Friday, May 30, 2014

For what ought to be

WE often read nowadays of the valor or audacity with which some rebel attacks a hoary tyranny or an antiquated superstition. There is not really any courage at all in attacking hoary or antiquated things, any more than in offering to fight one's grandmother. The really courageous man is he who defies tyrannies young as the morning and superstitions fresh as the first flowers. The only true free-thinker is he whose intellect is as much free from the future as from the past. He cares as little for what will be as for what has been; he cares only for what ought to be.

And for my present purpose I specially insist on this abstract independence. If I am to discuss what is wrong, one of the first things that are wrong is this: the deep and silent modern assumption that past things have become impossible. There is one metaphor of which the moderns are very fond; they are always saying, "You can't put the clock back." The simple and obvious answer is "You can." A clock, being a piece of human construction, can be restored by the human finger to any figure or hour. In the same way society, being a piece of human construction, can be reconstructed upon any plan that has ever existed.

~G.K. Chesterton: What's Wrong with the World

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Bookworm

Owned by the Milwaukee Public Library: "The Bookworm," 1851, by Carl Spitzweg, one of three versions he painted of the same subject:

"A happy omen for religious liberty"

Gerard V. Bradley, who is a professor of law at the Notre Dame Law School, writes that the Supreme Court's recent ruling in Greece v. Galloway "...is the Court’s best piece of Establishment Clause work in decades—and a happy omen for religious liberty in our country." From "The Supreme Court on Prayer":
The surprise—and it is a big one—is that Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion did not stick to the reasoning of the more limited 1983 case (Marsh v. Chambers). He did not equivocate or dither. Instead, Kennedy authored a bold and almost uniformly lucid opinion that secured a wide constitutional berth for robustly “sectarian” prayers. ....

click on the image to enlarge
...[A]ll of the justices in Greece v. Galloway agreed that they resolved a constitutional dispute concerning sincere invocations of divine blessings and assistance, heartfelt expressions of gratitude for previous blessings bestowed, and recognition of God’s continuing action in the world and everyone’s dependence upon it. All of them agreed that this was a case about prayer.

One might well ask: what is the alternative? Well, the Court has, on other occasions, labeled sacred verbiage “ceremonial deism.” The Pledge’s “Under God” and the Court’s own “God Save this Honorable Court” are examples of language that time and familiarity have—according to the Court—stripped of literal meaning and thus blanched of religious content. These expressions linger usefully because, in the Greece Court’s phrases, they “lend gravity to the occasion” and “reflect values long part of the Nation’s heritage.” ....

The great bulk of Greece’s descriptions of the town’s opening acts, however, leaves no doubt that the Court acted upon them as real prayers, “invo[cations of] divine guidance in town affairs.”

The Court preserved these prayers from practically all constitutional attacks, save when the public prayer organizers act in bad faith. “So long as the town maintains a policy of nondiscrimination, the Constitution does not require it to search beyond its borders for non-Christian prayer givers in an effort to achieve religious balancing.” “The content of the prayers is no concern,” according to the majority opinion, so long as there is no indication that “the prayer opportunity has been exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief.” An isolated “disparagement” will not suffice: “Absent a pattern of prayers that over time denigrate, proselytize, or betray an impermissible government purpose, a challenge based solely on the content of a prayer will not likely establish a constitutional violation” (emphases added).

What counts as “proselytizing” or “disparaging”? We know one thing that does not count...the lower appellate court went so far as to warn Greece prayer-givers to “resist [the] temptation” to “convey their view of religious truth, and thereby run the risk of making others feel like outsiders.”

The alarming suggestion is that the only way to display respect and tolerance for others’ beliefs is for the prayer-giver to keep his real beliefs to himself or to offer them as one opinion among many others. But every religious tradition consists of a set of claims defining a particular view of reality, that is, of truth. Inviting religious believers into the public square, asking them to “pray,” and then telling them to avoid suggesting that they are speaking the truth from their hearts as they understand that truth to be, only promotes an artificial dialogue, a phony pluralism, and a platitudinous civil religion.

Greece v. Galloway could not have more resoundingly rejected this whole notion of self-censorship. The majority declared, “Once it invites prayer into the public sphere, government must permit a prayer giver to address his or her own God or gods as conscience dictates, unfettered by what an administrator or judge considers to be nonsectarian.” The purpose of the Establishment Clause is not to protect some empty civic ritual or politico-theological civil religion. Prayer-givers may speak from the heart (“conscience”) in sectarian terms. They may speak what they believe to be true. ....

The most important part of the Greece decision is that it upheld legislative prayer while rejecting civil religion. The prayers it upheld originated outside the government; they were citizen prayers for lawmakers and they were recited in the vernacular. Indeed, Greece v. Galloway could not have rejected more resoundingly the whole notion of government control of the praying citizenry. The purpose of the Establishment Clause is not to protect some empty civic ritual or politico-theological civil religion. Prayer-givers may speak from the heart in sectarian terms. They may speak what they believe to be true. [more]

Thou hast turned my mourning into dancing

Jason Helopoulos on "a good theology of Christian death," for we must both grieve and rejoice:
Is a Christian funeral service a celebration or time for mourning? A right understanding of how to consider a Christian’s death will stymie the two extremes of merely rejoicing or merely grieving. ....

As Romans tells us, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). It is not a good thing that our Christian friend or family member has passed away. No matter the benefits after death, death itself is an abomination. Death is an unwelcomed guest. It had no place in creation. Rather, it stormed onto the scene as the thief of life upon the entrance of sin into this world. Therefore, death itself is not to be celebrated. We cannot merely rejoice when a Christian dies somehow forgetting that death is an enemy.

For God formed man from the dust of the earth. Creation is turned on its head as man is returned to the dust in his death. There has been loss and loss that was not meant to be in this world. There has been death, which had no place in the good creation. ....

Martha, Mary, and their friends have good reason to weep at the loss of Lazarus (John 11:33). The Scriptures never ask Christians to deny the feeling of grief–it is a right and holy sadness. ....

However, we should not merely grieve. When a Christian dies we should also be filled with rejoicing. Truly, for the Christian, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). As a believer in Christ departs from this life they are immediately in a far better place (Philippians 1:23). They are with Christ! They have finished the race and kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7); and that faith has become sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). They no longer see in a mirror dimly, but see Him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12). The object of their love, affection, and joy is before and with them forevermore.

