Saturday, April 30, 2011

Easter II: He that hath the Son...

ALMIGHTY FATHER, which hast given Thy only Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification; Grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may always serve Thee in pureness of living and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Thomas Cranmer]
WHATSOEVER is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which He bath testified of his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. [I John 4]

Though dead, not dead:
Not gone, though fled:
Not lost, though vanished.
In the great gospel and true creed,
He is yet risen indeed:
Christ is yet risen.

[Arthur Hugh Clough]

Friday, April 29, 2011

Not actually about Heaven or Hell

Justin Taylor interviewed N.D. Wilson who is writing a screenplay for a film of C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce, one of my favorite Lewis books. From the interview:
Tell us a bit about The Great Divorce. When did Lewis write it and why?

Lewis wrote the book near the end of WWII, and it was serialized by a Christian periodical. The title is Lewis' potshot at William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. (Lewis humbly claimed that he wasn't even sure what Blake meant—but he was apparently sure enough to contradict him.)

The book is set in the afterlife, but it isn't about the afterlife. In a series of episodes, we follow the narrator through Hell and onto a bus headed for the outskirts of Heaven.

The stories are fundamentally comedic and zoom in on the pettiness of sin, the narcissism of Hell, and the impossibility of goodness apart from Grace (among other things).

Lewis' genius also comes out in how he upends traditional Christian perspectives on Heaven and Hell—Heaven being radically physical and dangerous (as opposed to ethereal and fuzzy), and Hell is a boringly spiritual place full of soft—but false—comforts (whatever house you want, but it won't keep the rain out). ....

The Great Divorce has been referenced a fair bit lately in the Christian blogosphere, with the suggestion that there are similarities between Lewis's "supposal" and Rob Bell's "proposal." And Bell himself recommends the book in Love Wins. Any thoughts on that?

At times Rob Bell (like in the Love Wins video) sounds exactly like the kind of character that one could expect to find in the pages of The Great Divorce. He seems to enjoy chasing and massaging ideas and questions for the sake of the journey of it all and not for the arrival. Landing on objective concrete answers isn't exactly the goal. That's not meant as a comment on whether or not Bell is regenerate (we're graciously saved by faith not works, luckily enough), but it is a comment on where Bell would sit with Lewis in this whole discussion.

And, of course, Lewis put the universalist George MacDonald in Heaven and made him watch the unrepentant damned get back on the bus to Hell. A little wink and gloat at one of his favorite authors.

As for us, like Lewis, we should laugh at the absurdity of squishy thought wherever we find it. .... (more)
Lewis, from his Preface to The Great Divorce:
...I beg readers to remember that this is a fantasy. It has of course—or I intended it to have—a moral. But the transmortal conditions are solely an imaginative supposal: they are not even a guess or a speculation at what may actually await us. The last thing I wish is to arouse factual curiosity about the details of the after-world.
An Interview with N.D. Wilson on Screenwriting The Great Divorce – Justin Taylor

"The love which is secure"

From the homily by the Bishop of London, delivered at the royal wedding:
.... As the reality of God has faded from so many lives in the West, there has been a corresponding inflation of expectations that personal relations alone will supply meaning and happiness in life. This is to load our partner with too great a burden. We are all incomplete: we all need the love which is secure, rather than oppressive, we need mutual forgiveness, to thrive.

As we move towards our partner in love, following the example of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is quickened within us and can increasingly fill our lives with light. ....
The Royal Wedding Homily by Dr. Richard Chartres, Anglican Bishop of London

Thursday, April 28, 2011

"I was glad when they said unto me..."

I am planning to stay up tonight to watch the royal wedding. One reason is my love for history, particularly British history. The pageantry is something nobody does better than that for the British royal family. But another reason is the music:
Processional Music

The Service will begin with a Fanfare by The State Trumpeters of the Household Cavalry to mark the arrival of The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh. The Fanfare will be followed by three Processionals. For the Procession of The Queen, Prince William and Miss Middleton have chosen March from The Birds by Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry. Prelude on Rhosymedre by Ralph Vaughan Williams will accompany the Procession of the Clergy, and was chosen for its Welsh echoes. The Couple have selected ‘I was Glad’, also by Parry, for the Procession of the Bride.


Prince William and Miss Middleton have chosen three hymns for the Service: ‘Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer’, words by William Williams, translated by Peter Williams and others, and music by John Hughes. The second will be ‘Love Divine All Love Excelling’, words by Charles Wesley and music by William Penfro Rowlands. The third will be ‘Jerusalem’, by Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, words by William Blake. All three hymns have been chosen because they are favourites of the Couple.

The Anthem and Motet

The Anthem, ‘This is the day which the Lord hath made’, has been composed specially for the occasion by John Rutter. .... (more)
Music for the Wedding Service

Unfair to our animal companions

I should, perhaps, preface this post with the assurance that I am absolutely against cruelty to animals. From The Telegraph, "Calling animals 'pets' is insulting":
Domestic dogs, cats, hamsters or budgerigars should be rebranded as “companion animals” while owners should be known as “human carers,” they insist.

Even terms such as wildlife are dismissed as insulting to the animals concerned – who should instead be known as “free-living,” the academics including an Oxford professor suggest. ....

In its first editorial, the journal – jointly published by Prof Linzey’s centre and the University of Illinois in the US – condemns the use of terms such as ”critters” and “beasts.” ....

.... “We invite authors to use the words ‘free-living’, ‘free-ranging’ or ‘free-roaming’ rather than ‘wild animals’

“For most, ‘wildness’ is synonymous with uncivilised, unrestrained, barbarous existence.

“There is an obvious prejudgment here that should be avoided.”

