Sunday, February 28, 2010

Where is it written that an atheist doesn't have to pray?

In a fascinating review of a new Hebrew-English edition of the Jewish Prayerbook, the reviewer, Hillel Halkin, provides not only a short history of Jewish worship and the development of the liturgy, but also writes about the difficulty of praying — and a possible benefit of prayer even for those who don't believe. An excerpt:
.... The struggle to keep prayer—“the language of the soul in conversation with God,” to quote Sacks again — from becoming a routine activity is intrinsic to every religion that makes praying a regular duty. In The Ethics of the Fathers is the saying, attributed to the 1st-century sage Shimon ben Netanel, “Be punctilious in reciting the ‘Hear O Israel’ and the other prayers, and when you pray, make your prayers not rote but mercy cries to God”; yet a punctilious cry for mercy is not easily achieved. The 4th-century church abbot Agatho, when asked what the hardest part of the religious life was, replied that it was prayer, since the demons who hated God put more effort into thwarting it than into anything else.

Whoever has ever prayed regularly and not just at rare moments of personal crisis knows what these demons are: they range from difficulty in concentrating and the disturbance of distracting thoughts to religious doubts and the inability to identify with the words one is saying. The observant Jew is tempting prey for them. A devout Catholic attends a once-a-week mass that has a great deal of pageantry to hold his attention and in which his role is limited to brief responses to the longer utterances of the priest. In most Protestant services, congregational participation consists largely of hymn singing, an expansively enjoyable activity. Though Muslims pray five times a day, each prayer is brief, a few pithy formulas declaring God’s greatness accompanied by frequent changes of physical position. Only Jews must recite every morning, “The incense contained eleven kinds of spices: balsam, onycha, galbanum and frankincense … myrhh, cassia, spikenard and saffron …twelve manehs of costus, three of aromatic bark; nine of cinnamon,” ....

Nothing, however, can keep one focused on one’s prayers when one loses faith in the God to whom one has been praying. This happened to me midway through adolescence. Although since then I have attended many synagogue services, I have never really been able to pray. ....

There were times when I prayed mechanically then, too. There were times when I didn’t pray at all. But there were times when I felt like a priest in the Temple, binding my soul to the altar and offering the daily sacrifice at its appointed time and place. It was the intensity of that experience that makes me feel like an impostor when I take part in a synagogue service today. Like anyone skilled at playing a role, I alone know I am playing it. I go through the motions of prayer as proficiently as do the men around me. You don’t forget such things any more than you forget how to swim or ride a bicycle.

And yet I sometimes wonder how many of these men are having an experience more intense than my own. Not a large number, to judge by outward appearances. Most seem to be engaged in what they are doing without overly troubling themselves about it. They take pleasure in being together, as people take pleasure in any group activity—folk dancing, say, or a sing-along. I do not say they have no feeling of uplift. Clearly they do. But it is an uplift that could also be mine if I allowed it to be, which may be why I place no great value on it. ....

My father, who prayed with great kavanah yet was adamant about having no religious beliefs whatsoever, had a different answer. “It’s what a Jew does,” he would say. He once told me a story about a man standing in the street outside a shtibl, a little synagogue, looking for a tseynter, a tenth Jew to add to the nine waiting inside to say the afternoon prayer. Spotting a likely-looking candidate, he asks: “Excuse me, mister. Are you Jewish?” “Yes, I am,” says the Jew. “What can I do for you?” “You can join a minyanmincha,” the man says. “I’m afraid that’s impossible,” answers the Jew. “Why?” asks the man. “Because I’m an atheist,” says the Jew. The man gives the Jew a withering look. “And where,” he inquires, “is it written that an atheist doesn’t have to say mincha?”

In fact, it’s written nowhere. As far as Jewish law is concerned, an atheist has to pray like anyone else.

Maybe my snobbery, then, has less to recommend it than I think. I have always considered it a form of respect for the God I once believed in to refuse to dishonor either of us by mouthing empty words to Him. But the God of Judaism would rather have empty words than none. Mitokh she-lo lishma ba lishma, the rabbis said: the deed not initially performed for its own sake will come to be for its own sake if persisted at. .... [more]
This article, "Endless Devotion," is one of several available online from the first issue of a brand new magazine, the Jewish Review of Books. Another that I enjoyed is "Why There Is No Jewish Narnia".

Endless Devotion > Publications > Jewish Review of Books

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The apostle in context

Rod Dreher is enthusiastic about a book that could help us understand Paul in the context of his times:
The most exciting book of historical analysis I've read in ages — indeed the most exciting book period — is the Classical scholar and translator Sarah Ruden's Paul Among the People (Pantheon) which attempts to defend St. Paul against his modernist critics (e.g. those who consider him an impossible troglodyte for his views on women and homosexuals) by explaining the Greco-Roman social and cultural context in which he composed his letters. It's quite eye-opening, and remarkable in part because Ruden is a research fellow at Yale Divinity School (no bastion of Christian conservatism), as well as a Quaker pacifist. What makes reading Ruden such a pleasure, aside from the quality of her thinking and her prose, is her willingness to question settled truths, and to do it with such a lightness of spirit. She doesn't cast herself as a culture warrior, as such, but as someone who simply thinks that Paul gets a bad deal from contemporaries, who judge him by the standards of our own time, heedless of the cultural realities of his era, that the Apostle addressed in his letters. In short, she's sticking up for a man who in some leading circles is an underdog. .... [more, including an email exchange between Dreher and Ruden]
Thanks to Ross Douthat for the reference.

Sarah Ruden, a joyful iconoclast - Rod Dreher

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Before Kindle

Anyone my age who attended public school remembers watching Encyclopedia Britannica Films and any Seventh Day Baptist of a similar age who visited the Recorder Press in Plainfield, New Jersey, will recognize much of the process described in this 1947 film because the Recorder Press [which published the Sabbath Recorder as a weekly in those days] still used these methods well into the '60s. From Omnivoracious: Book Nostalgia Trip: How a Book Used to Be Made:

Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the reference.

Omnivoracious: Book Nostalgia Trip: How a Book Used to Be Made

Facts can be difficult things

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [....] And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, 14, ESV)
Gayle Trotter writing at Evangel responds to a friend who has objections to the doctrine of the Trinity.
As my friend rightly noted, the Bible nowhere contains the word “Trinity.” An easy response, though, is that many bedrock Christian doctrines are given names that are not found in the Bible, such as “monotheism,” “incarnation,” or “divinity.” ....
After describing how the Church came to define the doctrine, and discussing the issue of subordination in the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Trotter comes to her friend's last objection:
.... How do you reconcile Old Testament monotheism with a triune God?

