests accused of child abuse face a canonical trial and the possibility of "defrocking".

Instead, and with disastrous consequences, they were sent for therapy and then, "cured", they were reassigned to ministry.

The bottom line is that if canon law had been used properly, fewer children would have been abused. Civil authorities would still not have been informed, but priests found guilty of child abuse under Church law would have been punished and likely removed from ministry making it more difficult for them to offend again. ....
The Catholic church was simply behaving like a lot of judges do, following a pattern consistent with an influential strain of modern criminology: therapy rather than punishment, turning the perpetrators into victims, ignoring justice for both the guilty and the actual victims.

More: Ross Douthat blames both permissiveness and the hierarchy:
.... The permissive sexual culture that prevailed everywhere, seminaries included, during the silly season of the ’70s deserves a share of the blame, as does that era’s overemphasis on therapy. (Again and again, bishops relied on psychiatrists rather than common sense in deciding how to handle abusive clerics.) But it was the church’s conservative instincts — the insistence on institutional loyalty, obedience and the absolute authority of clerics — that allowed the abuse to spread unpunished.

What’s more, it was a conservative hierarchy’s bunker mentality that prevented the Vatican from reckoning with the scandal. In a characteristic moment in 2002, a prominent cardinal told a Spanish audience that “I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign ... to discredit the church.”

That cardinal was Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI. Since then, he’s come to grips with the crisis in ways that his predecessor did not: after years of drift and denial under John Paul II, the Vatican has taken vigorous steps to promote zero tolerance, expedite the dismissal of abusive priests and organize investigations that should have happened long ago. Because of Benedict’s recent efforts, and the efforts of clerics and laypeople dating back to the first wave of revelations in the 1980s, Catholics can reasonably hope that the crisis of abuse is a thing of the past. ....
A Response to the New York Times - NRO, Therapy led to soaring abuse rate in Irish Church - Times Online, In the Catholic Church, a Time for Contrition - NYTimes.com

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Better silent than dead

Not long ago there were those who agonized over the possibility that a Christian fundamentalist theocracy threatened religious liberty in the United States. This was always ludicrous, focusing as it did on monuments to the Ten Commandments in public parks. There are, however, genuine threats not only to religious liberty, but to every kind of liberty. Reviewing a new book by Paul Berman, Ron Rosenbaum notes the increasing self-censorship by European intellectuals in the face of life-threatening intolerance:
.... What made the difference between the wholehearted response to Rushdie and the cold-hearted response to Hirsi Ali? Berman may disclaim it, but I think the subtext of his critique of Ali's nitpickers is that, in the two decades since the Rushdie affair, standing up against Islamist death threats requires more physical courage than the intellectuals are willing to muster. ....

But now the threat of murder, the attempted murder, and the actual murder of dissidents from Islam have all become a regular feature of the intellectual landscape of Europe. ....

It was not healthy for Theo van Gogh to get too close to Hirsi Ali. The Danish cartoonists are still under constant death threats, Berman reports. And Ibn Warraq, the pseudonym of another apostate, reads death threats against himself online, while Bassam Tibi, who, Berman tells us, "pioneered the concept of Islamism as a modern totalitarianism and pioneered the concept of a liberal 'Euro-Islam' [as well] ... spent two years under twenty four hour police protection in Germany. ... [T]he Egyptian and Italian journalist Magdi Allam ...was travelling with a full complement of five bodyguards. ... The Italian journalist Fiamma Nienstein … was accompanied by her own bodyguard. … Caroline Fourest in France, the author of the first and most important extended criticism of Ramadan, had to go under police protection. ... [T]he French history professor Robert Redkeker had to go into hiding. In 2008 the police in Belgium broke up a terrorist group that had planned on assassinating, among other people Bernard Henri Levy."

He spends an evening in New York "... with Flemming Rose the culture editor of the Danish newspaper who was visiting New York only because at that particular moment it was too dangerous for him to remain in Denmark."

The list continues. Kurt Westergaard, Boulem Sansal. This is cumulatively (and individually) scandalous. .... The fact that theological censorship backed by death threats has been installed on the continent of Europe with just about everyone deciding it would be wiser to keep silent about it is once again burying the lede. But to my mind, printing it at all is a service.

A certain kind of irreverent speech once valued in Europe since the time of Chaucer and Rabelais has been, it seems, powerfully threatened if not silenced, and the heirs to that intellectual tradition are too scared to speak out about that silence. .... [more]

Friday, March 26, 2010

The best explanation


John Polkinghorne was a physicist — a highly respected one — the discoverer of the quark and professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge. Since the early eighties he has been an Anglican priest. He is interviewed at In Character. Two of the questions and his answers:
Do science and religion approach reason in different ways? Is the reasoning of faith different from the reasoning of science? Can either help the other to get a more complete understanding of the universe?

I suppose the answer is yes and no. I think both science and religion are concerned with the search for motivated belief. They are not just plucking ideas out of the air but they have reasons from experience to support the ideas they believe to be true. But the way they seek them is somewhat different. Science is looking at the world as an object — as an “it”—which you can pull apart and do with what you want. And with science you can repeat things. You can do the same experiment over and over again until you feel sure you understand what is going on. And that gives science a great secret weapon. But there are great swaths of human encounter with reality where you meet reality not just as an object but where there is a personal dimension. Unlike with the scientific experiment, no personal experience is ever going to be exactly repeated. If we listen to a Mozart quartet, even if we play the same disc twice, we shan’t experience it in quite the same way on each occasion. Similarly, the encounter between persons, even more the encounter with the personal reality of God, has to be based on trusting and not on testing. If I were always setting little traps to test my friends, I would pretty soon destroy the possibility of friendship between us. And certainly religion respects that you shall not put the Lord your God to a test. So there are differences between the two. But the motivation, the search for truthful understanding through well-motivated belief, is a common feature. Of course, religious understanding is much more complex obviously because of its personal character. ....

