Monday, February 28, 2011

Something worth doing is worth doing poorly

An interview with Peter Wehner, co-author of a recent book about Christian and politics is available at the Evangel blog at First Things. The first and last questions and answers from a much longer exchange:
Gayle Trotter: This is Gayle Trotter. I’m with Peter Wehner, author of City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era. When I was an undergraduate government student at UVA, one famous professor, Larry Sabato, adopted the slogan, “Politics is a good thing.” Is your slogan, “Politics is a good thing for Christians?”

Peter Wehner: Yeah, it’s a good thing for Christians with caveats. [Co-author] Mike [Gerson] and I argue in the book that Christians should care about politics because politics in its deepest and best sense is about justice and Christians should care about justice. And political acts can have profound human consequences and Christians should care about that, too. So as a general matter we think that that’s an arena that Christians should be involved in but it’s an arena that’s filled with traps and snares as well. ....

GT: In the book you give us three concluding propositions and one of them I just love because you had a G.K. Chesterton quote and I think he’s great; the quote is, “Even a bad shot is dignified when he accepts a duel.” What did you mean by that quote?

PW: Well, that was in the context of the complaints by people like Jim Hunter that Christians have often done politics poorly. But we say so did other people in the democracy and the answer is to do politics better, that political engagement isn’t a luxury and I think the way we put it in the book is, “The fighting of raging fires requires not contemplation but a fire extinguisher. Urgency can involve errors but these should be admitted and corrected. But, as Chesterton said, ‘Even a bad shot is dignified when he accepts a duel.’” .... [more]
Peter Wehner Discusses the City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era » Evangel | A First Things Blog

Religion by the numbers

Mark Tooley, in The American Spectator, notes some reasonably encouraging statistics about the state of Christianity in the nation and in the world:
Most secular media in the U.S. imply that the world is largely dividing between resurgent Islam and enlightened secularists, with isolated evangelicals and Catholics left on the sideline. A recent report by the International Bulletin of Missionary Research indicates otherwise, with one third of the world professing Christianity, virtually unchanged as a global percentage since 100 years ago. Christians today are estimated to number about 2.3 billion. About 1.5 billion are estimated to attend church regularly at over 5 million congregations, up from 400,000 100 years ago.

There are 1.6 [billion] estimated Muslims, 951 million Hindus, and 468 million Buddhists. Atheists are thought to be 137 million, a declining number. The report estimates about 80,000 new Christians every day, 79,000 new Muslims every day, and 300 fewer atheists every day. ....

A Gallup poll in 2010 showed the percentage of Americans reporting to attend church regularly (at least monthly) was 43 percent. In 1937 it was 37 percent, was slightly lower in the early 1940s, reached 49 percent during the 1950s, and settled at 42 percent in 1969, where it has remained steady for the last 40 years. .... A Pew survey found that about 44 percent of Americans have switched religious affiliations since childhood. Mostly they are switching away from Mainline Protestantism. Forty-five years ago, about 30 million Americans belonged to the top 7 Mainline denominations, accounting for about one sixth of Americans. Today, it's about 20 million, accounting for about one fifteenth. .... [more]
The American Spectator : Thriving Christianity

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sexagesima: Against all adversity

O LORD God, which seest that we put not our trust in any thing that we do; mercifully grant that by Thy power we may be defended against all adversity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
[Thomas Cranmer]

WHEN much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city, he spake by a parable: A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way-side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be? And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand. Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the way-side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with care and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.
[Luke VIII]
Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord, who rises with healing in His wings:
When comforts are declining, He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation we sweetly then pursue
The theme of God’s salvation, and find it ever new.
Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can say,
Let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.

It can bring with it nothing but He will bear us through;
Who gives the lilies clothing will clothe His people, too;
Beneath the spreading heavens, no creature but is fed;
And He who feeds the ravens will give His children bread.

Though vine nor fig tree neither their wonted fruit should bear,
Though all the field should wither, nor flocks nor herds be there;
Yet God the same abiding, His praise shall tune my voice,
For while in Him confiding, I cannot but rejoice.
[William Cowper, 1779]

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Those who cause division"

Kevin DeYoung on the "Distinguishing Marks of a Quarrelsome Person":
You don’t have to be a card-carrying member of the nice Nazis to believe that quarreling is wrong. You only have to believe the Bible (James 4:1). Hot-headed, divisive Christians are not pleasing to God (Proverbs 6:19). We are told to drive them out (Proverbs 22:10) and avoid such people (Romans 16:17). This doesn’t mean we only huddle with the people we like. We are not talking about awkward folks or those who disagree with us. We are talking about quarrelsome Christians–habitually disagreeable, divisive, hot-headed church people.

