Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"In hoc signo vinces"

Benjamin Wiker, on a recent anniversary: "Constantine’s Gift to Christianity":
On October 28, 312, Emperor Constantine met Emperor Maxentius in battle just outside the city of Rome at the Milvian Bridge, spanning the Tiber. ....

As is well known, the previous day Constantine experienced a vision of a cross of light in the sky, with the words “By this sign you shall conquer”.... That night, so we are told, Constantine had a dream wherein he was told to paint the cross on the shields of his soldiers.

He did. And so it happened, as the vision said.

The next day, October 28, 312, Constantine defeated Maxentius. Interestingly enough, Maxentius could have stayed within the walls of Rome. He was plentifully stocked to endure a siege. Inexplicably, he decided to go out and engage Constantine. His troops were defeated, and Maxentius himself drowned in the Tiber trying to escape.

Such was the beginning of Constantine’s embrace of Christianity, and such was the beginning of the transformation of the Roman Empire from paganism to Christianity. ....

There are...those who take Constantine’s conversion as the beginning of the end of real Christianity. Christianity, they argue, is the Christianity of the early Church, the Church before it became favored and hence entangled with the empire, the pure Church, the Church before Constantine, the Church of the martyrs.

The problem with this romantic vision of the pure early Church is that it wasn’t shared by the early Church. We owe it to them to take things, first of all, from their point of view. ....

If you think about what these Christians actually endured at the hands of the pagan state, you will realize with what jubilation, what extreme thankfulness to God, what declarations of it all being miraculous, Christians 1,700 years ago greeted the news of Constantine’s conversion. ....

With Constantine’s favor, the Church began to blossom, and was free to spread out all over the Western, and then Eastern, parts of the Empire, thereby shifting its civilization from pagan to Christian moorings.

This was no small shift—it entailed a vast moral and political transformation that laid the foundation and built the structure of Christian civilization.

To take some poignant examples, the pagan Roman culture happily affirmed contraception, abortion, infanticide, suicide, homosexuality, homosexual marriage, euthanasia, pornography, prostitution, concubinage, divorce, pederasty, and the mass killing of human beings for entertainment in gladiatorial combat. Once the emperors became Christian, both the Church and the Christian imperium engaged in the moral transformation of pagan society, and the Christian moral understanding was incorporated into law in the various imperial codes. And also, quite unlike Rome, both the Church and Christian state began to care for the poor and destitute, the widows and orphans. ....

...Constantine did not actually, officially, really become a Christian until very near his dying day. Like so many of the time, he held off on being baptized until the threshold of his departure. Feeling the approach of death, he very piously laid aside the royal purple, took upon himself the humble white robes of the to-be-newborn Christian, and entered the waters of regeneration.

The bishop doing the royal baptism was one Eusebius, an Arian, that is, heretical, bishop. ....

Such is the danger of royal patronage: the Church, and even its doctrine, can be defined by the state.

No doubt, that is why many who rue Constantine’s conversion do not wish to celebrate its 1,700th anniversary. It is a sobering thought, very sobering. The Church must not, cannot, be subordinate to the state. Otherwise, it becomes a mere instrument of politics. .... [more]
Benjamin Wiker: Constantine’s Gift to Christianity: Catholic World Report

"Sinning saints, righteous wretches, ...even justified jerks"

On this Reformation Day, Kevin DeYoung reminds us of one of the most important reasons we are Protestants:
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses concerning clerical abuses and indulgences on the church door at Wittenberg. This famous event is often considered the launching point for the Protestant Reformation.

The chief concern for Luther and the other reformers was the doctrine of justification. ....

There are five key concepts every Protestant should grasp if they are to understanding the reformer’s (and the Bible’s) doctrine of justification.

First, the Christian is simul iustus et peccator. This is Martin Luther’s famous Latin phrase which means “At the same time, justified and a sinner.” The Catechism powerfully reminds us that even though we are right with God, we still violate his commands, feel the sting of conscience, and battle against indwelling sin. On this side of the consummation, we will always be sinning saints, righteous wretches, and on occasion even justified jerks. God does not acquit us of our guilt based upon our works, but because we trust “him who justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5).

Second, our right standing with God is based on an alien righteousness. .... I am not right with God because of my righteousness, but because “the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ” has been credited to me. .... We contribute nothing to our salvation. The name by which every Christian must be called is “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6).

Third, the righteousness of Christ is ours by imputation, not by impartation. That is to say, we are not made holy, or infused with goodness as if we possessed it in ourselves, but rather Christ’s righteousness is credited to our account.

Fourth, we are justified by faith alone. The Catholic Church acknowledged that the Christian was saved by faith; it was the alone part they wouldn’t allow. ...[E]vangelical faith has always held that “all I need to do is accept the gift of God with a believing heart.” True, justifying faith must show itself in good works. That’s what James 2 is all about. But these works serve as corroborating evidence, not as the ground of our justification. We are justified by faith without deeds of the law (Rom. 3:28; Titus 3:5). The gospel is “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:30-31), not “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and cooperate with transforming grace and you shall be saved.” There is nothing we contribute to our salvation but our sin, no merit we bring but Christ’s, and nothing necessary for justification except for faith alone.

Finally, with all this talk about the necessity of faith, the Catechism explains that faith is only an instrumental cause in our salvation. .... It is the object of our faith that matters. If you venture out on to a frozen pond, it isn’t your faith that keeps you from crashing into the water. True, it takes faith to step onto the pond, but it’s the object of your faith, the twelve inches of ice, that keeps you safe. Believe in Christ with all your heart, but don’t put your faith in your faith. Your experience of trusting Christ will ebb and flow. So be sure to rest in Jesus Christ and not your faith in him. He alone is the one who died for our sakes and was raised for our justification. Believe this, and you too will be saved. [more]
From Nathan Finn: "Baptists and the Reformation":
...[O]n this Reformation Day, I’m thankful for the Protestant heritage we Baptists enjoy. We stand with Luther and Calvin on justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We stand with the Anabaptists on a believer’s church committed to radical discipleship and confessor’s baptism. We stand with all three of these groups in their commitment to the supreme authority of Scripture. And as good Protestants, we ultimately stand where we stand, not because others stand there as well, but because we believe the Spirit still speaks through His Word to guide Christ’s people on the narrow way.
Five Key Concepts in the Reformation Understanding of Justification – Kevin DeYoung, Baptists and the Reformation

The election

Thomas Kidd has some excellent suggestions about what evangelicals should do and should not do as election day approaches:
Do pray for the election. Feel free to echo the words of I Tim. 2:2, which asks that ”supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

Don’t pray for specific candidates or parties to win, whether by implication or by name. This makes party loyalty a condition of good standing within the fellowship.