.... Phrases such as “sly as a fox, “eat like a pig” or “drunk as a skunk” are all unfair to animals, they claim. [more]
Calling animals 'pets' is insulting, academics claim - Telegraph

"Not in view"

Via Jared Wilson, quoting Luther:
Some of the old saints labored so hard to attain perfection that they lost the capacity to feel anything. When I was a monk I often wished I could see a saint. I pictured him as living in the wilderness, abstaining from meat and drink and living on roots and herbs and cold water. This weird conception of those awesome saints I had gained out of the books of the scholastics and church fathers. But we know now from the Scriptures who the true saints are. Not those who live a single life, or make a fetish of days, meats, clothes, and such things. The true saints are those who believe that they are justified by the death of Christ. Whenever Paul writes to the Christians here and there he calls them the holy children and heirs of God. All who believe in Christ, whether male or female, bond or free, are saints; not in view of their own works, but in view of the merits of God which they appropriate by faith. Their holiness is a gift and not their own personal achievement.

— Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians
The Gospel-Driven Church: The True Saints

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"The gravity and splendor...God’s words deserve"

This is the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version [KJV] of the Scriptures and I'm learning a lot from the articles published in appreciation of that version. Very few today would argue that it remains the best translation. Better source material has become available since that time and scholarship has advanced. But no Christian should fail to appreciate what it represented in the history of the English-speaking Church, and no one, regardless of faith, should be unaware of what it contributed to the language and the culture.

Barton Swaim, at Touchstone gives us "God's English: The Making & Endurance of the King James Bible, 1611–2011", from which I have taken the following excerpts. The article is much longer and includes much more of interest.
The King James Version of the Bible (KJV) is fast becoming one of the great unread books of Western civilization—remembered and admired but not used. True, there is still a small band of believers in the fundamentalist tradition whose loyalty to the KJV remains uncompromised. But the vast majority of Christians in the English-speaking world think of the King James Bible as a hindrance rather than a help: an interesting document but, in the twenty-first century, pointlessly difficult to understand; an artifact prized by one’s grandparents because it reminded them of another time. ....

For well over three centuries in Britain and North America, the King James Bible was the Bible. Its language permeates our literature. In twenty-first-century Britain, where biblical illiteracy is almost total, phrases from the King James Bible still echo across the cultural landscape—a fact attributable to the nation’s Christian past, but also to the biblical translation that defined that past.

Even so, the Authorized Version, as it used to be called, is now thought of chiefly as an historical novelty. Young people raised in Christian homes today are hardly aware of its existence. ....

One of the great ironies about the King James Bible is that it wasn’t the outcome of godly intentions. The decision to commission a new translation of the Bible was, in fact, part of a cynical political maneuver on the part of the monarch and his allies. ....

Yet however unlovely the circumstances of its provenance, as a translation, the King James Bible was a first-rate work of scholarship. ....

...[T]hey understood, far better than modern translators have, the importance of rhythm in language. This is partly because learned men of the seventeenth century were steeped in written languages—English and Latin, but also Greek, Hebrew, French, Italian, and Spanish—to a degree that even the best educated cannot match now. They understood the dynamics of poetry: Andrewes was himself a brilliant poet, but the others, too, would have been deeply familiar with ancient and modern meters.

Equally important is the fact that the King James translators knew that their renderings would be heard even more than they would be read. The great preponderance of parishioners in early seventeenth-century England were partly or wholly illiterate, and for that reason the translators were careful to make their sentences easy to read aloud. Time and again the KJV’s language falls into a snappy iambic cadence that rolls off the tongue. ....

One of the principal reasons the King James Bible has achieved such astonishing durability is that its diction captures the gravity and splendor one feels God’s words deserve. The Scriptures are old, and the feeling that they should sound old is a natural and proper one. Partly, of course, the KJV sounds old because it is old. But there’s more to it than that. The King James Bible was never what we would call a “modern” translation; even in 1611 it sounded antiquated. The ancient feel of its language was, in fact, largely deliberate.

This was in some measure the consequence of an assumption shared with biblical translators throughout the preceding century: they assumed that the structure of God’s sentences should be given the greatest possible deference. .... [more]
And in The American Spectator Roger Scruton gives us "Translating the Word":
.... How lucky we English-speakers were, that this translation should have been made in the wake of the Elizabethan dramatists, at a time when the English language was at its most muscular and taut, when it could be applied to matters both earthly and heavenly and at once give a fully imagined account of them, gripped in what Gerard Manley Hopkins was to call the "native thew and sinew" of the English tongue. All subsequent translations, set beside this version, are on a downhill path toward banality, and by the time of the New English Bible (completed 1970) it is fair to say that the immediacy and urgency of the King James Bible had been more or less dissolved in watery literal-mindedness.

It is not just the literary merits of the King James Bible that recommend it, however. This was the Bible that the Pilgrim Fathers brought with them across the Atlantic, that the Methodist riders took around the farmsteads and cabins of rural America, the Bible that the merchant adventurers carried to India, Australia, and Africa, the Bible that provided the texts of Handel's oratorios and which inspired the hymns of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley. It is the Bible that was planted in the depths of the English-speaking soul during the crucial centuries when the sphere of English-speaking freedom was formed. I doubt that you can understand the motives of the early settlers of America without it. It gave them the names of their towns and villages, the names of their children, the maxims of their daily life and the routines and rituals of their sparse forms of enjoyment. They fought and cursed, made love and sermons, in the language of the King James Bible, and everywhere about us we see the difference that this has made. ....
Touchstone Archives: God's English, The American Spectator : Translating the Word

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Church and politics

During the troubles in Wisconsin last month a Lutheran pastor, Todd A. Peperkorn, offered some wisdom about "How Christians Should Treat One Another in the Midst of Political Turmoil." It is applicable in all such times, and all the time for those of us obsessed with politics. He concluded:
So in summary, this is how I would commend you as fellow Christians to behave in our time of political turmoil:
  1. Don’t concern yourself with motivations, secret plots, conspiracies and the like. Human beings will always operate in these ways, and today is no different than a hundred years ago.
  2. Do concern yourself with what the issues actually are, and not the personalities involved.
  3. Remember that Christians of goodwill can disagree on how love is to be shown to the neighbor. This does not mean someone who disagrees with you isn’t a Christian. It means that they understand things differently that you do.
  4. Our unity in faith is immeasurably more important than our unity in politics. If you have found that political agreement is more important to you than who you will be spending eternity with (or where!), then I would suggest your priorities are out of whack and need serious examination. [emphasis added] [more]
Thanks to Molle Hemingway at GetReligion for the reference.

