Saturday, July 28, 2012

The dangers of an individualistic faith

Ross Douthat's recent book on the state of American Christianity has elicited quite a few responses, some of them quite content — even optimistic — about the direction things are going. He worries that the anti-institutional, individualistic trends in religious practice will have almost entirely negative effects. From Douthat's column in The New York Times:
...[T]his individualism has consequences that liberal Christians as well more traditional believers should find more worrying than cheering: Consequences for local community (because it’s harder to care for your neighbor when you don’t have a congregation around you to provide resources and support), consequences for society as a whole (because the declining institutional churches leaves a void that our insolvent government is unlikely to effectively fill, no matter how many elections the Democratic Party wins), and consequences for private morality (because an individualistic faith is more likely to encourage solipsism and narcissism, in which the voice of the ego is mistaken for the voice of the divine). Like many religious progressives, Bass has great hopes for Christianity after organized religion, Christianity after the institutional church. But I feel like we already know what that Christianity looks like: It’s the self-satisfied, self-regarding, all-too-American faith that Christian Smith and others have encountered when they survey today’s teenagers and young adults, which conceives of God as part divine butler, part cosmic therapist, and which jettisons the more challenging aspects of Christianity that the traditional churches and denominations, for all their many sins and follies, at least tried to hand down to us intact. [more]
Is Liberal Christianity Actually The Future? - NYTimes.com

Worshiping the god within

A recent conversation sent me looking for this quotation from G.K. Chesterton:
“That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones. Let Jones worship the sun or moon, anything rather than the Inner Light; let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any in his street, but not the god within. Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inwards, but to look outwards, to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain. The only fun of being a Christian was that a man was not left alone with the Inner Light, but definitely recognized an outer light, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners.” (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy)
Quote by G.K. Chesterton: That Jones shall worship the god within him tur...

"Why don't they teach logic at these schools?"

In the course of an essay about Stephen Hawking's argument that the appearance of order in our universe could simply be result of an infinite number of universes, ours being the one—by chance—that is orderly, Charlie W. Starr, in "The Lion, the Witch and the Physicist" summarizes one of my favorite parts of the first Narnia tale [you'll have to go to the essay for the point he is making about Hawking]:
.... Early in LWW, Peter and Susan go to the old professor at whose house they’re staying because they’re troubled over their youngest sibling, Lucy, who claims to have walked through a wardrobe into a magical land called Narnia. They fear Lucy might be going mad. What they expect is that the professor will assume what they already have: that Narnia isn’t real and Lucy is either lying or disturbed. But the old professor doesn’t assume that at all. He first asks them whether or not Lucy is truthful. They reply that Lucy is very honest. Then they ask about madness. The professor replies that Lucy is clearly not mad. But the children don’t understand. How could a magical land through a wardrobe be real, especially when they looked at the wardrobe and found nothing? There couldn’t be a doorway there one minute and gone the next; it’s impossible. The professor disagrees completely, questioning the logic of their assumption. He concludes, on the contrary, that if Lucy is not lying, and not insane, then she must be telling the truth! ....
From The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe:
"How do you know," he asked, that your sister's story is not true?"
"Oh, but—" began Susan, and then stopped. Anyone could see from the old man's face that he was perfectly serious. Then Susan pulled herself together and said, "But Edmund said they had only been pretending."
"That is a point," said the Professor, "which certainly deserves consideration; very careful consideration. For instance—if you will excuse me for asking the question—does your experience lead you to regard your brother or your sister as the more reliable? I mean, which is the more truthful?"
"That's just the funny thing about it, sir," said Peter. "Up till now, I'd have said Lucy every time."
"And what do you think, my dear?" said the Professor, turning to Susan.
"Well," said Susan, "in general, I'd say the same as Peter, but this couldn't be true—all this about the wood and the Faun."
"That is more than I know," said the Professor, "and a charge of lying against someone whom you have always found truthful is a very serious thing; a very serious thing indeed."
"We were afraid it mightn't even be lying," said Susan; "we thought there might be something wrong with Lucy."
"Madness, you mean?" said the Professor quite coolly. "Oh, you can make your minds easy about that. One has only to look at her and talk to her to see that she is not mad."
"But then," said Susan, and stopped. She had never dreamed that a grown-up would talk like the Professor and didn't know what to think.
"Logic!" said the Professor half to himself. "Why don't they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn't tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth." .... C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
C. S. Lewis Blog: The Lion, the Witch and the Physicist

Friday, July 27, 2012

Question authority

On the streets of the city where I live you can see cars so completely covered with bumper stickers that you wonder whether the vehicle would disintegrate without them. These are not the kind promoting political candidates but ones chosen to advertise some viewpoint, and often, seemingly, calculated to provoke. If you took the time to peruse them you would have no doubt about the worldview — even the personality — of the car's owner. They are, of course, slogans, not arguments.

Man In The Woods blog nominates his candidates for "The 7 Most Annoying Bumper Sticker Slogans of the Past 20 Years" and introduces his list with this:
In a world of bumper sticker slogans, one occasionally runs across an amusing, if not thought-provoking, message. That said, it is far more common to see one that simply annoys you. Sure, it may not be the worst message in the world, but after seeing it a hundred or so times it becomes a little like that song that is overplayed on the radio (need I mention Hootie and the Blowfish?). The other problem is that it comes off as a bit of the old "hit and run" mentality. Because I am anonymous, I can yell anything at you I want, and I don't have to bother listening to your response. Hah! I have won an argument that I don't even have to defend, because my opponent has been reduced to silence... sort of. ....
One of his choices:

There is also a similar one out there which says; "Question Everything." At any rate, both essentially amount to the same thing. I will not be daft and pretend that I don't understand where people are coming from when they make this statement. Read with a charitable eye this is saying that one should not just accept something without thinking critically about it. Absolutely, I would agree 100%. But this goes right to the heart of what's generally lacking from many of these back bumper formulations. They have no context! Unfortunately, I fear that many of the people who place them on their cars don't have any either. It is fine to say; "Question Authority", but what does that mean? Why are you questioning it? Is there any authority that is good? If you decide to reject that authority, what will you replace it with? If I had a bumper sticker on the theme of authority, I think I would have it say; "Question Anarchy". There is a profound shallowness in thinking that authority is intrinsically a wicked thing. There will always be an authority, the only real question is whether that authority is benevolent or wicked. That is question we should be asking. .... [more]
Man In the Woods: The 7 Most Annoying Bumper Sticker Slogans of the Past 20 Years

Van Morrison

Ever since I saw Van Morrison perform in The Last Waltz I've been buying his music and can't think of anything I've bought that I don't like. Even so I knew little about him except that he grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This documentary, Van Morrison: Under Review: 1964-1974 describes where he came from and how he developed his music, his first single hits, the first big album, Astral Weeks, and on, including interviews with Morrison, his biographers, associates, and also a lot of music. The video takes about and hour and fifty minutes. [Apparently you need to go through to Crackle to watch.]



