Wednesday, August 31, 2011

People want a pastor

Matt Chandler, Tim Keller, and Michael Horton [a Baptist and two Presbyterians], two mega-church pastors and a theologian, discuss the inclination to involve every member in "ministry," and the particular role of pastor. The difficulties they discuss are not unique to very large churches.
It’s popular for evangelicals to say every member is a minister. But Matt Chandler, Michael Horton, and Tim Keller discuss in this video whether that idea truly reflects Scripture and the best interests of the church. Indeed, Horton argues that the office of the ministry is in trouble. ...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"The only sin which cannot be forgiven"

A long essay by Joseph Bottum, "God and the Detectives," considers the religious detective story. Among those that he finds successful are many of Chesterton's Father Brown stories and Melville Davisson Post's Uncle Abner stories. He also cites several detective novels, among which is one of my favorites, Marjorie Allingham's The Tiger in the Smoke.
.... A detective story is religious if it superadds an awareness of redemption to the fallen world assumed by all mysteries. If it sees the chance of God's grace down in a universe of sin.

That's what makes Chesterton's Father Brown and Post's Uncle Abner more than just intuitive detectives who happen to use religiously gained knowledge in their pattern recognition. It's what makes Joel Townsley Rogers' The Red Right Hand so interesting, and P.D. James' Death in Holy Orders seem a thick narrative.

For that matter, it's what makes Margery Allingham's The Tiger in the Smoke the archetypal religious mystery novel, the story to which everyone should look for a model. The book owes more than a little to the thrillers of Graham Greene—those quickly written books he called his "entertainments." Stamboul Train (1932) and The Ministry of Fear (1943) are good examples: popular works that taught two generations of Catholic and High Anglican writers to indulge a kind of Christian moodiness, a brooding sense of original sin, and a not-entirely-happy knowledge of the metaphysical presence of God's moral law.

But as Allingham follows her tiger—Jack Havoc, a former commando on a crime spree as he hunts for a mysterious "treasure"—she sees more than just a world of sin. Oh, she opens her story in the fallen world of "the Smoke," which names for her both the London neighborhood through which Havoc rampages and the moral miasma that stains the city: "The fog slopped over its low houses like a bucketful of cold soup over a row of dirty stoves." And yet, even the tiger who stalks through that smoke is not purely malevolent. "Active evil is more incomprehensible in this two-part-perfect world than active good, and so it ought to be," Allingham wrote in an earlier book, and (as the reviewer David L. Vineyard has usefully noted) grace enters Havoc's murderous story through the conduit of a character named Canon Avril. He is a quiet churchman "with an approach to life which was clear sighted yet slightly off-center," and he tries to convince Havoc that he will eventually be destroyed by his belief that his luck allows him to do whatever he wants: "Evil be thou my Good, that is what you have discovered. It is the only sin which cannot be forgiven because when it is finished with you, you are not there to forgive."

In the end, when his luck at last runs out, Jack Havoc is offered grace one last time in the disappointment of the treasure, which proves not to be what he was seeking. The grace is one he refuses to understand or accept, but it's real nonetheless: a presence in the story, a deepening of the book, a thickening of the narrative. .... [more]
God and the Detectives | Books and Culture | A Christian Review

Tradition

Via Justin Taylor
“Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.”

Jaroslav Pelikan, The Vindication of Tradition (Yale University Press, 1984), p. 65.

Putting God and the Gospel first

Two Trevin Wax items this morning. First, an appreciative review of his recent book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope. The review includes this summary of the "gospels" too often substituted for the Gospel:
  • The “therapeutic gospel” corrupts the Gospel Story by redefining the problem the Gospel solves, making it about me and my felt needs rather than about God’s remedy to restore a fallen creation.
  • The “judgmentless gospel” corrupts the Gospel Story by redefining the Story’s conclusion, downplaying the seriousness of sin and evil and God’s commitment to put the world to rights.
  • The “moralistic gospel” corrupts the Gospel Announcement by replacing Good News with good advice and making it about the works we do rather than about what Christ did in our stead and on our behalf.
  • The “quietist gospel” corrupts the Gospel Announcement, which is a public announcement of Christ’s triumph over all the powers of sin, evil, and death, by turning it into privatized religious experience.
  • The “activist gospel” corrupts the Gospel Community by turning the church into a mission that is more concerned about causes than about Christ, confusing the effects of the Gospel with the Gospel itself.
  • The “churchless gospel” corrupts the Gospel Community by making membership and involvement in a community of believers optional or even by viewing participation in a church as detrimental to my own personal spiritual formation.
In each chapter, Wax gives reasons as to why each counterfeit is so attractive to people, and some suggestions as to how we might “counter the counterfeit” by living in the light of the true Gospel. .... [more]
And second, an article by Trevin Wax himself about evangelical worship, "Steak on a Paper Plate: Serious Worship in a Casual World":
.... One of the core values of many an evangelical church is the effort to put everyone at ease. "Good morning," says the minister or worship leader. Then comes the inevitable: "Let's try that again, GOOD MORNING!" There's a chatty, street-level style of worship that has become prevalent in evangelicalism. And it's not clear that your pursuit of casual novelty in worship meshes well with hearing the Word of God set forth in all its glory.

Can a contemporary, casual service bring worshipers face to face with the glory of God in a way that buttresses and upholds the magnificent truths being expounded from the Word? I think the answer is yes, but not always. ....

When it comes to worship, we're frequently told that form doesn't matter. Style is not what's important. I get that. I'm not belittling contemporary music or advocating a return to liturgy, organs, and hymns. Cultural forms adjust and adapt, and some contemporary worship services have thrown me to my knees before the holiness and majesty of God. The issue isn't "formal" versus "informal," casual clothes versus Sunday best, traditional versus contemporary.

The problem is not with casual worship styles, but with casually worshiping God in whatever style. ....

Form and content are rarely easy to separate. They mirror one another. A church with serious Bible preaching will generally have a serious worship service (contemporary or traditional, formal or informal, but serious). A church with a feel-good preacher will generally have peppy, feel-good music.

Christians need to sense the weight of God's glory, the truths of God's Word, the reality of coming judgment, and the gloriousness of God's grace. .... [more]
IM Book Review: Counterfeit Gospels | internetmonk.com, Steak on a Paper Plate: Serious Worship in a Casual World

Monday, August 29, 2011

When students pay closer attention...

Teachers with reasonable skills of observation exercising common sense already knew this. Of course they had to ignore the ed school/in-service "experts." Think You're An Auditory Or Visual Learner? Scientists Say It's Unlikely:
...[A]n entire industry has sprouted based on learning styles. There are workshops for teachers, products targeted at different learning styles and some schools that even evaluate students based on this theory.

This prompted Doug Rohrer, a psychologist at the University of South Florida, to look more closely at the learning style theory.

When he reviewed studies of learning styles, he found no scientific evidence backing up the idea. "We have not found evidence from a randomized control trial supporting any of these," he says, "and until such evidence exists, we don't recommend that they be used."

