Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Serve Him with mirth

Ray Ortlund wishes hymnal editors would let well enough alone — or, actually, let something very good alone.
All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice,
Him serve with mirth, his praise forth tell,
Come ye before him and rejoice.
The venerable Scottish Psalter paraphrased Psalm 100 that way. It is true to the meaning of the Hebrew.

My modern hymnal changed it:
All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice,
Him serve with fear, his praise forth tell,
Come ye before him and rejoice.
"Mirth" was changed to "fear." "Him serve [not with mirth but] with fear." There is no depth of perdition low enough for editors who corrupt the Psalter, the Bible and the gospel. Should we serve the Lord with fear? Yes. But that is not what Psalm 100 says. And the Bible should be allowed to speak for itself. We have no right to replace one good thing with even another good thing, if the Bible is authoritative over us. ....

Every elder board needs to set aside one hour at least to discuss this question: "How can we at our church serve the Lord with more mirth — in a non-weird way?" .... [more]
The Psalter Hymnal [CRC, 1987] my church uses has:
All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.
Serve him with joy, his praises tell,
Come now before him and rejoice.
"Joy" is better than "fear" but not as good as "mirth."

Update: The paraphrase was written by William Kethe and was first published in 1561. It used "fear." The Penguin Book of Hymns [1989] says
Certain modern hymnals render the third line of the first verse "Him serve with mirth," following a change that was first made in the Scottish Psalter to bring the hymn more in line with the second verse of Psalm 100, which runs "Serve the Lord with gladness." One cannot help feeling that Kethe was a little severe in his paraphrasing at this point, but he does at least allow us a "cheerful voice" in the line before.
Christ is deeper still: Mirth or fear?

Good stuff

Some days I find altogether too many good posts on other sites to quote from all of them. This is one of those days. Four things I've read today that you might find profitable too:
DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: Why Membership Matters, Why Should I Believe in Original Sin? : Kingdom People, Insight Scoop | The Ignatius Press Blog: "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ", Is a Deacon Just a Servant?

"Earthly things when they are with power..."

There was a time, before my time, when just about every household had a copy of Pilgrim's Progress. Barton Swaim reviews a new annotated edition and advocates the book's continuing worthiness:
.... In November 1660, just after the Restoration of Charles II, Bunyan was arrested during a service he was conducting in a barn. He was offered freedom on the condition that he promise not to preach any more, which was a promise he would not make. He remained in jail for the next 12 years, and he supported his family by making shoelaces and writing books and pamphlets.

He was imprisoned again, briefly, in 1676 and 1677. It was during this latter imprisonment that he finished the first part of Pilgrim's Progress. The story's point of departure is the prison cell: "As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place, where was a den; and I laid me down in that place to sleep: and as I slept I dreamed a dream."

He goes on:
I dreamed, and behold I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back. I looked, and saw him open the book, and read therein; and as he read, he wept and trembled: and not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry; saying, "What shall I do?"
Pilgrim's Progress is among the most powerful arguments ever made for the primacy of the individual conscience. The story's villains don't want to kill Christian so much as persuade him to abandon his pursuit. Apollyon himself offers to spare Christian's life, "if now thou wilt turn again, and go back." In that respect, at least, Pilgrim's Progress is as essential to the American character as the Declaration. No book had greater influence over the development of American piety. And the evidence of that influence is all around us: There is no higher virtue in our politics than "staying true to your principles, regardless of the cost." ....

But what really makes Pilgrim's Progress a great book is what makes all great books great: its author's insight into what makes people behave as they do. Bunyan had a marvelous gift for presenting human propensities in the abstract, but doing so in ways that strike one as deeply—indeed uncomfortably—familiar. Everyone has a favorite passage; my own appears in part two when Christiana (Christian's wife, who makes the journey in part two) visits the house of Interpreter.

Interpreter shows Christiana and her fellow pilgrims a room where there was
a man that could look no way but downwards, with a muck-rake in his hand. There stood also one over his head with a celestial crown in his hand, and proffered to give him that crown for his muck-rake; but the man did neither look up, nor regard, but raked to himself the straws, the small sticks, the dust of the floor.
Interpreter...explains that the spectacle "lets thee know that earthly things when they are with power upon men's minds quite carry their hearts away from God." .... [more]
The Good Book

Real and accurate?

For those poor souls who, believing what he says, read his books for information as well as entertainment, the Telegraph catalogs a few of Dan Brown's factual errors:
Dan Brown’s new novel The Lost Symbol opens with a bold word: FACT. "All rituals, science, artwork, and monuments in this novel are real", it says.

The Da Vinci Code, his previous bestseller, began in a similar fashion. "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate", Brown says before the prologue.

So is that true? We take a look at 50 of Brown's more contentious points in the two novels and a third, Angels and Demons, his previous work also starring Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon. ....

Some are major, some are minor. They are divided, somewhat arbitrarily, into categories of "History", "Geography", "Science", "Symbols, Religion and Mythology", "Language" and "Miscellany". .... [the fifty errors are here]
The Lost Symbol and The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown: 50 factual errors - Telegraph

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"The old religions are pretty good"

Mary Eberstadt remembering Irving Kristol in The Weekly Standard:
Irving understood what few in our post-authority age understand, which is that a great deal of contemporary youthful anomie is a cry of frustration against the disappearance of orthodoxy itself—and a substitute search for something higher than the low down, dirty, stifling counterculture. "Young people," he observed to a group of divinity professors and students back in 1979, "do not want to hear that the church is becoming modern. Go tell the young people that the message of the church is to wear sackcloth and ashes and to walk on nails to Rome, and they would do it." Furthermore, "young people, especially, are looking for religion so desperately that they are inventing new ones. They should not have to invent new ones; the old religions are pretty good."
PREVIEW: My Irving Kristol and Ours

The "Evangelical Liturgy"

The series of posts by Michael Spencer he calls the "Evangelical Liturgy" can be found here. He has reached number 12 "The Assurance of Pardon." The series should be of interest to anyone concerned about the inadequacy of worship in much of evangelicalism.

