Friday, September 30, 2011

A gigantic hound!

The re-reading of a good book, however pleasurable, is never as enjoyable as the first time. Washinton Post book columnist, Michael Dirda, in this excerpt published in the Paris Review, describes an experience with which I completely identify. My elementary class also ordered those books and I must have read Conan Doyle at about the same age as Dirda:
The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan Doyle, was the first grown-up book I ever read—and it changed my life. Back in the late 1950s, my fifth-grade class belonged to an elementary school book club. Each month our teacher would pass out a four-page newsletter describing several dozen paperbacks available for purchase. .... Lying on my bed at home, I lingered for hours over these newsprint catalogues, carefully making my final selections.

I had to. Each month my mother would allow me to purchase no more than four of the twenty-five- and thirty-five-cent paperbacks. ....

To this day I can more or less recall the newsletter’s capsule summary that compelled me to buy The Hound of the Baskervilles—as if that ominous title alone weren’t enough! Beneath a small reproduction of the paperback’s cover—depicting a shadowy Something with fiery eyes crouching on a moonlit crag—blazed the thrilling words “What was it that emerged from the moor at night to spread terror and violent death?” What else, of course, but a monstrous hound from the bowels of Hell? When I opened my copy of the book, the beast was further described on the inside display page:
A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smoldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame. Never in the delirious dream of a disordered brain could anything more savage, more appalling, more hellish, be conceived than that dark form and savage face which broke upon us out of the wall of fog.
.... In the lowering darkness I turned page after page, more than a little scared, gradually learning the origin of the dreaded curse of the Baskervilles. At the end of the book’s second chapter, you may recall, the tension escalates unbearably. Holmes and Watson have just been told how Sir Charles Baskerville has been found dead, apparently running away from the safety of his own house. Their informant, Dr. Mortimer, pauses, then adds, hesitantly, that near the body he had spotted footprints on the damp ground. A man’s or a woman’s? eagerly inquires the great detective, to which question he receives the most thrilling answer in all of twentieth-century literature: “Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!” .... [more]
The passages above are excerpted from an excerpt from Michael Dirda'a book, On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling, that will be published later this year. "'When I was starting out as a writer,' P.G. Wodehouse once wrote, 'Conan Doyle was my hero. Others might revere Hardy and Meredith. I was a Doyle man, and I still am.' So, in fact, [Dirda writes] was I." Me, too. A part of what makes Doyle so attractive:
...Conan Doyle once named “unaffectedness” as his own favorite virtue, then listed “manliness” as his favorite virtue in another man; “work” as his favorite occupation; “time well filled” as his ideal of happiness; “men who do their duty” as his favorite heroes in real life; and “affectation and conceit” as his pet aversions. It should thus come as no surprise that Conan Doyle’s books are all fairly transparent endorsements of chivalric ideals of honor, duty, courage, and greatness of heart. ....
The Hound of the Baskervilles (with illustrations by Sidney Paget)

Paris Review – A Doyle Man, Michael Dirda

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Angels and devils

Today, September 29, is observed by some Christian traditions in the West as Michaelmas [or the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, the Feast of the Archangels, or the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels]. One site identifies Michael this way:
.... The name Michael signifies "Who is like to God?" and was the war cry of the good angels in the battle fought in heaven against Satan and his followers. Holy Scripture describes St. Michael as "one of the chief princes," and leader of the forces of Heaven in their triumph over the powers of Hell. ....
A couple of websites I visit noted the day by posting on the subject of angels. Insight Scoop offers Peter Kreeft on "Twelve things to know about angels," and The Gospel Coalition offers Gregg Allison [of Southern Baptist Seminary] responding to this question:
Where have we gotten our theology about Satan, angels, and demons? It seems like many beliefs about Satan aren’t clearly defined in the Bible yet are held by many.
From Professor Allison:
Both the Old and New Testaments provide divine revelation about angels, Satan, and demons, so the earliest Christians developed their understanding of these spiritual beings from Scripture. Additionally, in their curiosity to know more about these creatures, these Christians also engaged in significant speculation about their nature, attributes, powers, identities, and functions. For example, Cyprian proposed a key reason for the fall of Satan: “When he saw human beings made in the image of God, he broke forth into jealousy and malevolent envy” and thus rebelled against God (Cyprian, Treatise 10.4. ANF 5.492). Keenly aware of the ongoing spiritual battle between angels and demons, the early church also speculated that every human being has a guardian angel who protects them from the onslaughts of evil beings (e.g., Origen, Commentary on Matthew, 13.5. ANF 10.478; Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, 5.14. ANF 2.466).

More theological guesswork followed. ....

.... The greatest contribution to the early church’s doctrine of angels was made by Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite. (Based on the account of the conversion of Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, through the preaching of the apostle Paul [Acts 17:34], the church believed the writings attributed to a so-called Dionysius the Areopagite to be the works of this disciple of Paul. As a result, great authority was placed on them. It was not until the Renaissance that it was proved that the writings were actually penned by someone in the 6th century.) He offered an elaborate description of angelic beings, imagining them to be “superior” to human beings and nearer to God because of their “generous communion with the Deity” and their “total intelligence” (Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, The Celestial Hierarchy, 4.2). Dionysius did not hesitate to describe in great detail the hierarchy that exists among the angels (Ibid., 6.2). Taking nine biblical terms—thrones, cherubim, seraphim, authorities, dominions, powers, angels, archangels, and principalities—that refer to members of the heavenly realm, Dionysius offered fanciful descriptions of each of these nine orders (Ibid., 7.1ff.). But he went far beyond what Scripture affirms about these titles and their functions.

Because of the influence of the theological works of Augustine and the authority that became attached to the writings of Dionysius, they exerted an ill-founded yet significant influence over key leaders of the church in the following centuries. ....

.... Moving closer to our time, the modern period was characterized by two important developments regarding the doctrine of angels, Satan, and demons. First, the more liberal elements within Christianity, displaying a bias against supernatural matters, treated the doctrine with benign neglect at best and with outright contempt at worst. ....