Willingham suggests it might be more useful to figure out similarities in how our brains learn, rather than differences. And, in that case, he says, there's a lot of common ground. For example, variety. "Mixing things up is something we know is scientifically supported as something that boosts attention," he says, adding that studies show that when students pay closer attention, they learn better. ....
Think You're An Auditory Or Visual Learner? Scientists Say It's Unlikely : Shots - Health Blog : NPR

Debating online

Dr. Moore got a Facebook invitation to join a forum debating Calvinism. He is inclined to discount the value of such debates. From "Dungeons and Dragons and Doctrinal Debate":
Remember those Dungeons and Dragons people back in junior high school? Well, they grew up, got saved, and are now debating Calvinism, on both sides. ....

The Dungeons and Dragons clubs came to mind because those guys, at least in my junior high school, seemed to be obsessed with something that seemed to have no relevance at all to their lives, or to anyone else’s. But D&D became their identity. Because it mattered, they mattered. This was by no means restricted to these folk, and to their video-gaming or skateboarding cousins. It’s the same phenomenon in the people for whom a sports team became a personal obsession. The win or loss of my team is a personal victory, because it is totemic of who I am.

I fear that, all too often, our theological debates fall precisely into this category. We fight them so fiercely because there’s so little at stake in the way we view them. The professional Calvinist in his Internet forum sees a reluctance to embrace effectual calling as a personal attack, as a rejection of him. The anonymous-letter writing anti-Calvinist sees in the Calvinist a repudiation of his own background, of the kinds of churches and methods that led him to Christ. Rather than seeking to understand each other, and love one another with a convictional empathy, we claw and bite one another. That’s because, all to often, what we want is to be right, rather than to build up one another in the faith. ....

.... The Body of Christ needs open-Bible conversations between Calvinists and Arminians, dispensationalists and amillennialists, Baptists and paedo-baptists. But theological debate can’t be a form of entertainment. And it sure can’t be a means of proving myself to be worth listening to. Within the broad parameters of great old Christian orthodoxy, there’s room to differ, and to learn, without hearing a rejection (sometimes only a temporary rejection) of my point as a rejection of me.
Moore to the Point – Dungeons and Dragons and Doctrinal Debate

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Trinity X: Pleasing petitions

LET Thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of Thy humble servants; and, that they may obtain their petitions, make them to ask such things as shall please Thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
[Thomas Cranmer]
CONCERNING spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. [I Corinthians xii]
What various hindrances we meet
In coming to a mercy seat;
Yet who that knows the worth of prayer,
But wishes to be often there.

Prayer makes the darkened cloud withdraw,
Prayer climbs the ladder Jacob saw;
Gives exercise to faith and love,
Brings every blessing from above.

Restraining prayer, we cease to fight;
Prayer makes the Christian’s armor bright;
And Satan trembles, when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.

While Moses stood with arms spread wide,
Success was found on Israel’s side;
But when through weariness they failed,
That moment Amalek prevailed.

Have you no words? Ah, think again,
Words flow apace when you complain;
And fill your fellow creature’s ear
With the sad tale of all your care.

Were half the breath thus vainly spent,
To Heav’n in supplication sent;
Your cheerful song would oft’ner be,
"Hear what the Lord has done for me."

[William Cowper, 1779]

Friday, August 26, 2011

"Religious freedom is about gospel freedom"

Nathan A. Finn, Associate Professor of Historical Theology and Baptist Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has been posting a series he titled "The Gospel and Baptist Identity." The final entry is "Free Churches in a Free State." A portion:
The final historic Baptist distinctive is perhaps the most controversial, at least in the last generation—our commitment to full religious freedom and the separation of church and state. Of course the reason this idea is so provocative is because the latter phrase means
different things to different people. While there are many secularists out there who equate church-state separation with the silencing of (orthodox) religious voices from the public square, this is far from what Baptists have historically meant when we’ve used this language.....

Baptists have argued that the best way to preserve religious liberty for all people is to protect the church from oppressive state coercion and protect the state from utopian theocracy. Both of these arrangements are a threat to the gospel, the former because it often stamps out the free proclamation of the good news, the latter because it frequently confuses the gospel with worldly political power. Religious freedom is about gospel freedom. There is no arrangement that better protects gospel freedom than one that allows for free churches to flourish in a free state.

To say it another way, when we are at our best, Baptists don’t base our views of this matter on Natural Law, Jeffersonian ideals, or American tradition—though all of these are good as far as they go. Nor do we argue that religious liberty is the way things are meant to be—frankly, it’s a temporary concession in a fallen world where multitudes shake their fists at their Creator and refuse to bow the knee to the True King. Baptists believe that a free church in a free state is not an end unto itself, but rather is the best means of preserving the freedom of the gospel. This means we not only fight for our own religious freedom, but we also defend the religious freedom of pagans, infidels, and atheists, not because they’re right, but because we recognize that when they have the right to be wrong, we have the right to convince them of their errors and persuade them of a better Way through the gospel. .... [more]
The Gospel and Baptist Identity: Free Churches in a Free State | Nathan Finn l Christian Thought & Tradition

The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places

From The Book of Common Prayer Daily Office Lectionary for today:
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
Indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
In the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
My flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
Or let your holy one see corruption.

You make known to me the path of life;
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
[Psalm 16: 6-11, ESV]

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Equality

I've been reading To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time, I think, since high school. I've watched the film many times but the book, as is almost always true, is better, and it is also, like the film, an affirmation of some of our best ideals in the face of great injustice.

I just reached the final part of Atticus's summation to the jury at the conclusion of Tom Robinson's trial:
Atticus paused and took out his handkerchief. Then he took off his glasses and wiped them, and we saw another "first": we had never seen him sweat—he was one of those men whose faces never perspired, but now it was shining tan.

"One more thing, gentlemen, before I quit. Thomas Jefferson once said that all men are created equal, a phrase that the Yankees and the distaff side of the Executive branch in Washington are fond of hurling at us. There is a tendency in this year of grace, 1935, for certain people to use the phrase out of context, to satisfy all conditions. The most ridiculous example I can think of is that the people who run public education promote the stupid and idle along with the industrious—because all men are created equal, educators gravely tell you, the children left behind suffer terrible feelings of inferiority. We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe—some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they're born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others—some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of most men.

"But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal—there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest  J.P. court in the land, or this honorable court which you serve. Our courts have their faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal.

"I'm no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of of the courts and in the jury system—that is no ideal to me, it is living, working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty."

Atticus's voice had dropped, and as he turned away from the jury he said something I did not catch. He said it more to himself than to the court. I punched Jem. "What'd he say?"

"'In the name of God, believe him,' I think that's what he said."
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, HarperCollins, New York, 1995, pp. 233-234.

