Friday, October 30, 2009

Reformation Day

Tomorrow, October 31, is the anniversary of that day in 1517 when Luther nailed his theses to the church door, now observed in many Protestant churches as Reformation Day. The Wittenberg Door reminds us why the Reformation matters:
The basic doctrine of the Reformers was that the Bible is our only infallible rule of faith and practice. Not the pope, not human tradition, not church councils, but the Word of God must be our final court of appeal in matters of belief and conduct. This soul-liberating truth needs fresh emphasis in every generation.

Another doctrine rediscovered in the Reformation was justification by faith in Jesus Christ alone. Our salvation can depend on nothing except the perfect righteousness of Christ. The means of laying hold of the perfect righteousness is faith. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith,” Paul says, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Without this truth there is no gospel, no good news for sinners.

Another truth stemming from the Protestant Reformation is the universal priesthood of believers. We depend on no priest or minister for our access to Almighty God. Jesus is the “high priest whom we confess.” Only through him do we have the right of direct access into the presence of a holy God. .... [more]
The Wittenberg Door: The Reformation

The dead shall be raised

My mother, at 98 the last of eight siblings - six brothers and a sister, has a favorite hymn: "When We All Get to Heaven." I was reminded of her and it by John Mark Reynolds's post "Not Afraid of the Dead" at Evangel — partly because of his reference to West Virginia of which she is a native, and her church there which, like many older churches, is next to its graveyard.
.... Christianity has never been afraid of the dead. In my homeland of West Virginia many a country church is near a graveyard. Families can arrive at the church to hear the Gospel while passing by those family members who have “gone before.” We were not afraid of the dead, we honor them, and I remember family picnics held in lovely old grave yards. ....

Funerals were sad when I was growing up, but also hopeful. “Her next waking thought will be with Jesus...” the pastor would say and so while we mourned for our loss, we rejoiced in her gain. We could honor the corpse, because it had once housed her soul and would do so again! ....

I rejoice that some sweet day: “The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend” even so it is well with my soul! [more]
Not Afraid of the Dead » Evangel | A First Things Blog

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Mark Bauerlein on "The Research on Ideological Bias" in the college classroom:
As we know, one of the primary positions in discussions of discrimination today is "disparate outcomes." The argument says that if a body such as a police force, an entering freshman class, country club members, etc. has a disproportionately low representation of any identity group, then discrimination is at work. It may not operate on the surface, and it may not happen through the actions of any particular individual, but the fact that, say, only 3 percent of the group is African American reveals bias.

What about the disparate-outcomes argument in ideological cases, then? If a college faculty has only an eight-percent conservatives make-up, doesn't that call for an investigation, a committee, a task force? It certainly happens when other identity groups are under-represented.

Another defense says, "Well, sure, most profs lean to the left, but that doesn't mean they bring their politics into the classroom."

But this claim runs against thinking in the humanities that has dominated for 50 years. It says that political and ideological commitments run deep, that they are often unconscious, that the assumption that we are able to suspend them is an Enlightenment myth, that "the political" is everywhere, that buried ideological premises shape so many things we take for granted that we don't realize their workings...
Many of the responses to Bauerlein in the comments illustrate the problem. Needless [I hope] to say, the solution isn't affirmative action for conservatives, but a self-conscious refusal by professors to insist on conformity to their views, and the fair presentation of intellectually respectable alternatives [which requires the acknowledgment that such exist].

Brainstorm - The Research on Ideological Bias - The Chronicle of Higher Education

"And the evening and the morning..."

At Evangel, David Wayne provides the complete text of a tract by Steve Carl that explains the origin of Halloween and its alleged pagan associations. In the course of doing so, he explains something about the biblical reckoning of a "day" that has been largely forgotten:
The festivities traditionally began the night before, because until recent times both Jews and Christians began their day at dusk. This is not the result of culture or superstition, but because God made them that way (”… and the evening and the morning, were the first day”, etc.). So, to the early Church the evening of a Saturday, for instance, was the night before, not the night after — Saturday began with Saturday-evening (what you and I would call Friday night). In fact, what we call “Christmas Eve” today, was originally the evening of/before Christmas-Day. The same is true of New Year’s Eve. Similarly, the Hallowed Day began with the “Hallowed Even’,” which was ultimately contracted to the “Hallowe’en” we know today. Today, we still begin our celebration on the evening before – what appears on our calendars as October 31.
Halloween Schmalloween » Evangel | A First Things Blog

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bobbing along on the waters of ignorance

In a column contending for the legitimacy of historical fiction, a celebrated practitioner, Hilary Mantel, also makes a case for knowing some history:
.... It is true that in the days when statesmen and generals learned history (probably tables of kings and queens by rote) they were not conspicuously good at avoiding the errors of their predecessors; each turn of events seemed to strike them with the force of novelty and, startled, they would proceed to cock it up all over again. Henry Ford's contention that "history is more or less bunk" is perhaps not as crass a statement as it is often taken to be, because a good deal of what we think we know about the past is unverified tradition and unexamined prejudice. Tables of kings and queens, though not very useful, are at least verifiable, but no one learns that kind of history any more, and much of what we retain about the past is a collection of factoids, received opinions and accumulated moral judgments. This argues for better history, rather than less history. To try to engage with the present without engaging with the past is to live like a dog or cat rather than a human being; it is to bob along on the waters of egotism, solipsism and ignorance.

History offers us vicarious experience. It allows the youngest student to possess the ground equally with his elders; without a knowledge of history to give him a context for present events, he is at the mercy of every social misdiagnosis handed to him. .... [more]

Booker winner Hilary Mantel on historical fiction | Books | The Guardian

"If you love me..."

J.D. Greear on why the word “enough,” as in "have I done enough?" is the enemy of the Gospel:
.... Legalism has two unmistakable marks: pride in those who feel like they live up to the standard or guilt-complexes in those who don’t. The Gospel creates neither. The Gospel is not about how much you give, or whether or not you die, or if you adopt, or if you go overseas, the Gospel is about a heart of love that does things simply and freely in response to what God has done for us.

