Saturday, March 29, 2014

Have mercy...

Cornelius Plantinga recently criticized Evangelical worship because, he says, it neglects sin:
.... Anglicans, Catholics and Lutherans continue to include confession or a rite of penitence as a regular part of their worship services, he noted. But in evangelical and Reformed churches, he sees "less and less" sin-related material every year.

Over 158,000 churches in North America get the music for their worship services from Christian Copyright Licensing International....

Looking at the content of CCLI songs, Plantinga observed that there are "very few penitential songs." The "biblical tradition of lament, which is all through the prophets and the Psalms is gone, just not there," he said.

One of the reasons Plantinga believes evangelical worship leaves out sin is a desire to be "seeker friendly" and avoid topics that may turn off non-Christians or new Christians.

"Mindful that seekers come to church in [an] American no-fault culture in which tolerance is a big virtue and intolerance a big vice, worship finders in evangelical churches often want nothing in the service that sounds judgmental," he said. And for that reason "lots of evangelical churches these days are unrelievedly cheerful."

The Apostle Paul would not feel welcome in many evangelical churches today, he added. "Where is [Paul's] easy smile? Why does he want to discipline people? Why is he so doggone dogmatic? Where are the stories in his sermons? ....

This was not always the case with evangelical churches, Plantinga explained. "They used to be champions of the holiness of God, of contrition for sins against God's holiness, and therefore grace that justifies sinners," but "a lot of that has dissipated."

When churches leave the topic of sin out of worship, they are not relevant to the lives of their congregants, Plantinga believes, because people encounter sin and sin's consequences daily.

"[Un]ceasingly cheerful worship does not fit with the lives of people who come to worship," he said. "... Churches that silence the biblical message of sin and grace simply aren't anywhere near where people actually live their lives, including people in their own congregations." .... [more]
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:
Spare Thou them, O God, which confess their fault:
Restore Thou them that are penitent;
According to Thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And grant, O most merciful Father, for His sake,
That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life,
To the glory of Thy holy Name. Amen. [BCP, 1662]

Friday, March 28, 2014

"Who could doubt...he had a Soul"

From the time I entered 1st grade until we moved while I was in 4th we lived in a house rented from a Miss Kidder who had been one of Dad's elementary teachers. Long retired, she owned a house on Vernal Avenue in what was then Milton Junction. We lived on the first floor and an outside stairway led to her apartment on the second floor. I often climbed those stairs to spend time with her. She entertained me by teaching me "Authors" or by reading to me. The books I recall were all by Albert Payson Terhune and were each about collies. From them I developed an enduring affection for collies. I discover that many of those books have come into public domain and are available at ManyBooks.net: Free ebooks by Albert Payson Terhune. The most famous of his books, Lad: A Dog, isn't there (although a later collection of Lad stories is) but can be found at Gutenburg in all the same electronic formats. Goodreads has this to say about Lad:
First published in 1919, Albert Payson Terhune's Lad: A Dog is actually a collection of immensely popular magazine stories. The hero is an extraordinary collie named Lad, "a thoroughbred in spirit as well as in blood." In each tale, Lad exhibits his pure strength of character as he fights off burglars, rescues an invalid child from a poisonous snake, wins ribbons in dog shows, and otherwise leads a dog-hero's life. .... [N]early every story [begins] with a fight scene [and] has the same authorial mini-lecture on the difference in fighting technique between collies and bulldogs. But Lad is a character who has poked his muzzle into a million hearts, and new generations of dog lovers will also appreciate his loyalty and courage. As Terhune himself wrote, "few...bothered to praise the stories, themselves. But all of them praised Lad, which pleased me far better."
From the first story in the book:
Lad was an eighty-pound collie, thoroughbred in spirit as well as in blood. He had the benign dignity that was a heritage from endless generations of high-strain ancestors. He had, too, the gay courage of a d'Artagnan, and an uncanny wisdom. Also who could doubt it, after a look into his mournful brown eyes he had a Soul.

