Thursday, February 28, 2013

What is Communion for?

Charles Clark, who apparently grew up in church not unlike mine, tells us what he's learned about Communion from other traditions:
Growing up, my church observed “Lord’s Supper” once a quarter. Every three months, an extra line would appear in the bulletin’s Order of Service between “Message” and “Special Music.” After spending a silent minute “examining our hearts,” trays bearing a species of super-dense oyster crackers and tiny plastic cups of grape juice would be passed along the pews, offering plate-style. In a tradition that generally deprecated ritual, this practice was clearly an anachronism, a holdover that would have been mildly embarrassing if not insulated from inspection by a thick coat of cognitive dissonance. What it all meant I couldn’t have told you, other than that it had something to do with “remembering Jesus.” ....
Before engaging with the sacraments, I thought about grace almost exclusively in terms of the forgiveness of sins. The accompanying images were of removal: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” ...[A]n exclusive focus on grace as forgiveness implies that except for our assorted wrongdoings, we are basically whole and healthy. On the one hand, I understood that was inaccurate: the phrase “spiritual growth” was in my religious vocabulary. But I lacked a vision for how grace operated not merely to cleanse but also to edify.
The act of eating, as appropriated by the Communion rite, makes this other aspect of grace unmistakeable. As C.S. Lewis puts it, God “uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us.” This correctly pictures our incompleteness, our brokenness and hunger, our need for God that exists apart from our need for forgiveness. Grace builds us up in addition to washing us off. In receiving grace as sustenance, we are called into a more substantial life; like the narrator in The Great Divorce, we are becoming more solid as we draw near to God. ....
Of course, the tradition I grew up in was not entirely without additive spiritual practices. The study of Scripture was commonly discussed in quasi-sacramental terms. .... We naturally understand that filling our heads with holy writ could tend to give us the mind of Christ. But that by filling our stomachs with bread and wine we partake in the divine life comes as something of a surprise. It reminds us of our need for God to act on us and for us, that grace is an intervention. It cures us of our native Pelagianism.
I fully understand that, for many traditions, the mechanics behind the transmission of grace through the sacraments are of great importance. While I don’t particularly share that concern, I respect that opinions differ. My hope is that this is one of many areas in which a thicker Christian practice will develop across denominational lines. .... [more]
What I’ve Learned from Communion

Toward what is permanent

This post at Paul W Manuel, "Worshiping in the House of God," is a reflection on Psalm 84. Paul translates verse 4:

"O the advantage of those who dwell in your house, [for] they are ever praising you."

and then explains what the advantage of praise in worship is:

...The advantage of praise is that it directs you away from what is temporary and toward what is permanent. When struggles and striving distort your view of life, making you worry and fret, praise refocuses your attention by reminding you who it is that holds your life and cares for you. The psalmist is exclaiming what a real advantage it would be to remain in the temple praising God and to have that clarity of perspective all the time.

You cannot go to the temple in Jerusalem for the festivals, but you have set aside a time and place to praise God, which means that you too can enjoy the advantage that praise brings. Some people view praise as just an emotional expression of devotion of God—and praise can certainly be an emotional experience—but if you leave here with only a good feeling, you have missed one of the most important benefits of praise, which is the renewed perspective on life that a clear view of God brings. So when you come here, use the music and readings to sweep away the clutter of the week and to refresh your vision of the One you serve. ....

Paul W Manuel: Worshiping in the House of God

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Souls in order

William F. Buckley, Jr., died five years ago. NRO provides us with "Bill Buckley and Final Truths":
.... In 1962 Bill had written to the editors of The Individualist, the newsletter of [the] Young Conservative Club of Walt Whitman High School (in the Bronx), responding to their inquiry about something he had written in Up from Liberalism concerning "final truths." ....
In the passage you quote from Up From Liberalism I intended, indeed, to refer to the religious truth that is our central heritage and to the moral philosophy and human insight that derive from it. Sometimes this position is referred to (in a phrase going back, I believe, to the days of the Roman Empire) as “the morality of the last days”—by which is meant the world-view of men who know that death is close. But, in the long view, we all stand sentenced to death, and whether it comes in 1995 or tomorrow makes no difference. That is why the morality of the last days always applies to what is “finally important in human experience.” All our techniques of social welfare, all our science, all our comfort, all our liberty, all our democracy and foreign aid and grandiloquent orations—all that means nothing to me and nothing to you in the moment when we go. At that moment we must put our souls in order, and the way to do that was lighted for us by Jesus, and since then we have had need of no other light. That is what is finally important; it has not changed; and it will not change. It is truth, which shall ever abide in the future. And if it is “reactionary” to hold a truth that will be valid for all future time, then words have lost their meaning, and men their reason.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Alan Jacobs remembers only two teachers from whom he learned anything, but:
.... Most of what I now know that I consider worth knowing I learned not at school but at these libraries. By the standards of many cities and towns, including the one I live in now, they were not large or well-stocked; but they contained enough to keep a boy’s mind occupied and excited for many years. And when the schools let me down, the libraries did not. .... [more]

Monday, February 25, 2013


[Herbert] was a huge inspiration for many modern writers, especially T.S. Eliot. For all his achievements, though, Herbert's candle burned out very early, as he died a few weeks short of his fortieth birthday, in 1633. ....
Above all, Herbert was a clergyman, a priest of the Church of England. Perhaps nobody has better conveyed the gap between the aspirations of that position – the priest of the Living God! – and the frail mortal who dared to fill the job. His poem, Aaron, makes the contrast still more precise, comparing the glorious priesthood of the brother of Moses with Herbert’s own feeble efforts. Christ, though, makes up all deficiencies:
HOLINESS on the head,
Light and perfection on the breast,
Harmonious bells below raising the dead
To lead them unto life and rest.
Thus are true Aarons drest.
Only another head
I have another heart and breast,
Another music, making live, not dead,
Without whom I could have no rest:
In Him I am well drest.
Profaneness in my head,
Defects and darkness in my breast,
A noise of passions ringing me for dead
Unto a place where is no rest:
Poor priest! thus am I drest.
Christ is my only head,
My alone only heart and breast,
My only music, striking me e’en dead;
That to the old man I may rest,
And be in Him new drest.

So holy in my Head,
Perfect and light in my dear Breast,
My doctrine tuned by Christ (who is not dead,
But lives in me while I do rest),
Come, people Aaron's drest.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

"To be merely modern..."

THE HIGHEST use of the great masters of literature is not literary; it is apart from their superb style and even from their emotional inspiration. The first use of good literature is that it prevents a man from being merely modern. To be merely modern is to condemn oneself to an ultimate narrowness; just as to spend one's last earthly money on the newest hat is to condemn oneself to the old-fashioned. The road of the ancient centuries is strewn with dead moderns. Literature, classic and enduring literature, does its best work in reminding us perpetually of the whole round of truth and balancing other and older ideas against the ideas to which we might for a moment be prone. ....

From time to time in human history, but especially in restless epochs like our own, a certain class of things appears. In the old world they were called heresies. In the modern world they are called fads. Sometimes they are for a time useful; sometimes they are wholly mischievous. But they always consist of undue concentration upon some one truth or half-truth. .... The heretic (who is also the fanatic) is not a man who loves truth too much; no man can love truth too much. The heretic is a man who loves his truth more than truth itself. He prefers the half-truth that he has found to the whole truth which humanity has found. ....

Friday, February 22, 2013

"The bright light of salvation..."

Several hard things happening to good friends and acquaintances recently, as well as several things I've been reading [see the post about a Russell Moore essay below], reminded me of this, originally posted in January, 2010:

Right Wing Bob likes this version of "Death is Not the End" better than the only one Dylan recorded:
Someone who heard the song from a bootleg tape of those Infidels sessions was the singer Mike Scott of a combo called the Waterboys. He heard a different kind of spirit in the song, and, while performing live on an Irish radio show (The Dave Fanning Show) round about 1986 he and bandmates Steve Wickham and Anthony Thistlethwaite belted it out with some gusto, vigor and a fair bit of vim. .... [more]

Oh the tree of life is growing
Where the spirit never dies
And the bright light of salvation
Shines in dark and empty skies » Death is not the end

Denominational identification

Is it more important to be considered "open-minded" or to be considered "honest"? Christianity Today reports on a survey of both churched and un-churched people asking "Should Your Church's Name Include Its Denomination?" From the findings:
"When a church does not reference its denomination in the church name, unchurched people tend to see that church as less formal, rigid, and old-fashioned," notes the Phoenix-based market research firm in a news release. "But this also makes them feel more uncertain and wonder whether the church is trying to hide its beliefs."