In another post today, Spencer writes his "Thoughts At 8 a.m. Mass" in a traditionalist Catholic parish. He reminds his readers that he "...could never be a Roman Catholic for theological reasons that won’t change..." but there was much about the experience he appreciated:
.... The whole idea of the daily mass, and the level of devotion one sees among so many Catholics such as those surrounding me, has to be of real interest to any post-evangelical. Evangelicalism is diverse, but as a movement it is simply engaging less and less with worship, spiritual formation, spiritual disciplines and any form of tradition. The multi-site, internet driven model combined with evangelicalism’s inherent pragmatism and entrepreneurialism makes one wonder if clicking at the computer terminal or taking in the 20 minute drive up/drop in service can be far away as significant models of evangelical Christianity’s virtues.

I am especially impressed with how a small child and an 80 year old man are functioning within the same world of thought, ritual and understanding. Within evangelicalism, we have communities with strong elements of tradition that bind generations together, but overall, we have compromised this to the core, allowing the quest to make the faith acceptable to teenagers to define the style and substance of everything. Where has evangelicalism gone in the last 60 years? Toward maturity and the core of the faith, or toward the latest efforts to be relevant to the young? The old among us are often those who manage to hang on amidst a hurricane of changes.

I see evangelicals doing less and less that will hold anyone in the faith into their 80s. If I were 80, I wouldn’t go near 99% of evangelical churches. The traditionalists somewhere would have me as a customer. .... [more]
Evangelical Liturgy |, Thoughts At 8 a.m. Mass |

Why should we read this stuff?

Jon Michael Varese was stumped when a high school student asked him "But why should we still read this stuff?" referring to Dickens. My answer to the question was that we read him because he is fun, but another high school student provided Varese with a much better answer:
My search for an answer continued but never with success, until one year the little flicker came – not surprisingly – from another high school student, whose essay I was reviewing for a writing contest. "We need to read Dickens's novels," she wrote, "because they tell us, in the grandest way possible, why we are what we are."

There it was, like a perfectly formed pearl shucked from the dirty shell of my over-zealous efforts – an explanation so simple and beautiful that only a 15-year-old could have written it. I could add all of the decoration to the argument with my years of education – the pantheon of rich characters mirroring every personality type; the "universal themes" laid out in such meticulous and timeless detail; the dramas and the melodramas by which we recognise our own place in the Dickensian theatre – but the kernel of what I truly wanted to say had come from someone else. As is often the case in Dickens, the moment of realisation for the main character here was induced by the forthrightness of another party.

And who was I, that I needed to be told why I was what I was? Like most people, I think I knew who I was without knowing it. I was Oliver Twist, always wanting and asking for more. I was Nicholas Nickleby, the son of a dead man, incurably convinced that my father was watching me from beyond the grave. I was Esther Summerson, longing for a mother who had abandoned me long ago due to circumstances beyond her control. I was Pip in love with someone far beyond my reach. I was all of these characters, rewritten for another time and place, and I began to understand more about why I was who I was because Dickens had told me so much about human beings and human interaction. .... [more]
And he's fun, too.

Why are we still reading Dickens? | Books |

"No religion" doesn't mean atheist

Responding to the criticism that he had misrepresented the number of atheists in the United States, Dan Gilgoff provides information about what those who say they have "no religion" [about 25% of Americans] actually believe:
We know that very few Americans are atheists not because pollsters call around asking "Are you an atheist?" but because they ask about specific religious beliefs. And when Trinity College recently asked "no religion" Americans what they believed about God, here's what they found:
7% said, "There is no such thing."
19% said, "There is no way to know."
16% said, "I'm not sure."
24% said, "There is a higher power but no personal God."
27% said, "There is definitely a personal God."
7% said they didn't know or refused to answer.
Only 7 percent of "religion nones" hold a belief that can be categorized as atheism. All the rest have more nuanced beliefs; more than half believe in a higher power or a personal God. I've got nothing against atheists. But the fact is that they represent 2 percent of the American religious landscape.
Few 'No Religion' Americans Are Atheists - God & Country (

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Word became flesh

The Gospel Coalition has posted a link to the pdf of an article, "The Person of Christ," which is a part of the The ESV Study Bible. It seems to me [neither a scholar nor a theologian] a pretty good primer. [Update: according to Justin Taylor, the author of the article is Erik Thoennes of Biola]

The introductory paragraph:
Four statements must be understood and affirmed in order to attain a complete biblical picture of the person of Jesus Christ:
  1. Jesus Christ is fully and completely divine.
  2. Jesus Christ is fully and completely human.
  3. The divine and human natures of Christ are distinct.
  4. The divine and human natures of Christ are completely united in one person.
A chart included later in the article neatly summarizes "Heresies Concerning the Person of Christ":

Ebionismdenies the deity of Christ
Arianismdenies the fullness of the deity of Christ
Docetismdenies the humanity of Christ
Apollinarianismdenies the fullness of the humanity of Christ
Nestorianismdenies the unity of the natures in one person
Eutychianismdenies the distinction of the natures

The pdf is linked here.

The Gospel Coalition - The Person of Christ

In the house of "mere Christianity"

Several posts at this blog have been about what has been called "honest ecumenism," that is, ecumenism that does not ignore or minimize the real doctrinal differences that do exist, but does focus on real areas of agreement. Touchstone Magazine exemplifies the effort to do just that. S.M. Hutchens on "Ecumenical Conferring":
.... As a rule I cannot get excited about ecumenical conferences, even conservative ones, because I am convinced that too many are given on the presumption that if only people get to understand each other (to eliminate prejudice born of ignorance) better relations will ensue. Not necessarily. Closer examination of other people’s thoughts and way of thinking, even though bathed in good will and high expectation, may well lead to stronger conviction than ever that they are fools, and probably damned fools at that—in wondering how anyone professing both faith and reason can be tempted to hold to the pernicious nonsense these people do, and the fleeting thought that the world would be better without them. I have seen this happen—in myself.

Of course, I am all for eliminating prejudice born of ignorance, and conferring can, if blessed, be good for that. But most of the conferences in which I have been most intimately involved are not places where much ignorance has been dispelled because there has been very little ignorance in them of the other Christians’ beliefs....

For this reason I am not much interested in dialogues between learned Christian conservatives with the ostensible purpose of improving understanding. There is less of this to be done than one might think. Rather, what has always interested me is meeting on the basis of agreement that we already have—or have good reason to believe we have—for purposes related to our common interests as Christians, in the house of what has been called “mere Christianity.” .... [more]
Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments: Ecumenical Conferring

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Getting the balance right

Time has an interesting interview with Chuck Colson this week. For some time I have thought that he has the proper priorities with respect to how Christians should approach political involvement.
In recent years, religious leaders have often preached about how to apply a Christian worldview to, say, making a political decision to vote for a certain kind of candidate.

We made a big mistake in the '80s by politicizing the Gospel. We ought to be engaged in politics, we ought to be good citizens, we ought to care about justice. But we have to be careful not to get into partisan alignment. We [thought] that we could solve the deteriorating moral state of our culture by electing good guys. That's nonsense. Now people are kind of realizing it was a mistake. A lot of people are going back and saying, "Let's just take care of the church and tend to our knitting."

Both positions are wrong. There's an intelligent way to engage the culture in every area, including politics. But you can't fix politics or culture unless you fix the church. What we're seeing in society today is a direct consequence of the church failing to be the church.

Has there ever been a time when you think religious people got the balance right by engaging without becoming entangled?

Yes. What happened in 18th and 19th century England, with the Wesley Movement and with William Wilberforce, was ideal. Wilberforce and others formed hundreds of small societies for improving human welfare, preventing cruelty to animals, reforming poorhouses and prisons. And there were great Christian leaders in politics as well. In that period, Christians were not divided by political parties.
The occasion for the interview was the establishing of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview online. He describes the effort as "An Initiative Inspired by William Wilberforce." I've only explored the site briefly but almost immediately came across the Wilberforce Library - a searchable collection of materials on many subjects. I looked at the "education/development" category and found, in addition to columns by Colson himself, material authored by Chesterton, Roger Scruton, Dorothy L. Sayers, and many others. I will be returning to the site.

Earlier in the Time interview, Colson explained why he thinks the site is needed:
...[M]ost of your resources are for pastors and others in the church who could have been teaching another kind of worldview all along. Why do you think they have failed to do that?

The church has fallen into a therapeutic model. It believes its job is to make people happy and take care of their problems. It's a feel-good kind of Christianity. I don't think the job of the church is to make people happy. I think it's to make them holy. ....

But what you're advocating is a tougher form of Christianity. Is that too much of a challenge for many people?

A lot of people don't want to bother with it. [Many] people have reduced the whole Christian faith to just a relationship with Jesus. That strips the faith of its doctrine, its sovereign nature. The biggest problem is getting people to be serious about what they profess to believe.
Thanks to Mollie Hemingway at GetReligion for the reference.

Interview: Religious-Right Leader Chuck Colson - TIME

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sin and confession

God's grace and forgiveness are meaningless to us unless we recognize our need. A deep and honest conviction of unworthiness in the presence of Holiness is where conversion begins and where the assurance of our dependence on His grace rests. Michael Spencer on "The Corporate Confession," as a part of the "Evangelical Liturgy" series - first, one of the three prayers he quotes, and then excerpts from his comments:
Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men: We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 1665)
.... In most worship services, we need liturgy to do for us what we are lazy and unwilling to do for ourselves. Complain about spontaneity all you want, the BCP prayers above are remarkably helpful teachers. They pretend to be nothing more than the plain script of our situation. There is no magic involved. They simply cover what it means to be a sinner.

.... Are you aware of how unwelcome this kind of language is in many quarters of Christianity these days? Are we aware of how often the depth and scope of these prayers is replaced with some version of feeling moderately bad about our lives for not being wonderful? ....

The confession should, in some way, be a response to the description of God that is presented in the call to worship or opening music. This is God. This is us. The contrast is undeniable. The confession will be followed by the assurance of pardon, and without the right preparation and response, it makes the wrong statement. It must serve the cause of the Gospel. .... [more]
At Christianity Today, an interview with Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, author of Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies, in which she emphasizes what to do when we recognize sin in our lives.
Once we identify the influence of sin in our lives, how do we root it out?

The point of self-examination isn't, thankfully, just to beat yourself up and feel guilty. Confession is a way of naming the problem, admitting the problem, and saying, "Look, there's this mess here, Lord, and I'm not going to be cleaning it up on my own. I'm not able, nor am I entirely willing, to let go of these things without some serious divine assistance." The tradition is confession, absolution, and penance. The spiritual disciplines are one way of counter-forming the self, of rightly forming the self.

Is there a danger of becoming obsessed with our sin?

I certainly don't want to encourage people to go back to a works-righteousness approach. But the opposite danger is to neglect sanctification because we have overemphasized justification: "Oh, you're justified; oh good, you're done. Now you can sit on the couch and relax." No, justification is the beginning of the project, not the end of the project. .... [more]

The Evangelical Liturgy 11: The Corporate Confession |, Grace Amid the Vices | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

"Far out, groovy, and peace-loving"

P.J. O'Rourke wasn't at Woodstock [Paul Manual was], but P.J. no longer regrets that fact. He doesn't find the celebration of Woodstock's 40th anniversary particularly interesting either.
...[T]he long weekend of August 15-17, 1969, was one of the great where-weren't-you? moments of recent history. Along with 202,177,000 other Americans, where I wasn't was at Woodstock.

Though it was not for lack of trying. I was 21 and smitten with a girl—call her Sunflower—from exotic Massapequa, Long Island. I had come by motorcycle from Ohio with the idea of Sunflower riding pillion to a "Woodstock Music and Arts Fair" which, according to a poster in a record shop back in Yellow Springs, was "An Aquarian Exposition" featuring "Three Days of Peace and Music." I pictured something on the order of a wind chime sale with evening hootenannies and maybe a surprise guest appearance by Mimi Fariña. ....

What with one thing and another, I was always touchy on the subject of Woodstock. I'm over it now, thanks to various books celebrating the 40th anniversary of too many people in bad haircuts going to an upstate New York dairy farm for no good reason. ....

Woodstock had deep political meaning: "Out of that sense of community, out of that vision, that Utopian vision, comes the energy to go out there and actually participate in the process so that social change occurs," said Abbie Hoffman, shortly before he killed himself. In the meantime Abbie had written a book, Woodstock Nation. Like everyone else I have never read it, but I've been to that country—overcrowded, muddy, lacking in food, and public order. It's called Bangladesh. (And wasn't there a concert that had something to do with that place, too?)

Abbie Hoffman was the source of the one amusing Woodstock anecdote. You'd think you'd get a lot of funny stories from filling a cow pasture with half-a-million adolescents. But no. The Who were playing. After "Pinball Wizard," Pete Townshend turned away to adjust his amplifier. Abbie rushed onstage, grabbed the microphone and began a political rant. Townshend "whacked him in the head with his guitar."

It was one of Pete's best licks. And here's another: "The people at Woodstock," the book quotes Townshend as saying, "really were a bunch of hypocrites claiming a cosmic revolution simply because they took over a field, broke down some fences, imbibed bad acid, and then tried to run out without paying the bands." .... [more]
PREVIEW: Sex, Drugs, Music, Mud

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sabbath Recorder, October 2009

The October, 2009, Sabbath Recorder is available online here as a pdf.

The issue contains additional reports about the sessions of the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference held this July in Pennsylvania, including an interesting account of the experience of a young adult who, for the first time, attended almost everything.

Other contents include a remembrance of the contributions of a 19th century pastor, James Franklin Shaw, by Don Sanford.

An article by Doug Clarke describes the involvement of SDB women [and men] in the struggle for a woman's right to vote.

The Sabbath Recorder is the magazine of the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference and has been regularly published in some form since 1844.

The Prophet George [Lucas, that is]

GetReligion wonders if this is a religious liberty issue:
Here’s the Telegraph’s treatment and here’s the Guardian’s. From the Telegraph:
Daniel Jones, 23, who created the International Church of Jediism, claims he was "victimised over his beliefs" by staff at the supermarket in Bangor, North Wales.

The religion, inspired by the sci-fi films, is practised by 500,000 around the world and requires believers to cover their heads in public places. But Mr Jones, from Holyhead, said that staff ejected him from the store over security fears when he refused to remove his hood.

Mr Jones, also known by his Jedi name Morda Hehol, told The Sun: “I told them it was a requirement of my religion but they just sniggered and ordered me to leave.

"I walked past a Muslim lady in a veil. Surely the same rules should apply to everyone."
The Guardian has some choice quotes from the Tesco chain, including:
"If Jedi walk around our stores with their hoods on, they’ll miss lots of special offers."
May the force be with you » GetReligion


If any doctrine makes Christianity Christian, then surely it is the doctrine of the Trinity. .... Augustine once commented about the Trinity that “in no other subject is error more dangerous, or inquiry more laborious, or the discovery of truth more profitable.” ....

Yet, when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity, most Christians are poor in their understanding, poorer in their articulation, and poorest of all in seeing any way in which the doctrine matters in real life. ....

So in a few hundred words let me try to explain what the doctrine of the Trinity means, where it is found in the Bible, and why it matters. .... [and he does so here]

The image is from DeYoung's post.

DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: The Most Important Doctrine Many Never Think About

Gospel Coalition blog

The Gospel Coalition now has a blog. Two recent contributions by Mike Pohlman caught my particular attention.

First, reference to a new book, Baptism: Three Views:
IVP Academic released this month, Baptism: Three Views. Edited by David F. Wright, this helpful book includes contributions from Bruce Ware (believer’s baptism), Anthony Lane (mixed practice), and Sinclair Ferguson (infant baptism). .... To read the entire Introduction, go here.
From that introduction:
Karl Barth, who during his theological career changed his allegiance from paedobaptism to believers’ baptism, knew life on both sides of the fence He commented:
An important sign that a defender of infant baptism is certain that his cause has a sound theological basis ought surely to be that he is able to present and support it calmly. But he cannot become irritated in debating with his opponents If anyone does become irritated, it is a sign that he feels he has been hit at a vulnerable and unprotected point in his position, that he does not have a good conscience in relation to his cause, that consequently he cannot have a good and quiet conscience in relation to his opponents, and that he has to lay about him all the more violently for this reason.
This, of course, was Barth’s warning to his opponents (now paedobaptists) who might take up cudgels against him! The advice surely applies to parties on any side of the question, and it is a testimony to the "good conscience" and the good arguments of each of the contributors to this book that they commend themselves dispositionally.
And second, in a post titled "Truths Worth Singing," Pohlman uses as an illustration the hymn I once chose as the theme hymn for a conference I planned:
In his Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Wayne Grudem emphasizes that the study of theology must not be an end in itself:
I do not believe that God intended the study of theology to be dry and boring. Theology is the study of God and all his works! Theology is meant to be lived and prayed and sung! ....
And, of course, the best hymns (and worship songs) should be nothing less than great theology set to music. Consider "How Firm a Foundation" by John Rippon (1787):
How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word.
What more can he say, than to you he hath said;
To you, who for refuge to Jesus have fled? .... [more]
Baptism: Three Views – The Gospel Coalition Blog, Truths Worth Singing – The Gospel Coalition Blog

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Justin Taylor informs us that Focus on the Family's Radio Theater will be doing Screwtape, played by Andy Serkis.

Monday, September 21, 2009

"The opening stuff"

One way to transcend the "worship wars" might be to first ask what worship is supposed to be - and only then decide what ought to be done. Three of the questions from an interview with Bryan Chapell, author of Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice:
What is—and is not—Christ-centered worship?
Christ-centered worship is not just talking or singing about Jesus a lot. Christ-centered worship reflects the contours of the gospel. In the individual life of a believer, the gospel progresses through recognition of the greatness and goodness of God, the acknowledgment of our sin and need of grace, assurance of God's forgiveness through Christ, thankful acknowledgment of God's blessing, desire for greater knowledge of him through his Word, grateful obedience in response to his grace, and a life devoted to his purposes with assurance of his blessing.