Do encourage the congregation to consider voting as an act of good citizenship, a “rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

Don’t imply that if Christians don’t vote, they are in sin, or that it is transparently obvious what party they should support if they do vote.

Do speak on issues of particular concern to Christians, certainly including religious liberty (again, I Tim. 2:2) and the value of all human life. .... Others might also emphasize traditional marriage, or Christians’ responsibility to care for the poor, to welcome the stranger, and to be peacemakers.

Don’t imply that those issues of particular concern to Christians lead necessarily to supporting only one party or slate of candidates. Allow congregants to sort this out for themselves. ....
Kidd: Dos and Don’t Evangelicals « Juicy Ecumenism

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween is an occasion for joy, not fear

I've posted this several times in years past as Halloween has approached. I was reminded to do so again today by reading an article by a pastor who repeated the nonsense about Druids:

As Halloween approaches it is useful for the more excitable among us to be reminded that the Evil One has already been defeated. From "Concerning Halloween" by James B. Jordan:
.... "Halloween" is simply a contraction for All Hallows’ Eve. The word "hallow" means "saint," in that "hallow" is just an alternative form of the word "holy" ("hallowed be Thy name"). All Saints’ Day is November 1. It is the celebration of the victory of the saints in union with Christ. The observance of various celebrations of All Saints arose in the late 300s, and these were united and fixed on November 1 in the late 700s. The origin of All Saints Day and of All Saints Eve in Mediterranean Christianity had nothing to do with Celtic Druidism or the Church’s fight against Druidism (assuming there ever even was any such thing as Druidism, which is actually a myth concocted in the 19th century by neo-pagans.) ....

The Biblical day begins in the preceding evening, and thus in the Church calendar, the eve of a day is the actual beginning of the festive day. [emphasis added] Christmas Eve is most familiar to us, but there is also the Vigil of Holy Saturday that precedes Easter Morn. Similarly, All Saints’ Eve precedes All Saints’ Day.

The concept, as dramatized in Christian custom, is quite simple: On October 31, the demonic realm tries one last time to achieve victory, but is banished by the joy of the Kingdom.

What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us. ....

Similarly, on All Hallows’ Eve (Hallow-Even – Hallow-E’en – Halloween), the custom arose of mocking the demonic realm by dressing children in costumes. Because the power of Satan has been broken once and for all, our children can mock him by dressing up like ghosts, goblins, and witches. The fact that we can dress our children this way shows our supreme confidence in the utter defeat of Satan by Jesus Christ – we have NO FEAR! .... [more]
Biblical Horizons » Concerning Halloween

Do Dads matter?

Obviously there are many circumstances where it becomes impossible to have both a father and a mother in a family. But some respond to this reality by arguing that it doesn't matter. Jenet Erickson at Public Discourse, in "Men Don’t Mother," reports the findings reported in Do Men Mother?: Fathering, Care, and Domestic Responsibility, by Andrea Doucet:
.... Her extensive research with 118 male primary caregivers, including stay-at-home dads, led her to conclude that fathers do not “mother.” And that’s a good thing. Although mothering and fathering have much in common, there were persistent, critical differences that were important for children’s development.

To begin, fathers more often used fun and playfulness to connect with their children. No doubt, many a mother has wondered why her husband can’t seem to help himself from “tickling and tossing” their infant—while she stands beside him holding her breath in fear. And he can’t understand why all she wants to do is “coo and cuddle.” Yet as Doucet found, playfulness and fun are often critical modes of connection with children—even from infancy.

Fathers also more consistently made it a point to get their children outdoors to do physical activities with them. Almost intuitively they seemed to know that responding to the physical and developmental needs of their children was an important aspect of nurturing.

When fathers responded to children’s emotional hurts, they differed from mothers in their focus on fixing the problem rather than addressing the hurt feeling. While this did not appear to be particularly “nurturing” at first, the seeming “indifference” was useful— particularly as children grew older. They would seek out and share things with their dads precisely because of their measured, problem-solving responses. The “indifference” actually became a strategic form of nurturing in emotionally-charged situations.

Fathers were also more likely to encourage children’s risk taking—whether on the playground, in school work, or in trying new things. While mothers typically discouraged risk-taking, fathers guided their children in deciding how much risk to take and encouraged them in it. At the same time, fathers were more attuned to developing a child’s physical, emotional, and intellectual independence—in everything from children making their own lunches and tying their own shoes to doing household chores and making academic decisions.

As she evaluated these differences, Doucet wondered if fathers just weren’t as “nurturing” as mothers. Their behaviors didn’t always fit the traditional definition of “holding close and sensitively responding.” But a key part of nurturing also includes the capacity to “let go.” It was this careful “letting-go” that fathers were particularly good at—in ways that mothers were often not. .... [more]
Kevin DeYoung:
Erickson concludes that the arguments for genderless parenting fall flat. Moms are not as good as dads; and dads are not as good as moms. Children need both. God can certainly give all sorts of grace to single parent families, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for the design that nature, Scripture, and even scholarship says is the best.
Arguments for the non-essential father may reflect an effort to accept the reality that many children today grow up without their dads. But surely a more effective and compassionate approach would be to acknowledge the unique contributions of both mothers and fathers in their children’s lives, and then do what we can to ensure that becomes a reality for more children.
Men Don’t Mother | Public Discourse, Do Men Mother? – Kevin DeYoung

Monday, October 29, 2012

"We're better than that"

Sen. Edward Kennedy's widow, Vicki Kennedy, opposes assisted suicide in a letter to Massachusetts voters:
.... Question 2 turns his vision of health care for all on its head by asking us to endorse patient suicide — not patient care — as our public policy for dealing with pain and the financial burdens of care at the end of life. We’re better than that. We should expand palliative care, pain management, nursing care and hospice, not trade the dignity and life of a human being for the bottom line.

Most of us wish for a good and happy death, with as little pain as possible, surrounded by loved ones, perhaps with a doctor and/or clergyman at our bedside. But under Question 2, what you get instead is a prescription for up to 100 capsules, dispensed by a pharmacist, taken without medical supervision, followed by death, perhaps alone. That seems harsh and extreme to me.

Question 2 is supposed to apply to those with a life expectancy of six months or less. But even doctors admit that’s unknowable. When my husband was first diagnosed with cancer, he was told that he had only two to four months to live....