We must frequently hold two principles in tension. Two opposing heresies lie on either side of orthodox Trinitarian doctrine. The first heresy, Modalism, claims that there are three terms for the same God, and the only difference is where this God appears and at what time. The second heresy, Tritheism, asserts that there are three equal, independent and self-sufficient beings who are all divine. Both of these heresies are quite a bit simpler and easier to grasp than the Trinity, but each one lacks an essential element (three persons in the case of Modalism; one God in the case of Tritheism). ....

.... As [C.S.] Lewis observed, “If Christianity were something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.” .... (more)
The Trinity: 3-D Divine Mystery » Evangel | A First Things Blog

A God who cares

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
(Psalm 23:4, ESV)

My pastor served for many years as a chaplain in an assisted living facility. One of the inescapable facts about such places is that in them many people suffer and many people die. I once asked him what difference Christian belief made to the suffering or those close to death. He said it made all the difference. Research increasingly indicates that his experience is borne out:
.... The researchers compared the levels of melancholy or hopelessness in 136 adults diagnosed with major depression or bipolar depression with their sense of "religious well-being." They found participants who scored in the top third of a scale charting a sense of religious well-being were 75 percent more likely to get better with medical treatment for clinical depression.

"In our study, the positive response to medication had little to do with the feeling of hope that typically accompanies spiritual belief," said study director Patricia Murphy, a chaplain at Rush and an assistant professor of religion, health and human values.

"It was tied specifically to the belief that a Supreme Being cared," she said. .... [more]
Needless to say, such belief could be comforting even if not true — providing false hope. And it demonstrates the importance of belief in a "Supreme Being" who cares — not necessarily in the God who is. But it is a rather nice riposte to the "religion is evil" crowd and, of course, for those of us who do believe provides additional support for what we already know.

Studies: Belief in God relieves depression - Washington Times

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

In the end we will all know

Evelyn Gordon at Commentary explains why evangelical theology about the conversion of Jews poses no threat and should not stand in the way of cooperation:
.... There are only two possible scenarios for what this end of days can look like, and contrary to the doomsday crowd, neither leads to Jewish-Christian conflict.

The first scenario is that the Jews are right and Jesus is not the Messiah. In that case, there will be no second coming, so the end-of-days demand that the Jews convert will never arrive, and fruitful cooperation between Jews and evangelicals can continue for all eternity.

The second is that the Christians are right, and Jesus is the Messiah. In that case, when he comes again, the Jews should all convert. After all, if they’re right, they’re right.

Needless to say, I believe the first, and my evangelical friends believe the second. But as long we can agree to disagree until the end of days arrives to settle the question, there is no conflict, and no potential for one.

Clearly, that would not be true if evangelicals wanted to forcibly convert the Jews before the end of days arrives. But so far, not even their harshest critics have found any grounds for suspecting them of that. .... [more]
Commentary » Blog Archive » End-of-Days Fallacies

Remembering the answers

Kevin DeYoung's newest book will be published next month he reminds us this morning. It is The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism. The "16th Century catechism" is the Heidelberg Catechism and, although Baptists these days tend to not be big on catechisms [and Baptists , of course, know that this catechism is wrong on at least one aspect of at least one important doctrine], this is a book which I know from his earlier efforts will be profitable and a good read. I have already ordered it. From the book as quoted at DeYoung's blog:
.... Why is it that denominations and church movements almost always drift from their theological moorings? Why is it that people who grow up in the church are often less articulate about their faith than the new Christian who converted at forty-five? Why is it that those who grow up with creeds and confessions are usually the ones who hate them most?

Perhaps it’s because truth is like the tip of your nose—it’s hardest to see when it’s right in front of you.

No doubt, the church in the West has many new things to learn. But for the most part, everything we need to learn is what we’ve already forgotten. The chief theological task now facing the Western church is not to reinvent or to be relevant, but to remember. We must remember the old, old story. We must remember the faith once delivered to the saints. We must remember the truths that spark reformation, revival, and regeneration. .... [more]
The Good News We Almost Forgot – Kevin DeYoung

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Genuine diversity requires boundaries

This morning The Washington Times editorialized about an upcoming Supreme Court case, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, with important implications for students at public universities. The editorial summarized the case:
...[T]he University of California's Hastings College of Law (in San Francisco) denied official recognition to the Christian Legal Society (CLS), a conservative religious student group. ....

U.C. Hastings objected to the Christian group because it requires its voting members and officers to abide by an extensive, faith-based pledge that includes a prohibition on all premarital and extramarital sex. Anybody can come to the group's meetings and participate, but only those — heterosexual and homosexual alike — who adopt the Statement of Faith can serve as officers and actually lead the Bible study. The university administration decided that a prohibition on sexual activity applicable to all voting members somehow discriminates specifically against homosexuals. (Secondarily, it said CLS discriminates on the basis of religion.) On those grounds, the school refused to register the group. .... [more]
A brief submitted to the Court by law professor and former federal judge Michael W. McConnell is quoted here:
A “variety of viewpoints” is far more likely to be achieved when students are allowed to sort themselves out by interest and viewpoint—Republicans in one club, Democrats in another; Muslims in one organization, Lutherans in another. Without such sorting, all viewpoints are blurred. The Democratic Caucus becomes the Bipartisan Caucus; the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim clubs become the Ecumenical Society; and every other group organized around a belief becomes a Debate Club. Each group becomes no more than its own diverse forum—writ small. The all-comers rule thus defeats the very purpose of recognizing any group as a group in the first place. Preventing students from organizing around shared beliefs does not foster a robust or diverse exchange of views.
EDITORIAL: A new battle of Hastings - Washington Times, Southern Appeal » Religious Liberty’s Battle of Hastings


Browsing through a selection of quotations from Dorothy L. Sayers, A Matter of Eternity, I came across these definitions of "The Seven Deadly Sins":
Pride (Superbia) is the head and root of all sin, both original and actual. It is the endeavour to be as God," making self, instead of God, the centre about which the will and desire revolve.