“Not under compulsion” is one of Paul’s favorite phrases in the context of generosity. The word “enough” is its own type of compulsion. The Gospel is not about any response that is “enough”; the Gospel is about the free response of love flowing from gratefulness for the sacrifice of Christ which set us completely free.

The Gospel is not about what we are to go and do for God, but about what He has done for us. There are only two ways to approach God… one says, “I’ll obey some standard, and because of that I’ll be accepted.” The other says “I’ve been accepted by what Christ has done for me, and I love in response. .... [more]
The word “enough” is the enemy of the Gospel « Between The Times

Monday, October 26, 2009


I once before noted that Focus on the Family's Radio Theatre was producing a recording of The Screwtape Letters. It is now available for order on CDs [with a DVD], with delivery in time for Christmas. From the site:
A dramatic twist on a diabolical comedy. This series of recordings chronicle the cunning advice of a world-wise demon to his novice apprentice Wormwood — who's been tasked with securing the eternal damnation and everyday demise of his human "patient."

Produced on location in England, Radio Theatre's The Screwtape Letters stars Andy Serkis ("Gollum" from The Lord of the Rings films) as Screwtape, and features Douglas Gresham (stepson of C.S. Lewis) as host. The production includes four audio CDs, 10 songs inspired by the book and a bonus DVD with video featurettes on the making of the drama, actor interviews and more.
The DVD accompanying the CDs includes this description of the Inklings:

The Screwtape Letters

All Hallows’ Eve

As Halloween approaches it is useful for the more excitable among us to be reminded that the Evil One has already been defeated. From "Concerning Halloween" by James B. Jordan:
.... "Halloween" is simply a contraction for All Hallows’ Eve. The word "hallow" means "saint," in that "hallow" is just an alternative form of the word "holy" ("hallowed be Thy name"). All Saints’ Day is November 1. It is the celebration of the victory of the saints in union with Christ. The observance of various celebrations of All Saints arose in the late 300s, and these were united and fixed on November 1 in the late 700s. The origin of All Saints Day and of All Saints Eve in Mediterranean Christianity had nothing to do with Celtic Druidism or the Church’s fight against Druidism (assuming there ever even was any such thing as Druidism, which is actually a myth concocted in the 19th century by neo-pagans.) ....

The Biblical day begins in the preceding evening, and thus in the Church calendar, the eve of a day is the actual beginning of the festive day. Christmas Eve is most familiar to us, but there is also the Vigil of Holy Saturday that precedes Easter Morn. Similarly, All Saints’ Eve precedes All Saints’ Day.

The concept, as dramatized in Christian custom, is quite simple: On October 31, the demonic realm tries one last time to achieve victory, but is banished by the joy of the Kingdom.

What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us. ....

Similarly, on All Hallows’ Eve (Hallow-Even – Hallow-E’en – Halloween), the custom arose of mocking the demonic realm by dressing children in costumes. Because the power of Satan has been broken once and for all, our children can mock him by dressing up like ghosts, goblins, and witches. The fact that we can dress our children this way shows our supreme confidence in the utter defeat of Satan by Jesus Christ – we have NO FEAR! .... (more)
Biblical Horizons » Concerning Halloween

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dying churches

S.M. Hutchens reflects on his own experience with a church on its last legs and argues that although the end may be inevitable, it is often handled very badly:
.... As a former pastor of a dying church, I feel quite strongly that such congregations should be allowed to die—that they, just like human beings, when they see the signs of impending death, need to take reasonable steps to dissolve in an orderly and peaceful way. None should be assumed to last forever, and it may also be assumed that if God wanted them to keep going, he could easily and quickly supply the necessary resources, just as he could give any of us, if he chose, a greatly extended life span. But as a rule he does not—in fact, he endorses happenings that lead us to death. He expects us, when we are able, to make our preparations, and die well.

I wonder, however, how often this happens. The congregational "denial" phases I have heard of are usually extended and painful. Every other member seems to have an idea for a silly nostrum that will help keep the church going, and will be angry at their fellows for pointing out its obvious flaws. There will be charges and counter-charges about whose fault it is, and discussions, often acrimonious, of what might have been done in the past so this state of affairs would not have been reached.

There are always those who see the setbacks that have led to this point as tests of "faith"—specifically, the faith that this church, if everybody just believes, and pulls together, will survive, because God really wants it to—how, indeed, could he not, since we like it? .... [more]

Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments: Growing Churches

The only real question

A newly discovered site that makes the anti-abortion case well and without invoking religious belief: The Case For Life. From the first page:
The abortion controversy is not a debate between those who are pro-choice and those who are anti-choice. It's not about privacy or trusting women. To the contrary, the debate turns on one key question.

What is the Unborn?

Pro-life advocates contend that elective abortion unjustly takes the life of a defenseless human being. This simplifies the abortion controversy by focusing on just one question: Is the unborn a member of the human family? If so, killing him or her to benefit others is a serious moral wrong. It treats the distinct human being, with his or her own intrinsic worth, as nothing more than a disposable instrument. Conversely, if the unborn are not human, elective abortion requires no more justification than having a tooth pulled. As Gregory Koukl points out, "If the unborn are not human, no justification for elective abortion is necessary. But if the unborn are human, no justification for elective abortion is adequate." .... [more]

Case For Life - Only One Issue

Turning around

At the C.S. Lewis Blog, a site every admirer of Lewis should bookmark, Devin Brown offers "New Starts: Looking at the World Rightly.":
It would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that “from that time forth Eustace was a different boy.” To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.
The fiction of C. S. Lewis is replete with characters who make a 180-degree change in the direction they have been on and make a new start, but in no case does Lewis over-simplify or misrepresent the difficulty of the process. No where does Lewis suggest that change is easy or painless, or can take place without acquiring a radically new perspective. ....

Not all of Lewis’s characters who are given the chance to start afresh do so. For every Eustace who undergoes a successful, albeit painful, transformation, we can find one who refuses to change. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Gumpas, who is serving as the Governor of the Lone Islands, is told by Caspian that he must stop the slave trade. Gumpas objects stating, “That would be putting the clock back.” In The Great Divorce nearly all of the ghosts on the bus reject the opportunity they are given to make a new start. As the George MacDonald character explains, “There is always something they prefer to joy.” This something always involves holding on to a false perception.