Because that first dire prediction of life expectancy was wrong, I have 15 months of cherished memories — memories of family dinners and songfests with our children and grandchildren; memories of laughter and, yes, tears; memories of life that neither I nor my husband would have traded for anything in the world.

When the end finally did come — natural death with dignity — my husband was home, attended by his doctor, surrounded by family and our priest. .... [more]
And nurses, who attend people nearing death each day are considering a resolution opposing assisted suicide:
The American Nursing Association has a draft opinion out reiterating its opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide. It is well worth the read. From the draft opinion:
The American Nurses Association (ANA) is strongly opposed to nurses’ participation in assisted suicide and active euthanasia.... Nurses have an obligation to provide humane, comprehensive, and compassionate care that respects the rights of patients but upholds the standards of the profession in the presence of chronic, debilitating illness and at end-of-life.
The ANA notes that the lives of the terminally ill have just as much value as the lives of other people.... [more]
Thank You, Vicki Kennedy!! She’s a Voice Against Assisted Suicide in Massachusetts - By Kathryn Jean Lopez - The Corner - National Review Online, Nurses Set to Oppose Assisted Suicide - By Wesley J. Smith - Human Exceptionalism - National Review Online

The Word

All of this post about ministering the Word is good, but the first point reminded me of reviews of evangelical worship services almost devoid of scripture in contrast to liturgical services packed with it. Pastor Brian Croft:
.... The pastor’s task is to minister the word of God to his people. .... Here are 3 applications to remind us:

A Public Application. The pastor is to minister the word of God to his people in the public gatherings of his local church. This certainly involves preaching (preferably expositional sermons).... Do not underestimate the impact of meaty Scripture readings read well and singing Scripture in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. [emphasis added]

A Private Application. .... Pastors are just as much ministering the word of God when reading and encouraging a dear saint with Scripture in the hospital or in a counseling session as they are to a massive crowd. ....

A Prayerful Application. Pastors should never minister the word in a public or private fashion without it being basked in prayer. .... [more]
What does it mean for the pastor to minister the Word of God? | Practical Shepherding

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The "of the's"

Stacy Trasancos explains why precision of language can be important because imprecision can lead to heresy:
Sometimes little things make a big difference. I saw this reminder in a child’s catechism book, and it has become something we repeat daily around here. Don’t forget the “of the’s.” It is not correct to say, “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Why is that so important?

In the baptismal formula at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Christ articulated it this way. “Going therefore, teach all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The “of the’s” are intentional, they reveal and affirm the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, the central mystery of Christian faith and life, the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the most fundamental and essential teaching.

The Church has guarded this truth through time, using precise words to defend all of the revealed mysteries the best we can. The three divine Persons in God are one — one essence, one nature, one being — One God, and they are also co-equal, co-omnipotent, co-eternal. The seemingly smallest error can lead to serious heresy, many have been addressed by Church councils.

The heresy of Subordinationism holds that the Son and the Holy Spirit are subordinate to God the Father. The Arian heresy, a form of Subordinationism, asserts that the Son is only a creature, not eternal or divine. Modalism, a form of Monarchianism, acknowledges that God is one, but denies that there are three persons, calling them instead “modes” or different forms God takes to do work. The Tritheism heresy says that the three persons are three different gods.

Consider the logical dangers of these heresies. If there are three gods, then who gave us the Ten Commandments? If the three persons are just modes, then in the baptismal formula we are needlessly repeating the same name over and over. If the Son and the Holy Spirit are less than the Father, then they are not actually God. If Christ is not God, then there was no Incarnation. If there was no Incarnation, then there is no Christianity. .... [more]
Don’t Forget the “Of The’s” : Accepting Abundance

Delight

What "Marc" describes here is related, I think, to what C.S. Lewis calls "joy" because it directs us to the only object that is infinite:
.... We delight in the newborn.

And what is delight? Have my guess: Delight is joy in being. Delight is joy that springs from the fact that another is. We do not delight in using another for a particular end. If we want sex, and we use a woman to achieve that end, we do not delight in her. We are not overjoyed by the fact she is, or else the hook-up culture would end in marriage. For a woman always is, and if her very being is our joy, then we will always wish to be in her presence. But a woman is not always giving us sex, so if sex is our joy, we will not always want the woman. ....

This, of course, is the secret to joy: With use comes expectation, and with expectation comes disappointment, but our delight cannot be disappointed, for delight lasts as long as we recognize that the object of our delight still exists. With use comes termination and finitude, for the use of something implies an eventual or previous moment when that the object of use is worthy of being cast out, of being unused. With delight, however, comes infinity, for we can always delight in a thing as long as it is, and even after the thing is gone, as we delight in our beloved dead, and our long-lost childhood. .... [more]
Being and Delight

"That means you're being punished..."


Friday, October 26, 2012

Jacques Barzun and crime

[The reading of detective stories is] a habit ... wasteful of time and degrading to the intellect ... 
into which [people] have been bullied by convention....
Edmund Wilson, Classics and Commercials

Jacques Barzun died last night aged 104. Obituaries and essays describe his many contributions, few of which affected me very much. My first awareness of him resulted from his interest in detective stories. In 1971 I acquired A Catalogue of Crime: Being a Reader's Guide to the Literature of Mystery, Detection, & Related Genres by Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor. It's over 800 pages of brief evaluations by the authors of books of those types — and their judgements led me to many hours of pleasure. The Edmund Wilson quotation is from that book — and the authors, friends who had shared their enjoyment of mysteries since boyhood, obviously disagreed. From their introduction:
What this critical survey of some 7,500 works provides is the kind of repertory that the French call a catalogue raisonné—a list with reasons. Some of the reasons are negative: "Don't bother" This injunction may save the time and money of readers who, after perusing these remarks and sampling a few entries, will know what our standards are and decide to follow them for their own pleasure.

It is open to other readers to get their enjoyment by reversing our advice and reading the works we dismiss or dislike. Our comments should serve both disciple and dissenter, for we have tried to write transparently, ....