Envy. The sin of Envy (Invidia) differs from that of Pride in that it contains always an element of fear. The proud man is self-sufficient, rejecting with contempt the notion that anybody can be his equal or superior. The envious man is afraid of losing something by the admission of superiority in others, and therefore looks with grudging hatred upon other men's gifts and good fortune, taking every opportunity to run them down or deprive them of their happiness.

Wrath. The effect of Wrath (Ira) is to blind the judgment and to suffocate the natural feelings and responses, so that a man does not know what he is doing.

Sloth. The sin which in English is called Sloth (Accidia or Acedia) is insidious, and assumes such Protean shapes that it is rather difficult to define. It is not merely idleness of mind and laziness of body: it is that whole poisoning of the will which, beginning with indifference and an attitude "I couldn't care less," extends to the deliberate refusal of joy and culminates in morbid introspection and despair. One form of it which appeals very much to some modern minds is that acquiescence in evil and error which readily disguises itself as 'Tolerance"; another is that refusal to be moved by the contemplation of the good and beautiful which is known as"Disillusionment, " and sometimes as 'Knowledge of the World"; yet another is that withdrawal into an "ivory tower" of Isolation which is the peculiar temptation of the artist and the contemplative, and is popularly called "Escapism."

Covetousness. Covetousness (Avaritia) is the inordinate love of wealth, and the power that wealth gives, whether it is manifested by miserly hoarding or by lavish spending. It is a peculiarly earth-bound sin, looking to nothing beyond the rewards of this life.

Gluttony. The sin of Gluttony (Gula) is—specifically—an undue attention to the pleasures of the palate, whether by sheer excess in eating and drinking, or by the opposite fault of fastidiousness. More generally, it includes all over-indulgence in bodily comforts—the concentration, whether jovial or fretful, on a high standard of living."

Lust. Lust (Luxuria) is a type of shared sin; at its best, and so long as it remains a sin of incontinence only, there is mutuality in it and exchange: although, in fact, mutual indulgence only serves to push both parties along the road to Hell, it is not, in intention, wholly selfish.
I particularly liked this from "Sloth": " is that whole poisoning of the will which, beginning with indifference and an attitude 'I couldn't care less,' extends to the deliberate refusal of joy and culminates in morbid introspection and despair. One form of it which appeals very much to some modern minds is that acquiescence in evil and error which readily disguises itself as 'Tolerance'..."

Rosamond Kent Sprague, ed., A Matter of Eternity: Selections From the Writings of Dorothy L. Sayers, Eerdmans, 1973, pp. 60-62.

Monday, February 22, 2010

When the righteous suffer

This Sabbath my pastor's sermon was about faith. It was a very good sermon. Afterward, I told him that for me the most important moment in understanding faith was when I realized that — with respect to God — the word means the same as trust, as in trusting Him to be Himself. Thinking about that may have been what caused me to link to the Hank Williams' rendition of "Farther Along" on Sunday. Today, Ray Ortlund, reflecting on the book of Job:
.... I don’t think the book of Job is about suffering as a theoretical problem — why do the righteous suffer? I think it’s about suffering as a practical problem — when (not if) the righteous suffer, what does God expect of them? And what he expects is trust. When the righteous cannot connect the realities of their experience with the truths of God, then God is calling them to trust him that there is more to it than they can see. As with Job, there is a battle being fought in the heavenlies.

Trust in God, not explanations from God, is the pathway through suffering.
The book of Job – Ray Ortlund

Prerequisite to democracy and freedom

Today is the anniversary of George Washington's birth. He is worthy of our remembrance for many reasons including, as was noted several years ago in a review of Richard Brookhiser's Founding Father:
.... Time and again, Washington turned away from opportunities for personal aggrandizement to demonstrate his devotion to popular, civilian rule. The episodes are familiar but worth rehearsing: his resignation of command immediately after the signing of the Treaty of Paris; his rebukes to those who whispered to him suggestively of monarchy; his reluctance to reenter public life after his military career; and, finally, his insistence on leaving the presidency after his second term. “Washington's last service to his country,” Brookhiser rightly observes, “was to stop serving.” ....
Few revolutionary leaders have ever exercised such restraint. Most of them have considered themselves indispensable. At the end of that second term in 1796 he wrote a "Farewell Address" which included this:
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric? .... (more)
Founding Father by Richard Brookhiser, Avalon Project - Washington's Farewell Address 1796

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Live in the sunshine

Via RightWingBob:

So, tempted and tried we're oft made to wonder
Why it should be thus all the day long
While there are others living about us
Never molested though in the wrong

Farther along we'll know more about it
Farther along we'll understand why
So, cheer up my brother live in the sunshine
We'll understand it all by and by. » That’s all it takes

"The gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction"

Glenn Reynolds commenting on the results of a survey:
YOUNG VOTERS WANT SPIRITUALITY, BUT NOT NECESSARILY RELIGION. Well, that’s because religion often tells you to do things you don’t want to do, or to refrain from doing things you want to do, while spirituality is usually more . . . flexible.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Architecture is not neutral

Matthew Milliner provides another reason that should persuade those of us blessed with beautiful, traditional church buildings to value them highly:
Whether or not they are consciously aware of it, many non-Christians are seeking a deeper, ecclesial reality in their life, not a gospel that caters to their present one. If non-Christians go to church, or back to church, a significant percentage of them want it to look, architecturally, like a traditional church. If you doubt this assertion, look into Lifeway’s recent survey that shows it to be true. ....

But, some might ask, Isn’t the pragmatic modern style of architecture more conducive to pragmatic evangelicalism? Not by a longshot. In An Architecture of Immanence, Mark Torgerson demonstrated the alliance of Protestant liberalism (to which evangelicalism is traditionally opposed) and architectural modernism. His diligently researched book concludes that flat, immanent modern architecture is uniquely suited to mid-century liberal Protestant denial of the supernatural, both of which (he seems to subtly imply) have been outmoded. Before evangelicals build in the modern, pragmatic style, therefore, they might want to consider whether or not the architecture they worship in will be counteracting the sermons preached therein for decades to come. It is impossible for architecture to be neutral.

