Thursday, May 31, 2007

"Laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ"

In the course of the Seventh Day Baptist debate about our affiliation with the Baptist Joint Committee, the BJC's approach to the "establishment clause" of the First Amendment has been a central issue. The "wall of separation" metaphor used by Jefferson has been often cited. Historical context is provided at The Wittenberg Door :
.... Back in 1791, the year the First Amendment was ratified, 9 of the 13 state governments had official, tax-supported churches. Since the amendment was seen as only applying to the federal government, nobody believed that there was any conflict—nobody, that is, except for Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut.

The Connecticut state constitution endorsed Congregationalism. Although the Baptists were tolerated, they had serious concerns about discrimination; they were also concerned that the state government would start interfering with the operation of the church. So, in 1801, the Danbury Baptist Association took a bold step and wrote to the newly elected
President of the United States—Thomas Jefferson.
Our Sentiments are uniformly on the side of Religious Liberty – That Religion is at all times and places a Matter between God and Individuals – That no man ought to suffer in Name, person or effects on account of his religious Opinions – That the legitimate Power of civil Government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbour: But Sir our constitution of government is not specific. Our antient charter, together with the Laws made coincident therewith, were adopted as the Basis of our government at the time of our revolution; and such had been our laws & usages, & such still are; that Religion is considered as the first object of Legislation; & therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights: and these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgements, as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen. It is not to be wondered at therefore; if those who seek after power & gain under the pretence of government & Religion should reproach their fellow men – should reproach their chief Magistrate, as an enemy of religion Law & good order because he will not, dares not assume the prerogative of Jehovah and make Laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.
Thomas Jefferson agreed with the Baptists that it was inappropriate for the state to interfere with maters of conscience, faith, and worship.
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
If we are to use the term “separation between Church & State,” we must do so honestly, keeping the original context in mind: Thomas Jefferson was writing to Baptists who were being persecuted by an officially Congregationalist state government. Thus, he was not calling for a wall that protected the government from the church, but the church from the government—an important point to remember when discussing this topic.
Source: The Wittenberg Door: Separation of church and state

Presidents and religious faith

Michael Beschloss writes about how religious faith affected the decisions of several Presidents, including Lincoln, Reagan and, in this excerpt, Truman:
One story I tell is of Harry Truman deciding whether or not to recognize Israel in 1948. He had the power to decide whether the new Jewish state would survive. Truman's Secretary of State, George Marshall, was threatening to quit. I discovered that Truman's wife Bess was privately so bigoted that she would not even let Jewish people into her house in Missouri. On the other side, Truman's old Jewish haberdashery partner, Eddie Jacobson, tearfully begged him to help his people resist another Adolf Hitler.

Truman never wore religion on his sleeve. His grandfather had warned him that if someone prayed too ostentatiously, “you better go home and lock up your smokehouse.” But as a quiet Baptist and Bible-reader, Truman was much affected by his favorite Psalm, Number 137: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.” [more]

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Evangelicalism at its best"

Mark Noll, in a lecture originally posted at Christianity Today in 1999, makes the case for the significance of hymns in the history of evangelicals. Excerpts:
Evangelicalism at its best is the religion displayed in its classic hymns. The classic evangelical hymns contain the clearest, most memorable, cohesive, and widely repeated expressions of what it has meant to be an evangelical. ....

One way to mark the influence of evangelical hymnody is to ask: When did modern evangelicalism arise in the English-speaking world? It is possible to date that beginning with Jonathan Edwards's preaching of justification by faith in his Northampton, Massachusetts, church in 1735, or with John Wesley's Aldersgate experience in May 1738, or with George Whitefield's momentous preaching tour of New England in September 1740. But it makes more sense to date the emergence of modern evangelicalism to an act of hymn composition by Charles Wesley.

The very week his brother John received an unusual manifestation of divine grace during a Moravian meeting at Aldersgate, Charles Wesley underwent a similar experience. Many know what John Wesley wrote in his journal after his experience: "About a quarter before nine, while [the speaker] was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death." But many more people have sung the words that Charles composed about his transformation:
Where shall my wond'ring soul begin?
How shall I all to heaven aspire?
A slave redeemed from death and sin,
A brand plucked from eternal fire.
How shall I equal triumphs raise,
Or sing my great Deliverer's praise?
Come, O my guilty brethren, come,
Groaning beneath your load of sin;
His bleeding heart shall make you room,
His open side shall take you in.
He calls you now, invites you home—
Come, O my guilty brethren, come. ....
The classic evangelical hymns do not offend on doctrines of the church and the sacraments because they touch on these matters only indirectly, if at all. ....

Rather, their overriding message and the single offense upon which they insist is compacted into the four words that best summarize their message: Jesus Christ Saves Sinners. These hymns, in other words, proclaim a particular redemption of substitutionary atonement through a particular act of God accomplished in the particularities of the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and kingly rule of Jesus Christ. ....

Evangelicalism at its best is an offensive religion. It claims that you cannot be reconciled to God, understand the ultimate purposes of the world, or live a truly virtuous life unless you confess your sin before the living God and receive new life in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Such particularity has always been offensive, and in the multicultural, postmodern world in which we live it is more offensive than ever. But when evangelicalism is at its best, as it is in its greatest hymns, that declaration of a particular salvation is its one and only offense. ....

It is evangelical to insist that humans are redeemed by God's grace rather than by the achievement of their own perfection; it is evangelical to claim that the righteousness on which we rely is a forensic gift rather than a personal possession; it is evangelical to claim that power resides in powerlessness and that the Cross is a symbol both for human weakness as well as divine love. Holiness unto the Lord is a prominent evangelical theme, but it rests upon justification by faith alone.

Thus, even if evangelicals have acted at our best only inconsistently, there is nothing in that fact contradicting evangelical conviction. In fact, for evangelicals to confess how far short they have fallen of the divine beauty that they claim to honor is a very important first step toward realizing evangelicalism at its best. ....
Source: Christianity Today: We Are What We Sing

Diversity in Scotland

NRO's Phi Beta Cons reports on tolerance as practiced in the modern West:
Scotland's University of Edinburgh, after proposing a ban on Bibles and denying a Christian campus group the right to hold a conference on the immorality of homosexuality, will soon welcome druids, heathens, shamans and witches – guests of the campus's Pagan Society.