Karl Barth, more than anyone else, was responsible for this resurgence in attention. Barth saw the need to steer clear of two extremes: the modern tendency to dismiss the doctrine completely, and the historical tendency to engage in rampant speculation (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, III/3, 369). In a discussion reminiscent of Barth’s, C. S. Lewis warned about the two extremes of error to be avoided when considering demons: “One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel and excessive and unhealthy interest in them” (C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 9). If the former error typified the modern period as a whole, the latter more recently surfaced in our contemporary age as seen in the film The Exorcist (1975, 2000), the very successful Touched by an Angel television program (1994-2003), the nearly constant appearance of books dedicated to the topic of angels on The New York Times bestseller list, and in Christian literature, the staggering popularity of Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness (Crossway, 1986) and Piercing the Darkness (Crossway, 1988). These latter presentations of angels, Satan, and demons are fanciful construals of these spiritual beings that capture the imagination of biblically illiterate people and offer much speculation rather than solid portraits derived from the Word of God. .... [more]
St. Michael, the Archangel - Saints & Angels - Catholic Online, Insight Scoop | The Ignatius Press Blog: Peter Kreeft: Twelve things to know about angels, You Asked: Where Do We Get Our Theology of Satan, Angels, and Demons? – The Gospel Coalition Blog

National Coffee Day


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Castle

In this era of on-demand entertainment [through cable, Amazon, Netflix streaming, DVR, etc.] I no longer organize my week around favorite TV shows. I follow almost none. Even when I find something I enjoy I can never remember when it's on. I do like ABC's Castle and fortunately I can catch up on it whenever I like. S.T. Karnik writes about the new season here explaining clearly part of why I find it so appealing.
For those who haven’t seen the series, Castle is a semi-comical police procedural about a bestselling mystery author, Richard Castle, who gets himself partnered up with a beautiful female police detective in Manhattan to help solve crimes. The implausibility of the premise is no impediment to enjoyment of the show, as Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic are both a delight to watch as the central characters—their skill as performers is evident and easy to appreciate.

In addition, and even more importantly, the gaudy premise matches the show’s narrative style: it is a throwback to the great tradition of American surrealistic mysteries of the 1930s and ’40s. ....

.... In their way they conveyed a sense of American life as a realm of astonishing possibilities ultimately grounded in common sense, logic, and morality. It’s a form of fiction I enjoy greatly and which I think has much to recommend it.

Castle is in that tradition. A typical episode will begin with a bizarre murder, and then progress to the investigation of a series of quirky or downright weird suspects and witnesses, and other additionally bizarre clues, while the two lead characters work out matters from their personal lives and their powerful but largely unacknowledged attraction toward each other. It’s great fun, although the events of the show are serious and often have important implications, which the writers do a good job of bringing out. .... [more]
ABC’s ‘Castle’ Is Back on Its Surrealistic Track | The American Culture

Essential doctrine

Kevin DeYoung provides another of his good, brief, explanations of an essential doctrine:
If any doctrine makes Christianity Christian, then surely it is the doctrine of the Trinity. The three great ecumenical creeds—the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed—are all structured around our three in one God, underlying the essential importance of Trinitarian theology. Augustine once commented about the Trinity that “in no other subject is error more dangerous, or inquiry more laborious, or the discovery of truth more profitable.” More recently, Sinclair Ferguson has reflected on “the rather obvious thought that when his disciples were about to have the world collapse in on them, our Lord spent so much time in the Upper Room speaking to them about the mystery of the Trinity. If anything could underline the necessity of Trinitarianism for practical Christianity, that must surely be it!”

Yet, when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity, most Christians are poor in their understanding, poorer in their articulation, and poorest of all in seeing any way in which the doctrine matters in real life. ....

So in a few hundred words let me try to explain what the doctrine of the Trinity means, where it is found in the Bible, and why it matters. .... [go here for the "few hundred words"]
More, about Trinitarianism among Evangelicals from Justin Taylor

The Doctrine of the Trinity: No Christianity Without It – Kevin DeYoung

Monday, September 26, 2011

Marriage and divorce in America

It apparently takes an Australian to correct a widespread misunderstanding of American census data. "Do liberal states in the US really have lower divorce rates?":
In August of this year, the US Census Bureau released a report on divorce rates in the different states of America. It was widely reported in the media that people were more likely to divorce in the Bible Belt states than in the liberal northeast.

....[S]ome on the left had a field day using statistics about higher divorce rates in the Bible Belt. Here's an example:
...perhaps conservative Christianity and conservative religion in general are unable to provide a sound basis for marriage — that perhaps there are other, more secular foundations for marriage that conservative Christians are missing. What might they be? Well, an obvious possibility is treating women like fully autonomous equals in the relationship, something which conservative Christianity frequently denies.
...[T]hen I came across another statistic, namely that 28% of those divorced identified as conservative, 33% as moderate and 37% as liberal. It didn't make sense. If those in the liberal states have the lowest rate of divorce, then why do those who identify as liberal have a much higher rate of divorce?

So I went back to the original source. And to my surprise I found that the divorce statistics had been misrepresented in most of the mainstream media. It turns out that what was being compared was the number of divorces per 1000 people in each state rather than the number of divorces per 1000 married couples:
Rates throughout this report count the marital events reported in the past 12 months per 1,000 men or women in the population 15 and older. (p.2)
That wouldn't be significant if roughly the same number of people got married in each US state. But that's not the case. There is a much lower rate of marriage in the liberal north-east of the US....

So you might expect states with a higher rate of marriage to also have a higher rate of divorce. And that's how a representative of the Census Bureau explained the statistics:
Divorce rates tend to be higher in the South because marriage rates are also higher in the South," said Diana Elliott, a family demographer at the Census Bureau. "In contrast, in the Northeast, first marriages tend to be delayed and the marriage rates are lower, meaning there are also fewer divorces." .... [more]
So perhaps religious convictions about marriage do affect behavior after all.  And the most certain way to avoid divorce is to remain single. I, for instance, am unlikely to divorce.

Thanks to Joe Carter for the reference.

Oz Conservative: Do liberal states in the US really have lower divorce rates?

Henry Clarke

In the current issue of the Sabbath Recorder SDB Historian Nick Kersten notes the anniversary of a publication:
.... In 1811, the first official history of Seventh Day Baptists was published by Henry Clarke (the same Henry Clarke who proposed the formation of the General Conference), Copies of the book are still floating around in many church libraries, and would be worth a look. If you can't find a hard copy in a location near you, copies can be found on Google Books (books.google.corn) by searching for "Clarke History of the Sabbatarians."
A direct link to the Google Books copy is here. The full title, in true early 19th Century style, is A History of the Sabbatarians or Seventh Day Baptists in America, Containing Their Rise and Progress to the year 1811, with Their Leaders' Names, and Their Distinguishing Tenets. The silhouette is of the author, Rev. Clarke.