Thursday, July 26, 2012

"Thanks be to God..."

Via CyberBrethren - A Lutheran Blog, Martin Luther:
A Christian has already been thrust into death by the very fact that he became a Christian. Wherever he may be, he occupies himself with this hourly. He expects death any moment so long as he sojourns here, because devil, world, and his own flesh give him no rest. However, he enjoys the advantage of already being out of the grave with his right leg. Moreover, he has a mighty helper who holds out His hand to him, namely, His Lord Christ; He has left the grave entirely a long time ago, and now He takes the Christian by the hand and pulls him more than halfway out of the grave; only the left foot remains in it. For his sin is already remitted and expunged, God’s wrath and hell are extinguished, and he already lives fully in and with Christ with regard to his best part, which is the soul, as he partakes of eternal life. Therefore death can no longer hold him or harm him. Only the remnant, the old skin, flesh and blood, must still decay before it, too, can be renewed and follow the soul. As for the rest, we have already penetrated all the way into life, since Christ and my soul are no longer in death.
Rev. McCain provides a daily quotation from Luther.

Daily Luther: A Christian Only Has One Foot in the Grave. | CyberBrethren - A Lutheran Blog

Too agreeable

Josh Blunt continues his series about church planting posted at Kevin DeYoung's blog. In the first years of the plant they had used an "attractional, seeker-driven model" that increasingly seemed inadequate:
.... Our discipleship of new believers, our prayer culture, and our common understanding of the sacraments had been too anemic in the attractional years, and had failed to bring true unity. We had intended to “major in the majors and minor in the minors,” but instead had merely “agreed on the agreeables and avoided the avoidables.” ....
And as they avoided being disagreeable they avoided those doctrines that made their denomination distinctive:
.... We also grew more bold in our defense of our denomination’s paedobaptist theology. Attractional thinking had led us to soft sell our position and welcome those who espoused believer baptism. This tolerance was still affirmed; however, we began to realize we had worked so hard at honoring the exception that we had failed to champion the rule. [emphasis added] ....[more]
From Metro to Retro – Part 3 of 4 – Kevin DeYoung

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Seventh Day Baptists and slavery

Several years ago I posted a series about the history of Seventh Day Baptists one of which was “A Nation cannot long endure…” about Seventh Day Baptists and abolitionism. That post was later reprinted in the Sabbath Recorder (September, 2011). The post (and the article) included this passage, referring to the only known Seventh Day Baptist church that had a slave owner as a member:
Unlike many other denominations, Seventh Day Baptists had few churches in slave states, and so there was little division on the question. A member of the Lost Creek Church, in Virginia [soon to be West Virginia], owned slaves he had inherited and that elicited general condemnation from other Seventh Day Baptists.
That was a very brief reference to a very interesting controversy. I received a communication yesterday from a descendant of a member of that church. Lynn Arden FitzRandolph writes:
I am not of that particular Lost Creek family, but please allow me to present some information.... The “slaves” in question were a mother and son who were both physically incapacitated. In today’s terminology we could say that they were in an “assisted living” arrangement in a Lost Creek, Virginia (now West Virginia) home. Under the laws of the State of Virginia they certainly were not free to walk away; had they been found “at large” in Virginia, they would have been arrested and sold at auction. All blacks were, under existing Virginia law, either owned or possessed by someone or were fugitives. They also had nowhere else to go, and no one else to care for them. ....
Mr. FitzRandolph referred me to Corliss Fitz Randolph's A History of the Seventh Day Baptists in West Virginia, a book that includes a chapter about the controversy. It summarizes the circumstance that gave rise to the anguish:
Deacon Abel Bond of the Lost Creek Church married, in Maryland, a wife, whose uncle made her a present of a slave girl. This slave girl, on reaching womanhood, married against the wishes of Deacon Bond, but nevertheless with his permission. She raised a family of children, who, according to the laws of slave-holding states, were born into bondage. Deacon Bond offered to set the family free and to pay their expences to a free state, but they preferred to remain with him, as he was a kind master exercising only such authority over them as the laws of the state and of humanity demanded at his hands. Deacon Bond provided in his will that they should be freed as soon as circumstances should warrant, but soon after his death all the coloured family died but the mother and one son, who was not physically strong. Deacon Bond's son, into whose care they were committed at the death of his father, again offered them freedom, but they still chose to remain where they were. ....
My own understanding is that the mother was elderly and that the surviving son was considered "simple" and that it was thought neither could survive on their own.

When the Lost Creek church applied to join the Eastern Association and it became known that one of its members was, at least formally, a slaveholder, controversy ensued, including considerable strongly stated correspondence in the Sabbath Recorder. Objections were particularly strong from the North-Western Association (Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, etc.). A "special committee" was appointed by the Eastern Association to investigate Lost Creek's attitude toward the institution and that committee questioned the delegate of the Lost Creek church, Elder S.D. Davis, eliciting these responses:
...[T]he committee propounded to Bro. Davis, the delegate from that church, four questions, which were answered as follows:-

1st. Does your church have or hold any sympathy, in any sense, with American Slavery? Ans. It does not.

2nd. Does the church hold that American Slavery ought to be abolished, as a sin against God and man? Ans. It does.

3rd. In what sense, if not as slaves, are those persons, understood by some as such, held by a member or members of your church? Ans. If held at all, it is to shield them from the action of the laws of the state that would otherwise enslave them.

4th. What would the church do with a member who should buy or sell or hold a person as property? Ans. It would exclude him.

The committee also found, that the Lost Creek Church, by its delegates, adopted the following resolution, at an association held in Ritchie County, Va., Sept. 1854:
"That we regard American Slavery as a sin of great magnitude in the sight of God, and a flagrant violation of the rights of our fellow men, and that it is our duty to use all of our influence against it."
From these and other facts before them, the committee came to the following conclusions:
1st. That the relation of master and slave does not exist in the Lost Creek Church, in the proper sense of the phrase, and only technically, and that the church is not justly chargeable with sustaining slavery.

2nd. That we deeply regret the acrimonious spirit, and the personal reflections and accusations, made against brethren, in the discussion had upon the subject in the denominational paper.