If making a new start begins with seeing the world rightly, Lewis would hold that seeing the world rightly begins with seeing ourselves rightly, something that Gumpas and most of the ghosts in The Great Divorce are either unable or unwilling to do. As Lewis notes in Mere Christianity, “A moderately bad man knows he is not very good; a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right.”....

Eustace, while providing Lewis’s most dramatic example of a new start, is by no means his only illustration of a character who undergoes a transformation and comes to see the world rightly. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Edmund reverses the path he is on, as does Elwin Ransom, the protagonist in Lewis’s Space Trilogy. In fact, it could be argued that all of Lewis’s characters, in ways big and small, are continually called to journey “further up and further in” their ways of seeing.

In Prince Caspian, the first comment Lucy makes when she finally meets Aslan is to declare that he seems to have grown bigger. However, as Aslan points out, he has not altered since their last encounter—it is Lucy’s perception that has changed. Aslan explains, “Every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

And the same can be said for us as well. Each time we grow in awareness—each time we come to see the world and our place in it more accurately—can be viewed as a new start, or, as Lewis writes at the close of The Last Battle, as a new chapter of that Great Story “in which every chapter is better than the one before.” (more)
C. S. Lewis Blog: New Starts: Looking at the World Rightly

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sabbath Recorder, November 2009

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

As the cover indicates, this is a Thansgiving themed issue, but not the sentimental kind of giving thanks - the articles are about giving thanks in all circumstances - perhaps especially the difficult ones. And, of course there is no ambiguity about who deserves the gratitude.

Other contents include another article by Don Sanford, this one about the life and ministry of Rev. Abram Herbert Lewis in the late 19th and early 20th centuries - particularly his efforts to persuade other Christians of the validity and importance of the Sabbath.

And much more...

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Out of touch

The title of this post does not represent a confession of cluelessness, however much various friends and acquaintances may believe it should. It merely means that I won't be online for a while.

I'll be upgrading to Windows 7 tomorrow and have no idea how long it will take. So if you want to get in touch, use a method other than email, Facebook, or blog comments.

Wish me luck. I hope to be back soon.

"Jesus must become more beautiful..."

In a selection from his new book, Tim Keller explains how idolatry is the "fundamental sin," how to identify the idols in our lives, and what must be done to put things right. An excerpt from that excerpt:
.... In Romans 1:21-25 St Paul shows that idolatry is not only one sin among many, but what is fundamentally wrong with the human heart:
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him … .They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator. (Romans 1:21, 25)
Paul goes on to make a long list of sins that create misery and evil in the world, but they all find their roots in this soil, the inexorable human drive for "god-making." In other words, idolatry is always the reason we ever do anything wrong. No one grasped this better than Martin Luther. In his Larger Catechism (1528) and also his Treatise on Good Works he wrote that the Ten Commandments begin with a commandment against idolatry. Why does this come first in the order? Because, he argued, the fundamental motivation behind law-breaking is idolatry. We never break the other commandments without breaking the first one. ....

Idolatry is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something besides God. This cannot be remedied only by repenting that you have an idol, or by using will power to try to live differently. Turning from idols is not less than those two things, but it is also far more. "Setting the mind and heart on things above" where "your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col 3:1-3) means appreciation, rejoicing, and resting in what Jesus has done for you. It entails joyful worship, a sense of God's reality in prayer. Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idol. That is what will replace the idols of your heart. If you uproot the idol and fail to "plant" the love of Christ in its place, the idol will grow back. .... (the full excerpt can be found here)
How to Find Your Rival Gods | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Happily ever after

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King's horses, And all the King's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again!

In an appropriate sequel to the non-scary "Wild Things," we find that the BBC is revising Mother Goose so that government can remove all the unpleasantness and encourage right thinking:
.... In a revised version of the nursery rhyme that aired recently on the British Broadcasting Corporation’s children's channel CBeebies, the tale – which first appeared in print in 1810 – no longer ends with “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men/Couldn’t put Humpty together again.” Now, a crack squadron of His Majesty’s finest hard-boiled military personnel has found the recipe to "make Humpty happy again.” How eggsellent.

Soon, no doubt, we’ll be hearing that the three little pigs have invited the big bad wolf to take a quarter share in their organic farming co-op; that a guilt-riddled Jack has atoned for his giant-killing by establishing a golden-goose-funded orphanage for the oversized; and that Hansel and Gretel have gone into the bakery business with a kindly old lady in the remnant old-growth forest of Tasmania.

And then we can all live happily ever after. .... [more]
Thanks to HolyCoast for the reference.

BBC goes potty over Humpty DumptyBBC goes potty over Humpty Dumpty

The futility of "cool"

Kevin DeYoung continues his consideration of how to reach the young:
.... We spend all this time trying to imitate Gen X culture or millennial culture, and to what end? For starters, there is no universal youth culture. Young people do not all think alike, dress alike, or feel comfortable in the same environments. Moreover, even if we could figure out “what the next generation likes” by the time we figured it out they probably wouldn’t like it anymore. Count on it: when the church discovers cool, it won’t be cool anymore. I’ve seen well meaning Christians try to introduce new music into the church in an effort to reach the young people, only to find out that the “new” music included “Shine, Jesus, Shine” and “Shout to the Lord.” There’s nothing worse than a church trying to be fresh and turning out to be a little dated. Better to stick with the hymns and the organ than do “new” music that isn’t new or do the new music in an embarrassing way.

The evangelical church needs to stop preaching the false gospel of cultural identification. Don’t spend all your time trying to figure out how to be just like the next generation. Be yourself. Tell them about Jesus. And love them unashamedly. I think a lot of older Christians are desperate to figure out what young people are into because they are too embarrassed to be themselves and too unsure of themselves to simply love the people they are trying to reach. .... [more]
"All that is not eternal, is eternally out of date." C.S. Lewis

Reaching the Next Generation: Win Them With Love – Kevin DeYoung

Let the wild rumpus start

Russell Moore took three of his sons to see the new movie of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. He was disappointed, not because the film was too scary for children but because it was too tame. In "Where the Wild Things Aren’t," he explains why the film isn't as good as the book:
From the time my sons were babies I’ve read to them the Maurice Sendack classic picture book. They love it, and so do I. They’d sit attentively through Goodnight Moon, but they’d squeal “Let the wild rumpus start!” whenever we’d journey with Max to the place of the wild things.