The most interesting findings:

1) Churches with denominational references (vs. none) in their name are:
Four times more likely to be perceived as "formal." Three times more likely to be perceived as "old-fashioned." Almost three times more likely to be perceived as "structured and rigid." Three times less likely to be perceived as "open-minded."
2) By contrast, churches with no denominational references in their name are:
Less than twice as likely to be perceived as "honest." More than twice as likely to give people "feelings of uncertainty." Almost five times more likely to be perceived as "trying to hide what they believe." ....
...Sellers suggested that a church with a denominational reference can have a contemporary and friendly logo and sign to help deal with any perceptions that it’s rigid, while a church without the denomination in its name might use a catchy tagline to communicate something about its beliefs, to help overcome any uncertainty people may feel. He said, “There are ways of dealing with these perceptual issues as long as you know what they are.” ....

.... “There is some belief out there that the unchurched run away from anything that says ‘Baptist’ or ‘Lutheran’ or some other denomination, but the fact is only a minority of the unchurched have negative perceptions about denominational names in general. .... Even younger adults often are not coming down strongly on one side or the other. Churches need to take a lot of different things into consideration in this decision – it’s not as simple as ‘Give it a non-denominational name and it will be a lot more attractive to young people and the unchurched.’" [more]
The image came from this site.

Christianity Today Gleanings: Should Your Church's Name Include Its Denomination?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Pleasures forevermore

From Psalm 16:
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
Indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

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

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

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

"The term is over, the holidays have begun"

Russell Moore on why Christians get it wrong when they envision eternity as an "afterlife":
The gospel tells us that Satan keeps unbelievers bound by fear of death (Heb 2:14-15). Believers, too often, dread death also, though not as much from fear than from boredom. We see the story of our lives as encompassing this span of seventy or eighty or a hundred years. The life to come is our “great reward” in “the afterlife.”

But just think about that word “afterlife.” It assumes eternity is an endless postlude to where the action really happens. It’s “after;” our “reward” happens after we’ve lived our lives. ....

Too many Christians see the hope of resurrection life as a capstone on their lives now. We implicitly assume that our focus in the new creation is a backward focus on our lives as they are now.

We talk about all the questions we’ll ask about why this or that happened. .... We talk about our reunion with loved ones, but even they often implicitly have a past focus.

A high school reunion can be fun. You catch up with old friends, and remember good and bad times. But the focus is usually on “remember when” and “whatever happened to” conversations. That’s great for an hour or four, but four trillion years of that would be hell. That’s not what Jesus promised us. He promised us life. ....

Your eternity is no more about looking back to this span of time than your life now is about reflecting on kindergarten. The moment you burst through the mud above your grave, you will begin an exciting new mission—one you couldn’t comprehend if someone told you. And those things that seem so important now—whether you’re attractive or wealthy or famous or cancer-free—will be utterly irrelevant in the face of an exhilarating new purpose, one that you were prepared for in this era but one that is far more than a mere sequel to your best life now.

Let’s talk about eternity. But it’s no mere “afterlife.” Instead let’s start thinking of this little puff of time, the next eighty or so years, as what it is: the pre-life. [more]
Moore to the Point – Why the Afterlife Bores Us

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Engraved on the conscience

John Courtney Murray:
.... The philosophy of the Bill of Rights was also tributary to the tradition of natural law, to the idea that man has certain original responsibilities precisely as man, antecedent to his status as citizen. These responsibilities are creative of rights which inhere in man antecedent to any act of government; therefore they are not granted by government and they cannot be surrendered to government. They are as inalienable as they are inherent. Their proximate source is in nature, and in history insofar as history bears witness to the nature of man; their ultimate source, as the Declaration of Independence states, is in God, the Creator of nature and the Master of history. The power of this doctrine, as it inspired both the Revolution and the form of the Republic, lay in the fact that it drew an effective line of demarcation around the exercise of political or social authority. When government ventures over this line, it collides with the duty and right of resistance. ....

...[T]he men who framed the American Bill of Rights understood history and tradition, and they understood nature in the light of both. They too were individualists, but not to the point of ignoring the social nature of man. They did their thinking within the tradition of freedom that was their heritage from England. Its roots were not in the top of anyone’s brain but in history. Importantly, its roots were in the medieval notion of the homo liber et legalis, the man whose freedom rests on law, whose law was the age-old custom in which the nature of man expressed itself, and whose lawful freedoms were possessed in association with his fellows. The rights for which the colonists contended against the English Crown were basically the rights of Englishmen. And these were substantially the rights written into the Bill of Rights. ....

...[T]he Bill of Rights was an effective instrument for the delimitation of government authority and social power, not because it was written on paper in 1789 or 1791, but because the rights it proclaims had already been engraved by history on the conscience of a people. The American Bill of Rights is not a piece of eighteenth century rationalist theory; it is far more the product of Christian history. Behind it one can see, not the philosophy of the Enlightenment but the older philosophy that had been the matrix of the common law. The “man” whose rights are guaranteed in the face of law and government is, whether he knows it or not, the Christian man, who had learned to know his own personal dignity in the school of Christian faith.
Where Did Americans Get Their Liberties? | Intercollegiate Review

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lenten reading

Gilbert Meilaender recommends reading Dorothy Sayers's radio plays collected as The Man Born to Be King for Lent:
On June 4, 1955, C.S. Lewis wrote to Dorothy Sayers to thank her for a pamphlet and letter she had sent him. He noted, in passing, that “as always in Holy Week,” he had been “re-reading [Sayers's] The Man Born to Be King. It stands up to this v. particular kind of test extremely well.” We might, I think, do far worse than imitate Lewis in our own Lenten reading.

The Man Born to Be King is a series of radio plays, twelve in all, dramatizing the life of Jesus from birth to death and resurrection. First broadcast by the BBC in 1941–1942, they were published in 1943, together with Sayers’s notes for each play and a long Introduction she wrote recounting both her aims and approaches in writing the plays and some of the first (often comical) reactions from the public.

Sayers did not suffer fools gladly, and she takes evident delight in recounting objections, many of which grew out of a kind of piety that resisted the deliberate realism of the plays. Thus, for example, among those who wrote her with objections was one who objected to her having Herod tell his court, “Keep your mouths shut.” The reason for the objection? Such “coarse expressions” struck the correspondent as “jarring on the lips of any one ‘so closely connected with our Lord.’” .... [more]
The book seems to be out of print and even second-hand copies are rather expensive at Amazon [Alibris has softcover editions beginning at about $6.00]. If you haunt second-hand bookstores and come across it, it is well worth possessing and reading, and Sayers' notes are as valuable as the plays themselves.

Gilbert Meilaender on Reading Dorothy Sayers's Play Cycle for Lent - Mere Comments

"Shut not Thy merciful ears..."

Via Nathaniel Peters at First Thoughts:

Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts;
Shut not Thy merciful ears unto our pray’rs;
But spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty.

O holy and most merciful Saviour,
Thou most worthy Judge eternal,
Suffer us not, at our last hour,
For any pains of death, to fall from Thee. Amen.
Henry Purcell, 1694

Monday, February 18, 2013

Deep Roots Library

The site making the Luther books offer below is Deep Roots Library, offering "Old Theology. New Technology." Those who know me well will appreciate why I particularly like this:

The site right now offers books by authors including E.M. Bounds, G.K. Chesterton, Andrew Murray, A.W. Tozer and Charles Spurgeon—and promising many more—each of which can be read free online or downloaded—formatted for Kindle [MOBI], ePub, or PDF—for $.99. Luke, who is an SBC pastor, also offers a membership with unlimited downloads "forever." It's a site I've bookmarked and will definitely re-visit.

Deep Roots Library — Old Theology. New Technology. Deep Roots Library.


On the 467th anniversary of Martin Luther's death, Trevin Wax notes a site offering a "Martin Luther book giveaway!" The e-books available there are:
  • Christian Liberty
  • First Principles
  • Good Works
  • Larger Catechism
  • Smaller Catechism
  • Preface to Romans
  • The Bondage of the Will
They are available in several formats, including Kindle.

Martin Luther book giveaway!

To Thee be praise

Oh Lord in Thee is all my trust.
Give ear unto my woeful cries.
Refuse me not, that am unjust,
But bowing down Thy heav'nly eyes,
Behold how I do still lament
My sins wherein I Thee offend.
O Lord, for them shall I be shent,
Sith Thee to please I do intend?

No, no, not so! Thy will is bent
To deal with sinners in Thine ire:
But when in heart they shall repent
Thou grant'st with speed their just desire.
To Thee therefore still shall I cry,
To wash away my sinful crime.
Thy blood, O Lord, is not yet dry,
But that it may help me in time.

Haste now, O Lord, haste now, I say,
To pour on me Thy gifts of grace
That when this life must flit away
In Heav'n with Thee I may have place
Where Thou dost reign eternally
With God which once did down Thee send,
Where angels sing continually.
To Thee be praise, world without end. Amen.
Thomas Tallis "Oh Lord In Thee Is All My Trust," 1565

Tallis: Oh Lord In Thee Is All My Trust - YouTube

Sunday, February 17, 2013

"In that light of life I'll walk..."

Conjubilant with Song, today, on a good Lenten hymn by Horatio Bonar:
Each stanza is based on a specific passage of scripture: the first, from Matthew 11:28; the second, from John 6:35; and the third, from John 8:12.
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"Come unto me and rest.
Lay down, O weary one, lay down
Your 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 the living Light.
Look unto me, your morn shall rise,
And all your 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.
Horatius Bonar, 1846
Conubilant with Song: My Thirst Was Quenched

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Musee des Beaux Arts

W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
Via Alan Jacobs who linked to the poem in "Speaking Truth to (Comic-Book) Power"

Auden, Musée des Beaux Arts

Create in me a clean heart

From Psalm 51:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy steadfast love;
According to Thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in Thy sight,
So that Thou art justified in Thy sentence and blameless in Thy judgment.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Hide Thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
A broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Religious liberty

Robert P. George of Princeton on the meaning of separation of church and state based on the historical interpretation of the First Amendment to the US Constitrution:

The nanny state

Via Ray Ortlund, from one of my favorite C.S. Lewis essays:
“Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.... To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level with those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles and domestic animals.”

C.S. Lewis, “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” in God in the Dock (Grand Rapids, 1970), page 292.
Oppressive moral fervor – Ray Ortlund

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Worship and "the regulative principle"

"The Catechizer" at The Wittenberg Door has experienced worship as it often occurs and argues for something better. In "The Freedom of the Regulative Principle" he begins with what is wrong:
When I was a Pentecostal, the church service was an ever-changing event. Being “led by the Spirit” meant that the whims of the preacher or worship leader could lead the service into any given direction. One of my “pastors,” who fancied himself a prophet, would stop mid-sentence and say something like, “Yes, yes, Lord. I’ll do that.” And off we’d go.... Anything else was seen as “bondage” because we were “quenching the Spirit.”

You’re average Evangelical church isn’t this bad, but the liturgy is still typically something that revolves around wants and desires of those in charge. As a result, man, not God, determines the means and modes of worship. ....
And he refers us to this post by Kevin DeYoung:
...[T]he regulative principle states that “the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself and so limited by his own revealed will” (WCF 21.1). In other words, corporate worship should be comprised of those elements we can show to be appropriate from the Bible. The regulative principles says, “Let’s worship God as he wants to be worshiped.” At its worst, this principle leads to constant friction and suspicion between believers. Christians beat each other up trying to discern exactly where the offering should go in the service or precisely which kinds of instruments have scriptural warrant. When we expect the New Testament to give a levitical layout of the one liturgy that pleases God, we are asking the Bible a question it didn’t mean to answer. It is possible for the regulative principle to become a religion unto itself.

But the heart of the regulative principle is not about restriction. It is about freedom. ....
  1. Freedom from cultural captivity. ....
  2. Freedom from constant battles over preferences. ....
  3. Freedom of conscience. ....
  4. Freedom to be cross cultural. ....
  5. Freedom to focus on the center. ....
DeYoung expands on each of those points here.