Still, I’m not too hopeful about the possibilities for an evangelical recovery of traditional architecture. Having spurned the superior resources of Christendom, evangelicals have great difficulty detaching themselves from our dominant culture, and architecture is no exception. In addition, our economic downturn will do much to regenerate that ancient argument (John 12:5) against extravagance in worship, as if the poor were not ministered to by beauty as well. .... [more]
Attack of the Ugly Babies » Evangel | A First Things Blog

"With a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence"

The New York Times Magazine last Sunday published an article about efforts by certain members of the Texas Board of Education to specify what schoolchildren would read in their textbooks about the influence of Christianity on the foundation of the Republic. I'm inclined to think that such decisions, as is true in most states, ought to be left to local school boards and teachers. It is nevertheless true that what is often taught fails to get it right. Gary Scott Smith, a professor of history explains that whether Christian or not [and most were], Christianity was considered a positive good by all but a few of the founders:
Conservative Christian authors such as David Barton, Peter Marshall Jr., and Tim LaHaye contend that most of the founders were devout Christians who sought to establish a Christian nation. Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore in “The Godless Constitution” and Brooke Allen in “Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers” counter that very few founders were orthodox Christians. They and others often generalize from famous founders, such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Thomas Paine, to argue that most founders were deists who wanted strict separation of church and state.

The truth lies between these two positions. Almost every major founder belonged to a Christian congregation, although a sizable number of them were not committed Christians whose faith strongly influenced their political philosophy and actions. ....

...[M]any who played leading roles in the nation’s Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress, and the devising and ratification of the Constitution were devout Christians, as evident in their church attendance, commitment to prayer and Bible reading, belief in God’s direction of earthly affairs, and conduct. Among others, these books discuss John Witherspoon, James Wilson, Samuel Adams, George Mason, Oliver Ellsworth, Patrick Henry, John Jay, Benjamin Rush, and Roger Sherman.

...[T]he faith of Congregationalist John Hancock, Quaker John Dickinson, Presbyterian Elias Boudinot, and Episcopalian Charles Pinckney, and others helped shape their political views, policies, and practice. Abigail Adams and Catholics Charles Carroll, Daniel Carroll, and John Carroll also were dedicated Christians. Moreover, Jay, Boudinot, Pinckney, and numerous other founders served as officers of the American Bible Society.

Even many of those often labeled as deists—Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Alexander Hamilton—do not fit the standard definition of deism, which asserts that after creating the world, God has had no more involvement with it. Deism views God as a transcendent first cause who is not immanent, triune, fully personal, or sovereign over human affairs. All of these founders, however, repeatedly discussed God’s providence and frequently affirmed the value of prayer. .... Those espousing this perspective believed in a powerful, benevolent Creator who established the laws by which the universe operates. They also believed that God answered prayer, that people best served Him by living a moral life, and that individuals would be rewarded or punished in the afterlife based on their earthly deeds. Only a few founders, most notably Thomas Paine and Ethan Allan, can properly be called deists.

Despite their theological differences, virtually all the founders maintained that morality depended on religion (which for them meant Christianity). They were convinced that their new republic could succeed only if its citizens were virtuous. .... [more]

Thursday, February 18, 2010

"Where I am, there ye may be also"

No doubt because of the deaths of my parents I have been thinking more than I did previously about what funerals are about. Christian funerals are not primarily about remembering. They are about that, but they are also about hope and anticipation. And the answer to grief, for believers, is not to concentrate on how we are feeling or what we have lost, but on what we believe and what the Scriptures promise. From Michael P. Orsi's review of Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral:
Thomas G. Long, Professor of Preaching, at Emory University, worries that the true essence of the Christian funeral is receding rapidly from the collective memory of the community of believers. ....

Contemporary services, Long laments, have taken on a strongly therapeutic aspect, designed to assuage the grief of those left behind. This has led to an increase in memorial services, occasions for remembering the earthly life of the deceased—in most cases without the body present. When the funeral becomes focused on the living, the deceased just get in the way. “The revised funeral story,” Long writes, “is that we are simply summarizing memories, comforting each other, involving some inspiring thoughts, doing effective ‘closure’ and managing our grief; so it is better not to have any embarrassingly dead body cluttering up our meditation.” ....

A funeral is throughout a reenactment of the gospel and a proclamation its promise. Accordingly, Long emphasizes the importance of the sermon at a funeral rather than a eulogy: “The sermon happens when the preacher, who has gone to the Bible for the people and on behalf of the people, now turns and goes back to the people and is a faithful witness, telling them courageously and truthfully what has been heard.” This is not to say that the details of a person’s life cannot be mentioned, but “the life of the deceased must be told in light of the gospel.”

Long calls on the Church to regain control of funeral practices and in Accompanying Them with Singing, Long has provided the necessary guide for doing just that. .... [more]
The Drama of the Christian Funeral | First Things

Half truths are not true

Kevin DeYoung has read Brian McLaren’s new book, A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith and reviews its argument at some length. DeYoung expresses his intention to be fair, avoiding personal attack, saying "No one deserves to reviled. But some books deserve to pilloried." Here DeYoung describes the "ten questions" referred to in the book title, and here the problems he finds with McLaren's theses. [A pdf of the review is here.] It is pretty clear that McLaren strays pretty far from orthodoxy in his "new kind" of Christianity. The real question is whether it is, in fact, Christianity at all. DeYoung concludes:
The message of McLarenism is pretty simple: God is love and wants everyone to be kind and inclusive and care for the poor and the environment. This is what Jesus was like, and we should be like Jesus. This is, of course, not wrong in so far as it goes. The Liberal/McLaren emphasis on the kingdom is right, their concern for the “other” is right, much of their ethics is right. But McLarenism, like liberalism, cannot be right. It has its emphases all out of proportion, its right statements thrown out of whack by all that is missing. In McLarenism there is no original sin, no wrath, no hell, no creation-fall-redemption, no definite future, no second coming that I can see, no clear statement on the deity of Christ, no mention of vicarious substitution or God’s holiness or divine sovereignty, no ethical demands except as they relate to being kind to others, no God-offendedness, no doctrine of justification, no unchanging apostolic deposit of truth, no absolute submission to the word of God, nary a mention of faith and worship, no doctrine of regeneration, no evangelistic impulse to save the lost, and nothing about God’s passion for his glory. This is surely a lot to leave out.

McLaren’s Christianity is not new and certainly not improved. I don’t believe you can even call it Christianity. It is liberalism dressed up for the 21st century. .... [more]
Just before this summary, DeYoung quotes H. Richard Niebuhr on theological liberalism: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of Christ without a cross.”