What glories await the Christian at death. One moment, a feeble sinner experiencing the miseries of this life, and the next moment, one who is adorned with the crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8) in the presence of the King of Glory. There the Christian shall be–surrounded by His glory. A glory which banishes all our enemies. In that place there shall no longer be the experience of loss, grief, pain, discomfort, or regret. Rather, the saint shall dwell in sheer joy and bliss as they revel in the beauty and glory of their Savior and God forever. Therefore, we should rejoice at the death of a Christian, for as the Apostle Paul says, they are “in a far better place” (Philippians 1:23). .... [more]

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"Fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners"

That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones. Let Jones worship the sun or moon, anything rather than the Inner Light, let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any in his street, but not the god within. Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inwards, but to look outwards, to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain. The only fun of being a Christian was that a man was not left alone with the Inner Light, but definitely recognized an outer light, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners. .... [Orthodoxy]

Only if...

The highest decorated British soldier in the First World War, Private Henry Tandey, might have prevented the Second World War when he had in his sights Lance Corporal Adolf Hitler. An account of a really big "what if?"
.... Tandey was mentioned five times in dispatches and certainly earned his VC during the capture of the French village and crossing at Marcoing, his regiment held down by heavy machine gun fire Tandey crawled forward, located the machine gun nest, and took it out.

Arriving at the crossing he braved heavy fire to place wooden planks over a gaping hole enabling troops to roll across and take the battle to the Germans. The day still not over he successfully led a bayonet charge against outnumbering enemy troops which helped bring hostilities to an end.

As the ferocious battle wound down and enemy troops surrendered or retreated a wounded German soldier limped out of the maelstrom and into Private Tandey's line of fire. The battle weary man never raised his rifle and just stared at Tandey resigned to the inevitable. "I took aim but couldn't shoot a wounded man," said Tandey, "so I let him go."

Tandey put that encounter out of his mind and rejoined his regiment, discovering soon after he had won the Victoria Cross. ....

In 1938 Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940), Conservative PM from 1937-40, made his gloomy trip to Munich to meet Chancellor Hitler in a last ditch effort to avoid war which resulted in the ill-fated 'Munich Agreement'. During that fateful trip Hitler invited him to his newly completed retreat in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, a birthday present from Martin Bormann and the Nazi Party.
.... While there the Prime Minister explored the hill top lair of the Fuehrer and found a reproduction of Matania's famous Marcoing painting depicting allied troops. Puzzled by the choice of art, Hitler explained "that man came so near to killing me that I thought I should never see Germany again, providence saved me from such devilishly accurate fire as those English boys were aiming at us". ....

Hitler seized the moment to have his best wishes and gratitude conveyed to Tandey by the Prime Minister, who promised to phone him on his return to London. It wasn't until that time Tandey knew the man he had in his gun sight 20 years earlier was Adolf Hitler and it came as a great shock. Given tensions at the time it wasn't something he felt proud about.

The story first broke in 1940 but no one gave it much thought at the time.... [more]
I've made a few formatting changes and added the Matania painting from an image on the web.

First World War.com - Feature Articles - How a Right Can Make a Wrong

Therapy culture

What are the lessons of the Santa Barbara murders? I'm not sure there are any apart from the need for better police work and, perhaps, rethinking involuntary commitment. Whether it has any direct relationship to that event or not — and it may — I liked the central argument of this essay a lot:
...[O]ne of the main, and most terrifying, achievements of the modern cult of therapy has been to churn out a generation of people completely focused on the self and in constant need of validation from others; a generation that thinks nothing of spending hours examining and talking about their inner lives and who regard their own self-esteem as sacrosanct, something which it is unacceptable for anyone ever to dent or disrespect.

Many thinkers have attacked the therapy industry's creation of a new and ravenous narcissism which demands constant flatter-feeding. In his classic 1979 book The Culture of Narcissism, the great Christopher Lasch said "the contemporary climate is therapeutic, not religious." He said therapy culture, the post-'60s obsession with self-reflection, had created a new "narcissistic personality"; it had given rise to individuals who "depend on others to validate [their] self-esteem" and who "cannot live without an admiring audience." ....

In her powerful essay "The Overpraised American," Christine Rosen said the "overarching goal" of most therapeutic tomes is to teach people "how to love oneself." She quotes one self-help book which advises people to "Have a love affair with yourself!" Rosen writes: "Today's commercialised therapy purveyors all begin with the same premise: Think first of yourself."

The end result is a new generation invited to focus more on their navels, on their apparently fantastically interesting inner selves, rather than on the world around them; a generation encouraged to see any kind of challenge to their self-esteem, whether it's a tough exam, a presumed slight or a difficult, controversial idea, as an intolerable assault on their inner god. As the late American philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain said, the era of therapy has created a "quivering sentimental self that gets uncomfortable very quickly, because this self has to feel good about itself all the time."

Therapy culture has created a new army of little gods made fearsomely angry by any perceived insult against their self-esteem. .... The cult of therapy convinces individuals they are gods and that their self-esteem is a gospel that must not be blasphemed against. As the New York Times columnist David Brooks once said of a therapeutic self-help guide to life, death, and life after death, "In this heaven, God and his glory are not the center of attention. It's all about you." .... [more]

Monday, May 26, 2014

These honored graves


Amy A. Kass and Leon R. Kass, "Take Time to Remember" in The Weekly Standard:
.... Memorial Day, once called Decoration Day, is a post-Civil War holiday. It was first instituted by the Grand Army of the Republic on May 30, 1868, “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.” If the Fourth of July renews the memory of the birth of the nation, Decoration Day renewed the memory of those who gave their lives “that that nation might live,” or again in Lincoln’s words, that this nation would have a new birth of freedom.

On Decoration Day, May 30, 1871, at Arlington National Cemetery, it was an ex-slave named Frederick Douglass who delivered the memorial address near the monument to the “Unknown Loyal Dead,” before a gathering that included President Grant, his cabinet, and many other distinguished people. “Dark and sad,” Douglass began, “will be the hour to this nation when it forgets to pay grateful homage to its greatest benefactors.” Giving eloquent expression to that homage, he concluded: “If today we have a country not boiling in the agony of blood, like France, if now we have a united country, no longer cursed by the hell-black system of human bondage...if the star-spangled banner floats only over free American citizens in every quarter of the land, and our country has before it a long and glorious career of justice, liberty, and civilization, we are indebted to the unselfish devotion of the noble army who rest in these honored graves all around us.”

On this occasion and for the rest of his life, Douglass was at pains to keep alive through speech the memory and meaning of the deeds of that noble army of men who gave their lives to preserve the Union. ....

