Monday, March 31, 2008

For a mess of pottage

S.M. Hutchens reacts to an account of a young woman, raised in an Evangelical home, who in a university environment has discovered that "nothing I was taught had been right." Hutchens is doubtful that the typical loss of faith among those in her circumstance is really consequent on intellectual disillusionment:
.... My guess is that she is typical of the many young Evangelicals who have also discovered, the statistics tell us, something else at college: sex without marriage, which she wishes to have, also contrary to her Christian upbringing, without guilt, repentance, or amendment of life. Experienced pastors, when faced with students who “lose their faith” at college, do not begin to argue back with them on matters philosophical or theological. They inquire into “lifestyle” issues in the attempt to ascertain whether there is a release to be gained from overthrowing the faith in which they were raised. There usually is. Real intellectual difficulties can normally be neutralized in favor of further study through reasoned discourse with educated believers who have entertained the same doubts - but only in the presence of a conscience that gains nothing from discovery that orthodox Christianity is wrong.

There is also this: If a person has come to believe, say, that Evangelicalism or conservative Presbyterians or Baptist preachers who get too mixed up with politics are wrongheaded, or that Francis and Edith Schaeffer had certain problems which detract from their credibility, a modicum of native intelligence - to which such people always profess, their difficulties, they always tell us, being the result of intellectual probing - should tell them these are not the only Christian witnesses available - only provided they are interested in any kind of Christian witness at all.

....[P]ull down some Barth or Kierkegaard or Thomas Aquinas or Chesterton or Pelikan or Guardini or Tournier or Seraphim Rose or Calvin or Tozer or Reardon or Luther or Pascal or Wojtyla or Lewis. Why are your referents, the people to whose wisdom you are now referring in apposition to that with which you have been raised, suddenly now non-Christians, gay persons, and [!] pot-smokers — may we also add the sexually promiscuous? — and the like? It would seem that if one calls oneself a Christian it would be honest to give Christianity a chance first. [more]
Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments: Not Your Father's Christianity--Or Anybody Else's

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The world we inhabit

Two books, reviewed by David Taylor at Books & Culture, consider the physical nature of both the "good city" and church architecture that "gives emphasis to the presence of God in the people gathered." Excerpts:

In Till We Have Built Jerusalem, Bess presents a four-part case for good urbanism or, as I might call it, a good experience of a good city. The four parts can be summarized as cities and human flourishing; cities and the sacred; cities and New Urbanism; and finally critical essays on the topic. While lacking a single-threaded argument, the book nevertheless holds together thematically, and the message repeated throughout goes like this: The best life for human beings is the life of moral and intellectual virtue lived in community with others, the chief community of which is the city. The good city is the city with good urban design. Which is what? Very simply, it is a city full of mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods, the vision articulated by advocates of the New Urbanism, or "traditional urbanism," as Bess calls it.

Designs for a good urban experience, Bess explains, would take into consideration the ecological, economic, moral, and formal well-being of a neighborhood. Whether on the outskirts of a city or in the urban core, each neighborhood would enjoy "a walkable and mixed-use human environment wherein many if not most of the necessities and activities of daily human life are within a five- to ten-minute walk for persons of all ages and economic classes." Such neighborhoods would embody the best social and aesthetic features of historic urban life, and to bring this vision to fruition would be to occasion human flourishing. Good urban planning is good theology.

The enemy to this vision is Suburban Sprawl. [...]

Suburban sprawl, Bess contends, dissociates daily communal life from physical place. It is environmentally unsustainable and unjust; it makes people slaves to their cars. Usually it is also ugly; useful and mostly durable, yes, but architecturally unbearably dull. ....
And on church architecture he reviews Mark Torgerson's An Architecture of Immanence.:
.... Torgerson asserts: our "built realities can both shape theological understanding and unleash or restrict practice and ministry." No architecture—no building, no design—is ever neutral. And that style of church architecture which Hope Chapel [note: Taylor's church] shares with most of Western culture in the 20th century he calls "immanent." An immanent style is that which gives emphasis to the presence of God in the people gathered.

A simple way to tell the difference between immanent architecture and its opposite, transcendent architecture, is this: one is a House of the People God, the other is a House of God. In the one we give emphasis to the nearness of God, in the other to the transcendent holiness of God. Here is the house church, there is the Gothic cathedral. The history of church design then is a history of swaying back and forth between one and the other. The 20th century for its part represents a striking turn towards immanence.
I very much agree that the physical setting for worship is not neutral, but I disagree that the direction of church architecture toward "immanence" in the 20th century was positive. I'm inclined to think that the pendulum has swung much too far in the direction of the people and away from God Himself. To paraphrase Chesterton, those who worship the "presence of God in the people" may - and often do - end up worshipping themselves.

The Good City - Books & Culture

Friday, March 28, 2008

Seventh Day Baptist History

For some time I've been engaged in a project of summarizing Seventh Day Baptist history from the origins of the denomination in England in the 17th century up to the present day. It has not been my purpose to provide a detailed chronicle, but rather to place denominational history in the context of the broader history of the United States and the American experience. I've done no original research. My most valuable sources have been Don Sanford's books, Conscience Taken Captive: A Short History of Seventh Day Baptists and A Choosing People: The History of Seventh Day Baptists but I have adapted and added freely and, of course, he bears no responsibility for any errors. I welcome corrections, clarifications and suggestions.
  1. Seventh Day Baptist Origins: England, 1590-1670
  2. Rhode Island to Independence: America, 1670-1790
  3. A Denomination Takes Form, 1790 - 1860
  4. “A Nation cannot long endure…” 1790 - 1865
  5. An Era of Growth and Ferment, 1865 - 1930
  6. "...To Other Parts of the World," 1850-
  7. Defining Who We Are, 1930-
  8. We Glorify Thy Name: Seventh Day Baptists Sing
In addition, some other relevant posts, mostly biographical, can be found here.