How Christians Should Treat One Another in the Midst of Political Turmoil - Lutheran Logomaniac

Monday, April 25, 2011

Of interest

Lots of interesting stuff today:
The Easter bunny and his eggs do not have a pagan origin: "The modern myth of the Easter bunny" by Adrian Bott:
"....The colourful myths of Eostre and her hare companion, who in some versions is a bird transformed into an egg-laying rabbit, aren't historically pagan. They are modern fabrications, cludged together in an unresearched assumption of pagan precedence. ...."
Benedict XVI responds to a seven year old Japanese girl asking why there is suffering. "The Pope answers questions about suffering, persecution, and the Resurrection":
"Why do you have to suffer so much while others live in ease? And we do not have the answers but we know that Jesus suffered as you do, an innocent, and that the true God who is revealed in Jesus is by your side. This seems very important to me, even if we do not have answers, even if we are still sad; God is by your side and you can be certain that this will help you. One day we will even understand why it was so. ...."
Ross Douthat makes "A Case for Hell" in response to the recent controversy begun by Rob Bell:
"....Doing away with hell, then, is a natural way for pastors and theologians to make their God seem more humane. The problem is that this move also threatens to make human life less fully human.

"Atheists have license to scoff at damnation, but to believe in God and not in hell is ultimately to disbelieve in the reality of human choices. If there’s no possibility of saying no to paradise then none of our no’s have any real meaning either. They’re like home runs or strikeouts in a children’s game where nobody’s keeping score. ...."
Jared Wilson asserts that
"Every church has a liturgy. Open up your worship program/bulletin. Is the order of worship elements the same each week? That's your liturgy."
and refers us to "How Do You Use Liturgical Elements in Your Church Worship?" at The Gospel Coalition Blog. One of the contributors there, Scotty Smith of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee responds:
"....Let me be clear: we still want a “free and Spirit led worship culture,” but now we clearly see the place of responsive readings and creeds as a means of helping us offer our Triune God the worship he deserves and in which he delights."

An appeal to Baptists, 1843

In 1843 the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference appealed to the greater Baptist community to consider the validity of observing the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week. The pamphlet that was published, An Address to the Baptist Denomination of the United States on the Observance of the Sabbath from the Seventh-Day Baptist General Conference, is available online as a pdf. From early in the invitation to consider the question:
..... In urging it upon your attention, we think you will not charge us with wishing to raise disturbance in Zion. We indulge the hope that you will impute to us the same disinterestedness of motive by which you yourselves are actuated, when you boldly proclaim your denominational sentiments upon every high place, and scatter your publications in every direction. Your course springs not from any wish to foment disturbance, but from the pain which your hearts feel to see the institutions of Christ made void by the traditions of men. Our action in this matter springs from the same principle. We feel in regard to the Sabbath just as you do with regard to baptism. We declare before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, that we are governed by a desire for your good and God's glory.

When we look over your large and influential denomination, we find, that, in reference to the subject upon which we now address you, you are divided into about three classes. I. Those who, acknowledging the perpetuity of the Sabbath-law, enforce the observance of the Sabbath by the fourth commandment, but change the day of its celebration from the seventh to the first day of the week. II. Those who see the impossibility of proving a change of the day, and, therefore, regard the commandment as abolished by the death of Christ. But, at the same time, they consider the first day of the week as an institution entirely new, to be regulated as to its observance wholly by the New Testament. III. Those who consider neither the Old nor the New Testament to impose any obligation upon them to observe a day of rest, and advocate one merely on the ground of expediency. ....
The authors then proceed to provide arguments against each of these positions — proving that many of the arguments on this subject are perennial. The penultimate paragraph of the pamplet:
Brethren, can we hope that the subject on which we have addressed you, will receive your prayerful attention? Almost your entire denomination has slumbered over it; but may we not hope, that you will now awake? May we not hope, that it will be discussed in your private circles, and in your public assemblies; in your Bible classes, and in your Sunday schools:—that it will be studied by your ministers, and by the people in general; and that every one will, in the deep desire of his soul, pray, "Lord, open thou mine eyes, that I may discern wondrous things out of thy Law." ....
The final paragraph was rather harsh in its judgment on those who declined the invitation—much more so than Seventh Day Baptists would be today—but theological dispute was more unrestained in those days:
But if, on the other hand, we see a disposition to pass it by with cold neglect—an unwillingness to look the question in the face—an attempt, on the part of your teachers and leaders, to hush it up as a matter of no importance—a studied effort to lead the people away  from it, when they are disposed to examine—or teaching them that it is the spirit, rather than the letter of the law that God requires—we shall be constrained to apply the language of him, who spake as never man spake—" EVERY ONE THAT DOETH EVIL HATETH THE LIGHT, NEITHER COMETH TO THE LIGHT, LEST HIS DEEDS SHOULD BE REPROVED."—John III. [the document]
Seventh Day Baptist Address to Baptists in America, 1843

"Gentle, open to reason"

Via Daily Bible Meditations at Educating Christians:
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. [James 3:13-18, ESV]

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The joy of His resurrection

'Tis the spring of souls today; Christ has burst His prison,
And from three days’ sleep in death as a sun hath risen;
All the winter of our sins, long and dark, is flying
From His light, to Whom we give laud and praise undying.

“Alleluia!” now we cry to our King immortal,
Who, triumphant, burst the bars of the tomb’s dark portal;
“Alleluia!” with the Son, God the Father praising,
“Alleluia!” yet again to the Spirit raising.