The pagan to-do will explore Magic and Witchcraft in the 21st Century, Pagan Parenting, Pagan Marriage, Pagan Symbolism and Practice and Ancient Greek magic.

John Macintyre, head of Pagan Federation Scotland, says, "Most people now recognize that the old stereotypes about witches and witchcraft are way off the mark and there is nothing remotely sinister about it."

"Remotely sinister," it seems – as World Net Daily notes – applies only to Christians at Edinburgh. (more)
Source: Phi Beta Cons on National Review Online

"Three generations of imbeciles..."

From the Washington Post [May 20], an article by Andrew J. Imparato and Anne C. Sommers of the American Association of People With Disabilities [thanks to Francis Beckwith at Right Reason for the reference]:
This month marked the 80th anniversary of the disgraceful Supreme Court decision in Buck v. Bell, which upheld Virginia's involuntary sterilization laws. In his majority opinion, Holmes declared: "It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.... Three generations of imbeciles is enough."

Although eugenics was eventually dismissed as "junk science," it didn't happen before states authorized more than 60,000 forcible sterilizations and segregated, institutionalized, and denied marriage and parental rights to those deemed "genetically unfit." ....

In January, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists urged all women regardless of age to undergo prenatal screening for Down syndrome, aware of statistics that greater than 85 percent of pregnancies diagnosed with Down syndrome end in abortion.

Several states recognize life with a disability as an injury in "wrongful life" lawsuits, and certain judges who hear these cases agree that in some instances, selective abortions help answer a greater policy concern in curbing health-care expenditures. ....

And across the United States, "futile care" policies have required that the most vulnerable give up their hospital beds - and lives - for those with more "potential."

In stark contrast to words such as "defective," "burdensome" and "futile" are the words of civil rights laws that liberate and defend. ....

On this 80th anniversary of Buck, let's not foolishly believe that victims of eugenics are an artifact of history. So long as we speak in terms of good genes and bad genes, recognize a life with a disability as an injury, and allow health policies to value some lives over others, we continue to create human rights violations every day.
Source: Andrew J. Imparato and Anne C. Sommers - Haunting Echoes of Eugenics -

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Calvinism and Arminianism

Dr. Sam Storms is asked to describe the "primary reason" for the division between Calvinists and Arminians. It seems a pretty fair summary coming from one who is clearly on one side of the divide.
I would like to be able to say that it's nothing more than a disagreement over the interpretation of certain biblical texts, but there's more to it than that. Behind and beneath our reading of Scripture, I'm sad to say, are theological beliefs that often govern what we allow the biblical text to say. The bottom line is that Arminians are already persuaded that the Calvinist view of divine sovereignty destroys human responsibility and makes God the author of evil. Likewise, Calvinists are already persuaded that the Arminian view of human freedom renders God contingent and transfers credit for our salvation from God to us. These convictions color how we interpret the Bible and which texts are given priority over others. Now, of course, both would loudly insist that they hold their respective positions because they believe that's what the Bible teaches, but all too often our interpretation is driven by a preconceived fear of where such interpretation might lead.

In addition to this, Arminians are concerned that Calvinism will undermine evangelism and the necessity of prayer. Calvinists are likewise concerned that Arminianism compromises grace and denigrates from the glory of God.

Needless to say, these are powerful and emotionally charged concerns that often derail the conversation and prevent us from looking at the text and allowing it to form and fashion our beliefs about the role of God in salvation.
As one who can make no claim to either biblical scholarship or theological training, I have wondered about the level of passion and amount of energy devoted to this dispute over the centuries (millennia, actually). I suspect that the most serious advocates on both sides sincerely believe that they have permitted the text to "form and fashion" their beliefs. Perhaps the relationship between God's sovereignty and human free will is simply beyond our comprehension, or — at least — a degree of modesty should prevail about the level of certainty that can be asserted with confidence.

Source: Enjoying God Ministries

"...if the humor weren't so filthy"

In a New York Times Magazine article about filmmaker Judd Apatow, the writer comments: "Both of the films Apatow has directed offer up the kind of conservative morals the Family Research Council might embrace — if the humor weren’t so filthy." Harrison Scott Key at World Magazine:
Would you go see movies by a director that served his audiences healthy doses of conservative values? You know, movies where a man is tempted to lose his virginity but eventually overcomes temptation to wait for marriage. Or movies where a character learns how to grow up and man up and take care of his child and the child’s mother? Oh, I bet you would. Except that you wouldn’t tell your pastor. The films, which you’ve already figured are The 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, are just a little too vulgar – if not completely honest:
In each of the films, the hero is nearly led astray by buddies who tempt with things like boxes of porn, transvestite hookers and an ideology about the ladies possibly learned from scanning Maxim while scarfing down Pop-Tarts. By the end,” however, the friends are exposed “as well meaning but comically pathetic” and the hero ends up doing the right thing.
I suspect the vulgarity masks the conservatism of these films’ themes. But then, someone once said that all comedy is inherently conservative: exposing fakery for fakery and calling for a return to authentic virtue. But this doesn’t go over in scriptwriting classes too well.
Source: Bad movies are so good

Good things about Evangelicals

Michael Spencer manages to come up with five things that are good about Evangelicals. Here they are - he expands on them at his site.
  1. Evangelicalism still understands and preaches the Gospel.
  2. Evangelicalism pursues missions and evangelism as an unquestioned outgrowth of believing the Gospel.
  3. Evangelicalism believes in the priority of the Bible as the authority for the Christian, and the teaching of the Bible remains a priority among evangelicalism.
  4. The heritage of hymnody.
  5. Evangelicals have a diversity that reflects the true nature of the church. [more]
Source: Five Good Thoughts About Evangelicals

Monday, May 28, 2007

Novel writing and agnosticism

Zev Chafets interviewed in World Magazine:
Novel writing has shaken my own agnosticism. When you make up a story you are creating a world, breathing life into people, watching them grow from afar, occasionally intervening. I once killed a character, changed my mind and brought him back to life. It's hard not to believe in God when you've had the opportunity to play God.
Source: WORLD Magazine: Weird and wonderful

"...above and beyond the call of duty..."

Peter Collier in the Wall Street Journal:
...[T]he 110 Medal recipients alive today are virtually unknown except for a niche audience of warfare buffs. Their heroism has become the military equivalent of genre painting. There's something wrong with that.

What they did in battle was extraordinary. Jose Lopez, a diminutive Mexican-American from the barrio of San Antonio, was in the Ardennes forest when the Germans began the counteroffensive that became the Battle of the Bulge. As 10 enemy soldiers approached his position, he grabbed a machine gun and opened fire, killing them all. He killed two dozen more who rushed him. Knocked down by the concussion of German shells, he picked himself up, packed his weapon on his back and ran toward a group of Americans about to be surrounded. He began firing and didn't stop until all his ammunition and all that he could scrounge from other guns was gone. By then he had killed over 100 of the enemy and bought his comrades time to establish a defensive line.

Yet their stories were not only about killing. Several Medal of Honor recipients told me that the first thing they did after the battle was to find a church or some other secluded spot where they could pray, not only for those comrades they'd lost but also the enemy they'd killed.

Desmond Doss, for instance, was a conscientious objector who entered the army in 1942 and became a medic. Because of his religious convictions and refusal to carry a weapon, the men in his unit intimidated and threatened him, trying to get him to transfer out. He refused and they grudgingly accepted him. Late in 1945 he was with them in Okinawa when they got cut to pieces assaulting a Japanese stronghold.

Everyone but Mr. Doss retreated from the rocky plateau where dozens of wounded remained. Under fire, he treated them and then began moving them one by one to a steep escarpment where he roped them down to safety. Each time he succeeded, he prayed, "Dear God, please let me get just one more man." By the end of the day, he had single-handedly saved 75 GIs.

Why did they do it? Some talked of entering a zone of slow-motion invulnerability, where they were spectators at their own heroism. But for most, the answer was simpler and more straightforward: They couldn't let their buddies down.

Big for his age at 14, Jack Lucas begged his mother to help him enlist after Pearl Harbor. She collaborated in lying about his age in return for his promise to someday finish school. After training at Parris Island, he was sent to Honolulu. When his unit boarded a troop ship for Iwo Jima, Mr. Lucas was ordered to remain behind for guard duty. He stowed away to be with his friends and, discovered two days out at sea, convinced his commanding officer to put him in a combat unit rather than the brig. He had just turned 17 when he hit the beach, and a day later he was fighting in a Japanese trench when he saw two grenades land near his comrades.

He threw himself onto the grenades and absorbed the explosion. Later a medic, assuming he was dead, was about to take his dog tag when he saw Mr. Lucas's finger twitch. After months of treatment and recovery, he returned to school as he'd promised his mother, a ninth-grader wearing a Medal of Honor around his neck. ....

We impoverish ourselves by shunting these heroes and their experiences to the back pages of our national consciousness. Their stories are not just boys' adventure tales writ large. They are a kind of moral instruction. They remind of something we've heard many times before but is worth repeating on a wartime Memorial Day when we're uncertain about what we celebrate. We're the land of the free for one reason only: We're also the home of the brave.
Source: OpinionJournal - America's Honor
Link to Medal of Honor Citations

Sunday, May 27, 2007

"These honored dead..."

Levi W. Bond, Company B, 15th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry, US,
killed September 3, 1864, Berryville, Virginia

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.
A. Lincoln, Gettysburg, Nov. 19, 1863

"And some there be, which have no memorial..."

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
John McCrae, In Flanders Fields

" the center of all is Jesus."

Stand to Reason, responding to "An Emergent Manifesto of Hope," defines what being a Christian is all about:
Somewhere along the way, many people began dividing Christians into two camps: those who value possessing abstract truths and those who live out Christlike lives. But the point of being a Christian, though it involves both abstract truth and good behavior, holds neither of these things at its core. The point of being a Christian is to be reconciled to the true, real, existing God of the universe through our relationship with the person of Jesus. We are after God, not a better world or an intellectual exercise. We desire Him, we love Him, we commit our hearts, minds, and wills to Him. To do this, we need true knowledge of Him, and out of this flow good works, but in the center of all is Jesus.
Source: Stand to Reason Blog: What's the point of being a Christian?

The Gospel Coalition: Truth

Between Two Worlds presents a part of the Gospel Coalition's foundational document - the portion about Truth. [Christianity Today describes the Gospel Coalition here.] A selection responding to the challenge of "postmodernism":
How should we respond to the cultural crisis of truth?

For several hundred years, since the dawning of the Enlightenment, it was widely agreed that truth—expressed in words that substantially correspond to reality—does indeed exist and can be known. Unaided human reason, it was thought, is able to know truth objectively. More recently, postmodernism has critiqued this set of assumptions, contending that we are not in fact objective in our pursuit of knowledge, but rather interpret information through our personal experiences, self-interests, emotions, cultural prejudices, language limitations, and relational communities. The claim to objectivity is arrogant, postmodernism tells us, and inevitably leads to conflicts between communities with differing opinions as to where the truth lies. Such arrogance, they say explains, in part, many of the injustices and wars of the modern era. Yet postmodernism’s response is dangerous in another way: its most strident voices insist that claims to objective truth be replaced by a more humbly “tolerant” and inclusively diverse subjective pluralism—a pluralism often mired in a swamp that cannot allow any firm ground for “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” Such a stance has no place for truth that corresponds to reality, but merely an array of subjectively shaped truths. How shall we respond to this cultural crisis of truth?

a. We affirm that truth is correspondence to reality.

We believe the Holy Spirit who inspired the words of the apostles and prophets also indwells us so that we who have been made in the image of God can receive and understand the words of Scripture revealed by God, and grasp that Scripture’s truths correspond to reality. The statements of Scripture are true, precisely because they are God’s statements, and they correspond to reality even though our knowledge of those truths (and even our ability to verify them to others) is always necessarily incomplete. The Enlightenment belief in thoroughly objective knowledge made an idol out of unaided human reason. But to deny the possibility of purely objective knowledge does not mean the loss of truth that corresponds to objective reality, even if we can never know such truth without an element of subjectivity.

b. We affirm that truth is conveyed by Scripture.

We believe that Scripture is pervasively propositional and that all statements of Scripture are completely true and authoritative. But the truth of Scripture cannot be exhausted in a series of propositions. It exists in the genres of narrative, metaphor, and poetry which are not exhaustively distillable into doctrinal propositions, yet they convey God’s will and mind to us so as to change us into his likeness.

c. We affirm that truth is correspondence of life to God.