The Wittenberg Door: The Freedom of the Regulative Principle, The Freedom of the Regulative Principle – Kevin DeYoung

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A sinning mortal

A commenter on the controversy about where Richard III ought to be re-interred, was reminded of this story. Zita was the last Empress of Austria-Hungary. Deposed from the throne in 1918, she lived until 1989.
The 8,000 mourners filed out of Vienna's St. Stephen's Cathedral and fell in line behind the catafalque drawn by six black horses. Two hours later the procession ended at the Capuchin Church, where, in keeping with tradition, a member of the funeral party knocked on the door and a priest asked, "Who goes there?"

The titles were read aloud: "Queen of Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia. Queen of Jerusalem. Grand Duchess of Tuscany and Cracow..."

"I do not know her," said the father.

A second knock and "Who goes there?" brought the response, "Zita, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary." Again the reply, "I do not know her."

When the inevitable question was put a third time, the answer was simply, "Zita, a sinning mortal."

"Come in," said the priest, opening wide the door not for royalty, but for a faithful member of the Church, whose life had finally reached its end. ....
Europe's Heads, Crowned and Otherwise, Bury Zita, the Last Habsburg Empress :

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Alvin Plantinga

Alvin Plantinga is someone every Christian believer should be aware of — and he has just been given a significant award. From David Theroux:
The world-renowned philosopher Alvin C. Plantinga has recently received the prestigious Nicholas Rescher Prize for Contributions to Systematic Philosophy, awarded by the University of Pittsburgh’s Departments of Philosophy, History and Philosophy of Science Department, and the Center for the History and Philosophy of Science. Plantinga is widely known for his work in the philosophy of religion, epistemology, metaphysics and Christian apologetics, and he has revolutionized scholarly interest in Christian theism, shown naturalism/atheism to be self-refuting and incoherent, and set the new standards for the defense of free will, individual agency, consciousness, rational inference, science, objective truth and morality, and more. ....

Plantinga is the inaugural holder of the Jellema Chair in Philosophy at Calvin College, the John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, and a member of the Board of Advisors for the Center on Culture and Civil Society at the Independent Institute. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale University, he has served as President of the American Philosophical Association (Western Division) and Society of Christian Philosophers, and he has delivered the Gifford Lectures in Scotland three times. ....

Plantinga has shown that those scholars who attempt to ground reality in naturalism are not just pursuing a futile quest leading to determinism and nihilism but are embracing views that defeat their very intellectual enterprise, including science itself. .... [more]
The linked article further describes Plantinga's work and links to videos and articles by him.

Philosopher Alvin Plantinga Receives Prestigious Rescher Prize | The Beacon

Checks and balances

The Federalist Papers are a collection of essays published anonymously in support of the ratification of what became the Constitution of the United States. One of the advocates was James Madison [the others were Alexander Hamilton and John Jay]. Today, Kevin DeYoung notes, is the anniversary of the first appearance of Federalist 51, written by Madison, and one of the best known:
James Madison studied at Princeton under the evangelical Presbyterian minister John Witherspoon. How much of Madison’s political theory came from Witherspoon is difficult to prove, but he certainly received a strong dose of Reformed anthropology from his mentor. ....

.... In lectures that Madison would have sat through, Witherspoon argued that we “certainly discover in mankind” a “disposition without restraint to commit errors of a gross nature.” And in his famous sermon leading up to independence in 1776 Witherspoon observed, “Nothing can be more absolutely necessary to true religion than a clear and full conviction of the sinfulness of our nature and state.”

Whether directly from Witherspoon or not, this understanding of the human condition was a bedrock conviction for founders like Madison. Thus Federalist 51:
But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of man must be connected with the constitutional right of the place.

It may be a reflection of human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
In other words, the best government is the one designed to check its own inherent tendencies to tyranny, just as a prudent political philosophy embraces the realities of our fallen condition and plans accordingly.
Calvinist Convictions in Our Founding Fathers – Kevin DeYoung

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Back under the parking lot?

Nigel Jones is annoyed with those who, now that the body has been discovered, renew their arguments for the moral rehabilitation of Richard III. He thinks Shakespeare's version close to the truth and that "Richard III should be reburied under Leicester council’s car park":
.... There has been much talk about ‘re-writing history’ and countering ‘Tudor propaganda’; but the inconvenient truth (for Ricardians) is that the late king’s spine was indeed twisted by scoliosis and one of his shoulders was noticeably higher than the other. Those particular pieces of Tudor and Shakespearian “spin” were no more than the plain truth. So it is with the rest of Richard’s ‘black legend’. As far as serious historians are concerned, the case against Richard has long been closed. ....