Christianity and McLarenism (2) – Kevin DeYoung

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

We have offended

As Lent begins we are reminded that we are sinners, what that sin has cost, and that we are in need of grace:
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, who confess their faults. Restore thou them that are 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, 1662

Monday, February 15, 2010

Purging the "socially unfit"

As I learn more about Progressives and the Progressive Era in American politics and culture I become increasingly doubtful about "progress" and idealists who are confident that they know what must be done in its name. The history textbook presentation of the era and of the major Progressive personalities didn't manage to cover anything about their complicity in racism, ethnic bigotry, and eugenics.

This morning Michael Gerson recommended a book, War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race, by Edwin Black. Gerson describes it as: of the most disturbing books about America ever written. It recounts efforts by distinguished scientists, academics, industrialists, health officials and jurists through much of the 20th century to “direct human evolution” by waging war against people with developmental and physical disabilities.

Black points out that early last century, the American Breeders Association — supported by generous grants from Andrew Carnegie — created a committee to study “the best practical means for cutting off the defective germ-plasm of the American population.” The panel included doctors, economists and attorneys from Harvard, Yale, Princeton and the University of Chicago.

Black continues: “During a number of subsequent conferences, they carefully debated the ‘problem of cutting off the supply of defectives,’ and systemically plotted a bold campaign of ‘purging the blood of the American people of the handicapping and deteriorating influences of these anti-social classes.’ Ten groups were eventually identified as ‘socially unfit’ and targeted for ‘elimination.’” Among those groups, according to Black, were the “feebleminded,” epileptics, the “insane,” the “deformed” and the “deaf.”

Eugenic sterilizations did not end in the United States until the 1970s, endorsed by a decision of the Supreme Court. Citizens with Down syndrome and other genetic challenges are increasingly rare in America, because of prenatal testing and abortion. And as such genetic perfection is pursued, those who lack it are subjected to increased prejudice. .... [more]
In the first three decades of the 20th Century, American corporate philanthropy combined with prestigious academic fraud to create the pseudoscience eugenics that institutionalized race politics as national policy. The goal: create a superior, white, Nordic race and obliterate the viability of everyone else.

How? By identifying so-called "defective" family trees and subjecting them to legislated segregation and sterilization programs. The victims: poor people, brown-haired white people, African Americans, immigrants, Indians, Eastern European Jews, the infirm and really anyone classified outside the superior genetic lines drawn up by American raceologists. The main culprits were the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune, in league with America's most respected scientists hailing from such prestigious universities as Harvard, Yale and Princeton, operating out of a complex at Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island. The eugenic network worked in tandem with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the State Department and numerous state governmental bodies and legislatures throughout the country, and even the U.S. Supreme Court. They were all bent on breeding a eugenically superior race, just as agronomists would breed better strains of corn. The plan was to wipe away the reproductive capability of the weak and inferior.

Ultimately, 60,000 Americans were coercively sterilized — legally and extra-legally. Many never discovered the truth until decades later. Those who actively supported eugenics include America's most progressive figures: Woodrow Wilson, Margaret Sanger and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

American eugenic crusades proliferated into a worldwide campaign, and in the 1920s came to the attention of Adolf Hitler. Under the Nazis, American eugenic principles were applied without restraint, careening out of control into the Reich's infamous genocide. During the pre-War years, American eugenicists openly supported Germany's program. The Rockefeller Foundation financed the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute and the work of its central racial scientists. .... [more]

Worship or show?

A blogger who calls himself "Fearsome Tycoon" suggests that the "easily offended" should skip this observation about a certain type of evangelical worship:
.... There is no way to do “praise band” without turning the service into a “show.” Disagree? Find me one praise band that plays from a loft behind the congregation, where no one can see them except the pastor. A core purpose of a pop-rock performance is draw attention to the performers. I have watched and played in praise bands. I’ve never seen one that didn’t want, no, need to be seen. A guy with a guitar does not have the liturgical significance that an altar, a Bible, a crucifix, a font, or even a simple pulpit does. And I find it ironic that evangelicals tend to label as “idolatry” any and all significance attached to physical objects, yet their service is completely fixated on the power of the personality of the performer. .... [more]
And, responding to this observation, "Praise Idols", by Liam Kinnon:
I had a strong reaction to this post. I have played in, and led, praise bands. I was reminded of an experience I had a year and a half ago. I was leading the worship team for the service we would have every Friday night on campus. We had lost the location we had played in the year previously, and I wanted to take the opportunity of a new space to get the band out of the way. The president of the Christian Fellowship and I decided to move the band to the side, facing the screen and words along with everyone else.

People did not like it.

The reaction was one of the toughest moments I went through with Christians, and is probably one of the reasons I have had little desire to try leading a team since. .... [more]
Thanks to Bob at Wilderness Fandango for the reference.

If You Are Easily Offended, Skip This One : The Boar's Head Tavern, Praise Idols

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Good always triumphed in the end

British sources are reporting that Dick Francis, one of my favorite mystery authors, has died. I have, I think, read all of his mysteries, and return especially to the early ones. He has been the source of many pleasurable hours.

The BBC:
Writer Dick Francis, famous for his horse racing-based crime novels, has died aged 89, his family has said.

Francis, who wrote more than 40 best-selling novels during his career, was also a champion jockey in the 1940s and 50s and the Queen Mother's jockey.

He first published his autobiography in 1957, and his first thriller, Dead Cert, followed five years later. .... [more]
In its Francis obituary, the Telegraph describes what made the books so appealing to thriller readers like me:
.... Where other thriller writers probed the darker crannies of the soul, Francis reaffirmed the values of human decency and the struggle between the man of good against the forces of lust for power, dishonesty and greed. Heroes can expect to be chained, beaten, burned or flayed two or three times per book – but good always triumphs in the end.

Francis possessed all the traditional tools of the thriller writer's trade – narrative urgency and a subtlety in intellectual problem-solving – but he combined these with an emotional realism which had eluded writers like Agatha Christie. No one could convey as well as he what it felt like to be drowned, hanged, crushed by a horse or soaked in icy water and left dangling, gagged and bound from a hook in the middle of a Norfolk winter's night. He also had a minute eye for detail and an ability to take even the most un-horsey of readers into his world. He was as convincing in his portrayal of the spartan existence of the stable lad as he was in that of the sybaritic lifestyle of the manipulating owner in his home counties pad: "Not to read Dick Francis because you don't like horses," remarked one reviewer in Newsweek, "is like not reading Dostoyevsky because you don't believe in God." ....