3rd. With regard to the resolution of the North-Western Association, we think the language used is stronger than the facts warrant, and that the regret expressed by that association results from the manner in which the subject has been discussed, more than from the existence of slavery itself.

W. B. MAXSON,
J. BAILEY.
The Lost Creek church, however, felt that the ongoing investigation was inquisitorial and withdrew its application. It wasn't until 1881 that all was resolved.

Corliss Fitz Randolph notes that of all the Seventh Day Baptists in West Virginia, only two fought for the Confederacy while every church contributed volunteers to the Federal forces [one of my Bond great great uncles among them].

Lynn FitzRandolph, in his most recent communication:
The wisdom that I glean from reading the accounts of this controversy is the realization that it is possible to become so emotionally invested in a moral issue that one becomes blinded to goodness, presented in this case in the form of the Good Samaritan “slave owner” and his local church — acting morally and openly in violation of local (Virginia) customs. This realization, I believe, is an appropriate and constructive epitaph to the controversy.

Someone complained

Our local bigots strike again:
STEUBENVILLE – City officials agreed Tuesday night to change the city logo after a Madison, Wis., organization threatened legal action.

Law Director S. Gary Repella announced the decision following a 15-minute closed-door meeting with City Council members.

“We will be approaching Mark Nelson of Nelson Fine Art and Gifts and asking him to redesign the city logo to remove the cross and silhouette of the Christ the King Chapel on the Franciscan University of Steubenville campus.,” said Repella.

“We were contacted in May by the Freedom from Religion Foundation Inc. in Madison, Wis., who said one of our citizens had complained about the city logo. .... [more]
Oh, for [Delete Deity]‘s Sake!–UPDATED

Seventh Day Baptist history

Don Sanford's A Choosing People: The History of Seventh Day Baptists has been out of print for some years — but no longer. Nick Kersten of the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society announces the publication of a new edition [pictured here - I think that is probably Nick's thumb] and that it will be available for sale at the General Conference sessions next week in Buckhannon, West Virginia. The book is also available for pre-order at Amazon: A Choosing People: The History of Seventh Day Baptists. My understanding is that this edition was revised, corrected and updated by the author and, since Don's death, by others.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"A batsuited Cincinnatus"

Ross Douthat, a conservative, finds a conservative message in the Nolans' Batman films — a conservative message that is, not a fascist or an Objectivist one. From "The Politics of 'The Dark Knight Rises'":
.... Across the entire trilogy, what separates Bruce Wayne from his mentors in the League of Shadows isn’t a belief in Gotham’s goodness; it’s a belief that a compromised order can still be worth defending, and that darker things than corruption and inequality will follow from putting that order to the torch. This is a conservative message, but not a triumphalist, chest-thumping, rah-rah-capitalism one: It reflects a “quiet toryism” (to borrow from John Podhoretz’s review) rather than a noisy Americanism, and it owes much more to Edmund Burke than to Sean Hannity. .... [more]
The Politics of "The Dark Knight Rises" - NYTimes.com

Church planting

My denomination's annual conference sessions begin next week. The president of our conference, Pastor John Pethtel, has made the subject of church planting a significant part of the Conference program and so this series of posts at Kevin DeYoung's blog seemed particularly timely. DeYoung has invited RCA church planter Josh Blunt to share what he has learned, and unlearned, over the last decade about planting new churches:
...It was...the dawn of my denomination’s foray into intentional church planting, a season in which young, idealistic, evangelical pastors emerging from seminaries were encouraged to bypass the quagmire of tradition, bureaucracy, and stasis inherent in existing churches. We were enjoined to boldly go where no RCA pastors had gone before, claiming a new share in the Harvest for an increasingly obscure yet historically evangelical family of believers.

The RCA has always been a mixed denomination, boasting of its ability to balance both mainline and evangelical elements in one household. Nevertheless, our denominational landscape at the time seemed divided into two camps:

1) traditional methodology + progressive theology = mainline protestantism

2) progressive methodology + traditional theology = evangelicalism

The assumption in church planting circles was that, at least in terms of denominational survival, equation #1 led to death and equation #2 was the path to life. In this sense, planters genuinely believed that we and our new churches were going to be the great hope for the next generation of RCA believers.

Many within our little tribe insisted that church planting could restore our dwindling numbers, and even revitalize existing congregations who would parent new, daughter congregations. This plan seemed explicitly biblical and patently apostolic to me then, and it still does now – healthy, biblical, new congregations and church networks DO reach new people and expand the Kingdom. When I started out as a planter, however, most of us assumed that this growth potential would be largely connected to the new congregations’ ability to more nimbly and rapidly deploy progressive, attractional church methodology. In other words, we would adapt to the emerging needs of unbelievers far more easily, having fewer sacred cows to kill along the way. ....

What I have learned, and what Kevin has graciously invited me to convey through a short series of posts here, is that the future of ministry in historical denominations can’t be reduced to equation #1 OR #2 above. Whether a congregation is being freshly planted, or revitalized over time, I believe the math is something much more akin to this:

3) ordinary, historic methodology + orthodox, gospel-focused theology + patient, painstaking contextualization = sustainable fruitfulness

Over my next posts, I will offer some of the things I observed over the course of my decade-long church planting journey. I will explain the transformation my congregation and I underwent as our adherence to an attractional, progressive model of methodology inevitably worked against our traditional theology and tore irreparable rifts in the fabric of our fellowship. I will describe the attempts we made to change horses midstream and how they helped. I will also show how the previously lost and unchurched perceived each model, and how the pre-churched and re-churched among us did, as well. These dynamics tended to revolve around three key areas, each of which will be a focus in my remaining posts:

- Proclamation (Preaching of the Word, Worship, Evangelism)

- Life Together (Prayer, Discipleship, Sacraments)

- Unmentionables (Discipline, Conflict, Gender Roles, and Governance)
7/25: From Metro to Retro (2 of 4)
7/26: From Metro to Retro (3 of 4)
7/27: From Metro to Retro (4 of 4)

From Metro to Retro (1 of 4) – Kevin DeYoung

Monday, July 23, 2012

"The church of time and eternity bearing witness together"

"Contemporary worship not a fix-all" asserts this article. In my opinion it isn't even "contemporary worship" in many churches ineffectually attempting to catch up with whatever is happening now. In the American context attempting to "contextualize" often seems like anchoring worship to yesterday's "now" and becoming immediately "then." As C.S. Lewis once said, "all that is not eternal, is eternally out of date." It might be wiser for worship leaders to attempt to connect worshipers with something less ephemeral — and do it well.
.... About half of Protestant churches in America use electric guitars and drums in worship, up from 35 percent 12 years ago, according to a 2011 study of more than 10,000 churches by Faith Communities Today. That figure approaches 60 percent among evangelical churches generally and among all churches in the South, reported the multi-faith research group associated with the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Harford (Conn.) Seminary.