After World War I, Decoration Day was expanded to commemorate the lives of all those who have died in service to our country. Later, the name of the holiday was changed to Memorial Day; later still, it lost its fixed date in the calendar, celebrated instead on the last Monday in May. ....
Take Time to Remember | The Weekly Standard, May 29, 2011

Sunday, May 25, 2014

War and memory

Re-posted from 2011:

From James D. Hornfischer's reflections on interviewing veterans of World War II:
.... About 1.8 million World War II veterans remain alive today. That's less than half the number of 2003. When these voices go silent, those of us who write about the war will lose the benefit of living engagement. We will work as our Civil War colleagues do: from documents and recordings and nothing else. What will be gone when these are the sole primary sources is not the facts themselves but the spark that can bring them to life. Diaries and oral history transcripts can let us know a man's thoughts and deeds. But truth is also revealed through tone, emotion and context—and it can be plumbed responsively in real time to discover what was most important.

For those of us who have never served in uniform, it's easy to see World War II as a grand, sweeping drama, featuring actors large and small driven by a sense of overriding mission, all sins and failings vindicated by victory. Yet for the veterans I meet, the war is often about something else entirely. Any talk of it brings them back to a single, pervasive memory sequence: a moment of impossible decision or helplessness when, through their action or inaction, they believe, a comrade paid the eternal price. They can't talk about the war without reliving their powerlessness to influence its predations, without revealing how it changed them. ....

Those veterans who stand away from the crowd or shun the opportunity to speak are of special interest to me. The distance in their eyes shows that they're still in the grip of what they've seen. While talking to them can be like trying to squeeze water from a stone, if you stay with it you can tap something deeply revealing. "The thing that comes out of it is, if you survive, there's a purpose," Bud Comet told me. "You see why you survived. I feel like maybe God had other purposes for me." There was nothing trite in the manner of his expression. This was the considered conclusion of years, the product of the horror of survival at sea. .... [more]
Today I started to re-read the first volume of Bruce Catton's The Army of the Potomac. In the 1962 preface he remembered Civil War veterans he encountered in his boyhood:
...[O]nce, ages ago, they had been everywhere and had seen everything, and nothing that happened to them thereafter meant anything much. All that was real had taken place when they were young; everything after that had simply been a process of waiting for death, which did not frighten them much—they had seen it inflicted in the worst possible way on boys who had not bargained for it, and they had enough of the old-fashioned religion to believe without any question that when they passed over they would simply be rejoining men and ways of living which they had known long ago.

.... A generation grew up in the shadow of a war which, because of its distance, somehow had lost all resemblance to everyday reality. To a generation which knew the war only by hearsay, it seemed that these aged veterans had been privileged to know the greatest experience a man could have. We saw the Civil War, in other words, through the distorting haze of endless Decoration Day reminiscences; to us it was a romantic business because all we ever got a look at was the legend built up through fifty years of peace.

We do learn as we grow older, and eventually I realized that this picture was somewhat out of focus. War, obviously, is the least romantic of all of man's activities, and it contains elements which the veterans do not describe to children.  ....

Yet, in an odd way, the old veterans did leave one correct impression: the notion that as young men they had been caught up by something ever so much larger than themselves and that the war in which they fought did settle something for us—or, incredibly, started something which we ourselves have got to finish. It was not only the biggest experience in their own lives; it was in a way the biggest experience in our life as a nation, and it deserves all of the study it is getting. ....
A Memorial Day Look at the World War II Generation - WSJ.com, Bruce Catton, Mr. Lincoln's Army, 1962.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Order and liberty

A high school debate partner introduced me to National Review. A short time later I discovered the back files of the magazine dating from its creation in the college library. Those early issues of the magazine differed from the magazine today in some of their emphases. There was comment on the political issues of the day as there has always been but also a lot of space devoted to defining what exactly was American conservatism. William F. Buckley, Jr., the editor, was attempting to bring together several strands of political and economic thought and the contributors to the magazine were fairly diverse. Their debates were interesting to me, and fun to read. There were traditional conservatives like Russell Kirk and Garry Wills (as he then was). There were libertarians like Murray Rothbard. And then there were those who argued for "Fusionism," for an approach that reconciled the contesting positions, the most prominent of which was Frank S. Meyer. That was the version I found most persuasive. Those tensions remain today. In "Fusionism As Foundation" Brandon James Smith argues that Fusionism remains the best solution to these tensions and quotes one of Meyer's summaries of the position:
Frank Meyer provided the basic elements of what he described as the American Conservative Position. These shared principles are:
  1. Belief in objective moral order
  2. Acknowledgment of the individual “as the necessary center of political and social thought”
  3. Rejection of the use of the State to impose uniform ideology
  4. Rejection of collectivism and central planning
  5. Support for the Constitution, and by extension, the limitation of government power
  6. Strong defense of Western civilization against Communism
Though these principles were often stated differently, Meyer accurately described these principles as a “consensus among divergence.” The divergences among those on the right are little more than differences in the emphasis placed on particular principles, according to Meyer. .... [more]
These debates in the pages of National Review were my introduction to political theory, led me to books providing a more in depth understanding, and finally to a subject that has occupied much of both my formal education and subsequent reading.

The book What Is Conservatism? edited by Frank S. Meyer, collecting some of the essays, was published in 1964. I bought it second-hand a few years later.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

An Inklings parlor game

When the Inklings gathered the usual routine was for one of them to read from something on which he was working. Apparently, when none were prepared to present, Irene Iddesleigh would sometimes be brought out. The game was to see how much could be read without someone bursting out in laughter. David Bentley Hart introduced me to this work by Amanda McKittrick Ros in a First Things essay a couple of years ago and I immediately downloaded the book for my Kindle. I have now also found it at ManyBooks where it is a free download and is described as "The story of a marriage doomed from the first moment by unrequited love."

From a review at ManyBooks:
I can cheerfully say that this is the worst novel ever written. I thoroughly recommend it to everyone who likes a laugh. I re-read several passages in astonishment at their awfulness. She [Ros] has heard about adjectives and alliteration and uses the two devices endlessly. ....
Hart quotes several passages from that book and others, from among which:
When on the eve of glory, whilst brooding over the prospects of a bright and happy future, whilst meditating upon the risky right of justice, there we remain, wanderers on the cloudy surface of mental woe, disappointment and danger, inhabitants of the grim sphere of anticipated imagery, partakers of the poisonous dregs of concocted injustice. Yet such is life.