Is it important to be able to prove the existence of God?

Well, I don’t think it’s possible to prove the existence of God. There are many things I don’t think you can prove in an absolutely cast-iron, logical way. You can prove that two plus two equals four; you can’t prove the foolishness or falseness of ridiculous assumptions. I could maintain that the whole world came into existence five minutes ago and that our memories of the past were created at that moment. I don’t think you could defeat me in logical argument about that, though we all know that would be an absurd thing to say. So proof, cast-iron proof, is pretty limited and not actually a very interesting category of things. I believe in quarks and gluons and electrons. I believe that’s the most intelligible, economic, persuasive interpretation of a whole swath of physical phenomena, but I don’t think I’ve proved their existence in the two plus two equals four sense — just as I can’t prove the existence of God. What we need, I think, is beliefs that are sufficiently well-motivated for us to feel that we can commit our lives to them, knowing that they may be false, but believing that they are the best explanation. I’m very sold on motivated belief but I am not sold on knowledge through proofs either in science or religion, or anything in between. .... [more]
John Polkinghorne's Unseen Realities — Features — In Character, A Journal of Everyday Virtues by the John Templeton Foundation

Who, Whatsit and Which

Lucy Tang, at The New Yorker, doubts that Hollywood can do justice to Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time:
The Hollywood Reporter recently announced that the children’s fantasy classic “A Wrinkle in Time” is bound for the big screen. Besides my initial hesitations regarding Hollywood's ability to preserve the book’s magic—part of the fun in reading “A Wrinkle in Time” is imagining the centaurs and tesseracts for yourself—I also wondered why it’s taken so long for Hollywood executives to tap into this potential goldmine. Mention “A Wrinkle in Time” to a ten-year-old and his mother, and I bet both would enthusiastically gush about the Murry family and their otherworldly expeditions. ....

...In 2003, Disney produced a television version of the book, in which nearly all the religious elements were removed. L'Engle, asked by Newsweek whether it was all she'd hoped it would be, replied, "Yes, I expected it to be bad, and it is." What are the odds that the movie version will right the wrong? Will the centaurs still sing their characteristic line from Isaiah and the Psalms? Only Hollywood, which has the same pull as God these days, can say.
The Book Bench: We Will Wrinkle Again : The New Yorker

Thursday, March 25, 2010

All will be well

I've been sorting through things my folks had saved about me and came across this. I delivered it on "Layman's Sabbath," October 17, 1970, during morning worship at the Milton, Wisconsin, Seventh Day Baptist Church. It was later printed in the December 14, 1970, Sabbath Recorder. The Recorder editor titled it "History's Most Important Event." It was submitted to the Recorder by the proud mother of the soldier whose letter I quoted at length, Pvt. Norman R. Burdick, who is now, unsurprisingly, an English professor. I don't believe there is anything that he or I wrote about which I have changed my mind since.
When the astronauts returned from the first moon landing, President Nixon, in the excitement of the moment of their return to the rescue ship, hailed that which they had accomplished as the most important event in the history of the world. Later, in a less exuberant mood, he might have reconsidered that statement, perhaps recalling other historical moments which were of great importance. Nevertheless, it seems to me significant that the President could have made such an unqualified statement and that it could have been heard and apparently accepted by so many without a second thought.

I doubt that any such evaluation concerning the preeminence of any such historical event could have been made with so little protest in any other century of the Christian era. For, of course, that act of reaching the moon as well as any other of the great accomplishments of man pales beside the actual preeminent event of history—what Tolkien has called the eucatastrophe of human history—the event which gives promise of joy, of happy ending (or at least the denial of inevitable, universal defeat in the universe for man); the event which we call the Incarnation—the moment when eternity invaded time, when God became a man and lived among men, a life, a death, and a rising after death—occurrences so great in their import that no conceivable event in history either before or since is even comparable, much less greater.

I'd like to read a letter that I received about two weeks ago from a friend of mine which impressed me a great deal. This friend is in the Army right now and for the last several weeks his reading has been largely restricted to the Bible as other books are not readily available. This is the letter:
I've been reading the gospels—and perhaps more forcibly than ever before, I've been struck with the pure drama, the unique tragedy with the happy ending, the sheer literary achievement in this play directed by the hand of God.

It is drama and tragedy in a higher form than any play ever written, life outdoing art, or perhaps the art of God outdoing that of man.

In ways, in its high drama and boisterous brutality, the story resembles Shakespeare, and nowhere more so than in the crucifixion.

The complexity of Shakespeare's characters is dwarfed by the sheer awe Christ's words and deeds create. And the others do symbolic actions with an exact rightness even Shakespeare might envy.