Sabbath

Joe Lieberman will leave the Senate at the end of this Congress and so this book is unlikely to have any ulterior political purpose. The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath is about the Sabbath observance of Orthodox Jews, but its reviews also indicate that it may be of interest to Sabbatarian Christians. This is from Michael Medved's review in the Washington Times:
The purpose of “the gift of rest” in Mr. Lieberman’s view isn’t “to recharge our batteries so we can work harder but to recharge our souls so we can live better.” Citing a wide variety of Jewish sources both ancient and modern, the senator affirms that work and rest form an indissoluble whole. Six days a week we work to improve our world; on the seventh day, we rest to improve ourselves. ....

For secularists, and especially for the great bulk of American Jews who have received scant exposure to the rigors and joys of Orthodox Jewish practice, this informative exploration of the 25 hours of the Sabbath (it begins at sunset but concludes only at full dark) will prove fascinating and rewarding, answering the perpetual questions about how, exactly, observant Jews spend their time while they retreat each week from the insistent demands of the workaday world. ....

The Gift of Rest cites long-ago examples of American presidents who, as devout Christians, observed Sunday restrictions in the White House. Franklin Pierce conducted no business on the Lord’s Day and wouldn’t even allow mail to be opened; Theodore Roosevelt, enthusiastic outdoorsman that he was, refused to hunt or fish on Sunday for religious reasons.

Unfortunately, Mr. Lieberman’s book provides little perspective on how Americans lost this emphasis on following the Sabbath commandments, which, after all, play a prominent role in Christian as well as Jewish versions of the Bible. .... [more]
BOOK REVIEW: 'The Gift of Rest' - Washington Times

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Is the only True Church in Milwaukee?

Peter Berger, a Lutheran, describes Michele Bachmann's former denomination and ruminates about Lutherans, Catholics, the religious commitments of politicians, excommunications, and anti-Christs. The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod:
.... The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) was founded in 1850 by German immigrants. (By the way, the term “Evangelical”, in the name of this and of other Lutheran bodies in this country, should not be understood in its usual sense in English. It is a translation of the German “evangelisch”, which simply means “Protestant”.) It now claims about 390,000 members, much less than the two more numerous Lutheran bodies, the theologically (and also politically) liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), whose conservatism is close to that of WELS, but in the latter’s view not close enough. The headquarter of WELS is in Milwaukee, which through most of its history has been known as the Beer Capital of the World, but can now also boast as the location of a Lutheran version of the Vatican. ....

WELS believes in the inerrancy of Scripture, including the creation stories in the Book of Genesis. It holds that Christian fellowship should only be extended to those who share the right—that means its, doctrinal views—which effectively excommunicates just about all other Christians, with the possible exception of Missouri. (At some point—I don’t remember why—there was talk of also excommunicating Missouri, but it was decided to only “admonish” LCMS.) “Fellowship” apparently means, not just communion, but any activity of praying together, which is why Wisconsin kids were not allowed to join the Boy Scouts. As one would expect, WELS is rigorously conservative on all issues south of the navel. There are of course no women clergy. In 1959 WELS published a “Statement on the Antichrist”, whose key sentence reads “We reaffirm the statement of the Lutheran Confessions, that the Pope is the very Antichrist.” I don’t think that many Reformation scholars would agree with this interpretation of the confessions. In the wake of the brouhaha about Bachmann’s resignation a WELS spokesman, Joel Hochmuth, issued a clarification. (Anyone who understands German will relish the name.) He said that the status of Antichrist refers to the papacy as an institution, rather than to individual popes. .... [more]
Is the Only True Church in Milwaukee? | Religion and Other Curiosities

Scripture and smoke

Mark Bertrand: "[I]f you love your Bible, you owe [cigarette smokers] a debt of gratitude." He explains.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"The message is the medium"

In a blog posted at The Gospel Coalition about a church-planting conference called "Plant New England":
.... The church-growth movement has bought into the entertainment paradigm with catastrophic results. The unfathomable riches of God’s wisdom in Christ just cannot be plumbed by video clips and sermons on loneliness. The Christian message—salvation for hell-deserving sinners through Christ’s death and resurrection by faith alone—has been subjugated to the entertainment paradigm and predictably distorted, truncated, and even lost altogether. As a result, the church has become increasingly ignorant of its faith and, not surprisingly, increasingly confused about its mission. ....

Christianity is all about proclaiming the message of the gospel. So what is a fitting medium? The message actually contains the medium God has endorsed—the Word. In the beginning was the Word, and in these last times, God has spoken to us by that Word, his Son. ....

This realization should profoundly affect how we do all things “church,” including church planting. In gospel-driven church planting, the message of the gospel is the church-planting methodology. As one NETS planter put it, “I’m a gospel-only kind of guy. No tricks, no gimmicks, no rock-climbing walls, no bait to get them in and then preach the gospel. The gospel is the bait. The gospel is the hook.” ....

The Message Is the Medium: Gospel-Driven Church Planting – The Gospel Coalition Blog

Basic economics

Well before I took Econ 101 I had read Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson [1946], which is still in print. I was reminded of that invaluable introduction to the subject today by Joe Carter's comment on Matt Yglesias's claim that shoplifting actually could (at least temporarily) stimulate the economy. Carter:
Yglesias, as Hazlitt would say, is confusing need with demand. The retailer may need to replace his stock but he is not doing so because of an increase in demand. He has to spend additional capital merely to replace the shoplifted inventory. If a TV cost him $50 he has to spend an additional $50 to replace the TV. Now his cost for one TV has increased 100%. Who pays for that? The consumer. As The Economist has noted, theft inflates the average family’s annual shopping bill by $186.
Justin Taylor provides the relevant quotation from Hazlitt:
A young hoodlum, say, heaves a brick through the window of a baker’s shop. The shopkeeper runs out furious, but the boy is gone. A crowd gathers, and begins to stare with quiet satisfaction at the gaping hole in the window and the shattered glass over the bread and pies. After a while the crowd feels the need for philosophic reflection. And several of its members are almost certain to remind each other or the baker that, after all, the misfortune has its bright side. It will make business for some glazier. As they begin to think of this they elaborate upon it. How much does a new plate glass window cost? Two hundred and fifty dollars? That will be quite a sun. After all, if windows were never broken, what would happen to the glass business? Then, of course, the thing is endless. The glazier will have $250 more to spend with other merchants, and these in turn will have $250 more to spend with still other merchants, and so ad infinitum. The smashed window will go on providing money and employment in ever-widening circles. The logical conclusion from all this would be, if the crowd drew it, that the little hoodlum who threw the brick, far from being a public menace, was a public benefactor.

Now let us take another look. The crowd is at least right in its first conclusion. This little act of vandalism will in the first instance mean more business for some glazier. The glazier will be no more unhappy to learn of the incident than an undertaker to learn of a death. But the shopkeeper will be out $250 that he was planning to spend for a new suit. Because he has had to replace the window, he will have to go without the suit (or some equivalent need or luxury). Instead of having a window and $250 he now has merely a window. Or, as he was planning to buy the suit that very afternoon, instead of having both a window and a suit he must be content with the window and no suit. If we think of him as part of the community, the community has lost a new suit that might otherwise have come into being, and is just that much poorer.