“Speak! Irene! Wife! Woman! Do not sit in silence and allow the blood that now boils in my veins to ooze through cavities of unrestrained passion and trickle down to drench me with its crimson hue!”
Hart also notes Ros's poetry:
...[S]he printed a few broadsheets for the troops during the Great War, one of which featured her poem “A Little Belgian Orphan,” a tale of German atrocities that begins with the extraordinary line “Daddy was a Belgian and so was Mammy too,” and that includes such plangent couplets as “Just then they raised the little lad and threw him on the fire, / And wreathed in smiles they watched him burn until he did expire.” [more]
I found these poetic efforts, the first being the final verse of "A Little Belgian Orphan":
Go! Meet the foe undaunted, they're rotten cowards all,
Present to them the bayonet, they totter and they fall,
We know you'll do your duty and come to little harm
And if you meet the Kaiser, cut off his other arm.
And after visiting Westminster Abbey, where a lot of people are in fact interred:
Holy Moses! Have a look!
Flesh decayed in every nook!
Some rare bits of brain lie here,
Mortal loads of beef and beer,
Some of whom are turned to dust,
Every one bids lost to lust;
Royal flesh so tinged with 'blue'
Undergoes the same as you.
So if conversation lags open Irene Iddesleigh, read it aloud, and see whether you can retain your composure better than Lewis or Tolkien .


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

"That invisible man, Kemp, must now establish a Reign of Terror."

Another great book available free as an eBook is The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells:
THE STRANGER came early in February one wintry day, through a biting wind and a driving snow, the last snowfall of the year, over the down, walking as it seemed from Bramblehurst railway station and carrying a little black portmanteau in his thickly gloved hand. He was wrapped up from head to foot, and the brim of his soft felt hat hid every inch of his face but the shiny tip of his nose; the snow had piled itself against his shoulders and chest, and added a white crest to the burden he carried. He staggered into the Coach and Horses, more dead than alive as it seemed, and flung his portmanteau down. “A fire,” he cried, “in the name of human charity! A room and a fire!” He stamped and shook the snow from off himself in the bar, and followed Mrs. Hall into her guest parlour to strike his bargain. And with that much introduction, that and a ready acquiescence to terms and a couple of sovereigns flung upon the table, he took up his quarters in the inn. .... [more]
Download The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. The illustration, of course, is a poster for a movie version of the story.

"Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees..."

One of the reasons I enjoy Kevin DeYoung so much is my sense that what he writes is both biblically informed and doctrinally balanced. He also seems to me a good example of one who hears what his critics mean and responds with clarity. For instance, "The Grace that Saves Is the Grace that Leads Us Home." Excerpts:
If we are faithful parents, faithful mentors, and faithful preachers, we will gladly teach with all our might that Christ made propitiation for the sins of his people (Heb. 2:17), that we can with confidence draw near to the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16), that Christ is the mediator of a new and better covenant (Heb. 9:15), that Christ offered up his body once to bear the sins of many (Heb. 9:28), and that we should not be sluggish (Heb. 6:12), that we must not go on sinning deliberately (Heb. 10:26), that we must run with endurance the race set before us (Heb. 12:1), and that we should strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). ....

There is no plausible way to read the Bible and conclude that God working in us absolves us from working hard, no responsible way to think that exhortation and exertion are anything other than essential to a life of discipleship.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:10 “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
  • Philippians 2:12-13 “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
  • Colossians 1:29 “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
  • 2 Peter 1:5 “For this reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge…” ....
If as a preacher I tell you that you can be justified by works of the law, I should be damned (Gal. 1:8,9; 2:16). And if I never tell you to flee from sin (1 Cor. 6:18), never warn you about persisting in sin (1 John 3:4-10), never implore you to no longer keep on sinning (Heb. 10:26), never plead with you to pluck out your eye (Mark 9:47), never let you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9), never urge you to lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees (Heb. 12:12-17), then you may be damned. .... [more]

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Isaac Watts and Joseph Stennett

From The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts and of particular interest to Seventh Day Baptists:
London in Watts' day was a city of great preachers, and he and his friends were determined to hear as many of them, and as often, as they could manage. Watts wrote of John Howe, the awe-invoking former chaplain to Oliver Cromwell; of Thomas Gouge, who preached at the meetinghouse on Thames Street; and of Joseph Stennett, preacher at Pinner's Hall and author of the hymn "O Blessed Savior, Is Thy Love." His grandson Samuel Stennett would author the better-known hymn "Majestic Sweetness Sits Enthroned"; both grandfather and grandson wrote on themes that would occupy Watts' pen as a hymn writer. [links added]
More on Joseph Stennett here and both Joseph and Samuel.

"He poured out His fury..."

Drew Dyck at Christianity Today reminds us that God is not tame:
We evangelicals love talking about God's love. Just drop in on one of our church services and listen. You'll hear worship choruses dripping with lyrics that border on romantic. The sermon will gush with assurances of God's affection. While such affirmations are good—we need reminders of God's love—rarely do we speak of God's majesty, let alone whisper a word about his wrath. Among young Christians, this one-sided view of God is especially striking. Jesus is a homeboy or boyfriend. God is the big guy upstairs. Talk of divine holiness is dismissed as legalistic or judgmental.

The Bible, however, describes God in sobering terms. Among the myriad titles given, he is called "a consuming fire," "Judge of all the earth," and the "Lord of hosts"—a title that portrays God poised for battle, at the head of a heavenly army. In addition, the Bible stresses God's discontinuity with humankind. "God is not human that he should..." is almost a refrain in Scripture. .... God is radically different from us, in degree and kind. He is ontologically dissimilar, wholly other, dangerous, alien, holy, wild.

When God shows up in Scripture, people cower and tremble. They go mute. The ones who manage speech fall into despair. Fainters abound. Take the prophet Daniel. He could stare down lions, but when the heavens opened, he swooned. Ezekiel, too, was overwhelmed by his vision of God. .... [more]

Monday, May 19, 2014

"May you have a strong foundation"

Professor James B. LaGrand explains his choice of activity for the final session of his class before commencement:
...[I]n recent years I’ve often ended my last class meeting of the year by sharing a song with my students–Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.” I don’t choose it because it’s current or “relevant” as we tend to use this word. It’s an old song, ancient even from the perspective of students. Dylan recorded it for his 1974 album Planet Waves. At the time, Dylan was (as always) out of step with many of his musician friends and colleagues. In the mid-1960s, he turned away from politics and the limelight generally. After a traumatic motorcycle accident, he settled down, started reading the Bible voraciously, and focused attention on his growing family. This is one of the reasons many fans and students of Dylan view “Forever Young” as a song from father to child.

However, the song can also be heard as a benedictory prayer for young adults preparing to enter the next stage of their lives–whether more schooling or work or the unknown. That’s the spirit in which I share it with my students. .... [more]
Forever Young by Bob Dylan on Grooveshark
May God bless and keep you always    
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
May you stay forever young
 
May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
May you stay forever young 
May you stay forever young
 
May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the light surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
May you stay forever young
 

The overprotected child

This study indicates that parents overprotect their children while simultaneously recognizing that it is probably ill-equipping  them for adulthood.
...[N]early all respondents remember childhoods of nearly unlimited freedom, when they could ride bicycles and wander through woods, streets, and parks unmonitored by their parents. Many parents remember being instructed to “come home when the street lights go on.” ....

The geographic space in which children are permitted to travel free of adult supervision also appears to be shrinking. One report from the United Kingdom followed four generations of one family in one town, and demonstrated a contracting radius of freedom from the great-grandfather—who as an 8-year-old in 1926 was permitted to walk six miles to a favorite fishing hole—to the 8-year-old son in 2007 who was only allowed to walk by himself to the end of his street, about 300 yards. ....

Why can’t parents imagine giving their own children the kind of freedom they experienced as kids?

For one, parents today perceive the world to be much more dangerous than it was thirty or forty years ago. .... But these media-induced perceptions do not always match reality.

.... Crimes against children are...difficult to measure. Incidents of “substantiated child maltreatment” are declining. Between 1992 and 2010, the prevalence of sexual abuse fell by 62 percent, physical abuse fell 56 percent and neglect fell 10 percent. Although child abduction rates are complex and difficult to track, they also appear to be in decline in recent decades.

Nevertheless, the human imagination is a powerful force, and perceptions have a way of structuring the parameters of social life and interactions. ....

...[A]t the same time parents significantly limit the freedom and autonomy of their kids, they also want their kids to “think for themselves” and be independent. The same parents that won’t let their child out of their sight want her to be independent, make her own decisions, and think for herself. Parents value autonomy and independence, but they’re reluctant and frightened to give much of it. .... [more]

Sung worship

Until the end of May The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond can be downloaded, free, for eReaders. This is another book I have just begun and it begins promisingly. From the Preface:
Just as the medieval church cut off the congregation from participating in the sung worship of the service, today many well-meaning Christian leaders have reconstructed a sung worship wherein congregational participation does not matter. We sit or stand as our medieval forbears did and watch others sing for us. .... Such a venue, produces a response in the hearer, one super-charged with raw emotion, but I wonder whether it is an emotional response produced by a mind renewed by deep consideration of the objective truths of the gospel of grace or by the music itself.

Watts clearly understood all this. He no doubt learned it from the Psalms and perhaps from John Calvin's preface to his commentary on the Psalms:
We know by experience that singing has great force and vigor to move and inflame the hearts of men to invoke and praise God with a more vehement and ardent zeal. Care must always be taken that the song be neither light nor frivolous; but that it have weight and majesty (as St. Augustine says), and also, there is a great difference between music which one makes to entertain men at table and in their houses, and the Psalms which are sung in the Church in the presence of God and his angels.
In an age of entertainment-driven worship, a recovered appreciation of Watts as a hymn writer is critical to correcting the "light" and "frivolous" tendencies of the postmodern church, and perhaps the dark and edgy ones, too. Every biblically mature generation in the church will want to contribute poetry and music to the church's worship but, alas, so will every biblically immature one. Watts makes an excellent role model to guide the new generations of poets who presume to write lyrics for the corporate worship of God's people.

Instead of letting his son be guided by the transient poetic and music appetites of the moment, Watts' father taught him who must guide his pen:
In ancient times God's
   worship did accord,
Not with tradition, but the
   written word;
Himself has told us how He'll
   be adored.
Watts got his father's message: what Christians sing in worship must be guided by what God has revealed about how we are to sing to such a God. Watts mastered the poetic gift with which he was entrusted and earned the undisputed title "the Father of English Hymnody." ....
Free download of The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts

Sunday, May 18, 2014

"Whoever will be saved..."

I continue to read Know the Creeds and Councils by Justin Holcomb and find it both an easy read and very informative. I've reached Chapter 5 in the book about the "Athanasian Creed," composed some time in the 5th or 6th centuries. The creed begins:
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. .... [the creed]
Holcomb explains why this creed is important including, toward the end of the chapter, this:
.... Why should we have to believe these particular things to be saved? For centuries, scholars and Christian leaders have expressed their discontent with the confident proclamation that to believe these things is to be saved, but to deny them is to "assuredly perish eternally." .... We have a hard time accepting that eternal damnation is the potential result for any human being. This creed serves to remind us of that fact. Even its damnatory clauses are helpful "in the reminder they give of the awful responsibility of making the right decision in matters of fundamental belief."

The Christian faith is not only a matter of the heart, an exercise in sentimentality, for "Christian faith is a matter of the, mind as well as the heart and the will, and as thinking persons we must give intellectual expression to our faith." Still it does not demand blind acceptance to empty propositions. It is concerned with the direction of our souls. To paraphrase Philip Schaff, the point of the creed is not that we are saved by memorizing a set of statements, but that we are saved by trusting in the one who has revealed himself. Trusting in him, as far as he has told us about himself, is what saves, while straying from him is what condemns. The Athanasian Creed points us to the identity of the one who saves. [emphasis added]
Know the Creeds and Councils by Justin S. Holcomb

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A book to consider

Vintage Novels is one of the sites I frequently visit. Suzannah Rowntree, whose site it is, is a Christian who offers her evaluations of books that are not only good reading but books that see life through a Christian lens. She has just published a collection of her reflections titled War Games: Classic Fiction for the Christian Life:
.... Fiction with a solid Christian worldview drills us in right action and reaction in a host of different circumstances. It runs war games for the Christian life, showing how wisdom might apply in hypothetical scenarios. It prepares us for battle.

Journey through eighteen classic works of fiction from Beowulf and Njal’s Saga to Mansfield Park and The Lord of the Rings, discovering the exceptional wisdom hidden inside the world’s best-loved stories.
The books she considers are:
  • Beowulf
  • Njal's Saga
  • The Faerie Queene
  • The Taming of the Shrew
  • The Pilgrim's Progress
  • Mansfield Park
  • Framley Parsonage
  • Saint Bartholomew's Eve
  • The Napoleon of Notting Hill
  • The Man Who Was Thursday
  • Salute to Adventurers
  • The Dancing Floor
  • All Hallows' Eve
  • The Hobbit
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • Out of the Silent Planet
  • Perelandra
  • That Hideous Strength
I just got the Kindle edition. I've read many already at Vintage Novels, enjoyed them, agreed with her evaluations of those I have read, and assume the rest will be as good.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Be of good courage

This morning at the "Anxious Bench" Philip Jenkins quotes a passage from a World War I era novel:
Religion is the first thing and the last thing, and until a 
man has found God and been found by God, he begins at no beginning, he works to no end. He may have his friendships, his partial loyalties, his scraps of honour. But all these things fall into place and life falls into place only with God. Only with God. God, who fights through men against Blind Force and Night and Non-Existence; who is the end, who is the meaning. He is the only King.... It was as if he had been groping all this time in the darkness, thinking himself alone amidst rocks and pitfalls and pitiless things, and suddenly a hand, a firm strong hand, had touched his own. And a voice within him bade him be of good courage.... God was beside him and within him and about him.
Jenkins then challenges his readers to identify the author, someone well-known then and later as a non-believer. The blog entry identifies the extremely unlikely author of the passage.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Saved by grace

Jeffrey Hart on Samuel Johnson including this about his fear of death and damnation:
.... For much of his adult life, Johnson appears to have believed that he was literally damned. .... The scholar Maurice Quinlan has demonstrated how Johnson was at least partially relieved of this terror. Taking very seriously the teaching of the theologian William Law, Johnson for years believed that one must “imitate Christ” in order to be saved. Needless to say, that is a tall order. But then Johnson was instructed by another theologian that there is a different economy of salvation. The eccentric Samuel Clarke persuaded Johnson that the grace conferred by Christ could absolve even the sins of one Sam Johnson, whatever they were.

The emotional energy and eloquence of Johnson’s prayers must strike us as startling. In his religious passion, he seems less a man of his own time than a contemporary of men such as Donne and Herbert:
O Lord, our heavenly father, almighty and most merciful God, in whose hands are life and death, who givest and takest away, castest down and raisest up, look with mercy on the affliction of thy unworthy servant, turn away thine anger from me, and speak peace to my troubled soul. Grant me the assistance and comfort of thy Holy Spirit, that I may remember with thankfulness the blessings so long enjoyed by me in the society of my departed wife.
Elizabeth Johnson had died in 1752, about a month before Johnson uttered this prayer. ....

These afflictions seriously tormented a man who had one of the most powerful intellects of his time but also a tortured spirit. Johnson’s prayers should not be omitted from any consideration of him, for they are among the most eloquent devotional writing we have. .... [more]
Although out of print Daily Readings in the Prayers of Samuel Johnson with an introduction by Elton Trueblood can be found inexpensively from the online second-hand book dealers at Alibris.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Inklings

Yesterday I posted excerpts from a C.S. Lewis essay that I found online at this site: The Inklings - Tolkien, Lewis, Williams, Barfield, et al. The site's self-description:
This website includes information and resources on the informal Oxford literary group, the Inklings. The Inklings included two of the most important writers of the twentieth century, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, the authors of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, respectively. Other key members of the Inklings were Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, Christopher Tolkien (J.R.R. Tolkien's son), Warren "Warnie" Lewis (C.S. Lewis's brother), Adam Fox, Hugo Dyson, R.A. "Humphrey" Havard, J.A.W. Bennett, Lord David Cecil, Nevill Coghill, Charles Leslie Wrenn, Colin Hardie, James Dundas-Grant, John Wain, R.B. McCallum, Gervase Mathew, Percy Bates, and C.E. Stevens. C.S. Lewis's friends, Roger Lancelyn Green and Dorothy Sayers, are often also associated with the Inklings.
I expect I will be returning.

Among the things I found there:

Monday, May 12, 2014

"I detest theocracy"

C.S. Lewis generally avoided commenting on the political controversies of his day. He usually didn't read newspapers and declined Winston Churchill's invitation to the Honours List because he didn't want to be perceived as a political partisan. But that hesitancy doesn't mean that his opinions had (or have) no political relevance. John Daniel Davidson's essay here called my attention to C.S. Lewis's 1958 column "Willing Slaves of the Welfare State" from which:
.... The increasing complexity and precariousness of our economic life have forced Government to take over many spheres of activity once left to choice or chance. Our intellectuals have surrendered first to the slave-philosophy of Hegel, then to Marx, finally to the linguistic analysts.

As a result, classical political theory, with its Stoical, Christian, and juristic key-conceptions (natural law, the value of the individual, the rights of man), has died. The modern State exists not to protect our rights but to do us good or make us good — anyway, to do something to us or to make us something. .... There is nothing left of which we can say to them, 'Mind your own business.' Our whole lives are their business. ....

I believe a man is happier, and happy in a richer way, if he has 'the freeborn mind'. But I doubt whether he can have this without economic independence, which the new society is abolishing. For economic independence allows an education not controlled by Government; and in adult life it is the man who needs, and asks, nothing of Government who can criticise its acts and snap his fingers at its ideology. ....

I do not like the pretensions of Government — the grounds on which it demands my obedience — to be pitched too high. I don't like the medicine-man's magical pretensions nor the Bourbon's Divine Right. .... I believe in God, but I detest theocracy. For every Government consists of mere men and is, strictly viewed, a makeshift; if it adds to its commands 'Thus saith the Lord', it lies, and lies dangerously.

On just the same ground I dread government in the name of science. That is how tyrannies come in. In every age the men who want us under their thumb, if they have any sense, will put forward the particular pretension which the hopes and fears of that age render most potent. They 'cash in'. It has been magic, it has been Christianity. Now it will certainly be science. ....

The question about progress has become the question whether we can discover any way of submitting to the worldwide paternalism of a technocracy without losing all personal privacy and independence. Is there any possibility of getting the super Welfare State's honey and avoiding the sting?

Let us make no mistake about the sting. .... To live his life in his own way, to call his house his castle, to enjoy the fruits of his own labour, to educate his children as his conscience directs, to save for their prosperity after his death — these are wishes deeply ingrained in civilised man. Their realization is almost as necessary to our virtues as to our happiness. ....