Truth is not only a theoretical correspondence but also a covenantal relationship. The biblical revelation is not just to be known, but to be lived (Deut 29:29). The purpose of the Bible is to produce wisdom in us—a life wholly submitted to God’s reality. Truth, then, is correspondence between our entire lives and God’s heart, words and actions, through the mediation of the Word and Spirit. To eliminate the propositional nature of biblical truth seriously weakens our ability to hold, defend, and explain the gospel. But to speak of truth only as propositions weakens our appreciation of the incarnate Son as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the communicative power of narrative and story, and the importance of truth as living truly in correspondence to God. [the entire document]
Source: Between Two Worlds: Epistemology 101: The Gospel Coalition's Theology of Ministry

Saturday, May 26, 2007

"Clean-minded and clean-lived, and able to hold his own..."

Anthony Esolen at Mere Comments:
From a children's encyclopedia (first printing, 1914), on a man whom the writer justly calls our most popular President, Teddy Roosevelt:
"While at college he taught a Sunday School class. One day one of his students came to class with a black eye. He owned up that he had got it in a fight and on a Sunday at that. He confessed to his teacher that during the morning service a boy, sitting next to his sister, had pricked her all through the hour, so after church he waited outside and they had a good 'stand-up fight,' and he 'punched him good,' although he got a black eye in exchange. 'You did exactly right,' said his teacher and gave the lad a dollar. To the class it was ideal justice, but when the church authorities heard of it they were scandalized. Young Roosevelt was dismissed and took himself and his ideals to another Sunday School.

"Many years later he gave this bit of advice to his Boy Scout friends: 'What we have a right to expect of the American boy is that he shall turn out to be a good American man. Now, the chances are strong that he won't turn out to be much of a man unless he is a good deal of a boy. He must not be a coward or a weakling, a bully, a shirk, or a prig. He must work hard and play hard. He must be clean-minded and clean-lived, and able to hold his own under all circumstances and against all comers. It is only on these conditions that he will grow into the kind of a man of whom America can be really proud. In life, as in a football game, the principle is: Hit the line hard; don't foul and don't shirk, but hit the line hard.'"
.... None of the priggishness of political correctness here; no weakling celebration of having been a victim or a chump, or perhaps of claiming to have been a victim or a chump; no cowardly running away from the hard facts of life; no excuses to allow the shirker to slide through his youth devoting his mind and heart to nothing. Yes, we now do discourage bullying, certainly - but now too a black eye is far away from the worst that can happen to your child in school. Not coincidental, that. And we still have the bullies anyway.
Source: Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments: Not Coming to a School Near You

"A Mormon in the White House?"

In the course of a very interesting review of Hugh Hewitt's book about the Romney candidacy, A Mormon in the White House?, Francis Beckwith provides this brief account of the origins of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints:
Founded in 1830, the Mormon church’s central message is that Christianity had lost the true gospel only a few generations after Jesus’ original disciples had died. (Mormons are unclear on precisely when this total apostasy was complete, but it surely had to have occurred prior to the formulation of the A.D. 325 Nicene Creed, which the LDS church rejects). The point is that true Christianity had vanished from the earth for roughly 1,500 to 1,700 years, until a fourteen-year old resident of Palmyra,
New York, named Joseph Smith Jr. claimed that, as a result of answered prayer, he was personally visited by God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Smith was instructed by them to join none of the Christian churches. This is when Mormons believe Smith began his cooperation with God and his Son in the restoration of the true gospel.

Part of the restoration included a new set of inspired scriptures, the first of which was the Book of Mormon (1830), which contains the story of the resurrected Christ visiting America and preaching and teaching his gospel to its native peoples. According to the LDS narrative, Smith translated the Book of Mormon from gold plates that were buried in New York’s Hill Cumorah, a location that was revealed to him by the Angel Moroni. Another aspect of the restoration included a new ecclesiastical structure based on apostolic succession and the passing on of priestly authority without requiring a special class of clerics. According to Smith, in 1829 he and his friend Oliver Cowdery were visited by John the Baptist, who bestowed on them the Aaronic Priesthood, which empowers its recipients to preach, baptize, ordain others, and perform Levitical duties. Smith claimed that, soon after receiving the Aaronic priesthood, he and Cowdery were visited by the Apostles Peter, James, and John, who literally laid hands on Smith and Cowdery in order to restore the Melchizedek Priesthood. This bestowed on them apostolic status as well as the power to administer ordinances, promulgate doctrine, and organize and lead the church.

Even if one thinks that Smith was profoundly mistaken (as I do), one cannot help but marvel at the religious genius of this project: It has all the advantages of Reformation Protestantism and nineteenth-century Restorationism (“Let’s get back to what Jesus and the apostles originally taught”) with all the advantages of Catholicism and Orthodoxy—an apostolic magisterium within the confines of a visible church. Smith has both a priesthood of all believers and a priesthood managed by a church hierarchy. He offers a new gospel unconstrained by centuries of theological precedent, yet it he could claim that it is as old as the apostles. He could, without contradiction, reject tradition while claiming to be the true guardian of an ancient message. It may be wrong, but it was brilliant. ....
FIRST THINGS: On the Square: When the Saint Goes Swearing In

"Is Christianity Good for the World?" Wilson v. Hitchens continued

At Christianity Today, Part 5 (of six) of the online debate.

Source: Christianity Today: Is Christianity Good for the World?"

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Dangerous Book for Boys

This morning Albert Mohler writes about a book just published in the United States. The Dangerous Book for Boys was enormously successful in the United Kingdom and ought to be here.

.... A boy armed with this book will have a very fun summer indeed.

The book instantly recalls the great Victorian era of books for boys — books about boy heroes, adventurers, soldiers, and naturalists. Those books, often recognizable in their ornate cloth covers, were read and read again by boys as they grew older.

The Dangerous Book for Boys is a worthy successor to that tradition.

This book will tell a boy how to read cloud formations, make a battery, make a periscope, and construct "the greatest paper airplane in the world." Boys are told of the essential gear of boyhood — including Band-aids. Young adventurers will also learn of famous battles, the history of artillery, and how to understand girls.

On the subject of girls the authors warn that young females are likely to be "unimpressed by your mastery of a game involving wizards, or your understanding of Morse Code." Boys are also soberly warned that girls, as a general rule, "do not get quite as excited by the use of urine as a secret ink as boys do." This is important to know.

On the other hand, boys are told to help girls who need assistance. Take this sage advice, for example:
If you see a girl in need of help — unable to lift something, for example — do not taunt her. Approach the object and greet her with a cheerful smile, while surreptitiously testing the weight of the object. If you find you can lift it, go ahead. If you can't, try sitting on it and engaging her in conversation.
That advice will help a middle school boy greatly. It just might help a good many college-age boys, for that matter.

The Iggulden brothers believe that boys need to get away from the computer screen, go outside, and learn to enjoy the world and make their way in it. "Boyhood is all about curiosity," they advise. Boys need to know how to build a treehouse and how to find north in the dark — and they need to know that they know these things. As the brothers explain:
How do latitude and longitude work? How do you make secret ink, or send the cipher that Julius Caesar used with his generals? You'll find the answers inside. It was written by two men who would have given away the cat to get this book when they were young. It wasn't a particularly nice cat. Why did we write it now? Because these things are important still and we wished we knew them better. There are few things as satisfying as tying a decent bowline knot when someone needs a loop, or simply knowing what happened at Gettysburg and the Alamo. The tales must be told and retold, or the memories slowly die.
Boys are introduced to Shakespeare, coin tricks, spiders, and "Latin phrases every boy should know." They learn how to waterproof fabric, juggle, and understand rugby.

The book's runaway sales in Britain surprised the publishers, but not the authors. Here is how Conn Iggulden explained the book's success:
In a word, fathers. I am one myself and I think we've become aware that the whole "health and safety" overprotective culture isn't doing our sons any favors. Boys need to learn about risk. They need to fall off things occasionally, or — and this is the important bit — they'll take worse risks on their own. If we do away with challenging playgrounds and cancel school trips for fear of being sued, we don't end up with safer boys — we end up with them walking on train tracks. In the long run, it's not safe at all to keep our boys in the house with a PlayStation. It's not good for their health or their safety.
Expect the book to catch attention fast in this country as well — and for the same reason. Iggulden gets to the heart of the book's attraction to boys and their dads:
You only have to push a boy on a swing to see how much he enjoys the thrill of danger. It's hard-wired. Remove any opportunity to test his courage and they'll find ways to test themselves that will be seriously dangerous for everyone around them. I think of it like playing the lottery — someone has to say "Look, you won't win — and your children won't be hurt. Relax. It won't be you."

I think that's the core of the book's success. It isn't just a collection of things to do. The heroic stories alone are something we haven't had for too long. It isn't about climbing Everest, but it is an attitude, a philosophy for fathers and sons. Our institutions are too wrapped up in terror over being sued — so we have to do things with them ourselves. This book isn't a bad place to start.
As The Wall Street Journal reports, there are now over 400,000 copies of the book in print. [more]
Source: The Dangerous Book for Boys

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Book Awards 2007

The editors of Christianity Today select twenty-two books that "bring understanding to people, events, and ideas that shape evangelical life, thought, and mission."

Source: Christianity Today: Book Awards 2007

"Selective reduction"

One of the moral issues that the acceptability of abortion has occasioned results from pregnancies involving multiple fetuses when the parents would prefer fewer. GetReligion has posted a long report on the issue quoting from a recent Washington Post story on the subject. Among other moral problems, including abortion itself, is that of choosing which of the fetuses to keep and which to discard. Too many girls? Fetal abnormalities? What are the acceptable criteria?

The "selective reduction" process itself is described in the article:
And, sure enough, on [sonographer Rachel] Greenbaum’s screen were three little honeycombed chambers with three fetuses growing in them. The fetuses were moving and waving their limbs; even at this point, approaching 12 weeks of gestation, they were clearly human, at that big-headed-could-be-an-alien-but-definitely-not-a-kitten stage of development. Evans has found this to be the best window of time in which to perform a reduction. Waiting that long provides time to see whether the pregnancy might reduce itself naturally through miscarriage, and lets the fetuses develop to the point where genetic testing can be done to see which are chromosomally normal. . . .

So far, there was nothing anomalous about any of the fetuses. Greenbaum turned the screen toward the patient. “That’s the little heartbeat,” she said, pointing to the area where a tiny organ was clearly pulsing. “And there are the little hands. There’s the head. The body.”

“Oh, my God, I can really see it!” the patient cried. “Oh, my God! I can see the fingers!”

“Okay!” she said, abruptly, gesturing for the screen to be turned away. She began sobbing. There were no tissues in the room, so her husband gave her a paper towel, which she crumpled to her face. The patient spent the rest of the procedure with her hospital gown over her face, so she would not see any more of what was happening.
Two doctors describing the process:
“It’s a very hard procedure, because the baby is moving, and you are chasing it. That is what is very emotional — when the baby is moving and you are chasing it. ....

Evans plunged the second needle into Emma’s belly. “See the tip?” he said, showing the women where the tip of the needle was visible on the ultrasound screen. Even I could see it: a white spot hovering near the heart. D was moving. Evans started injecting. He went very slowly. “If you inject too fast, you blow the kid off your needle,” he explained.
"...the kid..."

Sources: GetReligion: We call it "selective reduction," Washington Post: Lisa Mundy: Too much to carry?

"Giuliani's abortion muddle"

Rudy Giuliani, according to the polls, is the leading contender for the Republican nomination for President next year. Apparently, given the nature of the GOP electorate, that must mean that many anti-abortion voters are willing to support him. Michael Gerson in the Washington Post this morning:
.... Does Giuliani's position on abortion actually make sense?

In early debates and statements, he has set out his views on this topic with all the order and symmetry of a freeway pileup. His argument comes down to this: "I hate abortion," which is "morally wrong." But "people ultimately have to make that choice. If a woman chooses that, that's her choice, not mine. That's her morality, not mine."

This is a variant of the position developed by New York Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1985. In this view, the Catholic Church's belief in the immorality of abortion is correct, in the same sense that its belief in the Immaculate Conception is correct. Both beliefs are religious, private and should not be enforced by government.

But the question naturally arises: Why does Giuliani "hate" abortion? No one feels moral outrage about an appendectomy. Clearly he is implying his support for the Catholic belief that an innocent life is being taken. And here the problems begin.

How can the violation of a fundamental human right be viewed as a private matter? Not everything that is viewed as immoral should be illegal; there are no compelling public reasons to restrict adultery, for example, or to outlaw sodomy. But when morality demands respect for the rights of a human being, those protections become a matter of social justice, not just personal or religious preference.

American history has tested these arguments. In debating the Missouri Compromise, Sen. Stephen Douglas said of slavery: "I am now speaking of rights under the Constitution and not of moral or religious rights. I do not discuss the morals of the people of Missouri, but let them settle that matter for themselves." Abraham Lincoln differed: If faith and conscience tell us that enslaved Americans are men and brothers, then slavery must eventually be ended. Passing the 13th Amendment was not "imposing" our moral views on slaveholders; it was upholding the meaning of law and justice.

Giuliani's doctrine of individual sovereignty goes much further than did Douglas, logically preventing even states from restricting abortion. And this raises a question about Giuliani's view of the law itself: Can it be a right to violate the basic rights of others? Given American opinion, progress toward the protection of unborn life is likely to be incremental and partial. It would be foolish to prosecute women who have abortions - and the law struck down in Roe v. Wade did nothing of the kind. But recognizing these limits and realities is different from asserting that the law should have nothing to do with the defense of the weak.

A number of pro-choice positions can be held consistently. It is possible to believe that human worth develops gradually and that the early fetus is merely a clump of cells. It is possible to accept professor Peter Singer's teaching that human worth arrives only with self-conscious rationality, opening up disturbing new possibilities of infanticide.

But Giuliani has chosen an option that is not an option - a belief that unborn life deserves our sympathy but does not deserve rights or justice. This view is likely to dog him in the primary process, not only because it is pro-choice but because it is incoherent.
Source: Michael Gerson - Giuliani's Abortion Muddle

Conscience is not enough

Integrity is very important. We ought to do what we believe is right. But conscience is not sufficient as a guide. Did Hitler go to heaven because he sincerely followed his conscience? Obeying one's conscience is not enough to justify behavior. The current pope, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger:
The existing model, he argued, was to view conscience as "the bulwark of freedom in contrast to the encroachments of authority on existence." One's government/church/boy scout group may order you to behave one way, but if your conscience tells you to do differently, it is considered more noble to follow your conscience. Ich kann nicht anders.

Cardinal Ratzinger told the bishops about a faculty discussion from when he was a university professor in Germany. The dispute was over "the justifying power of the erroneous conscience." One professor created a reductio ad absurdum using Nazi true believers. If we should follow our conscience above all else, he said, then we "should seek them in heaven, since they carried out all their atrocities with fanatic conviction and complete certainty of conscience."

The example seemed straightforward enough for most of the profs, but the absurdity was lost on one or two observers. In fact, one colleague piped up "with utmost assurance that, of course, this was indeed the case." Hitler went to heaven.

"Since that conversation," Cardinal Ratzinger explained, "I knew with complete certainty that . . . a concept of conscience that leads to such results must be false. Firm, subjective conviction and the lack of doubts and scruples that follow from it do not justify man." ....
Source: The Washington Times: The pope on conscience, reason

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Religious faith is always personal, but it’s never private."

Charles J. Chaput is the Catholic archbishop of Denver and, recently, speaking as a Catholic to Catholics, he addressed the topic of religious tolerance. Almost everything he says is relevant for any Christian:
... People who take the question of human truth, freedom and meaning seriously will never remain silent about it. They can’t. They’ll always act on what they believe, even at the cost of their reputations and lives. That’s the way it should be. Religious faith is always personal, but it’s never private. It always has social consequences, or it isn’t real. And this is why any definition of “tolerance” that tries to turn religious faith into a private idiosyncrasy, or a set of personal opinions that we can have at home but that we need to be quiet about in public, is doomed to fail.

The mentality of suspicion toward religion is becoming its own form of intolerance. I can see a kind of secular intolerance developing in our own country over the past two decades. The modern secular view of the world assumes that religion is superstitious and false; that it creates division and conflict; and that real freedom can only be ensured by keeping God out of the public square.

But if we remove God from public discourse, we also remove the only authority higher than political authority, and the only authority that guarantees the sanctity of the individual. If the twentieth century taught us anything, it’s that modern states tend to eat their own people, and the only thing stopping this is a resistance based in the human spirit but anchored in a higher authority—which almost always means religious witness. [more]
Source: FIRST THINGS: Religious tolerance and the public good

Monday, May 21, 2007

Evangelicals and Mary

The internetmonk interviews Scot McKnight about how Evangelicals should think about the role of Mary. The interview can be found here. One question and answer:
How far can evangelicals go Biblically in emphasizing Mary’s place in redemption?

In my judgment, we can do nothing that diminishes the significance of the work of the Trinitarian God and, in particular, anything that diminishes the saving life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is to be avoided. Mary witnesses to that salvation; she is not part of that redemption. The fact is, God chose Mary; so Mary is part of the redemptive plan of God as the Mother of Jesus, the God-Bearer. But, Mary did nothing for redemption and does nothing now for redemption.
Source: Interview: Scot McKnight on Evangelicals and Marian Dogmas

Friday, May 18, 2007

"Is Christianity good for the world?," Wilson v. Hitchens, Part 4

The debate continues. Part 4 can be found here.

The earlier rounds: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Source: Christianity Today: Is Christianity Good for the World?"

Cordial disagreement

In the Wall Street Journal this morning, David M. Howard, Jr., a former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, is motivated by Francis Beckwith's conversion to Catholicism to comment on Catholic-evangelical relations:
.... These Catholics [the converts] are not generally in sympathy with the theologically liberal wing of the American Catholic Church but are enthusiastic supporters of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI's emphasis on orthodox teaching and practice. In short, they have more in common theologically with evangelicals than with liberal Catholics, and evangelicals themselves, in many respects, have more in common with traditional Catholics than with mainline Protestants. Especially on social and political issues, there is much room for common cause.

Evangelical-Catholic relations have not been this cordial in the past, of course. History is littered with the corpses (sometimes literally) of past conflict, and conversion from one camp to the other was, for a long time, almost unheard of. .... In the U.S., one encouraging development is Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT), an enterprise that began under the leadership of Charles Colson (an evangelical) and the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus (once a Lutheran minister and now a Catholic priest). ....
Source: OpinionJournal - Taste

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A selection of today's interesting comment

1. the evangelical outpost asks:
Can we be more ethical than Jesus?

Most evangelicals would consider such a question to be the height of absurdity. Since we consider Jesus to be the very standard for moral conduct, it would be impossible to be more ethical than our own Redeemer. What we claim to believe, though, is often betrayed by our actions.
He then goes on to consider the Southern Baptist Convention's position on the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

An interesting recent book on the subject is the one on the right.