John of Damascus, 8th Century
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. .... And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. .... And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. .... If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead....
I Corinthians 15 [ESV]
O GOD, who for our redemption didst give Thine only-begotten Son to the death of the Cross, and by His glorious resurrection hast delivered us from the power of our enemy; Grant us so to die daily from sin, that we may evermore live with Him in the joy of His resurrection; through the same Thy Son Christ our Lord. Amen. [BCP]

Saturday, April 23, 2011

"Lord, help us"

"The Catechizer" at The Wittenberg Door provides this quotation from St. Augustine, particularly appropriate today as we consider our dependence on God's provision in Christ Jesus:
When you aim at the perfect standard of holiness, you should, at your best moments, and in your highest attainments, fall so far below it; seeing indeed the way before you, but feeling yourself without ability to walk in it? Then let a sense of your helplessness for the work of the Lord lead you to the throne of grace, to pray, and watch, and wait, for the strengthening and refreshing influences of the Spirit of grace. Here let your faith realize at one and the same view your utter insufficiency, and His complete All-sufficiency....We might as soon create a world, as create in our hearts one pulse of spiritual life. And yet our inability does not cancel our obligation. What then remains for us, but to return the mandate to heaven, accompanied with an earnest prayer, that the Lord would write upon our hearts those statutes, to which He requires obedience in His word?, "You have commanded us to keep Your statutes diligently." We acknowledge, Lord, our obligation; but we feel our impotency. Lord, help us: we look unto You. "Oh that our ways were directed to keep Your statutes!" "Give what You command—and then command what You will."
The Wittenberg Door: Notable Quote: Augustine

Wondrous love

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.
Alexander Means, c. 1830
GRANT, O Lord, that as we are baptized into the death of Thy blessed Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, so by continual mortifying our corrupt affections we may be buried with Him; and that through the grave, and gate of death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection; for His merits, who died, and was buried, and rose again for us, the same Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [BCP]

Friday, April 22, 2011

"The sacrifice of the ideal to the nonideal"

Good films have been made of bad books and bad ones of good books. Whether Atlas Shrugged is one of the former I do not know. But I do regret the added attention that will be given the author's "philosophy." Today, Michael Gerson on Ayn Rand's "Adult-Onset Adolescence":
.... Rand's novels are vehicles for a system of thought known as Objectivism. Rand developed this philosophy at the length of Tolstoy, with the intellectual pretensions of Hegel, but it can be summarized on a napkin. Reason is everything. Religion is a fraud. Selfishness is a virtue. Altruism is a crime against human excellence. Self-sacrifice is weakness. Weakness is contemptible. "The Objectivist ethics, in essence," said Rand, "hold that man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself."

If Objectivism seems familiar, it is because most people know it under another name: adolescence. Many of us experienced a few unfortunate years of invincible self-involvement, testing moral boundaries and prone to stormy egotism and hero worship. Usually one grows out of it, eventually discovering that the quality of our lives is tied to the benefit of others. Rand's achievement was to turn a phase into a philosophy, as attractive as an outbreak of acne. ....

Rand cherished a particular disdain for Christianity. The cross, she said, is "the symbol of the sacrifice of the ideal to the nonideal. ... It is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors. That is precisely how the symbolism is used. That is torture." Yet some conservatives marked Holy Week by attending and embracing Atlas Shrugged. ....

Conservatives have been generally suspicious of all ideologies, preferring long practice and moral tradition to utopian schemes of left or right. And Rand is nothing if not utopian. In Atlas Shrugged, she refers to her libertarian valley of the blessed as Atlantis.

It is an attractive place, which does not exist, and those who seek it drown. [more]
Ayn Rand's Adult-Onset Adolescence - Michael Gerson - Townhall Conservative

Good Friday

And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” [Mark 15:22-26, ESV]

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. [Luke 23:44-46, ESV]
O MERCIFUL God, who hast made all men, and hatest nothing that Thou hast made, nor desirest the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live; Have mercy upon all who know Thee not as Thou art revealed in the Gospel of Thy Son. Take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of Thy Word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to Thy fold, that they may be made one flock under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen. [BCP]

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The final Flashman?

Good historical fiction (historical fiction that doesn't mess with events) is surely one of the most pleasurable ways to learn history and George MacDonald Fraser was one of the best at it. The BBC described his Flashman books in its 2008 obituary for the author:
The inspiration for Sir Harry Flashman came from the 19th century novel, Tom Brown's Schooldays, where the character features as the cowardly bully who torments the hero, Tom.

George MacDonald Fraser wrote 11 Flashman novels

MacDonald Fraser based his tales on the idea that Flashman's "memoirs" had been unearthed in an old trunk in a Leicestershire auction room.

Despite being a vain, cowardly rogue, as well as a racist and a sexist, the character managed to play a pivotal role in many of the 19th Century's most significant events, always emerging covered in glory. ....
The books are fun (often laugh-out-loud fun) but also carefully imagined in historical terms, each including introductory material, appendices and notes referencing actual historical documentation—and noting when Flashman's account may not be entirely accurate. The following is from Lars Walker's review of Flashman On the March:
This must perforce be the last Flashman book by George MacDonald Fraser, as the author died in 2009. ....

When we join Sir Harry Paget Flashman at the beginning of Flashman On the March, he's desperately attempting to get out of Trieste, where he recently arrived as a refugee following a stint as an officer of the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico (poor Maximilian!). He runs into an old acquaintance, a British diplomat who is trying to find someone to protect a shipment of silver to Suez, for delivery to Gen. Robert Napier. Napier is buying support from various African tribes against King Theodore of Abyssinia (today known as Ethiopia). Theodore, who Flashman will come to describe as the maddest monarch he ever met—which is saying a great deal—has kidnapped a number of Europeans, and Napier is leading a relief force.

Flashman's best-laid plan is to deliver the silver, collect whatever reward he can get, and rush home to his wife in England. Needless to say, it doesn't work out that way. ....