"He was put into a pie..."

My explorations of the free — because copyright has expired — ebooks at ManyBooks.net continue to find treasures: this time the books of Beatrix Potter. From The Tale of Peter Rabbit:
ONCE upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were—
Flopsy,
Mopsy,
Cotton-tail,
and Peter.
They lived with their Mother in a sand bank, underneath the root of a very big fir-tree.

'NOW, my dears,' said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, 'you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.' ....

On 2 October 1902 The Tale of Peter Rabbit was published, and was an immediate success. It was followed the next year by The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and The Tailor of Gloucester.... ...Potter published two or three little books each year: 23 books in all. The last book in this format was Cecily Parsley's Nursery Rhymes in 1922, a collection of favourite rhymes. Although The Tale of Little Pig Robinson was not published until 1930, it had been written much earlier. Potter continued creating her little books until after the First World War, when her energies were increasingly directed toward her farming, sheep-breeding and land conservation.

The immense popularity of Potter's books was based on the lively quality of her illustrations, the non-didactic nature of her stories, the depiction of the rural countryside, and the imaginative qualities she lent to her animal characters. ....
The Free ebooks by Beatrix Potter at ManyBooks.net includes The Tale of Peter Rabbit and six others along with two collections of Potter stories.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Baptist church that's a little different

My denomination has a descriptive tract titled "A Baptist Church With a Difference." Baptists who worship on the seventh day Sabbath are a little different, but any Baptist who happened to wander into one of our churches on a Sabbath morning would probably find the worship experience familiar. This Baptist church in Virginia would probably seem much less so. I think I might like it very much.
Sunday mornings at All Souls Charlottesville are fairly common for an Anglican congregation.

The Book of Common Prayer and the Revised Common Lectionary are standard, creeds are spoken together, the Eucharist is the central focus of the liturgy and the minister blesses the congregation before it scatters back into the world.

But the Charlottesville, Va., congregation isn’t an Episcopal church. It’s Baptist — in fact it’s a plant of the Baptist General Association of Virginia and is celebrating its fifth anniversary in 2014. ....

While being contemplative and having an intense focus on the sacrament of communion are not necessarily the same, a growing number of Baptist churches are exploring elements of both in an era when Christians and “nones” are rejecting highly produced, modern worship experiences. ....

A baptism at All Souls
“Some of the ancient traditions have come to the fore as people realize some of the noisy parts of worship do not allow the heart room to engage,” Marshall said.

...All Souls provides a balance between the liturgical and sacramental on one hand and congregational autonomy on the other. ....

For Chandler, a former Baptist pastor who grew up in traditional Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina, the lure of All Souls has been its attention to the Christian calendar.

“With the reordering of time and space, you begin to think about the rhythms of the year and the rhythms of the week, and time takes on this worship quality about it,” he said. “It really teaches us a way to look at our lives differently.” ....

The common denominator of being Baptist — the authority of Scripture, the divinity of Christ, priesthood of the believer — is modeled at All Souls just as it is in other kinds of Baptist congregations, he said. .... [more]

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Liberty of conscience

Thomas Kidd is a historian particularly interested in the views of the Founders about religion and its relation to the state. Here he addresses what they would have thought about the current religious liberty case argued yesterday before the Supreme Court and in doing so refers to a Baptist:
.... The great Baptist champion of religious liberty, John Leland, a staunch ally of Madison and Thomas Jefferson, acknowledged that religious dissenters could not be allowed to “disturb the peace” and harm fellow citizens under the cover of conscience objections. However, he insisted that governments which really valued religious liberty should afford exemptions to laws that “prevent liberty of conscience,...because men cannot stretch their consciences like a nose of wax.” Sincere religious non-conformists should not be treated like common vagrants, he said. ....