But is the assumption — contemporary worship as essential to success — invariably true? Some American churches are saying no and are proving it with vibrant, creative traditional worship. No form of worship is inherently superior, they stress. The key to a healthy church is finding a mode of worship for which each congregation is uniquely equipped and carrying it off with excellence. Done well, traditional worship remains effective, they add. ....

...[E]very church’s challenge is “to give reign to the Spirit of the Living Christ. When we sing the hymns of the church from ages past, when we recite the Psalms and recount the witness of saints of old, we expand our praise to include theirs. We are not just the church of the here and now; we are the church of time and eternity bearing witness together. This gives depth to our worship and joins memory with hope.

“Some people are finding that churches that pay attention to tradition, without being enslaved by it, give them an identity with deep roots,” he added. “They are drawn to what lasts, what has endured the tests of time. Some forms of worship today quickly become irrelevant in their attempted relevance. Traditional worship is both intergenerational and transgenerational. It gives a voice to every generation, including those that have gone before.” .... [more]
Contemporary worship not a fix-all

Chick-fil-A and religious liberty

Although the headline says "Chick-fil-A exec takes stance against same-sex marriage," apparently gay marriage wasn't even mentioned in the interview. He merely indicated support for the traditional definition of family. But it isn't enough in today's America for a company to take no position on an issue, neither can its executives. Tolerance is insufficient - silence, or better yet, endorsement is mandatory. And in Boston Mayor Menino exemplifies the new bigotry:
Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston. You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population. We’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion....

That’s the Freedom Trail. That’s where it all started right here. And we’re not going to have a company, Chick-fil-A or whatever the hell the name is, on our Freedom Trail. ....

If they need licenses in the city, it will be very difficult — unless they open up their policies....
David French at NRO:
.... Mayor Menino is intent on making sure Chick-fil-A can’t do business in his town. Why? Because Chick-fil-A executives support the traditional family.

Let’s be clear about the mayor’s intent. No one has credibly accused Chick-fil-A of discrimination in employment or in its services. Every customer gets served, regardless of sex, race, creed, sexual orientation, or any other factor. Chick-fil-A stores comply with all applicable local, state, and federal nondiscrimination laws. Yet the mayor believes the business has no place in his town because of the constitutionally protected speech, ideas, and gifts of its executives and leaders. .... [more]
My own brief experience with "Mayor-for-life" Menino was when I served as parliamentarian for the National Conference of Mayors when it met here in Madison. He was the presiding officer. When I was introduced to him the first words out of his mouth, vehemently expressed, were "I don't need a parliamentarian!" It is, no doubt, unfair to judge someone by so brief a personal encounter, but everything I observed for the rest of that day and that I have read subsequently has reaffirmed my impression. His reaction here seems similarly unconsidered, intemperate, and intolerant. As has the reaction to Chick-fil-A of gay activists nationally .

Robert P. George believes attitudes like Menino's have become more and more common because it was always an illusion to believe that once gay marriage was achieved its advocates would be content. From his "Marriage, Religious Liberty, and the 'Grand Bargain'"
It was only yesterday, was it not, that we were being assured that the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex partnerships would have no impact on persons and institutions that hold to the traditional view of marriage as a conjugal union? Such persons and institutions would simply be untouched by the change. It won’t affect your marriage or your life, we were told, if the law recognizes Henry and Herman or Sally and Sheila as “married.” ....

The fundamental error made by some supporters of conjugal marriage was and is, I believe, to imagine that a grand bargain could be struck with their opponents: “We will accept the legal redefinition of marriage; you will respect our right to act on our consciences without penalty, discrimination, or civil disabilities of any type. Same-sex partners will get marriage licenses, but no one will be forced for any reason to recognize those marriages or suffer discrimination or disabilities for declining to recognize them.” There was never any hope of such a bargain being accepted. Perhaps parts of such a bargain would be accepted by liberal forces temporarily for strategic or tactical reasons, as part of the political project of getting marriage redefined; but guarantees of religious liberty and non-discrimination for people who cannot in conscience accept same-sex marriage could then be eroded and eventually removed. After all, “full equality” requires that no quarter be given to the “bigots” who want to engage in “discrimination” (people with a “separate but equal” mindset) in the name of their retrograde religious beliefs. .... [more]
First, tolerance is required. Then acceptance and silence. And finally full agreement with sanctions against those unwilling to acquiesce. Thank God for the First Amendment. But will it be enough?

More 7/24: The Media Completely Invented That Chick-Fil-A Story - Ricochet.com

The Sexual Revolution Gets (More) Totalitarian - By David French - The Corner - National Review Online, Marriage, Religious Liberty, and the “Grand Bargain” « Public Discourse

The virtue of prudence

I have been experiencing a gradual disillusionment with what has been labeled "neoconservative" foreign policy. I don't regret for a moment the ousting of Mubarak, or Saddam, or Gaddafi, or [soon, one hopes] Assad. But the consequences have reinforced my erstwhile Burkean skepticism about revolutionary possibilities. Before he became totally involved in diplomacy Henry Kissinger was a Harvard professor of politics who wrote a great deal about international relations theory. He was recently given an award named for the great 18th century conservative, Edmund Burke, and on that occasion Kissinger chose to address "The limits of universalism":
.... Burke confronted the conservative paradox: Values are universal, but generally have to be implemented as part of a process, that is to say, gradually. If they are implemented without respect for history or circumstance, they invalidate all traditional restraints. Burke sympathized with the American Revolution because he considered it a natural evolution of English liberties. Burke opposed the French Revolution, which he believed wrecked what generations had wrought and, with it, the prospect of organic growth.

For Burke, society was both an inheritance and a point of departure. As he wrote in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, “[T]he idea of inheritance furnishes a sure principle of conservation and a sure principle of transmission, without at all excluding a principle of improvement.” A society proceeding in this spirit will discover that “in what we improve we are never wholly new; in what we retain we are never wholly obsolete.”

Hence prudence is “in all things a virtue, [and] in politics the first of virtues.” Its practice yields a politics which, as Burke wrote in November 1789,
lead[s] us rather to acquiesce in some qualified plan that does not come up to the full perfection of the abstract idea, than to push for the more perfect, which cannot be attained without tearing to pieces the whole contexture of the commonwealth.
That distinction defines the disagreement between conservatism and liberalism in our society, between viewing history as an organic process or as a series of episodes shaped by self-will. It also accounts, to some extent, for the difference between Burkean conservatism as I understand it and some aspects of neoconservatism. .... [more]
Kissinger goes on to apply Burkean insights to certain of our current foreign policy dilemmas, including the "Arab Spring."