Re-imagined - not re-tooled

Fred Sanders on the Inklings:
It's hard to account for just how much influence continues to stream from that little group of writers called the Inklings. Never mind that the works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien have survived into the twenty-first century in the unlikely form of Hollywood blockbusters trailing cash and merchandise as far as the eye can see. The most influential of the Inklings were Lewis, Tolkien, and Williams, and their power of influence can be stated this way: they communicated versions of Christianity that proved interesting to the modern mind. [....]
J.R.R. Tolkien's thought was, What if you treated Christianity as if it were a sprawling saga? And the next thing you know, Tolkien's imagination had not only created a whole fully-articulated sub-creation, filled with characters of mythic proportion put in place by inconceivably long and complex lines of development, but had also ennobled the real world we live in together. Immerse yourself in Tolkien's middle earth and you find the moral colorings of your own world more vivid, the stakes of the game higher, history more pregnant with meaning, and the flat sky overhead giving way to heavens over heavens over heavens, infinite miles below a distant Illuvatar who framed the worlds in song. Christianity's not a sprawling epic, exactly, but the association brings out things that need to be noted.

C.S. Lewis' bright idea was, "What if Christianity were a fairy tale?" And he worked out the basic idea in the Chronicles of Narnia, where adventures can happen under the watchful eye of a divine Lion. In his non-fiction work, he was very careful with the notion of fairy tale, insisting that Christianity tells the fairy story that is true, the myth that became fact without losing any of its world-defining power as myth. But the Narnian ethos informs everything about his way of being Christian. For Lewis, even the presence of Christians in the world - certainly the presence of conspicuously saintly ones - is almost like the presence of the fairy folk among us: "Every now and then one meets them. Their very voices and faces are different from ours; stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. They begin where most of us leave off. They are, I say, recognisable; but you must know what to look for." Being holy, Lewis says, "is rather like joining a secret society." "It must be great fun," he concludes, putting the finishing touch on a kind of Christianity that begins "once upon a time," ends "happily ever after," and in the in between time, under the mercy, is as tough-minded as it is tender-hearted. ....

.... Tolkien imagined Christianity as a saga, Lewis imagined it as a fairy tale, and Williams imagined it as a ghost story. They didn't make the classic liberal mistake of re-tooling Christianity to fit whatever was currently popular. But they made it not boring, and that drew attention, and that has produced great and lasting results. (more)
Christianity Made Interesting: The Inklings | The Scriptorium Daily: Middlebrow

"What does it profit a man...?"

Last week the Missouri Synod Lutherans canceled a long-running radio program, explaining that it had few listeners and was losing money. Today, a report in the Wall Street Journal suggests that there may be other reasons:
.... The program was in all likelihood a pawn in a larger battle for the soul of the Missouri Synod. The church is divided between, on the one hand, traditional Lutherans known for their emphasis on sacraments, liturgical worship and the church's historic confessions and, on the other, those who have embraced pop-culture Christianity and a market-driven approach to church growth. The divide is well known to all confessional Christian denominations struggling to retain their traditional identity.

The Rev. Gerald Kieschnick, the synod's current president, has pushed church marketing over the Lutherans' historic confession of faith by repeatedly telling the laity, "This is not your grandfather's church." ....

While "Issues, Etc." never criticized Mr. Kieschnick or his colleagues, its attacks against shallow church marketing included mention of some approaches embraced by the current leadership. It opposed, for instance, the emergent church - an attempt to accommodate postmodern culture by blending philosophies and practices from throughout the church's history - and the Purpose Driven Church movement, which reorients the church's message toward self-help and self-improvement.
Anthony Sacramone at First Things provides some context:
.... The LCMS, in which I was baptized and confirmed, is unlike any other Protestant body: Its not mainline and not quite evangelical, at least in the altar-call, clap-happy sense. Rather it is orthodox, confessional, and liturgical - or at least it's supposed to be. For those Christians who are tired of the strip-mall approach to church-hopping, in which the congregation with the best music and most emotional appeal wins your heart this week, the LCMS has always been a traditional, sober, and catholic alternative. Unfortunately, many within the LCMS have decided that being Lutheran isn't enough; they also want to be BIG and compete with the nondenoms around the corner. [....]
Radio Silence -, First Things » Blog Archive » The LCMS Mess

Thursday, March 27, 2008


This has been posted several places today. It has nothing to do with anything in particular. It's just neat. Enjoy:

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

C.S. Lewis

Christianity Today provides annotated links to several C.S. Lewis related websites chosen by Lewis scholar Louis Markos:
The C.S. Lewis Foundation
The foundation exists to promote the works of C. S. Lewis to the larger public and in the halls of academia. In addition to offering information on the many conferences sponsored by the foundation, this website provides a full list of books by and about Lewis, along with links to all the major Lewis websites.

Into the Wardrobe
Perhaps the best one-stop educational site for information on C. S. Lewis. It not only includes an annotated bibliography but also pictures, audio files, forums, and the full text of several dozen scholarly papers.

C.S. Lewis Society of California
There are many C. S. Lewis societies out there, most of which have good websites. This one offers the fullest and most varied resources, including links to interviews and audio/video resources.

Marion E. Wade Center
The best research museum of C. S. Lewis is housed not in England but at Wheaton College, Illinois. The center also features the books and papers of six writers who profoundly influenced Lewis: Owen Barfield, G. K. Chesterton, George MacDonald, Dorothy L. Sayers, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams.

Narnia Web
With the film versions of Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader due out in May 2008 and May 2010, respectively, this is the single best news source on present and future Narnia movies.
The List: LewisWatch | Liveblog | Christianity Today


Reviewing a book by Anthony Thiselton, Scot McKnight discusses what it means to "believe" something and observes that:
.... Orthodoxy, then, is not just something we confess when we say the Nicene Creed; orthodoxy is the disposition that we confess and live and perform in such a manner that anyone who denies what we "believe" will see our response in word and deed. We are not orthodox because we have never denied orthodoxy; we are orthodox because our disposition of belief, what we say and how we live, reveals our orthodoxy. .... [more]

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works."
James 2:18
Belief that doesn't affect behavior is not belief at all.

Performing Orthodoxy | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Keeping politics in perspective

Compartmentalizing our faith is a serious error. If we truly believe in God, that conviction must necessarily affect every part of our lives - every decision we make. That has to include our behavior as citizens - our political involvement. Joe Carter offers "An Open Letter to the Religious Right." Read it all here. An excerpt:
One - As a matter of political liberty I believe it is important that we support such issues as prayer in schools and public displays of religious symbols. But I can't imagine that on the Day of Judgment I'll hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant - you have faithfully fought to keep the Ten Commandments in the courthouse." More likely we'll all be asked why we didn't spend more time concerned about our neighbors in Darfur or fighting the pandemic of AIDS. Perhaps we should rethink our priorities and put the first things first.