.... After a particularly bad fall at Leicester in 1957, he took the advice of the Queen's trainer, Lord Abergavenny, that he should give up while he was still at the top and retired from professional racing. ....

In 1960, with his wife's encouragement, he turned his hand to a novel. The result, Dead Cert, was published two years later to respectful praise. By the time his second novel, Nerve, came out in 1964 the reviewers were beginning to suggest that he looked good for many more winners.

Francis picked up ideas for his novels in his travels round the world's racecourses. The idea for Slay Ride (1973), for example, came to him when he was in Oslo for the Norwegian Grand National in 1972. It was a small and charming course with a pond in the middle – "Just the place to find a body", Francis remarked – and the book was all about a corpse discovered in the pond at the Oslo racecourse. .... [more]
He wrote a book a year, the most recent in collaboration with his son.

[The book covers are from copies I own.]

BBC News - Author Dick Francis dies aged 89, Dick Francis - Telegraph

"If you don’t like the truth about yourself..."

From Michael Novak, "On Loving Karen":
St Thomas (Aquinas) wrote, “Of all friendships,
Marriage is by far the greatest.”
I used to tell my classes that,
And say that it is true.
The only thing – I used to warn – is this:
If you don’t like the truth about yourself,
Then don’t get married.
When you live close in,
Illusions are expensive.
So once the honeymoon is over,
Your lover's duty is
To puncture every one of yours —
One by painful one.
My lover pricked an awful lot of mine.
Especially my conceits.
I'm single — never married, so I can't judge with any authority — but that rings true. Is it? The verse is from a poem remembering his wife with love, respect and affection. They were together for almost fifty years.

On Loving Karen | First Things

Saturday, February 13, 2010

"Thinking about worship is a different thing from worshiping"

Our pastor used this quotation from C.S. Lewis in the sermon this morning:
.... Every church service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best—if you like, it ‘works’ best—when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshiping. ....
C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, Harcout, Brace & World, 1963, pp. 4-5.

Friday, February 12, 2010

"Groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong"

I dislike "Presidents' Day." Firstly, because I do not celebrate all of our Presidents. Secondly, because I don't think creating three day weekends is a sufficient justification for messing up legitimate and important national commemorations. Their birthdays were appropriate times to honor Washington and Lincoln. Today is Lincoln's birthday.

Early in 1860 Abraham Lincoln traveled east to New York City. He had been invited to deliver a speech. He was not yet the Republican candidate for President, but this effort would introduce him in the east, and, as it happened, greatly increase his credibility as a candidate. The issue was, as it had been for years, whether slavery could be extended into the territories. For those on both sides of the question, the issue was crucial. The Senate was evenly balanced with an equal number of Senators from slave states and free states. As territories became states it became increasingly likely an abolitionist majority would take control. Lincoln opposed the extension of slavery — although not its immediate abolition where it already existed — and everyone knew his position would result in eventual, but inevitable, abolition. The speech was delivered at the Cooper Union on February 27, and is thus known as the "Cooper Union Address"
An eyewitness that evening said, "When Lincoln rose to speak, I was greatly disappointed. He was tall, tall, — oh, how tall! and so angular and awkward that I had, for an instant, a feeling of pity for so ungainly a man." However, once Lincoln warmed up, "his face lighted up as with an inward fire; the whole man was transfigured. I forgot his clothes, his personal appearance, and his individual peculiarities. Presently, forgetting myself, I was on my feet like the rest, yelling like a wild Indian, cheering this wonderful man."
.... If slavery is right, all words, acts, laws, and constitutions against it, are themselves wrong, and should be silenced, and swept away. If it is right, we cannot justly object to its nationality — its universality; if it is wrong, they cannot justly insist upon its extension — its enlargement. All they ask, we could readily grant, if we thought slavery right; all we ask, they could as readily grant, if they thought it wrong. Their thinking it right, and our thinking it wrong, is the precise fact upon which depends the whole controversy. Thinking it right, as they do, they are not to blame for desiring its full recognition, as being right; but, thinking it wrong, as we do, can we yield to them? Can we cast our votes with their view, and against our own? In view of our moral, social, and political responsibilities, can we do this?

Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the National Territories, and to overrun us here in these Free States? If our sense of duty forbids this, then let us stand by our duty, fearlessly and effectively. Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored — contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man — such as a policy of "don't care" on a question about which all true men do care — such as Union appeals beseeching true Union men to yield to Disunionists, reversing the divine rule, and calling, not the sinners, but the righteous to repentance — such as invocations to Washington, imploring men to unsay what Washington said, and undo what Washington did.

Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.
Abraham Lincoln's Cooper Union Address

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Leaving facebook

I've been on facebook for some time now. I've decided to leave. In some respects it's been great. I've re-connected with quite a few of my former students and friends with whom I had lost touch. I've been made aware of personal crises and concerns, as well as celebrations and thanksgivings, with which I could empathize and about which I could pray. I have been able to more broadly share things from this blog. All of those have been good. But I have found myself spending altogether too much time on it. So I've decided to leave, to read more, and when I engage in political dispute, to do it face to face.

I don't regret trying it. I do regret the message some may take from my leaving — I am in no sense "un-friending" anyone. And I do look forward to the absence of the compulsion to always want to check-up. I rather envy those who are able to participate in it more casually.

"Thanks be to God..."

Ray Ortlund, this morning:
My dad used to say to me, when I was a kid, “Listen, son. Half-hearted Christians are the most miserable people of all. They know enough to feel guilty, but they haven’t gone far enough with Christ to be happy. Be wholehearted for him!”

I used to roll my eyes when you said that. I don’t any more.
And, also this morning, from Luke Stamps, "'My Christ': Finding Objective Assurance in the Gospel":
Sooner or later, most Christians will struggle with assurance of salvation. For some of us, the struggle takes the form of an agonizing spiritual depression. We wander in the wilderness of doubt, questioning our salvation or even questioning the love and grace of God. For others, the struggle is more mundane. We live daily with perpetual guilt feelings because of some past sin or some present battle with the flesh. Though we claim to believe the gospel of free grace, we operate in our Christian lives as if God were weighing our actions moment-by-moment in order to see if we are worthy of his acceptance. And even among those who struggle with self-righteous legalism, which seems to be at the other end of the spectrum, few can persist long in such a course without some nagging doubt about their own performance before God. [....]