Children, it turns out, aren’t as naive about evil as we assume they are. Children of every culture, and in every place, seem to have a built-in craving for monsters and dragons and “wild things.” The Maurice Sendak book appeals to kids because it tells them something about what they intuitively know is true. The world around them is scary. There’s a wildness out there. ....

The Sendak book, with its muted words but fantastic drawings, achieves this sense of wonder and wildness. The movie doesn’t. That’s because the movie tames the wild things too much. It’s not that they’re too scary for children. It’s that they’re not believable as scary. The dialogue sounds like it was lifted from an old episode of Thirtysomething, as the beasts talk through their psychodramas and jealousies and interpersonal offenses with one another. Kids will be entertained because the special effects are good. But they won’t “get it” deep inside like they do the book. ....

Your kids might be bored by the Wild Things movie. They won’t be bored by the Wild Things book. .... [more]
Update 10/26: John Podhoretz at The Weekly Standard didn't care much for the film either:
The film version of Maurice Sendak’s picture book Where the Wild Things Are is wildly original and imaginative, arrestingly beautiful, and entirely heartfelt. It is also excruciatingly boring, an airless exploration of the consciousness of a little boy that compelled me to explore the inside of my eyelids on several occasions.
Moore to the Point by Russell D. Moore

Monday, October 19, 2009

Evangelicals, Fundamentalists and Halloween

Russell Moore at Evangel:
An evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up for Halloween.

A conservative evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up for the church’s “Fall Festival.”

A confessional evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up for “Reformation Day.”

An emerging evangelical is a fundamentalist who has no kids, but who dresses up for Halloween anyway.

A revivalist evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up as demons for the church’s “Judgment House” community evangelism outreach.

A fundamentalist is a fundamentalist whose kids hand out gospel tracts to all those mentioned above.
Evangelical Definition and Halloween » Evangel | A First Things Blog

Sincerity matters more than style

I have no recent experience with youth ministry, but as someone who taught adolescents in public school for a very long time what Kevin DeYoung writes about reaching young people rings true:
.... Reaching the next generation—whether they are outside the church or sitting there bored in your church—is easier and harder than you think. It’s easier because you don’t have to get a degree in postmodern literary theory or go to a bunch of stupid movies. You don’t have to say “sweet” or “bling” or know what LOL or IMHO means. You don’t have to listen to…well, whatever people listen to these days. You don’t have to be on twitter, watch The Office, or imbibe fancy coffees. You just have to be like Jesus. That’s it. So the easy part is you don’t have to be with it. The hard part is you have to be with Him. If you walk with God and walk with people, you’ll reach the next generation.

Let me unpack that a bit. After thinking through the question for over a year, I’ve come up five suggestions for pastors, youth workers, campus staff, and for anyone else who wants to pass the faith on to the next generation: Grab them with passion. Win them with love. Hold them with holiness. Challenge them with truth. Amaze them with God. ....

.... You can have formal services, so long as you do not have formalism. You can have casual services, so long as you do not approach your faith casually. Your services can have a lot of different looks, but young people want to see passion. They want to see us do church and follow Christ like we mean it.

We would do well to pay attention to Romans 12. “Let love by genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Romans 12:9-11). We would be far less likely to lose our young people and far more likely to win some others, if the spiritual temperature of our churches was something other than lukewarm. People need to see that God is the all-consuming reality in our lives. Our sincerity and earnestness in worship matter ten times more than the style we use to display our sincerity and earnestness. .... [more]
Reaching the Next Generation is Harder and Easier Than You Think: Grab Them With Passion – Kevin DeYoung


The First Things site has inaugurated a new group blog, Evangel, with contributors from across the Evangelical spectrum — assuming we have any idea what "Evangelical" means, which is what the first series of entries addresses. One of the dozen or so initial responses was by Russell Moore who asks "Is It Wrong that I Don’t Care If I’m an Evangelical?" from which:
It seems to me the question of “evangelical” is similarly amorphous and contextual. I don’t mind saying that I’m an evangelical, and it’s true, but it’s mostly a tag for other Christians to know what kind of Christian I am, not a self-identity.

I’m a catholic (small “c”) Christian. I’m a Protestant Christian. I’m a Baptist Christian. I’m an evangelical Christian. I’m a four-point Calvinist, complementarian, high-view-of-the-sacraments, ecumenism of the trenches kind of Christian. And the definitions can get a whole lot more specific depending on how much context the situation requires.

If I need to know whether or not we can work together on a church plant or an evangelism strategy, the definition of “evangelical” matters to me. The rest of the time, the ambiguousness of the term doesn’t bother me any more than the fact that both Kuyper and Moltmann are “Protestants” (whatever that means).
The First Things site hosts several good blogs by interesting people, any of which can be found by using the "Blogs" menu at the top of their index page.

Evangel | A First Things Blog

The house of the rising Son

The Blind Boys From Alabama sing Amazing Grace as you've never heard it before:

Thanks to Mike Potemra at NRO for the reference.

YouTube - Blind Boys From Alabama-Amazing Grace

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Squeezing religion out

Charles J. Chaput is the Catholic archbishop of Denver. I have often quoted or referred to his writing because he gets the church/state relationship right. In "A Charitable Endeavor," inspired by continued secular attacks on not only the free exercise of religion — but even the free speech rights of religious people — Chaput notes that many "have forgotten the moral vision of our nation’s founding thinkers." The article is about the increasing difficulty Catholic charities are having working with government without compromising the integrity of Catholic teaching. As he does that he reminds us of some important understandings relevant to all religious believers in the United States:
The United States is an historical oddity. Unlike the nations of modern Europe, America was not founded on the basis of territorial, cultural, ethnic, or confessional concerns. America is what the Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray called “a proposition country,” built on a set of moral claims about God, the human person, the meaning of life, and the purpose of society. These propositions, in turn, emerged from the Judeo–Christian values and vocabulary of America’s first settlers and founders.

