Sunday, June 30, 2013

By faith alone

In "The Power of Conformity" Scott Smith describes the apostle Paul's response to Peter's inconsistency about obedience to aspects of the law [Gal. 2:11-15]. In the sermon Pastor Smith makes this very important point:
What does it mean to be “justified?” It means “to be made right,” to be made “straight,” or correct. The New Testament Greek meaning is that a person is “declared right or righteous.” The justified person may not be without fault, but they have been declared righteous because they are in Christ who is perfect in every way! Paul wanted no confusion. To be declared righteous by God (to be justified) you must be in Christ. His problem with Peter was that by conforming to the Jewish law, Peter was leading others to believe that they could be justified by obeying the law.

Dedicate your entire life to the obedience of the law and at the end of your days you will have done much that is good, but you will, in the long run, fail! Even the smallest imperfection is sin in the sight of a perfect God. Without being “justified by faith” even a life of nearly full obedience will end in damnation. Salvation comes by faith alone! That is the fundamental truth in this scripture. Salvation comes by faith alone! Nothing else will suffice.

There are two other things here that I want you to notice. First, two of the three marks of Judaism are in contention here. Paul makes it clear that neither obedience to food laws, nor the physical act of circumcision will justify you before God. The third mark is the Sabbath and it was not in contention. I believe that the reason is that everyone involved recognized God’s Sabbath. There was simply no argument there!

But before we Sabbath keepers begin to pat our own backs, make sure that you understand this. Just like circumcision and food laws, obedience to the Sabbath law will not save you. Justification is in Christ alone, not in Sabbath observance! .... [more]
Scott Smith is pastor of the Middle Island Seventh Day Baptist Church in West Virginia.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

"The Waterloo of the Rebellion"

The Battle of Gettysburg took place almost exactly 150 years ago [July 1-3, 1863]. Allen Guelzo writes:
Looking back 20 years after it was fought, Alexander Stewart Webb declared that the Battle of Gettysburg "was, and is now throughout the world, known to be the Waterloo of the Rebellion.”

Certainly Webb had earned the right to judge. He was in command of the Union brigade that absorbed the spearpoint of the battle’s climax on July 3, 1863, the great charge of the Confederate divisions commanded by George E. Pickett. ....

.... Gettysburg may have been the last solid chance the breakaway southern states had of winning the Civil War and their independence. In battle after battle, Robert E. Lee had led his ragtag Confederate forces, the Army of Northern Virginia, to victory over the Union Army of the Potomac. But the victories were all won on Virginia’s soil, and they enfeebled the Virginia economy even as they defended it. Lee knew that only by carrying the war into the Union states and leveraging the war-weariness of the Union into peace negotiations could the Confederacy hope to win. ....
Guelzo is the author of Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, one of many books published during the last few years recalling the events and sacrifices of the American Civil War. Guelzo's is one of many non-fiction accounts of the battle and is being praised both as an historical account and as a very interesting and well-written account. I've ordered it and look forward to reading it over the next few days. Until now my best sense of the battle came from a novel, The Killer Angels by Michael Schaara. The New York Times provides an interesting story about Schaara and "Making 'Killer Angels'":
One-hundred-and-one summers after the Battle of Gettysburg, a family of four stopped their Nash Rambler at the site during a 1,000-mile drive from the New York World’s Fair to Tallahassee, Fla. The father was a New Jersey-born former boxer, paratrooper and policeman who became a creative writing instructor at Florida State after enrolling to study opera. Before arriving at the park he had published dozens of science-fiction short stories, but nothing about history. But he had researched several Gettysburg participants for the trip, and he fascinated his daughter Lila and son Jeff with stories of his favorites while the family walked the grounds. They ended up staying for several days, because Michael Shaara was in the early stages of creating his masterpiece novel, The Killer Angels.

Partly owing to meticulous research, it took Shaara seven years to finish the manuscript. Relying chiefly on first-person accounts like memoirs, diaries and letters, he pioneered a new type of historical novel. Normally such stories revolve around fictitious characters in real events.... In contrast, The Killer Angels uses a combination of recorded and fictional dialogue, as well as imagined thoughts and incidents, to tell the Gettysburg story from the viewpoint of actual participants.