Rising in the dock of History to hear the accusations against him, Richard III would be on his feet for a very long time. The murder of his two nephews, the Princes in the Tower of London, would, of course, head the charge sheet. But what about the even more brutal killing – committed in the same grim fortress twelve years before, and carried out by Richard’s own hands – the murder of the saintly and mentally fragile Henry VI, England’s rightful anointed king?

Or the elimination earlier in 1483 of William, Lord Hastings, the very man who had helped to engineer the coup which brought Richard to the throne? Hastings, accused of treason at a meeting of Richard’s new council, was dragged kicking and screaming his innocence to be decapitated on a rough wooden builder’s block after the psychopathic king had sworn to have his victim’s head off before he had eaten his lunch. Or the cold-blooded execution in Salisbury market place of his own chief henchman and former partner in crime, Henry Stafford, the 2nd Duke of Buckingham, who, perceiving Richard’s truly evil nature when it was too late, had finally turned to rebel against him? Or Richard’s seizure of Lord Rivers and Sir Richard Grey (respectively uncle and half-brother of the little princes), arrested in their beds after being entertained to dinner at Richard’s table and lulled into drunken sleep at the Rose and Crown Inn in Stony Stratford, before being sent north to Richard’s Yorkshire heartland to be quietly murdered. .... [more]
And more yet [2/7): The Discovery of Richard III: A Propaganda War | History Today

Holy Matrimony

Since Parliament has changed the meaning of "marriage" in Britain, Freddy Gray at The Spectator suggests that the Church start using an older term:
.... Since the politicians have changed the meaning of a word for political gain, perhaps Christian leaders should play the same game. They could move the definitional posts again, ditch the word marriage and talk only about ‘Holy Matrimony’ instead? Sounds ludicrously old-fashioned, I know. But read me out. ....

...[N]ow that our government has insisted on re-interpreting the M-word, maybe it’s time Christians did something equally radical, only this time by regressing to an older word. It’s not as if traditional marriage is thriving under its current definition. By emphasising the sacred and formal nature of Christian marriage, the words Holy Matrimony – even if they sound fogeyish now – might help steer the conventionally minded towards taking it more seriously. ....
Can Christians still have Holy Matrimony? » Spectator Blogs

On the eighth day...

In the four and a half hours of ceaseless spectacle that was Super Bowl XLVII — even the Roman numerals are excessive — there were only two minutes that made you stop and truly listen.

They were courtesy of Paul Harvey, the late, great radio broadcaster. Chrysler had the inspired idea to make two minutes of his speech at a 1978 Future Farmers of America convention into the soundtrack for an ad for the Ram truck while affecting still photos of American farm life scrolled on the screen. ....

In its pacing and its imagery, the speech is a kind of prose-poem. Delivered by Harvey, who could make a pitch for laundry detergent sound like a passage from the King James Bible, it packs great rhetorical force. ....

The Harvey ad was schmaltzy rustic romanticism, to be sure, but it celebrated something worthy. It was uplifting rather than degrading. It spoke of selflessness and virtue in moving terms. .... [more]

How right do you have to be?

Justin Taylor asks "How Much Doctrine Can One Distort or Deny and Still Be Saved?"
This is a terrible first question to ask.

But it is not an illegitimate question to answer if we care about sound doctrine and the salvation of souls.

The great Puritan theologian John Owen (1616-1683) wrote:
Men may be really saved by that grace which doctrinally they do deny; and they may be justified by the imputation of that righteousness which in opinion they deny to be imputed. (The Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone in Owen’s Works 5:163-64)
Owen’s position seems dangerous. After all, Scripture makes a strong connection between sound doctrine and assurance. And couldn’t Owen’s position encourage doctrinal laxity?


But not necessarily. ....