2. GetReligion considers a Newsweek article about Pope Benedict's new book about Jesus and finds Newsweek's reporting pathetically deficient:
.... this snide and condescending mainstream media incredulity at the notion that Christians might actually believe that baptism of Jesus took place as described in all four Gospels is just beyond words. I think more than a few barrels of ink have been shed over this very important moment. Unless Newsweek has only graduated to the journalistic equivalent of Chris Hitchens still expressing shock that billions of very backwards people believe in the transcendent. I mean, is that really news? That Christians believe Jesus to be divine? That Christians believe in the Triune God? For real? I mean, talk about your fundamentals!

Now what’s most disconcerting about this whole mess is that Lisa Miller is Newsweek’s religion editor. I know that Newsweek is fond of that whole opinion-journalism-masquerading-as-regular-reportage shtick but this piece reads like it was written by someone with disdain for orthodox Christianity and, much worse, not enough knowledge of the basic topics at hand. ....
3. Anthony Esolen at Mere Comments writes about keeping politics in its proper place:
.... The faith keeps politics in its place, and if that is healthy for the faith, it is absolutely essential for politics, which otherwise will assume the altar. It is the great revelation of Christ, only sporadically understood by Christians themselves, that politics does have a place of its own, and that we should render to Caesar what is Caesar's. But that verse says nothing about the banishment of the faith, or of the laws of God written on the human heart, from the public sphere. When that happens - when we fail to render to God what is God's - then either the state itself becomes the object of worship, or, if it is not a cultic god, it still crawls into areas where it has no business, because nothing is holy, and all rests in the apparent will of the rulers or the people.
4. Fred Sanders at The Scriptorium provides "The Lord’s Prayer as amplified by the Heidelberg Catechism" here.

Sources: the evangelical outpost: What would Jesus drink?, GetReligion: she blinded me with history, Mere Comments: Metastatic Politics, Scriptorium Daily: Awaken in Us Childlike Reverence and Trust

Abortion, Public Opinion, and Roe v. Wade

When people know more about what Roe v. Wade really means, they are far more likely to favor overturning it. Read commentary on recent polling here.

Source: Stand to Reason Blog: Abortion, Public Opinion, and Roe v. Wade

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Much of the media coverage of the death of Jerry Falwell has categorized him as a "Fundamentalist," a term he apparently used to describe himself. Dr. Sam Storms helpfully provides a "summary of some of the distinctives of American Fundamentalism."

Source: Enjoying God Ministries: Fundamentalism and Falwell

"Was Osama right?"

Bernard Lewis, professor emeritus at Princeton, author of many books about Islam, explains in the Wall Street Journal why Osama bin Laden thought the US wouldn't fight back after September 11, was surprised when we did, but may yet succeed in his aims:
.... We in the Western world see the defeat and collapse of the Soviet Union as a Western, more specifically an American, victory in the Cold War. For Osama bin Laden and his followers, it was a Muslim victory in a jihad, and, given the circumstances, this perception does not lack plausibility.

From the writings and the speeches of Osama bin Laden and his colleagues, it is clear that they expected this second task, dealing with America, would be comparatively simple and easy. This perception was certainly encouraged and so it seemed, confirmed by the American response to a whole series of attacks - on the World Trade Center in New York and on U.S. troops in Mogadishu in 1993, on the U.S. military office in Riyadh in 1995, on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 - all of which evoked only angry words, sometimes accompanied by the dispatch of expensive missiles to remote and uninhabited places.

Stage One of the jihad was to drive the infidels from the lands of Islam; Stage Two - to bring the war into the enemy camp, and the attacks of 9/11 were clearly intended to be the opening salvo of this stage. The response to 9/11, so completely out of accord with previous American practice, came as a shock, and it is noteworthy that there has been no successful attack on American soil since then. The U.S. actions in Afghanistan and in Iraq indicated that there had been a major change in the U.S., and that some revision of their assessment, and of the policies based on that assessment, was necessary.

More recent developments, and notably the public discourse inside the U.S., are persuading increasing numbers of Islamist radicals that their first assessment was correct after all, and that they need only to press a little harder to achieve final victory. It is not yet clear whether they are right or wrong in this view. If they are right, the consequences - both for Islam and for America - will be deep, wide and lasting.
Source: OpinionJournal - Featured Article

"The Hope"

Mars Hill offers The Hope online:
"How did it all come to be?"
"Is this world the result of chance or design? ...."
"For those who seek answers ... there is a voice -
it has come from beyond our world...."

When you reach the page with the film, choose "Entire Video."

Missionaries in Northern Virginia

Adding to the observations below in "Back to the Bible," Michael Gerson in the Washington Post:
.... There are more Presbyterians in Ghana than in Scotland. The largest district of the United Methodist Church is found in Ivory Coast. And many of the enthusiastic converts of Western missions have begun asking why portions of the Western church have abandoned the traditional faith they once shared. Liberal Protestant church officials, headed toward international assemblies, are anxiously counting African votes, because these new voters tend to take their Bible both literally and seriously.

This emerging Christianity can be troubling. Church leaders sometimes emphasize communal values more than individual human rights, and they need to understand that strongly held moral beliefs are compatible with a commitment to civil liberties for all. Large Pentecostal churches are often built by domineering personalities promising health and wealth.

But the religion of the global south has a great virtue: It is undeniably alive. And it needs to be. A mother holding a child weak with AIDS or hot with malaria, or a family struggling to survive in an endless urban slum, does not need religious platitudes. Both need God's ever-present help in time of trouble - which is exactly what biblical Christianity claims to offer.

Some American religious conservatives have embraced ties with this emerging Christianity, including the church I attend. But there are adjustments in becoming a junior partner. The ideological package of the global south includes not only moral conservatism but also an emphasis on social justice, an openness to state intervention in markets, and a suspicion of American economic and military power. The emerging Christian majority is not the Moral Majority.

But the largest adjustments are coming on the religious left. For decades it has preached multiculturalism, but now, on further acquaintance, it doesn't seem to like other cultures very much. Episcopal leaders complain of the threat of "foreign prelates," echoing anti-Catholic rhetoric of the 19th century. An activist at one Episcopal meeting urged the African bishops to "go back to the jungle where you came from." Not since Victorians hunted tigers on elephants has the condescension been this raw.