Shaara’s extra burden was to portray such speculation in a manner authentic to the characters, which compelled him to research men like Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Winfield Scott Hancock and John Buford in such depth that he once told an interviewer he was “visited” by them. Thus, when the author has the Confederate general Longstreet advise a poker-playing neophyte that his odds of drawing an inside straight are “none,” he foreshadows the general’s future anguish when ordered to direct Pickett’s Charge while simultaneously hinting at the temptation the assault presented to Lee, desperate for a winning hand.

When attempted by a less conscientious researcher, Shaara’s technique brims with danger. As a science-fiction writer he understood Oscar Wilde’s implication, “Audiences will believe the impossible but never the implausible.” ....

Shaara succeeded so brilliantly that he shifted the accepted historical interpretations and even changed the park’s landscape. .... Before the novel, park grounds contained no monument to Longstreet, while its most popular site today, where Chamberlain and the 20th Maine regiment fought on Little Round Top, was hard to find. Shaara resurrected Chamberlain as a hero, and he has remained one of the most popular figures associated with the battle ever since. ....

Initially the novel sold modestly, but its critical reception was astounding: the following year, The Killer Angels won the Pulitzer Prize. .... (more)
Why did Lee lose the battle? Geoffrey Norman quotes George Pickett:
Several explanations have been proposed. Lee himself believed that if he’d had Stonewall Jackson with him, things would have gone the other way. In the end, George Pickett may have come up with the best answer: “I always thought,” he said, “that the Yankees had something to do with it.”
Norman's article is a good summary account of the entire battle.

Twilight of the Confederacy | National Review Online, Making 'Killer Angels' -, A Great Battlefield - The Weekly Standard

"A world free of dragons"

Only a few days ago I quoted an excerpt from a book review by Kenneth Minogue. He died yesterday. He was professor emeritus of political science at the London School of Economics and, Steven Hayward writes, "one of the giants of modern conservative intellectual life." From Hayward's Kenneth Minogue, RIP":
His best book, in my mind, is his The Liberal Mind, first published back in the 1960s.  It holds up extremely well today.... His matchless description of liberalism is worth repeating again:
The story of liberalism, as liberals tell it, is rather like the legend of St. George and the dragon. After many centuries of hopelessness and superstition, St. George, in the guise of Rationality, appeared in the world somewhere about the sixteenth century. The first dragons upon whom he turned his lance were those of despotic kingship and religious intolerance. These battles won, he rested for a time, until such questions as slavery, or prison conditions, or the state of the poor, began to command his attention. During the nineteenth century, his lance was never still, prodding this way and that against the inert scaliness of privilege, vested interest, or patrician insolence. But, unlike St. George, he did not know when to retire. The more he succeeded, the more he became bewitched with the thought of a world free of dragons, and the less capable he became of ever returning to private life. He needed his dragons. He could only live by fighting for causes—the people, the poor, the exploited, the colonially oppressed, the underprivileged and the underdeveloped. As an ageing warrior, he grew breathless in his pursuit of smaller and smaller dragons—for the big dragons were now harder to come by.
Hayward also quotes from Minogue's final book, The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life:
.... We might perhaps be more tolerant of rulers turning preachers if they were moral giants. But what citizen looks at the government today thinking how wise and virtuous it is? Public respect for politicians has long been declining, even as the population at large has been seduced into demanding political solutions to social problems. To demand help from officials we rather despise argues for a notable lack of logic in the demos. The statesmen of eras past have been replaced by a set of barely competent social workers eager to take over the risks of our everyday life. The electorates of earlier times would have responded to politicians seeking to bribe us with such promises with derision. Today, the demos votes for them.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Chesterton and counter-terrorism

What does G.K. Chesterton have to do with anti-terrorist intercepts and surveillance, relevent even, perhaps, to the current controversy about the NSA? Philip Jenkins explains why a book published in 1908 turned out to be a favorite of intelligence agents:
Thirty years ago, a British newspaper took an unscientific survey of current and former intelligence agents, asking them which fictional work best captured the realities of their profession. Would it be John Le Carré, Ian Fleming, Robert Ludlum? To the amazement of most readers, the book that won easily was G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, published in 1908.