If you're a Flashman fan, you have a pretty good idea what comes after that. Flashman will have carnal knowledge of his guide, and he will be captured and threatened with torture and death, and he will do appalling things to save his own life at the expense of others, and he will survive each crisis, perhaps a little damaged but alive, and in the end everyone will think him a hero (“judging me by himself,” as Flashman says of Napier). And almost unnoticeably, a considerable amount of historical information, and some reasonable perspective on the British Empire, will be dispensed to the reader. [emphasis added] .... (more)
Brandywine Books: Flashman On the March, by George MacDonald Fraser

Christianity Explored

Several Christian bloggers are calling attention to this new website for Christianity Explored | One life, what's it all about? I haven't explored it very fully yet but the introductory video is very well done and those who are recommending it are people with whom I usually agree. Here is Kevin DeYoung's description:
We’ve used Christianity Explored in our church for several years. It’s a series of videos developed in Britain that walk through the Gospel of Mark. The aim is to introduce Jesus to non-Christians and new Christians. CE has a new website that is worth checking out.

Besides looking sharp, the website has several nice features (this is not a paid advertisement by the way).
  • The content is delivered through dozens of short videos. The videos are also transcribed for those who want to read the material.
  • There are three main areas to the site. One part answers the question, “What is Christianity?” A second part contains short answers to tough questions. The third area includes real stories of personal faith.
  • The site is not mainly about the CE program. Obviously, you can find information about the course, but the site is primarily an evangelistic tool meant to come alongside local churches in their gospel ministry. This is not a CE promo site, but a good resource for introducing people to Christianity.
If you’re American, you’ll notice most of the videos come with a wonderful accent. ....
Link to the site: Christianity Explored | One life, what's it all about?

Christianity Explored | One life, what's it all about?, Are You Looking to Explore Christianity? – Kevin DeYoung

Maundy Thursday

ALMIGHTY Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, did institute the Sacrament of His Body and Blood; Mercifully grant that we may thankfully receive the same in remembrance of Him, who in these holy mysteries giveth us a pledge of life eternal; the same Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who now liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen. [BCP]

I HAVE received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread: and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.
[I Corinthians XI, KJV]

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wednesday before Easter: Life and immortality

ASSIST us mercifully with Thy help, O Lord God of our salvation; that we may enter with joy upon the meditation of those mighty acts, whereby Thou hast given unto us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [BCP]
Peter Kreeft from Making Sense Out of Suffering:
Jesus did three things to solve the problem of suffering. First, he came. He suffered with us. He wept. Second, in becoming man he transformed the meaning of our suffering: it is now part of his work of redemption. Our death pangs become birth pangs for heaven, not only for ourselves but also for those we love. Third, he died and rose. Dying, he paid the price for sin and opened heaven to us; rising, he transformed death from a hole into a door, from an end into a beginning.

That third thing, now - resurrection. It makes more than all the difference in the world. Many condolences begin by saying something like this: "I know nothing can bring back your dear one again, but.. ." No matter what words follow, no matter what comforting psychology follows that "but," Christianity says something to the bereaved that makes all the rest trivial, something the bereaved longs infinitely more to hear: God can and will bring back your dear one again to life. There is resurrection. [more]
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.
[Jeremiah 17]

Suffering by Peter Kreeft


Re-posted from Friday, March 20, 2009 because I recently revisited it, liked it, and thought others might be interested.

My introduction to the distinction between Christian orthodoxy and heresy came when, still a teenager, I came across Modern Heresies: A Guide to Straight Thinking About Religion by John M. Krumm in the Milton College Library where I worked part time. I read it, then bought it, and it has been in my personal library ever since [the image is of my copy]. Krumm, later an Episcopal bishop, was at the time [1961] chaplain at Columbia University. He stated his purpose in the preface:
...Modern Heresies sounds as if we purposed to pillory by name the major perversions of Christianity which flourish today as modern cults and to denounce them roundly and warn the faithful against their perils. That has not been the intention, and the author apologizes for any betrayal of the readers' hopes. Our aim has been rather to justify the fundamental notion of orthodoxy and heresy and to show why some such distinction is inevitable if one is to speak and think about Christianity in a way that does not do violence to the fundamental Christian experience of salvation in Christ. To make orthodoxy reasonable and to show the basic inconsistency involved in the major heresies of the faith, especially as they appear in our own time, has been the author's ambition. ....
It was a good primer for me at that point in my life. Some of the excerpts used on the dustcover give a sense of why it was as enjoyable to read as it was informative:
  • Perhaps our experience with democracy has misled us into thinking that God is not so much the eternal King of creation as just a candidate seeking that office.
  • The heresy which lurks behind the otherwise welcome revival of Christian healing is the unwillingness to accept the inevitability of death.
  • Isn't Deism in its image of an uncommunicative and withdrawn God open to the charge of imagining God as a Person fit only for radical psychoanalysis?
  • A friend of mine once compared the modern world's attitude toward God to the kind of deference which a parish priest pays to a rector emeritus—it is pleasant to have the old fellow about, and on ceremonial occasions he graces the head table.
I still enjoy dipping into it.

Today Scott McKnight has begun blogging his way through a recent book, Heresies and How to Avoid Them: Why It Matters What Christians Believe. He describes the book as: edited collection of readable, brief, and incisive chapters on various heresies: Arianism, Docetism, Nestorianism, Eutychianism, Adoptionism, Theopaschitism, Marcionism, Donatism, Pelagianism, Gnosticism, Free Spirit, and the book closes with a study of Bibical Trinitarianism and the purpose of being orthodox. ....

One of the editors of this fine book is Ben Quash, an Anglican priest, a professor at King's in London, and the canon theologian at Coventry. The other editor is Michael Ward, an Anglican priest and writer and former chaplain at the coolest college in Cambridge: Peterhouse. Quash wrote the Prologue.

He opens with a definition: "A heretic is is a baptized person who obstinately denies or doubts a truth which the Church teaches must be believed because it is part of the one, divinely revealed, and catholic (that is, universally valid) Christian faith"....
Sounds interesting for some of the same reasons Modern Heresies was—I've ordered it.