.... Any reasonable observer can see that the Green family of Hobby Lobby (as well as their co-litigants Conestoga Wood) has a sincere religious objection to providing abortifacient coverage to employees. Their convictions represent an honest, longstanding objection to abortion held by many other Americans. The HHS Mandate, conversely, represents an abrupt, intrusive requirement of the national government that has obvious ramifications for the consciences of many American employers. Trying to ram this policy through, without offering substantive conscience exemptions, would have struck the Founders as ungenerous and coercive. [more]

When you are on the wrong side of history

Philip Jenkins, from a 2004 review of a book about those in the church who strove to be up-to-date with the most recent scientific consensus. An opening paragraph that seems to me even more applicable today:
Have you ever heard the plea, "I want a church where I don't have to leave my mind at the door"? In other words, I will accept religious teachings so long as they do not contradict the orthodoxies of conventional society, the commonplaces of educated opinion. When that opinion runs flat contrary to traditional or scriptural teaching, then secular orthodoxies win every time. In this view, the Bible was put together by quite ignorant folk, constrained by the unscientific worldview of their benighted times, and Christian practice must jog—or gallop—to keep up to date with new secular insights as they develop. When these insights are grounded in the rhetoric of objective science, their claims to allegiance become imperative. That, more or less, has been the justification for many changes in church life over the past few decades, especially in matters of gender and sexual orientation. .... [more]
The scientific certainties of that day included eugenics, and later in the review Jenkins writes:
Especially vulnerable were believers in the Social Gospel, as well as modernists "who embraced modern ideas first and adjusted their theologies later." Thank heavens no such rootless faddists are writing in our own days! ....

Friday, March 21, 2014

"Living inside-out"

In Living Inside-Out" Wesley J. Smith describes an ancient approach to living in society the re-discovery of which has allowed him to live more contentedly:
I am growing weary of the continual complaints from traditionalist Christians about current trends in Western culture. ....

...[H]asn’t the time come for us to suck it up? Consider the much worse cultural milieu in which the early Church existed. The Roman Empire’s values were entirely antithetical to Christian ethics and belief. The official state religion was polytheistic. Meat served at feasts was dedicated to idols. As to the sanctity of human life: Slaves were tortured and crucified at the will of owners. Under the law of paterfamilias, unwanted children could be exposed or sold into slavery. Gladiators at public “games” butchered each other to satisfy the bloodlust of the crowd.

But did the early Christians whine about it? No—they witnessed against it by the way they lived. Indeed, St. Paul instructed—in words increasingly relevant to our age—that Christians should not judge those outside the Church while continuing to interact with general society even though most live by fundamentally different moral values. Otherwise, he wrote, believers “would need to go out of the world.”

We must live “in, but not of, the world”....

Rather than permit ourselves to be defined by difficult times—what (talk show host and comedian, Dennis Miller) calls “living from the outside-in”—he continually urges listeners to instead, “live from the inside-out.”

What does he mean? Don’t sweat the general culture’s disapproval. Don’t look “outside” ourselves for personal validation. In short, don’t allow our personal joie de vivre to depend on the outcome of elections, court rulings, media fairness, or what others think, believe, or do. ....

This isn’t surrender. Nor is it political or cultural disengagement. We owe Caesar what is his. In our free society, that means participating in the public square, making our views known, voting—and too often of late, gritting our teeth and bearing it when things slide in the wrong direction. .... [more]

In the beginning...

I am generally disinclined to engage debates about origins either with believers or with non-believers since, it seems to me, there are far more central issues and these discussions often divert — perhaps intentionally — from those more important issues. I do like the sort of argument in this column since it compels thought about why anything exists at all. It will annoy some believers, though, because it messes with their understanding of scriptural inspiration. From Leslie Wickman, "Does the Big Bang breakthrough offer proof of God?":
.... The prevalent theory of cosmic origins prior to the Big Bang theory was the “Steady State,” which argued that the universe has always existed, without a beginning that necessitated a cause.

However, this new evidence strongly suggests that there was a beginning to our universe.

If the universe did indeed have a beginning, by the simple logic of cause and effect, there had to be an agent – separate and apart from the effect – that caused it.