In choosing from the mass of good books and shameless trash that we have read or skimmed in half a century, we have not been purists. Though we prefer the classical genre inaugurated by Poe as "tales of ratiocination," we find it easy to enjoy stories in which detection is subordinated, provided something other than mere agitation takes its place. We do not allow the trappings of the form without its substance to deceive us—or the reader. Where this palming off occurs we declare in our entry: "No detection" or "Detection feeble." To put our creed positively, we hold with the best philosophers that a detective story should be mainly occupied with detecting.... [A Catalogue of Crime]
I have kept that book and enjoy browsing in it. Used copies can still be purchased at a reasonable cost.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Lincoln

Greg Kandra got to see Lincoln well before the rest of us and his "five takeaways" are very encouraging:
  1. Forget the trailer. What you’re seeing to promote the movie is more histrionics than history, and what actually unspools on the screen is sharper, smarter, headier and often much more reflective and tender than what you see in the previews.
  2. This isn’t hagiography. Spielberg, author Tony Kushner, and star Daniel Day-Lewis give us a Lincoln with warts. He’s a political opportunist and tactician. He likes the sound of his own voice, and clearly loves to tell stories (much to the annoyance of some in his cabinet.) ....
  3. The movie is teeming with characters. And lots and lots and lots of talking. ....
  4. Daniel Day-Lewis? Just give him the Oscar now and be done with it. The man does what all good actors do: he listens. His silences are golden. And so is everything else, for that matter: the reedy voice, the awkward manner, the simmering passion, the concern and affection for his young son and troubled wife. And the walk— the ambling, clomping kind of stooped-over walk. He walks like a man who has plowed fields and split rails, and who is accustomed to towering over everyone around him, and who doesn’t much like it. He walks like someone who has been carrying too much on his shoulders and needs to rest. ....
  5. “Lincoln” is, first and foremost, about telling a great story. .... [more]
I saw “Lincoln” last night: here are five takeaways…

St Crispin's Day

Today, October 25, is St. Crispin's Day:

"You meant evil...but God meant it for good"

Mollie Hemingway thinks the coverage of Richard Mourdock's response to a debate question reveals a "Media embarrassingly ill-equipped to cover rape, theodicy":
.... “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” is one of the most well-known passages in Scripture. The teaching that God causes good to result from evil is just basic, basic, basic stuff.

You don’t have to agree with this verse if you’re a reporter, but you should be familiar with it. If you are a reporter and you’re not familiar with the story of Joseph, or the story of Job, or the story of Jesus, you may be surprised at how easy they are to quickly catch up on. I’m not saying you’ll be able to plumb the depths in an evening, but just read Genesis, read Job, read the Gospels. These are foundational to understanding how the vast majority of the people you cover understand God’s will. With further study, you may learn about how Jews and Christians have struggled with understanding God’s will over the millennia. Turns out there is a lot written about it. Books, papers, you name it.

And here’s another thing: Meet someone who identifies as pro-life and ask them a few questions. You may learn that they believe all human life is equally valuable and sacred. You might learn that they affirm that human life begins at conception. You might learn that they really abhor the taking of human life, even at its earliest stages. You might learn that they’ve grappled with “the difficult cases” — whether unborn children should be protected if the circumstances of their conception involved rape or incest, whether unborn children should have any rights if their mother’s life is in danger. You might learn that there are different approaches to how they wrestle with these cases.

If you do these two things — bone up on just the very lowest level basics of Christian teaching on theodicy and meet a pro-lifer and find out what they really think — you might not lead your newscasts with a mangling of the news that some pro-lifers really believe (gasp!) that the circumstances of your conception and birth do not determine your worth and that every single child in the world is created and loved by God. You might learn about this newfangled ancient teaching that God causes good to result from evil. .... [more]
Media embarrassingly ill-equipped to cover rape, theodicy

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

December 14

"There must be another way"

Eric Metaxas describes an admirable Nobel winner:
Thirteen years ago, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, a Japanese pharmacologist and researcher, made a social call to a friend’s fertility clinic. His friend invited him to look at some human embryos through a microscope.

What Yamanaka saw set him on a path that culminated in a Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology. And in the process has won him praise from the pro-life community.

As Yamanaka later told the New York Times, “when I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters...I thought, we can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way.”

The search for “another way” took eight years, but eventually Yamanaka and his colleagues at Kyoto University discovered a way to turn “adult skin cells into the equivalent of human embryonic stem cells without using an actual embryo.” .... [more]
Stem Cell Breakthrough

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Christianity and politics

A Mark Dever sermon from 2010 may be, according to a post at The Gospel Coalition, "The Best Sermon on Christianity and Politics":
.... Collin Hansen, who attended the service, later wrote that it was "the best sermon I know on Christianity and government." Likewise, Thabiti Anyabwile described it as "a biblical theology of Christians and the state, at once full of unction, intellectually challenging, and affecting the heart. I've heard a lot of Mark's preaching, but I don't know that I've ever heard him better."

Dever offered three simple points from Mark 12:13-17. First, Christians are good citizens. Second, no earthly kingdom can be identified with God's people. Third, Christians are finally accountable to God.

Why It Matters: With election day just around the corner, Dever's message bears fresh relevance. By listening to the sermon and reading Hansen's copious summary, you will be well served.

As Americans, it's often helpful to be reminded that the epicenter of Christ's kingdom is not located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And the purposes of God have never been thwarted at the hands of men—a streak that's not about to end on November 6. Such a recognition isn't quietism or escapism—just biblical Christianity. ....
Dever's sermon.

‘The Best Sermon on Christianity and Politics’ – The Gospel Coalition Blog

Libertarians

Emily Esfahani Smith summarizes findings from a study of the values held by libertarians: “Understanding Libertarian Morality." The study confirms my own image of libertarianism although I certainly do know self-defined libertarians who probably aren't — or at least have very different values than these people. From the article:
.... After surveying nearly 12,000 self-identified libertarians, the researchers determined that libertarians have a set of moral values that are distinct from those held by ordinary conservatives and liberals.

It’s well known that libertarians hold fiscally conservative and socially liberal views. What is less known is that libertarians, in prizing liberty above all else, place less emphasis than others, according to the study, on caring for others, avoiding harm, behaving benevolently and acting altruistically — values that traditionally have defined virtuous and heroic behavior in nearly all of the moral systems of the world. ....

In his bestselling book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012), Mr. Haidt, a co-author of the libertarian study, breaks down the foundational moral principles that shape liberal, conservative and libertarian ideology. According to research Mr. Haidt has conducted, liberals rely on three of the six core moral foundations: care, liberty and fairness. Conservatives rely on all six — the three that liberals favor plus sanctity, loyalty and authority.

Libertarians have the narrowest moral sense, relying on only one of the six universal moral foundations — liberty. Revealingly, they score lower than both conservatives and liberals on measures of care for others and protecting others from harm. What libertarians do care about, almost to the exclusion of all else, is individual rights — the group’s “sacred value,” according to the study. ....

Prominent libertarians object to the study’s findings that their beliefs are morally and politically monochromatic. David Boaz, vice president of flagship libertarian think tank the Cato Institute, says that he sees “no evidence that libertarians display less love, compassion or morality than other people.”