America’s founding documents are thus a mix of commonsense realism and transcendent idealism. God is named as “Creator” and “Supreme Judge” over individuals and governments. The human person is said to be endowed with God-given, and therefore inalienable, rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The purpose of government is clearly defined and sharply limited: to help secure and defend these basic rights for its citizens.

The American proposition envisions the self-rule of a free people living under a limited government. Civil authority governs with the people’s consent and in accord with the natural law and natural rights established by “Nature’s God.” The people’s freedom is not a moral license. Rather, it is the liberty and duty to pursue the good. The American ideal resembles Lord Acton’s famous definition of freedom: “not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.”

These beliefs shaped how the founders saw the role of religion in American life. In much of continental Europe, the rise of the nation-state was based on a negative secularity, hostile to religion and often brutally anticlerical. But in America, secularity was pressed into the service of cooperating with and promoting religion. Church and state were kept separate not to diminish religion, but to ensure that citizens could worship freely and practice their faith without government interference. In fact, America’s founders believed that religious faith and its institutions played a vital role in forming the civic virtues needed for national survival.

As Alexis de Tocqueville noted in his great study of American democracy: “I do not know whether all [American citizens] have faith in their religions—for who can read the bottom of men’s hearts? But I am certain that they believe religion to be necessary for the preservation of republican institutions. This is not the opinion of one class of citizens or one party but of the nation as a whole. One encounters it among people of every rank.”

Since religious faith was seen as foundational for public morality and political discourse, America’s churches have always been accepted as key mediating institutions in the nation’s civic life. This idea of mediating structures—such as churches, fraternal organizations, and families, which all stand between the individual and the larger institutions of civic power—helps explain the historically unique role of the Church.

Government was never meant to be a large presence in our American life. But too often today our knowledge classes—leadership groups in politics, law, higher education, and the media—no longer seem to believe that. America was built on the premise that the power of the state should be modest, because real life is much larger than politics. Human beings are the product of a vast, rich fabric of other loyalties and relationships in families, neighborhoods, workplaces, religious communities, and voluntary associations.

The American proposition presumes the truth of Edmund Burke’s dictum: “To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections.” Such respect for the essentially nonpolitical nature of human life has given a special vigor to American charitable efforts. The American environment has always favored minimal government involvement and maximum participation from individuals and voluntary associations. ....

Two points are vital here. First, the American proposition presumes that large areas of our common life as a nation exist where government has no special competence and no business intruding. Second, self-government means exactly that: self-government. The solutions to problems in American society are mainly the duty of individuals working together in associations. Government involvement is never the first, and usually not the preferred, course of action. .... [more]
Thanks to Insight Scoop for the reference.

A Charitable Endeavor | First Things

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bach and a sense of the transcendent

I have received my copy of Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment, and am thoroughly enjoying it, although I have thus far only read a chapter. The book will go quickly. The review by Gene Edward Veith that inspired my purchase can be found here.

Near the end of the first chapter, the author James R. Gaines writes:
...Bach's Musical Offering leaves us, among other things, a compelling case for the following proposition: that a world without a sense of the transcendent and mysterious, a universe ultimately discoverable through reason alone, can only be a barren place; and that the music sounding forth from such a world might be very pretty, but it can never be beautiful. [p. 12]

"Are we delivered?"

Perfect. From Hunter Baker, the author of the book recommended in the previous post:
Every night, my wife and I put the children to bed with a song and a prayer. I have been trying to teach them the Doxology and the Lord's Prayer.

Last night, I asked my four year old daughter Grace if I should pray or if she wanted to do it. She said, "You pray the one that God prayed. Pray the one God said Jesus to pray." So, I prayed the Lord's Prayer line by line with her repeating after me.

At the end, she asked, "Daddy, what does 'Deliver' mean?" I told her it means to protect from something or to rescue from something bad. And then she asked, "Is that happening to us? Are we delivered?"

I told her the same thing Alyosha told the grieving boys at the end of The Brothers Karamazov.

Yes, we are. And just like those boys, she was happy.
Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments: Sweet Faith of a Child

Freedom in the public square

An interview from Christianity Today with Hunter Baker, author of The End of Secularism:
Why should Christians oppose the exclusion of religion in public discourse?

Secularism goes a lot further than the separation of church and state. Instead of saying that these things have to be institutionally separate, secularism says that religion has to be privatized and taken out of public life. Secularists argue that if we stop talking about God, we will create greater social harmony. But religion is not a hobby. To act as though God doesn't exist is fundamentally dishonest.

Second, it's unfair. [According to secularists,] you have Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Mormonism, all of which orbit the sun of secularism. That's utterly fallacious. Secularism is really a competing orthodoxy. And if that's the case, why should one of these competitors be allowed to declare itself the umpire?

How has the impact of secularism changed over time?

When religious speech has been used, as in the civil rights movement, to promote care for the poor or to criticize the Vietnam War, then it's a great thing to secularists. Religious people are speaking truth to power. They're speaking prophetically. But if you start speaking prophetically about something like abortion or marriage, suddenly it's the danger of theocracy. ....

If we were to move toward a less secularist approach, would the church become watered down?

This is a problem for the church. Historically, the church's experience is very cyclical. We go through periods where we are marginalized, we are not in power, and we aren't the fashionable movement. During those periods, the church tends to thrive. Then the church becomes a victim of its own popularity; it tends to be compromised by having alliances with major rulers. Then the cycle repeats itself.

Our faith in God is actually a very important bulwark against totalitarianism, against the oppression of people, and against a government coming to believe that it is the ultimate power instead of God. .... [more]
The Clothed Public Square | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

"You're not the congregation — He is"

Why do Anglicans do the odd things they do in liturgy and worship? Father Eric Dudley, the Rector of St. Peter's Anglican Church in Tallahassee, Florida, explains "The Nuts and Bolts of Anglican Liturgy." [about one hour]

Thanks to Michael Spencer for the reference.