I belong to a denomination that doesn't hunt heretics. We are "non-creedal." Our Statement of Belief is intended to be descriptive of what most of us actually believe rather than prescriptive. When our last doctrinal statements were adopted about a generation ago, I recall having a conversation with a pastor who was upset that the statement on God was trinitarian. He said we were "reading him out of the denomination." I assured him that we were not—that, in fact it was up to him to decide whether he wanted to associate with a bunch of people with whom he fundamentally disagreed. He wouldn't [couldn't] be kicked out. Orthodoxy is important—whether enforced by some central authority or not. I am pleased that our Statement falls within those boundaries. I would be as uncomfortable among a people who could not affirm the faith as he apparently was among those who could.

Our Collective Faith and Heresies 1 - Jesus Creed

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Who do you say that I am?

From Kevin DeYoung's "Not One Of, but the One":
Not too long ago while walking across a bridge near our church I spotted some graffiti underneath the overpass: “I don’t need religion. I have a conscience.” I can only guess what this spray painter was trying to say, but my guess is he (or she) assumes religion is just a trick for getting people to line up and behave. Religion for him is nothing but a moral code for doing good. And who needs a religious code with all its ritual and institutional trappings if you have a conscience? But the graffiti sloganeer has grossly misunderstood Christianity. The foundational question for Jesus is not “what do I want you to do?” but “who do you say that I am?” Everything flows from a right understanding of Jesus. Not just what he taught or what he did, but who he is. ....

Jesus is not one of; he is the One. Jesus is not a pointer like John, Elijah, or one of the prophets. He is the point. It sounds very lofty to call Jesus a prophet, or a popular teacher, or a wonder worker, or a good man, or a brilliant example, or part of a long line of enlightened figures. But all of these descriptions miss the point. Because in all of them you are saying Jesus is one of (see v. 28). And if you say Jesus is only one of and not the One, you haven’t understood him. You don’t see who He really is. He is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16).
Not One Of, but the One – Kevin DeYoung

Monday, April 18, 2011

"The word 'modernist' is code..."

Via Kevin DeYoung, from the superb British series "Yes, Prime Minister," explaining "modernism" in the Church:

Equal in every which way

"Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut:
THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

Some things about living still weren't quite right, though. April for instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime. And it was in that clammy month that the H-G men took George and Hazel Bergeron's fourteen-year-old son, Harrison, away.

It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazel couldn't think about it very hard. Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn't think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.

George and Hazel were watching television. There were tears on Hazel's cheeks, but she'd forgotten for the moment what they were about.

On the television screen were ballerinas.

A buzzer sounded in George's head. His thoughts fled in panic, like bandits from a burglar alarm.

"That was a real pretty dance, that dance they just did," said Hazel.

"Huh" said George. .... [the story]
Harrison Bergeron

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hosanna in the highest!

Lift up your heads, O ye gates;
Even lift them up, ye everlasting doors;
And the King of glory shall come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory.
(Psalm 24:9-10, KJV)

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion;
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem:
Behold, thy King cometh unto thee:
He is just, and having salvation;
Lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.
(Zechariah 9:9, KJV)

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’ ” And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. (Mark 11:1-11, ESV)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Lent VI: May His mind grow in us.

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, which of Thy tender love toward man, hast sent our Savior Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of His great humility; mercifully grant that we both follow the example of His patience, and be made partakers of His resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Thomas Cranmer]
LET this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [Philippians II]
ALMIGHTY GOD, by whose mercy I am now about to commemorate the death of my Redeemer, grant that from this time I may so live as that His death may be efficacious to my eternal happiness. Enable me to conquer all evil customs. Deliver me from evil and vexatious thoughts. Grant me light to discover my duty, and Grace to perform it. As my life advances, let me become more pure, and more holy. Take not from me Thy Holy Spirit, but grant that I may serve Thee with diligence and confidence; and when Thou shalt call me hence, receive me to everlasting happiness, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Samuel Johmson, Easter, 1773]

Friday, April 15, 2011

"Where the Union Cause goes to die"

This week marks the anniversary of both the beginning of the Civil War and of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Hollywood, in the person of Robert Redford, has decided it is a good time to release The Conspirator, a film about the trial of those who would soon be convicted for the assassination, focusing on Mary Surratt, the woman who owned the house where the conspiracy was plotted. It isn't unusual for Hollywood to appropriate history to make a political point and one would be hard put to identify any recent film by Redford that wasn't politically tendentious. This Washington Post review by Ann Hornaday makes it clear that this film won't break his string.
.... Although historians, including Surratt biographer Kate Clifford Larson, agree that Surratt was almost certainly guilty of conspiracy, Redford needs to court ambiguity in order for viewers to buy in to her plight, so rather than the keeper of “the nest that hatched the egg” of the would-be coup, he portrays her as a martyred mother, going to her grave rather than betray her likely culpable son (who was cooling his heels in Canada while his mother was tried and hanged).

But Redford also needs to smooth out Surratt’s rougher edges because of his larger agenda, which is to portray her trial as a miscarriage of justice that, in its prosecution of civilians in military court, selective evidence, skirting of the Constitution and abrogation of due process, bears more than passing resemblance to post-9/11 policies. From the bags put over the heads of Surratt and her fellow detainees to the Rumsfeld-esque wire-rim glasses Kline wears as Stanton, Redford’s point is clear: Regardless of her guilt or innocence, Surratt was the victim of a grievous injustice that violated the most cherished ideals of the country she was accused of trying to destroy.

To make his point, Redford skirts a few crucial realities, not the least of which is that Surratt’s treatment in the civil court of her day probably wouldn’t have been much better....

... As University of Virginia history professor Gary Gallagher gracefully proves in his book Causes Won, Lost and Forgotten, about how popular culture has shaped ideas about the Civil War, the preservation of the Union has never been deemed worth valorizing by filmmakers, who have historically been more drawn to Lost Cause romanticism or self-flattering stories that emphasize emancipation of enslaved people or the reconciliation of the white South and white North. (At one point in The Conspirator, noting the higher causes they both fought for, Surratt tells Aiken, “We’re the same,” a classic reconciliationist elision of the myriad ways the two sides weren’t the same.)

Considering the depiction of white Union soldiers in such late-20th-century movies as Glory and Dances With Wolves, Gallagher writes, “recent Civil War films fail almost completely to convey any sense of what the Union Cause meant to millions of northern citizens. More than that, they often cast the U.S. military, a military force that saved the republic and destroyed slavery, in a decidedly negative, post-Vietnam light.”

Replace “post-Vietnam” with “post-Iraq” and you get a pretty good description of how the U.S. military is portrayed in The Conspirator. Rather than a principle worth fighting for, or a fragile democracy still vulnerable to dead-enders who would reignite the war, the Union is painted as the nest that hatched the egg of an overweening state and arrogant abuse of power. Hollywood may be where Confederates are buried in their onetime capital, but for moviegoers, it’s still the place where the Union Cause goes to die. (more)
Robert Redford’s ‘The Conspirator’ and the lost Union cause - The Washington Post

"Hurt feelings differ from legal injury"

Joseph Knippenberg likes the 7th Circuit's decision that my local atheist group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, doesn't have standing to challenge the President's proclamation of a National Day of Prayer.  From the decision:
Section 119 imposes duties on the President alone. It does not require any private person to do anything–or for that matter to take any action in response to whatever the President proclaims. If anyone suffers injury, therefore, that person is the President, who is not complaining. ....

Plaintiffs contend that they are injured because they feel excluded, or made unwelcome, when the President asks them to engage in a religious observance that is contrary to their principles. It is difficult to see how any reader of the 2010 proclamation would feel excluded or unwelcome. Here again is the proclamation’s only sentence that explicitly requests citizens to pray: “I call upon the citizens of our Nation to pray, or otherwise give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths or consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings, and I invite all people of faith to join me in asking for God’s continued guidance, grace, and protection as we meet the challenges before us." But let us suppose that plaintiffs nonetheless feel slighted. Still, hurt feelings differ from legal injury. The “value interests of concerned bystanders”…do not support standing to sue. ....
The first commenter at the post:
.... The objection and offense that so many atheists take at the sight or mention of anything related to God usually doesn’t come down to an issue of separation of church and state as much as an attempt to stifle free speech and free exercise of religion. They want freedom FROM religion, not freedom OF religion, but that’s not what our Constitution guarantees.

If they are not required to DO anything then it’s merely having to put up with another’s free speech.
Being invited to pray does not compel one to do so. Hearing a prayer, or anything else on any subject, does not compel assent. Religious speech was important enough to the Founders to get its own protection in the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law...prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

The Establishment Clause and Standing to Sue » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

"A religious imperative to study nature..."

I continue to enjoy and profit from reading James Hannam's The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution [See here]. At Patheos that author refers to the Templeton prize awarded to Lord Rees and then argues that "Science and Christianity Can Get On Better Than You Think":
.... Rees is an atheist with a fond cultural attachment to the Church of England. But although he isn't religious himself, he sees no conflict between Christianity and science. His best-known book, Just Six Numbers, is a frank admission that the universe appears to be finely tuned for life, something theists see as evidence that it is God's creation. New Atheists like PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne are furious that Rees accepted Templeton's lucre. Richard Dawkins has called Rees a "quisling," which is a reference to Nazi collaboration. ....

The old story of an eternal conflict between science and religion is now universally rejected by historians. The conflict myth was a product of particular political disputes at particular historical moments. The claim that the Catholic Church had impeded scientific progress, for instance, was a way for Voltaire and his fellow philosophes in ancien régime France to attack the absolutist monarchy. The myth reached its final form with Andrew Dickson White's A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896). It was, for White, a handy weapon in his struggle to curtail clerical influence at his new foundation of Cornell University.

Much of the evidence that White assembled to demonstrate that Christianity had held back science has turned out to be bogus. Contrary to popular belief, the Church has never taught that the Earth is flat. Indeed, everyone in the Middle Ages was well aware it is a sphere. Many other examples are alleged of religion holding back science. Popes, we are told, tried to ban human dissection, lightning rods, and even the number zero. We even still hear that Pope Callixtus III tried to excommunicate Halley's Comet. It is hard to believe that anyone who considers themselves a rational skeptic could have believed that tale. And while there can be no justification for burning heretics, the deaths of Giordano Bruno and Michael Servetus had nothing to do with science. No one has ever been burnt at the stake for scientific views. In fact, the only important scientist ever to be executed was Antoine Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry. He was guillotined during the French revolutionary terror by the avowedly anti-Christian Jacobins. ....

Christianity may even have had a positive role in the rise of science. Christians believe that God created the world and ordained the laws of nature. He is the guarantor of constant and rational laws, such that investigating the world can consequently be a religious duty. It's easy to forget that, until the 19th century, science had almost no practical applications. A religious imperative to study nature provided almost the only reason to bother doing it. It's no surprise that so many scientific pioneers were devout men: Johannes Kepler, Sir Isaac Newton, Joseph Priestley, Michael Faraday, Georg Mendel, and James Clerk Maxwell, to name just a few. .... [more]
Science and Christianity Can Get On Better Than You Think

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rights and duties

With the release of the first of a trilogy of films based on Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, the "philosophy" which her work teaches is once again getting more attention than it ought to deserve. Since I've known Christians who admired her books, it is perhaps important to once again point out the incompatibility of "Objectivism" with just about any religion, not only Christianity. Greg Forster describes a big problem in "Rand and 'Inalienable Rights'":
.... If there are no duties transcending the will, there really are no such things as either rights or duties – no such thing as morality at all, as that concept is understood by almost all people. There is only rational calculation of what will most efficiently gorge whatever appetites happen to occur to us. The calculation of optimally efficient gorging of appetites will often coincide with the constellation of traditional ethical injunctions not to kill, steal, lie, etc. But it will not do so always, and even if it did, that would not make efficiency in the gorging of appetites a moral virtue.

This is one of the (numerous) gaping holes in the center of Rand’s view of life. Her famous formula is that you should not live for anyone else’s sake, nor demand that anyone else live for yours. But if there are no duties transcending the will, as she insists there aren’t, why should you not demand that others live for your sake? The value you place on your own life does not, in fact, create a moral duty to treat the lives of others as intrinsically valuable. And it is not, in fact, the case that the optimally efficient gorging of my own appetites always coincides with the traditional constellation of ethical injunctions not to kill, steal, lie, etc. ....

There can be no safeguard for “the rights of the individual” if we begin with a moral philosophy that excludes the existence of any “rights” worthy of the name.

Rand believed that ethical egoism and metaphysical reductionism could be squared with political liberty.

Thomas Hobbes knew better.  [more]
Rand and “Inalienable Rights” » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

Monday, April 11, 2011

"Another basic problem with Traditionists..."

At some point I became comfortable describing myself as an Evangelical within the broader orthodox community of belief. But the categories keep changing on me. I'm definitely not "post conservative" and doesn't Meliorist imply that Progess [with a capital "P"] will transcend orthodoxy? This description of "Evangelicals Divided" by Gerald McDermott includes a taxonomy proposed by "Meliorists" that would make me "paleo-orthodox" [whereas in politics I tend to be "neo" — it can all be very confusing] :
.... Evangelical theology has long been divided between those who emphasize human freedom to choose salvation (Arminians) and those who stress God’s sovereignty in the history of salvation (the Reformed). Now this old division has been overshadowed by a larger division between new opposing camps we may call the Meliorists and the Traditionists. The former think we must improve and sometimes change substantially the tradition of historic orthodoxy. The latter think that while we might sometimes need to adjust our approaches to the tradition, generally we ought to learn from it rather than change it. ....

...Meliorist theologians like Roger Olson and the late Stanley Grenz...argue that “conservative” theology is stuck in Enlightenment foundationalism....

Olson divides the conservatives—which we would call Traditionists—into two camps, “Biblicists” (a derogatory term suggesting simple-mindedness) and “Paleo-orthodox” (another derogatory term, implying a refusal to face modern realities). The Biblicists, who include Carl Henry, Kenneth Kantzer, J.I. Packer, Wayne Grudem, Norman Geisler, and D.A. Carson, see revelation as primarily propositional and doctrines as facts. But most importantly, Olson claims, they regard doctrine as the “essence” of Christian faith.

The Paleo-orthodox include Baptist D.H. Williams, the Reformed author-pastor John Armstrong, Anglicans such as the late Robert Webber and Christianity Today’s editor David Neff, and the Methodists William Abraham and Thomas Oden. For them, the ancient ecumenical consensus is the governing authority that serves as an interpretive lens through which Christians are to interpret Scripture. The critical and constructive task of theology is conducted in light of what the ecumenical Church has already decided about crucial doctrinal matters. ....

...[T]he post-conservative suggestion that both the so-called Biblicists and Paleo-orthodox are foundationalist is dubious. Few among the Biblicists just named—and none of the Paleo-orthodox—would affirm the possibility of intellectual certainty based on self-evident truths or sensory experience. Neither group would say doctrine alone is the essence of faith, but all would insist that experience should never be privileged over doctrine.

Meliorists such as Olson think that another basic problem with Traditionists is that they give too much weight to, well, tradition. .... [more]
First Things: Evangelicals Divided

"I never knew you..."

Skye Jethani reminds us that God is not a means to an end — even when the cause is good.
.... We can all agree that using God simply as a divine vending machine to provide us with the American Dream, as consumer Christianity teaches, is wrong. God is not a means to an end. He is the end. But what about using God as a means of solving world hunger, growing the church, or constructing a sense of self-worth and value? Could such activist Christian tendencies be equally flawed? Might activist Christianity also reduce God to a useful device?

We pastors have a tendency to over-correct the error of consumer faith and instead make evangelism or justice the center of our life rather than Christ. We [are] essentially exchanging one error for another, albeit a more admirable one. As Tim Keller says, idols are “good things turned into ultimate things.” ....

Consumer Christianity is a pandemic in the American church, on that I agree. But a prescription of radical activism is not the remedy. It robs people of their joy, burdens them with guilt, and fails to draw people into a passionate communion with Christ. And we should remember that one of the most disturbing statements of Jesus is directed at those who nonetheless accomplished great things for him:
On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:22-23)
Skye Jethani: Redefining Radical (Part 1) | Out of Ur | Conversations for Ministry Leaders

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Far, far from Heaven

Although those in the the Middle Ages were woefully wrong about the earth being at the center of the universe, the argument that they were egotistically motivated to believe that because it elevated the importance of humanity may be just about the reverse of the truth. I have begun reading James Hannam's The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution. The second chapter includes this passage:
Another modern misconception about the medieval Christian world-view is that people thought the central position of the earth meant that it was somehow exalted. In fact, to the medieval mind, the reverse was the case. The universe was a hierarchy and the further from the earth you travelled, the closer to Heaven you came. At the center, underneath our feet, the Christian tradition placed Hell. Then, surpassed in wickedness only by the infernal pit, was our earth of change and decay. Above us, acting as a boundary between the earthly and the heavenly, was the sphere of the moon. This marked the dividing line between the perfect unchanging heavens and the transient sub-lunar region containing humanity, which was doomed to die. Next, there were the crystalline spheres of the seven planets—the moon, the sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn—eternally orbiting with uniform, circular motion. The spheres were thought to consist of a transparent and imperishable fifth element called ether or quintessence. Above them were the fixed stars whose positions relative to each other never appeared to change. Beyond even them was the firmament, and outside that was the realm of God. This hierarchical system gave people absolute directions of up and down, one towards the heavens and one down to earth at the bottom of the celestial ladder. To move the earth away from the centre of the universe was not to downgrade its importance but to raise it up toward the stars.

The attraction of this model of the universe was its harmonious order. Everything had its correct place in the celestial hierarchy and it provided an exemplar for good governance on earth. Harmony was especially important to the theory.  .... [pp. 31-32]
James Hannam, The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution, Washington, D.C., 2011, pp. 31-32.