That sounds a lot like Genesis 1:1 to me: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth.”

We also need to remember that God reveals himself both through scripture and creation. The challenge is in seeing how they fit together. A better understanding of each can inform our understanding of the other. ....

The creation message in Genesis tells us that God created a special place for humans to live and thrive and be in communion with him; that God wants a relationship with us, and makes provisions for us to have fellowship with him, even after we turn away from him.

...[W]e know that Genesis was never intended to be a detailed scientific handbook, describing how God created the universe. It imparts a theological, not a scientific, message.

(Imagine how confusing messages about gravity waves and dark matter might be to ancient Hebrew readers.)

As a modern believer and a scientist, when I look up at the sky on a clear starry night, I am reminded that “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). I am in awe of the complexity of the physical world, and how all of its pieces fit together so perfectly and synergistically. .... [more]

Thursday, March 20, 2014

"Mentally fragile and morally feeble"

I'm not sure how any real classroom debate or discussion of any controversial subject could possibly take place in the environment Dennis Hayes, a British education professor, describes here:
I collect examples of therapy culture in universities. ....

Among the hundreds of leaflets I have collected that offer students counselling and emotional support, there is one from a university that offered support for students who might find the content of their courses stressful or depressing. The message was this: if you study sociology, you might find that lots of people are poor; if you are studying nursing, you might discover that lots of people are sick; if you read history, you might read of terrible events. The student-support team that issued this leaflet obviously thinks students are so mentally fragile and morally feeble that they need counselling and support to tackle the content of the subjects they have chosen to study. ....

Apparently, student leaders at the University of California passed a resolution urging officials to institute mandatory trigger warnings on class syllabi. Professors who present ‘content that may trigger the onset of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder’ would be required to ‘issue advance alerts and allow students to skip those classes’. ....

...[T]rigger warnings clearly cover, not only depictions of certain difficult subjects, but even discussion of them. Even the label ‘trigger warning’ has been criticised by some on the basis that it could be an unsettling reminder of guns. ....

To be found doing our duty...

On a city bus returning from school some years ago I was approached by a man who wanted to discuss the end times — to convince me of the urgent importance of belief. I told him I was a Christian but then also that I thought it more important to be aware of one's mortality — that you couldn't be certain you would live another minute — than to calculate the end of times. That seems to me part of the point C.S. Lewis is making in this exchange from his final interview:
Sherwood Wirt: What do you think is going to happen in the next few years of history, Mr. Lewis?

C.S. Lewis: I have no way of knowing. My primary field is the past. I travel with my back to the engine, and that makes it difficult when you try to steer. The world might stop in ten minutes; meanwhile, we are to go on doing our duty. The great thing is to be found at one’s post as a child of God, living each day a though it were our last, but planning as though our world might last a hundred years.

We have, of course, the assurance of the New Testament regarding events to come (Matthew 24:4-44; Mark 13:5-27; Luke 21:8-33). I find it difficult to keep from laughing when I find people worrying about future destruction of some kind or other. Didn’t they know they were going to die anyway? Apparently not. My wife once asked a young woman friend whether she had ever thought of death, and she replied, ‘By the time I reach that age science will have done something about it!’ .... [more]

Monday, March 17, 2014

The quest for community

Radical individualism and an omnipotent state are not enemies but, rather, the former leads inevitably to the latter. Robert Nisbet made the argument that "human-scale associations" were essential to liberty in The Quest for Community in 1953. A new edition of the book has been published with an introduction by Ross Douthat. From that introduction:
.... What was Nisbet’s insight? Simply put, that what seems like the great tension of modernity—the concurrent rise of individualism and collectivism, and the struggle between the two for mastery—is really no tension at all. It seemed contradictory that the heroic age of nineteenth-century laissez faire, in which free men, free minds, and free markets were supposedly liberated from the chains imposed by throne and altar, had given way so easily to the tyrannies of Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. But it was only a contradiction, Nisbet argued, if you ignored the human impulse toward community that made totalitarianism seem desirable—the yearning for a feeling of participation, for a sense of belonging, for a cause larger than one’s own individual purposes and a group to call one’s own.

In pre-modern society, this yearning was fulfilled by a multiplicity of human-scale associations: guilds and churches and universities, manors and villages and monasteries, and of course the primal community of family. In this landscape, Nisbet writes, “the reality of the separate, autonomous individual was as indistinct as that of centralized political power.” ....

As social institutions, these associations would be attacked as inhumane, irrational, patriarchal, and tyrannical; as sources of political and economic power, they would be dismissed as outdated, fissiparous, and inefficient. In place of a web of overlapping communities and competing authorities, the liberal West set out to build a society of self-sufficient, liberated individuals, overseen by an unitary, rational, and technocratic government. ....

Man is a social being, and his desire for community will not be denied. The liberated individual is just as likely to become the alienated individual, the paranoid individual, the lonely and desperately-seeking-community individual. And if he can’t find that community on a human scale, then he’ll look for it on an inhuman scale—in the total community of the totalizing state.

Thus liberalism can beget totalitarianism. The great liberal project, “the progressive emancipation of the individual from the tyrannous and irrational statuses handed down from the past,” risks producing emancipated individuals eager for the embrace of a far more tyrannical authority than church or class or family. The politics of rational self-interest promoted by Hobbes and Locke creates a void, a yearning for community, that Rousseau and Marx rush in to fill. The age of Jeremy Bentham and Manchester School economics leaves Europe ripe for Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer, and the dictatorship of the proletariat. .... [more]

More humane by comparison

Jackson Lears, reviewing Doris Kearns Goodwin's most recent book, finds it "thoroughly mediocre," adding later "She provides no new interpretation and no new information, covering a lot of ground well tilled already by political historians and biographers. Plowing through her undistinguished prose, one is tempted to ask: why was this lumbering production unleashed upon the world?" The book is The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism. Whatever the merits of the book, Lears' review is one of those long-form essays that is an education in itself about a period in American history. Although Lears' main concern is criticizing from the left Goodwin's faulty and inadequate characterization of Progressivism, conservatives who read the review will find much with which to agree — particularly with respect to Roosevelt and Taft.
.... Taft and Roosevelt were linked by their elite backgrounds.... But there the resemblance ended. Taft was cautious, judicious, fair, generous, kind, slow to anger, eager to overlook slights; his enormous heft, topping out at 332 pounds, reinforced the impression that he was a man given to sustained deliberation. Roosevelt, by contrast, was restless and rarely still—“pure Act,” in Henry Adams’s words. He was also opportunistic, convinced of his own righteousness, manipulative toward people who could advance his interests, and vindictive toward actual and imagined enemies. Above all, he despised indecision and inaction as signs of weakness. For Roosevelt, doing something—even something mistaken and destructive—was always better than doing nothing. ...Taft comes across as a more humane leader and a more companionable character. ....

According to Archie Butt, who served in both presidencies, Taft was “in many ways...the best man I have ever known, too honest for the Presidency, possibly, and possibly too good-natured or too trusting or too something on which it is hard just now for a contemporary to put his finger....” The tactical problem, as Taft recognized, was that Roosevelt had declared war on Taft, and “in a war,” as Baker observed, “the chief thing is to fight.” ....

Even his old friend Elihu Root admitted that [Roosevelt] "is essentially a fighter, and when he gets into a fight he is completely dominated by the desire to destroy.” When the fight was over, his friendship with Taft was in shreds, though they managed to meet and reconcile in 1918. It is somehow fitting that Roosevelt spent his last years railing against Woodrow Wilson’s timidity while Taft became chief justice of the Supreme Court. Both men stayed in character to the end. .... [more]

Friday, March 14, 2014

Today in Madison


A very good day for walking in Madison: temperatures in the upper 40s and sunny. My destination was the breakwater at the Tenney Park Locks where, in warmer weather, I would sit for a while before heading back. Today the cold north wind across Lake Mendota persuaded me to stay there only long enough to take this picture looking toward the Capitol Square and the University. Good weather for walking, not sitting. The lakes are, obviously, still frozen. A friend said that when he took a grandson ice fishing the auger had to drill through twenty-four inches of ice. The frost-line is deep too and most of the snow melt is running off.