The Nuts and Bolts of Anglican Liturgy on Vimeo

"When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers..."

Toby Lester explains how "when America showed up on a map, it was the universe that got transformed" — how a map confirmed the views of a Polish priest and revolutionized the way we understand the cosmos:
.... WHEN CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS first sailed west from Spain in 1492 in search of the Indies, nobody worried that he would sail off the edge of the earth. Medieval Europeans knew full well that the world was a sphere, and that if you sailed far enough to the west you would arrive in the east.

In that sense, they understood the shape of the world. But when they set their sights beyond the earth, they still relied on a 2,500-year-old model of the universe, one that scholastics during the Middle Ages had made fundamental to Christian theology. According to teachings that dated to Aristotle, the cosmos as a whole consisted of a set of concentric spheres. At the center was the earth, a solid ball of land. Surrounding the earth, successively, were spheres of water, air, and fire; then individual spheres for the moon, the sun, and the planets; and finally, at the outer limits, a single sphere studded with stars, beyond which lay a realm of pure abstraction, or God. Each of these celestial spheres rotated around the earth at its own pace.

This model did a serviceable job of explaining the apparent motions of the heavens, but it had a fundamental problem. If the cosmos did indeed consist of a set of spheres with the earth at its center, then why wasn’t the earth completely submerged in the sphere of water that surrounded it? Why was there any exposed land at all?

European scholars in the late Middle Ages devised a way of explaining this problem away. The earth, they suggested, bobbed slightly off-center in the sphere of water, “like an apple in a basin,” as one writer put it in 1484. How had this happened? God had simply made it so. The Book of Genesis told the story: “And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear.” In practical terms, scholars explained, what God had done in working this miracle was to push the sphere of the earth to one side of the sphere of the water, exposing part of it to the air and creating the contiguous lands that would come to be known as Asia, Europe, and Africa.

Copernicus knew the theory of the off-center earth well from his student days. But he didn’t buy it. Mathematically, geometrically, logically — it just didn’t make sense to him. Anybody could see that the earth’s landmass didn’t gradually and uniformly mount upward from the sea toward a high point somewhere in the middle of the known world, as this model suggested it should. “Furthermore,” he wrote in the geographical section with which he opened On the Revolutions, “the depth of the abyss would never stop increasing from the shore of the ocean outward, so that no island or reef or any form of land would be encountered by sailors on the longer voyages.”

But Copernicus went on to add that he had recently come across even more compelling evidence against this theory. And this evidence can only have come from the Waldseemüller map. ....

Copies of the map seem to have circulated widely in the early 16th century. In the years immediately after 1507, it reached a number of German university towns, where professors probably used it as a classroom prop. By 1512, it had made it to Poland, where Jan de Stobnicza, a professor of philosophy at the University of Krakow, published his own partial copy.

Nobody who saw the map could miss what dominated its left side. Rising majestically out of the western ocean, extending deep into the southern hemisphere, was a huge new continent. And printed across the region we now know as Brazil was a strange new name: America. ....

At the time Copernicus came across the Waldseemüller map, he had already begun to look for evidence that would support his new theory of the cosmos. And when he saw America on the map, he knew he had found what he was looking for. The location of this new continent, he realized, disproved the theory of the off-center earth.

If the earth really did bulge out of one side of the sphere of water, he reasoned, then the ocean had to get deeper and deeper the farther one sailed away from the shores of the known world. Land, in other words, could not protrude from opposite sides of the sphere of water. And yet that’s exactly what Copernicus saw happening on the Waldseemüller map. Here was a giant southern continent far off in the western ocean, located diametrically opposite to the known world.

There was only one way to explain this oddity, Copernicus decided: The watery sphere must not exist at all. The earth and its oceans had to be one, and in that single globe there had to be much more earth than water.

Quite suddenly, at its very core, the old model of the cosmos was falling apart. If the theory of an off-center earth was directly at odds with geographical reality, as the Waldseemüller map showed it to be, then the time had come, it seemed to Copernicus, to think about the cosmos from an entirely different perspective.

Perhaps it was not the heavens that were in motion, but the earth. .... [more]
There are those who seem to think that the conclusions Copernicus drew ought to have shaken — even destroyed — the faith of Christians. I'm not sure why. I'm unaware of any evidence that Copernicus — or Galileo — thought the discovery in any way brought God into question.

A world redrawn: When America showed up on a map, it was the universe that got transformed - The Boston Globe

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The door to Hell is locked from inside

Father Robert Barron's views on Hell resemble those of C.S. Lewis [and my own]:

Thanks to Insight Scoop for the reference.

YouTube - Fr. Barron comments on Hell

A musical rebuke and witness

In a good favorable review of a book that would otherwise have passed my notice, Gene Edward Veith made Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment, by James A. Gaines, sound so interesting that I have already ordered it. From the review:
.... In 1747, Frederick the Great—the king of Prussia, patron of Enlightenment rationalism, and military strongman—invited Johann Sebastian Bach, now an old man three years from his death, for an audience. Frederick fancied himself a musician and scorned the old-fashioned polyphony that Bach was known for in favor of music with a single pleasant melody. Frederick, who enjoyed humiliating his guests, had composed a long melody line full of chromatic scales that was impossible to turn into a multi-voiced canon (that is, a “round”: think “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” with different groups starting at different times) and told Bach to turn it into a fugue (an even more complicated “round”). Whereupon Bach, on the spot, sat down at one of the new piano fortes and turned it into a three-part fugue. The flummoxed King said, in effect, OK, turn it into a 6-part fugue. A few days later, Bach sent him a 6-part fugue and more than a fugue, “A Musical Offering” that rebuked Frederick and all of his Enlightenment notions with the Christian faith. ....

Gaines shows how Bach’s view of music goes right back to Luther. For them and other Christians of their time, music was quite literally a sign and measure of God’s created order in the universe. Bach and Luther favored polyphony—many voices going on at the same time, whether in the multiple but unified melodies of canons and fugues, or in the phenomenon of harmony—because it imaged forth the unity-in-diversity that is everywhere in creation; indeed, in existence itself; not only that, but in the Godhead Himself.