This was so surprising because of the book's early date, but also its powerful mystical and Christian content: Chesterton subtitled it "a nightmare." ....

The book describes a Europe under threat from terrorists, from anarchists, dynamiters and assassins. To meet the threat, London's Metropolitan Police have formed an elite anti-anarchist squad, tasked to infiltrate the enemy. Following up a chance conversation, undercover detective Gabriel Syme attends a meeting of the General Council of the Anarchists of Europe, and is even elected to a vacancy in their leadership. This tight group has seven leaders, each of whom takes his codename from a day of the week. The mysterious overall boss is Sunday. Syme himself becomes Thursday. ....

Chesterton himself was a bookish man with no real-world experience of police or intelligence. He did however have the dubious blessing of living in the first golden age of European terrorism, when issues of revolutionary subversion and counter-terrorism regularly filled the headlines. Since the 1880s, anarchist and revolutionary movements had carried out many violent acts across Europe and especially Russia, assassinating public figures and bombing trains and public meeting places. ....

Then as now, governments realized that the only way to defeat revolutionary terror was to penetrate and infiltrate the active groups, to gain intelligence about forthcoming attacks. .... When an agent infiltrated Russia's anarchist or Bolshevik underground, he naturally had to prove his credentials, to prove he was not a detective. And how better to do that than to carry out a vicious attack, by planting a bomb in a public place, even if that really did kill innocent civilians? ....

Soon, even police agencies themselves had no idea whether a given attack was the work of real terrorists, or of agents and provocateurs notionally working for the regime. .... However fantastic The Man Who Was Thursday might appear, it was describing the stark realities of counter-subversion, with all their moral ambiguities. And that was what gave the book its appeal to latter day spooks. ....

Just how far should agencies go to prevent terrorism? Chesterton's book includes another theme that agonizes today's security forces, namely the dilemma of knowing when radical thought and speech will translate into criminal action in the real world. A detective tells Syme of some radical innovations in counter-subversion: "The work of the philosophical policeman," he says, "is at once bolder and more subtle than that of the ordinary detective. ... The ordinary detective discovers from a ledger or a diary that a crime has been committed. We discover from a book of sonnets that a crime will be committed. We have to trace the origin of those dreadful thoughts that drive men on at last to intellectual fanaticism and intellectual crime."

We might rephrase the problem in modern terms. If a bomb has been planted or a soldier murdered in the streets, then police agencies have failed in their duty, and should have intervened earlier. But does that mean that they should arrest or try someone for thoughts and writings that might someday lead to committing such actions? Or at least, should they keep potential subversives under surveillance? .... [more]
I have a copy of this book but haven't read it for decades. I think I need to read it again. A free electronic version of The Man Who Was Thursday can be downloaded here for Kindle or Nook.

More: "The NSA and the Man Who Was Shabbat"

Thursday, June 27, 2013

What should Christians read?

Should Christians read pagan literature? Joel Miller says the apostle Paul did, and argues that all truth is "God’s truth, wherever you find it":
...[T]he most famous picture of this is the Apostle Paul on Mars Hill. Surrounded by idols, enveloped with pagan superstition, Paul didn’t quote Leviticus or Isaiah. He shared the gospel with pagans by quoting more pagans, namely the astronomer Aratus and his poem The Phenomena. “In him we live and move and have our being,” quoted the apostle, a line he put good effect (Acts 17.28).

On at least two other occasions Paul did the same thing, likely quoting Epimenides of Crete in Titus 1.12 (“Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons”) and another poet in 1 Corinthians 15.33 (“Bad company ruins good morals”). While early church historian Socrates Scholasticus ascribed the 1 Corinthian quote to the Athenian tragedian Euripides (Ecclesiastical History 3.16), it turns out the quote is more likely from the comic writer Menander and his play Thais.

What? you exclaim. The apostle and theologian Paul idly wasting time with comedies! It depends on what we mean by waste, right?

Paul was evidently quite familiar with pagan literature. He quoted it too ably and too easily for his awareness to be forced. The references had to have been quick to mind for him to so readily apply them. After all, he was not in a position to run to a library and browse through a dozen codices looking for a choice line. He knew his stuff by memory.

Not only did Paul possess fluency in the cultural currents of his world, he undoubtedly found leisure, pathos, and humor in the works of pagan writers. I wouldn’t call that waste. .... [more]


Robert Merry reviews John Gray's The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths. Gray, who is not a believer, is more pessimistic about human nature — and thus the possibility of progress — than any Christian convinced of human depravity. Merry doesn't go quite so far. From the review:
.... “The evidence of science and history,” [Gray] writes, “is that humans are only ever partly and intermittently rational, but for modern humanists the solution is simple: human beings must in future be more reasonable. These enthusiasts for reason have not noticed that the idea that humans may one day be more rational requires a greater leap of faith than anything in religion.” In an earlier work, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, he was more blunt: “Outside of science, progress is simply a myth.” ....

“Today,” writes Gray in Straw Dogs, “liberal humanism has the pervasive power that was once possessed by revealed religion. Humanists like to think they have a rational view of the world; but their core belief in progress is a superstition, further from the truth about the human animal than any of the world’s religions.” ....

...[T]he underlying problem with this humanist impulse is that it is based upon an entirely false view of human nature—which, contrary to the humanist insistence that it is malleable, is immutable and impervious to environmental forces. Indeed, it is the only constant in politics and history. Of course, progress in scientific inquiry and in resulting human comfort is a fact of life, worth recognition and applause. But it does not change the nature of man....

.... Gray writes, “Among contemporary atheists, disbelief in progress is a type of blasphemy. Pointing to the flaws of the human animal has become an act of sacrilege.” In one of his more brutal passages, he adds:
Humanists believe that humanity improves along with the growth of knowledge, but the belief that the increase of knowledge goes with advances in civilization is an act of faith. They see the realization of human potential as the goal of history, when rational inquiry shows history to have no goal. They exalt nature, while insisting that humankind—an accident of nature—can overcome the natural limits that shape the lives of other animals. Plainly absurd, this nonsense gives meaning to the lives of people who believe they have left all myths behind. ....
Much of the human folly catalogued by Gray in The Silence of Animals makes a mockery of the earnest idealism of those who later shaped and molded and proselytized humanist thinking into today’s predominant Western civic philosophy. But other Western philosophers, particularly in the realm of Anglo-Saxon thought, viewed the idea of progress in much more limited terms. They rejected the idea that institutions could reshape mankind and usher in a golden era of peace and happiness. As [J.B.] Bury writes [in The Idea of Progress], “The general tendency of British thought was to see salvation in the stability of existing institutions, and to regard change with suspicion.” ....

A leading light in this category of thinking was Edmund Burke (1729–1797), the British statesman and philosopher who, writing in his famous Reflections on the Revolution in France, characterized the bloody events of the Terror as “the sad but instructive monuments of rash and ignorant counsel in time of profound peace.” He saw them, in other words, as reflecting an abstractionist outlook that lacked any true understanding of human nature. The same skepticism toward the French model was shared by many of the Founding Fathers, who believed with Burke that human nature isn’t malleable but rather potentially harmful to society. Hence, it needed to be checked. The central distinction between the American and French revolutions, in the view of conservative writer Russell Kirk, was that the Americans generally held a “biblical view of man and his bent toward sin,” whereas the French opted for “an optimistic doctrine of human goodness.” Thus, the American governing model emerged as a secular covenant “designed to restrain the human tendencies toward violence and fraud...[and] place checks upon will and appetite.” ....

After centuries of intellectual effort aimed at developing the idea of progress as an ongoing chain of improvement with no perceived end into the future, this new breed of “Progress as Power” thinkers began to declare their own visions as the final end point of this long progression.