The ultimate ground of our assurance does not lie inside of us but outside of us—indeed, above us, seated at the right hand of the Father. So, when death and hell tempt us to doubt our salvation or to live in perpetual guilt over forgiven sin, our answer to the enemy’s accusations is never, “My righteousness,” but always, “My Christ.”
Wholehearted – Ray Ortlund, “My Christ”: Finding Objective Assurance in the Gospel

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Although I doubt that admirers of the sadistic murderer, Che Guevara, are likely to visit this blog, I offer the following as another reason to hold in contempt [or pity] those who persist in wearing his image:
“The Negro is indolent and spends his money on frivolities and booze, whereas the European is forward-looking, organized and intelligent,” wrote Ernesto “Che” Guevara in his diaries. When during a 1959 press conference a Cuban black asked Guevara, “what his Revolution would do for blacks?” Che sneered: “we’ll do for blacks exactly what blacks did for the Cuban revolution. By which I mean: nothing!”
» Viva la Causa: MSM Dupes Celebrate the Racist Roots of the Castro/Che Revolution - Big Journalism

A testimony that gives hope

Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, is very ill. We are each mortal, every one of us will die, but illness forces us to confront that truth which we can otherwise so easily ignore. The Internet Monk writes that "Real Apologetics" are those that can speak to the dying:
.... All the affirmations to God as creator and designer are fine, but it is as the God of the dying that the Christian has a testimony to give that absolutely no one else can give.

We need to remember that each day dying people are waiting for the word of death and RESURRECTION.

The are a lot of different kinds of Good News, but there is little good news in “My argument scored more points than your argument.” But the news that “Christ is risen!” really is Good News for one kind of person: The person who is dying. .... [more]
From Michael : 2/10/10: Real Apologetics |

Going beyond genuine tolerance

A good essay by Mark L.Y. Chan, a resident of Singapore where Christians must, by necessity, work out how to live among other faiths, and how to answer those who argue that all spirituality leads to the same place: "Sowing Subversion in the Field of Relativism":
.... Real tolerance entails putting up with what one considers to be error. Precisely because there are genuine differences between people, we see tolerance as a virtue.

By insisting that there is no such thing as universal truth, except the universal truth that there is no such thing as universal truth, relativism is as absolutist as the claim that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. One cannot insist with the pluralist that all religious and moral truth claims are equally valid, and at the same time maintain with the relativist that there is no one ultimate truth that alone makes sense of the diversity of truth claims.

The Christian faith condemns arrogance and an attitude of superiority toward people of other faiths and, for that matter, people of no faith. ....

Christians are called to love rather than tolerate people, and in so doing to mirror God's love for all people. This includes ardent relativists, sanguine pluralists, and pugnacious atheists. In commending the truth in the face of relativism, we must keep in mind that we are at root dealing with people, not cold ideas. The relativist is not just a representative of a worldview but a flesh-and-blood person with all the needs and longings of a human made in God's image. More important than winning the argument against relativism is winning the relativist for Christ. ....

Meeting people of all faiths and persuasions at the level of our common humanity is a good starting place to share the truth of Christ. In the safety of genuine friendship, where trust is earned and respected, people can honestly question their fundamental assumptions. Christians can sow seeds of subversion in the field of relativism by raising questions about the adequacy of moral relativism as a guide for living. Can one really live without absolute truth? How many are actually persuaded that there is no difference between Mother Teresa and Pol Pot? ....

To believe in absolute truth is to run counter to the spirit of the age. We can expect to be ridiculed, ostracized, and opposed. We need to be reminded that the one who was Truth Incarnate, the one John describes as "full of grace and truth," became Truth Crucified at the hands of those bent on snuffing out the light of truth. Darkness did not have the last word. Light pierced the tomb of Jesus, and in the resurrection of Christ, we have Truth Vindicated. .... [more]
Sowing Subversion in the Field of Relativism | The Global Conversation

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Ian Carmichael, RIP

Ian Carmichael died today. He was a pleasure. I think I first encountered his work in the PBS broadcasts of Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. He made a pretty good Wimsey but the parts I enjoyed him in most were in some of the early films, particularly Lucky Jim and I'm All Right, Jack. From the Guardian obituary:
.... Playing the archetypal silly ass was the sometimes reluctant business of the stage, film and television actor Ian Carmichael, who has died aged 89. In the public mind he became the best-known postwar example of a characteristic British type — the personally appealing blithering idiot who somehow survives, and sometimes even gets the girl. One of his most characteristic and memorable sorties in this field was his portrayal of Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim — the anti-hero James Dixon, who savaged the pretensions of academia, as Amis had himself sometimes clashed with academia when he was a lecturer at Swansea. Appearing in John and Roy Boulting's 1957 film, he was able to suggest an unruly but amiable spirit at the end of its tether, his great horsey teeth exposed in the strained grimace that often greeted disaster.

Carmichael made several more hugely popular comedy films with the Boultings in the second half of the 1950s, including Private's Progress, Brothers In Law and I'm All Right Jack, but always wanted to do more straight roles. The nearest he came to it was his Lord Peter Wimsey in the television series based on Dorothy L Sayers's amateur detective (1972-75), a role he felt very happy in. .... (more)
Ian Carmichael at Amazon.

Ian Carmichael obituary | Television & radio |

Denialism and anthropogenic global warming

Stephen M. Barr is a Christian and a professor of physics, whose writing about the relationship of Christianity to science is invariably interesting and helpful. He has an article at First Things, "The End of Intelligent Design?," critical of ID, that, as might be expected, elicited considerable comment — especially criticism from those who have taken comfort from the theory. One of his defenders:
The common thread running through all the comments critical of Barr is the same one running through attacks on AGW: outright denial. ....
Barr isn't entirely happy about being defended in this way:
.... Are AGW "deniers" mostly "incompetents", as Mr. Dutch says? Is he talking about "deniers" among the general public? If so, then most AGW "believers" have no more competence in climatology than most AGW "deniers". Therefore, I assume Mr. Dutch is talking about scientists. There are highly competent scientists who are skeptical about the extent of AGW, such as Richard S. Lindzen of MIT, one of the top climatologists in the world, and Will Happer of Princeton. For their trouble, they have been subject to all sorts of abuse and defamation.