Two - Being Right doesn't mean we are always right. I know we claim we understand that but it would probably help if we acted like we believed it as well.

Three - We have ideological enemies (such as Islamo-fascists) and we have ideological opponents (such as secular liberals). While our ideological opponents want us to lose elections; our ideological enemies want us to lose our lives. That's a crucial distinction that we should always keep in mind. While we have to love them all, we shouldn't lump them all together.

In a classical statement of ecumenicity, St. Augustine once said, "In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love." Those of us on the religious right should adopt a similar principle and clearly define the boundaries between what is essential and what is non-essential in matters of policy and politics.

Protecting the sanctity of innocent human life and defending the traditional definition of marriage are clearly essentials. Those matters are based on principles that can be clearly derived from the Bible. Other issues, however, are often less opaque. For example, can someone truly be on the "religious right" and not support the war in Iraq?

The fact that question can even be asked shows how we've muddied the waters. While I personally think that, on the whole, the war was morally justified and a necessary humanitarian intervention, I can respect those who disagree. Indeed, the alternate opinion may be as rooted in Biblical and conservative principles as, I believe, is my position. We should be very, very careful where we draw the lines of political heresy. [more]
An Open Letter to the Religious Right - the evangelical outpost

You might be emergent if...

I've just started to read Why We're Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be by DeYoung and Kluck, and my impression is that it is going to be very interesting. It received a good review at Discerning Reader today that concludes:
Why We’re Not Emergent is not a scholarly treatment of what is decidedly not an intellectual movement. Instead this is an eminently accessible book and one that should have very wide appeal. It will introduce you to the key leaders and foundational books of the emerging movement. It will show you why this emergent movement is so deceptive and so dangerous. If you have been searching for a book that will help you to understand the emerging church or if you have been seeking to answer a friend’s question “What is the emerging church?,” this is just the book you’ll want. I heartily recommend it. [the review]
Early in the Introduction DeYoung describes what he understands the "emerging movement" to be, and he includes this paragraph:
After reading nearly five thousand pages of emerging-church literature, I have no doubt that the emerging church, while loosely defined and far from uniform, can be described and critiqued as a diverse, but recognizable, movement. You might be an emergent Christian: if you listen to U2, Moby, and Johnny Cash's Hurt (sometimes in church), use sermon illustrations from The Sopranos, drink lattes in the afternoon and Guinness in the evenings, and always use a Mac; if your reading list consists primarily of Stanley Hauerwas, Henri Nouwen, N. T. Wright, Stan Grenz, Dallas Willard, Brennan Manning, Jim Wallis, Frederick Buechner, David Bosch, John Howard Yoder, Wendell Berry, Nancy Murphy, John Franke, Walter Winks and Lesslie Newbigin (not to mention McLaren, Pagitt, Bell, etc.) and your sparring partners include D. A. Carson, John Calvin, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Wayne Grudem; if your idea of quintessential Christian discipleship is Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, or Desmond Tutu; if you don't like George W. Bush or institutions or big business or capitalism or Left Behind Christianity; if your political concerns are poverty, AIDS, imperialism, war-mongering, CEO salaries, consumerism, global warming, racism, and oppression and not so much abortion and gay marriage; if you are into bohemian, goth, rave, or indie; if you talk about the myth of redemptive violence and the myth of certainty; if you lie awake at night having nightmares about all the ways modernism has ruined your life; if you love the Bible as a beautiful, inspiring collection of works that lead us into the mystery of God but is not inerrant; if you search for truth but aren't sure it can be found; if you've ever been to a church with prayer labyrinths, candles, Play-Doh, chalk-drawings, couches, or beanbags (your youth group doesn't count); if you loathe words like linear, propositional, rational, machine, and hierarchy and use words like ancient-future, jazz, mosaic, matrix, missional, vintage, and dance; if you grew up in a very conservative Christian home that in retrospect seems legalistic, naive, and rigid; if you support women in all levels of ministry, prioritize urban over suburban, and like your theology narrative instead of systematic; if you disbelieve in any sacred-secular divide; if you want to be the church and not just go to church; if you long for a community that is relational, tribal, and primal like a river or a garden; if you believe doctrine gets in the way of an interactive relationship with Jesus; if you believe who goes to hell is no one's business and no one may be there anyway; if you believe salvation has a little to do with atoning for guilt and a lot to do with bringing the whole creation back into shalom with its Maker; if you believe following Jesus is not believing the right things but living the right way; if it really bugs you when people talk about going to heaven instead of heaven coming to us; if you disdain monological, didactic preaching; if you use the word "story" in all your propositions about postmodernism—if all or most of this tortuously long sentence describes you, then you might be an emergent Christian. [emphasis added]
I found myself described by many of the "ifs", yet I am confident I don't fall within the parameters of the movement. I suspect that this is one of those books that will not take very long to read.

Update 11:00 pm: I have now read about half of the book. It is extraordinarily good. I commend it to anyone who wishes clarity about the subject.

Update: I don't want my final paragraph above to be misleading. Although many of the "ifs" do describe me, even more do not.

Update again 4/26: Here is the book's website and it includes a video interview with the authors. I am within a couple of chapters of finishing the book with enthusiasm undiminished.

Monday, March 24, 2008

"Where there is no Gospel..."

"Where there is no Gospel, something else will fill the void: therapy, consumerism, politics, crazy conspiracy theories of the left, crazy conspiracy theories of the right, anything will do." Russell D. Moore argues that many of us are missing the point in our outrage over the preaching of Jeremiah Wright — and that his most important error is replicated all the time in churches that don't share his theology or political agenda. It is all really a question of forgetting what is central to the Christian faith. From "Why You Shouldn't Worry About Jeremiah Wright, and Why You Should":
....Liberation theology has been with us since the 1960s, in too many incarnations to count, always offering a version of the same message. The liberation theologians see the Gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected, the message of deliverance from the reign of sin and death through repentance and faith, as too "pie in the sky." In contrast, liberation theology offers economic and political salvation in the here-and-now, sometimes through pulpit rhetoric and sometimes at the point of a gun.