.... Let us not be deceived by phrases about 'Man taking charge of his own destiny'. All that can really happen is that some men will take charge of the destiny of the others. They will be simply men; none perfect; some greedy, cruel and dishonest. The more completely we are planned the more powerful they will be. Have we discovered some new reason why, this time, power should not corrupt as it has done before? [more]

Sunday, May 11, 2014

An adventure in Ruritania

Another free eBook is The Prisoner of Zenda: Being the History of Three Months in the Life of an English Gentleman by Anthony Hope, accurately described in a comment at ManyBooks as "One of the first great thrillers, and still one of the best." The description at goodreads:
Anthony Hope's swashbuckling romance transports his English gentleman hero, Rudolf Rassendyll, from a comfortable life in London to fast-moving adventures in Ruritania, a mythical land steeped in political intrigue. Rassendyll bears a striking resemblance to Rudolf Elphberg who is about to be crowned King of Ruritania. When the rival to the throne, Black Michael of Strelsau, attempts to seize power by imprisoning Elphberg in the Castle of Zenda, Rassendyll is obliged to impersonate the King to uphold the rightful sovereignty and ensure political stability. Rassendyll endures a trial of strength in his encounters with the notorious Rupert of Hentzau, and a test of a different sort as he grows to love the Princess Flavia. Five times filmed, The Prisoner of Zenda has been deservedly popular as a classic of romance and adventure since its publication in 1894. [more]
My favorite of the film versions is the one made in 1937 starring Ronald Colman, Madeleine Carroll, David Niven, Raymond Massey, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

Rupert of Hentzau is a sequel, also available as a free eBook download.

The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope - Free eBook

A white carnation

 
Several of the sites I visited today said that the custom of wearing carnations on Mother's Day dated to the beginning of the observance. Anna Jarvis's mother's favorite flower was the carnation. Florists were responsible for the distinction between red and white carnations — red if your mother is living, white if she has been "promoted to glory" — because of a shortage of white carnations. If I were wearing one today it would be white.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Ruggles of Red Gap

I find that Ruggles of Red Gap is available as a free eBook. I haven't read the book but the 1935 film starring Charles Laughton in the title role is one of my favorite comedies.

IMDb describes the film thus:
While visiting Paris in 1908, upper class Lord Burnstead loses his butler playing poker. Egbert and Effie Floud bring Ruggles back to Red Gap, Washington. Effie wants to take advantage of Ruggles' upper class background to influence Egbert's hick lifestyle. However, Egbert is more interested in partying and he takes Ruggles to the local 'beer bust'. When word gets out that "Colonel Ruggles is staying with his close friends" in the local paper, the butler becomes a town celebrity. After befriending Mrs. Judson, a widow who he impresses with his culinary skills, Ruggles decides to strike out on his own and open a restaurant.
The film is also available as an Amazon Instant Video. The most famous scene in the film is probably this one:


By some accounts Charles Laughton would insist on reciting the Address to fellow cast members of every one of his subsequent films.

Drifting

Someone paid Hunter Baker's entry fee to attend the most recent "Q" conference. I had never heard of "Q" and so found his "Thinking About Q Nashville: Reflections from a Gen X Evangelical" both informative, interesting, and a bit troubling. (I also came across "A Crash Course in Q" at First Things.) From Baker:
.... When I look at Q, its hosts, and the young people participating in it, I suspect I am seeing the cultural stance of those who have grown up in pervasively Christian subcultures. For them, rebelling means rebelling against Massive Baptist Church or Church Related University or Clearly Wealthy Famous Preacherman. Those are the holders of power in their world. It is little wonder to them that the dominant culture dislikes us. We are hypocrites. We don’t measure up to our own standards. And we are judgmental while the secular world is more understanding. Or so it seems to them.

But things look different from where I stand. I grew up as mainstream as mainstream gets. The big television networks, Sports Illustrated (and its swimsuit issue), People Magazine, Dave Letterman’s show, the newspaper funny pages — these are the influences that thoroughly defined my view of the world. I was aware of Christianity in a typical American and southern way, but it was just a given. It wasn’t anything I was very interested in or excited about. It was a cultural artifact. When I went to Florida State and moved into a dorm on campus, a couple of big things happened. First, I saw the way people live when they live in a thoroughly worldly manner. The drugs, the alcohol, the casual sex, the treatment of young women, the living for parties, etc. Second, I met the first really intentional Christians I’d ever known through Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. They were serious. They talked about Jesus Christ as a real person in their lives. They didn’t live a party lifestyle. They saved sex for marriage. They were interested in reading the Bible carefully and learning about theologians. And they were really just totally and obviously different from everyone else on campus. I was impressed. And when I finally joined them, I felt as though I stepped from a meaningless life with no future into something real and vital and with a destiny to it. For that reason, I was then and am now perfectly willing to be seen as other and alien by the dominant culture.

I think the kids who grew up in the Christian subculture often don’t have that same perspective. They are tired of being different, of fighting against broad cultural currents. They can just fight against evangelicalism by somehow reprising the fundamentalist-modernist controversy in a new way. And the great thing is, they keep one foot in the world of faith and one in the more fashionable world. But those two feet are differently situated. One stands on a dock. The other on a boat slowly drifting away. A choice is imminent. Where will they be standing ten years from now? [more]
A couple of days ago Trevin Wax reviewed a new book, When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus, about how most white southern Christians responded to slavery and later to segregation, From that review:
The Church is supposed to live in a way that deliberately challenges and subverts the dominant idolatries of the culture. Unfortunately, the culture too often subverts the Church. When this happens, the Church's witness is harmed and evil flourishes.

I belong to a denomination sadly familiar with the reality of cultural subversion. During much of the past century, Southern Baptists and other evangelicals in the South failed to embrace the full implications of their gospel of grace. Evangelicals accommodated the surrounding culture at the very points we should have challenged it. ....

Where was the church? Most pastors and members of white churches across the South were largely silent regarding the racist violence in their midst, neither condoning nor condemning the evil, and thus becoming complicit in the injustice. While most evangelicals weren't active participants in the fight against racial equality, they were content to quietly support the established culture of the South. Put simply, "culture trumped Christ."

Why was the church disengaged? Alan traces the roots of the conflict back to economic considerations, or to put it in biblical terms — Mammon. The idolatry stretches back to the beginning of our country:
"The economic and social/cultural need for black slavery came first and then the theological justification came later. The colonists used God to defend and promote what they wanted. They used God and the Bible as a means to an end of defending and promoting their goals or way of life."
White Southerners didn't always see slavery as desirable, but because the Southern economy and culture depended on the practice, they couldn't imagine life without it. So, in order to justify their cultural accommodation, Southern Christians went back to the Bible and began to develop "biblical" defenses of racial superiority (the curse of Ham, the Tower of Babel, applying biblical references to slavery in ancient times to permanent, race-based slavery). .... [more]
Each generation of Christians must consider whether to stand with or against the dominant trends of the culture.  I'm reminded, as I often am, of Chesterton's "A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it."