Homelanders

John Wilson at Christianity Today reviews Andrew Klavan's The Final Hour:
I shudder to think of all the books occasioned by the 10th anniversary of 9/11. I won't read most of them, but I did make time for The Final Hour, the concluding installment in Andrew Klavan's four-book Homelanders series, in which Islamic terrorists seek to wreak havoc. The teenage hero, Charlie West, is a winsome Christian and a pretty tough customer. In publishing jargon, this is Young Adult fiction (in the subdivision known as "boy books"), but the unadulterated intelligence of a superb suspense novelist is very much in evidence throughout.
The first book in the series [the story is continuous] is The Last Thing I Remember. The hardbacks cost around $10 and the Kindle editions about $8.00. I enjoyed them and I'm a bit older than the target audience.

The books apparently will be filmed. Klavan, indicates that the script adds a "sci-fi element" to his story:
...I’d already heard about the “sci-fi element.” I don’t know what it is, but I’m assuming it’s to avoid confronting the whole Islamo-fascist part of the story. That’s Hollywood, folks, and there’s not a thing I can do about it. But the creative team is top-notch, and I have high hopes they’ll make a good film notwithstanding.
Wilson's Bookmarks | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction, Homelanders in the Hollywood Reporter

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The gift of rest

Jennifer Rubin devoted the first part of her interview with Sen. Joe Lieberman to his new book, The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath. From the interview:
.... He explains religious practice, but also his childhood memories and secular rituals (bringing flowers home on Friday), all of which cast Shabbat in a special light. He said that the title of the book — “The Gift of Rest” — is taken from the Talmud. “What started out as a commandment I experience as a gift. It wasn’t always that way. As a kid I wished I had gone to ballgames and theme parks with my friends.”

But as an adult he’s come to look forward to it and enjoy all of its pleasures. He writes in the book. “For me, Sabbath observance is a gift because it is one of the deepest, purest pleasures in my life. It is a day of peace, rest and sensual pleasure. . . . [I]t engages the senses — sight, sound, taste, smell and touch — with beautiful setting, soaring melodies, wonderful food and wine and lots of love.” He tells me that voters and his colleagues “know what I don’t do — work — but they don’t know what I do” on Shabbat. He wants to dispel the notion that Shabbat is “a day of denial or seclusion. It does of course have serious moments.” But, he says with a grin, “By and by we have a great time.”

His book conveys that far from a passive exercise, Shabbat, and the preparations before it, are jammed with activity — special meals, synagogue services, time with friends, reading for pleasure, walks and time with family. ....

Not everyone will follow all the Shabbat rituals and requirements, he says. But in writing the book, “I was just hoping you’ll start.” To that end he provides a listing at the end of each chapter of easy steps and activities you can adopt. (Turn off the BlackBerry. Go outside. Eat dinner in your dining room, rather than the everyday kitchen.) The book is not only for Jews, and many of the non-liturgical elements can be applied to Christian Sabbath worship as well.

The book also explain the rules and choices concerning breaking of Shabbat and when Lieberman has chosen to depart from his gift of rest. That, however, is not the focus of the book. It is rather a loving guide and inspiration to enjoy a day separated from our ordinary demands. The psychological and theological insight is that by excluding workday cares for one day, you find that the rest of your days become richer and more fulfilling. .... [more]
Joe Lieberman Interview (Part 1): The Gift of Rest - Right Turn - The Washington Post

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Miracles and the existence of God

Via Justin Taylor, a quotation from C.S. Lewis's Miracles:
If this week I put a thousand pounds in the drawer of my desk, add two thousand next week and another thousand the week thereafter, the laws of arithmetic allow me to predict that the next time I come to my drawer, I shall find four thousand pounds.

But suppose when I next open the drawer, I find only one thousand pounds, what shall I conclude? That the laws of arithmetic have been broken?

Certainly not! I might more reasonably conclude that some thief has broken the laws of the State and stolen three thousand pounds out of my drawer.

Furthermore, it would be ludicrous to claim that the laws of arithmetic made it impossible to believe in the existence of such a thief or the possibility of his intervention.

On the contrary, it is the normal workings of those laws that have exposed the existence and activity of the thief.
Miracles and the Laws of Science – Justin Taylor

Trinity XIV: Walk in the Spirit

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain that which Thou dost promise, make us to love that which Thou dost command; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Thomas Cranmer]
I SAY then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. [Galatians v]

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Pagan teaching with a Christian face"

The Baptist Press reviews a book about an error that not only affects American Christians but seems to be spreading even more rapidly elsewhere. The book is Health, Wealth & Happiness: Has the Prosperity Gospel Overshadowed the Gospel of Christ? by David W. Jones and Russell S. Woodbridge.
....Health, Wealth & Happiness (Kregel), critiques what is often called the prosperity or "health & wealth" gospel — the claim by some of America's most well-known preachers that God desires all Christians to be materially wealthy and physically healthy.

The prosperity gospel is dangerous, the professors say, because it contains just enough truth to make it appear biblical but more than enough distortions to make it heretical. That, they say, has led Christians to become discouraged in their faith or angry at God, or worse, to walk away from the church for good. ....

"If Christianity is supposed to be about God and His glory and is supposed to be about Christ, and we're making it about us — that's the worst thing we could do," one of the authors, David W. Jones, told Baptist Press. ....

The prosperity gospel, Jones says, is a "pagan teaching with a Christian face."

The book, co-authored with Russell W Woodbridge, a missionary in Eastern Europe who is an adjunct professor at Southeastern, gives the history of the prosperity gospel movement, interacts with quotes from some of the most well-known prosperity gospel preachers, and ends by giving a "corrective" — that is, an explanation of the historical, biblical teaching on suffering, wealth, poverty and giving. Jones and Woodbridge distinguish between what they consider soft advocates of the prosperity gospel (Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer) and more staunch advocates (Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland). .... [more]
The interview with David Jones follows this introductory summary. One of the questions and his answer:
BP: What are some of the basic biblical or theological errors of the prosperity gospel?