Liberation theology is seeker sensitive. The first waves of this movement, in Latin America, were designed to make Christianity appealing to the people by addressing their felt needs, the desire for armed revolution and Marxist economics. Liberation theology only works if one can connect with real or perceived oppression and then make the Scripture illustrative of how to navigate out of that situation. The Kingdom of God is a means to a social, economic, or political end.

This is not the Gospel as proclaimed by the prophets and apostles, a Gospel that centers on Jesus Christ and Him alone. We should be outraged by the clips of the Wright sermons. But we should be outraged first as Christians, not first as Americans. The most egregious aspect of the Wright sermons is not what he is saying about America, but what he is not saying about the Gospel.

But one does not have to be a political radical to bypass Jesus at church. And it is certainly not true that liberation theology is the exclusive domain of those who have suffered oppression. White, upwardly mobile, pro-American preachers do it all the time, preaching liberation theology with all the fervor of Jeremiah Wright, if not the anger.

Just take a look at the best-selling authors in evangelical Christian bookstores. Listen for a minute or two at the parade of preachers on Christian television and radio. What are they promising? Your best life now. What are they preaching about? How to be authentic. How to make good career choices. How Hillary Clinton fits in Bible prophecy.

How many times have we all heard from pulpits the Bible used in exactly the way that Jeremiah Wright uses it, except perhaps in reverse? Jeremiah Wright uses the Scripture as a background to get to what he thinks is the real issue, psychological or economic or political liberation from American oppression. Others use the Scripture as a background to get to what they think is the real issue, psychological or economic or political liberation through the American Dream. Either way, Jesus is a footnote to get to what the preacher deems really important, be it national health care or support for Israel. Either way, apart from the Gospel, the end result is hell for the hearer, regardless of whether God damns or blesses America. .... (the column)
The Henry Institute: Commentary

"If Christ is not raised...."

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather a scornful tone,
"it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all."
The definition of "Christianity" is sometimes approached the way Humpty Dumpty used words. There are those who wish to master the word so it will fit them. Albert Mohler responds to "Must one believe in the Resurrection to be a Christian?" at On Faith:
.... Christianity without the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is merely one religion among many. "And if Christ is not risen," said the Apostle Paul, "then our preaching is empty and your faith is in vain" [1 Corinthians 15:14]. Furthermore, "You are still in your sins!" [v. 17]. Paul could not have chosen stronger language. "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable" [v. 19].

Yet, the resurrection of Jesus Christ has been under persistent attacks since the Apostolic age. Why? Because it is the central confirmation of Jesus' identity as the incarnate Son of God, and the ultimate sign of Christ's completed work of atonement, redemption, reconciliation, and salvation. [....]

As Paul well understood, Christianity stands or falls with the empty grave. If Christ is not raised, we are to be pitied, for our faith is in vain. Those who would preach a resurrectionless Christianity have substituted the truth of the gospel for a lie. But, asserted Paul, Christ is risen from the dead. Our faith is not in vain, but is in the risen Lord. He willingly faced death on a cross and defeated death from the grave. The Resurrection is the ultimate sign of God's vindication of His Son. [more]
R. Albert Mohler Jr.: Resurrection Essential to Christianity - On Faith at

Sabbath Recorder April, 2008

The April, 2008, Sabbath Recorder is available online here as a pdf.

Prison ministry is the subject of this issue of the Recorder. Several articles are contributed by Seventh Day Baptists who have been and are involved in such ministry. The articles are informative and interesting. One is by a former prisoner, two by pastors who have done such ministry and one by a chaplain at a federal penitentiary.
“When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?" The King will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:39-40, NIV
The Sabbath Recorder is the magazine of the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference and has been regularly published in some form since 1844.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Don't call it worship

Michael Spencer has been blogging about "freedom in worship" contrasted with the "regulative principle" which he defines as "the belief that nothing should be done in worship that is not expressly commanded in scripture" and he describes how he would make that work.

Today he observes that:
Much of the nastiness of the "worship wars" could be avoided if elders and church leaders were taught to think and plan with a moderate regulative principle in mind. Of course, putting the Biblical story in the central place it deserves and scripture commends would cramp the style of a lot of church-growth preachers, who center "worship" around whatever pulls in a crowd. The question they may need to ask is why they continue to advertise as "worship" something which is clearly not, nor really even intended to be. If you want to have a kickin' band play a set and then talk about sex after reading a couple of Proverbs, go ahead, but don't fool yourself and others into calling it worship.
Some years ago my local church did a study of the elements and purpose of worship as described in Scripture. Paul Manuel led our study and our conclusions framed how our worship leaders subsequently planned our Sabbath service. This essay by Paul reflects much of what we concluded and this, often printed on the back of our bulletins, describes what we do and why:
Each service has a theme that emphasizes a particular aspect of God's person or work. The music and readings are all selected to support and develop this theme so that the service has order and direction. We begin our worship with a brief time of silent meditation on a passage of Scripture. This helps us focus our attention on the Lord we praise and begins our consideration of the worship theme. The worship leader then directs the service by indicating how each hymn, chorus, and Scripture helps us understand and worship our God. [more]
And so I find myself very much in sympathy with the Internet Monk [Spencer] when he expresses himself on this topic. Although one can intentionally worship in almost any environment, it's much nicer when those leading are helping rather than hindering. » Blog Archive » iMonk 101: The Regulative Principle and Lessons From The Psalms

For God so loved....

A prayer from the American Bible Society via SDB Exec:
Dear Lord, we come to You with grateful hearts and overflowing appreciation for everything You have provided us. We are especially thankful for the precious gift of Your only begotten son, Jesus Christ. We ask that you look upon us, Oh Lord, and find us worthy. Just as the stone before Christ's tomb was rolled away by Your command, we ask that You move all obstacles of sin and weakness from our path so that we may please you in all that we do. As we go from our homes this Easter, we pray that you are with us in our places of worship, as we give thanks and praises for Your eternal and abiding love.