It would be comforting to think that the only reason the scientific community ever ignores criticism of its theories is that it comes from incompetents. Unfortunately, the history of science provides many counter-examples. It is true that science is self-correcting. But the self-correction sometimes takes a long time, during which good ideas may be ignored or suppressed, and careers destroyed. I have met quite a few very good scientists who are quite skeptical of the extent of AGW, but most keep their views to themselves. It is not a healthy climate right now in the scientific world when it comes to the AGW issue. AGW has become such a "progressive cause", that ideology has begun to to distort the ordinary processes of scientific discussion.
The End of Intelligent Design? | First Things

"On my honor..."

Joe Carter observes the centennial of the Boy Scouts of America with an appreciation of "The Most Influential Conservative Book Ever Produced in America" and the virtues it endorses:
Cultural critic Paul Fussell once wrote that the Boy Scout Handbook is “among the very few remaining popular repositories of something like classical ethics, deriving from Aristotle and Cicero.” Indeed, it is literally a vade mecum on virtue ethics. Consider, for example, the Scout oath:
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.
And then there is the Scout Motto (“Be Prepared”) and the 12 point Scout Law which includes the politically incorrect admonition to be reverent: “A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others.”

Such an earnest and irony-free worldview is naturally antithetical to the South Park-style mock-the-world moronity that pervades the culture. In a society that combines libertarian Me-ism with a liberal nanny state that suckles “men without chests,” it is not surprising that the ranks of Boy Scouts are dwindling (Scouting is down 11 percent over the last decade). But we should be cheerful that an institution where self-sacrifice and manly virtues are encouraged manages to survive at all. .... [more]
Thanks to Mark for the reference.

The Most Influential Conservative Book Ever Produced in America » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

Saturday, February 6, 2010


This morning I read two posts about the relationship of the faith to sports. Although addressing rather different aspects, each of them, it seems to me, is about keeping things in proportion.

First, Michael Mckinley, at the 9Marks Blog: "The New York Times seems to be on a mission to make Christians look stupid, and we keep giving them the stick with which to beat us about the head and neck." He is referring to an article about how some churches are using mixed martial arts as an evangelistic tool. Mckinley has some concerns about that approach:
  1. It's derivative and unoriginal. It was lame when Billy Sunday was doing it 100 years ago.
  2. It makes the gospel man-centered. Coming to Jesus isn't a way for you to deal with your daddy issues. I get it, your dad didn't hug you when you were little and you want to be a different kind of man. How about you go hug your kid then? Jesus didn't come to help you get in touch with your inner MMA fighter.
  3. Like it or not, the gospel is at least in part about weakness. It's about the almighty becoming weak to save us. It's about us being helpless and unable in our sins. There's no way to Christ that doesn't start with brokenness and an admission of impotence. Yes, Jesus is the strong man who binds the adversary, but he bound him by suffering, humiliation, and weakness.
  4. It discourages and mocks godly men who aren't macho. There is an undercurrent of disdain in all of this. Proponents of this testosterone Christianity can't help but take shots at guys who wear pastels and drink cappuccino. You might not like guys with manicures, but there's absolutely nothing morally wrong with it. A reserved, quiet, well-groomed man can be a good Christian. Believe it or not. [more]
Kevin DeYoung writes about a Christianity Today cover article, "Sports Fanatics." DeYoung responds at length, thinks the concerns are overwrought, and concludes "A Simpler View of Sports" with this:
Hoffman [the author of the article], it seems, wants sports to be in the realm of special grace, where I am happy to have them in the world of common grace. Sports are games. They’re fun. They can bring out the best in us and the worst, just like everything else in life. They are blessings. And they can be idols. If Hoffman had talked about that, I would be all over it. God knows we need conviction for deifying sports teams and sports stars.

But in the end, I don’t think a theology of sports needs to be terribly complicated. Sports is yet another avenue to live out rebellion or another way to glorify God. But the glory is not because the perfect backstroke gives us a glimpse of heavenly play and heavenly bodies. Rather, because the backstroker, or point guard, or slot receiver, is humble, honest, and works hard unto the Lord. Let’s not make things more difficult than they have to be. Sports can be a waste of time, a wasteland of vice, or an oasis of God-glorifying people and principles. It depends on what you make it. [more]
Church Matters: The 9Marks Blog, A Simpler View of Sports – Kevin DeYoung

Friday, February 5, 2010

The first radical?

I've known of Saul Alinsky since the early seventies when "Alinsky tactics" were used by a group trying to take control of our teachers' union. Many of them also considered themselves Marxists, although I doubt many of them would have been survivors if the Revolution they yearned for had actually come. Alinsky wrote a manual for activists, Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals (1971), which has received a lot of attention again recently because President Obama is thought to be a disciple of its methods. My objections to many of Alinsky's "rules" were [are] ethical, but I hadn't thought about the book's dedication for a long time:

Incidentally the employers of Alinsky tactics failed in our case, frustrated by an alliance of moderates, liberals, and a few conservatives [there were only a few conservatives among Madison teachers then - there are fewer now].

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I have hardly begun...

False humility is Pride by another name, but genuine faith leads to genuine humility. That is because growing in Christ undoubtedly will make us more conscious of our inadequacy, not less. Mark Galli, in "Are We Transformed Yet?":
I think one of the most spiritually dangerous practices today is encouraging people—in small groups or in front of the church or even in print—to talk about how God has transformed them. ....

Those who share such testimonies cannot but be tempted, as was the Pharisee in Jesus' parable: "Lord, I thank thee that I am transformed, that I am not like this untransformed fellow next to me." And those who hear such testimonies find themselves praying, "Lord, why am I still struggling with this and that; why am I not like this transformed person?" ....

...[T]he mature Paul's most memorable lines do not highlight his transformation as much as his lack of transformation! For example, in the letter to the Romans, he writes in a classic passage,
For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. … So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members (Rom. 7:19-23)
And in his first letter to Timothy, he writes,
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Tim. 1:15-16)

...[T]hose who are truly being transformed into Christ find it fascinating to look not at what they've become (changed in this way or that) but at what they have yet to become. The so-called progress they've made is so paltry and so negligible compared to the surpassing worth of the vision that lies ahead of them—a vision of Jesus Christ in glory. ....

Naturally, with a clear vision of the glorious Christ, what can they say about themselves but that they are the greatest of sinners, who have hardly begun to repent? .... [more]
Are We Transformed Yet? | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction