Thursday, March 31, 2011

"For reading and declaiming aloud"

The celebration of the four hundredth anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible has occasioned many appreciations. This is the best I've read. Ann Wroe, "In the Beginning Was the Sound":
The King James now breathes venerability. Even online it calls up crammed, black, indented fonts, thick rag paper and rubbed leather bindings—with, inside the heavy cover, spidery lists of family ancestors begotten long ago. To read it is to enter a sort of communion with everyone who has read or listened to it before, a crowd of ghosts: Puritan women in wide white collars, stern Victorian fathers clasping their canes, soldiers muddy from killing fields....

...[T]he grandeur of the language gives momentousness even to the corner of a room, a drain running beside a field, a patch of abandoned ground:
I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding;
And lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down.
Then I saw, and considered it well; I looked upon it, and received instruction.
Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep… (Proverbs 24:30-33, KJV)
In such places shepherds “abide” with their sheep, motionless as figures made of stone. This landscape is carved broad and deep, like a woodcut, with sharply folded mountains, thick woven water, stylised trees and cities piled and blocked as with children’s bricks (all the better to be scattered by God later, no stone upon another). A sense of desolation haunts these streets and gates, echoing and shelterless places in which even Wisdom runs wild and cries. Yet within them sometimes we find a scene paced as tensely as in any modern novel, as when a young man in Proverbs steps out,
Passing through the street near her corner; and he went the way to her house,
In the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night:
And, behold, there met him a woman with the attire of an harlot, and subtil of heart. (Proverbs 7:8-10, KJV)
Just as stained glass shines more brightly for being set in stone, so the King James gains in splendour by comparison with the Revised Standard, Good News, New International and Heaven-knows-what versions that have come later. Thus John’s magnificent “The Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1, KJV), has become “The Word was already existing,” scholarship usurping splendour. That lilting line in Genesis (1:8, KJV), “And the evening and the morning were the second day” (note that second “the”, so apparently expendable, yet so necessary to the music) becomes “There was morning, and there was evening,” a broken-backed crawl. ....

Everywhere modern translations are more specific, doubtless more accurate, but always less melodious. The King James, deeply scholarly as it is, displaying the best learning of the day, never forgets that the word of God must be heard, understood and retained by the simple. For them—children repeating after the teacher, workers fidgeting in their best clothes, Tyndale’s own whistling ploughboy—rhythm and music are the best aids to remembering. This is language not for silent study but for reading and declaiming aloud. It needs to work like poetry, and poetry it is. ....

Undoubtedly the King James has been enhanced for us by the music that now curls round it. “For unto us a child is born” (Isaiah 9:6, KJV) can’t now be read without Handel’s tripping chorus, or “Man that is born of a woman” without Purcell’s yearning melancholy (“He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down” Job 14:2, KJV). Even “To every thing there is a season”, from Ecclesiastes (3:1, KJV), is now overlaid with the nasal, gently stoned tones of Simon & Garfunkel. Yet the King James also lured these musicians in the beginning, snaring them with stray lines that were already singing. “Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples, for I am sick of love” (Song of Solomon 2:5, KJV). “Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns” (Psalms 22:21, KJV). “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalms 19:1, KJV). “I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls” (Job 30:29, KJV). Or this, also from the Book of Job, possibly the most beautiful of all the Bible’s books—a passage that flows from one astonishingly random and sudden question, “Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?” (Job 38:22, KJV):
Hath the rain a father? Or who hath begotten the drops of dew?
Out of whose womb came the ice? And the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?
The waters are hid as with a stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.
Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Plaeiades, or loose the bands of Orion? (Job 38:28-31, KJV)
The beauty of this is inherent, deep in the original mind and eye that formed it. But again, the translators have made choices here: “hid” rather than “hidden”, “gendered” rather than “engendered”, all for the very best rhythmic reasons. We can trust them; we know that they would certainly have employed “hidden” and “engendered” if the music called for it. Unfailingly, their ear is sure. .... [read it all]
[Note: I added the "KJV" to all of the scripture references, although that should be obvious, because that allows an online link to the passage in that translation.]

IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE SOUND | More Intelligent Life

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

“What Would Jesus Want Me To Do?”

Joe Carter offers "Six Thoughts About Jesus", first observing:
...I rarely have fresh insights about Jesus (those are best left to theologians and heretics) but I had six thoughts that, however banal or obvious, might be worth sharing.
Two of the six:
  • “Jesus is not a Republican or a Democrat,” said my friend John Mark Reynolds, “He’s probably a monarchist.” When I first heard that claim I thought it was clever; now I find it to be a profound insight. Jesus constantly talked about the Kingdom of Heaven. So why do so few Christians talk about it? One reason, I believe, is that we are now all republicans and democrats (small-R, small-D) and simply don’t understand what Jesus is talking about. We may use the term “Lord” and “King of Kings” but—unlike the vast majority of people throughout history—we do not comprehend what it means to live under the reign of a king. We need some remedial training on how to live as subjects in a kingdom. We may be justified in rejecting the divine right of kings to rule but we cannot justify rejecting the rule of our divine king.
  • In 1896 a Christian socialist named Charles Sheldon wrote a book called In His Steps which popularized the slogan “What Would Jesus Do” and inspired two of the most well-intentioned but misguided fads of the twentieth century: the Social Gospel movement and the marketing of WWJD paraphernalia. The problem with both is that they are based on WWJD and that is the wrong question.
The gospels provide us with a clear record of what Jesus did—healed the sick, preached, traveled, made disciples. While we may also be expected to do these types of things, they were essential to Christ’s earthly mission. If he were walking the streets of America he would likely still be doing the same thing. But is this what we should be doing? Not necessarily. We are not Jesus; we are his disciples. Our mission is not his mission but the mission he assigns us. The question we should keep constantly before us is “What Would Jesus Want Me To Do?” But then WWJWMTD isn’t as easy to embroider on a bracelet or fit on a bumper sticker. .... [more]
Six Thoughts About Jesus | First Things

The Christians of Egypt

Peter Berger provides a fascinating short essay answering "Who are the Copts?" at his blog at The American Interest:
.... Who are these Copts? Certainly they are correctly identified as Christians. They are also correctly described as constituting some 10% of the Egyptian population and as the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they are also described as “Orthodox” Christians. That is a more iffy term. The Patriarch of Constantinople, for one, would not agree that the Coptic church is “Orthodox.” ....