These things we ask in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
SDB Exec: March 2008

Friday, March 21, 2008

Believers are happier

According to a study:
People who believe in God are happier than agnostics or atheists, researchers claimed yesterday.

A report found that religious people were better able to cope with disappointments such as unemployment or divorce than non-believers.

Moreover, they become even happier the more they pray and go to church, claims the study by Prof Andrew Clark and Dr Orsolya Lelkes.
Especially this weekend it may be redundant to point out that believers are happier in the long run, too. And that their happiness in this life is related to their hope in God.

Believers are happier than atheists' - Telegraph

Paul Scofield RIP

Paul Scofield died last Wednesday. He was known as a very good actor, mostly on stage, but also in several films. For many of us he will be best remembered as Sir Thomas More in the first film version of A Man for All Seasons. He inhabited the role, and if, like me, you watched the film over and over and listened to the records of the performance many more times, he was More.

The play and the script for the film were written by Robert Bolt. Here is a portion of it. The speakers are More and his prospective son-in-law. The initial reference is to a man who had just left them, Richard Rich.
More: Go he should, if he were the Devil, until he broke the law.

Roper: Now you give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes, what would you do? Cut a road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: Yes. I'd cut down every law in England to do that.

More: And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted with laws from coast to coast... Man's laws, not God's, and if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the wind that would blow then? Yes. I give the Devil benefit of law for my own safety's sake.
From the Los Angeles Times about Scofield:
Scofield originated the role of More, the morally courageous 16th century chancellor of England who defied King Henry VIII, in Robert Bolt's "A Man for All Seasons" on the London stage in 1960.

A year later, he was playing More on Broadway, a role for which he won a Tony Award for best actor in a play.

"With a kind of weary magnificence," a Time magazine writer observed, "Scofield sinks himself in the part, studiously underplays it, and somehow displays the inner mind of a man destined for sainthood."

His best-actor Oscar-winning performance as More in Zinnemann's movie version of "A Man for All Seasons" - which won six Oscars, including best picture - brought Scofield international fame.

Not that he sought such attention.

An intensely private man - "Privacy is not negotiable" - Scofield did not seek publicity and rarely gave interviews. "It is a snare and a delusion to become too well known," he once said.
IOL: Actor Paul Schofield dies, Paul Scofield, 86; award- winning British actor - Los Angeles Times

Good Friday

And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” [Mark 15:22-26, ESV]
Justin Taylor:
Written over 20 years ago and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, this article goes into graphic detail about the physical pain that Jesus would have endured in his beatings and crucifixion....
Here is an excerpt from that article, "On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ" by William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer. The article is substantially longer and detailed, with diagrams and ample citation. Our Lord's manner of execution was like that suffered by a great many others in the Roman world:
…. It was customary for the condemned man to carry his own cross from the flogging post to the site of crucifixion outside the city walls. He was usually naked, unless this was prohibited by local customs. Since the weight of the entire cross was probably well over 300 lb (136 kg), only the crossbar was carried. The patibulum, weighing 75 to 125 lb. (34 to 57 kg), was placed across the nape of the victim’s neck and balanced along both shoulders. Usually, the outstretched arms then were tied to the crossbar. The processional to the site of crucifixion was led by a complete Roman military guard, headed by a centurion. One of the soldiers carried a sign (titulus) on which the condemned man’s name and crime were displayed. Later, the titulus would be attached to the top of the cross. The Roman guard would not leave the victim until they were sure of his death.Outside the city walls was permanently located the heavy upright wooden stipes, on which the patibulum would be secured. In the case of the Tau cross, this was accomplished by means of a mortise and tenon joint, with or without reinforcement by ropes. To prolong the crucifixion process, a horizontal wooden block or plank, serving as a crude seat (sedile or sedulum), often was attached midway down the stipes. Only very rarely, and probably later than the time of Christ, was an additional block (suppedaneum) employed for transfixion of the feet.

At the site of execution, by law, the victim was given a bitter drink of wine mixed with myrrh (gall) as a mild analgesic. The criminal was then thrown to the ground on his back, with his arms outstretched along the patibulum. The hands could be nailed or tied to the crossbar, but nailing apparently was preferred by the Romans. The archaeological remains of a crucified body, found in an ossuary near Jerusalem and dating from the time of Christ, indicate that the nails were tapered iron spikes approximately 5 to 7 in (13 to 18 cm) long with a square shaft 3/8 in (1 cm) across. Furthermore, ossuary findings and the Shroud of Turin have documented that the nails commonly were driven through the wrists rather than the palms.

After both arms were fixed to the crossbar, the patibulum and the victim, together, were lifted onto the stipes. On the low cross, four soldiers could accomplish this relatively easily. However, on the tall cross, the soldiers used either wooden forks or ladders.

Next, the feet were fixed to the cross, either by nails or ropes. Ossuary findings and the Shroud of Turin suggest that nailing was the preferred Roman practice. Although the feet could be fixed to the sides of the stipes or to a wooden footrest (suppedaneum), they usually were nailed directly to the front of the stipes. To accomplish this, flexion of the knees may have been quite prominent, and the bent legs may have been rotated laterally.

When the nailing was completed, the titulus was attached to the cross, by nails or cords, just above the victim’s head. The soldiers and the civilian crowd often taunted and jeered the condemned man, and the soldiers customarily divided up his clothes among themselves. The length of survival generally ranged from three or four hours to three or four days and appears to have been inversely related to the severity of the scourging. However, even if the scourging had been relatively mild, the Roman soldiers could hasten death by breaking the legs below the knees (crurifragium or skelokopia). …. [the article]
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. [Luke 23:44-46, ESV]
Dorothy L. Sayers on at least part of the meaning:
For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is - limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death - he had the honesty and courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself. He has himself gone through the whole human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When he was a man, he played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile." The Man born to be King, Dorothy L. Sayers
And suffered far, far move than we do or ever will.

The Inklings: Good Friday, Between Two Worlds: On the Physical Death of Jesus

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

An unexpected party

It may be well worth while to hang on to those early editions of the Tolkien books that you bought in the '60s - at least if they weren't read to tatters. But they probably won't be worth nearly as much as this first edition from 1937:
A rare first edition of author J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy novel "The Hobbit" was sold at auction Tuesday for 60,000 pounds (122,000 dollars, 77,000 euros) - more than twice its forecast value.