Gaines also draws on the Bach scholarship that demonstrates how music in this tradition encoded specific meanings. In Bach’s final “Musical Offering” to Frederick, he includes 10 canons, which are emblematic of the Ten Commandments (”canons,” laws, get it?). He includes a caption in one section that refers to how the notes ascend like the King’s glory, except that the notes go nowhere and turn into the most melancholy of melodies. He thus says through his music that Frederick may think himself “Great,” but his glory goes nowhere, that he will end only in death, that he doesn’t stand up very well to those Ten Commandments. Bach works in chorale motifs and church music—which Frederick hated—but which give this king his only hope. Yes, Bach was using his music to witness to this august secularist King in his palace of reason. .... [more]
Bach’s smackdown of Frederick the Great — Cranach: The Blog of Veith

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Enjoy Him forever

The chief end of man is to glorify God
and to enjoy Him forever.

Westminster Shorter Catechism (1642-1647)

"I was not born to be free:
I was born to adore and to obey."

C.S. Lewis in conversation with A.C. Harwood


Tim Keller is an author worth reading and taking seriously. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism is a superb Christian apologetic for our time. Now comes Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters and Trevin Wax convincingly demonstrates its value in this review:
Keller’s book stands out among other books on idolatry because of the way he goes beyond superficial expressions of idolatry to the root issues of the heart. Our hearts are idol-making factories that make good gifts from God ultimate in our lives, thereby replacing God in our affections. He writes:
What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. (xvii)
How can you identify these insidious idols? How can you tell if you are worshiping a counterfeit God? Keller says:
A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. (xviii)
Counterfeit Gods includes the obvious idols of money, sex and power. But Keller spends time treating idols that most Christians would fail to discern: doctrinal accuracy, religious communities, political activism, and even traditional family values. ....

Over and over again, as I made my way through this book, I found myself nodding my head in agreement at Keller’s analysis. But my desire to “amen” the thoughts in this book could only come after multiple prayers of “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!” Counterfeit Gods convicted me of hidden idolatries in my own life. ....

The good news is that there is good news. The counterfeit gods are mere parodies of the one true God who has come to conquer our idols and restore us to himself. (more)
Counterfeit Gods: Tim Keller Takes On Our Idols : Kingdom People

First engender the love

I know more history because of good historical fiction than I learned as a history major. In fact, much of my pleasure in studying history grew from reading historical fiction. The novels of Bruce Lancaster and Kenneth Roberts provided me with a dramatic sense of the American Revolution, just as Bernard Cornwell's Waterloo and Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels about Gettysburg made sense of those battles, and interested me in reading academically respectable, non-fictional, accounts. Britain's Booker Prize was awarded this year to a historical novel about Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel. The award inspired Antonia Senior to write "Fictional history is best. And that’s the truth" — it is perhaps not the best history, but it is the best way to encourage a love of history. Senior:

.... You can keep your Roths and your DeLillos, your Amises and Smiths, your portraits of modern life. Give me a rampaging Viking or a frigate clawing off a lee shore and I’m deliriously happy. ....

The joy of history lies in the stories, the pageantry, the interplay of great men and greater themes, the horrible deaths and bloody lives of our ancestors. Dry dates do not excite, but neither does endless empathising with peasants. Sod the peasants, what about the wars and the murders?

Here’s where historical fiction comes in. All of world history can be viewed through the prism of a handful of extraordinary fictional characters. ....

.... History should be about the characters and their stories, about falling in love with the past and all its players. Put Mantel’s Cromwell and Lucky Jack Aubrey on the curriculum early on, and watch the history GCSE uptake soar. First engender the love, then the proper history will follow. [more]
Thanks to Gene Edward Veith, who also loves historical fiction, for the reference.

More, 11:45: Martin Rubin reviews Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall in the Wall Street Journal this morning:
Although less famous than his great-great-grandnephew Oliver, Thomas Cromwell is well-known, thanks to the enduring fascination of Henry VIII and the Tudor court. Cromwell is of course a memorable villain in the play and movie A Man for All Seasons — the royal minister who, cruelly advancing Henry's break with Rome, hounds Thomas More for a loyalty oath that he will not give. Cromwell naturally figured in King Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972), the popular Masterpiece Theater version of these events, and he reappears these days, as dry and determined as ever, in the over-heated HBO series The Tudors. But for all the portraits of this 16th-century power broker in print and on screen—not to mention in the history books, where he is a central figure in the history of Protestant triumphalism— Cromwell has never before appeared as he does in Hilary Mantel's dense, finely wrought Wolf Hall, the winner of this year's Man Booker Prize in Britain.

Ms. Mantel has a knack for getting under the skin of her characters and capturing them (one feels) as they must have been, as readers will know who have read her wonderfully imaginative novel about the French Revolution, A Place of Greater Safety (1992). So convincing is she with Wolf Hall that it is easy to feel that we are seeing the real Cromwell before us.... [more]
Fictional history is best. And that’s the truth | Antonia Senior - Times Online, Book Review: Hilary Mantel's 'Wolf Hall' -

Monday, October 12, 2009

If they are right then everyone else is wrong!

World Magazine quotes from and comments on a USA Today article about Christian athletes. The writer is apparently "shocked! shocked!" to discover that these Christians believe what Christianity has always taught — and has only just now discovered it himself.
...Tom Krattenmaker....makes the argument that, in addition to outward displays of religion that are a reflection the athlete’s private spirituality, the average fan would be shocked to know that many of these athletes really believe that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. And that they want others to believe in Christ too.
But Jesus’ representatives in sports aren’t just practicing faith. They are also leveraging sports’ popularity to promote a message and doctrine that are out of sync with the diverse communities that support franchises, and with the unifying civic role that we expect of our teams. Typifying the exclusive creed taught by many sports-world Christians is the belief statement published by Baseball Chapel, which provides chaplains for all major- and minor-league baseball teams. Non-believers in Jesus, the ministry declares, can look forward to “everlasting punishment separated from God.” ....