The Coptic church in Egypt is commonly described as “Oriental,” a geographically confusing term. It is grouped with a number of other churches in Africa and the Middle East who share one important characteristic—they are not in communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople. In addition to the Coptic church in Egypt, these include sister churches of the latter—the churches of Ethiopia and Eritrea, and churches resulting from Coptic missionary activities in other African countries, and, very significantly, the Armenian church. There is also a scattering of related churches in Iraq and Syria (some called “Assyrian”). Theologically, all these churches are often called “Monophysite” (literally in Greek, “of one nature”). They don’t like this term. They prefer “Miaphysite” (literally, “of a compound nature”)—both adjectives refer to understandings of the relation between the divinity and the humanity of Christ. The least controversial designation of this ecclesiastical aggregation is “Non-Chalcedonian”—all these churches have rejected the Christological definitions of the Council of Chalcedon.
Berger then describes the theological issues addressed by Chalcedon pertaining to the relationship of human to divine in the person of Jesus Christ which "defined Christ as being both fully human and fully divine." And then:
Back to the Copts: They claim that their church was founded by the Apostle Mark in Alexandria as early as the middle of the first century. Leaving aside the role of Mark (which is hard to establish), the early date is very probably valid. Thus the head of the church carries the melodious title of Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy See of Saint Mark. The current incumbent is Pope Shenouda III. The Byzantine authorities, which had little tolerance for any Christian churches not under the control of Constantinople, set up an imperial (“Melkite”) patriarch in Alexandria with exactly the same title. It is not surprising that the Copts were not greatly upset when in the seventh century Arab armies incorporated Egypt in the burgeoning Islamic empire. Copts, along with Jews and other Christians, became dhimmis under Muslim rule—second-class citizens, but protected and given far-reaching rights as “People of the Book”. All the same, there were great benefits connected with conversion to Islam, and the Christian population of Egypt shrank over time. Today the great majority of Egyptian Christians are Copts. They can rightly claim to have the most ancient roots in the country. While their spoken language is now Arabic, their liturgical language is the vernacular version of ancient Egyptian as it was spoken around the time of Chalcedon—a remarkable cultural survival. .... [more]
Who are the Copts? | Religion and Other Curiosities

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"So it is written, so shall it be"

I just finished watching the approximately four hours of the newly restored version of The Ten Commandments [Blu-ray], 1956, with Charlton Heston as Moses. It is beautifully restored—surely one of the best ever restorations. I think I can recall seeing it in a theater when it first came out and I surely saw it on black and white TV in the mid-sixties and later, but I hadn't seen it in years. I think only Ben Hur comes anywhere close to its quality among the biblical epics of the time—a time before CGI when spectacle actually depended on a "cast of thousands."

John Nolte's review begins with a quotation from Cecil B. De Mille's introduction to the film:
"The theme of this picture is whether man ought to be ruled by God’s law or whether they are to be ruled by the whims of a dictator like Ramses. Are men property of the State, or are they free souls under God? This same battle continues throughout the world today...."
Nolte's response to the DVD is as enthusiastic as mine:
What’s most remarkable about the new Blu-ray is that it is easily the most beautiful film I’ve ever screened on television. Though the print I saw in the theatre Thursday night was a full, frame by frame restoration and jaw-dropping all on its own, the Blu-ray is, impossibly, even more beautiful. The VistaVision widescreen Technicolor pops right off the screen in ways I didn’t think possible. The richness of the colors, the stability of the blacks, and the details of everything, including fabrics and architecture, pull you deeper and deeper into the world of the film. ....

Though God is obviously DeMille’s star, Heston is the sun around which everything else revolves. His ability to speak some very difficult lines with complete sincerity is probably the greatest testament to his abilities as an actor. For any actor, that kind of straightforward dialogue, much of it spoken as grand proclamations, is a tightrope without a net. The risk of looking foolish is enormous and yet Heston never comes close. It’s a legendary and iconic performance no amount of words can do justice. ....  [more]
Big Hollywood ‘Ten Commandments’ Review:’ Cecil B. DeMille’s Masterpiece Arrives on Blu-ray Today

Monday, March 28, 2011

"Very wicked indeed"

From the very end of Evelyn Waugh's Scott-King's Modern Europe:
Later the headmaster sent for Scott-King.
"You know," he said, "we are starting this year with fifteen fewer classical specialists than we had last term?"
"I thought that would be about the number."
"As you know I'm an old Greats man myself. I deplore it as much as you do. But what are we to do? Parents are not interested in producing the 'complete man' any more. They want to qualify their boys for jobs in the modern world. You can hardly blame them, can you?"
"Oh yes," said Scott-King. "I can and do."
[....]
"What I was going to suggest was - I wonder if you will consider taking some other subject as well as the classics? History, for example, preferably economic history?"
"No, headmaster."
"But, you know, there may be something of a crisis ahead."
"Yes, headmaster."
"Then what do you intend to do?"
"If you approve, headmaster, I will stay as I am here as long as any boy wants to read the classics. I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world."
"It's a short-sighted view, Scott-King."
"There, headmaster, with all respect, I differ from you profoundly. I think it the most long-sighted view it is possible to take."
Evelyn Waugh, Scott-King's Modern Europe, Boston, 1949, pp. 88-89.

Note, 3/30: I changed the title of this post.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Breeding

Theodore Roosevelt has always been one of my favorite Presidents, admired for his character and many of his policies. But if I had known that he harbored opinions like these my admiration would have been considerably tempered. From a letter written and signed by Roosevelt to a prominent eugenicist:
.... I agree with you if you mean, as I suppose you do, that society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind. It is really extraordinary that our people refuse to apply to human beings such elementary knowledge as every successful farmer is obliged to apply to his own stock breeding. Any group of farmers who permitted their best stock not to breed, and let all the increase come from the worst stock, would be treated as fit inmates for an asylum. .... Some day we will realize that the prime duty - the inescapable duty - of the good citizen of the right type is to leave his or her blood behind him in the world; and that we have no business to permit the perpetuation of citizens of the wrong type. .... [more]
Letters of Note: Society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Useless counsel

Although he has a lot of respect for John Piper, Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk reacted negatively to Piper's statement that when people are affected by events like the tsunami in Japan "...sooner or later [they] want more than empathy and aid—they want answers."
.... People ultimately want love, not answers. Answers are not the capstone; love is. Most can do without specific explanations. No one can do without love. Even when sufferers cry out, “Why?” they are not asking for answers. They are expressing pain and hoping someone is there to hear their cries. Above all, they want to know they are not alone, not abandoned, not rejected. They want love. They want the presence of someone who cares. They want reassurance that someone is there to embrace them, listen to them, hold their hand, be their friend.

To believe that “answers” are the ultimate solution is to take the position of Job’s comforters. ....

The Book of Job is about the limits of wisdom. This book shows the insufficiency of “answers” in the face of human suffering. It is a critique of the approach we are always tempted to take—thinking that talking and teaching and reasoning and giving divine “answers” to life’s mysteries and problems are our greatest gift to the world. ....

.... Take a lesson from Job’s friends at the beginning of the book (Job 2:11-13). They simply came and sat with their friend. And they accomplished more in those seven days than in 38 chapters of speeches trying to explain the mysteries of God.

People don’t ultimately need answers from their friends. They need love. Before God, they need the faith and humility to know that he is bigger than any explanations, and that all humans are so limited that we can never figure out the mysteries of his ways. It is best simply to clasp one’s hands over one’s mouth. .... [more]
Addicted to “Answers” | internetmonk.com

Inclusivism

PETA: Don't call animals 'it':
PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is calling for a more animal-friendly update to the Bible.

The group is asking translators of the New International Version (NIV) to remove what it calls "speciesist" language and refer to animals as "he" or "she" instead of "it." ....

PETA is hoping the move toward greater gender inclusiveness will continue toward animals as well.

“When the Bible moves toward inclusively in one area ... it wasn’t much of a stretch to suggest they move toward inclusively in this area," Bruce Friedrich, PETA's vice president for policy, told CNN. ....

Whether their arguments will be enough to sway the translators is yet to be seen. Friedrich said he has yet to hear back from the Committee on Bible Translation.
PETA: Don't call animals 'it' in the Bible – CNN Belief Blog - CNN.com Blogs

Lent III: Purify my thoughts

WE beseech Thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of Thy humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of Thy majesty, to be our defense against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Thomas Cranmer]
BE ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. [Ephesians V]
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father, who hast created me to love and to serve Thee, enable (me) so to partake of the sacrament in which the Death of Jesus Christ is commemorated that I may henceforward lead a new life in Thy faith and fear. Thou who knowest my frailties and infirmities strengthen and support me. Grant me Thy Holy Spirit, that after all my lapses I may now continue stedfast in obedience, that after long habits of negligence and sin, I may, at last, work out my salvation with diligence and constancy, purify my thoughts from pollutions, and fix my affections on things eternal. Much of my time past has been lost in sloth, let not what remains, O Lord, be given me in vain, but let me from this time lead a better life and serve thee with a quiet mind through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Samuel Johnson, 1758]

Friday, March 25, 2011

Next on Narnia

I have been very much looking forward to the film of The Silver Chair, a favorite of mine among the books, but that will not be - at least not soon. The next book filmed will apparently be The Magician's Nephew. The Christian Post interviews Walden Media President Michael Flaherty about the next Narnia film:
CP: I read online that there was some talk about The Silver Chair being the next Narnia film but it's going to be The Magician's Nephew?

Flaherty: Right. We're looking at The Magician's Nephew now and I think everyone has their own favorite, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe being mine. But after that, I love The Magician's Nephew because it's a great origins story. You get to learn so much about where the wardrobe came from, where the lamppost came from, where Narnia came from and hopefully we'll get everything together and make that our next one.

CP: What's the timeline?

Flaherty: Well, we're talking to the estate and to Fox and if those three parties, if we can all agree to move forward, then what we would do is find someone to write the script. So, it could still be a couple of years. .... [more]
Interview: Walden Media President Michael Flaherty on Narnia 4 Film, Christian News, The Christian Post

Good intentions aren't enough

Germany's SPIEGEL asks "Is Environmentalism Really Working?" in a series of articles examining many of the unanticipated consequences of environmental policy — some of which do positive damage. Ethanol fits into that category:
.... Many haven't yet fully realized that E10 is an ecological swindle. People who want to help the environment shouldn't use it. Nine large European environmental associations recently conducted a joint study which concluded that the bottom line impact of the fuel on the environment is negative. Rainforests are being clear-cut in Brazil and Borneo to make room for sugarcane and oil palm cultivation. At the same time there's a shortage of arable land for food production, which is leading to the threat of famine in parts of the world. Last year, the price of grain rose sharply in the global market.

A single full tank of bio-ethanol uses up as much grain as an adult can eat in a whole year. [emphasis added] In order to cover the German requirement for biofuel, an arable area of around one million hectares would be needed. That is four times the size of the south-western German state of Saarland, which would need to be fertilized, treated with pesticides and intensively farmed. Environmental groups say that across Europe, farming for biofuels would create up to 56 million tons of additional greenhouse gases — an environmental crime they say must be stopped immediately. ....
Current US law will result in the banning of incandescent bulbs in the near future. The EU is already doing it. Perhaps we can profit from their experience:
The energy-saving bulbs that replaced them emit blue light and induce stress because they disrupt the body's production of the sleep hormone melatonin. In addition, they contain mercury — to the point that consumers are advised not to use them in children's rooms. ....

The energy-saving bulb is a pretty dirty affair if one takes a closer look at the production process. Eighty percent of the bulbs are made in China where safety standards are so lax that many workers suffer from mercury poisoning. In Germany, the bulbs are classified as special waste and the poisonous substance they contain has to be dumped in underground sites.

Furthermore, the new bulbs don't live up to their promise regarding energy efficiency either. When the magazine Ökotest tested an array of the bulbs recently, half of them didn't last longer than 6,000 hours, well below EU estimates of 10,000 hours, Indeed, it was found that the larger estimate applies only to continuous use. Switching the new bulbs on and off, it would seem, isn't good for them. .... [more]
Germany's Eco-Trap: Is Environmentalism Really Working? - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Shut up and listen

Alan Jacobs, annoyed by multiple distractions during a lecture, composes "rules for lecture attendance" — rules that would be equally appropriate on other occasions, in church or at the theater, for instance. I identified with his annoyance. The last four of his rules:
  • Turn your stupid, stupid, stupid cell phone off, and never look at it during the lecture.
  • If you plan to take notes, do so on paper. Do not haul out your laptop and make your neighbors try to listen to the speaker over the constant rattling of your keyboard.
  • Shut up. Listen to the speaker. Don't say anything to anyone at any time — unless, during Q&A time, you actually have question you'd like to know the answer to. (Note that almost none of the people who ask questions of public speakers are interested in getting real answers.)
  • Do not eat anything. What are you, some kind of barbarian? Wait until the lecture is over and then eat in a place appropriate for eating. No one listening to a lecture wants to smell your food or hear you chew, swallow, and suck your drink. No one.
Alan Jacobs: rules for lecture attendance

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The argument for never doing anything

There are plausible arguments against our military involvement in Libya, but Alana Goodman at Commentary Magazine singles out a particularly silly one, the perfect argument for never doing anything:
There’s an argument that seems to resurface from non-interventionists whenever the U.S. takes military action for humanitarian reasons. The line of reasoning goes something like this: (a.) The U.S. can’t intervene against all oppressive autocrats, so (b.) the U.S. shouldn’t intervene against any oppressive autocrats. ....