The book, inscribed by the South African-born British author himself, went under the hammer at Bonham's auction house in London, which had estimated it would sell for 20,000-30,000 pounds.

"The Hobbit" was originally written for his children, but a friend recommended he try to get a publisher. It was released in 1937 and the first print-run of 1,500 sold out immediately.
Thanks to The Pearcey Report for the reference.

Precious 'Hobbit' first edition sells for 60,000 pounds - Entertainment - MSN Indonesia News - News

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Seventh Day Baptist History V

An Era of Growth and Ferment
1865 - 1930

The years between the Civil War and the beginning of the Great Depression saw enormous growth and change in the United States. The frontier was declared closed by the 1890 Census. Industrial growth and new inventions transformed American life bringing increased urbanization accompanied by both economic opportunity and new social and political stresses. It was a time of labor turmoil, high immigration, the resurgence of racial bigotry, but also of optimism and of popular movements for social reform.

A.H. Lewis
Growth and Change. During this period Seventh Day Baptists remained largely a northern and a rural people. The latter partly because it was easier to keep the Sabbath if your vocation allowed you to control your own work schedule. But more urban churches began to appear. By 1900 some 116 churches claimed almost ten thousand members. Part of that growth was due to a vigorous effort, led by A.H. Lewis, to engage other Christians in discussion of the importance of the seventh-day Sabbath.

Women. By 1866 there were women serving as delegates to General Conference. A Woman’s Board was created in 1886. Seventh Day Baptist colleges admitted women. A few churches called women to serve in the pastorate. Others were missionaries. Two reform movements, closely linked, were Temperance and Women’s Suffrage. The consumption of alcoholic beverages, increasing numbers believed, caused behavior that had particularly devastating effects on families. Consequently, women were at the forefront of the fight for Prohibition, and brewers and distillers were at the forefront of the fight against giving them the vote. Seventh Day Baptist churches hosted chapters of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union [WCTU] which led the fight against alcohol and for the vote. Seventh Day Baptist pastors spoke at their meetings and were active in the Anti-Saloon League.

A.E. Main
Fundamentalism and Modernism. It was an increasingly common belief by the turn of the 20th century that progress in politics, society and morality was inevitable. The appearance of new inventions, always seeming better than the old, combined with the impact of the theory of evolution and undeniable social improvement led to an optimism unknown in earlier eras. Those factors combined with the new biblical criticism to cause division among Christians. One response was to discard doctrines and “myths” that seemed discredited and out of date and to adapt to what seemed a new reality. The resulting theological movement was known as Modernism or Liberalism. Those defending biblical orthodoxy became known as Fundamentalists. The disputes arising from these differences were serious among Seventh Day Baptists, resulting in rival publications, debates at Conference, and the refusal of some ministerial candidates to attend the seminary at Alfred, which was considered liberal. The denomination did not split, but one consequence was a Statement of Belief, adopted in 1937, which attempted to find "unity in diversity." Divisions rooted in these disputes surfaced throughout the 20th century.

Seventh Day Baptist Building, Plainfield, NJ
During this period there were several efforts to unify and make more efficient the various agencies and ministries that identified with the Seventh Day Baptist denomination. These attempts had only mixed and incomplete success but an important symbolic milestone in the effort was the construction and opening of the Seventh Day Baptist Denominational Building in Plainfield, New Jersey, at the end of 1929.

Includes material from: Don Sanford, A Choosing People: The History of Seventh Day Baptists, 1992

The first picture is of A.H. Lewis. Then A.E. Main, a leading Modernist in the denomination. The last is of the Seventh Day Baptist Building, Plainfield, NJ, headquarters of the denomination from 1929 until 1982 when the offices moved to Janesville, WI.

The next in the series: "Seventh Day Baptist History VI - '...To Other Parts of the World'"

This series begins with: "Seventh Day Baptist History I - Seventh Day Baptist Origins"

Links to all of the posts about Seventh Day Baptist History can be found here.

This series of short summaries of Seventh Day Baptist history is part of a project undertaken for the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society, which maintains its archives and a museum in Janesville, Wisconsin.

Christianity Today Book Awards

Christianity Today has announced their 2008 book awards:
This year, 49 publishers nominated 359 titles published in 2007. CT editors selected the top books in each category, and then panels of judges — one panel per category — voted. In the end, we chose 10 winners and gave 11 awards of merit to the books that best shed light on people, events, and ideas that shape evangelical life, thought, and mission.
One of the categories is Biblical Studies. Their choice:
The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition by Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd (Baker Academic)

Our judges said:
"Answers a timeless question: Can we trust the Gospels to report to us an historical portrait of Jesus? This is simply an amazing book: exhaustive in its coverage, elegant in its style. Will see heavy use for many years to come."
The rest of the list.

The 2008 Christianity Today Book Awards | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Monday, March 17, 2008

Movies online

I just discovered hulu, where clips from various TV shows and films can be found, along with a number of complete movies, some of them very good. So if you have not yet seen Master and Commander, or The Big Lebowski, or Ice Age, or Jonah you might want to try it out. Here, for instance, is October Sky from that site:

hulu: October Sky

Black liberation theology

"Spengler," a columnist for the Asia Times, explains what Jeremiah Wright apparently believes - or at least what those he cites as authorities believe. It differs significantly from Biblical Christianity:
.... During the black-power heyday of the late 1960s, after the murder of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, the mentors of Wright decided that blacks were the Chosen People. James Cone, the most prominent theologian in the "black liberation" school, teaches that Jesus Christ himself is black. As he explains:
Christ is black therefore not because of some cultural or psychological need of black people, but because and only because Christ really enters into our world where the poor were despised and the black are, disclosing that he is with them enduring humiliation and pain and transforming oppressed slaves into liberating servants.
Theologically, Cone's argument is as silly as the "Aryan Christianity" popular in Nazi Germany, which claimed that Jesus was not a Jew at all but an Aryan Galilean, and that the Aryan race was the "chosen people". Cone, Hopkins and Wright do not propose, of course, to put non-blacks in concentration camps or to conquer the world, but racially-based theology nonetheless is a greased chute to the nether regions.