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Thousands of free eBooks


I've referred to these sites before but repeat myself in case you read eBooks but haven't seen what is available free yet. Don't deprive yourself.
The books are free in the United States because their American copyrights have expired but that might not be the case elsewhere in the world.

Keeping the Sabbath holy

Via Trevin Wax and Baptist Twenty One, some free online e-books, among which is J.I. Packer's Keeping the Ten Commandments. This is a short book, intended for small group study and including questions for discussion. It is quite good, as one expects from Packer. I was — naturally — curious about how Packer would handle the Fourth Commandment. He describes three views on observance of the Sabbath: the idea that the commandment is now abolished, that it has been transferred to the "Lord's day," i.e. Sunday, and that some (he mentions Seventh-day Adventists) continue to keep Sabbath on the original Sabbath. Part of what he writes on the subject:
...[I]f the Lord's day is the Christian Sabbath, how do we keep it holy? Answer—by behaving as Jesus did. His Sabbaths were days not for idle amusement, but for worshiping God and doing good—what the Shorter Catechism calls "works of necessity and mercy" (see Luke 4:16; 13:10-17; 14:1-6). Freedom from secular chores secures freedom to serve the Lord on his own day. Matthew Henry says that the Sabbath was made a day of holy rest so that it might be a day of holy work. From this holy work, in our sedentary and lonely world, physical recreation and family fun will not be excluded, but worship and Christian fellowship will come first.

Inferences from these three questions may be disputable, but the underlying principle is clear—namely, that we must honor God not only by our loyalty (first commandment) and thought-life (second commandment) and words (third commandment), but also by our use of time, in a rhythm of toil and rest—six days for work crowned by one day for worship. God's claim on our Sabbaths reminds us that all our time is his gift, to be given back to him and used for him. "Take my life" includes "take my moments and my days—take my time, all of it." This is where true obedience to the fourth commandment begins. ....
The book can be downloaded from The Gospel Project here. I downloaded it as ePub and then converted it to Kindle format using calibre, a very useful free program — available for several operating systems — for managing e-books.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Sustained by dull habit

D.G. Myers explains why "dull habit" is a better basis for a firm foundation in faith than relying on emotional experience. An example from prisoners in the Nazi death camps:
.... Prisoners who were committed to a reality beyond the camp—“militant Marxists, sectarian Jehovah’s Witnesses, practicing Catholics,” and of course Orthodox Jews—were more likely to survive or at least “died with more dignity than their irreligious and unpolitical intellectual comrades, who often were infinitely better educated and more practiced in exact thinking.” Believing in another reality (God’s love, the brit olam with the Jewish people, the final victory of Communism) they were able to detach themselves from conditions in Auschwitz that defy the imagination. “The grip of the horror reality,” Améry concludes, “was weaker where from the start reality had been placed in the framework of an unalterable idea.”

The function of transcendence in the religious life is to lay the foundation of an unalterable idea. The framework, though—the daily commitment to the idea—becomes what Lightman calls the “most persuasive evidence of God.” Transcendence is a glimpse of the reality created and sustained by dull habit. .... [more]

Friday, May 2, 2014

Teaching and admonishing in song

Tim Challies, this morning, on singing in worship and particularly on one of the reasons to sing that we may forget:
Christians sing. As far as I know, there are not too many faiths whose adherents make congregational singing an integral part of their worship. But when Christians gather to worship, they inevitably sing. Colossians 3:16 gives Christians their orders: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” ....

I think there is one part of this verse we tend to overlook: the “one another.” If I could distill this verse down to its essence I would do it like this: We sing from the gospel, for one another, to the Lord. ....

...[W]hen we stand and sing as a community of Christians, we are teaching and admonishing one another. When we stand and sing, we are not only singing to God, but are also singing for one another. When I sing, I am teaching and admonishing you; when you sing, you are teaching and admonishing me. ....

...[W]hen I sing, “Come, Ye Sinners” I will be singing it with an awareness that those words are falling on sin-deafened ears as a call from me to the person who remains lost in his sin. “Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity, love and power.” So turn to him! Don’t delay! .... [more]
The Least-Sung Song | Challies Dot Com

Thursday, May 1, 2014

"To know nothing of what happened before you were born is to forever remain a child."

Matt Smethurst uses the quotation from Cicero above to introduce his interview with Justin Holcomb, author of two new books, Know the Creeds and Councils and Know the Heretics. A few quotations from the interview may be sufficient to explain why I have already purchased the Kindle editions of the books.
Are the creeds and confessions we already have sufficient, or do we need more?

I think we're just fine with the creeds we currently have, but more confessions would be a good thing. ....

Creeds distinguish orthodoxy from heresy (or Christian faith from non-Christian faith). Confessions distinguish denominational distinctives (or one type of Christian faith from another type of Christian faith).

Christian confessions often define a particular group's belief on secondary issues such as infant baptism, the end times, predestination, the Lord's Supper, and the order of salvation. While the creeds aimed to preserve "the faith delivered for all time," confessions tried to apply the faith to the here and now.

Did the early church accept the councils as authoritative like we do? If not, how should that affect the way we view the creeds?

There are seven ecumenical councils that every branch of the church recognizes today, whether Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant.

The first recorded instance of a church council is found in the New Testament. The Jerusalem Council is the name given to the meeting of church leaders....

...Paul saw the Jerusalem Council as authoritative in some sense but not ultimately so. His appeal was to God's revelation as the arbiter of truth, not to a human decision at a council.

I believe that the creeds produced by the ecumenical councils are authoritative, but just not the final or only authority.

Is the "Great Tradition," as the collection of early creeds are often called, sufficient for Christian unity?

It is necessary but not sufficient. My understanding of "Christian unity" includes doctrine but also other things that bind us together, such as practice, prayer, and love. Basically, I don't think it's enough to define "Christian unity" as saying the Nicene Creed without crossing your fingers. ....

Which heresy is most "live" today, even if in slightly repackaged form? How about one on the horizon?

Repackaged teachings from Pelagius and Socinus are the most "live" today. .... [more]
And he explains what those heresies are. It isn't difficult to see how they appear in our day.