The limits of universalism by Henry A. Kissinger - The New Criterion

There will never be a Batman

Jeffrey Weiss explains that evil is easy and stopping it is hard:
Here is one lesson from Friday's Colorado theater massacre: superheroes are fantasy but supervillains are not.

Less flippantly: we live in a era where it is infinitely easier to commit transcendent evil than to perform remarkable good. This is only the latest in a series of episodes that demonstrate the malign power unique to our times. The 9/11 attack. The Columbine killings. The Fort Hood shootings. Choose-the-bombing with the terrible details of blameless dead and wounded from too many cities anywhere in the world. ....

In the 2008 movie, Ledger's Joker offers a series of explanations about what turned him in[to] the clown-faced villain. With zero indication that any of them were true. But at one point he offers an irrational but logical motive that feels like it's real:

"Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I'm an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It's fair!" [emphasis added]

And here's another thing about chaos: in 2012, it's easy. Anybody who can get access to off-the-shelf modern tools of destruction and isn't too particular about who gets killed can engineer a comics-villain sized massacre any day of the week. ....

Far as I can tell, this is all stuff that anybody without a felony conviction could assemble in a busy afternoon. And takes no more skill to employ than a garden hose.

Doing good is a lot harder. It requires actual skill. Consequences matter. Seeds must be sown and carefully nurtured. Networks of technology and people need to be planned and pruned. And even with the best of intentions and planning, there are no guarantees.

Evil, on the other hand, can give absolute guarantees.

Giving a human the powers of a spider? Not happening. Gliding, bat-shaped capes that would allow someone to leap from a skyscraper to a safe landing? Physics says no. But bullets and explosives are a commonplace. ....

We are forced to live with the reality of joker upon joker upon joker. Why so serious? Because there's never going to be a Batman. .... [more]
Evil is real. Superheroes, in the world we live in, are not. But we can contend with evil.

RealClearReligion - A Day Without Superheroes

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Order or chaos

John Podhoretz explains what it is that makes "super-hero movies" so popular and why this third Christopher Nolan Batman movie works so well:
.... What people adore about superhero movies is the signal quality of the Christopher Nolan films—their complete lack of irony when it comes to the portrayal of heroism and the need for heroes to confront evil. When they grab you, and the utterly riveting and entirely gripping The Dark Knight Rises grabs you as few movies do, it is because the filmmakers discard the knowing winks and go all-out, turning their stories into moral pageants dedicated to the elevation of self-sacrifice, selflessness, and heroism. ....

The Dark Knight Rises finally finds an epic story that fits the super-hero’s simple moral code—good people do right and bad people do wrong and good people must stop bad people. Because Batman has no special powers, the character is far better suited to fit this code than the supernaturally charged Superman or the genetically mutated Fantastic Four or X-Men....

This Manichean worldview goes very well with what one might call the quiet Tory perspective of Christopher Nolan. The theme running through the three Batman movies (the first, Batman Begins, was not very good, although Nolan and his co-screenwriter, brother Jonathan, mine it effectively for plot points in the new one) is the battle between order and chaos, with Nolan standing unambiguously on the side of order.

Nolan knows exactly what he’s doing when he puts the rhetoric of the Occupy Wall Street movement in the mouth of his villain. The Dark Knight Rises is a Classic Comics version of Edmund Burke. Which makes its incidental role in the latest monstrous spasm of nihilistic violence, as the movie that was playing during James Holmes’s evil massacre at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, all the more haunting. [more]
The Burkean connection seems to me a bit far-fetched, but Podhoretz gets what can make this kind of film work for me, and my tolerance for fantasy - especially comic book fantasy - is pretty limited.

Evil Undone | The Weekly Standard

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Good and evil

"If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being." ― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Christ-centered worship

Re-posted from September 21, 2009, and directly related to the post immediately below. Ultimately, the "worship wars" should be transcended by worship. Style should serve purpose. From 2009:

One way to transcend the "worship wars" might be to first ask what worship is supposed to be - and only then decide what ought to be done. Three of the questions from an interview with Bryan Chapell, author of Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice:
What is—and is not—Christ-centered worship?
Christ-centered worship is not just talking or singing about Jesus a lot. Christ-centered worship reflects the contours of the gospel. In the individual life of a believer, the gospel progresses through recognition of the greatness and goodness of God, the acknowledgment of our sin and need of grace, assurance of God's forgiveness through Christ, thankful acknowledgment of God's blessing, desire for greater knowledge of him through his Word, grateful obedience in response to his grace, and a life devoted to his purposes with assurance of his blessing.

In the corporate life of the church this same gospel pattern is reflected in worship. Opening moments offer recognition of the greatness and goodness of God that naturally folds into confession, assurance of pardon, thanksgiving, instruction, and a charge to serve God in response to his grace in Christ. This is not a novel idea but, in fact, is the way most churches have organized their worship across the centuries. Only in recent times have we lost sight of these gospel contours and substituted pragmatic preferences for Christ-centered worship. My goal is to re-acquaint the church with the gospel-shape of its worship so that we are united around Christ's purposes rather than arguing about stylistic preferences.
What is the greatest misunderstanding of worship in evangelical churches today?
Many evangelical churches—perhaps most—only think of worship as "the opening stuff" prior to the sermon, or the style of music that predominates. Worship will fulfill its greater purposes of honoring and proclaiming the gospel when church leaders and worshipers understand that just as the sacraments re-present the fundamental aspects of the gospel in symbol, and the sermon does so in words, so also the worship of the church re-presents the gospel in its pattern.
If pastors could make one change to their worship service next Sunday, what would you recommend?
Structure the aspects of worship to reflect your understanding of the gospel and tell people (briefly) how each component advances that understanding.
Thanks to Justin Taylor for the reference

Transcending the Worship Wars | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Looking for an experience

If I'm reading Brandon O'Brien correctly, the worship wars will never end:
Citing neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain on Music (Dutton Adult 2006), Beck explains, “Hearing familiar, favorite music stimulates the release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter involved in pleasure and addiction, providing the same rush as eating chocolate or that winning does for a compulsive gambler.” ....

.... Beck goes on to say, “Dr. Levitin’s research also showed that musical tastes formed in the teen years become part of the brain’s internal wiring, as that is the time when some neural pathways are solidifying and others are being pruned away. That’s why the music adults tend to be nostalgic for is the music from their teenage years.”