Biblical theology teaches that even the most terrible events to befall Israel, such as the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, embody the workings of divine justice, even if humankind cannot see God's purpose. James Cone sees the matter very differently. Either God must do what we want him to do, or we must reject him, Cone maintains:
Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community ... Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.
In the black liberation theology taught by Wright, Cone and Hopkins, Jesus Christ is not for all men, but only for the oppressed:
In the New Testament, Jesus is not for all, but for the oppressed, the poor and unwanted of society, and against oppressors ... Either God is for black people in their fight for liberation and against the white oppressors, or he is not [Cone].
In this respect black liberation theology is identical in content to all the ethnocentric heresies that preceded it. ....
About Barack Obama, Spengler observes:
Whether Obama takes seriously the doctrines that Wright preaches is another matter. It is possible that Obama does not believe a word of what Wright, Cone and Hopkins teach. Perhaps he merely used the Trinity United Church of Christ as a political stepping-stone. African-American political life is centered around churches, and his election to the Illinois State Senate with the support of Chicago's black political machine required church membership. Trinity United happens to be Chicago's largest and most politically active black church.

Obama views Wright rather at arm's length: as the New York Times reported on April 30, 2007:
Reverend Wright is a child of the 60s, and he often expresses himself in that language of concern with institutional racism and the struggles the African-American community has gone through," Mr Obama said. "He analyzes public events in the context of race. I tend to look at them through the context of social justice and inequality.
Obama holds his own views close. But it seems unlikely that he would identify with the ideological fits of the black-power movement of the 1960s. ....[the column]
Asia Times Online :: Asian News, Business and Economy.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The heart of Evangelicalism is the Gospel

In an interview with the Internet Monk, C. Michael Patton [Reclaiming the Mind] responds to a question about the state of Evangelicalism. Patton says we have an "identity crisis" and, essentially, that we need to remember the answers, remember what everything is all about, remember just what the "Good News" is. Patton:
Ask ten people for a definition of Evangelicalism and you will find ten different answers. For some evangelicals the Gospel has been lost to the entertainment business. For others it is a means to justify consumerism. And still, for others, it is an obscure journey without a destination or reliable map. We need to reclaim the center once again.

At the heart of evangelicalism is the Gospel. At the heart of the Gospel is the truth about God and man. God is holy, righteous, and loving. You lose one of these and you have lost the Gospel. Humans have dignity as God’s image bearers, yet they have been corrupted with sin. God’s Son is our only hope for restoration. We must call upon God for mercy. Each one of these components, when lost, produces a different Gospel and, hence, a different Evangelicalism.

If Evangelicalism is to survive (and I believe that it can), we need to get back to the Gospel. If this means that a conversation needs to happen about what the Gospel is, then we need to push for this conversation. But people need to come informed beyond their own subjectivity or we will just have more “gospels” and a greater identity crisis in Evangelicalism. [the interview] » Blog Archive » C. Michael Patton of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries: The Internet Monk Interview

Giving is better

Greg Gilbert at 9Marks:
We as Christians can very easily become more concerned about whether other people are loving us, than we are about whether we are loving other people.

I know that being and feeling loved are important needs for any human being. That’s how we’re made. But it’s worth noticing, especially in the context of the church, that the Bible’s command is to “love one another,” not “to be loved by one another.” The language is active, not passive.
Church Matters: The 9Marks Blog

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Like a tree planted by streams of water

Michael S. Horton [of Modern Reformation and White Horse Inn] in a Touchstone article, "All Crossed Up", argues that too many churches have their priorities messed up:
It used to be that the pastor had an office and worked in his study, but today the pastor has a job and works in his office. Whereas Peter organized the diaconal office so that the apostles could devote themselves to the Word and to prayer, ideal ministers seem increasingly to be managers, therapists, entertainers, and entrepreneurial businesspeople.

Open up the average issue of Christianity Today to advertisements for pastoral positions and you’ll find descriptions like “team builder,” “warm and personal style,” “outgoing,” “contagious personality,” and “effective communicator.” (Catholic friends tell me that something like this affects Catholicism, too.)

I think they’re looking for a Director of Sales and Marketing, whom they may (or may not) call “Pastor.” I’m not against directors of sales and marketing; I just don’t think that this is what we should be looking for in the way of shepherds.

We wouldn’t have had Paul, for example. Who, having advertised for an outgoing team builder with a contagious personality, would have hired a pastor who openly disclosed the fact that he was not a great communicator, suffered everywhere he was sent, was nearly blind, and lacked the natural charisma of the “super-apostles,” who were only too happy to point out these weaknesses themselves? [....]

When churches abandon the ordinary ministry for extraordinary “excitements sufficient to induce conversion” (Finney’s phrase), eventually the innovations become traditions and the insatiable craving for ever-new experiences of spontaneous expressivism, like a drug addiction, leads eventually to the spiritual equivalent of a heart attack. Tragically, the landscape of American religion is littered with successive waves of “revival” (often patterned on American trends in salesmanship) followed inevitably by periods of spiritual fatigue and skepticism.

There are no easy answers to finding the right balance between caring for the flock already gathered and seeking those who are far off. However, the New Testament does, I believe, lead us to a crucial conclusion: namely, that the same ministry that leads us and our children to Christ, in an ever-deepening communion with him and his body, also reaches strangers, which most of us (as Gentiles) were ourselves. The church in its ever-widening and ever-expanding circumference is always a creation of the Word. [....]

When pastors feel the burden of saving people, selling the gospel, or cornering the market through their own cleverness, methods, creativity, or charisma, they eventually burn out. So, too, do the sheep who are submitted to perpetual exhortations to imitate their restless “authenticity.”

According to a recent study of Evangelical ministers, 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month and 80 percent of seminary graduates leave within five years. This comports with another study that found that 80 percent of the youth who grow up in Evangelical churches drop out by their sophomore year of college.

Charles Finney’s “burned-over district” is growing like a cancer. The challenge before us is to regain our confidence in the ordinary means of grace: “to grow like a tree rather than a forest fire,” as Wendell Berry described our relation to our local environment.