The glazier’s gain of business, in short, is merely the tailor’s loss of business. No new “employment” has been added. The people in the crowd were thinking only of two parties to the transaction, the baker and the glazier. They had forgotten the potential third party involved, the tailor. They forgot him precisely because he will not now enter the scene. They will see the new window in the next day or two. They will never see the extra suit, precisely because it will never be made. They see only what is immediately visible to the eye.
Economics in One Lesson – Justin Taylor

Monday, August 22, 2011

Who are Seventh Day Baptists?

Dr. Ron Davis asks and answers the question "Who are Seventh Day Baptists?"
Seventh Day Baptists are a little known, historic, evangelical, Christian group, who have the distinctive of worshiping on the Seventh Day Sabbath. Like other Baptists, they baptize believers in Christ by immersion and hold to local church autonomy. Like other Evangelicals they are Trinitarian, evangelistic, and world-mission minded. They emerged in the mid seventeenth century from British Separatists, and organized their first church in America in 1671 in Newport, Rhode Island. They had theological and genealogical ties to other Particular (Calvinistic) Baptists, holding to God's sovereign grace in originating and completing man's salvation. Several colonial Rhode Island governors were SDB's. The Hopkinton Seventh Day Baptist Church in Rhode Island became one of the largest churches in colonial America. Today, Seventh Day Baptists are a small, growing, mission-minded, Christian body in over forty countries worldwide.
I'm curious about whether other Seventh Day Baptists agree with his summary of our history and theological posture. One quibble I have is that it ignores the existence of the Arminians among us but I find myself feeling that if it isn't entirely accurate, it probably ought to be.

"Who are Seventh Day Baptists?"

Wanting to be liked

In "No Offense" Dean C. Curry revisits the predictions of a 1987 book by James Davison Hunter and finds them prescient. Being "tolerant" is not the same thing as desiring to be "tolerable."
.... Drawing upon an early 1980s survey project that targeted "the coming generation" of evangelical leaders—i.e., students at evangelical colleges and seminaries—Hunter anticipated, among other things, that a social agenda would slowly supplant traditional evangelical spiritual concerns. Regarding this shift, Hunter concluded in 1987 that "the significance of this trend is highlighted by the precedent set by liberal Protestant theology in the twentieth century, where the Social Gospel achieved proportions unintended by its original advocates."

.... Of particular note is Hunter's insightful parsing of the dimensions of "civility," one of modernity's unassailable innovations. The essence of civility is tolerance, arguably the primordial concept of our post-modern age, and a habit now widely embraced by evangelicals. But there is another dimension to civility that Hunter identifies as the inversion of tolerance, namely tolerability, and it is this side of civility that Hunter argues is key to understanding the dynamics of transformation that have taken place within American evangelicalism.

The ethic of civility requires not only that individuals be tolerant of others; it also requires that they must be tolerable to others. The implications of this ethic of "studied moderation" are clear: "Convictions are to be tempered by 'good taste' and sensibility. It is an ethic which pleads 'no offense.' The greatest breach of these norms is belligerence and divisiveness; the greatest atrocity is to be offensive and thus intolerable." The appropriation of both dimensions of civility—tolerance and tolerability—is a major reason why the boundaries of evangelical beliefs have become increasingly fuzzy and uncertain. Besides being tolerant of others, "the critical dogma is not to offend but to be genteel . . . in social relations," with the consequence that the contents of traditional evangelical theology and ethics that are offensive in the prevailing cultural zeitgeist are deemphasized. "Anything," writes Hunter, "that hints of moral or religious absolutism and intolerance is underplayed." Indeed, having appropriated civility as a central component of Christian theology, evangelicals face "tremendous social constraints to be less strict, less fanatical, more open-minded, and so on." [emphasis added] ....
No Offense

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Trinity IX: Deliver us from temptation

GRANT to us, Lord, we beseech Thee, the spirit to think and do always such things as are right; that we who cannot do any thing that is good without Thee, may by Thee be enabled to live according to Thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Thomas Cranmer]
BRETHREN, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. [I Corinthians x]
Sin, when viewed by scripture light,
Is a horrid, hateful sight;
But when seen in Satan’s glass,
Then it wears a pleasing face.

When the cross I view by faith,
Sin is madness, poison, death;
Tempt me not, ’tis all in vain,
Sure I ne’er can yield again.

Satan, for awhile debarred,
When he finds me off my guard,
Puts his glass before my eyes,
Quickly other thoughts arise.

O my Lord, what shall I say?
How can I presume to pray?
Not a word have I to plead,
Sins, like mine, are black indeed!

Made, by past experience, wise,
Let me learn thy word to prize;
Taught by what I’ve felt before,
Let me Satan’s glass abhor.

[John Newton, 1779]

Friday, August 19, 2011

The abortion "right" and political polarization

David French on how abortion changed American politics:
.... It’s no secret that American politics are polarized, and as one political party is increasingly identified by faith, the other is increasingly secular. In the last several election cycles, church attendance has been a leading indicator of voting preference. The more often a person goes to church, the more likely they are to vote Republican. The less often they attend, the more likely they are to vote Democratic.

This is a terrible development for faith in America. Even worse, it is unlikely to change. The combination of faith identification and party identification has created a profound barrier not just to dialogue but also to basic civility. The famous “Jesusland” meme created after the 2004 election is just one manifestation of the contempt generated by the political and religious polarization. ....

Why will this religious/political polarization persist? One word: abortion. While there is no single theologically orthodox position across a wide range of public policy questions — from taxation, to war, to entitlements, to welfare — it is profoundly difficult for theologically orthodox Catholics, evangelicals, and Mormons to support the legal killing of unborn children. So long as one political party uncompromisingly supports that “right,” faithful Americans will flee its ranks. Not all, to be sure. But most. And the more they flee the Democratic Party, the more the Democrats harden their position.

Ever since the Democratic Party banned then-Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey from delivering a pro-life message at the 1992 Democratic convention, the message has been clear: Pro-life Democrats are well outside the party’s mainstream. ....
How abortion frames conservative politics - Guest Voices - The Washington Post

Religious freedom

Charles J. Chaput, the new Roman Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia, speaking at the Catholic World Youth Day in Madrid:
.... Religious freedom means being able to worship as we choose. It’s also the liberty to preach, teach, and practice our faith openly and without fear. But it involves even more than that. Religious freedom includes the right of religious believers, leaders, and communities to take part vigorously in a nation’s public life.

Freedom of religion presumes two things.

First, “freedom of religion” presumes that people have free will as part of their basic human dignity. And because they can freely reason and choose, people will often disagree about the nature of God and the best path to knowing him. Some people will choose to not believe in God at all—and they have a right to their unbelief.