Legal scholar Richard Epstein, Mr. Haidt’s colleague at New York University, agrees, noting that libertarians make a distinction between the political and personal world when responding to such questionnaires. Libertarians believe, Mr. Epstein says, that liberty is the guiding value on matters of public policy while “allowing for the personal values to dominate [personal] interactions.” [more]
Libertarians' profile, mystique increases in election year - Washington Times

Monday, October 22, 2012

"All things work together for good..."

C Michael Patton is writing The Discipleship Book: Now That I Am a Christian, to be published next year. Perhaps because I was a teacher I particularly like brief explanations that adequately introduce arguments about difficult issues. I think this chapter from Patton's upcoming book does a fine job summarizing "The Five Responses to the Problem of Evil":
.... C.S. Lewis, the great Christian writer, wrote a very academic book on pain, suffering, and evil called The Problem of Pain. It was a wonderful, monumental work and I recommend it without hesitation. But after he wrote this work, he experienced pain and suffering at a different level. It is one thing to evaluate something from the outside; it is quite another to personally experience it. C.S. Lewis lost his wife after a battle with cancer filled with ups and downs. It broke him and brought him to his knees, and he rested for a bit in front of God, asking painful questions which stemmed from his disillusionment. Thankfully, his whole experience is recorded in another book about pain. This one was a very personal book called A Grief Observed. In it he laid himself bare before God, expressing his confusion. I highly recommend this book as well. These are two very different works, one intellectual and one emotional, by the same person about the same subject. ....
The intellectual problem summarized:
The intellectual problem of evil attempts to address a logical problem in a world that has pain, suffering, and evil, yet has a good and all-powerful God who rules it. Let me define this problem using a syllogism:
  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all-powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and evil exist
Conclusion: An all-good, all-powerful God could not exist since there is so much suffering and evil in the world. If he did, he would eradicate this evil. ....

Therefore we begin to question God’s role in all of this. And we are brought to this dilemma. If God exists, if God is good and does not like evil, and if God is powerful enough to change things, why does evil still exist? Let me give you some of the wrong ways people handle this issue. ....
Patton proceeds to define and respond to four wrong responses:
  • The Sadotheistic response
  • Open Theistic response
  • The Pantheistic response
  • The Atheistic response
And ends the chapter with "The Christian response." Read all of the chapter here.

The Five Responses to the Problem of Evil | Parchment and Pen

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tolkien and King Arthur

Although I am the sort who re-reads The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings regularly I've never been able to develop much enthusiasm for the rest of Tolkien's fiction including the appendices and compilations of Middle Earth lore. This Arthurian effort, however, intrigues me: "'New' JRR Tolkien epic due out next year."
It's the story of a dark world, of knights and princesses, swords and sorcery, quests and betrayals, and it's from the pen of JRR Tolkien. But this is not Middle-earth, it's ancient Britain, and this previously unpublished work from the Lord of the Rings author stars not Aragorn, Gandalf and Frodo, but King Arthur.

HarperCollins has announced the acquisition of Tolkien's never-before-published poem The Fall of Arthur, which will be released for the first time next May. Running to more than 200 pages, Tolkien's story was inspired by Geoffrey of Monmouth and Thomas Malory's tales of King Arthur, and is told in narrative verse. Set in the last days of Arthur's reign, the poem sees Tolkien tackling the old king's battle to save his country from Mordred the usurper, opening as Arthur and Gawain go to war. ....

John Garth, author of Tolkien and the Great War, said that from the fragments he had seen, the omens looked good. "In The Fall of Arthur, Tolkien depicts Arthur going off to fight the Saxons in Mirkwood – not the Mirkwood of Middle-earth, but the great German forests. Whether it's as good as the best by Tolkien will have to wait on the full publication, but snippets published so far are encouraging, showing him in darkly evocative mode writing about one of the great English villains, Mordred: 'His bed was barren; there black phantoms/ of desire unsated and savage fury/ in his brain brooded till bleak morning.' .... [more]
'New' JRR Tolkien epic due out next year | Books | guardian.co.uk

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Two roads diverged...

Via By Every Word, quoting from one of my favorite books by C.S. Lewis:
I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot ‘develop’ into good. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound, bit by bit, ‘with backward mutters of dissevering power’—or else not. It is still ‘either-or’. If we insist on keeping Hell (or even Earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell. (C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce)
By Every Word...: "It is still 'either-or'"

"Personally opposed"

In March of 1860 Abraham Lincoln spoke at Union Hall in New Haven, Connecticut. He was campaigning for the Republican Presidential nomination and the legal status of slavery was the issue. It has been suggested that Lincoln's argument respecting slavery then might well be applicable to the abortion issue today — especially with respect to those who say they are "personally opposed" but are "not willing to deal with as a wrong." From Lincoln's "Speech at New Haven":
.... You say that you think slavery is wrong, but you denounce all attempts to restrain it. Is there anything else that you think wrong, that you are not willing to deal with as a wrong?

Why are you so careful, so tender of this one wrong and no other? You will not let us do a single thing as if it was wrong; there is no place where you will allow it to be even called wrong!

We must not call it wrong in the Free States, because it is not there, and we must not call it wrong in the Slave States because it is there; we must not call it wrong in politics because that is bringing morality into politics, and we must not call it wrong in the pulpit because that is bringing politics into religion....and there is no single place, according to you, where this wrong thing can properly be called wrong! .... [more]
If you are "personally opposed" to, say, murder, or theft, or rape, or abortion, shouldn't that mean that you will do what you can both as an individual and a citizen to fight those evils?

Are You Really Personally Opposed if You Won’t Call it Wrong? – Kevin DeYoung, The History Place - Abraham Lincoln: Speech at New Haven

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"There is no right not to be offended"

We shouldn't be rude, but rudeness shouldn't be illegal. There are increasing calls for the criminalizing of speech that wounds, placing freedom under the control of the aggrieved and of the state. Thank goodness for the First Amendment. Britain doesn't have anything comparable, but it does have defenders of free speech:
The Blackadder and Mr Bean star attacked the "creeping culture of censoriousness" which has resulted in the arrest of a Christian preacher, a critic of Scientology and even a student making a joke, it was reported.

He criticised the "new intolerance" as he called for part of it the Public Order Act to be repealed, saying it was having a "chilling effect on free expression and free protest".

Mr Atkinson said: "The clear problem of the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism, ridicule, sarcasm, merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy, can be interpreted as insult."

Police and prosecutors are accused of being over-zealous in their interpretation of Section 5 of the Act, which outlaws threatening, abusive and insulting words or behaviour, the Daily Mail reported.