Let’s apply this logic to some other humanitarian policies. U.S. international food aid programs? There are a lot of starving kids out there, but we can’t feed all of them, so why bother? And how can we justify spending billions on an AIDS relief program in Africa when there are also epidemics in India, Russia, and China? ....

It’s true that we can’t do everything at once, but that’s hardly an argument for doing nothing at all.
Intervention Nihilism « Commentary Magazine

#3 at Amazon

Greg Gilbert at 9Marks on what he contends is Rob Bell's careless scholarship:
...[H]e writes with amazing confidence about certain facts (word meanings, Jewish backgrounds, historical issues), and yet if you just pick up a dictionary or google a quote, you realize that what he's saying is simply wrong. Pointing these things out isn't just a matter of "picking on" Bell, either. It's a matter of doing our best to make sure little errors don't become part of our atmosphere. Otherwise, before we know it we'll have people in our churches saying, as if everybody knows it already, that Luther was a universalist and that the Bible doesn't have a concept of "forever." ....
Gilbert goes on to discuss what he argues are serious errors in Bell's book, including Bell's contention that the Greek word aion never means "forever." I haven't read the book [and don't intend to] but Gilbert argues that pastors should since they will probably have to deal with parishioners who have:
As a pastor, you should probably read the book and be ready to answer questions about it (it's selling at #3 on Amazon today, after all). But don't go in thinking it's a serious scholarly work, or a tightly-reasoned theological argument. Just open your Bible beside it, along with a basic lexicon and Google for quotes like the Luther one, and I think you'll find that it's a suprisingly easy book for you to answer. [more]
Two Cents, and Not a Penny More, on Love Wins. | 9Marks

Middle Earth on film

The Blu-ray DVD "Extended Edition" of The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy is available for pre-order at Amazon for $83.99 [and if you buy it by clicking through from here, "One Eternal Day" will benefit]. Each film in the trilogy will be spread over two discs with additional supplemental discs - fifteen in all.

In additional good news for Tolkien enthusiasts, Peter Jackson has begun filming of The Hobbit in New Zealand [see also here]. The much thinner Jackson is below, apparently inside a set for Bilbo's Bag End.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Taking offense

From a New Republic review by Isaac Chotiner of Stefan Collini's That’s Offensive!:
.... Treating people with respect is a fine goal, but Collini notices that respect tends to be shown with special deference to so-called “out groups.” Claims of offense that would otherwise be ignored are instead given credence and even deference. Collini also correctly identifies the people who tend to fall into this trap. Very few “progressive” forces, for example, would have shown any “understanding” of hurt Christian feelings if Jesus had been mocked in a Danish newspaper. The entire force of the argument against the offensiveness of the Danish cartoons was based on the concern that Muslims were somehow less powerful than other religious believers. But this hardly qualifies as an adequate justification for a double standard. ....

...[I]f one decides to criticize a culture or a tradition or a work of art, doing so is not an act of Western arrogance. Criticism is not Western or Eastern or Christian or Jewish, and those facing criticism—and those societies and cultures facing criticism—should respond in a spirit of openness about truth. To withhold criticism from certain communities or religions is, in Collini’s word, a form of condescension towards them. It denies these groups the ability to engage in constructive dialogue, and to fortify their own values. In the final analysis, everyone loses. ....

.... “When engaged in public argument … do not be so afraid of giving offence that you allow bad arguments to pass as though they were good ones, and do not allow your proper concern for the vulnerable to exempt their beliefs and actions from that kind of rational scrutiny to which you realize, in principle, your own beliefs must also be subjected.” .... [more]
Isaac Chotiner Reviews Stefan Collini's "That’s Offensive!" | The New Republic

On "the opiate of the masses"

From Justin Taylor:
We’ve all heard the line about the danger of “being so heavenly-minded that we’re no earthly good.” But surely C. S. Lewis was right: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. . . . It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this” (Mere Christianity, chapter 10).
Jonathan Edwards on Heaven and Hell – Justin Taylor

Monday, March 21, 2011

He permits us to ignore Him

Some more thoughts inspired by the controversy over Rob Bell's new book. First, from John Mark Reynolds:
We only have analogies to understand the love of God. In his new book dealing with the afterlife, Rob Bell suggests that the best story of love is one that never gives up ... that never takes “no” as “no,” but this is quite wrong. The best lover allows the beloved to go and knows that sometimes “no” is forever. ....

Love that will not take “no” for an answer, that never gives up, is not love, but an attempt at tyranny. Sometimes “no” just means “no” and time cannot heal certain wounds, because the beloved marries someone else and ends the possibility of reconciliation. ....

It is not a sign of God’s weakness that we can hurt Him, but of His love for us.

I would never wish any particular person to be damned forever. Reason, revelation, and romance tell me that sometimes “no” means “no” and we are changed by that answer forever. When does this happen? That is for wiser heads than mine to say, but happen it must.

Sometimes “no” means “no.” [more]
And from Russell D. Moore:
Attempts to navigate around the truth of hell as everlasting punishment show us something of our complicity in the Edenic sin: the substitution of human wisdom and human justice and, yes, human notions of love for the authority of God. ....

As C.S. Lewis writes, “In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell is itself a question: ‘What are you asking God to do?’ To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But he has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what he does.” .... [more]
No Means No » Evangel | A First Things Blog, Moore to the Point by Russell D. Moore

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Lent II: Called unto holiness

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Thomas Cranmer]
WE beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more. For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: that no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also give unto us his Holy Spirit. [I Thessalonians IV]
ALMIGHTY GOD, by whose mercy I am now about to commemorate the death of my Redeemer, grant that from this time I may so live as that His death may be efficacious to my eternal happiness. Enable me to conquer all evil customs. Deliver me from evil and vexatious thoughts. Grant me light to discover my duty, and Grace to perform it. As my life advances, let me become more pure, and more holy. Take not from me Thy Holy Spirit, but grant that I may serve Thee with diligence and confidence; and when Thou shalt call me hence, receive me to everlasting happiness, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Samuel Johnson, 1773]

Friday, March 18, 2011

When the worship leader talks too much

Referring to a blog discussion about the proper role of a worship leader [apparently meaning a song leader — which is a problem in itself], Url Scaramanga at Out of Ur asks:
.... Should worship leaders talk between songs, contribute to the teaching within the gathering, and tell stories to draw the congregation toward God? Or, should they stay out of the way and simply sing? ....