JONES: First of all, there's a distorted view of God — God is sort of like a cosmic bellhop that we can call upon and He's there to serve us as opposed to us being here to serve Him. No. 2, there's an exalted view of man – [it teaches that] Christianity is ultimately about us and not about Jesus and God's glory. No. 3, there's this idea of mind over matter — if you just believe it, it will come true. No. 4, there is an overall fixation upon health and wealth and the idea that if you're just a good person and you love Jesus and tithe, you can expect to have a full wallet and perfect health. No. 5, there is a false idea of salvation itself. [According to the prosperity gospel,] it's not so much that we're saved from eternal damnation, saved from God's wrath, but rather we're saved from the unfulfilling, unprosperous life.
Baptist Press - Q&A: The prosperity gospel – 'pagan teaching with a Christian face,' prof says - News with a Christian Perspective

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pugilism

Paul Beston on the rise and fall of boxing [and, perhaps, its rise again] in the American sporting world:
Boxing has become a ghost sport, long since discredited but still hovering in the nation’s consciousness, refusing to go away and be silent entirely. There was a time when things were very different. For boxing once stood at the center of American life, and its history winds a thread through the broader history of the nation. ....
The article is a brief history of boxing, focusing especially on heavyweight contenders from John L Sullivan to Jack Johnson, Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali. The sport's last great period starred Muhammad Ali who, although a great boxer and showman, Beston suggests, had a malign effect on the behavior of sports personalities generally:
.... His unmatched gifts as a showman have influenced athletes in all sports, though mostly not for the better: the athletes who mug before the camera, celebrate themselves at every turn, and denigrate opponents are part of Ali’s legacy. In a popular culture addicted to display, those who prefer to keep their thoughts to themselves are now suspect for lacking authenticity. ....
If you like good historical summaries, this is one.

The Ghost Sport by Paul Beston, City Journal Summer 2011

A long-expected Party


Hobbit birthdays:
Today is September 22, the date J.R.R. Tolkien picked for the birthdays of both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.
Hobby Birthday - By John J. Miller - The Corner - National Review Online

Fallen

Russell Moore wasn't sure he should be the one chosen to write an essay about John Calvin because:
I consider myself a conscientious objector in the Calvinist/Arminian wars. First of all, it’s because I find the issue more complicated than such partisanship can convey, and I think both sides are right at certain points. Second, I find the polemics rather boring compared to the glory of the big scope of God’s kingdom. Third, I don’t think the distance between mainstream Calvinists and mainstream Arminians is really all that great. And, finally, because I find the professional Calvinists and professional anti-Calvinists to be shrill and exhausting. ....
He believes reading Calvin is worthwhile whatever theological camp toward which you lean:
.... Calvin is often misrepresented as having a gloomy, world-denying pessimism about humanity. Some of his followers throughout the centuries have yielded to this caricature of the Reformer. But Calvin’s view of sin isn’t censorious or cranky. Instead this doctrine explains why worship is so difficult for humanity as it is. It is not, in Calvin’s view, that we sin because we believe the wrong things. It is instead that we believe the wrong things because we sin.

In other words, human persons, in our fallenness, crave our own autonomy—the illusion that we are gods to ourselves. In order to protect this delusion, and remain free from our Creator, we convince ourselves of what deep in our consciences we cannot deny—the reality of God, his moral law, the coming judgment.

Calvin here, echoing Paul, anticipates some of the psychological theories of centuries later in presenting a picture of the role the affections play in shaping the way we think. Sigmund Freud may have been quite wrong about many things, but who can deny the fact that human persons are motivated by more than merely rational impulses but also by an often dark and nearly incomprehensible psychic undertow? Calvin would root this in the fallen nature of the human condition. In order to know God and to know ourselves, Calvin insists, we must face this ghostly truth. ....

As you read Calvin’s Institutes, you will probably find points of disagreement, perhaps even major disagreements. But you will probably—whatever your religious communion—find the insights of a mind shaped by immersion in the Scriptures, in the church fathers, in Western classical thought. And you will find behind that a man who recognized something of what it meant to be a creature, and to look in worship and humility for the Creator in whom he lived and moved. [more]
The book in which Moore's essay on Calvin's Institutes appears is John Mark Reynolds' The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization.

Moore to the Point – John Calvin for Everybody

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fictional evil and theological truth

I first encountered J. Mark Bertrand at his great Bible Design and Binding blog, but he has recently been posting more frequently elsewhere, at another of his blogs, Crime Genre, where he writes about crime fiction — including his own. I have acquired the first book in his series, Back on Murder and will read it soon. I'm looking forward to it even more based on what he describes as his intention here in "Theology and Noir":
.... I'm a writer with theological interests, so my ears perk up when mention is made of that sort of thing. To me, the tropes of crime fiction lend themselves to an exploration of big questions about meaning and evil. But some religious readers don't like the realism of such fiction — the most feedback you get from them is based on whether or not they perceived the book as a "clean" read — while some crime readers don't want philosophical or theological ruminations getting in the way of the body count. Since I like what I'm doing in the March novels, it's good to get confirmation that the crime and the questioning work together.

Kevin Tipple's review of Pattern of Wounds suggests as much, even going so far as to say that the theology discussion "heightens the continuing sense of noir":
Furthermore, the theology discussion regarding good/evil and the role of God that comes up several times in the novel actually adds to the complexity of the novel and provides character depth. It also heightens the continuing sense of noir that was present in the first book and is also present here.
When you're writing about themes like sin and evil, it's important not to stack the deck. Bad arguments shouldn't win over good ones just because they support the author's preferred stance and he wants to deliver the "right" answer. Everybody has a case, as one of my professors used to say, and as the author you have to let them make it. One of the weaknesses of so much religious fiction is that the cleric or clerical stand-in always speaks ex-cathedra. You know from the beginning his is the argument that will carry the day. In the real world, it's just not so. I try to write about these issues the way they develop in reality, as opposed to following the conventions of fiction. .... [more]
Crime Genre: Theology and Noir

"Praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul"

More Chesterton: in "Rethinking Chesterton" Jay Parini argues that GKC should be enjoyed by those outside his fan club of "Anglophiles, conservatives, and orthodox Roman Catholics." Parini's article for The Chronicle of Higher Education makes a good case and closes noting one of Chesterton's most attractive qualities:
...[F]or Chesterton, wonder was accompanied by joy: "The mass of men," he wrote at the conclusion of Orthodoxy, "have been forced to be gay about the little things, but sad about the big ones. Nevertheless (I offer my last dogma defiantly) it is not native to man to be so. Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul." ....

His good cheer was not baseless optimism: It arose from a deep conviction that the human imagination is glorious, has its origins in divine realities, and refuses to lie down. He believed, in a strange way, in belief itself as the ground of experience. As he once said, "Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." [more]
Rethinking Chesterton - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education

"Deliver us, good Lord!"