The Last Supper, with the presence of the traitor, his existence announced, but identity strangely not revealed, as if he were an Iago or Edmund; the strange scene of Christ praying in the garden, God asking God to let this pass from Him, while not far from Him His disciples cannot even "wake with him one hour" for His sufferings, then the line and transition, the most dramatic I know, "the hour is at hand for the betrayal of the Son of Man." The symbol of the Judas kiss, the washing of Pilate's hands, and the fleeing of all away from Him, brought to its height in Peter's threefold denial. All of this the complete rejection of Christ by man. Then there is the cruel treatment of Christ, the brutal and boisterous humor of the common man, from casting lots for the cloak to the crown of thorns and the vinegar.

Then, after the formal "Tragedy" ends, the only perfect happy ending to a real tragedy that I know—the hero triumphs in death and is resurrected. And it's a tragedy with an ending that means life not only for one, but for all.

And for me, one of the proofs of it all is that it is this perfect a tragedy. I do not believe in some unknown Jewish writer or writers that much greater than Shakespeare: I do not even believe in a mortal man able to write some of the lines of Christ. And most of all, I do not believe in anyone either convinced of Christ or trying to create a new religion, who could write those lines I still don't wholly understand, that render His isolation complete, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

That line in dramatic effect is greater than anything Shakespeare ever wrote. Its mystery is stupefying. And no spreader of any gospel would have invented it; only a man who was there and who heard it, and who felt compelled to tell all other truths would have put it in his account of the one he believed was his savior.
It is this real life drama, this perfect tragedy with a perfect happy ending, which really happened, which when accepted as fact, as Christian do, leads to a view of life and death altogether different than if those events had never occurred.

C.S. Lewis once wrote about an experience of his while patrolling as a member of the Home Guard in England during the Second World War. With him on patrol were two men, one of them like himself a man of educated background and the other a man of a rather more humble educational background. The third man was shocked upon learning that Lewis and his friend did not believe that the war was likely to end wars or even greatly contribute to the abolition of human misery. His reaction was that if this were true, if what they were doing was not going to effect great change in the world, then what was the use of the world's going on? And Lewis himself was astonished that any man could have assumed that there was good in the world going on. Lewis felt that the world is a place of futility. The world is falling apart all the time. Things are disintegrating, not unifying—the tendency is toward disorder, not order—and he was surprised anyone could have assumed that things were always getting better. Later he wrote a great deal about this fact. He said that the only way you can conclude that life is worthwhile is if you accept an importance in the actions of men which goes beyond the world; that they may not find their fulfillment in this life, but find their meaning on some greater stage than simply this world.

In the modern age it seems to me that we are confronted with two major attitudes on the part of a great many people. Either there is the assumption that things are always getting better, that the world is perfectible, that either through self-discipline, the discipline of societies, the elimination or reordering of social structures, we can accomplish an earthly paradise—and this is, I think, very unlikely given the sort of fallible people we all know we are. Or, secondly, there is the position that there is no direction in creation, that life is meaningless and therefore that we must act without rational goal, drop out, or find meaning simply in doing things, in acting without hope of achievement.

Christianity, I think, contains the answer to both of these positions. Christianity says, it seems to me, that, yes, it may very well be that meaning is not to be found in this life and in that which is accomplished on this earth, but that there is meaning, and that the actions which we take do have ultimate meaning, ultimate importance. It answers the utopians, the believers in progress, by pointing out the futility, the frustration which will necessarily come with the pursuit of their dreams and by directing them toward an achievable reality. All will be fulfilled. That is the message of the Incarnation and the Resurrection. There is a happy ending. All will be made right, but at the end of history, that is to say, not in history. Even so it is necessary that we act.

Christian action is necessary, because, although it may not save the world it will make the world a more tolerable place with less suffering. It will do this in two ways—by telling men that they can have a relationship with that God who died for them, a relationship which is real and which will give unity and fullness to their lives. That is one way and the way I think most important. But that way leads to another—to action which Christians may take in society to make life more tolerable. The early Church acted to eliminate such practices as infanticide, abortion, the practice of total war and to organize charity to improve the quality of life. The church today must also act, must continue to increase respect for life, both for life as such and for its quality by introducing people to Christ.

"But God so loved the world...", so familiar that we may never stop to consider how peculiar this statement really is. How could God love us? We are not really lovable, even when we do the right thing it is usually for the wrong reason—not because it is right but because by so doing we gain approval, or because someone will like us, or even in order that we may congratulate ourselves on our righteousness. Yet we are assured that He loves us, and, I fear, many of us accept His assurance with the assumption that this love is somehow merited. It is not. But we are still loved and we must respond to that love by showing it to others.

I was 24 at the time, only a month into my first year of teaching in Madison. The drawing shows me as one of my students saw me not long after I started.

Sabbath Recorder, December 14, 1970, pp.5-6, 13.

"I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters"

C.S. Lewis would have agreed with Churchill "that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." Lewis based his views on a doctrinally correct — and historically justified — conclusion about human nature. Quoted at Kairos Journal:
I believe in political equality. But there are two opposite reasons for being a democrat. You may think all men so good that they deserve a share in the government of the commonwealth, and so wise that the commonwealth needs their advice. That is, in my opinion, the false, romantic doctrine of democracy. On the other hand, you may believe fallen men to be so wicked that not one of them can be trusted with any irresponsible power over his fellows.