So what does a quarrelsome person look like? What are his (or her) distinguishing marks?
And he proceeds to describe twelve "distinguishing marks" of the quarrelsome.

Distinguishing Marks of a Quarrelsome Person – Kevin DeYoung

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Washington, on the anniversary of his birth

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796

"First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and endearing scenes of private life. Pious, just, humane, temperate, uniform, dignified, and commanding, his example was edifying to all around him, as were the effects of that example lasting."
From the eulogy delivered by "Lighthorse" Harry Lee, 1799

Monday, February 21, 2011

"All the trees of the field shall clap their hands"

Alan Jacobs has created a beautiful site, G O S P E L  O F  T H E  T R E E S. He explains:
The Bible is a story about trees. It begins, or nearly enough, with two trees in a garden: the Tree of Life, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The pivotal event in the book comes when a man named Jesus is hanged on a tree. And the last chapter of the last book features a remade Jerusalem: “In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” If you understand the trees, you understand the story. ....
One of the entries:
Out of the fertil ground he caus’d to grow
All Trees of noblest kind for sight, smell, taste;
And all amid them stood the Tree of Life,
High eminent, blooming Ambrosial Fruit
Of vegetable Gold; and next to Life
Our Death the Tree of Knowledge grew fast by,
Knowledge of Good bought dear by knowing ill. — John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book IV
G O S P E L  O F  T H E  T R E E S

Presidents' Day

John Steele Gordon [who I quoted yesterday on Wisconsin's capitol building] shares my disdain for "Presidents Day" replacing celebration of the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln. Gordon:
When King George III learned that Washington had resigned command of the Continental Army rather than use it to make himself king, he supposedly said, “If that is true, then he must be the greatest man in the world.” But aside from diminishing the significance of Washington and Lincoln, Presidents’ Day also, by implication, increases the significance of the likes of James Buchanan, Warren Harding, and Jimmy Carter, who are to Washington and Lincoln as pebbles are to Everest.
The picture is of one of the many Presidents I do not honor, James Buchanan.

RE: Presidents’ Day « Commentary Magazine

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Wisconsin Capitol

John Steele Gordon at Commentary's Contentions blog notes that the venue for the current disputes in Madison is an extraordinarily beautiful building. I walk through it several times a week and confess that I have become so used to it that often I do not see. Gordon:
The State Capitol of Wisconsin is one of the greatest examples of Beaux Arts style architecture in the United States. It was built between 1906 and 1917, the third capitol building on the site. (The second building burned in 1904. In one of the more ill-timed cost-cutting measures in American political history, the legislature had voted to cancel the fire insurance on the building five weeks earlier.)

The architect was George B. Post (1837-1913), a student of Richard Morris Hunt. He also designed many early New York City skyscrapers, some the tallest in the world at the time, and the New York Stock Exchange Building on Broad Street.

Cruciform in shape, with four equal wings, the Wisconsin State Capitol has one of the highest domes in the country (only a few feet shorter than the U.S. Capitol) and the only one made of granite (the dome of the Capitol in Washington is cast iron). While grand on the outside, the inside is magnificent, abounding with Beaux Arts exuberance and luxury that never crosses the line into vulgarity.
Another Reason to Visit Madison, Wisconsin « Commentary Magazine, flickr

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Septuagesima: Under the mercy

O Lord, we beseech Thee favorably to hear the prayers of Thy people; that we which are justly punished for our offenses, may be mercifully delivered by Thy goodness, for the glory of Thy name, through Jesus Christ our Savior, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
[Thomas Cranmer]
THE kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the market-place, and said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
[Matthew XX]
Voice of the Lord, arise
Through man, in darkness and flame,
Till through his inner skies
Sounds the Unnameable Name;
Fashion the heavenly way
Till, last of His creatures, we,
In His union of night and day,
Know ourselves naught but He.