Should we not begin with Paul’s list of qualifications for our pastors rather than the average job description in circulation today, and abide by the habits of disciplined growth that we find in the New Testament rather than the consumer habits of the marketplace? [the article]
Touchstone Archives: All Crossed Up

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Still excommunicate

Apparently the Times report was incorrect. From the Catholic News Service [via Insight Scoop]:
Rumors that the Vatican is set to rehabilitate Martin Luther, the 16th-century leader of the Protestant Reformation, are groundless, said the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi.

News reports in early March alleged that Pope Benedict XVI was dedicating a planned September symposium with former doctoral students to re-evaluating Luther, who was excommunicated and condemned for heresy.

The story "does not have any foundation, insofar as no rehabilitation of Luther is foreseen," Father Lombardi told the Italian news agency ANSA March 8.

Vatican officials said the topic of the pope's annual summer gathering of former students this year has not yet been decided. Of the two topics under consideration, Luther is not one of them, one official told Catholic News Service.

Excesses in 16th-century preaching about indulgences and in Catholic penitential practices sparked Luther, a theologian and Augustinian monk, to seek reform in the church. His concerns started a movement that led to the Protestant Reformation.

The church excommunicated Luther for preaching a philosophy doubting the pope's infallibility.
CNS STORY: Vatican spokesman calls rumors of rehabilitation of Luther groundless

Know how you ought to answer

Tom Gilson offers good advice to Christians who become involved in discussion of Intelligent Design. It is also good advice for any of us involved in almost any controversy. Excerpts [read it all]:
Here are the three most serious mistakes to avoid:
  1. Speaking Of What We Do Not Know ....
  2. Speaking Without Respect and Courtesy ....
  3. Not Speaking of What We Do Know ....
For those who are Christians, Colossians 4:6 summarizes it best:
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Thinking Christian » How Not to Support “Expelled;” How Not to Attack Evolution

ESV Personal Size Reference Bible

Mark Bertrand reviews the new ESV Personal Size Reference Bible at Bible Design & Binding. It is a review of the edition, not the translation, and so is of particular interest to those of us already enamored of the English Standard Version. After a thorough discussion of the qualities of this edition, he concludes:
I love the Personal Reference ESV, but I understand if not everyone does. For me it delivers most of the goods - a readable, single-column setting with a clever approach to references and a relatively compact form factor. I’ve never enjoyed reading the poetry of the ESV more, and it’s never looked so good on the page before. All in all, I’m satisfied. Having said that, what I’m waiting on is a quality binding for the Personal Reference. It’s hard to commit fully until then.

My advice is to pick up a copy and see for yourself. Don’t just flip through it and make a decision. Spend some time reading. If you don’t like it after that, so be it. But like me, you might find that after a few hours reading, you don’t want to part with it. [the whole thing]
I just ordered one. The TruTone edition is less than $20 at Amazon. Leather is about $10 more.

Bible Design and Binding: Personal Size Reference Edition (ESV)

Monday, March 10, 2008

"Mere" Christianity

The previous post inspired me to re-read Mere Christianity for the first time in years. This is the book that rescued me from an adolescent arrogance that threatened to detach me from my Christian upbringing. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, convinced me that intelligence and learning were not incompatible with orthodoxy. And that is what I have always understood "mere" Christianity to be - orthodox Christian doctrine - doctrine that distinguishes Christians from non-Christians.

I haven't read very far yet, but have already, inevitably, found something I really like.

In his preface, Lewis laid out what exactly he had intended to do in these radio talks. He didn't intend to denigrate denominational or doctrinal differences among Christians. He did intend to set forth the central doctrines of the faith. Here are two selections from the Preface in which he indicates the place of orthodox belief in all Christian denominations and then how we should decide from which of them to practice our faith:
It is at her centre, where her truest children dwell, that each communion is really closest to every other in spirit, if not in doctrine. And this suggests that at the centre of each there is something, or a Someone, who against all divergences of belief, all differences of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks with the same voice.[....]

I hope no reader will suppose that "mere" Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions—as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable. It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait. When you do get into your room you will find that the long wait has done you some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise. But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping. You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and paneling. In plain language, the question should never be: "Do I like that kind of service?" but "Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?"

When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Scribner, 1952, pp. viii, xi-xii

Making righteousness readable

Donald Downing, author of The Most Reluctant Convert as well as other books about C.S. Lewis, has posted an appreciation of Mere Christianity at the C.S. Lewis Blog:
C.S. Lewis’s earliest biographers, Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper, wrote that if they were going to a desert island and could take only one Lewis book, it would probably be Mere Christianity. That’s a fascinating choice, considering that both men were thoroughly acquainted with Lewis’s whole body of work, including his children’s classics, the Narnia Chronicles, his international best-seller, The Screwtape Letters, and his ground-breaking literary studies such as The Allegory of Love and The Discarded Image.

Yet I’m sure many other readers would agree with Green and Hooper. Mere Christianity is often cited as the single best introduction to Christian faith, a book that has been a spiritual milestone for thousands of readers. Both Charles Colson, founder of the Prison Fellowship, and Francis Collins, leader of the Human Genome Project, have discussed the pivotal role played by this book in their own journeys to faith.

Mere Christianity, first published in 1952, is based upon four series of radio talks that Lewis gave during World War II. The first broadcast, in August 1941, was heard by over a million listeners and created an unexpected sensation. Lewis’s careful reasoning, his folksy analogies, and his calm bass voice quickly caught on, and it is said his voice became the second most recognized in Britain, after that of Winston Churchill.


Many people, even believers, think of Christian faith as a kind of bargain with God: if you lead a good life, he will reward you with a good afterlife. There is nothing particularly selfless or spiritual in this arrangement; it is a matter of mere self-interest. It is rather like an employer who tells his workers that if they do a good job for many years, he will give them a good pension when they retire. As for “goodness,” people may see it in the same prosaic terms they think about faith. We may think “virtue” consists mainly in abstaining from many of life’s pleasures in order to avoid the disapproval of our grumpy grandpa in the sky.

Mere Christianity explodes these misconceptions about the life of faith, offering a much more radical and engaging vision of the place of each human being in the cosmic drama. As Lewis himself summed up his view of the Christian life: “If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror that reflects back to God . . . his own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less.” (read it all)