That I believe to be the true ground of democracy. I do not believe that God created an egalitarian world. I believe the authority of parent over child, husband over wife, learned over simple, to have been as much a part of the original plan as the authority of man over beast. I believe that if we had not fallen...patriarchal monarchy would be the sole lawful government. But since we have learned sin, we have found, as Lord Acton says, that ‘all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ The authority of father and husband has been rightly abolished on the legal plane, not because this authority is in itself bad (on the contrary, it is, I hold, divine in origin) but because fathers and husbands are bad. Theocracy has been rightly abolished not because it is bad that learned priests should govern ignorant laymen, but because priests are wicked men like the rest of us. Even the authority of man over beast has had to be interfered with because it is constantly abused. [C.S. Lewis. “Membership,” in Fern Seed and Elephants (London: Fontana, 1975), 18-19]

I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government… The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters. [C.S. Lewis, Present Concerns, ed. Walter Hooper (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986), 17]
There is no indication that Lewis was familiar with Lincoln's words: "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy."

Thanks to James M. Kushiner at Touchstone for the reference.

The True Ground of Democracy—C. S. Lewis

Incarnation

In traditions that observe the Christian liturgical year today celebrates the Annunciation: the day the angel told Mary that she would bear a son. Ted Olsen asks why pro-life evangelicals don't make a bigger deal out of the day:
One might expect American evangelicals to be among the most enthusiastic celebrants of what is known as the Annunciation. For starters, it focuses on two issues that theologically conservative Protestants have long defended against theological liberals: the historicity of the Virgin Birth, and Christ's unique divinity. In a theological sense, the Annunciation could be of greater significance than Christmas.

"It connects directly to the incarnation, while Christmas (whatever the true date) falls around nine months after the incarnation," says pro-life writer Randy Alcorn. "It is basic Christian doctrine that Christ became flesh at the moment the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary, at the moment of fertilization. He became human at the exact point all others become human, the point of conception." .... [more]
Conjubilant With Song offers this English translation of an ancient Latin hymn as appropriate for the day:

Our God, whom earth and air and sea
With one adoring voice resound;
Who rules them all in majesty;
In Mary's heart a cloister found.
To thee was sent an angel down;
In thee the Spirit was enshrined;
From thee came forth the Mighty One,
The long-desired of humankind.
Lo! in a humble virgin's womb,
O'ershadowed by Almighty power;
God whom the stars and sun and moon,
Each serve in their appointed hour.
O Jesus, born of Mary bright,
Unending praise we sing to thee,
To the Creator infinite,
And Holy Spirit: wondrous Three.
O Mary blest, to whom was giv'n
Within thy compass to contain
The Architect of earth and heav'n,
Whose hands the universe contain;

More Important Than Christmas? | Christianity Today, Conjubilant With Song: The Feast of the Annunciation

Snippits determined by idiosyncratic predilection

David T. Koyzis explains how it came to be that so many Protestants, doctrinally committed to sola scriptura, hear so little of the Bible from the pulpit or in their worship:
.... A lectionary is a schedule of scripture lessons to be read in the course of the liturgy over a period of one or more years. Its origins can be found already in rabbinic Judaism, which prescribes the public reading of the entire Torah in the course of the liturgical year. ....

The problem is that, contrary to Judaism, which is easily able to cover the entire Torah in a single year, the complete Christian Bible, including Old and New Testaments (and sometimes what Protestants term the Apocrypha), is far too long to cover in so short a time. Thus virtually any lectionary can consist of only snippets of scripture (or pericopes), the vast majority of which is bypassed in the liturgy. Conspicuous by its absence in many one-year lectionaries of both east and west is the Old Testament, except for the Psalms.

One of the things that the non-Lutheran reformers sought to do was to recover a positive place for the Old Testament in the life of the church. But rather than reforming the lectionary, they replaced it altogether with a lectio continua, which would see entire books of the Bible read and preached on over the course of many months. Thus it would be theoretically possible for a church congregation to hear the entire Bible over the duration of the pastor’s career. But it was up to the individual pastor to determine the content and order of the lectio continua, which would inevitably differ from one congregation to another.

Unfortunately, most Reformed churches, and, following them, the various baptistic and free churches, have all but abandoned the lectio continua for topical or thematic preaching. This means that the congregation still hears only snippets of scripture, but as determined by the idiosyncratic predilections of the individual pastor rather than by the church as a whole. ....
Lectionaries in the Reformed churches » Evangel | A First Things Blog

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Not tweeting

Skye Jethani explains "the top 10 reasons why I don’t use Twitter (not that there’s anything wrong with it)":
ONE
My life really isn’t that interesting (and in most cases, neither is yours). Unless you are “The Most Interesting Man in the World” from the Dos Equis commercials, I really don’t care what you’re doing at any particular moment. Let’s be honest, most of life is mundane, ordinary, and routine. I’d rather keep the veil of mystery over my life so that outsiders can construct a far more fascinating picture of my existence with their imaginations.

TWO
I don’t like the taste of my own foot. Twitter enables otherwise intelligent people to communicate really foolish things to far too many people much too rapidly. In other words, it’s very easy to Tweet and regret. The first thought that comes to my mind is rarely the thought I want others to see. What can I say? I’m still a Christian under construction. .... [eight more reasons]
Why I Don't Tweet... | Out of Ur | Conversations for Ministry Leaders

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A comforting thought

Justin Taylor posts "On Scary Stories and the Moral Imagination," quoting first G.K. Chesterton:
Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist.
Children already know that dragons exist.
Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.
And then Andrew Peterson, an author of children's books:
...[T]he storyteller has to be honest. He has to acknowledge that sometimes when the hall light goes out and the bedroom goes dark, the world is a scary place. He has to nod his head to the presence of all the sadness in the world.... He has to admit that sometimes characters make bad choices, because every child has seen their parent angry or irritable or deceitful—even the best people in our lives are capable of evil.