What constitutes "insulting" is not clear. It has resulted in a string of controversial arrests.

They include a 16-year-old boy being held for peacefully holding a placard reading "Scientology is a dangerous cult", and gay rights campaigners from the group Outrage! detained when they protested against Islamic fundamentalist group Hizb ut-Tahrir over its stance on gays, Jews and women. ....

Speaking at the Westminster launch of the campaign, he added: "The law should not be aiding and abetting the new intolerance."

He was joined by Lord Dear, former chief constable of West Midlands Police, and former shadow home secretary David Davis.

Mr Davis said: "The simple truth is that in a free society, there is no right not to be offended. For centuries, freedom of speech has been a vital part of British life, and repealing this law will reinstate that right." ....
Rowan Atkinson: we must be allowed to insult each other - Telegraph

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"The first thing is to read aloud..."

Crisis Magazine reprints Russell Kirk's 1979 essay, "What Should Children Read?," from which:
.... The first thing is to read aloud to children—and to continue oral readings long beyond the ages of seven or eight, so long as the children continue to enjoy group-reading. Thus children’s vocabularies and comprehension are built up well before those children are able to unravel for themselves the mystery of transforming abstract letters on a printed page into mental images. Besides this, one ought to give books to children as presents, show interest in whatever they are reading, and talk about one’s own favorite books with boys and girls. ....

Were I asked what children’s books have charmed me longest, I should answer, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Lewis Carroll is as wondrously comical now as he was in Victoria’s reign, and his miniature theater of the absurd, so impossible, nevertheless somehow introduces a child to firm knowledge of reality.

Were you to inquire of me what author of children’s literature moves me most as an adult, I would tell you, “George MacDonald.” He immensely influenced G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, among many others. Don’t fail to give your children At the Back of the North Wind, The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess and Curdie, The Golden Key, and MacDonald’s other books for the young, all of which also teach adults.

Were the question put to me, ‘What children’s author of our century has had the healthiest influence upon the rising generation?” I should tell you, “C.S. Lewis.” Get his Chronicles of Narnia, seven volumes, beginning with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and ending with The Last Battle. These make up a children’s parable of the Christian understanding of the human condition. ....

Should you want to know how to teach courage and fidelity to children through literature, I would commend to you some very old books and some very new ones. Among the old, I would have you turn to the legends of King Arthur and his Table Round, in Sidney Lanier’s version or Howard Pyle’s. (And don’t forget Pyle’s own Book of Pirates and his Jack Ballister’s Fortunes). Among the new books there stand eminent Tolkien’s fantasies, beginning with The Hobbit: Frodo does live. Older boys, and some girls, will be ready for Tolkien’s three-volume Lord of the Rings, with all its sorcery and derring-do in Middle Earth. When I was in the sixth grade, I took for my models of manliness the heroes of Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Kidnapped. The anti-hero may dominate adult fiction in our time, but the hero still strides triumphant in children’s books.

.... Our daughters’ favorite book, I find, is Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden—which I never encountered until my own little girls introduced me to that convincing tale of pathos and triumph in the policies of an English country house. It is written with strong tenderness, and it teaches us how to rise above our vices, especially the ugly vice of self-pity. ....
What Should Children Read? | Crisis Magazine

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Book of Common Prayer at 350

The Christian who has chosen to not be familiar with The Book of Common Prayer has deprived himself of the best collection of prayers and readings available for worship in the English language. Thoroughly Protestant, it nevertheless connects us with the Church throughout its history. The prayerbook's language also contributes to our cultural literacy in much the same way as does that of Shakespeare or the King James Version. This year is the 350th anniversary of the 1662 revision of the book - the version that lasted unaltered for centuries. Excerpted from James Wood, "The Book of Common Prayer," in The New Yorker [I've reformatted a bit]:
.... The Book of Common Prayer was the first compendium of worship in English. The words—many of them, at least—were written by Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury between 1533 and 1556. Cranmer did not cut his text from whole cloth: in the ecumenical spirit that characterizes the Book of Common Prayer, he went to the Latin liturgy that the English Catholic Church had used for centuries. In particular, he turned to a book known as the Sarum Missal, which priests at Salisbury Cathedral had long used to conduct services. It contained a calendar of festivals, along with prayers and readings for those festivals; and it held orders of service for Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and the Mass.

The Missal was a handbook for priests and monks, though, not for the laity, and its language was Latin, not English. Cranmer wanted a prayer book in English, one that could be understood by ordinary people, even by those who could not read. To this end, he translated and simplified a good deal of the Sarum Missal: from the monastic services of Matins, Vespers, and Compline he fashioned Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer (commonly known now as Evensong), which are familiar to millions of members of the worldwide Anglican Church. He borrowed elements of the liturgy of the Reformed church in Cologne, and adapted a prayer of St. John Chrysostom from the Byzantine rite. He also wrote dozens of new prayers and collects, in a language at once grand and simple, heightened and practical, archaic and timeless. ....

.... People who have never read the Book of Common Prayer know the phrase “moveable feast,” or “vile body,” or the solemn warning of the marriage service: “If either of you know any impediment, why ye may not be lawfully joined together in Matrimony, ye do now confess it.” The same is true of the vows the couple speak to each other: “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.” The words of the burial service have become proverbial:
In the midst of life, we are in death. . . . Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer; but spare us, Lord most holy. . . . Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto his glorious body.
Despite the quality of language that strikes us nowadays as majestic and grandly alienated, the words of the Prayer Book are notable for their simplicity and directness. C.S. Lewis called this quality “pithiness”; I would add “coziness” or “comfortability.” The Prayer Book was a handbook of worship for a people, not for a priesthood, and its job was to replace and improve the ancient collective rites of worship that bound people together in the English Catholic Church. The marriage service, for instance, was a medieval liturgy that long predated the final form it found in the Book of Common Prayer. It availed Cranmer nothing to invent a liturgy that threw out that history and erected a verbal screen or altar between the priest and his congregation. Cranmer’s prayers use ordinary phrases and familiar Biblical similes. Here is the General Confession, the collective prayer that opens the service of Morning Prayer:
Almighty and most merciful Father, We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, We have offended against thy holy laws, We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, And we have done those things which we ought not to have done, And there is no health in us: But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders.
There is a Protestant severity to the avowal that “there is no health in us.” But penitence can be reached only by walking down a familiar path, lined with straightforward words: we are “lost sheep” because we have “left undone those things which we ought to have done, And we have done those things which we ought not to have done.” Likewise, Evening Prayer is a comforting service, not just because it closes the day and lights a candle at the threshold of evening but also because the Book of Common Prayer sends the congregation home with two consoling collects, intoned by the presiding priest, which glow like verbal candles amid the shadows. The last collect goes like this:
Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of thy only Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.
To read, or hear, these words is to be taken back to a sixteenth- and seventeenth-century world of risk and daily peril, a place of death and sickness and warfare—a world in which Michel de Montaigne, for instance, lost five of his six children in infancy. The Book of Common Prayer contains a section with special prayers “For Rain,” “For fair Weather,” for protection against “Dearth and Famine,” for salvation from “War and Tumults,” and from “Plague or Sickness.” This plea is present in the penultimate collect of Evensong, too:
O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed: Give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give; that both our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments, and also that by thee we being defended from the fear of our enemies may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour.
A grand sonority (with the characteristic Cranmerian triad of “all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works”) gives way to a heartfelt request: please defend us from enemies, so that we may “pass our time in rest and quietness.” .... [much more]
There are several websites that provide the contents for the 1662 version of The Book of Common Prayer, among them: The 1662 Book of Common Prayer Website, and The 1662 Book of Common Prayer, as printed by John Baskerville in 1762; in PDF format. It can also be purchased as a book here, here, and elsewhere.