[Charles Williams]

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Elections have consequences

Madison, Wisconsin, where I live, is the site of large and noisy demonstrations protesting legislation that would largely eliminate collective bargaining for state and local public employees. A few years ago I would have been in the middle of the protests. I was active in the teachers' union [several times its president] and genuinely believe in the importance of countervailing power. I think the governor's proposals go too far in limiting collective bargaining. Nor do many of them have anything to do with gaining control of the budget.

Nevertheless, the rhetoric is out of control. A few moments ago, listening to a recording of a hearing last night,  I heard a State Senator compare what is happening in Madison to the uprising in Cairo. The governor has been compared to Hitler and to Mussolini. And so on.... The lectures about civility and violent rhetoric we were all subjected to last month don't seem to have had much impact here.

Republicans in Wisconsin owe nothing to the public employee unions. Over the years that I was active in the state union it largely abandoned the practice of automatically endorsing any legislator, regardless of party, who supported their positions on a limited number of education and labor related issues. Instead it became a permanent adjunct of the Democratic party. That worked while Democrats were in power but it was perfectly predictable that at some point they wouldn't be. Every vote on this issue will be party-line. Once that would not have been true.

At the moment Democratic State Senators have absented themselves thus preventing the necessary quorum for action on bills affecting the budget. They may be able to leverage that absence into some compromise, but I doubt it. I suspect that the bill reported out of committee will pass  both houses, be signed, and become law. Elections have consequences. At one point during the debate leading up to the adoption of health reform our President reminded his defeated Republican opponent that he won.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Useful idiots

Peter Berger reflects on the phenomenon of "Revolutionaries with American Passports." It would appear that political fundamentalism shares some of the unfortunate characteristics of the religious variety, perhaps particularly "the denial of realities that contradict the ideology."
.... There has been for close to a century a long parade of admirers of socialist tyrannies, all the way back to the Western supporters of the Soviet Union, whom Lenin is reputed to have called “useful idiots.” The Soviet Union was succeeded as tyranny du jour by China, Vietnam, even Communist Albania (upheld by some Western admirers as the last stronghold of true Maoism after the Chinese regime began to show signs of pragmatism). There are two requirements for any regime deemed worthy of admiration: It must claim to be socialist; and it must be vocally anti-American. The degree of bloodshed does not appear to be a relevant criterion. It will either be denied or ideologically justified. For anyone who has faith in reason as a factor in history, there is here a sad and discouraging story. ....

For over fifty years now, cohorts of young, well-educated Americans have become supporters of a long string of bloody revolutions and tyrannical regimes, united by the two traits of socialist ideology and hostility to the United States. What is one to make of this? ....

...I did propose the first theorem of this putatively historic opus: Any identity is better than none. I still think that this proposition can take us quite a long way. It can help explain the continuing dance around the icons of utopian revolution.

For reasons which are not mysterious and which can be analyzed sociologically, modernity undermines taken-for-granted identities. No longer an unavoidable destiny, an individual’s identity increasingly becomes a matter of choice. This can be experienced as a great liberation, especially in its early phases. It can also be experienced as a burden. There is a deep human longing for certainty concerning the things that matter most—among which, as Immanuel Kant classically formulated it, is an answer to the question “Who am I?” As a result, there is a market for any movement that purports to provide a certain identity, one that can be relied upon beyond the precarious products of individual self-construction. That is the great attraction of all totalitarian movements. It is the psychological benefit of all fundamentalisms—religious or secular. The promise is always the same: “Come and join us. And we will give you what you have longed for—you will know who you really are.” The promise is kept—if and as long as the individual adheres to the ideology of the movement. Part of such adherence may be the denial of realities that contradict the ideology. .... [more]
Revolutionaries with American Passports | Religion and Other Curiosities

"Goodness beyond ourselves"

Elijah Davidson, at Patheos, in "Truer Grit", explains why he thinks this film version of True Grit is so good:
.... What is the ethic of this film? From my seat, it is that justice must be done, and if grace exists (and it clearly does), the giving of it may be the privilege of God alone. "Is grace, like vengeance, Thine?" the film asks of God. "And have You left justice up to us?"

Now some might argue that this Western, like many others, is about revenge. I disagree. Young Mattie Ross is not seeking vengeance for the death of her father. There is no wrath in her relentless pursuit. There is determined confidence in the rightness of her aims. She wants justice to be served. In fact, she demands it. ....

...[W]oven through our tale of cold justice served is a soundscape of hymns subtly reminding us of Goodness beyond ourselves. ....

There is very little different plot-wise in this new film compared to the old one, but the Coens have managed to imbue this plot with more darkness and stronger light. They have given the tale truer grit, if you'll allow the pun, but also truer grace.

And they have done this by making a better movie than the original. True Grit, whether with intention or not, theologizes using the conventions of film—through narrative structure, cinematography, and soundtrack. The film wrestles with issues of justice and grace and God's part in it all, and it invites its audience to do the same. .... [more]
This is one of those films that—like the first one—I will watch again and again. It is already available for order at Amazon, although there is not yet a release date. I was also motivated to order the book on which the movies are based. I once had the paperback but it disappeared at some point since the '60s.

Patheos: Truer Grit

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Vision

Via Wilderness Fandango:
Daniel, the senior pastor of Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky, says his vision statement is, ”Preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten.”
Wilderness Fandango: 3 Things

Monday, February 14, 2011

KJV only?

This is the 400th anniversary of the King James Version [KJV] of the Bible. Glenn Reynolds advances a new argument for that version being divinely inspired.

His perfect patience

...I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
(I Timothy 1:13-17, ESV)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"Because we cannot study the future"

I am an admirer of C.S. Lewis and so, reading this article by Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School, adapted from his book, Reading Scripture with the Reformers, I particularly noticed this:
.... C.S. Lewis noted: “We need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present.” For the present can become imperial, seducing us into imagining that the assumptions that reign today have always defined what it means to be reasonable, sensible, and mainstream. Against the tendency toward presentism, Lewis observed that “a man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village: The scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.”

We can suffer from a biblical presentism. It is all too common to think of biblical interpretation as answering the question “What is the Bible saying to us now?” This approach, which one finds both in liberal mainline churches and in conservative evangelical ones, owes a great deal to the liberal Protestant theology of Friedrich Schleiermacher. ....
That justification, "... we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present," has application to every area of knowledge and, once said, seems obvious — and yet is resisted in practice. There seem to be a great many people who honestly [and ignorantly] believe that there can be something new under the sun.

The article, and the upcoming book, are, of course, about a great deal more than that. George later indicates five principles that guided the biblical interpretation of the Reformers. For example, his third principle:
Faithful interpretation of Scripture requires a trinitarian hermeneutics. The rule of faith demands that Scripture be read as a coherent dramatic narrative, the unity of which depends on its principal actor: the God who has forever known himself and who, in the history of redemption, has revealed himself to us, as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Athanasius and the other fathers who struggled against the Arians for the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity were embroiled in serious exegetical arguments. How could the Old Testament affirmation, “God is one,” be reconciled with the New Testament confession, “Jesus is Lord”? What was the relationship of the eternal and unchanging God to the Logos who became flesh, Jesus Christ? Among many other things, the struggle for the doctrine of the Trinity was a debate over the meaning of the Bible.

At the time of the Reformation, the doctrine of the Trinity once again emerged as a major point of dispute, especially between the mainline reformers and certain evangelical rationalists among the radicals. The doctrine of the Trinity could not be surrendered because it had to do with the nature and character of the God whom Christians worship. This God, the triune God of holiness and love, was not a generic deity who could be appeased by human striving but rather the God of the Bible who had made himself known by grace alone through the sending of His Son, Jesus Christ, “for us and for our salvation.” To enter into the mind of Scripture with a trinitarian hermeneutic is to come to know this God and not another. As Todd Billings puts it, “The Bible is the instrument of the triune God to shape believers into the image of Christ, in word and deed, by the power of the Spirit, transforming a sinful and alienated people into children of a loving Father.”.... [the bold emphasis is mine] [the essay]
Reading the Bible with the Reformers

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Epiphany VI: If we abide in Him

O GOD, whose blessed Son was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil, and make us the sons of God, and heirs of eternal life; Grant us, we beseech thee, that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves, even as He is pure; that, when He shall appear again with power and great glory, we may be made like unto Him in His eternal and glorious kingdom; where with Thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, He liveth and reigneth ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
[BoCP]
BEHOLD, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure. Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. And ye know that He was manifested to take away our sins; and in Him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.
[I John 3]
Awake, my soul, and with the sun
Thy daily stage of duty run;
Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise,
To pay thy morning sacrifice.

Lord, I my vows to Thee renew;
Disperse my sins as morning dew.
Guard my first springs of thought and will,
And with Thyself my spirit fill.

Direct, control, suggest, this day,
All I design, or do, or say,
That all my powers, with all their might,
In Thy sole glory may unite.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

[Thomas Ken, 1674]

Friday, February 11, 2011

Teaching the faith

1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?

A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him. ....

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Via Chaplain Mike at internetmonk.com, an excerpt from the introduction to J.I. Packer's Growing in Christ in which Packer explains the importance of systematic education in Christian doctrine for both adults and children. Sermons, he says, are not enough. [I've added the links in the text.]
Christianity is not instinctive to anyone, nor is it picked up casually without effort. It is a faith that has to be learned, and therefore taught, and so some sort of systematic instruction (catechumenate) is an essential part of a church’s life.

In the first Christian centuries there was a steady stream of adult converts and enquirers, and catechetical instruction took the form of lectures, given at their level. The Reformers’ strategy for revitalizing a Christendom that was ignorant of Christianity led them, however, to concentrate on systematic instruction for children. During a century and a half following Luther’s pioneer Little Catechism of 1529, literally hundreds of catechisms were produced, mostly though not exclusively for the young. Some of these were official church documents, others the private compositions of individual clergymen. The English Prayer Book catechism, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Westminster Shorter Catechism are among the best known. Probably most Protestants today associate catechisms and catechizing exclusively with nurturing children and would not think of presentations like C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, or Billy Graham’s Peace With God, or John Stott’s Basic Christianity, or G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, as catechetical, because they are written for adults. But inasmuch as they are intended to instruct outsiders and establish insiders in the fundamentals of the faith, catechetical is their proper description.

One great need today is a renewal of systematic Christian instruction—catechetical teaching—for adults. It need not be called that, nor need it take the form of rigid drilling in preset formulae, which is how old-time Protestants taught their children; but somehow or other, opportunities must be given for folk in and just outside the churches to examine Christian essentials, because there are so many for whom this is a prime need. Preaching often does not help them, for preaching ordinarily assumes in both speaker and hearers confident certainty about the fundamentals of the faith, and where this is lacking, sermons are felt to be remote and even irritating because of what appear as their unexamined assumptions. But the proper place for examining, challenging, and testing the intellectual ABCs of Christianity is not the pulpit, but rather the systematic instruction given in catechetical teaching—at least, so Christian history suggests.
Catechism: A Final Word (for now) | internetmonk.com

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The wisdom of Sherlock Holmes

After dipping into Samuel Johnson, my eyes fell upon this book which I have owned since  I was in high school. Some quotations from the work of Arthur Conan Doyle:
"I am inclined to think " said I.
"I should do so," Sherlock Holmes remarked, impatiently.— The Valley of Fear.

"There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion. It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers."— The Naval Treaty.

"It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."— A Scandal in Bohemia.

"It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."— The Beryl Coronet.

Inspector Gregory: "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime."
Inspector Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the nighttime."
Holmes: "That was the curious incident."— Silver Blaze.
Michael and Mollie Hardwick, The Sherlock Homes Companion, 1962.

To be of no church is dangerous

Browsing, this morning—as I watched the news—through one of the books I've had for a long time: A Johnson Sampler, a collection of Samuel Johnson quotations published in 1963, I selected the following as I encountered them. All are on religious subjects but have no other necessary connection with each other apart from the fact that I like them.
To be of no church is dangerous. Religion, of which the rewards are distant, and which is animated only by Faith and Hope, will glide by degrees out of the mind unless it be invigorated and reimpressed by external ordinances, by stated calls to worship, and by the salutary influence of example. (Lives of the Poets, 1779-1781)

To do the best, can seldom be the lot of man: it is sufficient if, when opportunities are presented, he is ready to do good. How little virtue could be practised if beneficence were to wait always for the most proper objects, and the noblest occasions; occasions that may never happen, and objects that may never be found? (Introduction to Proceedings of the Committee...for Clothing French Prisoners of War, 1760)

Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practise; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others those attempts which he neglects himself. (The Rambler 1750-1752, No. 14)

Piety practised in solitude, like the flower that blooms in the desert, may give its fragrance to the winds of Heaven, and delight those unembodied spirits that survey the works of God and the actions of men; but it bestows no assistance upon earthly beings, and however free from taints of impurity, yet wants the sacred splendour of beneficence. (The Adventurer 1752-1754, No. 126)

All theory is against freedom of the will; all experience for it. (Boswell's Life of Johnson, 15 April 1778)
Henry Darcy Curwen, A Johnson Sampler, Harvard UP, 1963

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Essentials and less-essentials

I like Albert Mohler's concept of "theological triage" and yesterday at internetmonk.com I encountered a post that, in the course of advocating better Christian education, catechesis, describes much the same approach. The quotation immediately below is attributed to "17th century Lutheran theologian, Rupertus Meldenius":
In essentials, unity.
In non-essentials, liberty.
In all things, charity.

This concept of “essentials” and “less-essentials” is clearly set forth in one of the best chapters in the book, Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, by J.I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett. They call this part of their book, in which they urge a renewed ministry of catechesis in the evangelical church, “Drawing Lines and Choosing Sides.”
By drawing lines, we mean, first, that good catechesis helps believers distinguish primary doctrines from those that may be considered secondary or tertiary. Not all things that the church teaches are equally important. Simply making this point is, in and of itself, a potent act of teaching. A second sort of line drawing that catechists engage in is pointing out that what we believe at each level of importance—primary, secondary, and tertiary—needs to be distinguished from what others have taught. We believe this as opposed to that. Hence, our line drawing also involves choosing sides.
They offer a wise and irenic way of teaching believers that can help us pursue unity with all believers while at the same time recognizing that our unity is a harmonious oneness that includes a great amount of diversity.

Drawing Lines
Packer and Parrett suggest that the teaching ministry of the church (its catechesis) should be recognized as having four layers:
  1. Christian Consensus: This the Faith, that which others have called, “Mere Christianity” or the “Great Tradition”—the Good News of the Story of our redemption and the basic contours of the Christian way.
  2. Evangelical Essentials: The authors, as evangelical Protestants, define this second level as those distinctives which set us apart from the other historic Christian traditions (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, etc.). An example of this would be the so-called Five Solas of the Reformation.
  3. Denominational Distinctives: These are the doctrines and practices that distinguish various Protestant groups from one another.
  4. Congregational Commitments: Even within a specific tradition or denomination, particular congregations will have a “vision, values, and practices” specifically shaped by their own unique callings, giftings, and cultural settings.
In our teaching ministry, these four layers must be appropriately “weighted” so that believers can learn to discern the relative importance of each level of commitment. .... [more]

The Packers

John Mark Reynolds in "On Loving the Packers" describes what he has learned from years of being a Green Bay Packer fan. He ends with this:
.... When the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, I was happy. The journey had been good. The great accomplishment belongs to the men who won the game, but I did something as well. I rooted for them well and faithfully

Of all the loves, Packer-love must be the least important, but it is love after all. Doing any love well is a foretaste of heaven where every desire is fulfilled and every dream comes true. [read it all]
On Loving the Packers » Evangel | A First Things Blog

Monday, February 7, 2011

Filming The Hobbit

The Wall Street Journal reports that "The Hobbit Gets a Date." After a series of delays filming will begin and Peter Jackson is directing.
Tolkien fans get ready: The Hobbit is set to start filming March 21, New Zealand production company 3Foot7 Ltd. said Monday. ....

According to reports, a few actors will reprise their Lord of the Rings roles in this installment, including Andy Serkis as Gollum, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and Sir Ian McKellan as Gandalf. And British actor Martin Freeman, known for his roles in the movie Love Actually and the BBC comedy show The Office, will play the title hobbit, Bilbo Baggins. .... [more]
The man pictured is Martin Freeman who will be the young[er] Bilbo. I saw him most recently doing a fine turn as Dr. John Watson in Sherlock.

'The Hobbit' Gets a Date -- To Start Filming -- Scene Asia - Scene Asia - WSJ

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A different kind of pastors' conference

Jared Wilson calls attention to a different kind of pastors' conference which asks, among other things:
  • What if we were reminded that we’re not responsible for being ‘successful’ in ministry, but we are responsible for being faithful to the calling that God has laid out for us – regardless of the outcome?
  • What if we had a conference that was led not by famous pastors who are household names, but by scandalously ordinary ministers and leaders who are faithfully attempting to join with God – even in the midst of glaring obscurity and anonymity?
The conference site:
The Gospel-Driven Church: The Un-Conference?, Epic Fail Pastors Conference :: April 14-16, 2011

The essential right

On the one hundredth anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth, quoting from an article he wrote in 1983:
I have often said we need to join in prayer to bring protection to the unborn. Prayer and action are needed to uphold the sanctity of human life. I believe it will not be possible to accomplish our work, the work of saving lives, "without being a soul of prayer." The famous British Member of Parliament, William Wilberforce, prayed with his small group of influential friends, the "Clapham Sect," for decades to see an end to slavery in the British empire. Wilberforce led that struggle in Parliament, unflaggingly, because he believed in the sanctity of human life. He saw the fulfillment of his impossible dream when Parliament outlawed slavery just before his death. ....

Abraham Lincoln recognized that we could not survive as a free land when some men could decide that others were not fit to be free and should therefore be slaves. Likewise, we cannot survive as a free nation when some men decide that others are not fit to live and should be abandoned to abortion or infanticide. My Administration is dedicated to the preservation of America as a free land, and there is no cause more important for preserving that freedom than affirming the transcendent right to life of all human beings, the right without which no other rights have any meaning.
Thanks to Michael Moriarty at Big Peace for the reference.

Ronald Reagan on Abortion on National Review Online

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Epiphany V: Leaning only upon Thee

Lord, we beseech thee to keep Thy Church and household continually in Thy true religion; that they which do lean only upon hope of Thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by Thy mighty power; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
[Thomas Cranmer]
THE kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
[Matthew 13]
Put not your trust in princes,
Nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.
His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish.

Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help,
Whose hope is in the LORD his God:
Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is:
Which keepeth truth for ever...

[Psalm 146]

Friday, February 4, 2011

Christian films

John Nolte at Big Hollywood wants to compile a list of the "Top 25 Greatest Christian Films" in time for Easter and he's asking for suggestions:
A few guidelines: These films should be openly Christian. I’m not interested in allegory or even subtlety. “Lord of the Rings” and “Narnia” are terrific, but once the floodgates open to that kind of thing it becomes impossible to draw any kind of line. But that doesn’t mean that the list will only include Biblical epics. There are plenty of mainstream movies, even dark and thematically complicated ones, where a Christian God is central or at least important to the story. Please feel free to nominate any of those and please feel free to nominate entries critical of the Christian faith. There’s nothing wrong with a smart, well-made, respectful story that forces us to think. Also...the Old Testament is an important part of our faith and anything in that arena should and will be considered.

Finally, please keep in mind that I’m no theologian. Far from it and will never pretend to be. .... All I’m going to do here is express my love for 25 films from the position of an everyday movie fanatic.... [more]
You can add your nominations for the list in the comments section at his site.

Big Hollywood » Blog Archive » Announcing Big Hollywood’s Countdown of the Top 25 Greatest Christian Films

Distinctions without a difference?

Denominations arose for a variety of reasons and some of them for reasons having more to do with ethnicity, historical accident, politics or even personal ambition than with differences of doctrine. But others exist as entities because of significant doctrinal distinctives that ought to make a difference to a conscientious Christian. Russell D. Moore, in "Where Have All the Presbyterians Gone?," notes data indicating that denominations are becoming less important in the United States:
Are we witnessing the death of America's Christian denominations? Studies conducted by secular and Christian organizations indicate that we are. Fewer and fewer American Christians, especially Protestants, strongly identify with a particular religious communion—Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, etc. According to the Baylor Survey on Religion, nondenominational churches now represent the second largest group of Protestant churches in America, and they are also the fastest growing.

More and more Christians choose a church not on the basis of its denomination, but on the basis of more practical matters. Is the nursery easy to find? Do I like the music? Are there support groups for those grappling with addiction?

This trend is a natural extension of the American evangelical experiment. After all, evangelicalism is about the fundamental message of Christianity—the evangel, the gospel, literally the "good news" of God's kingdom arriving in Jesus Christ—not about denomination building. ....

.... "Being a member of a church doesn't make you a Christian," the ubiquitous evangelical pulpit cliché went, "any more than living in a garage makes you a car." Thus these evangelical ministries tended not to talk about those issues that might divide their congregants. They avoided questions like: Who should be baptized and when? What does the Lord's Supper mean? Should women be ordained? And so on. .... [more]
Russell D. Moore: Where Have All the Presbyterians Gone? - WSJ.com

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The gift of rest

This may prove interesting, Sen. Joseph Lieberman on the Sabbath:
Simon & Schuster’s Howard Books division announced Thursday that Gift of Rest will come out in August. Co-written by David Klinghoffer, the book is a reflection on Lieberman’s observance of the Jewish Sabbath, a day of rest.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman writing book about Sabbath « The Daily Caller – Breaking News, Opinion, Research, and Entertainment

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"And there was evening and there was morning..."

For those of us who care about when the Sabbath begins and ends: "Find Out What Time is Sunrise and Sunset Using Google."
As everyone knows sunrise and sunset times vary throughout the year. It is always good to know the time the sun will rise and set because your plans may depend on the natural lighting of the sun. If you are a Jew, a Seventh-day Adventist or a Seventh-day Baptist etc. the start of your Sabbath will depend on the time that the sun sets. What if you do not have a recent newspaper with sunrise and sunset times? Well, you can simply type in what you want to know into your Google search bar....
And the post then proceeds to explain how to use Google to find out when sunset occurs where you live. It uses the "Sunrise and Sunset Calculator" at timeanddate.com. This was the result for where I live:

Find Out What Time is Sunrise and Sunset Using Google | Scienceray

Who gets left behind?

In a new book, Unfashionable: Making a Difference in the World by Being Different, Tullian Tchividjian considers a scripture passage used as a basis for the Rapture and explains how Our Lord has been misunderstood. Via David Koyzis at Evangel:
Matthew 24:37-41 is a key passage some Christians use to justify an escapist theology, approaching this world with a “Why shine the brass on a sinking ship?” attitude. In this passage Jesus likens “the coming of the Son of Man” to the time of Noah, when people “were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away.” Then Jesus gives two brief pictures of the effect of his coming: “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.”

These verses have been employed to support the idea that God will one day evacuate, or “rapture,” all the righteous people, leaving behind an evil world destined for annihilation. Therefore, the thinking goes, Christians should focus exclusively on seeking to rescue lost souls rather than waste time trying to fix things that are broken in this doomed world. This perspective is evidenced in a comment I read not long ago from a well-known Bible teacher: “Evangelism is the only reason God’s people are still on earth.”

But a closer look at the context reveals that in those pictures Jesus gave of men in the field and women at the mill, those “left behind” are the righteous rather than the unrighteous. Like the people in Noah’s day who were “swept away,” leaving behind Noah and his family to rebuild the world, so the unrighteous are “taken,” while the righteous are left behind. Why? Because this world belongs to God, and he’s in the process of gaining it all back, not giving it all up. .... [more]
Unfashionable: Making a Difference in the World by Being Different

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"Seek ye first..."

In a review of Perpetual Euphoria by Pascal Bruckner Thomas Meaney concludes that happiness is not achieved by seeking it:
.... Once upon a time in the West, the pursuit of happiness was not the chief end of life. Parents did not lose sleep over their children's prospects for self-fulfillment; instead they raised them to be burden-bearing members of their community. Christian doctrine stressed that human beings inhabited a fallen world in which satisfaction was postponed. Not only were pain and agony not to be avoided, they were, at times, opportunities to come closer to God. ....

.... Mr. Bruckner claims that the Christian attitude to pain contained the seeds of its own undoing. Many Christians naturally desired to hasten the coming of the Messiah, who would deliver them from their earthly torment. During the French Revolution, this urgent desire was secularized into utopian designs—as when idealists like Robespierre tried to eliminate the misery of the ancien regime and remake society in accordance with republican virtue. But for Mr. Bruckner, as much as for Edmund Burke, any attempt to usher in a reign of felicity will be marked by folly—and may well create new forms of misery. ....

Ultimately, Mr. Bruckner himself comes across as neither a stoic who advocates giving up on happiness nor a sentimentalist who thinks pain has some intrinsic or artistic value. We are only happy, he believes, in spite of the suffering around us, and only for rare, unexpected and often inexplicable moments. Happiness, he implies, may not be as important as qualities like lucidity and dignity. But if you really want it, the best way to find it is not to care too much about it. [more]
You know, these are yuppie words, happiness and unhappiness.
It's not happiness or unhappiness, it's either blessed or unblessed.
As the Bible says, "Blessed is the man who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly."

Bob Dylan

Book Review: Perpetual Euphoria - WSJ.com