Via Carl Olson at Ignatius Insight, G.K. Chesterton's "O God of Earth and Altar" (1906):
O God of earth and altar,
Bow down and hear our cry,
Our earthly rulers falter,
Our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us,
The swords of scorn divide,
Take not Thy thunder from us,
But take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,
From lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches
That comfort cruel men,
From sale and profanation
Of honor, and the sword,
From sleep and from damnation,
Deliver us, good Lord!

Tie in a living tether
The prince and priest and thrall,
Bind all our lives together,
Smite us and save us all;
In ire and exultation
Aflame with faith, and free,
Lift up a living nation,
A single sword to thee. Amen.
"God of Earth and Altar" was in the hymnbook my Seventh Day Baptist church used when I was growing up.

Insight Scoop | The Ignatius Press Blog: G. K. Chesterton's timeless, timely hymn

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Whatever

Christian Smith, a sociology prof at Notre Dame and co-author of Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood is concerned about the increasing prevalence of an unreflective relativism respecting religion:
There was a time in American culture, only a few generations ago, when religious differences were major. Baptists were not Methodists, and both were definitely not Presbyterians. Catholics were absolutely not Protestant, and Protestants doubted that Catholics were even Christians. Jews and Mormons were whole other species. Non-religious Americans were beyond the pale. And Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus were heathen living in faraway places. The problem with that world, we now see, was the destructive bigotry, misunderstanding, conflict and sometimes hatred that went with it. Let us call that world one of sectarian conflict.

We have come in America today to a very different world, which we might call liberal whateverism. This outlook reacts against sectarian conflict by dramatically discounting the claims of religion. The more aggressive side of this view asserts that religion per se is pernicious and should be eliminated or radically privatized. The more accommodating side says religion is fine as a personal lifestyle commodity, but that religious inclinations are ultimately arbitrary and should not be taken too seriously.

.... Many emerging adults have few considered moral bearings, are devoted to mass consumerism, routinely become intoxicated and engage in casual sexual hook-ups, are civically and politically uninformed and alienated. ....

Liberal whateverism was obvious among most of the emerging adults we studied. About 10 percent were militantly atheistic. But the vast majority opted for the more accommodating "whatever" default. Anyone could take religion or leave it. It was an individual "opinion" that didn't matter much. ....

Is there not a better way for all of us to take religion more seriously without descending into sectarian conflict? That is one of the most important questions of our day.

I think we need to reject both sectarian conflict and liberal whateverism and commit ourselves instead to an authentic pluralism. Genuine pluralism fosters a culture that honors rather than isolates and disparages religious difference. It affirms the right of others to believe and practice their faith, not only in their private lives but also in the public square -- while expecting them to allow still others to do the same. Authentic pluralism does not minimize religious differences by saying that "all religions are ultimately the same." That is false and insipid. Pluralism encourages good conversations and arguments across differences, taking them seriously precisely because they are understood to be about important truths, not merely private "opinions." It is possible, authentic pluralism insists, to profoundly disagree with others while at the same time respecting, honoring, and perhaps even loving them. Genuine pluralism suspects the multi-cultural regime's too-easy blanket affirmations of "tolerance" of being patronizing and dismissive. .... [more]
Christian Smith: Religious Tolerance: Karma, Christ, Whatever?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Divine discontent and longing"

On the one-hundredth anniversary of the publication of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, an appreciation by Gary Kamiya:
.... Since its first publication, it has been issued in over a hundred editions and translated into many languages, with annual sales figures running into the hundreds of thousands. With Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, it is one of those rare books that speaks with the same eloquence to children and adults — and is equally beloved by both.

The pleasures of The Wind in the Willows are endless. Take the scene where Rat and Mole meet. Mole is shy. Rat rows across the river. Rat invites Mole to a picnic lunch. Afterward, Rat casually says, "Look here! I really think you had better come and stop with me for a little time." Mole accepts, moves into Rat's house, and as far as we know he is living there still. It's an evocation of friendship right out of a fairy tale, where the prince and the princess fall in love at first sight. But it's a fairy tale that Grahame makes real, capturing that moment when two people suddenly realize, without fanfare, that they'd rather spend time with each other than do anything else. ....

And always, there is the glorious language. ....

The book opens with a straightforward sentence: "The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home." But then one sentence later we come upon this: "Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing." Divine discontent and longing? It is only a hint of things to come, but just three sentences into the book we know we're about to take a magic carpet ride on words so perfectly weighted, so musical, so right, that they fly all by themselves. The last line of the chapter is: "He learnt to swim and to row, and entered into the joy of running water; and with his ear to the reed-stems he caught, at intervals, something of what the wind went whispering so constantly among them." If that sentence doesn't give you goose bumps as if you were simultaneously riding in a canoe slipping through cat tails and approaching a Wordsworthian vision, you need to tune up your ear and your heart.

Grahame described The Wind in the Willows as "a book of Youth and so perhaps chiefly for Youth, and those who still keep the spirit of youth alive in them: of life, sunshine, running water, woodlands, dusty roads, winter firesides." He was right, of course. And yet The Wind in the Willows is not the same book read at age 14 as it is at 55. For a child, The Wind in the Willows is the fantastic story of the adventures of four unforgettable animals, the Mole, the Rat, the Badger and, above all, the irrepressible Toad. (No discussion of Grahame's book can fail to mention the perfect illustrations by Ernest Shepard, which have delighted generations of children and adults. When he met with Shepard, the aging Grahame simply said, "I love these little people, be kind to them.") Mole's terrible night in the Wild Wood, Rat's huge pile of weapons, Badger's secret tunnels and Toad's wild escapades are simply irresistible. As a child you're dimly aware of the darker, more complex notes of loss and longing and redemption, but those things remain at the edge of your field of vision. As an adult, those haunting notes become an inseparable part of your enjoyment, the way a connoisseur of wine learns to appreciate the subtlety of less obvious flavors. It is a book of happy dreams, and as you begin to realize how many of your own dreams will never come true, Grahame's tale appears lit not just by the brilliant sun of noon but by the golden light of late afternoon.

The Wind in the Willows can be so many books during one reader's lifetime because it is more than one book to begin with. It is at once a children's book and an adult book, a wish-fulfillment and a satire, a comic adventure story and a poetic bildungsroman, the rollicking story of Toad and the inward-turning story of Mole. .... [more]
"The Wind in the Willows" at 100 - Children - Salon.com

"Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right...."

A survey of young adults finds attitudes of “extreme moral individualism — of relativism and nonjudgmentalism.” and Peter Wehner [following Allan Bloom] attributes it to their education: "The guiding philosophy of the academy is there are no first principles, no coherent ways to interpret the world in which we live." But, in fact, it is very difficult to find anyone who truly is nonjudgmental:
.... No one, not even a liberal academic, is a true relativist. Scratch below the surface and you’ll find them to be (morally) judgmental toward those who want to discriminate based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. They will likely have strong (moral) views on criminalizing abortion, restricting marriage to one man and one woman, anthropogenic global warming, water-boarding terrorists, rendition, Israeli settlements, profits for oil companies, and cutting taxes for the rich. The left is adamant: women have a “right” to an abortion and gays have a “right” to marry. These rights are viewed as a priori and inviolate. And no one, not even a progressive liberal arts professor, is morally indifferent to someone who wants to rape his wife, molest his children, and steal his iPad. It is fashionable to insist we don’t want to “impose our values” on others or “legislate morality.” But the reality is we do so all the time, on an endless number of issues, and no civilization could survive without doing so. The question, really, is which moral standards do we aspire to? What is the ethical code we use to judge ourselves and others? ....

.... You can’t promote ethical agnosticism and embrace nonjudgmentalism without there being moral ramifications. Because at some point, we all have to take a moral stand and embrace a moral cause. We have to believe in, and abide by, rules and precepts. We don’t have the luxury of living a life of perpetual moral confusion. C.S. Lewis put it as well as anyone when he wrote in The Abolition of Man, “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

One final thought: what is often lost in this debate is that human fulfillment and happiness isn’t found in a world stripped of moral beliefs. Despair, not joy, is found among those who believe in nothing, who find purpose in nothing, who fight for nothing. Because of human anthropology – because we are moral creatures, made in the image of God – we are meant to delight in His ways, to live lives of high moral purpose. All of us fail more often than we should. But we cannot give up on the aspiration; nor can we allow our hearts to grow cold and indifferent, unmoved by the beauty of moral excellence. .... [more]
Our Lack of Moral Vocabulary « Commentary Magazine

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Trinity XIII: True service

ALMIGHTY and merciful God, of whose only gift it cometh that Thy faithful people do unto Thee true and laudable service; Grant, we beseech Thee, that we may so faithfully serve Thee in this life, that we fail not finally to attain Thy heavenly promises; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Thomas Cranmer]
BLESSED are the eyes which see the things that ye see: for I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear and have not heard them. And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise. [Luke x]

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"A self-sacrificial crucifixion"

Russell Moore, reacting to Pat Robertson's most recent controversial statement [see the post below], reminds us of a central truth of the gospel:
.... Marriage, the Scripture tells us, is an icon of something deeper, more ancient, more mysterious. The marriage union is a sign, the Apostle Paul announces, of the mystery of Christ and his church (Eph. 5). The husband, then, is to love his wife “as Christ loved the church” (Eph. 5:25). This love is defined not as the hormonal surge of romance but as a self-sacrificial crucifixion of self. The husband pictures Christ when he loves his wife by giving himself up for her. ....

Pat Robertson’s cruel marriage statement is no anomaly. He and his cohorts have given us for years a prosperity gospel with more in common with an Asherah pole than a cross. They have given us a politicized Christianity that uses churches to “mobilize” voters rather than to stand prophetically outside the power structures as a witness for the gospel. ....

If our churches are to survive, we must repudiate this Canaanite mammonocracy that so often speaks for us. But, beyond that, we must train up a new generation to see the gospel embedded in fidelity, a fidelity that is cruciform.

It’s easy to teach couples to put the “spark” back in their marriages, to put the “sizzle” back in their sex lives. You can still worship the self and want all that. But that’s not what love is. Love is fidelity with a cross on your back. Love is drowning in your own blood. Love is screaming, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

Sadly, many of our neighbors assume that when they hear the parade of cartoon characters we allow to speak for us, that they are hearing the gospel. They assume that when they see the giggling evangelist on the television screen, that they see Jesus. They assume that when they see the stadium political rallies to “take back America for Christ,” that they see Jesus. But Jesus isn’t there.

Jesus tells us he is present in the weak, the vulnerable, the useless. He is there in the least of these (Matt. 25:31-46). Somewhere out there right now, a man is wiping the drool from an 85 year-old woman who flinches because she thinks he’s a stranger. No television cameras are around. No politicians are seeking a meeting with them.

But the gospel is there. Jesus is there.  [more]
Moore to the Point – Christ, the Church, and Pat Robertson

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A "kind of death"

This is hardly the first time Pat Robertson has said something morally obtuse but it may be the worst. I suppose that if my brother and I were to have taken him as our moral guide we could have abandoned our mother when she suffered dementia since she was "kind of dead."
.... During the show's advice segment, a viewer asked Robertson how she should address a friend who was dating another woman "because his wife as he knows her is gone." Robertson said he would not fault anyone for doing this. He then went further by saying it would be understandable to divorce a spouse with the disease.

"That is a terribly hard thing," Robertson said. "I hate Alzheimer's. It is one of the most awful things because here is a loved one—this is the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years. And suddenly that person is gone. They're gone. They are gone. So, what he says basically is correct. But I know it sounds cruel, but if he's going to do something he should divorce her and start all over again. But to make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her."

Co-host Terry Meeuwsen asked Pat, "But isn't that the vow that we take when we marry someone? That it’s For better or for worse. For richer or poorer?"

Robertson said that the viewer's friend could obey this vow of "death till you part" because the disease was a "kind of death." Robertson said he would understand if someone started another relationship out of a need for companionship. .... [more]
Update: Denny Burk is absolutely right about this.

Pat Robertson Says Divorce Okay if Spouse has Alzheimer's | Liveblog | Christianity Today

Relevance

Via Justin Taylor and Douglas Wilson:
John Stott:
To search for [Scripture's] contemporary message without first wrestling with its original meaning is to attempt a forbidden short cut.
  • It dishonours God (disregarding his chosen way of revealing himself in particular historical and cultural contexts),
  • it misuses his Word (treating it like an almanac or book of magic spells) and
  • it misleads his people (confusing them about how to interpret Scripture).
John Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982), p. 221.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Worshiping the right One in the right way

Kevin DeYoung is pastor of the University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. Here he explains "Why We Worship the Way We Do":
.... Increasingly, the normal evangelical worship services consists of 25 minutes of singing, a brief prayer, 30-40 minutes of teaching, then a closing song (with the offering and the announcements somewhere in between). Many good churches worship in this way, and I have no doubt God is sincerely and faithfully worshiped with this order of service. But it’s not the way Christians have historically worshiped. And, I would argue, it is not as rich and deep and gospel-shaped as a service can be. ....