Evangelical players and ministry representatives in sports aren’t out to harm anyone, of course. On the contrary, they see themselves as fulfilling the Bible’s Great Commission (”Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Matthew 28:19). In this sense, their mission is pure altruism: They seek to share the gift of eternal life.
But then Krattenmaker stumbles on and stumbles over the claims of Christian gospel exclusivity:
But there’s a shadow side to this. If their take on God and truth and life is the only right one — which their creed boldly states — everyone else is wrong.

…It’s not just non-Christians who might have a thing or two to say about this exclusive theology. According to a December 2008 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life, 65% of American Christians believe that many religions can lead to eternal life. Our pluralism is a defining and positive reality of American life — but not one that is much valued by those who define the faith coursing through the veins of sports culture.
Of course if something is true ["Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" (John 14:6 ESV)], then something else is apt to not be. If the Pew survey is accurate in its assessment of the views of a lot of American Christians, then Christians in this country aren't thinking it through. | Community | Blog Archive | Tebow and “one-truth evangelical campaigns”

"Fresh textual analysis"

Joe Carter alerts us to a story that will probably not cause anyone to change his mind:
So you thought Genesis 1:1 claims that God created the universe? That’s because you don’t understand Hebrew:
Professor Ellen van Wolde, a respected Old Testament scholar and author, claims the first sentence of Genesis “in the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth” is not a true translation of the Hebrew. ....

She said she eventually concluded the Hebrew verb “bara”, which is used in the first sentence of the book of Genesis, does not mean “to create” but to “spatially separate.”

The first sentence should now read “in the beginning God separated the Heaven and the Earth.” ....

She concluded that God did not create, he separated: the Earth from the Heaven, the land from the sea, the sea monsters from the birds and the swarming at the ground
I’m glad she was able to correct this misperception. Now if she could explain how scholars for thousands of years seem to have missed this point.
A spokesman for the Radboud University said: “The new interpretation is a complete shake up of the story of the Creation as we know it.”

Prof Van Wolde added: “The traditional view of God the Creator is untenable now.”
For a scholar trained in languages, Professor Van Wolde appears not to understand the common meanings of many words and phrases. For instance, she seems to think the word “untenable” means “can’t be defended since I settled the issue” and that “fresh textual analysis” is synonymous with “stuff I just made up.”
Breaking News: God Didn’t Create the Heavens and Earth » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

Abortion and health care reform

Those of us convinced that abortion is the killing of a human being have taken some small comfort in knowing that, although legal, it cannot be publicly funded. It will be interesting, and perhaps revealing, to see whether the goal of reversing that policy will be more important to the House Democratic leadership than passing health care reform. From
Rep. Bart Stupak (D.-Mich.), co-chairman of the House Pro-Life Caucus, told that Democrats who oppose government funding of abortion will try to block the health care reform bill from coming to a vote on the House floor unless House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) allows a floor vote on an amendment to explicitly prohibit abortion funding in the bill.

Stupak was responding to a question from about White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’s contention at Friday’s press briefing that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops were mistaken in their belief that the Hyde Amendment, which bars abortion funding in each year’s Health and Human Services Appropriation, would not apply to the new programs created and funded through the health care bill.

What Stupak wants to do is attach the language of the Hyde Amendment to the health-care bill itself so that abortion funding is permanently and explicitly barred in the federally funded health insurance plans. ....

“If our amendment is not made in order we will try to shut down the rule, preventing the health care bill from coming to the floor for a vote,” Stupack stated. “If the Speaker believes that abortion funding is not in the bill then she should let me have my amendment, because if anything it would just be redundant.” ....

Stupak told Fox News last month he believed he had enough votes lined up to defeat the rule if Speaker Pelosi does not agree to allow a vote on an amendment to explicitly bar abortion funding through the bill.

Stupak (D-Mich.) is co-sponsoring the amendment with Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.). It says: “No funds authorized under this Act (or an amendment by this Act) may be used to pay for any abortion or to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion, except” in the cases of rape, incest and threat to the life of the mother. .... [more] - Pro-Life Democrats Seek to Block Health Bill if Pelosi Won’t Allow Vote on Amendment Barring Abortion Funding

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The martyrdom of Galileo?

Debunking historical falsehoods about the relationship between religion and science is what Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion is about. Reviewed by Ryan T. Anderson in this week's Weekly Standard:
.... Though it is written by academics from Harvard, Oxford, Johns Hopkins, Chicago, and the like, the book is intended for nonspecialists. In about 10 pages per myth, the contributors explain the myth's content, how so many people have come to believe it, and what the historical evidence shows to the contrary. The authors necessarily spend the bulk of their time debunking attacks on religion in the name of science, but they also clear the muddy waters left behind when pro-religion forces try to obscure the scientific record.

So, for example, readers discover that Galileo never really was imprisoned (nor was he tortured), that Giordano Bruno was not a martyr on behalf of science (though he was persecuted for his heretical theological views as a defrocked monk who denied the doctrine of the Trinity), that "every important medieval thinker" rejected the flat-earth theory and held fast to a spherical-earth theory, and that "no evidence supports the notion" that Christianity opposed the use of anesthesia in childbirth.

Likewise, claims that the evidence for organic evolution rests on circular reasoning, that Darwin was complicit in Nazi biology, and that "Intelligent Design" mounts a scientific challenge to evolution are all thoroughly explored and roundly rejected.

We also learn that neither the atheists nor the evangelicals are right on Darwin: Evolution didn't lead him to reject Christianity (the untimely deaths of his father and daughter, coupled with the doctrine of eternal damnation, did), nor did he undergo a deathbed conversion. Likewise, despite attempts to list Einstein in the "pro-God" column, he didn't believe in a personal god or favor any traditional organized religion (his many statements on religion showing him to be more of a Spinozist). And regardless of what Inherit the Wind might have us believe about the Scopes "monkey trial," William Jennings Bryan triumphed on the stand and was widely hailed as a hero upon his death shortly thereafter. .... [more]

PREVIEW: Reason for Faith