Second, “freedom of religion” presumes that questions about God, eternity and the purpose of human life really do have vital importance for human happiness. And therefore people should have the freedom to pursue and to live out the answers they find to those basic questions without government interference.

Freedom of religion cannot coexist with freedom from religion. Forcing religious faith out of a nation’s public square and out of a country’s public debates does not serve democracy. It doesn’t serve real tolerance or pluralism. What it does do is impose a kind of unofficial state atheism. ....

The degree of religious freedom people enjoy depends on where they live. About 70 percent of the world’s population lives in countries with severe restrictions on the practice of religion. This ugly reality has only been getting worse.

The so-called “Arab Spring” that happened this year has received a good deal of media coverage. But very little of that coverage has mentioned that the turmoil in Muslim countries has also created a very dangerous situation for Christians and other religious minorities across North Africa and the Middle East. In Egypt, angry mobs have attacked Christian churches and monasteries, burning them to the ground and murdering the people inside. Christians have fled in large numbers from anti-Christian violence in Iraq, Syria, and Tunisia. In Saudi Arabia, it’s illegal to own a Bible or wear a crucifix. In Pakistan, Christians face frequent discrimination, slander, beatings, and even murder.

We also need to remember that religious freedom is not only under siege in places like China, North Korea, and many Muslim countries. It’s also at risk even in traditionally free environments like the United States and the European Union. ....

In the United States, our battles over abortion, family life, same-sex “marriage”, and other sensitive issues have led to ferocious public smears and legal threats not only against Catholics, but also against Mormons, evangelicals, and other religious believers. And with relatively few exceptions, the mass media tend to cover these disputed issues with a combination of ignorance, laziness, and bias against traditional Christian belief. ....
World Youth Day and Religious Freedom | First Things

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Biblical basis for the doctrine of the Trinity

Late night discussions at our recent General Conference revealed that there are apparently a few congregations that reject as unbiblical the historic orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. The term "Trinity" doesn't appear in the Scriptures but Kenneth Samples contends that there is certainly a Biblical basis for the doctrine:
  1. There is only one true God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 43:10; John 17:3; Galatians 3:20).
  2. The Father is called or referred to as God (Psalm 89:26; Ephesians 4:6; Colossians 1:2–3; 2 Peter 1:17).
  3. The Son (Jesus Christ) is called or referred to as God (John 1:1; Philippians 2:6; Colossians 2:9; Titus 2:13).
  4. The Holy Spirit is called or referred to (or granted the status) as God (Genesis 1:2; John 14:26; Acts 13:2, 4; Romans 8:11).
  5. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct persons and can be distinguished from one another (the Father is not the Son; the Father is not the Holy Spirit; and the Son is not the Holy Spirit) (Matthew 28:19; Luke 3:22; John 15:26; 16:13–15; 2 Corinthians 13:14).
  6. The three persons (Father or God; and Son or Christ or Lord; and Holy Spirit or Spirit) are frequently listed together in a triadic pattern of unity and equality (Romans 15:16, 30; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; 2 Corinthians 1:21–22; Galatians 4:6).
The Trinity’s Biblical Basis | Reflections

A paragraphed, single-column, KJV

Mark Bertrand continues his "Single Column Week" with an enthusiastic review of the brand new Cambridge Clarion KJV. I've never owned a KJV apart from a parallel-column New Testament that compared four translations. The church in which I grew up used RSV and that was the translation of the presentation Bible that was given me when promoted from 4th to 5th grade in Sabbath School. Of course between then and now I've possessed [and still do] a variety of other versions. This tempts me to buy my first KJV. Is the 400th anniversary sufficient justification?

The picture is one of Mark Bertrand's from his site, Bible Design and Binding, and many more of his photographs of this book are in the post along with his review. There are also purchase links to Amazon.

Dominionism

Some people are freaking out over the supposed influence on political candidates of an esoteric theological position they creatively label "Dominionism." [Remember when George W. Bush was allegedly ushering in a theocracy?] Hunter Baker notes that what the most prominent conservative candidates affiliated with the faith "would like to do is reduce the size of government, which, incidentally, is not all that great a danger to individual freedom."
Michelle Goldberg has a column up at the aptly named Daily Beast letting us all know that we really need to worry about something called “Dominionism” which supposedly prevails among Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, and folks who support their campaigns. Reinhold Niebuhr once warned of the dangers of religious illiteracy. Here we have exhibit A.

Goldberg claims Bachmann and Perry are “deeply associated” with this “theocratic strain” of Christian fundamentalism. Yes, they are probably so deeply associated with it that neither one of them has ever heard of R.J. Rushdoony (whom Goldberg tags as the father of this theocratic movement).

I have been part of organizations of Christian conservatives for many years and can assure Ms. Goldberg that Rushdoony and Christian Reconstructionism (making Hebraic law obligatory upon the broader society) exert very little influence. In fact, I think I can probably argue empirically that Rushdoony has captured the attention of many more liberal reporters with an axe to grind than it has evangelicals. .... [more]
Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments: Wringing Hands Over Dominionism

"I have calmed and quieted my soul"

From the Book of Common Prayer Daily Office Lectionary for today:
O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore. [Psalm 131, ESV]
Book of Common Prayer Daily Office Lectionary (ESV Bible Online)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How tolerance can lead to intolerance

R.R. Reno, in "The Cosmopolitan Conservative," describes how liberalism often seems to approach conservatives, especially on campus:
.... We’ve all experienced the liberal default to denunciation. Reservations about radical feminism? “Patriarchal.” Criticize multicultural lunacy? “Cultural imperialist.” Question affirmative action? “Racist.” Opposed to same-sex marriage? “Homophobic” or “heterosexist.” Worried that increased taxation will stifle economic growth? “Protecting the rich” and “indifferent to the poor.” The message is that anyone who questions liberal policies is either a bigot or out for himself, and probably both.

The decline of religiosity among liberal elites in recent decades has accentuated this parochialism. During the debates leading up to the revision of the general-education requirements at Harvard, some genuinely liberal faculty members proposed a required course on reason and faith, observing that students need to understand the religious ways in which the vast majority of human beings have and still think about First Things.

But it was not to be. Secular jihadist Steven Pinker insisted that faith “has no place in anything but a religious institution.” Concern for faith and its influential role in society “is an American anachronism,” and “the rest of the West is moving beyond it.” In other words, the Smart People who run the world needn’t waste their time with the beliefs that govern the lives of most of the folks who actually live in the world. ....

Ideally, the liberal seeks a cosmopolitanism of impartiality, one that calls for “public reasons” that everyone can agree on. It’s a classical ideal of cosmopolitanism based on a vision of universal reason safely above the particular religious and moral beliefs that often serve as the source of discord and division. A laudable goal, perhaps, but in point of fact this ideal tends to undermine rather than promote solidarity. Those who imagine themselves to have attained the universality of reason preside at a distance, casting themselves in the roles of referee and judge responsible for determining whose reasons are “public” or indeed “reasonable.”