James Wood: The Book of Common Prayer : The New Yorker

Monday, October 15, 2012

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

Michael J. Kruger explains how reading The Lord of the Rings can have real world significance. Tolkien's purpose was much more than just telling a good story:
.... He understood that there was real evil in the world. And he recognized that even the heroes themselves had setbacks and struggles that they overcame. Saruman’s character stands as an abiding example of how people who were once good can be deceived and drawn from the light and into darkness. He is a warning about the treachery of sin. Thus The Lord of the Rings does not offer a sanitized vision for life in this world. It is not a story about how people are perfect. But, it is still a story about heroes. ....

Tolkien explained that one of the reasons for writing Lord of the Rings was “the elucidation of truth and the encouragement of good morals in this real world, by the ancient device of exemplifying them in unfamiliar embodiments, that may tend to ‘bring them home.’” He understood that there is something edifying and encouraging and uplifting about seeing others follow truth. This, of course, is the whole point of Hebrews 11, to look back to the saints of old and see how they faithfully trusted the Lord. Why? So that we can say, “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Heb 12:1).

But, as edifying as Tolkien’s works are, we should not have to look only to fictional stories to find heroes. We also ought to be able to find them in the modern day. Sometimes what keeps us running the Christian race is when we look at others around us who are running it well. ....

Tolkien then has offered us a compelling vision for the importance of moral examples in the Christian life. His work reminds us that how we live really does matter. .... [more]
More today [10/16] about Tolkien's Middle Earth from Charlie Starr, at the C.S. Lewis Blog reviewing The Christian World of The Hobbit
What Devin Brown does best in his new book, The Christian World of The Hobbit (Abingdon Press, 2012), is give his readers access. There is a subtly to Tolkien’s Middle-earth tales which makes them an enigma from the beginning. Brown offers several keys to The Hobbit’s mysteries, keys which open doors and give us entry into Tolkien’s hidden world, a world which is unabashedly Christian at its deepest foundations.

The Hobbit is not an allegory of Christian truth, but a vision of the world. Christian themes nevertheless flow beneath Tolkien’s Middle-earth, and Brown focuses on three of them: providence, purpose and morality.

As in the books of Ruth and Esther, a divine hand is not overtly present in Middle-earth, yet Bilbo’s journey is filled with a strange luck, a providence which “seems to help Bilbo when he needs help but not always when he wants it” (Brown 52). A mysterious power works behind all things in The Hobbit, echoing the mysterious ways in which God works in the world. .... [more]
Where Have All the Heroes Gone? The Refreshing Moral Vision of Lord of the Rings | Canon Fodder, C. S. Lewis Blog: The Christian World of The Hobbit

Catechism

From Tim Keller's introduction to the New City Catechism:
Question  What is the chief end of man?
Answer Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.
Question What is your only comfort in life and death?
Answer That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

These words, the opening of the Westminster and Heidelberg Catechisms, find echoes in many of our creeds and statements of faith. They are familiar to us from sermons and books, and yet most people do not know their source and have certainly never memorized them as part of the catechisms from which they derive.

Today many churches and Christian organizations publish "statements of faith" that outline their beliefs. But in the past it was expected that documents of this nature would be so biblically rich and carefully crafted that they would be memorized and used for Christian growth and training. They were written in the form of questions and answers, and were called catechisms (from the Greek katechein which means "to teach orally or to instruct by word of mouth"). The Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 and Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms of 1648 are among the best known, and they serve as the doctrinal standards of many churches in the world today.

At present, the practice of catechesis, particularly among adults, has been almost completely lost. Modern discipleship programs concentrate on practices such as Bible study, prayer, fellowship, and evangelism and can at times be superficial when it comes to doctrine. In contrast, the classic catechisms take students through the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer—a perfect balance of biblical theology, practical ethics, and spiritual experience. Also, the catechetical discipline of memorization drives concepts deeper into the heart and naturally holds students more accountable to master the material than do typical discipleship courses. Finally, the practice of question-answer recitation brings instructors and students into a naturally interactive, dialogical process of learning. .... [more]
The Ipod App for the Catechism can be downloaded here.

The browser version is here.

Catechism

Partisan

Because I almost always support the candidates of one party a friend recently described me as "partisan." I indignantly rejected the label, explaining vehemently that I supported candidates based on my political philosophy, not the party label. But Douthat does have a point:
.... Up to a point, American politics reflects abiding philosophical divisions. But people who follow politics closely — whether voters, activists or pundits — are often partisans first and ideologues second. Instead of assessing every policy on the merits, we tend to reverse-engineer the arguments required to justify whatever our own side happens to be doing. Our ideological convictions may be real enough, but our deepest conviction is often that the other guys can’t be trusted.

How potent is the psychology of partisanship? Potent enough to influence not only policy views, but our perception of broader realities as well. .... [which Douthat illustrates as he continues]
The Partisan Mind - NYTimes.com

Sunday, October 14, 2012

"Lay down, thou weary one, lay down"

Continuing with hymns set by Ralph Vaughan Williams: "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say"



I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"Come unto me and rest;
lay down, thou weary one, lay down
thy head upon my breast."
I came to Jesus as I was,
weary, and worn, and sad;
I found in him a resting place,
and he has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"Behold, I freely give
the living water; thirsty one,
stoop down and drink, and live."
I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
and now I live in him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"I am this dark world's light;
look unto me, thy morn shall rise,
and all thy day be bright."
I looked to Jesus, and I found
in him my Star, my Sun;
and in that light of life I'll walk
till traveling days are done.