The comments have been particularly interesting with folks on both sides.

Andrew says:
More than happy for the Worship leader to talk between songs as long as its connected to the songs/service/message/theme of the service. Everything that’s said should point people towards God and not distract them from entering into His presence.
On the other side, Katie Ristow says:
So there’s gotta be some speaking instruction, but I’ll you my biggest pet peeve: when a worship leader talks before and after each song. Worship isn’t about the leader and what he or she is feeling, but about the worshiper and Jesus. When the worship leader talks too much, it can feel like they’re interrupting the conversation I’m having with Jesus.
It is interesting and encouraging that both comments indicate that the "worship leader" should get out of the way calling as little attention to themselves as possible.

Should Worship Leaders Talk or Just Sing? | Out of Ur | Conversations for Ministry Leaders

"Love to the loveless shown"

Re-posted because Ray Ortlund, whose blog posting originally called it to my attention, reminds me of it once again. It is a wonderful hymn, always appropriate, but particularly in this season:


My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?

He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But Oh! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.
Samuel Crossman, 1664

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Too well-educated to criticize..."

The current controversy at the Crystal Cathedral may prove how difficult it is to return to orthodox doctrine once it has been disregarded. Joe Carter suggests it exemplifies Neuhaus’ Law:
Richard John Neuhaus once defined Neuhaus’ Law as “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.”
Some otherwise bright people have indicated their puzzlement with that axiom but it seems to me, well, axiomatic. Orthodoxy, no matter how politely expressed, suggests that there is a right and a wrong, a true and a false, about things. When orthodoxy is optional, it is admitted under a rule of liberal tolerance that cannot help but be intolerant of talk about right and wrong, true and false. [emphasis added] It is therefore a conditional admission, depending upon orthodoxy’s good behavior. The orthodox may be permitted to believe this or that and to do this or that as a matter of sufferance, allowing them to indulge their inclination, preference, or personal taste. But it is an intolerable violation of the etiquette by which one is tolerated if one has the effrontery to propose that this or that is normative for others.
A prime example of this law in action can be found at the Crystal Cathedral church in Garden Grove, California. The L.A. Times has a story about the “controversy” over choir members being asked to sign a statement that—are you sitting down?—God intends sex only for married heterosexuals. The shocking paragraph from the Crystal Cathedral Worship Choir and Worship Team Covenant reads:
Crystal Cathedral ministries believes that it is important to teach and model the biblical view. I understand that Crystal Cathedral Ministries teaches that sexual intimacy is intended by God to only be within the bonds of marriage, between one man and one woman.
A well-established orthodox [and biblical] position that, unfortunately, the founding pastor disagrees with. Carter again:
.... Robert Schuller (who is also the father of the current senior pastor, Sheila Schuller Coleman) says the statement “goes against what he has built his church upon.”(!)
“I have a reputation worldwide of being tolerant of all people and their views,” he told the Orange County Register.

“I’m too well-educated to criticize a certain religion or group of people for what they believe in. It’s called freedom.”
I’ve heard the purveyor of positive thinking called many things but “too well-educated” is not one of them. ....
Neuhaus’ Law and the Crystal Cathedral » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bell and Hell

Some doctrinal issues are best left ambiguous. The question of Hell may not be one of them. Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, is now out and being reviewed. Kevin DeYoung introduces his "God Is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School Is Still True: A Review of Love Wins," as follows:
Love Wins, by megachurch pastor Rob Bell, is, as the subtitle suggests, “a book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived.” Here’s the gist: Hell is what we create for ourselves when we reject God’s love. Hell is both a present reality for those who resist God and a future reality for those who die unready for God’s love. Hell is what we make of heaven when we cannot accept the good news of God’s forgiveness and mercy. But hell is not forever. God will have his way. How can his good purposes fail? Every sinner will turn to God and realize he has already been reconciled to God, in this life or in the next. There will be no eternal conscious torment. God says no to injustice in the age to come, but he does not pour out wrath (we bring the temporary suffering upon ourselves), and he certainly does not punish for eternity. In the end, love wins.
After a lengthy examination of the book, DeYoung concludes
No doubt, Rob Bell writes as a pastor who wants to care for people struggling with the doctrine of hell. I too write as a pastor. And as a pastor I know that Love Wins means God’s people lose. In the world of Love Wins, my congregation should not sing “In Christ Alone” because they cannot not believe, “There on the cross where Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” They would not belt out “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood.” No place for “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” with its confession, “the deepest stroke that pierced him was the stroke that Justice gave.” The jubilation of “No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in him, is mine!” is muted in Love Wins. The bad news of our wrath-deserving wretchedness is so absent that the good news of God’s wrath-bearing Substitute cannot sing in our hearts. When God is shrunk down to fit our cultural constraints, the cross is diminished. And whenever the cross is diminished we pain the hearts of God’s people and rob them of their joy.

Just as damaging is the impact of Love Wins on the nonbeliever or the wayward former churchgoer. Instead of summoning sinners to the cross that they might flee the wrath to come and know the satisfaction of so great a salvation, Love Wins assures people that everyone’s eternity ends up as heaven eventually. The second chances are good not just for this life, but for the next. And what if they aren’t? What if Jesus says on the day of judgment, “Depart from me, I never knew you” (Matt. 7:23)? What if at the end of the age the wicked and unbelieving cry out, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:16)? What if outside the walls of the New Jerusalem “are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Rev. 22:15)? What if there really is only one name “under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12)? And what if the wrath of God really remains on those who do not believe in the Son (John 3:18, 36)?
Some other reviews:

ID


I just spent several hours walking out to and back from the Wisconsin DMV to get my ID renewed for eight years. This is the picture that appears on it. My long-time cleaning lady [and former student, '70s vintage] doesn't think the picture reflects an accurate sense of my personality. I rather like it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Politically incorrect

If you, like me, enjoy reading thrillers, detective stories and tales of international intrigue, but become annoyed when the ultra violent hero's political opinions turn out to be liberal and politically correct, then you might enjoy David Forsmark's "18 Fictional Heroes On the Right Side from the Literary World" [In the process of writing he added one, so there are finally nineteen.] He introduces them, in part, as follows:
...[H]ere, in somewhat chronological order, are 18 of the best heroes to star in their own series of mysteries, thrillers, and espionage novels. Some are not overtly political, but none are politically correct—still others deserve mention because they swam upstream against the prevailing literary trend of the time.