Or worse, they become cultural therapists, anointed experts in the supposed pathologies of conviction and cultural conflict. The therapeutic ethos receives support in present-day liberalism from a widespread skepticism that seems the opposite of older beliefs in universal reason but turns out to lead to the same governing mentality. We can’t know moral or religious truths, we are told, and to know that we can’t know creates the paradoxical imperative to denounce moral imperatives so that we can manage our differences in an “inclusive” and “nonjudgmental” fashion. [emphasis added]

Judge or referee, therapist or manager, the liberal governs from above. This distance—the conviction that liberalism has somehow transcended the nitty-gritty of substantive debate and attained a higher outlook—is what allows the old-fashioned rationalists like Steven Pinker to ally themselves with postmodern skeptics in the liberal establishment. The liberal maintains his distance, exempting himself (or imagining himself exempted) from the agonies of the always morally, metaphysically, and religiously fraught content of important human interactions. It’s this insulating distance, along with a therapeutic understanding of those below them, that encourages unwarranted feelings of superiority. The liberal does not see the conservative as a man or woman with ideas and convictions to be engaged but as a person with prejudices and interests to be diagnosed and treated. ....
The Cosmopolitan Conservative

The history of unbelief

There is an interesting exchange at Ricochet responding to Claire Berlinski's "A Question for Ricochet's Christians," that is, "Who among you arrived at your faith by a mystical route? Who arrived at it by a rational route?" One of those who responded is Mollie Hemingway, a journalist, Lutheran, and one of the primary contributors at GetReligion. She said that one of the things that confirmed her faith was the study of non-belief and referred to the resulting article she had written several years ago: "Skepticism, Agnosticism and Atheism: A Brief History of Unbelief."

Modern Reformation: "Skepticism, Agnosticism and Atheism: A Brief History of Unbelief."

"Word of Faith"

Offended by an Osteen "tweet," Jared Wilson responded "This is witchcraft" and here explains what he meant:
.... Defenders of the Word of Faith-type preachers and "prophets" often point to verses like Proverbs 18:21:
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Aside from the hermeneutical shakiness involved in building an entire theology out of a proverb, Word of Faith'ers misunderstand this verse. It is not saying your tongue holds supernatural power to speak matter or circumstances into existence. It is saying that it's possible to talk yourself into trouble. In the context of what other things the book of Proverbs says about the tongue, what this guideline means is that we ought to be careful what we say, sometimes be silent, and remember that we will be held to account for our words.

There are three biblical ways words can bring life:
  1. We can generally agree that the tongue is a powerful force. Just read James 3. But you don't have to be a charismaniac to realize that words can hurt or comfort. Encouragement edifies; nagging and criticism do not. Many of us still carry wounds from words said to us in our past.
  2. Also, those of us of the Reformed persuasion are quick to affirm the supernatural power available in the written Word of God spoken. The gospel is power. When God speaks, things happen. And the Holy Spirit uses the foolishness of preaching to stir dead men's souls and waken sleeping men's senses.
  3. Those of us of the continuationist persuasion can agree that God sometimes heals people through humbly administered gifts of healing and the laying on of hands, and nearly all Christians can agree that God sometimes heals people through the effectual prayers of the saints. In both cases things change when words are spoken, but in neither case is the speaker's tongue the source of creative power. God is.
In all three of those senses, speaking words is powerful and life-giving. But in no biblical sense is merely speaking words God's way of creating material or medical prosperity. ....

In the Word of Faith'ers awful trading of treasures in heaven for treasures susceptible to rust and moths, they interpret "life" as money, possessions, and never getting sick.

The gospel doesn't traffic in circumstantial goodness. Most of the New Testament, in fact, presupposes circumstantial badness. ....
God is in control. Not us.

The Gospel-Driven Church: Why I Said Joel Osteen Advocates Witchcraft

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"That rug really tied the room together."

The Blu-ray of The Big Lebowski just arrived from Amazon and I'm about to settle into another viewing of a film I watch over and over. I can understand why Christians may have serious doubts about the film. The Dude is a paragon of just about anything but the conventional virtues — and his language also leaves something to be desired.
The Stranger: There's just one thing, Dude.
The Dude: And what's that?
The Stranger: Do you have to use so many cuss words?
The Dude: What the **** you talking about?
The Stranger: Okay, Dude. Have it your way.
Hunter Duesing at Big Hollywood:
What’s so fun about The Big Lebowski doesn’t just lie in its hilarious dialogue or colorful characters, but in the fact that it’s a classic film-noir plot as observed through a funhouse mirror in a haze of exhaled marijuana smoke. The plot is essentially the same story as Howard Hawks’s The Big Sleep, but instead of Bogey playing Phillip Marlowe, we get Jeff Bridges as Jeffrey ‘The Dude” Lebowski, an accidental non-detective who also happens to be the laziest stoner in Los Angeles, which as the narrator accurately notes, makes him high in the running for laziest worldwide.

The Big Sleep is a film noted for its complex plot, and The Big Lebowski’s plot is no less labyrinthine. The plot is full of misdirection and red herrings in the form of apathetic schoolboy car thieves, fake kidnappings, partying pornographers, and sleazy detectives. Yet the Dude’s motivation lies simply in the mission to tie his room together by replacing his soiled rug after a comically Hitchcockian case of mistaken identity that involves spiteful rug-pissers. Everything spirals from that simple plot point into complete anarchy. It seems convoluted upon the first viewing, but becomes more rich (and hilarious) with each subsequent viewing.
The film combines film noir with great comedy writing, perfect casting, and production and direction by the Coen brothers. It could hardly be better.
Walter Sobchak: You know, Dude, I myself dabbled in pacifism once. Not in 'Nam of course.
The Dude: Then you know he's got emotional problems, man.
Walter Sobchak: You mean... beyond pacifism?
Big Hollywood » Blog Archive » HomeVideodrome: The Dude, ‘The Ward,’ ‘Priest,’ and ‘Something Borrowed’

"The church has forfeited the one advantage it had..."

A home-schooled inhabitant of the Christian ghetto who has listened exclusively to CCM is exposed to MTV [as it once was] and decides that "this was crack, and I’d been wasting my time sniffing glue." Denny Burk titled his blog about this article "The Girl Who Lost Her Faith Listening to CCM." Meghan O’Gieblyn has turned from her faith and gives as at least one reason evangelicalism's imitative approach to popular culture - and its inauthenticity. Given the increasing evidence that the church fails to hold many of its young people once they go to college, perhaps it is time to reconsider the approach to youth ministry. O'Geiblyn's article is long and very much worth reading. The final paragraphs:
.... The church is becoming increasingly consumer-friendly. Jacob Hill, director of “worship arts” at New Walk Church, describes the Sunday service music as “exciting, loud, powerful, and relevant,” and boasts that “a lot of people say they feel like they’ve just been at a rock concert.” Over the past ten years, I’ve visited churches that have Starbucks kiosks in the foyer and youth wings decked out with air hockey tables. I’ve witnessed a preacher stop his sermon to play a five-minute clip from Billy Madison. I’ve walked into a sanctuary that was blasting the Black Eyed Peas’s “Let’s Get it Started” to get the congregation pumped for the morning’s message, which was on joy. I have heard a pastor say, from a pulpit, “Hey, I’m not here to preach at anyone.” And yet, in spite of these efforts, churches are retaining only 4 percent of the young people raised in their congregations.