In the corporate life of the church this same gospel pattern is reflected in worship. Opening moments offer recognition of the greatness and goodness of God that naturally folds into confession, assurance of pardon, thanksgiving, instruction, and a charge to serve God in response to his grace in Christ. This is not a novel idea but, in fact, is the way most churches have organized their worship across the centuries. Only in recent times have we lost sight of these gospel contours and substituted pragmatic preferences for Christ-centered worship. My goal is to re-acquaint the church with the gospel-shape of its worship so that we are united around Christ's purposes rather than arguing about stylistic preferences.
What is the greatest misunderstanding of worship in evangelical churches today?
Many evangelical churches—perhaps most—only think of worship as "the opening stuff" prior to the sermon, or the style of music that predominates. Worship will fulfill its greater purposes of honoring and proclaiming the gospel when church leaders and worshipers understand that just as the sacraments re-present the fundamental aspects of the gospel in symbol, and the sermon does so in words, so also the worship of the church re-presents the gospel in its pattern.
If pastors could make one change to their worship service next Sunday, what would you recommend?
Structure the aspects of worship to reflect your understanding of the gospel and tell people (briefly) how each component advances that understanding.
Thanks to Justin Taylor for the reference

Transcending the Worship Wars | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Sunni and Shia

When I was teaching an International Relations elective I always included a unit about the Middle East. A succinct and clear description is invaluable to any teacher introducing students to new subject material. Excerpts from this review of After the Prophet, describing the origins of the Sunni/Shia division within Islam would certainly have become part of that unit's packet of readings.
When the Prophet ­Muhammad died ­unexpectedly after a brief illness in ­Medina, in present-day Saudi Arabia, on June 8, 632, his followers were stunned. A contemporary called it "the greatest of calamities." Their grief was not only for the loss of an irreplaceable leader. ­Muhammad was "the seal of the prophets," the last in a line that stretched back to Adam. He had ­received revelations as "God's emissary" for some 20 years—revelations that he had communicated to the ­embattled community of his followers, first in Mecca and then, after the hijra, or emigration, in 622, in Medina—but now they came to an end. It was as though God, who revealed Himself through the Prophet, had suddenly fallen silent.

In fact, the calamity was greater than Muhammad's mourners could have foreseen. Muhammad had not unambiguously named his successor. ....

Those who supported Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law Ali found themselves pitted against those who favored Abu Bakr, the Prophet's closest friend. Muhammad was also his son-in-law: Abu Bakr's daughter Aisha was Muhammad's third, and favorite, wife, and a force to reckon with in her own right. Ali's supporters formed the "shi'at Ali," the "party of Ali," from which the term Shia derives. The partisans of Abu Bakr would come to be known as "Sunni" Muslims—those who follow the "sunna," the code of pious practice based on the Prophet's example.

That Abu Bakr was almost immediately named caliph—the title then meant no more than "successor"—embittered Ali's supporters; when their man was passed over for the caliphate two more times they felt that a monstrous injustice had been perpetrated. Ali did finally accede to the caliphate in 656, but his claim was contested. When he was assassinated in the mosque of Kufa, in 661, by an extremist wielding a sword laced with poison, his murder struck a tragic note that would reverberate ever after. The Sunni-Shia schism pitted Muslim against Muslim and led to civil wars, massacres and assassinations, and even the collapse of dynasties. .... [more]
Book Review: ‘After the Prophet’ -

Men without chests

Reading this, by Lydia McGrew today, sent me back to my copy of The Abolition of Man.
Modern men, says Lewis, are not really smarter than men used to be. Rather, their heads appear bigger because of the atrophy of their chests. By the "chest," Lewis meant to refer to just, well-ordered, and well-formed sensibilities and emotions. Contemporary man has intellect (the head) and appetite (the belly) but lacks proper training in the appreciation of the good and the beautiful (the chest). If that was true in Lewis's day it is, of course, true in spades in our own.
From The Abolition of Man:
Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it—believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence, or our contempt. The reason why Coleridge agreed with the tourist who called the cataract sublime and disagreed with the one who called it pretty was of course that he believed inanimate nature to be such that certain responses could be more 'just' or 'ordinate' or 'appropriate' to it than others. And he believed (correctly) that the tourists thought the same. The man who called the cataract sublime was not intending simply to describe his own emotions about it: he was also claiming that the object was one which merited those emotions. But for this claim there would be nothing to agree or disagree about. ....

.... The Chest—Magnanimity—Sentiment—these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal. ....

And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more 'drive,' or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or 'creativity.' In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.
To Make you See: Conrad, Eliot, Lewis, and one other (What's Wrong with the World)

A readable Authorized Version?

Mark Bertrand likes the idea of a KJV formatted for reading rather than reference.
...[O]ne of the factors contributing to the "loss" of the KJV by modern readers is its archaic typography. Paragraphed KJVs are rare enough, so the fact that Thomas Nelson is publishing a single column, paragraphed edition set in 10 pt. type is rather thrilling. ....

For a detailed look, be sure to open the complete PDF: KJV Single-Column Bible Layout PDF (First Proof). ....

Nelson is also going to publish an NKJV in the same format.

Bible Design and Binding: Another Inside Look: Nelson's KJV Single-Column Bible

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Do unto others

John Mark Reynolds offers some good advice to those of us engaged at the intersection of our faith with politics. Advice I will try to take to heart. He expands on each point in his post. Indulging the temptation to violate the first point has been made much easier by the blogging, commenting and tweeting environment.
Living in a republic means making political decisions. From Socrates to Reagan, wise political heads have given good advice on how to conduct oneself in public life. I don’t always live up to their wisdom, but these ideas are worthy goals.
  • Be slow to speak.
  • Strong opinions encourage authentic dialogue.
  • Attacking ideas is different than attacking people.
  • Authenticity is useful, but posturing is not.
  • Anti-intellectualism prevents discussion.
  • Intellectualism prevents authentic discussion.
  • Be charitable in your assumptions about your opponent.
This last really sums up all the rest. It can be summed up in the wisdom of Jesus Christ that we should do to others what we wish they would do to us. Never was this advice more important for American Christians who are involved in politics.
Doing Unto My Political Other: 7 Suggestions for Christians in the Public Square | The Scriptorium Daily: Middlebrow

Memorial or Real Presence?

Michael Spencer, a Baptist, asks a fascinating question, and those who chose to respond illuminate the issues without providing a definitive answer:
For the past two years, I’ve been trying to get a single question answered:

What are the actual historical evidences, before Zwingli, for the Baptist view of the Lord’s Supper?

I’ve asked this question high, low, in-between and everywhere I could get a hearing.

Long story short: No answer. If there are evidences, then someone needs to write a book, asap. It’s long overdue. .... [more]
Do read the comments, too.

A Theological Announcement….Sort of |

Friday, September 18, 2009

Devices and desires

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from Thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against Thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us.

But Thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders. Spare Thou them, O God, which confess their faults. Restore Thou them that be penitent, according to Thy promises declared unto mankind, in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of Thy holy name. Amen

Book of Common Prayer, 1559

Daily Bible Meditation

Andrew Camenga of the Seventh Day Baptist Board of Christian Education announces that:
The Helping Hand's Daily Bible Meditations are now available for delivery by email. The sign up process is easy and requires you to confirm your email address. After confirmation, the Scripture passage and meditation will be sent to you each morning—making it easier to stay up-to-date.
The link to sign up is here.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Abortion is different

There are those who decry abortion "single-issue" voting, arguing that abortion is only one among many of the issues Christians should consider when choosing a candidate. David Koyzis explains "Why abortion is different":
.... In the current policy debates in the United States, a number of activists are claiming that health care too is a moral issue, as are the environment and the minimum wage. It would not do to belittle such claims, because there is a large measure of truth in them. ....

Nevertheless, not all issues necessarily have the same import or significance – something the language of morality may mask. In fact, there is a qualitative difference between abortion and the cluster of issues touched on above. In the case of the latter, no one disputes that the environment must be protected; the current debate revolves around how best to do so. Some favour a market-oriented approach, while others are convinced that government must play a central role. Again no one denies the desirability of furnishing the best health care to all citizens. Disagreement arises over whether this is best done through private or public insurance plans. Though Canadians and Americans have taken different paths on the issue, both approaches have their flaws – serious flaws, as it turns out, which illustrates that calling health care a moral issue cannot itself resolve the political debate.

Abortion is different. Here the quarrel is not over the best way to protect the unborn; it is precisely over whether to do so at all. Those believing women should have the right to terminate a pregnancy hold this position despite the presence of the vulnerable child. Those who believe that the unborn deserve protection do so because of the child’s presence. This fundamental disagreement over what is at stake is what sets the abortion issue apart from most others. .... [more]
Thanks to Joe Carter for the reference.

Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist: Why abortion is different

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Michael Spenser is frustrated that the Lutheran tradition isn't more familiar to Evangelicals:
.... With the dominance of the reformed camp in the Christian blogosphere and much of conservative evangelicalism's public voice, there has never been a time the Gospel-centric, church-formed-around-the-Gospel/Sacraments, focused, classical, catholic, reformational, law and Gospel voice of Lutheranism was needed more.

The imbalances of the current versions of resurgent Calvinism are more and more obvious all the time. The beating heart of our life and message is Jesus and justification, not sovereignty and election. It is the free offer to all, not the efficient offer to the elect, that needs to be clearly heard now. It is all of scripture as law and Gospel that needs to be filling the church. Reformed Baptists are ascending at just the time that Lutheranism’s view of the Christian life is most needed. If you do not know the difference, then make that a project. .... [more]

Some Thoughts on Lutheranism and Evangelicalism + A Brief Review of the Lutheran Study Bible |

Death by broadmindedness

Kevin DeYoung provides another great Chesterton quotation. This one from The Everlasting Man describing "...the dangers of syncretism, inter-faith mumbo-jumbo, and making Christianity just another acceptable myth...."
The Theosophists build a pantheon; but it is only a pantheon for pantheists. They call a Parliament of Religions as a reunion of all the peoples; but it is only a reunion of all the prigs. Yet exactly such a pantheon had been set up two thousand years before by the shores of the Mediterranean; and Christians were invited to set up the image of Jesus side by side with the image of Jupiter, of Mithras, of Osiris, of Atys, or of Ammon. It was the refusal of the Christians that was the turning-point of history. If the Christians had accepted, they and the whole world would have certainly, in a grotesque but exact metaphor, gone to pot. They would all have been boiled down to one lukewarm liquid in that great pot of cosmopolitan corruption in which all the other myths and mysteries were already melting. It was an awful and appalling escape. Nobody understands the nature of the Church, or the ringing note of the creed descending from antiquity, who does not realise that the whole world once very nearly died of broadmindedness and the brotherhood of all religions. (The Everlasting Man, 178).
DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: One Lukewarm Liquid in that Great Pot of Cosmopolitan Corruption

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Is "factually challenged" OK?

This is what happens when rules replace good manners and laws replace self-restraint. The result, no doubt, will be more ingenious and imaginative invective — followed by more rules.
House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) has released a helpful, updated primer for members regarding their conduct on the floor and in committees. ....

Under section 370 of the House Rules and Manual it has been held that a Member could:
  • refer to the government as “something hated, something oppressive.”
  • refer to the President as “using legislative or judicial pork.”
  • refer to a Presidential message as a “disgrace to the country.”
  • refer to unnamed officials as “our half-baked nitwits handling foreign affairs.”
Likewise, it has been held that a member could not:
  • call the President a “liar.”
  • call the President a “hypocrite.”
  • describe the President’s veto of a bill as “cowardly.”
  • charge that the President has been “intellectually dishonest.”
  • refer to the President as “giving aid and comfort to the enemy.”
  • refer to alleged “sexual misconduct on the President’s part.”
House guidelines for Presidential put-downs - Glenn Thrush -

Chesterton on books

Carl Olson conducts an interview with G.K. Chesterton's books ["as he (Chesterton) was not physically available"] about Dan Brown and fiction generally. It is a wonderful collection of Chesterton quotations, from which I've chosen two:
My taste is for the sensational novel, the detective story, the story about death, robbery and secret societies; a taste which I share in common with the bulk at least of the male population of this world. .... [O]n the whole I think that a tale about one man killing another man is more likely to have something in it than a tale in which all the characters are talking trivialities without any of that instant and silent presence of death which is one of the strong spiritual bonds of all mankind. I still prefer the novel in which one person does another person to death to the novel in which all the persons are feebly (and vainly) trying to get the others to come to life. ["Fiction As Food", The Spice of Life and Other Essays.]

The first use of good literature is that it prevents a man from being merely modern. To be merely modern is to condemn oneself to an ultimate narrowness; just as to spend one's last earthly money on the newest hat is to condemn oneself to the old-fashioned. The road of the ancient centuries is strewn with dead moderns. Literature, classic and enduring literature, does its best work in reminding us perpetually of the whole round of truth and balancing other and older ideas against the ideas to which we might for a moment be prone. ["On Reading," The Common Man.] [more]
G. K. Chesterton on Dan Brown: The Interview | Carl E. Olson | Ignatius Insight | September 14, 2009

The issues that really divide us

Francis Beckwith defines the central issues in the abortion debate in an essay originally published in 2005:
.... Now it may seem odd to say "the issues that really divide us," since it seems obvious to most people that what divides us is in fact only one issue, abortion. But that is misleading. After all, if abortion did not result in the death of an unborn human being, the controversy would either cease entirely or diminish significantly. So, what we disagree over is not really abortion. But rather, our disagreement is over the nature of the being whose life abortion terminates, the unborn.

But there is another issue that percolates beneath the abortion debate: What does it mean to say that something is wrong? Suppose, for example, you are arguing with a friend over the question of whether abortion should remain legal, and your friend says to you, "If you don't like abortion, then don't have one." Although this is a common response, it really is a strange one. After all, you probably oppose abortion because you think it is wrong, not because you dislike it.

This can be better understood if we change the issue. Imagine that your friend is a defender of spousal abuse and says to you, "If you don't like spousal abuse, then don't beat your spouse." Upon hearing those words, you would instantly conclude that your friend has no idea why you oppose spousal abuse. Your opposition is not based on what you like or dislike. It is based on what you have good reason to believe is true: one ought not to abuse a fellow human being, especially one's spouse. That moral truth has nothing to do with whether or not you like or dislike spousal abuse.

In the same way, pro-lifers oppose abortion because they have reasons to believe that the unborn are full-fledged members of the human community, no different in nature than you or me. And for that reason, the unborn has a right to life that ought to be enshrined in our laws. Thus, in order to defeat the pro-lifer's point of view, the abortion advocate must show that the unborn is not a full-fledged member of the human community. At the end of the day, the abortion debate is not about likes or dislikes. It is about who and what we are, and whether the unborn is one of us. .... [more]
What's the Debate About?: An Essay on Abortion (What's Wrong with the World)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Defining diversity down

In a column that describes her fellow liberal Democrats as almost entirely clueless about the current political debate, Camille Paglia speculates that the education they received may be part of the reason:
.... Though they claim to speak for the poor and dispossessed, Democrats have increasingly become the party of an upper-middle-class professional elite, top-heavy with journalists, academics and lawyers (one reason for the hypocritical absence of tort reform in the healthcare bills). Weirdly, given their worship of highly individualistic, secularized self-actualization, such professionals are as a whole amazingly credulous these days about big-government solutions to every social problem. They see no danger in expanding government authority and intrusive, wasteful bureaucracy. ....

...[A]ffluent middle-class Democrats now seem to be complacently servile toward authority and automatically believe everything party leaders tell them. Why? Is it because the new professional class is a glossy product of generically institutionalized learning? Independent thought and logical analysis of argument are no longer taught. Elite education in the U.S. has become a frenetic assembly line of competitive college application to schools where ideological brainwashing is so pandemic that it's invisible. The top schools, from the Ivy League on down, promote "critical thinking," which sounds good but is in fact just a style of rote regurgitation of hackneyed approved terms ("racism, sexism, homophobia") when confronted with any social issue. The Democratic brain has been marinating so long in those clichés that it's positively pickled. [more]
Peter Wood, expanding on some of Paglia's argument, explains why it seems so easy for liberals to believe their opponents both ignorant and evil:
"Elite education … where ideological brainwashing is so pandemic that it's invisible.”
Independent thought and critical analysis of argument just cannot live in the same company with a curriculum in which the central premise is that all of cultural and social life can be reduced to the privileged oppressing the weak. When the terms of analysis are reduced to the race-gender-class triad, real analysis must stop. Independent ideas are instantly categorized as “bias” of one sort or another, while conformity to the stale “theory” is routinely praised as “independent thinking.” In contemporary elite education, all the intellectual exits have been blocked.

The “invisibility” that Paglia mentions is ensured by a curriculum that simply ignores what cannot be conveniently comprehended under the current ideological terms. Moreover, this has been going on for decades. Colleges can now pretty safely assume that candidates for faculty appointment who have attended American graduate schools have never seriously studied anything outside the charmed circle of ideological conformity. They need not be intentionally biased. They simply have no concept that dissent from the prevailing academic orthodoxies can arise from anything other than deep-rooted antipathy to manifestly wholesome ideas. Paglia spots this self-approval forever patting itself on the back:
“The top schools, from the Ivy League on down, promote "critical thinking," which sounds good but is in fact just a style of rote regurgitation of hackneyed approved terms ("racism, sexism, homophobia") when confronted with any social issue.”
In the current academic regime, all sorts of terms turn out to have false bottoms. “Diversity” sounds good until you realize that it means “enforced conformity”—conformity to the roles assigned to individuals as members of identity groups, and conformity to the underlying view of America as an enduringly unjust society. “Sustainability” sounds good until you realize it means “giving up individual liberty so an unelected elite can decide how best to distribute resources.” The university today spins out these terms by the dozens. “Inclusive excellence” means “there is no such thing as excellence, just different preferences among diverse groups.”

The term that Paglia spots—“critical thinking”—is the granddaddy of all this mischief. Critical thinking in a philosophically accurate sense ought to be part of any college education, but if it were rightly understood, such critical thinking would be inseparable from other intellectual gains. We also need substantive knowledge of important matters; we need the capacity to develop and think through analogies; we need to command inductive and deductive logic; we need to be able to follow and to use chains of association; and we need well-developed recall and well-furnished memories; we need to know how to respond thoughtfully to ambiguities (which can be constructive and not always good targets for critical dismantling); we need the capacity to zoom into microcosms and zoom out to the big picture; and we need the capacity to synthesize. “Critical thinking” as it is typically taught hones none of these skills. It is a one-size fits all hammer for smashing culture into the pieces that can be jammed together under what Paglia calls the “hackneyed approved terms” of contemporary cultural analysis. [more]
Elsewhere, Mark Lilla explains why colleges and universities should value ideological diversity within their faculties:
.... Over the past decade, our universities have made serious efforts to increase racial and ethnic diversity on the campus (economic diversity worries them less, for some reason). Well-paid deans work exclusively on the problem. But universities show not the slightest interest in intellectual diversity among faculty members. That wouldn't matter if teachers could be counted on to introduce students to their adversaries' books and views, but we know how rarely that happens. That's why political diversity on the faculty does matter. As it stands, there is a far greater proportion of conservatives in the student body of typical colleges than on the faculty. A few leading thinkers on the right do teach at our top universities—but at some, like Columbia University, where I teach, not a single prominent conservative is to be found.

.... I recall being at a dinner in Paris in the late 1980s with a distinguished American historian of France who had gathered her graduate students for the evening. The conversation turned to book printing in the early modern era, which she was studying, and the practice of esoteric writing, which was more widespread than she had imagined. I mentioned that there was a classic book on this subject by Leo Strauss. She searched her mind for a moment—this was before the Iraq war made Strauss a household name—and then said, "But isn't he a conservative?" In a certain way he was, I said. Silence at the table. She smiled that smile meant to end discussion, and the conversation turned to more-pleasant topics. ....

.... My brightest conservative students, brought up on hair-raising tales of political correctness, dismiss academic careers out of hand because they are certain of not being hired or getting tenure. And I can't say I blame them. Even as an ex-conservative, I was lucky to have passed through the eyes of those two needles. .... [more]
Responding to comments that he felt missed his point, Lilla wrote:
.... What's lacking, I feel (and the late Paul Lyons with me), is recognition that conservative ideas are not symptoms of something allegedly "deeper"—ignorance, fear, selfishness, maladjustment—but reflections of a certain way of looking at the human condition. There is a serious intellectual tradition here that deserves study, not for affirmative-action reasons but because it includes ideas that might have something to teach us about political life—or, to speak in a very old-fashioned way, because some of them might be true. (Like Wolfe, conservative sectarianism drives me mad, and I agree that the "politics of recognition" has no place in the university.)

I'm glad Smith got tenure easily, though I gather that was before the trench warfare of the 80s. Things are not so easy now, certainly in the humanities but even in the so-called soft social sciences. People do get informally muzzled until they get tenure, as Lyons notes when speaking of his "stealth" conservative colleague. In itself, that's not such a big deal; intellectual life is not for crybabies. (Note to deans and provosts: Engrave that on your office door.) What really matters is the kind of education our students get.

Smith has co-written a book about ideology on campuses, which I haven't read, but his remarks that "students tend to avoid classes from professors they regard as tendentious or biased" and that "those few academics who consider it their duty to convert students to the right (i.e., left) way of thinking … are remarkably unsuccessful in this quest" seem to me beside the point, even if true. Ideology doesn't work that way, and its effects can't be measured by asking people whether they perceive it. Marxists were right: Ideology normalizes something arbitrary. Because of the left-liberal consensus in our major universities, we've defined diversity down and simply don't notice that a historically important voice in our intellectual and political tradition isn't being heard. That's not good for anyone. [more]
Too late for Obama to turn it around? | Salon, NAS - The National Association of Scholars :: Articles Paglia’s Scimitar 09/10/2009 Peter Wood, Taking the Right Seriously - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education, Conservatism in Academe: An Exchange - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The march toward theocracy

In "Faith-Based Double Standards," Mollie Hemingway observes the curious disappearance of a once-intense concern about the entanglement of religion with the state:
In 2001, President Bush issued his first executive order as president. He created a program to encourage religious organizations to receive taxpayer funds to perform social services. The Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, as it was called, infuriated many. Civil libertarians said it violated the separation of church and state, liberals suggested that the office was paying off political supporters, and even Christian conservatives worried about the tentacles of government regulation.

The Village Voice fretted over Mr. Bush's "plan to let churches run the government's welfare system" and his "march toward turning the U.S. into a religious state." Former Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal wrote an article on about the faith-based efforts with the subtitle: "By pandering to Christian zealots, Bush has come close to establishing a national religious party."

Now that Mr. Bush is gone, however, no one seems particularly worried about the entanglement of the federal government with religious organizations. ....

This scant media attention is all the more incredible given that, as Americans United for Separation of Church and State has noted, Mr. Obama has left "the entire architecture of the Bush Faith-Based Initiative intact—every rule, every regulation, every executive order." More controversially, the office has become a major hub of political outreach. In frequent conference calls, the administration informs faith-based leaders of its policy initiatives, as when it recently asked rabbis around the country to give sermons on health-care reform during the coming high holiday season. ....

Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, was a vocal critic of Mr. Bush's faith-based office. Now, under Mr. Obama, he serves on the advisory council's task force to improve the functioning of the office. Explaining his turnaround, he said he doesn't view Mr. Obama's office as partisan—the way Mr. Bush's was. But acknowledging that there was no substantive difference between the offices yet, Mr. Lynn said: "We have a guarded optimism that when the advisory council, Justice and the White House act and get down to the nitty gritty, they will make this a constitutionally protected program. However, we have no proof of that and no guarantee."

Now that is the audacity of hope. [more]

At GetReligion, Hemingway includes an interesting insight into how this President operates:
Dan Gilgoff at U.S. News & World Report interviewed Frank Page, one of the members of Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships:
How involved is the White House in orchestrating the work of the council? Are you and other members free to convene conference calls to make progress in devising policy recommendations?

The White House directs all meetings and calls and brings in all the people who they want to talk to us. There has been little opportunity for self-direction. There was going to be a chairperson named for each of the council’s six task forces, but that has not occurred. That said, I do speak with the White House at least every other week.
Faith-Based Double Standards -, Shameless self-promotion: faith-based initiatives » GetReligion