Maybe that’s why even if you convince a Christian of a certain age that the theology of “In the Garden” isn’t much better than the theology of “When Jesus Comes Around,” it won’t matter. They’ll still prefer it, not because of what it says but because of how it makes them feel. ....

.... For the sake of dialogue, church members must acknowledge that their musical preferences are just that: preferences. God is not on the side of the organ, nor of the Stratocaster. Drop the pretense of righteous indignation and simply admit, “We like this music better.”

That said, the second point is that while we are talking about preferences here, we are not talking about mere preferences. If I understand the claims above, people have profound biological responses to the music they like. They want to hear certain melodies and instruments in worship instead of others, not because they are selfish or hardheaded but because certain melodies and instruments move them, they produce biological feelings we identify as “worshipful.” And most people won’t be able to explain why. ....

There are issues left unaddressed here, such as whether or not feeling worshipful should be a priority. I suspect that debate is a bit academic, as most churchgoers are looking for an experience. .... [more]
Out of Ur: Bieber Fever and the Worship Wars

Teachers

Sunday school teachers in the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, have been informed that they must take an oath that they believe and will teach what the Catholic Church teaches. Some news organizations have been reporting this requirement as if it were a violation of religious conscience, among them, apparently, The Washington Post. Rod Dreyer, who is no longer a Roman Catholic, is ticked off by this ignorance about what Catholicism is:
.... For Catholics, the Church has the right to teach authoritatively on faith and morals — an authority that is exercised through its leadership. This is what the Protestant Reformation was about! It is beyond embarrassing that this has to be explained to a reporter for The Washington Post. Then again, it has to be explained to liberal Catholics that they can’t pick and choose what to believe, and remain as Catholics in good standing. This is something I will never understand about modern Catholics. They want to have their church, but only on their own terms. Which is not Catholic. .... [more]
It is not only "not Catholic" but not consistent with any organization, religious or secular, that is organized around a set of beliefs. Shouldn't any church organization be able to require its teachers to affirm and teach what that church believes?

Catholic Loyalty Oath? | The American Conservative

Monday, July 16, 2012

"When I run I feel His pleasure"

Chariots of Fire has finally made it to Blu-ray, and so I watched it again. Although it won its Oscar as long ago as 1981 it holds up very well, and the DVD is gorgeous. Something I learned from the extras was that Ian Charleson, the actor who plays Eric Liddell in the film, died 22 years ago, only 40. He was remarkably good in the role - he seemed natural, genuine, and, from all accounts, a good portrayal of the actual man.

As the 2012 Olympics approach, the film has been re-released in London: "Chariots of Fire recapturing British imagination":
...[F]or many Christians, the movie’s enduring appeal comes at least partly because of its sincere and sympathetic depiction of a believer who sacrificed for his theological convictions, despite severe criticism.

Perhaps more importantly, Liddell provided a model for understanding how to be “in the world, but not of it.” He believed that his service to God included being a missionary and an athlete, and that he must be faithful in both roles. As his character famously said, “I believe God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run I feel His pleasure.”
WORLDmag.com | Chariots of Fire recapturing British imagination | Les Sillars

The decline of liberal Protestantism

Ross Douthat asks "Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?" in The New York Times. R.R. Reno, at First Things, argues that the diminishing influence of liberal Protestantism is a bad thing for America:
...[T]hese Christian churches have so thoroughly embraced the social mores of our secular elites that they’ve lost a great deal of their distinctive purpose. Why go to church when you can get what you need by reading the editorial pages of the New York Times?

The self-destruction of mainline Protestantism is an often told story. But Douthat makes an important observation.
If liberals need to come to terms with these failures, religious conservatives should not be smug about them. The defining idea of liberal Christianity—that faith should spur social reform as well as personal conversion—has been an immensely positive force in our national life. No one should wish for its extinction, or for a world where Christianity becomes the exclusive property of the political right.
I would go a step further. The decline of liberal Protestantism has played an important role in the political polarization of America. By and large, the secular Left has come to dominate the Democratic Party. One effect has been to drive religious voters toward the Republican Party, turning our political life into one of the primary places for working out a struggle to define the future of American culture. It’s because institutions like the Episcopal Church have become irrelevant that there are few moderating forces at work on the Left today.

The decline of mainline Protestantism has meant the decline of Christian influence over American elite culture. No Christian (or Jew or Muslim, for that matter) ought to celebrate the end of liberal Christianity. It hasn’t meant the end of liberalism, only the end of a religiously and morally serious liberalism. That’s been bad for America, and bad for religious Americans. ....
Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved? - NYTimes.com, The Christian Deficit » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

Sunday, July 15, 2012

No remembrance of former things

Beginning his review of a worthy example of the historian's art, Jay Green expresses his pessimism about the success of the calling:
Historians devote themselves to a hopeless project. They are in the business of memory reclamation, dredging up long-forgotten events, places, and people buried deep within the muddy waters of the human past. The "dredging up" part has gone exceedingly well; all things considered, I would even call it a rousing success. The problem lies with the "memory reclamation" part. Although all of us go about with the noblest of intentions—"Never Forget!"—the human species shows almost no sign of being able to sustain an ongoing memory of its shared past. Memories are no sooner "reclaimed" than they slip from our trembling fingers, sinking back into the murky ooze of cultural oblivion.

.... I like to imagine that the ancient writer of Ecclesiastes was pleading with future historians to change their college majors (subtext: "It really wouldn't hurt to take an accounting class"), or was at least offering them a little straight talk, when he wrote, "There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow" (Ecc. 1:11). Like everything else "under the sun," he seemed to know that this project was doomed to failure.

But, as with so many lost causes, the task of historical study remains worthy of our support. ....
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.

Ecclesiastes 1:9-11, ESV

Destiny of the Republic | Books and Culture

Saturday, July 14, 2012

This world is not my home

Charles Chaput is the Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia. I first read him when he was in Denver and have since then always found that his arguments merited attention. This is from a summary of his recent homily about the relationship of the Christian to the state:
.... Archbishop Chaput began...by referring to Paul Claudel, a French poet and dramatist of the last century, and a devout believer. Surveying western secularization, Claudel observed that the Christian in the secularized West is “a man who knows what he is doing and where he is going” and therefore “alone has liberty in a world of slaves.” This transcendent perspective enables the Christian to resist the ideologies of modern states, which are based on materialism and science. These secular philosophies led nations and people who accepted them to the murder of millions of people, while Christians like Claudel continued to stand for truth. They had a duty to “render to Caesar,” but also to God, and Archbishop Chaput then asked how Jesus based his admonition to proper duties signaled by the images (of Caesar and God) which believers encounter. If taxes should be paid because money bears the image of the ruler, then human beings, who bear the image of God, should give their entire lives to him. [emphasis added] Love of country is honorable, but our real home is not on earth, and we should give Caesar nothing of ourselves. “Nothing permanent and important belongs to Caesar …we belong to God and only to God,” the Archbishop said. Real freedom is the freedom involved in loving God with our whole being, and this freedom which “knows no attachment other than Jesus Christ,” the freedom of the sons of God, isn’t something that the government can give or take away. Religious freedom is important because it is needed to facilitate this most basic freedom given by God.

Having shown religious freedom to be the most crucial freedom in the secular order, the archbishop then asked what the task of Christians should be in the contemporary world. Here he referred to the watchman (or sentinel) passage in Ezekiel (“I have appointed you as a sentinel. If I say to the wicked, ‘you will surely die’ – and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them . . . I will hold you responsible for their blood”). We live in a time that calls for a sentinel, and are responsible for this today, not only to defend religious liberty, but also for the dignity of the human person, defending it in both words and deeds, and thus “live as disciples of Jesus Christ.” .... [more]
“Render to God” a Total Claim on Christians « Juicy Ecumenism

The philosophy of Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien is best known as the author of the most popular genre novel of the 20th century. But was also a Christian whose arguments were an important factor in the conversion of C.S. Lewis. Peter Kreeft explains the connection between his faith and his fiction in a book I just ordered at the recommendation of Justin Taylor:
Peter Kreeft’s The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings (Ignatius, 2005) is an enjoyable and edifying book. He is an unabashed fan of The Lord of the Rings, which he considers one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century. In this book he works through 50 of the great questions using four tools:
  • an explanation of the meaning and importance of the question;
  • a key quotation from The Lord of the Rings showing how Tolkien answered the question (many more passages are given in the Concordance to The Lord of the Rings in the Appendix);
  • a quotation from Tolkien’s other writings (usually a letter) that explains or comments on the theme in The Lord of the Rings;
  • a quotation from C.S. Lewis, Tolkien’s closest friend, showing the same philosophy directly stated.
For me, the Lewis quotes alone were worth the price of the book. .... [more]
Taylor continues his post with an "outline of worldview issues addressed (at least in part) by The Lord of the Rings," i.e. the table of contents of the book, and "the outline for his philosophical concordance of The Lord of the Rings," also from Kreeft's book.

The Kindle edition of The Philosophy of Tolkien can be purchased here.

The Philosophy In and Behind “The Lord of the Rings” – Justin Taylor

Friday, July 13, 2012

A new Father Brown

It is announced that there will be a new television series based on G.K. Chesterton's "Father Brown" stories:
The BBC’s recently announced crime drama, Father Brown, will feature Harry Potter actor Mark Williams.

52 year-old Mark, who starred as Arthur Weasley in the Harry Potter series of films, will feature in the television adaptation of the short stor[ies] by GK Chesterton.

The 10-part series is set to air next year on the BBC....
Alec Guinness starred as the priestly detective in a 1954 film which I have and enjoy. There was an earlier, 1970s, British series starring Kenneth More that I watched on Netfix streaming and that I thought was rather good, preserving the plots and sensibility of Chesterton's stories. Since BBC dramas of television series eventually become available here, I look forward to the new version with, I presume, much better production values.

The source materials, of course, are the short stories [available free or for very little for Kindle], and today Suzannah shares her enjoyment of one of the Father Brown collections, The Secret of Father Brown:
.... As the book begins, Father Brown—quiet, apparently idiotic, yet somehow so keenly in tune with human nature that he is able to solve dozens of baffling crimes when he's not carrying out his duties as a Roman priest—attempts to explain the secret of his success to an acquaintance. As he does so, his mind roams back to eight of the cases that he's solved. A revolutionary poet prosecuted by a respectable barrister for the murder of a well-known judge. The uncanny disappearance of a priceless curio, apparently through Eastern magic. A blackmail attempt quite unlike any other, and an attempted revenge with deadly consequences...

The story I found most interesting, however, was The Actor and the Alibi. A beautiful intellectual actress married to a director of pantomimes and vaudeville bears her trials uncomplainingly. The conclusion isn't too difficult to see coming (I'm trying not to give it away), but things aren't what they seem in this miniature study of the politics of the sexes.

This was an excellent read—like all of Chesterton's works—built around the truth that all men are evil, and that there is redemption.
Harry Potter Star Mark Williams To Star In BBC Drama ‘Father Brown’ - Celebrity Gossip, News & Photos, Movie Reviews, Competitions - Entertainmentwise, In Which I Read Vintage Novels: The Secret of Father Brown by GK Chesterton

Thursday, July 12, 2012

In My Hour of Darkness

Jesus is Just Alright with Me

When Gram Parsons joined the Byrds [and David Crosby left] — Philip Jenkins argues in "When Evangelicals Were Cool" —  it helped open the popular culture to hear the gospel:
.... In August 1968, the Byrds released the album Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which pioneered a new style of country rock. It also initiated a revolutionary change in the country music world, which was at the time very conservative musically and politically, and where long hair was strictly taboo. ....

Quite unintentionally, the Byrds also revived and legitimized Christian themes in music for an audience wholly unaccustomed to them. If you want to revive America's roots music, it's hard to do so without incorporating hymns, gospel and Christian songs, and Sweetheart of the Rodeo featured such evocative classics as I am a Pilgrim and The Christian Life.

In 1969, they recorded the Art Reynolds Singers song Jesus is Just Alright with Me, which became an anthem for the emerging Jesus People. Plenty of other artists jumped on the bandwagon, recording or adapting Christian roots — and that is quite distinct from the contemporary emergence of avowedly Christian contemporary music. (Christian rock largely dates from Larry Norman's 1969 album Upon This Rock). The language of pilgrimage, redemption and sin entered rock music, as did Satan himself: in 1970, the Grateful Dead issued Friend of the Devil.

Suddenly, young people who knew nothing whatever about the American religious heritage were exposed to this music, in highly accessible rock/country fusion styles, played by hip musicians with long hair and beards. Along the way, they also heard key evangelical messages, which suddenly became cool and contemporary.

And that, I suggest, is a major reason why those Christian movements were suddenly able to find young audiences open and receptive to their messages. ....

RealClearReligion - When Evangelicals Were Cool

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Retaining the offspring

Some interesting statistics indicating how well various religious [and non-religious] groups seem to be at retaining those raised within them:


I wonder whether Seventh Day Baptists track with Baptists generally?