But of course the storyteller can’t stop there. He has to show in the end there is a Great Good in the world (and beyond it). Sometimes it is necessary to paint the sky black in order to show how beautiful is the prick of light. Gather all the wickedness in the universe into its loudest shriek and God hears it as a squeak at best. And that is a comforting thought. .... [more
As Gandalf tells Frodo deep in the Mines of Moria: "You were meant to have the Ring…And that is a comforting thought."

On Scary Stories and the Moral Imagination – Justin Taylor

"They were not ordained to make us happy"

Daniel Dennett's recent study of pastors who have lost their faith yet continue in the pulpit has received a lot of attention. David Mills doesn't believe that there are very many in that category, nor does he think such behavior can be excused, but he does think that "contact with God's people" can be disillusioning:
.... But all that aside, I think the study raises a matter that Christian laymen do not think about, or think about often enough: the spiritual difficulty of being a pastor and the effects of serving people who want more from them than any man could give.

It is not an easy job, and it is one with peculiar strains, stresses, temptations, and pains. A man can easily be driven to question or to disbelieve in God by sustained contact with God’s people. In its simplest form, being a pastor can send a good man into depression and being depressed will color how he sees the world, particularly how he wants to answer the question of the reality of the God who had (he thought) sent him into the ministry. ....

Much more could be said about Dennett’s study, and by no means am I trying to excuse men who pretend to believe in God when they don’t, and by this deceit take the money and respect of good people who trust them to mean what they say. They are in a hard place, but that doesn’t excuse what is in essence theft.

But I think that the study does provide us a chance to reflect on the life our pastors live, and what exactly it is they have been called to do, reminding ourselves that they were not ordained to make us happy. .... [more]
There May Be a Reason for Atheist Pastors » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

Monday, March 22, 2010

Only kairos touches eternity

In a chapter entitled "Religion and Socialism" from C.S. Lewis for the Third Millennium: Six Essays on the Abolition of Man, Peter Kreeft takes up, as Lewis did, the idea of Progress. My stillborn graduate thesis many years ago was to be about Lewis's criticism of this idea. Kreeft does it better:
...[Y]ou may think [that] this gloomy picture I have painted of a spiritual Dark Ages is only half the picture. What of all the progress we've made?

Well, let's look at the progress we've made. It can be divided into two kinds: spiritual and material. Let's take spiritual progress first. I think there has been some significant spiritual progress in modernity in at least one area: kindness vs. cruelty. I think we are much kinder than our ancestors were, especially to those we used to be cruel to: criminals, heretics, foreigners, other races, and especially the handicapped. I think this is very real progress indeed. ....

Our civilization certainly has produced astounding, magnificent, utterly undreamed-of successes in understanding and mastering the forces of nature. I think every intelligent human being born before the Renaissance, if transported by a time machine to today, would be stupefied with wonder, marvel and admiration at the awesome progress in science and technology, i.e. material progress, in our world.

But now I ask a strange and unusual and very upsetting question: is there such a thing as material progress at all? Or is this a confusion of categories, like a blue number, or a rectangular value? I am not sure of this, but I want to suggest, for your consideration, the possibility that there is not and can not be any such thing as purely material progress; that only spirit can progress.

The reason I think this surprising and unpopular conclusion is true has something to do with the nature of time. To see this, we must speak Greek for a minute. The Greek language is much richer and subtler than English when it comes to philosophical distinctions, and Greek has two words for time, not just one. Kronos means the time measured objectively, impersonally, and mathematically by the motion of unconscious matter through space. For instance, one day of kronos is always exactly 24 hours long, the time it takes for the earth to rotate. Kairos, on the other hand, is human time, lived time, experienced time, the time measured by human consciousness and purposive reaching out into a future that is not yet but is planned for. Only kairos knows anything of goals and values.

For instance, when St. Paul writes, "It is now time to rise from sleep, because your salvation is nearer than when you first believed," he does not mean by "time" something like "June 30 of the year 50 A.D." "It is now time to die" does not mean "it is 3:20 P.M." Ends, goals, and purposes measure kairos, and these things exist only in consciousness, in spirit, not in mere matter.

The reason why I think only spirit can progress is because only spirit lives in kairos. For only kairos touches eternity, knows eternity, aims at eternity. Progress means not merely change, but change toward a goal. The change is relative and shifting, but the goal is absolute and permanent. If not, if the goal changed along with the movement toward it, we could not speak any more of progress, only change. There is no progress if the goal line recedes in front of the runner as fast as the runner runs. ....

The essence of modernity is the death of the spiritual. A modernist is someone who is more concerned about air pollution than soul pollution. A modernist is someone who wants clean air so he can breathe dirty words.

A modernist cares about big things, like whales, more than little things, like fetuses; big things like governments, more than little things like families and neighborhoods; big things like states, which last hundreds of years, more than little things like souls, which last forever.

A modernist, thus, is one who puts his faith and hope for progress in precisely the one thing that cannot progress: matter. A traditionalist, on the other hand, is one who "looks not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen, for the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (II Cor 4:18) A traditionalist believes in "the permanent things," and the permanent things cannot progress because they are the things to which all real progress progresses.

Perhaps I should modify my stark statement that matter cannot progress at all. Perhaps matter can progress, but only with and in and for spirit. If your body and your tools and your possessions serve your spirit, make you truly happy and good and wise, they contribute to progress too.

But this modification does not help the progressive at all, since it is pretty obvious that modernity's technological know-how and power has not made us happier, wiser, better, or more saintly than our ancestors. When we speak of modern progress, we do not mean progress in happiness, in contentment, in peace of mind. Nor do we mean progress in holiness and moral perfection or wisdom. We speak readily of "modern knowledge" but never of "modern wisdom." Rather, we speak of "ancient wisdom." For wisdom is to knowledge what kairos is to kronos: the spiritual and purposive and teleological and moral dimension.

Incidentally, this point about kairos and kronos liberates us not only from the ignorant worship of the nonexistent god "Progress" but also from the ignorant lust to be "up to date." A date, being mere kronos, has no character. It is almost nothing. It is a one-dimensional line, the circumference. A line can have no color. Only kairos, only a two-dimensional segment of the circle, can have character, and color. Since a date is only a point on the circumference, it has no character. Nothing can ever be really "up to date." What a wild goose chase is our lust to be "with it" or "contemporary"! What a waste of passion and love and energy! .... [more]
Religion and Socialism | Peter Kreeft | From "Darkness At Noon: The Eclipse of the Permanent Things" | Ignatius InsightAmazon.com Associates Central - Links & Banners

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The deeper meaning of Narnia

Will Vaus, who will soon publish a new book about the Chronicles of Narnia, The Hidden Story of Narnia, tells us that the outline of his book was provided by C.S. Lewis in a letter he wrote to a eleven year old girl in 1961. From the letter:
The whole Narnian story is about Christ. That is to say, I asked myself 'Supposing there really were a world like Narnia and supposing it had (like our world) gone wrong and supposing Christ wanted to go into that world and save it (as He did ours) what might have happened?' The stories are my answer. Since Narnia is a world of Talking Beasts I thought he would become a Talking Beast there, as he became a Man here. I pictured Him becoming a lion there because (a.) the lion is supposed to be the King of beasts: (b.) Christ is called 'The Lion of Judah' in the Bible: (c.) I'd been having strange dreams about lions when I began writing the books. The whole series works out like this:

The Magician's Nephew tells the creation and how evil entered Narnia.
The Lion etc ________________ the crucifixion and Resurrection
Prince Caspian__________ restoration of the true religion after a corruption
The Horse and his Boy ________ the calling and conversion of a heathen.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader__the spiritual life (especially in Reepicheep)
The Silver Chair__the continued war against the powers of darkness
The Last Battle__the coming of Antichrist (the Ape), the end of the world and the Last Judgment.
As the Narnia books became popular, Lewis received many letters from young people who had questions. Some of these are included in C.S. Lewis' Letters to Children, including this one:
8 June 1960

Dear [Patricia]
All your points are in a sense right. But I'm not exactly "representing" the real (Christian) story in symbols. I'm more saying "Suppose there were a world like Narnia and it needed rescuing and the Son of God (or the 'Great Emperor oversea') went to redeem it, as He came to redeem ours, what might it, in that world, all have been like?" Perhaps it comes to much the same thing as you thought, but not quite.
  1. The creation of Narnia is the Son of God creating a world (not specially our world).
  2. Jadis plucking the apple is, like Adam's sin, an act of disobedience, but it doesn't fill the same place in her life as his plucking did in his. She was already fallen (very much so) before she ate it.
  3. The stone table is meant to remind one of Moses' table.
  4. The Passion and Resurrection of Aslan are the Passion and Resurrection Christ might be supposed to have had in that world—like those in our world but not exactly like.
  5. Edmund is like Judas a sneak and traitor. But unlike Judas he repents and is forgiven (as Judas no doubt w[oul]d. have been if he'd repented).
  6. Yes. At the v. [ery] edge of the Narnian world Aslan begins to appear more like Christ as He is known in this world. Hence, the Lamb. Hence, the breakfast—like at the end of St. John's Gospel. Does not He say You have been allowed to know me in this world (Narnia) so that you may know me better when you get back to your own"?
  7. And of course the Ape and Puzzle, just before the last Judgement (in the Last Battle) are like the coming of Antichrist before the end of our world.
All clear?
I'm so glad you like the books.
Yours sincerely
C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis & Narnia etc.: Outline of "The Hidden Story of Narnia"

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Growing back into C.S. Lewis

Someone at Evangel listed the ten books that have influenced him most. Others followed suit. Today Fred Sanders provides his list. Number five on it is C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity:
Book Four of Mere Christianity was one of the books (along with a key chapter of Packer’s Knowing God) that introduced me to the doctrine of the Trinity when I was seventeen and didn’t know much about much. Then I read it again after earning a PhD on the doctrine of the Trinity, and I found it even more impressive. How can a man write in a way that edifies and instructs folks at both extremes of the educational spectrum? There may be a “too smart for C.S. Lewis” stage of theological puberty, and it may be a helpful part of coming of age (though some bishops may be stuck in it), but the interesting stuff happens when you grow back into C.S. Lewis.
Top Ten Books, Fred’s Theology Edition » Evangel | A First Things Blog

Friday, March 19, 2010

Pastoral prayer

Kevin DeYoung offers "Thirteen Tips for Leading the Congregation in Prayer." As one who is ordinarily praying with, rather than leading, these below particularly caught my attention, but all of them are good advice.
3. Pray Scripture. Don’t just ask God for what we want. Let him teach us what we should want.

5. Leave the preaching for the sermon. Don’t exhort. Don’t explain texts. Don’t unpack complex theology. Spurgeon again: “Long prayers either consist of repetitions, or else of unnecessary explanations which God does not require....”

8. Keep it relatively brief. Better to be too short than too long. Five minutes is plenty in most North American churches. Seven to ten minutes is possible if you are experienced and have trained your people well.

9. Remember you are praying with and on behalf of others. Use “we” and “our” (like in the Lord’s Prayer). This is not the time to confess your personal sins or recount your personal experiences.

11. Beware of verbal ticks. For example: popping your p’s, smacking your lips, sighing, ums, mindless repetition of the divine name, unnecessary use of the word “just” and “like,” an over-reliance on the phrase “we pray” or “we would pray” instead of simply praying.

12. Show proper reverence, confidence, and emotion. Pray like you mean it, like God is God, and as if he really hears us. .... [more]
Thirteen Tips for Leading the Congregation in Prayer – Kevin DeYoung

A historical religion - or nothing

Paul Johnson, author of A History of Christianity (1979), delivered a lecture in 1986, "A Historian Looks at Jesus," which has been made available online by BreakPoint. It is much longer than the excerpts below, and refers to some of the evidence justifying his conclusions. Johnson begins by reminding us that our faith is meaningless if not based on historical fact, or, as the Apostle Paul put it about one historical event, "...if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain." (1 Co 15:14, ESV)
Christianity, like the Judaism from which it sprang, is a historical religion, or it is nothing. It does not deal in myths and metaphors and symbols, or in states of being and cycles. It deals in facts. It presupposes a linear flight in time, through a real universe of concrete events. It sees humanity as marching inexorably from an irrecoverable past into an unprecedented future. The march is not haphazard. It proceeds according to a divine plan, in part revealed to us. Christians believe that certain specific, historical events occurred, and that, in time, certain other specific historical events will occur, bringing humanity’s sojourn in this world to a climax. Then, to use Shakespeare’s phrase, “time must have a stop." There the Christian’s perception of the timeless world of eternity—the nonhistorical afterlife—is much less clear. But the Christian notion of historical time is very definite, and central to the faith.

Jesus, the Son of God, was born of a virgin, at a particular time and in a specific place. He was God and man. He was crucified for our sins, but rose again the third day. The incarnation and the resurrection are not metaphors but actual, historical events. A man or woman cannot reject their historicity and remain a Christian. To accept the message of Christ, the teaching, the ethics, the example, the human perfection of Christ, is not enough. It is necessary to accept the Godhead as well as the manhood, to believe that the incarnation and the resurrection actually occurred. Without them, Christianity is nothing; it becomes a mere fantasy, a delusion. ....

The late nineteenth- early twentieth-century notion that the New Testament was a collection of late and highly imaginative records can no longer be seriously held. No one now doubts that St. Paul’s epistles, the earliest Christian records, are authentic or dates them later than the A.D. 50s. Most scholars now date the earliest gospel, the so-called “Q,” not later than about 50 A.D.; Mark, 65 AD.; Matthew and Luke from the 80s or 90s; John not later than 90-100.Some scholars, notably the late Dr. John Robinson, put them considerably earlier: Mark possibly as early as 45 A.D., only a decade and a half or so from Christ’s passion; Matthew, between 40 and 60; Luke, 55-60; and John possibly as late as 65 A.D. plus, but possibly as early as 40.

I doubt if there is any serious scholar alive now who would deny Jesus’ historical existence. Indeed, He is much better authenticated than many secular figures of antiquity whose existence no one has ever presumed to question. ....

.... What is clear beyond doubt is that whereas in the nineteenth century the tendency of history was to cast doubt of the veracity of Judeo-Christian records and to undermine popular faith in God and His Son as presented in the Bible, in the twentieth century it has moved in quite the opposite direction, and there is no sign of the process coming to an end. It is not now the men of faith, it is the skeptics, who have reason to fear the course of discovery.

However, the historian, whether he be a Christian or not, must emphasize that the vindication of the New Testament records as authentic documents describing actual events concerning a real man does not in any way “prove” that He was God too, and that the incarnation and resurrection actually occurred.

All that it establishes is that men and women who lived at and shortly after the time believed these things. ....
Thanks to Tom Gilson for the reference.

A Historian Looks at Jesus

Between two evils

During the 1930s and 40s the peoples of eastern Europe were caught between two totalitarianisms. If, unlike the Jews, they were not collectively targeted for extermination, then they were almost inevitably forced to make excruciatingly difficult decisions, trying to make a morally impossible choice between Hitler and Stalin. It was not at all clear that either was a lesser evil. Nevertheless, often a choice was made, and many became complicit in the worst conceivable crimes. Countries like Lithuania suffered first through Soviet, then Nazi, and then again, Soviet occupation and oppression, only winning freedom at the end of the twentieth century. Walter Russell Mead is in Vilnius, and writes about visiting "The Museum of the KGB":
.... It’s corny and unfashionable to write about the evils of communism, but in Vilnius it’s hard not to think about the suffering and ruin Stalin and his heirs left here. ....

...[Y]esterday I had some time off after my lecture at the university and went down to see the building used by the KGB and the Gestapo as a prison and torture chamber from 1939 through Lithuanian independence twenty years ago. ....

Today the solitary confinement cells, the cells where prisoners were forced to stand in icy water and beaten brutally when they fell, the holding cells for the condemned and the execution ground are all open for visitors. ....

Standing in the cellar of the KGB prison, admiring the ingenuously designed torture cells, retracing the final steps of the prisoners on their journey from the condemned cells to the execution yard, it’s impossible not to think of Vladimir Putin bemoaning the fall of the Soviet Union as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century. Putin made his career in the same KGB that murdered and tortured for decades in Lithuania and its neighboring republics; the longing for the good old days must sometimes grow unspeakable. .... [more]
The Museum of the KGB - Walter Russell Mead's Blog - The American Interest

Thursday, March 18, 2010

ESV and the iPhone

I'm hopelessly unaware of this technology [I only use my cellphone for talking to people!] but, for those of you more sophisticated, Justin Taylor has information about an "ESV iPhone App—for Free!"
I’m excited about and thankful for Crossway’s new—and free—ESV iPhone/iPod Touch App, which you can download from the iTunes app store.

Note a number of the features:
  • You don’t need to be connected to wireless to use it (i.e., you can use it on airplanes, in North Dakota, etc.)
  • With a simple tap you can see cross-references, footnotes, etc.
  • You can search the ESV Bible
  • You can take notes
  • You can highlight passages
  • You can easily email, Tweet, or (soon) Facebook passages
Free ESV apps are being developed for other platforms (e.g., Blackberry, Android, etc.) .... [more]
ESV iPhone App—for Free! – Justin Taylor

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Middle Earth again


According to
Ian McKellen:
THE HOBBIT's, two films, start shooting in New Zealand in July. Filming will take over a year. Casting in Los Angeles, New York City and London has started. The script too proceeds. The first draft is crammed with old and new friends, again on a quest in Middle Earth.
There is lots of speculation about casting but McKellen will definitely be back as Gandalf.

TheOneRing.net has pictures of the Hobbiton set. The comparable set for LOTR was built well before the filming so the vegetation would have time to grow and would look natural.

Ian McKellen Cinema 2010s

Soli Deo Gloria

J.S. Bach placed the initials "SDG" on each of his compositions. They represented the Latin words Soli Deo gloria [Glory to God alone]. Rich Tuttle, worship leader in a Baptist church, commends J.S. Bach as a model for all worship leaders, not just because he was a great musician, but because of his sense of calling and his dedication, evidenced by his immersion in Scripture:
.... Bach’s personal Bible in reality was multiple volumes of Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible along with a commentary by Abraham Calov. Over time these volumes were brought together and they now reside in Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. But the most interesting thing to note is that there are numerous notes and underlinings found throughout the Biblical text as well as the Commentary, not the least of which deal with his theological understanding of the church musician and church music.

We find a note at the beginning of 1 Chronicles 25, a chapter which lists David’s assignment of the Levites in regards to instruments and song, “This chapter is the true foundation of all God-pleasing church music.” Another note in 2 Chronicles 5:12-13 reads, “In devotional music, God is always present with His Grace.”

We also find Bach underlining Luther’s words at 2 Thessalonians 3:12, a passage about vocation, “Lord, I accept my calling and do what You have commanded, and will in all my work surely do what You will have done; only help me to govern my home, help me to regulate my affairs, etc.”

And from this article we read: “Bach's view of music can perhaps best be summarized by his own comments next to passages in 1 Chronicles and Psalms in the Calov Bible. Bach underlined that musicians are to 'express the Word of God in a spiritual songs and psalms, sing them in the temple, and at the same time to play with instruments.' In the Psalms, Bach underlined commentary which points out that two prophets served King David by playing musical instruments as part of their official duties. Bach saw himself in such an office. He proclaimed God's Word with his music, and he did so with the most beautiful music he was able to compose.” ....

...Bach was a serious student of Scripture. Of course we are all interested in what Bach wrote and underlined about music but we find that out of all of his markings only 3 percent of them deal with music. Bach dug into the entire Word, and not just the parts that he felt applied to him and his calling. ....

How different would our songs for worship be today if every church musician was as familiar with the Bible as Bach was? Imagine the impact it would make for those who compose songs, those who lead singing, and those who play instruments in our worship services! A life consumed with the Word of God is a life that will overflow with the Word of God. .... [more]
Sound Doxology: Worship Leaders: Imitate J.S. Bach

Klavan

Andrew Klavan announces that his young adult series may be filmed:
Summit Entertainment–makers of Hurt Locker and the Twilight movies–have optioned Andrew’s Homelanders series of young adult thriller novels for film. Lorenzo di Bonaventura, producer of Transformers and Stardust, will produce. The series deals with teenager Charlie West’s quest to find out why he’s become the target of jihadist terrorists and the police.
I've enjoyed the two books in the series that have been published thus far. They are full of the kind of action that I assume would translate into a very intense, exciting film — and perhaps one I could enjoy without moral and political qualification, although as Klavan notes:
Those who know the movie business know that I will have precious little control over whether the Homelanders films will, if made, reflect the values of the novels. But who knows? It could happen. And if it did, it would be less amazing now than, say, ten years ago.
Not long ago it was announced that Klavan would write three more young adult thrillers for Thomas Nelson after completion of the four Homelander books. All this in addition to his books for adults, which I also enjoy.

The other things I've posted about Klavan.

Klavan's Homelanders Optioned for Film