There is nothing more important in life than worship. We all worship something or someone. The only question is whether we will worship the right One in the right way. At URC we want all of life to be worship to God (Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Cor. 10:31). He is worthy to receive glory and honor and power (Rev. 4:11). In particular, we want our worship services on Sunday to be pleasing to Him. ....
A few of DeYoung's considerations:
1. Glory to God – Worship is ultimately for Him. He is the most important audience at every service.

2. Edifying to God’s people – Corporate worship must build up the body of Christ. Believers should be equipped, comforted, and exhorted. ....

6. Expositional preaching – The central act in the worship service is the preaching of God’s word. We believe this is best accomplished through the careful, Spirit-filled exposition of Scripture. Normally, this means we work systematically through a book of the Bible, verse by verse. No matter the approach, every sermon should flow from Scripture and proclaim the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection. ....

7. Thoughtful – Every church has a liturgy (an order of service). Our service has four parts: praise, renewal, proclamation, response. We see this pattern in the covenant renewal ceremonies of Scripture and in various divine encounters. In Isaiah 6, for example, Isaiah comes before God and praises him; then he confesses sin and seeks renewal; God then speaks his word to Isaiah; and finally Isaiah responds with commitment to God. This is also a gospel pattern: approach God in awe, see our sin, hear the good news, respond in faith and obedience.

8. Historical – The Church has been thinking about how to worship for centuries. We want to learn from our spiritual ancestors and build on their models. To that end, we regularly employ creeds, confessions, catechisms, responsive readings, and other forms that have been common in church history. .... [more]
Why We Worship the Way We Do – Kevin DeYoung

He only is my rock and my salvation

From the Book of Common Prayer Daily Office Lectionary for today:
Hear my cry, O God,
listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you
when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy.
Let me dwell in your tent forever!
Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings!
Psalm 61:1-4

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.
Psalm 62: 5-8
Sept. 13, 2011 - Daily Office Lectionary - Reading Plans - ESVBible.org

Monday, September 12, 2011

Re-binding a Bible

If you have a favorite Bible that needs to be re-bound, Bible Design and Binding commends an interesting and attractive, albeit rather expensive, option: Leonard’s Book Restoration and particularly "Leonard’s Historical Bible Series." I don't have a particular Bible that would benefit from this kind of treatment, but if I did "The 17th Century Country Parson Style," described as "a tribute to the hardworking country parsons and village preachers, then and now," would be my choice. You send them the Bible you want re-bound and they return it with your choice of one of these bindings. Mark Bertrand provides a lot of descriptive information, and many pictures, of the "Country Parson Style" in both the soft bound and hard cover versions.

Leonard’s Historical Bible Series | Leonard's Books, Bible Design and Binding: "17th Century County Parson" Style Rebind by Leonard's

Reading through the Bible

For the last year I have been reading Scripture in a more disciplined way than ever before in my life — largely because the method I've chosen requires minimal discipline. Scripture is fed to me daily. I've been using one of the reading plans provided at the ESV site — there are twelve options. My choice has been The Book of Common Prayer Daily Office Lectionary which "includes readings from four sections of the Bible each day: the Psalms and Wisdom Literature, Pentateuch and History of Israel, Chronicles and Prophets, and Gospels and Epistles" and can be received either by RSS feed or by email [I use the RSS feed]. It arrives early in the morning and reading it is among the first things I do regardless of when I arise.

Almost all of the other plans can be received in the same ways.

Even if you don't suffer from my tendency to slack off you might find this service useful.

Daily Office Lectionary - Reading Plans - ESVBible.org

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ecumenical Orthodoxy

One of my favorite magazines recently observed its twenty-fifth anniversary. Touchstone, in the words of its Executive Editor, James M. Kushiner, is
...committed to a common work within the shared Christian doctrinal and moral tradition rooted in the Christian Scriptures. So we continue to use "mere Christianity" and "ecumenical orthodoxy" as handles for our core commitments. ....

Our commitment to the Great Tradition has also meant that we oppose modern innovations accepted by some in misguided efforts to be pastorally sensitive, culturally relevant, or biblically "prophetic." ....
It is a magazine of what I have called "honest ecumenism" with contributions from those belonging to a variety of Christian traditions: Evangelical, Catholic and Orthodox. Kushiner again:
...Touchstone has remained one of the few places where Christians can speak together about both the things that unite them and the things that divide them, without the expectations that we will water down the differences. ....
A good representative sampling of articles from the magazine over the years can be found here.

A few articles from each issue are made available online. This anniversary issue includes, along with much else, an article by Russell D. Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, about closed communion: "Table Manners."

“The real heroes...."

From The Washington Post, one more previously untold story about the events on September 11, 2001:
Late in the morning of the Tuesday that changed everything, Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney was on a runway at Andrews Air Force Base and ready to fly. She had her hand on the throttle of an F-16 and she had her orders: Bring down United Airlines Flight 93. The day’s fourth hijacked airliner seemed to be hurtling toward Washington. Penney, one of the first two combat pilots in the air that morning, was told to stop it.

The one thing she didn’t have as she roared into the crystalline sky was live ammunition. Or missiles. Or anything at all to throw at a hostile aircraft.

Except her own plane. So that was the plan. [....]

A third plane hit the Pentagon, and almost at once came word that a fourth plane could be on the way, maybe more. The jets would be armed within an hour, but somebody had to fly now, weapons or no weapons.

“Lucky, you’re coming with me,” barked Col. Marc Sasseville.

They were gearing up in the pre-flight life-support area when Sasseville, struggling into his flight suit, met her eye.

“I’m going to go for the cockpit,” Sasseville said.

She replied without hesitating.

“I’ll take the tail.”

It was a plan. And a pact. [....]

Penney worried about missing the target if she tried to bail out.

“If you eject and your jet soars through without impact . . .” she trails off, the thought of failing more dreadful than the thought of dying.

But she didn’t have to die. She didn’t have to knock down an airliner full of kids and salesmen and girlfriends. They did that themselves.

It would be hours before Penney and Sasseville learned that United 93 had already gone down in Pennsylvania, an insurrection by hostages willing to do just what the two Guard pilots had been willing to do: Anything. And everything.