Did you know that Atheists have the lowest retention rate of any “religious” group? Some interesting Data from CARA | Archdiocese of Washington

Favorite films of the 1940s and 50s

"What are Your Favorite Films from the 1940s and 50s?" asks Diane Ellis, one of the editors at ricochet, who has decided not to spend $12.50 a shot to go to see movies this summer. Well over half of the DVDs I own must be from that era so I was very interested to read the responses — as of noon today more than 75. Some of the recommendations stray into earlier or later time periods, but there are an enormous number of good, entertaining movies released between, say, 1939 and 1960 [straying slightly myself]. Here are a just a few of the suggestions Ellis received early in the comments:

Maltese Falcon The Third Man
How Green Was My Valley Rear Window
The Caine Mutiny Shane
Vertigo The African Queen
North by Northwest Gilda
To Have and Have Not The Big Sleep
Woman of the Year Foreign Correspondent
The Lady Eve Key Largo
Harvey Night of the Hunter
Shadow of a Doubt Murder My Sweet

And many, many, more. This was the period Hitchcock directed most of his best. Every single film directed by Preston Sturges is worth watching for pure pleasure [my favorite is Sullivan's Travels]. Bogart and Bacall,  Cary Grant, William Powell and Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, Henry Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, James Stewart, and on and on. I envy those who have yet to see for the first time the many good and great comedies, mysteries, westerns, thrillers, etc., from the middle of the last century.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A place to stand

Stephen M. Barr, a physicist, explains why quantum mechanics makes it easier to believe in God. Even though it doesn't provide proof for the existence of God it does provide a good argument against materialism.
.... Materialism is an atheistic philosophy that says that all of reality is reducible to matter and its interactions. It has gained ground because many people think that it’s supported by science. They think that physics has shown the material world to be a closed system of cause and effect, sealed off from the influence of any non-physical realities — if any there be. Since our minds and thoughts obviously do affect the physical world, it would follow that they are themselves merely physical phenomena. No room for a spiritual soul or free will: for materialists we are just “machines made of meat.”

Quantum mechanics, however, throws a monkey wrench into this simple mechanical view of things. No less a figure than Eugene Wigner, a Nobel Prize winner in physics, claimed that materialism — at least with regard to the human mind — is not “logically consistent with present quantum mechanics.” And on the basis of quantum mechanics, Sir Rudolf Peierls, another great 20th-century physicist, said, “the premise that you can describe in terms of physics the whole function of a human being ... including [his] knowledge, and [his] consciousness, is untenable. There is still something missing.”

How, one might ask, can quantum mechanics have anything to say about the human mind? Isn’t it about things that can be physically measured, such as particles and forces? It is; but while minds cannot be measured, it is ultimately minds that do the measuring. And that, as we shall see, is a fact that cannot be ignored in trying to make sense of quantum mechanics. If one claims that it is possible (in principle) to give a complete physical description of what goes on during a measurement — including the mind of the person who is doing the measuring — one is led into severe difficulties. This was pointed out in the 1930s by the great mathematician John von Neumann. ....

If...we accept the more traditional understanding of quantum mechanics that goes back to von Neumann, one is led by its logic (as Wigner and Peierls were) to the conclusion that not everything is just matter in motion, and that in particular there is something about the human mind that transcends matter and its laws. It then becomes possible to take seriously certain questions that materialism had ruled out of court: If the human mind transcends matter to some extent, could there not exist minds that transcend the physical universe altogether? And might there not even exist an ultimate Mind? [more]

“Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Sale on ESVs



The Westminster Bookstore is having a sale on English Standard Version Bibles, several editions including the ESV Study Bible, Student Study Bible, presentation bibles, and ESV pew bibles like the one at right that we chose to use for worship in our church.

Case Quantity ESV Bibles - SAVE 45%-67%.

Monday, July 9, 2012

It's coming


Babies and bathwater

Daniel Darling included an interview with Trevin Wax in his Real: Owning Your Christian Faith about some of the hazards that confront those of us who grew up in a church, i.e. "second generation Christians."  From the interview which can be found in full at Trevin Wax's blog:
Daniel Darling: What are the particular idolatrous temptations for those who grow up in the church?

Trevin Wax: I would say that the first temptation is the desire to live up to the standards set by the church community. For those in stricter churches that place a high value on obedience and morality and separation from the world, the Christian life often gets reduced down to a few things, such as how we look, whom we associate with, etc. ....

Daniel Darling: How would you counsel someone who has grown up in a context where methodology or preference has been placed on the same level as orthodox truth?

Trevin Wax: I’ve had numerous conversations with folks who grew up in those environments. You’re basically told that the Bible is true, Jesus is God, and women shouldn’t wear pants or something. The emphasis is on those three equally as if they were of the same nature.

Two things typically happen when someone leaves this environment. They see a vibrant spiritual walk with God by someone from another, less restrictive background and adjust their thinking and begin to separate what is true from what is merely preference.

Or they react in the opposite way. They think to themselves, I was lied to. Then they question everything: Is Jesus really God? Is the Bible really true? They basically feel as if they’ve been sold a bill of goods and have no capability to discern major Christian truth from a particular community’s standards.

The people able to separate the two usually come to appreciate the wider breadth of Christian expression within orthodoxy and they end up in a different church context. They are able to passionately serve the Lord and can move right along.

Those who have been offended by their background usually end up chucking their faith all together because they don’t trust anyone in religion at all, because their background doesn’t, to them, merit this trust. .... [more]
Growing Up in Church: An Interview with Trevin Wax – Trevin Wax

Jesus existed

Craig Keener at Huffington Post attempts to explain to—as the comments demonstrate—a rather difficult readership, what most scholars take for granted. From the first and last paragraphs of a column summarizing some of the evidence:
Contrary to some circles on the Internet, very few scholars doubt that Jesus existed, preached and led a movement. Scholars' confidence has nothing to do with theology but much to do with historiographic common sense. What movement would make up a recent leader, executed by a Roman governor for treason, and then declare, "We're his followers"? If they wanted to commit suicide, there were simpler ways to do it. ....

.... Logically, why would Jesus' followers make up a Jesus to live and die for? Why not glorify real founders (as movements normally did)? Why make up a leader and have him executed on a Roman cross? To follow one executed for treason was itself treason. To follow a crucified leader was to court persecution. Some people do give their lives for their beliefs, but for beliefs, not normally for what they know to be fabricated. Jesus' first movement would not have made up his execution or his existence. .... [more]
Craig S. Keener: Jesus Existed