Note: Such stellar authors who definitely lean to the right as Dean Koontz, Andrew Klavan, Ralph Peters, and Joseph Wambaugh, are not included because they primarily write stand alone novels, and their work is not primarily identified with a dominant hero.
Among the "fictional heros" are several I have enjoyed a lot: Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee, Dick Francis's Sid Halley [and all the Halleys by other names], Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch, and Robert Crais's Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Many of the others I have not read and I have a lower opinion than his of a few of those I have read. But there is a lot of good entertaining stuff here. I just finished a recent Connelly and the most recent Crais. Another Connelly is about to come out and Lincoln Lawyer, a film based on another of his characters, is about to hit the theaters.

From Marlowe to Mitch: 18 Fictional Heroes On the Right Side from the Literary World, Part 1 | NewsReal Blog

Monday, March 14, 2011

Solitude

Leon Neyfakh, at The Boston Globe, reviews some academic studies about the effects of being alone. Loneliness, i.e. yearning for human companionship, is not really the focus of the article — emerging evidence of benefits gained by time spent alone is. A few short excerpts:
...[A]n emerging body of research is suggesting that spending time alone, if done right, can be good for us — that certain tasks and thought processes are best carried out without anyone else around, and that even the most socially motivated among us should regularly be taking time to ourselves if we want to have fully developed personalities, and be capable of focus and creative thinking. ....

One ongoing Harvard study indicates that people form more lasting and accurate memories if they believe they’re experiencing something alone. Another indicates that a certain amount of solitude can make a person more capable of empathy towards others. ....

Teenagers, especially, whose personalities have not yet fully formed, have been shown to benefit from time spent apart from others, in part because it allows for a kind of introspection — and freedom from self-consciousness — that strengthens their sense of identity. ....

...[P]eople who are socially connected with others can have a hard time identifying with people who are more distant from them. Spending a certain amount of time alone, the study suggests, can make us less closed off from others and more capable of empathy — in other words, better social animals. .... [more]
...[H]e would withdraw to desolate places and pray. Luke 5:16 (ESV)

Update: Via Ray Ortlund
“People today are afraid to be alone. This fear is a dominant mark of our society. Many now ceaselessly sit in the cinema or read novels about other people’s lives or watch dramas. Why? Simply to avoid having to face their own existence....

No one seems to want (and no one can find) a place of quiet — because, when you are quiet, you have to face reality. But many in the present generation dare not do this because on their own basis reality leads them to meaninglessness; so they fill their lives with entertainment, even if it is only noise....

The Christian is supposed to be very opposite: There is a place for proper entertainment, but we are not to be caught up in ceaseless motion which prevents us from ever being quiet. Rather we are to put everything second so we can be alive to the voice of God and allow it to speak to us and confront us.”

Francis Schaeffer, “Walking through the mud,” in No Little People (Downers Grove, 1974), pages 86-87.

I have calmed and quieted my soul. Psalm 131:2
The power of lonely - The Boston Globe, Quietness before God – Ray Ortlund

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Can man rule himself?

Marvin Olasky was invited to be on Glenn Beck's show to discuss Edward Bernays, the man credited with having invented modern public relations, about whom Olasky had written a book some years ago. He found Beck's "interview" an interesting experience. From Olasky's description in WORLD Magazine, "Beck, Jesus, and me":
Beck introduced me as "a former Communist. Now he believes man can rule himself." Not exactly, on the last part: I said, "We are people created to worship in some way. If we don't worship God, we'll worship the human gods created by people like Bernays." Beck wrote on one blackboard, "Can man rule himself?" He then answered the question: "Yes, if enlightened, educated, empowered, and entrepreneurial." But the Bible says our first sin, back in the Garden, was attempting to rule ourselves. ....

We went to audience questions. Petrina, very serious, asked for help in dealing with her "sense of powerlessness and sadness." I said people propose various schemes, but "Nothing works apart from Jesus Christ." Beck said, "That's not the way I would have answered it," then added a diplomatic, "but it's a good answer." He offered his prescription for a disordered society: "We just have to put it all in order. We have to enlighten ourselves, educate ourselves, empower ourselves, and then be creators. That is the solution."

Clear enough. Two different views: One with God at the center, one with man at the center. Beck emphasized his position: "Jefferson said fix reason firmly in her seat, and question the very existence of God. I have applied that to not just God but everything. . . . Empower yourself."

Oh, and one little thing: It seems that the show we taped was a little longer than the 41 minutes typical for Beck shows archived at his website. I went to the website a few days later to see how it all looked, and—surprise—my comment that "Nothing works apart from Jesus Christ," and Beck's initially curt response, were not there. I guess something had to be cut.
I find it almost impossible to view Beck's show. He is a perfect example of one who has just enough knowledge to be dangerous. He obviously doesn't understand Christianity, or, I suspect, his own faith. Thomas Jefferson was a very great man some of whose ideas about religion [and revolution, and Reason (with a capital "R")] were very silly, and nobody with respect for the faith would quote him on it.

WORLD Magazine | Beck, Jesus, and me | Marvin Olasky | Mar 26, 11

Lent I: To die to self

O LORD, which for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the spirit, we may ever obey Thy Godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to Thy honor and glory, which liveth and reigneth with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
[Thomas Cranmer]
THEN was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.
[Matthew IV]
Lord, who throughout these forty days
For us didst fast and pray,
Teach us with Thee to mourn our sins
And close by Thee to stay.

As Thou with Satan didst contend,
And didst the victory win,
O give us strength in Thee to fight,
In Thee to conquer sin.

As Thou didst hunger bear, and thirst,
So teach us, gracious Lord,
To die to self, and chiefly live
By Thy most holy Word.

And through these days of penitence,
And through Thy passiontide,
Yea, evermore in life and death,
Jesus, with us abide.

Abide with us, that so, this life
Of suffering over past,
An Easter of unending joy
We may attain at last.

[Clau­dia Her­na­man, 1873]

Friday, March 11, 2011

Moderation and restraint

Via Ray Ortlund:

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31-32

“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” Proverbs 29:11 .... [more]
[The poster is WWII vintage from Britain.]

Revival replaces reproach – Ray Ortlund

Thursday, March 10, 2011

An arrogant incredulity

Rabbi David Wolpe wonders why his posts on religious sites always seem to draw responses from angry atheists. "It is curious," he says, "that a religion site draws responses mostly from atheists, and that the atheists are very unhappy." He suggests four possible answers to Why Are Atheists So Angry?:
  1. Atheists genuinely resent the evil that religion has done. No one can seriously deny that religion has been guilty of wickedness in this world and has provided cover for wickedness. I refer not only to abusers who hide under the cloak of clergy, but religious persecutions, the stifling of speech and dissent, the mistreatment of women — the crimes are legion. While as a believer I think there is much more to be said about this topic, it is certainly reasonable for people to be angry at religion for its abuses, particularly people who have themselves been victims.
  2. They are convinced that religion is a fairy tale made up of whole cloth that impedes science/progress/rational thought. No avalanche of counterexamples, from noted scientists who are believers to the way in which the scientific method has flourished in the monotheistic west (as opposed to say, the non-monotheistic eastern societies) will serve to dissuade. That which is understood to have happened to Galileo is all, apparently, one needs to know.
  3. Here is where I make my bid for more obloquy to be visited on my head. There is an arrogant unwillingness to engage with religion's serious thinkers. Too many atheists assume that a couple of insults will substitute for argument. They suffer from the incredulity of those who cannot believe anyone would disagree. It reminds me of the most self-assured of the faithful, who suffer the same intellectual imperialism. "I am right," a statement we all identify with from time to time, becomes "therefore you are stupid for disagreeing." A disagreeable sentiment, to say the least. And a narrow, thoughtless one, to boot.
  4. Finally, I will go so far as to say that there is sometimes in the atheist a want of wonder. In a world in which so much is still not understood, in which multiple universes are possible, in which we have not pierced the mystery of consciousness, to discount the supernatural is to lack the openness to mystery that should be a human hallmark. There is so much we do not know. Religious people too should acknowledge this truth. Epistemological humility — the acknowledgment that we are at the very first baby steps of understanding — is far wiser than arrogance on either side. After all, we comprehend with our brains, and who knows how limited are our only organs of understanding? .... [more]
Rabbi David Wolpe: Why Are Atheists So Angry?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Coffee and Hell

Review copies of Rob Bell's new book are now circulating and the first reviews seem to justify those accusing him of Universalism. Joe Carter is inclined to think that "hip young evangelicals" are a bit too willing to discard "unpalatable" doctrine:
After years of incessant whining and pleading, my dad finally caved in on my tenth birthday. If I would agree to finally shut up about it and not tell my mother, he’d let me start drinking coffee. Thrilled to have tiptoed inside the outer realm of adult pleasures, I poured myself a big cup of Folgers, took a sip, and instantly spit it into the kitchen sink.

The stuff was nasty. Nasty and bitter.

So I added a little milk and sugar. Then I tasted, spit, and added more milk and more sugar. I continued this process until what remained tasted like the leftover liquid from the world’s worst sugary kid’s cereal (Super Sugar Coffee Puffs!).

By the time I was ten years and three days old I had forever given up being a coffee drinker. Surprisingly, though I had developed a talent for watering down and sugarcoating the bitter, I never became a hip, young evangelical pastor.

Evangelicals may not have been the first Christians to dilute doctrine to make it palatable—but we’ve refined it into a fine art.

Take, for example, the doctrine of hell. .... [more]
Yes, Evangelicals, There Really Is a Hell » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

The origin of Lent

William J. Tighe, a history professor at Muhlenberg College explained "The Making of Lent" a couple of years ago in Touchstone. The traditions we associate with the period did not come together all at once, but, he wrote:
Every indication is that this 40-day fast was of Egyptian origin, and, in its original purpose, was wholly unconnected with ascetical preparation for the celebration of the Lord’s passion, death, and Resurrection.

Rather, the ancient Egyptian fast was a commemoration and imitation of the Lord’s fasting in the wilderness for 40 days following his baptism by John the Baptist. This fast therefore began right after the feast of Epiphany, which celebrated the Lord’s baptism, and ended some considerable time, a matter of weeks, before Easter, but ended, nevertheless, with a climactic baptism of catechumens. ....

It thus seems that Lent, pursued backwards in twisting paths through time and history, has at last been disclosed to be a child of Egypt, a fasting period of 40 days that served both as a communal commemoration of Christ’s fast in the wilderness and as a preparation for the baptism of those to be received into the Church. It is the “ghost” of this baptismal day that survives in the baptismal elements of Lazarus Saturday in the Byzantine tradition.

In Egypt, the great fast originally had nothing to do with Easter; and Easter, strange as this may seem to Christians today, originally had nothing to do with baptism. It was the action of the Council of Nicaea that launched this fast into the Christian world generally. In variable and, at first, unstable ways, it was combined with older traditions of asceticism, Christian initiation, and the commemoration of the Lord’s passion, death, and Resurrection, before settling down into distinctive Eastern and Western patterns. [more]
Touchstone Archives: The Making of Lent

Ash Wednesday: New and contrite hearts

Almighty and everlasting God, which hatest nothing that Thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that be penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of Thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ. Amen. [Thomas Cranmer]
WHEN ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
[Matthew VI]
Out of the depths I cry to Thee;
Lord, hear me, I implore Thee!
Bend down Thy gracious ear to me;
I lay my sins before Thee.
If Thou rememberest each misdeed,
If each should have its rightful meed,
Who may abide Thy presence?

Thou grantest pardon through Thy love;
Thy grace alone availeth;
Our works could ne’er our guilt remove;
Yea, e’en the best life faileth.
For none may boast himself of aught,
But must confess Thy grace hath wrought
Whate’er in him is worthy.

And thus my hope is in the Lord,
And not in my own merit;
I rest upon His faithful Word
To them of contrite spirit.
That He is merciful and just,
Here is my comfort and my trust;
His help I wait with patience.
[Martin Luther, 1524]

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A loser in the worship wars

Just as entitlements have been the "third rail" in American politics, so it is with worship among Evangelicals. "Chaplain Mike" at Internet Monk, touched that rail yesterday and today revisits the subject: "Let Me Restate That…A Rant Clarified." I agree with him [just another loser]. A selection from those clarifications:
  • When I say I am a loser in the worship wars, it is not just because most churches today have chosen a style of music that doesn’t suit me. I like and play all kinds of music, and have used a great variety of styles in leading worship.
  • When I say I am a “loser” in the worship wars, I mean that I feel the evangelical church took “worship” away from me. It changed the definition and ethos of worship. The church growth strategy that has overwhelmed today’s evangelical church uses music as a tool to attract people to church and stimulate them into particular emotional states, then calls that “worship.” ....
  • Can we embrace the simple concept that we gather as believers for worship, and then scatter into the world to do our service? “Worship” was never intended to be an outreach to the lost and unchurched. So, worship together as God’s family, with grace and hospitality, of course, to those who may visit you. But then learn that the “Christian life” is not one lived in the confines of the “temple” (the church program). Make Monday-Saturday your primary context of outreach and service and attraction to Jesus Christ as you live out your vocations in the world. We are called to win people by our lives, not by having them attend an entertaining program. .... [more]
Let Me Restate That…A Rant Clarified | internetmonk.com

"Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future"

Peter Wehner, on the relevance of personal morality as we judge the fitness of individuals for public office:
Lives have moral trajectories. Before his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul was a persecutor of Christians. Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future, in the words of Oscar Wilde. But not every sinner has the same past. Forgiveness shouldn’t be confused with what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” And when the situation allows for it, it probably makes sense to invest our trust in public officials whose lives have been characterized by integrity rather than by self-indulgence.
On Infidelity and Presidents « Commentary Magazine

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Quinquagesima: Pour into our hearts that most excellent gift

O Lord which dost teach us that all our doings without charity are nothing worth; send thy Holy Ghost, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and all virtues, without the which whosoever liveth is counted dead before Thee: Grant this for Thy only son, Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.
[Thomas Cranmer]
THOUGH I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
[I Corinthians XIII]
Gracious Spirit, dwell with me!
I myself would gracious be;
And with words that help and heal
Would Thy life in mine reveal;
And with actions bold and meek
Would for Christ my Savior speak.

Truthful Spirit, dwell with me!
I myself would truthful be;
And with wisdom kind and clear
Let Thy life in mine appear;
And with actions brotherly
Speak my Lord’s sincerity.

Holy Spirit, dwell with me!
I myself would holy be;
Separate from sin, I would
Choose and cherish all things good,
And whatever I can be
Give to Him who gave me Thee!
[Thom­as T. Lynch, 1885]

Friday, March 4, 2011

"The better angels of our nature"

These words from the conclusion of Lincoln's First Inaugural Address [March 4, 1861] have relevance to our rather less fraught times:
I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
Lincoln Addresses the Nation - NYTimes.com

Bono on Christ

Via Sean Curnyn at The Cinch Review [who found it here], a quotation from Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas:
Assayas: That’s a great idea, no denying it. Such great hope is wonderful, even though it’s close to lunacy, in my view. Christ has his rank among the world’s great thinkers. But Son of God, isn’t that farfetched?

Bono: No, it’s not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: “I’m the Messiah.” I’m saying: “I am God incarnate.” And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You’re a bit eccentric. We’ve had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don’t mention the “M” word! Because, you know, we’re gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you’re expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he’s gonna keep saying this. So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who He said He was the Messiah or a complete nutcase. I mean, we’re talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. This man was like some of the people we’ve been talking about earlier. This man was strapping himself to a bomb, and had “King of the Jews” on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the Cross, was going: OK, martyrdom, here we go. Bring on the pain! I can take it. I’m not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that’s farfetched. [emphasis added]
Bono talks Jesus Christ | The Cinch Review

The faith once delivered?

As a non-theologian who is nevertheless interested, I found Kevin DeYoung's post this morning about "The Making of American Liberal Theology" illuminating. He has been reading the first volume of The Making of American Liberal Theology: Imagining Progressive Religion 1805-1900 by Gary Dorrien and provides quotations from the book intended to answer "So what is [theological] liberalism?" I've recopied the first and last points below but there is much more here. [The bold headings and unindented comments are DeYoung's. The indented material is Dorrien's.]
1. True religion is not based on external authority
The idea of liberal theology is nearly three centuries old. In essence, it is the idea that Christian theology can be genuinely Christian without being based upon external authority. Since the eighteenth century, liberal Christian thinkers have argued that religion should be modern and progressive and that the meaning of Christianity should be interpreted from the standpoint of modern knowledge and experience. (xii)
What’s more, Dorrien recognizes this rejection is something new in the history of the church.
Before the modern period, all Christian theologies were constructed within a house of authority. All premodern Christian theologies made claims to authority-based orthodoxy. Even the mystical and mythopoetic theologies produced by premodern Christianity took for granted the view of scripture as an infallible revelation and the view of theology as an explication of propositional revelation. Adopting the scholastic methods of their Catholic adversaries, Protestant theologians formalized these assumptions with scholastic precision during the seventeenth century. Not coincidentally, the age of religious wars that preceded the Enlightenment is also remembered as the age of orthodoxy.

Reformed and Lutheran orthodoxy heightened the Reformation principle that scripture is the sole and infallibly sufficient rule of faith, teaching that scripture is also strictly inerrant in all that it asserts. (xv)
Note that Dorrien does not believe inerrancy was a Princetonian invention.
DeYoung proceeds to quote Dorrien with respect to six more distinguishing characteristics of theological liberalism. The final point:
7. The true religion is the way of Christ, not any particular doctrines about Christ.
The Word of Christ is not a doctrine or the end of an argument, but a self-authenticating life; it is morally regenerative spiritual power claimed in Christ’s spirit…Moving beyond their mentor, the Bushnellians accented the humanity of Christ; Munger and Gladden lifted Jesus’ teaching above any claims about his person. In both cases, however, a self-authenticating moral image conceived as the power of true religion was in control. The true religion is the way of Christ. (399-400)
Dorrien observes that this kind of religion was a departure from historic orthodoxy.
Traditional Protestant orthodoxies place the substitutionary atonement of Christ at the center of Christianity, conceiving Christ’s death as a propitiatory sacrifice that vicariously satisfied the retributive demands of divine justice. (400)
The new progressive religion of liberalism understood Christianity quite differently.
By the end of Beecher’s life, it was almost prosaic for Munger and Gladden to assert that Christianity is essentially a life, not a doctrine. (405)
Liberalism is not a swear word to be thrown around. It is a diverse, but identifiable approach to Christianity, one that differs significantly from historic orthodoxy, not to mention evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Liberals believe they are making Christianity relevant, credible, beneficial, and humane. Evangelicals in the line of J. Gresham Machen believe they are making something other than Christianity.

As Shakespeare put it, “Ay, there’s the rub.”
The Making of American Liberal Theology – Kevin DeYoung