Words: Horatio Bonar, 1846, Music: Kingsfold, Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906

Oremus Hymnal: I heard the voice of Jesus say

"Firmly I believe..."



Firmly I believe and truly
God is Three, and God is One;
And I next acknowledge duly
Manhood taken by the Son.

And I trust and hope most fully
In that Manhood crucified;
And each thought and deed unruly
Do to death, as He has died.

Simply to His grace and wholly
Light and life and strength belong,
And I love supremely, solely,
Him the holy, Him the strong.

Adoration aye be given,
With and through the angelic host,
To the God of earth and Heaven,
Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.


John Henry Cardinal Newman, from The Dream of Gerontius, 1865

Saturday, October 13, 2012

"Remember the Sabbath..."

A couple of interesting posts about the Sabbath appeared on my feed this morning, neither of them arguing for its observance on the seventh day.

Jimmy Akin, a Catholic, provides his answer to "Did the Catholic Church "Change the Sabbath"?"
First, let's clear away a potential source of confusion. While it's true that people sometimes speak of Sunday as "the Christian sabbath," this is a loose way of speaking. Strictly speaking, the sabbath is the day it always was--Saturday--though it should be noted that traditionally Jewish people have celebrated the sabbath from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. Sunday is a distinct day, which follows the sabbath. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:
2175 Sunday is expressly distinguished from the sabbath which it follows chronologically every week; for Christians its ceremonial observance replaces that of the sabbath. In Christ's Passover, Sunday fulfills the spiritual truth of the Jewish sabbath and announces man's eternal rest in God. For worship under the Law prepared for the mystery of Christ, and what was done there prefigured some aspects of Christ. [more]
And Ray Ortlund, who is affiliated with The Gospel Coalition and with Acts 29, asks "Is the Sabbath still relevant?"
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Exodus 20:8

Let’s not dictate Sabbath observance today. The point of the Sabbath is a dress rehearsal for a future eternity of glad rest in God. So, for now, every one of us can work out the details personally. But in our frantic modern world, the Sabbath offers wisdom that has lasted since the beginning (Genesis 2:2-3). It is not written on our calendars as much as we are built into its calendar. It seems to be part of the God-created rhythm for weekly human flourishing.

If we did set apart one day each week for rejuvenation in God, we would immediately add to every year over seven weeks of vacation. And not for doing nothing but for worship, for friends, for mercy, for an afternoon nap, for reading and thinking, for lingering around the dinner table and sharing good jokes and tender words and personal prayers. .... [more]
Did the Catholic Church "Change the Sabbath"? |Blogs | NCRegister.com, Is the Sabbath still relevant? – Ray Ortlund

Friday, October 12, 2012

Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1872-1958

Conjubilant with Song notes the anniversary of the birth of my favorite 20th Century composer:
Today is the 140th birthday of English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. His home town of Down Ampney (in the Cotswolds) is planning a memorial concert of some of his works this evening.

He did not show any particular talent for composition at an early age, though he attended the Royal College of Music, studying with Charles Villiers Stanford. His first published piece, a secular song called Linden Lea, did not appear until he was thirty. By the time of his death in 1958 he had compiled a very long list of compositions in nearly every possible form, from traditonal choral and instrumental works to scores for radio, film, and television. ....

CWS at Conjubilant also reminds us that Vaughan Williams edited The English Hymnal (1906) and links to his setting of "God be with you till we meet again" from that hymnbook. Vaughan Williams provided settings for many hymns [his choral works are listed here]. A very good CD collection of his hymn settings is A Vaughan Williams Hymnal.

Some of my favorites:







Conjubilant with Song: Ralph Vaughan Williams

"Everything has to be earned"

Mark Judge writes about "Van Morrison’s Transcendent Music": an appreciation of Morrison's music on the occasion of the release of his newest album, Born To Sing: No Plan B:
.... Critics often express astonishment that Morrison, 67, is still producing great music. But the reasons are not hard to understand: first, Morrison long ago stopped being a pop songwriter—if in fact he ever was one—and became a jazz musician. And second, Morrison never lost his belief in, curiosity of, and striving for God. These two things are what keeps his music creative, honest, and fresh, even as it is grounded in the transcendent. ....

.... “If in money we trust,” he sings in a song with the same title, “then where’s God?” Morrison has always had a foot in the timeless idioms of jazz and the blues, but by this point he is so immersed in them that it would be an error to call him a rock-and-roll singer. Born to Sing is a jazz album, plain and simple. ....

On Born to Sing Morrison’s disappointment seems topical and on target, a needed corrective to a western world that increasingly finds itself worshiping material things. While he specifically cites capitalism in his criticism, Morrison seems to indicate that it is not the free market system he objects to, but how its extremes can distort human purpose and love. In “End of the Rainbow” he describes the recessionary world of the last few years:
No pot of gold at the end of the rainbow
No social ladder to climb around here
No panhandlers gonna stake any claim here . . .
No gravy train that stops at your station
Everything has to be earned
Van Morrison’s Transcendent Music « Acculturated

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The other side

Any war has to have two sides or it isn't a war. The "Religious Right" is the side of the "culture war" that has received the most attention. What about the other side? Christianity Today interviews George Yancey, one of the authors of What Motivates Cultural Progressives?: Understanding Opposition to the Political and Christian Right. The book examines the results of surveys of some 2,500 "cultural progressives." From the interview, some observations:
.... Their main values are rationality, progressive politics, and a fear of religion having too much influence in both politics and society in general. These values both define them and unite them. While I say that rationality is a central value for them, that doesn't mean that they are more rational than other people. Rather, this is a way in which they justify their activities and their purpose in society. ....

Many of our respondents expressed fear that conservative Protestants are trying to take over the country and establish a theocracy. Cultural progressives aren't necessarily against religion, though many of them view it as foolishness; rather, they just want Christians to keep it in their churches and homes. It's as if they are saying that people with religious beliefs should let "rational adults" rule the world. It's not religion, per se, that they organize against, but rather any social influence of religion. ....

I was very surprised by the intense animosity that many of the respondents expressed. Here are people who are highly educated, which most people assume would make them more enlightened, but many of their statements were flat-out hateful. They spoke against prejudice, but they themselves expressed deep levels of religious prejudice. To give one example, one of the respondents found out that his friend had a born-again experience, and he ended the friendship solely for that reason. .... [more]
The Other Side of the Culture War | Christianity Today