[Michael] Horton offers his own conclusion:
Paul reminds all of us with Timothy that only the Lord knows his elect. Pastors and elders in council may approve valid professions of faith and guard the ministry of preaching, sacrament, and discipline, but only the Great Shepherd can separate the sheep from the goats on the last day. Until then, our calling is to entrust ourselves to faithful shepherds and to long earnestly and prayerfully for the repentance of those who have strayed from Christ’s Word.
For more on this, see Horton’s posts “How Much Do I Need to Know?” “How Far Is Too Far?” He is especially helpful in identifying two common errors: (1) assuming that we only need to know the bare minimum that is necessary for salvation; (2) assuming that we need to know everything correctly in order to be saved.  [more]
How Much Doctrine Can One Distort or Deny and Still Be Saved? – Justin Taylor

Monday, February 4, 2013


My impression is that the objections offered to same-sex marriage by Roger Scruton and Phillip Blond are very similar to those advanced by some French gays:
We have profound reservations about same sex marriage not just because of the harm it does to a vital heterosexual institution but also because we reject the implication that in order to be equal and respected homosexuals should conform to heterosexual norms and be in effect the same as heterosexuals. In this sense we believe same sex marriage to be homophobic – it demands recognition for gay relationships but at the price of submitting those relationships to heterosexual definition. This serves neither homosexuals nor heterosexuals.

The former are absorbed into a structure that does not give due credit or recognition to their distinction and difference; whereas, heterosexuals are stripped of any institution that belongs to them qua their heterosexuality. Men and women who marry are denied proper recognition or celebration of their own distinctive union across the sexes and even more importantly any recognition of their role and unique responsibility in creating and nurturing children whose origin still lies exclusively in heterosexual union. ....

The pressure for gay marriage is therefore in a certain measure self-defeating for in seeking equality with something unlike yourself the thing that you join to is no longer what you joined. What is needed here is equity that respects difference not equality that destroys it. ....

.... A free country should allow differences to be protected and articulated in groups and institutions that further the vision of each particular set of human beings. To pursue gay equality is noble and right. But to pursue it by undermining heterosexual institutions is deeply damaging to both hetero and homosexual persons alike. .... [more]
Same-sex marriage is homophobic » Spectator Blogs

Gender differences

Most girls have always been better at "teacher pleasing" than most boys and now that compensating advantages boys had have diminished, the problem of their lack of achievement has grown. In "The Boys at the Back" Christina Hoff Sommers tells us what has happened, why it is important, and what might be done:
Boys score as well as or better than girls on most standardized tests, yet they are far less likely to get good grades, take advanced classes or attend college. Why? A study coming out this week in The Journal of Human Resources gives an important answer. ....

The study’s authors analyzed data from more than 5,800 students from kindergarten through fifth grade and found that boys across all racial groups and in all major subject areas received lower grades than their test scores would have predicted.

The scholars attributed this “misalignment” to differences in “noncognitive skills”: attentiveness, persistence, eagerness to learn, the ability to sit still and work independently. As most parents know, girls tend to develop these skills earlier and more naturally than boys. ....

.... Over all, it’s likely that girls have long behaved better than boys at school (and earned better grades as a result), but their early academic success was not enough to overcome significant subsequent disadvantages.... Those disadvantages have lessened since about the 1970s. Parents, especially those of education and means, began to value their daughters’ human capital as much as their sons’. ...[W]hile workplace inequities persisted, changing attitudes, legislation and litigation began to level the occupational playing field.

As these shifts were occurring, girls began their advance in education. ....

There are some who say, well, too bad for the boys. If they are inattentive, obstreperous and distracting to their teachers and peers, that’s their problem. After all, the ability to regulate one’s impulses, delay gratification, sit still and pay close attention are the cornerstones of success in school and in the work force. It’s long past time for women to claim their rightful share of the economic rewards that redound to those who do well in school. ....

A few decades ago, when we realized that girls languished behind boys in math and science, we mounted a concerted effort to give them more support, with significant success. Shouldn’t we do the same for boys? ....

...[W]e can follow the example of the British, the Canadians and the Australians. They have openly addressed the problem of male underachievement. They are not indulging boys’ tendency to be inattentive. Instead, they are experimenting with programs to help them become more organized, focused and engaged. These include more boy-friendly reading assignments (science fiction, fantasy, sports, espionage, battles); more recess (where boys can engage in rough-and-tumble as a respite from classroom routine); campaigns to encourage male literacy; more single-sex classes; and more male teachers (and female teachers interested in the pedagogical challenges boys pose). ....[more]
The Boys at the Back -