History is filled with uncomfortable turnabouts, and we are witnessing one of them. Serious missionary work began in Nigeria in 1842, conducted by a Church Mission Society dedicated to promoting "the knowledge of the Gospel among the heathen." In 2007, the Nigerian outreach to America officially began, on the fertile mission fields of Northern Virginia. And the natives here are restless.
Source: Michael Gerson - Missionaries in Northern Virginia -

"Moralizing to beat the band"

Reflecting on the decision to consider smoking one of the justifications for rating a film "R," Andrew Ferguson observes that moral judgmentalism hasn't disappeared among Liberals - they aren't relativists about everything. [via Betsy's Page]
Some conservatives complain that we live in an immoral age, or an age that's at best indifferent to moral judgment. But this isn't really true. ....

It's certainly true, as traditionalists say, that the objects of the old censoriousness - promiscuity, divorce, abortion, infidelity - have been removed from moral categories altogether and elevated to the status of "lifestyle choices," where no one but the chooser himself is allowed to render a moral verdict (and then only on himself. And the verdict, by the way, is pretty much always "not guilty."). But keep looking. An acquaintance a few years ago urged me to read the New York Times Magazine Ethicist column, describing it as unintentionally comic because the writer could never bring himself to cast a strict moral judgment. "A weak-kneed relativist," is what the columnist was, my acquaintance said. So I started reading the column and was surprised to find that my friend was wrong: This columnist was moralizing to beat the band. And on Sunday morning! Times readers must be disgusted, I thought, until I noticed what it was he was getting moralistic about. One morning someone wrote in with the eternal yuppie dilemma: Should she buy an SUV?

"There's no way to justify endangering others just so you can play cowboy," the columnist thundered. Anyone who bought an SUV, he said, would be "driving straight to hell." And so on, week after week, I became alert to the ways in which our pop culture is shot through with moralism: sulfurous condemnations of homophobia, smoking, guns, junk food, fur, big cars, and - this is the big one - judgmentalism. The new Church Ladies simply will not tolerate intolerance.
Source: Weekly Standard: Puritans in Hollywood

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell, RIP

The AP reports that Jerry Falwell has died.
Falwell's father and his grandfather were militant atheists, he wrote in his autobiography. He said his father made a fortune off his businesses - including bootleging during Prohibition.

As a student, Falwell was a star athlete and a prankster who was barred from giving his high school valedictorian's speech after he was caught using counterfeit lunch tickets his senior year.

He ran with a gang of juvenile delinquents before becoming a born-again Christian at age 19. He turned down an offer to play professional baseball and transferred from Lynchburg College to Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Mo.

"My heart was burning to serve Christ," he once said in an interview. "I knew nothing would ever be the same again."
Source: World Magazine - Television evangelist Falwell dies at 73

The New York Times on "Falwell's Legacy"

Christianity Today publishes the Religious News Service on "Jerry Falwell, Architect of Religious Right"

Ben Witherington: "Mr. Falwell moves on up"

"Is Christianity Good for the World?"

The third part of the Wilson/Hitchens debate: "Is Christianity good for the world?" has been posted at the Christianity Today site.

And The New Yorker publishes "Atheists with attitude," subtitled "Why do they hate Him?"

And in "Lonely Atheists of the Global Village," Michael Novak reviews several of the recent atheist tracts.

Sources: Christianity Today: "Is Christianity Good for the World?", The New Yorker: "Atheists with Attitude", AEI: Lonely Atheists of the Global Village

"How should Christians grieve?"

Ben Witherington:
I'm sure you've seen it too. You go to a funeral of someone who was a devout Christian who lived a full and rich life, and its an incredibly somber and subdued occasion. You would think the person went straight to Hell to judge from the reaction of the congregation. What in the world is going on, and who exactly are these folks grieving for? How exactly should we react when a loved one gets promoted into the living presence of God? And is the wrong sort of grieving a reflection of an inadequate faith in what comes next? If the deceased has gone to join the choir eternal and is in the arms of Jesus himself why exactly is everyone reacting as if that person no longer existed or had had something terribly tragic happen to them? ....
Ben Witherington: Good Grief! How Should Christians Grieve?

"Back to the Bible"

Sixty percent of the world's Christians live in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Books & Culture reviews The New Faces of Christianity by Philip Jenkins, and the review comments at length about how those Christians regard the Scriptures:
.... African and Asian Christians revere the Bible and identify with its cultural setting and worldview. They see it as sacred text, with words of power, to an extent that has been lost to much of northern Christianity.

To understand this approach to the Bible, Jenkins informs us of the ways in which the Scriptures, freshly translated, have been received into Asian and African societies. In many of these realms, people already were familiar with the idea of sacred texts, so the Bible was given special status from the start. In the hands of newly literate people, the power of biblical words has been explosive. Northerners need to recall the electrifying force in Reformation days of common-language Scriptures, made available to new readers. "It burns!" exclaimed one of the Puritan preachers about the Bible, and so it does today for Nigerians and Indians and Chinese.

The Bible is read communally in the global South, so that the nonliterate, too, can profit from hearing the Word. Northern churches retain this ancient practice, but in the South, it is more central to congregational life. Believers commit long passages to memory and together they become people of the Book. It is God's word to them and in them, and it is not to be gainsaid. They venerate the Bible as a holy book, even a talisman. One of the last vestiges northerners have of such uses for the Bible is for swearing in court witnesses and office holders. The Bible in the South is a powerful evangelistic weapon, commanding deference from curious hearers, impressing them with its literary and spiritual qualities, and speaking pointedly to their lives.

Southern people of faith affirm the Bible's teachings and stories to be true, and no historical criticism can sway them. .... [more]
Source: Back to the Bible - Books & Culture

Monday, May 14, 2007

Fred Thompson

In a speech delivered over the weekend, introduced by Richard Land, potential Presidential candidate Fred Thompson talked about first principles. Not many of the Republican candidates could put conservative convictions so succinctly so well:
...I want to talk a little about what should be the origin of all those talking points. This would be the principles on which they are based — first principles. ....

For Americans, these are found in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. They include a recognition of God and the fact there are certain rights that come from Him and not the government. They are based upon a respect for the wisdom of the ages, and a belief that human beings are prone to err; that too much power must never rest in too few hands. The result is a system of checks and balances and a separation of powers that flow from our guiding documents and from the rule of law. ....
Source: Fred Thompson on National Review Online