Upon returning to the center of the city I stopped at Brocach for bangers and mash and a pint of Guinness. I will now avoid all Irish pubs until the middle of next week.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wisconsin Veterans Museum

I just renewed my membership in the foundation that supports the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, one of the fine state-operated museums in Madison. The Vets' museum on the Capitol Square is the successor to the Civil War Museum that once occupied the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic - Union war veterans) rooms in the Capitol Building. The Vets' Museum was created by the former curator of the Civil War Museum, Richard Zeitlin, unfortunately deceased. It contains exhibits about all of the conflicts that involved combatants from Wisconsin and one of the largest exhibits, appropriately, is about the Civil War. The current issue of the museum magazine includes this recently acquired picture


The caption reads "Spencer Bronson, a Fall River soldier who served in Company B, 7th Wisconsin Infantry (Iron Brigade). Bronson was taken prisoner at Gettysburg, and was later wounded in the Wilderness. On April 14, 1865, Bronson was in attendance at Ford's Theatre and witnessed the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln."

The first custodian of the GAR museum in the Capitol Building was Hosea Rood, a veteran who enlisted at age sixteen and served throughout the Civil War. He was a Seventh Day Baptist from Milton, Wisconsin.

I often shepherd visitors to Madison toward this fine museum.

Wisconsin Veterans Museum

Not by chance

A friend just noted at Facebook that she was looking through Ben Patterson's Waiting before passing it along to one of her friends. That is a book that I, too, have given to others because I have found it very helpful myself. So I am going to take the opportunity to recommend it again here. From Amazon's description:
.... Sometimes we find our lives placed on hold. Deep questions begin to surface. How long must I wait? Is there any meaning to all this waiting? Can I trust God? We can't help but wonder what is happening—and why? In Waiting, Ben Patterson uncovers two cardinal virtues required for successful waiting—humility and hope. You will learn how humility teaches us we exist for God's sake, not for our own; and you will learn how hope assures us that there is something worth waiting for.
And from Patterson's Epilog:
Does it strike you as odd that a book on waiting has scarcely mentioned the word patience? Or perseverance? Aren't those the virtues that we are to exercise when we are forced to wait? They are, but they are secondary to what really is needed to wait with grace. More basic than patience or perseverance are humility and hope. These two are the attitudes, the visions of life, that make patience possible. Patience is a rare and lovely flower that grows only in the soil of humility and hope.

Humility makes patience possible because it shows us our proper place in the universe. God is God, we are his creatures; he is the King, we are his subjects; he is master, we are his servants. We have no demands to make, no rights to assert. I can be impatient only if I think that whatever it is I want is being withheld or delayed unfairly. As Chuck Swindoll put it, "God is not in your appointment book; you're in his." His superiority is not only in power and authority, it is in love and wisdom as well. He has the right to do whatever he wants to do, whenever he wants to do it, but he also has the love to desire what is best for all his creatures and the wisdom to know what is best. He is superior to us in every conceivable way—in power and love and wisdom. To know that is to be patient.

Hope makes patience possible because it gives us the confidence that our wait is not in vain. Hope believes that this God of love, power and wisdom is on our side. It exults in the knowledge that, in the delays of life, he knows exactly what he is doing. If he moves quickly, it is for our good; if he moves slowly, it is for our good. No matter how things look to us, God is the complete master of the situation. There is an old theological word for this—providence. The venerable Heidelberg Catechism defines God's providence as:
The Almighty and everywhere present power of God; whereby, as it were, by his hand, he upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea all things come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.
There are no accidents, no glitches with God. He does all things well. Everything that comes to us comes by his hand and through his heart. He provides for our needs and fulfills our deepest desires in the fullness of time, not a moment too late, nor a second too soon. Hope assures us that in all things, even in the delays of life, God is working for our good. To know that is to be patient. ....
It's a good book to read before you are in distress. It helps prepare you for the frustrations and hardships of life, but far more importantly, it reminds you that God is God and you are not.

Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent (Saltshaker Books)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Because we have been saved

Michael Kruger explains here several reasons why the book Luther described as an “an epistle of straw” is important to Christians. The second reason:
.... James reminds us that Christians should also view the Law of God positively. Compared to Paul’s insistence that the law is a “curse” that “imprisons” us (Gal 3:13, 22), James’ approach to the law is shockingly positive. He refers to the law as the “law of liberty,” or as the NIV puts it, “the perfect law that gives freedom” (Jas 1:25).

Do Paul and James contradict each other? Not at all. Paul is looking at the law from the perspective of justification–can I be saved by law-keeping? If you try this, says Paul, the law is only a curse. James is looking at the law through the lens of sanctification. From this perspective the law is a blessing. It is the way of righteousness. We can say with the Psalmist, “Oh how I love your law!” (Ps 119:97).

Paul reminds us that the law cannot save. James reminds us that we follow the law because we are saved. Both aspects are critical if we are to rightly understand justification and sanctification. .... [more]

Monday, March 10, 2014

Madison, March 10, 2014

Today, in contrast to just about every day since the fall, is very nice: sunny, temperatures verging on +50 F. I decided to walk and did so—for the first time in weeks—for a very pleasant hour or so. The sidewalks were almost entirely clear of ice and snow is melting everywhere. I walked out to the Yahara along the north shore of Lake Monona. This is what I saw when I reached the river. The Lake is still frozen but the river is open.

Yahara River where it flows into Lake Monona
My return was along Williamson Street. When I got to Capitol Square I decided to go through the State Capitol Building on my way to lunch on State Street. Since it was the noon hour the rotunda was occupied by the Solidarity Singers, a group that has gathered there just about every noon hour ever since the failure of the vote to recall Governor Walker. They have become a community, gathering every day, singing their protest songs, and many breaking up into lunch groups afterwards. They sing songs with their own words to familiar tunes—many of them old union songs. Today I was somewhat shocked (although I shouldn't have been, this being Madison) to find them using the tune of The Internationale, a song that, whatever its origins, one would have thought forever tainted by its association with the USSR, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, et. al. I thought perhaps I should suggest The Horst Wessel Leid, another revolutionary song with a memorable tune. I suspect my point would have been missed.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Drawn into the bright shadow

A site devoted to the works of George MacDonald describes that author's influence on C.S. Lewis:
.... George MacDonald was at his best as a myth-maker and it was the quality of cheerfulness in his work that captured Lewis's imagination and convinced him that real righteousness was not dull. It was on the 4th March 1916 that he purchased and read the Everyman edition of MacDonald's Phantastes. Lewis was at the time an atheist who found the darker paths of Romanticism deeply attractive. It was his discovery of Phantastes that was to lead him away from these dangerous by-ways and into the clear sunlight. A light that was to find full expression in his subsequent, imaginative, writings.

As he was later to write in his preface to George MacDonald: An Anthology, "Now Phantastes...had about it a sort of cool, morning innocence ...What it actually did to me was to convert, even to baptise...my imagination." He further describes this experience in Ch.XI of Surprised by Joy, and in Ch.XII he wrote, "I saw the bright shadow coming out of the book into the real world and resting there, transforming all common things and yet itself unchanged. Or, more accurately, I saw the common things drawn into the bright shadow." .... [more]
George MacDonald died in 1905, long before Lewis read him, but that means, happily for us, that all of his books are now in the public domain and thus available to download, free, for Kindle or Nook or some other electronic format. The book Lewis first read, Phantastes (1858), can be found here. I recall reading (or having read to me) At the Back of the North Wind (1871) when a child. Many more books by MacDonald can be found linked from ManyBooks George MacDonald page.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

We will be okay

Jared Wilson this morning reminds us that "You’re Going to Die (and So Might Your Dreams)"
... for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. – Genesis 3:19
One of the problems I have with all the “chase your dreams!” cheerleading from Christian leaders is not because I begrudge anyone wanting to achieve their dreams, but because I don’t think we readily see how easy it is to conflate our dream-chasing with God’s will in Christ.