“The real heroes are the passengers on Flight 93 who were willing to sacrifice themselves,” Penney says. “I was just an accidental witness to history.” .... [more]
F-16 pilot was ready to give her life on Sept. 11 - The Washington Post

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Trinity XII: More than we desire or deserve

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve; Pour down upon us the abundance of Thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord. Amen. [Thomas Cranmer]
JESUS, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis. And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him. And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it; and were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak. [Mark vii]
He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials he multiplies peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

[Annie J. Flint, 1866-1932]

Friday, September 9, 2011

Worshiping rightly

As we approach our weekly time of formal worship, this post by Kevin DeYoung:
Romans 1:18-23

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God (v. 21a)

God wants to be worshiped. He is worthy to be worshiped. He made us to worship him, and in worshiping him we will find joy for our souls.

But God doesn’t want to be worshiped any old way. We do not worship God rightly unless we worship him as all-glorious. If some generations have conceived of God as an austere kill-joy, other Christians have little sense of the holiness of God. We’ll say “awesome” while playing video games or watching football, but we don’t know what it means to worship One who is awe-full and awe-inspiring. Too often we have a “hang-out” God who is a buddy-therapist-chum and not the Holy One of Israel. When we worship God as a feel-good, safe, squishy God who laughs all the time and hugs us a lot we are not honoring God as God.

We need to know Christ as a tender lover of our souls. And we also need to know Christ as the Son of Man with eyes like a flame of fire, feet like burnished bronze, a voice like many waters, and a face like the shining sun at whose sight we fall down as though dead (Rev. 1:12-17). King David was right: You who fear the LORD, praise him! (Psalm 22:23)
Glory of God: Glorifying our Glorious God – Kevin DeYoung

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Switching to the ESV

Kevin DeYoung explains "Why Our Church Switched to the ESV" in a pdf linked here. A few quotations from the introductory paragraphs:
  • I have been the Senior Pastor at University Reformed Church (URC) in East Lansing, Michigan, since the summer of 2004. Almost as soon as arrived I began hearing, “We need to replace the Bibles we use for worship. They are falling apart!” At the same time, and mostly unrelated, members of the congregation were asking me as their new pastor, “What Bible translation do you recommend?” Since we had the New International Version (NIV) in the pews at the time (actually for us, on the chairs), I usually said something like, “You know, there are a number of good translations. God can use almost all of them. Personally, I like the English Standard Version the best. I think it does the best job of being readable and as literal as possible.”
  • ...[I]t must be stated unequivocally that the Lord in his sovereignty has used and will continue to use many different English translations to build up his church. This isn’t to say that all translations are the same or that it doesn’t matter which translation we use. It’s simply an acknowledgment that God’s Word is sufficiently communicated in many different translations in such a way that people can come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. So in arguing for the ESV, please do not hear me belittling the work the Lord has accomplished through many other English translations.
  • After using the NASB for several years and reading through it several times, I switched to the ESV because it had precisely the balance I was looking for: more literal than the NIV and more readable than the NASB.
  • My decision to switch to the ESV several years ago was not because I felt that all other translations were terrible but because I resonated with its translation philosophy. Since then, I have come to love the readability, accuracy, and style of the ESV. It’s certainly not perfect; no translation is. But I hope it becomes the new “standard” among English speakers and becomes the Bible used for prayer, preaching, memorization, study, and worship in more and more churches. .... [the pdf]
Our small church has used the ESV for several years now. I like it and although I am poorly equipped to judge it as a work of scholarship [and consequently happy to know that many of those who are qualified think well of it], I agree that it is among the most readable of the contemporary translations.

Reasons for the ESV – Kevin DeYoung

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Joy comes with the morning

From the Book of Common Prayer Lectionary for today:
Sing praises to the Lord,
O you his saints,
And give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
And his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
But joy comes with the morning.
[Psalm 30:4-5, ESV]

Trinity XI: By His grace

O GOD, who declarest Thy almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity; Mercifully grant unto us such a measure of Thy grace, that we, running the way of Thy commandments, may obtain Thy gracious promise and be made partakers of Thy heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
[Thomas Cranmer]
BRETHREN, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed. [I Corinthians xv]
Behold what wondrous grace
The Father has bestowed
On sinners of a mortal race,
To call them sons of God!

A hope so much divine.
May trials well endure;
May purge our souls from sense and sin,
As Christ the Lord is pure.

If in my Father’s love
I share a filial part,
Send down Thy Spirit like a dove,
To rest upon my heart.

We would no longer lie
Like slaves beneath the throne;
My faith shall Abba, Father, cry,
And thou the kindred own.
[Isaac Watts, 1707]

Friday, September 2, 2011

Renewing the building

My father was walking to church in Milton one very cold Sabbath morning early in the 1930s when he saw that the building was on fire. The sanctuary was being heated for the morning service and, apparently, a fault in the chimney set off the blaze. The building was destroyed. And then, in the middle of the Great Depression, the congregation proceeded to build this structure. From conception, to construction, to completion:
Architect's rendering of the proposed Milton SDB Church building


 Using both contractors and the volunteer labor of skilled craftsmen and other workers from the church, one of the most beautiful church buildings in the denomination was completed and has served succeeding generations of Milton Seventh Day Baptists until this day.  This picture is from 1939:


The church recently sent out this appeal:
It was the middle of the Depression when the Milton Seventh Day Baptist Church burned to the ground. It was a time of unprecedented hardship when funds were tight and families didn't have much (if any) money to spare. However, the people pulled together to build a new church that has stood the test of time, serving the local SDB congregation for almost 80 years.

As time has marched on, however, the roof on the church has deteriorated and now is in need of major repair. Specifically, these are the areas that need to be fixed and an estimate of their costs:

Part 1 Bell Tower Pocket Restoration $ 31,500
Part 2 West Chimney Restoration   $ 4,925
Part 3 Maintenance Work   $ 5,150
Part 4 East Bay Roof & Wall Flashing   $ 5,930
Total  $ 47,505

This is a steep and unexpected expense, and that is why we are coming to you, our church family, to ask for help. Please consider additional giving or a one-time gift designated toward the roof project. Checks can be made out to Milton SDB Church, write "Roof Repair" in the memo, and send it to Milton SDB Church, 720 E. Madison Ave, Milton WI 53563.
Obviously, we are sensitive to the fact that the past few years have brought financial hardship to many on a scale not seen since the 1930s, when our predecessors built the current church. But if you are able to give, we are hopeful that we can provide a roof repair that will serve our church for another 80 years.