Despite all the affected teenage rebellion, I continued to call myself a Christian into my early twenties. When I finally stopped, it wasn’t because being a believer made me uncool or outdated or freakish. It was because being a Christian no longer meant anything. It was a label to slap on my Facebook page, next to my music preferences. The gospel became just another product someone was trying to sell me, and a paltry one at that because the church isn’t Viacom: it doesn’t have a Department of Brand Strategy and Planning. Staying relevant in late consumer capitalism requires highly sophisticated resources and the willingness to tailor your values to whatever your audience wants. In trying to compete in this market, the church has forfeited the one advantage it had in the game to attract disillusioned youth: authenticity. When it comes to intransigent values, the profit-driven world has zilch to offer. If Christian leaders weren’t so ashamed of those unvarnished values, they might have something more attractive than anything on today’s bleak moral market. In the meantime, they’ve lost one more kid to the competition. [emphasis added]
Guernica / Sniffing Glue

Monday, August 15, 2011

If Bibles are for reading...

Mark Bertrand feels strongly that if Bibles are for reading, the text should be in single columns:
Why am I so passionate about single column settings? It's simple, really. Books we read are set in single columns. Books we look stuff up in are set in double columns. Reading = single. Reference = double.
At his blog, Bible Design and Binding [which anyone considering buying a new Bible should visit], he is beginning a week on that subject.
Some of you are already single column converts. Others cling tenaciously to the traditional double column look. Whether this week will change any minds, I don't know. The good news is, for those of you who've been waiting for well-designed, proportional single column text settings of the Bible in a wide variety of translations, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Check back for more throughout the week.
Bible Design and Binding: Single Column Week @ Bible Design Blog

Votaries of Moloch

Some choices apparently make even "pro-choice" advocates uneasy. Jordan J. Ballor, at Touchstone Magazine: "'Reduction' and Abortion-Culture Newspeak":
This is difficult reading: "The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy."

I had never heard of this, certainly not as an elective procedure.

The witness of conscience apparently can't be suppressed. At least not totally. And not without a great deal of work and denial.
Even some people who support abortion rights admit to feeling queasy about reduction to a singleton. “I completely respect and support a woman’s choice,” one commentator wrote on UrbanBaby.com, referring to a woman who said she reduced her pregnancy to protect her marriage and finances. One fetus was male, the other female, and the woman eliminated the male because she already had a son. “Something about that whole situation just seemed unethical to me,” the commentator continued. “I just couldn’t sleep at night knowing that I terminated my daughter’s perfectly healthy twin brother.”
My wife is a fraternal twin. I'm thankful to God to have her and a brother-in-law.

"They invent ways of doing evil," indeed.
More: Bad Rachel: Mengele Lives! (In the Pages of the New York Times)

Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments: 'Reduction' and Abortion-Culture Newspeak

Bibliolatry?

Skye Jethani is the senior editor of Leadership Journal, one of the Christianity Today publications. Here, he argues that even the Bible can become an idol:
.... I've heard church leaders joke that B-I-B-L-E stands for "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth," and others have called it the "owner's manual" for a human being. We may chuckle at these metaphors for the Bible, but behind them is a very un-Christian understanding of God and ironically an unbiblical one rooted in Enlightenment thinking.

When the Bible is primarily seen as a depository of divine principles for life, it fundamentally changes the way we engage God and his Word. Rather than a vehicle for knowing God and fostering our communion with him, we search the Scriptures for applicable principles that we may employ to control our world and life. This is not Christianity; this is Christian deism. In other words, we actually replace a relationship with God for a relationship with the Bible. If one has the repair manual, why bother with the expense of a mechanic?

Tim Keller, in his book Counterfeit Gods, defined idols as "good things turned into ultimate things." I wonder if this definition applies to what some evangelicals have done to the Bible. Rather than making the Bible the means by which we discover and commune with God, they have made the Bible an end in itself. It has come to replace Jesus Christ as the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End of their faith.

I realize that in Christian traditions holding a very high view of the Scriptures, like my own, it may sound as if I am downgrading the importance of the Bible. That is not the case. I believe it is God's Word, inspired by him, and the authority for our faith and lives. Through it we discover who he is — and what greater gift can there be? .... [more]
Skye Jethani: Has the Bible Become an Idol?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

“Blessed is he that expects nothing, for he shall be gloriously surprised.”

Via Trevin Wax, a fine passage from G.K. Chesterton:
All genuine appreciation rests on a certain mystery of humility and almost of darkness. The man who said, “Blessed is he that expects nothing, for he shall not be disappointed,” put the eulogy quite inadequately and even falsely. The truth? “Blessed is he that expects nothing, for he shall be gloriously surprised.”

The man who expects nothing sees redder roses than common men can see, and greener grass, and a more startling sun. Blessed is he that expects nothing, for he shall possess the cities and the mountains; blessed is the meek, for he shall inherit the earth.

Until we realize that things might not be we cannot realize that things are.

Until we see the background of darkness we cannot admire the light as a single and created thing. As soon as we have seen that darkness, all light is lightening, sudden, blinding, and divine.

Until we picture nonentity we underrate the victory of God, and can realize none of the trophies of His ancient war.

It is one of the million wild jests of truth that we know nothing until we know nothing.”

— G. K. Chesterton, Heretics
Gloriously Surprised : Kingdom People

Free access to the online ESV Student Study Bible

The Crossway blog explains how to unlock free access to the Online Student Study Bible:
Normally on sale for $9.99, you can unlock the Online Student Study Bible for free by sharing it with five friends. Here’s how:
  1. Log in to your ESVbible.org account (or register for free)
  2. Click on the add content button at the top
  3. Click on “Student Study Bible Notes”
  4. Click on the “Invite 5 friends” link
  5. Submit 5 e-mail addresses and the Student Study Bible notes and resources will be unlocked – use and enjoy!
Unlock free access to the Online Student Study Bible | Crossway

Reading for pleasure

From Patton Dodd's interview with Alan Jacobs about his The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction:
What's wrong with the idea of a category of books that are "guilty pleasures"?

Mainly the "guilty" part, because the guilt arises from the (often unspoken and even unformulated) sense that we ought to be reading Great Books all the time. But that would be like eating a seven-course French meal every day. Of all the passages I quote in my book, perhaps my favorite one is this, from W.H. Auden: "When one thinks of the attention that a great poem demands, there is something frivolous about the notion of spending every day with one. Masterpieces should be kept for High Holidays of the Spirit."