You know, it’s possible that God’s plan for us is littleness. His plan for us may be personal failure. It’s possible that when another door closes, it’s not because he plans to open a window but because he plans to have the building fall down on you. The question we must ask ourselves is this: Will Christ be enough?

Are we pursuing our own greatness or the expansion of worship of Jesus Christ? They aren’t necessarily incompatible, but God is more interested in the latter than the former. And ultimately, if we prioritize Christ’s glory, we won’t really care in the long run how noticed, renowned, recognized, or “successful” we are personally. We’ll realize that our lives aren’t really about us anyway.
Sometimes we have to let our dreams die.
And that’s okay. We will be okay.
Look, “for those who love God, all things work together for the good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). .... [more]

Monday, March 3, 2014

How to make a sermon really boring

In "Does Powerpoint Increase Retention?" Kenton Anderson tells us why he is doubtful that it does. Having been both a lecturer and a victim of PowerPoint-supported lectures, I am inclined to agree.
.... Studies show that we retain 10-30% of what we hear in a speech, and that this number does not increase with the use of slides. When it comes to watching and listening to a speaker, he says, “We form unconscious impressions about what matters to (the speaker) – what her intent is, what she’s passionate about – and that is what we remember.” The problem, he continues, is that humans are not very good multi-taskers, and when we focus on slides, it takes away from our ability to listen to the speaker. ....

As Vanderkam reminds us, name one significant speech in human history that ever relied on props.

Perhaps the biggest problem is our intention for our preaching. If we see preaching primarily as a way of delivering complicated instruction, we are probably barking up the wrong tree. As Morgan says, an oral speech is not efficient when it comes to complex instruction. If, on the other hand, we understood our task as helping people connect with the God who is present to them and speaking to them by his Spirit and through his Word, then the sermon might be the perfect medium – it just might not need the help of Powerpoint. [more]

Saturday, March 1, 2014

On a saint's promotion to glory

On St David whose day, March 1, is the national day of Wales:

Philip Jenkins on why we are certain March 1 was the day the patron saint of Wales died and why "death days" were so important:
St David's, Pembrokeshire, Wales
...[W]e really know very little about David that is historically solid and can only guess at his dates, or his main areas of activity. A death about 590 is a reasonable guess, but we could easily slip fifty years either way. Oddly though, we can be sure that he died on March 1, whether in (say) 532 or 632 AD. Through the Middle Ages, hagiography was a vast area of cultural effort, when almost any outrageous achievements could be credited to a saint. (No, David did not really make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he was ordained by the Patriarch). The one thing that we know these writers did keep faithfully was the death day – the date not the year – because that marked the hero’s ascension to glory, the promotion to heaven. In a particular church or community, those days were critical, as marking the annual celebration of the beloved local saint.
Argue as much as you like, then, about precise years, achievements, martyrdoms and areas of activity, about the number of lepers cured and tyrants opposed – but don’t quarrel with death days.
Death days.
It’s an interesting term. I know my birthday. I also know that at some future point I will die, and that that will befall on a particular date. Let me be optimistic and assume that it will be a distant event, say on July 23, 2049. Each year, then, I pass through July 23 happily unaware that I am marking my Death Day, surely as significant a milestone as my birthday, but not one I can ever know with certainty until it occurs. Nor is it something we really ever contemplate, as we all know, in our hearts, that we are immortal.
I suppose though that it is something we can learn from those medieval monks, that the Death Day is not just a key event in anyone’s life, but literally the only one we can take with absolute confidence. [emphasis added]