This book forced me to think about the role that vanity has played in my own reading life. I adore the crime novelist Dennis Lehane, for example, and while I don't feel guilty while reading him—I love his hard-boiled language and his sharp sense of moral outrage—I have felt embarrassed to celebrate him to my readerly friends. How can a reading life guided by whim help me overcome such vanity (and silliness)?

The Auden quote above is key. Also something C.S. Lewis once said: "When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up." When we're young our reading—like our choices of clothing and music—tends to be a matter of signaling who we are to the world. And that's not altogether a bad thing, or not always. But at some point we need to become mature enough, and perhaps confident enough in the good will and affection of our friends, to say, "Look, this is among the things I like to read." And then, you know, it's fun to try to get people to share in our enthusiasms, isn't it? .... [more]
Reading Is Fundamental -- and Fun!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Modernists

I've been watching episodes of "Yes, Prime Minister," the wonderful BBC comedy series about the relationship  between political office holders and the civil service, and came across this tonight:

TR at church

The second volume of Edmund Morris's biography of Theodore Roosevelt, Theodore Rex - the book about the Presidential years, includes this account of a Sunday at Sagamore Hill near the end of TR's second term:
.... Edith Roosevelt's cool discipline held the big crowded house together, as it had the White House. She made no effort to cajole or criticize her children or guests, manipulating them simply by her own quiet example. Over breakfast on Sunday morning, she announced that she and the President were going to church, but expected no one to accompany them unless "conscience" so dictated. Captain Butt, who could take religion or leave it, could also take a hint.

Knowing them both to be Protestant, he ventured an anti-Catholic remark during the automobile ride to Christ Episcopal Church. Roosevelt gave him a quizzical look.

"Archie, when I discuss the Catholic Church, I am reminded that it is the only church which has ever turned an Eastern race into a Christian people. Is that not so?"

Forty little boys saluted as the President led the way into the little church on Shore Road. Captain Butt joined him and Mrs. Winthrop in the front family pew, while Edith, Ethel, and Kermit sat behind. Butt was intrigued to see that Roosevelt, a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, bowed his head in prayer, "just as all good Episcopalians do," before the service started. He needed no prayer book, singing all the plainsong chants and the "Te Deum" by heart. He sang every hymn too, changing sometimes to a lower octave, somewhat surprising for a man whose speaking voice broke so often into falsetto. His only concession to the faith of his fathers, so far as Butt could see, was a refusal to bow his head during the Creed and again at the Gloria. "I came to the conclusion before the service was over that the President was at heart an Episcopalian, whatever his earlier training might have been."

Asked afterward what his favorite hymns were, Roosevelt listed "How Firm a Foundation," followed by "Holy, Holy, Holy," "Jerusalem the Golden," and "The Son of God Goes Forth to War."

He indulged in no sports that afternoon, explaining to Butt that although Sabbath observance meant little to him personally, it meant a lot to many Americans, and he felt an obligation, as President, to respect such common beliefs. ....
Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex, Random House, New York, 2001, p. 532.

Credo

Justin Taylor calls our attention to a series by Justin Holcomb about the creeds and confessions of the Church: "The Concise History of Creeds & Confessions." Thus far:
About The Council of Ephesus, in a section called "Contemporary Relevance," Holcomb says, "The First Council of Ephesus is an example of proclaiming excellent theological orthodoxy but in a way that was unfair and lacked humility and charity on both sides."

The entries are brief and the summaries seem fair. There will be more entries.

The Concise History of Creeds & Confessions | The Resurgence

Trinity VIII: By their fruit

O GOD, whose never-failing providence ordereth all things both in heaven and earth; We humbly beseech Thee to put away from us all hurtful things, and to give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Thomas Cranmer]
BEWARE of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in Heaven. [Matthew vii]
O Lord, Thou hast me searched and known.
Thou know'st my sitting down,
And rising up; yea, all my thoughts
afar to Thee are known. ....

.... Search me, O God, and know my heart,
try me, my thoughts unfold:

And see if any wicked way
there be at all in me;
And in Thine everlasting way
to me a leader be.

[from Psalm 139, Scottish Psalter, 1650]

Friday, August 12, 2011

Science fiction and fantasy

NPR has posted the results of its survey: "Your Picks: Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books":
More than 5,000 of you nominated. More than 60,000 of you voted. And now the results are in. The winners of NPR's Top 100 Science-Fiction and Fantasy survey are an intriguing mix of classic and contemporary titles. ....

A quick word about what's here, and what's not: Our panel of experts reviewed hundreds of the most popular nominations and tossed out those that didn't fit the survey's criteria (after — we assure you — much passionate, thoughtful, gleefully nerdy discussion). You'll notice there are no young adult or horror books on this list, but sit tight, dear reader, we're saving those genres for summers yet to come.

So, at last, here are your favorite science-fiction and fantasy novels.
I'm not a great reader of science fiction or fantasy and so was surprised to discover that I have read many of them, mostly in the top fifty and mostly a long time ago. Interestingly the first and last on the list are by Inklings:

1. The Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien's seminal three-volume epic chronicles the War of the Ring, in which Frodo the hobbit and his companions set out to destroy the evil Ring of Power and restore peace to Middle-earth. The beloved trilogy still casts a long shadow, having established some of the most familiar and enduring tropes in fantasy literature.
100. The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis

Philologist Edwin Ransom travels to Mars and Venus, and makes a series of dramatic discoveries about Earth's place in the solar system – and the nature of a threat it unwittingly faces.

Your Picks: Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books : NPR

"If you love me...."

Kevin DeYoung is the young [by my standards] senior pastor at the University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. He's one of those guys who are always worth reading. For instance, from "The Law of Love and the Love of Law":
Some Christians make the mistake of pitting love against law, as if the two were mutually exclusive. You either have a religion of love or a religion of law. But such an equation is profoundly unbiblical. For starters, “love” is a command of the law (Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:36-40). If you enjoin people to love, you are giving them law. Conversely, if you tell them law doesn’t matter, then neither does love, which is the summary of the law.

Furthermore, consider the close connection Jesus makes between love and law. For Jesus there is no love for him apart from keeping the law (John 14:15). But he says even more than this. Jesus connects communion with God with keeping commandments. When we keep Christ’s commandments, we love him. And when we love Christ, the Father loves us. And whomever the Father loves, Christ loves and reveals himself to them (John 14:21). So, there is no abiding in Christ’s love apart from keeping Christ’s commandments (John 15:10). Which means there is no fullness of joy apart from the pursuit of holiness (John 15:11).

God’s law is an expression of his grace. The law is God’s plan for his sanctified people to enjoy communion with him. That’s why the Psalms are full of declarations of delight regarding God’s commands. ....

Let’s not be afraid to land on law—never as the means of meriting justification, but as the proper expression of having received it. .... [more]
The Law of Love and the Love of Law – Kevin DeYoung