Gray calls these intellectuals “ichthyophils,” which he defines as “devoted to their species as they think it ought to be, not as it actually is or as it truly wants to be.” .... [read it all]

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Supreme Court, your church, and marriage

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, now headed by Russell Moore, has responded to today's Supreme Court decisions about the legal status of same-sex marriage with "Your Church and the Same-Sex Marriage Decisions." Their response seems to me both sound and balanced. There is also a pdf which might be used as a bulletin insert [see below for one side of the insert].

Is God really like Jesus?

On the one-hundredth anniversary of his birth, something about the theological contributions of Thomas F. Torrance.
.... As a chaplain during World War II, he came across a young soldier, scarcely twenty years old, who was mortally wounded. “Padre,” he asked Torrance, “Is God really like Jesus?” Torrance assured him, “He is the only God that there is, the God who has come to us in Jesus, shown his face to us, and poured out his love to us as our Savior.” As he prayed and commended him to the Lord, the young man passed away.

A few years later, one of his parishioners in Aberdeen, a dying, elderly lady asked him the same question: “Dr. Torrance, is God really like Jesus?” That this doubt arose from among believers within the Church itself troubled Torrance deeply. He wondered how the Church distorted its message and created obstacles for its members that kept them from joyous participation in communion with the living God that was theirs in Christ by the Spirit.

The question of the dying soldier and woman suggested to Torrance that people believed there was a God “behind the back” of Jesus. But for Torrance, God has already established communion with men in Christ, and the Church is the community of witness to God’s reconciling activity in this creaturely world of space and time. The Church proclaims that through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit we have access to God the Father. This message, for Torrance, is the heart of the Gospel, the essence of the Church, and the sole foundation for all theological activity. ....

The Great Ecumenical Councils confessed the oneness of being and agency of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit with God the Father. As the Eternal Son and Creator Word of the Father, Jesus Christ is the One by, through, and for whom the entire created order—space and time, structure and matter, form and being—came into being ex nihilo, as well as the One in whom it is ultimately sustained and redeemed. Because Jesus is homoousios with the Father and the Spirit, he is the very revelation of God, and as the risen, ascended, and advent Lord, he continues to heal the humanity he assumed so that we may live in union with the triune God. Christ is also homoousios with us, healing our minds and enabling us to think from a center in God rather than in ourselves. We can again do theology as a truly scientific enterprise, one faithful to its own true object: God known in Christ by the Spirit within the context of the created order of space and time. .... [more]
The article is titled "What Scientists Get, and Theologians Don’t, About Thomas F. Torrance," and that is the subject of most of the remainder.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The appeal of Father Brown

Arguing that Chesterton's Father Brown should be a role model for young Catholics, Michael Fischer describes the appeal of the fictional detective:
Fr. Brown resolves the seeming paradox of faith and reason in his person. While a man of the cloth, Fr. Brown utilizes rational thinking to solve the mysteries he stumbles upon. The unorthodox situations and crimes committed all have rational conclusions, and as the answer is unveiled, suddenly the disparate pieces all come together. But in contrast to the most popular detective of recent memory – Sherlock Holmes – Fr. Brown’s resolutions come from inductive, rather than deductive, reasoning; his surprising insights or revelations come from placing himself in the mindset of the criminal, or from a particularly small gesture or clue. In this, Fr. Brown’s faith really comes into its own, for his Catholic belief in egalitarian human sin, a comprehensible world, and small movements of the Spirit help remove biases and barriers to his thinking. ....

...Fr. Brown’s successes largely derive from his familiarity with sin. Fr. Brown attributes much of his understanding of criminals and their ways to his work with sinners: the Confessional, the city streets, the underbelly of human life. Therefore, he understands sin and the sinner: he can put himself into the mind of the criminal in order to determine how he himself would have committed the crime. ....

...Fr. Brown is an unlikely protagonist. Chesterton’s mysteries might be subtitled: “The Adventures of a Simple and Humble Man.” This parish priest detective usually does not appear as the protagonist or main character of the mystery, instead stumbling in unexpectedly or for some pedantic and unrelated reason. .... [more]
There is a new British television version of the Father Brown stories. The first season has already been broadcast there. May it appear here soon.

"Irresponsible and self-indulgent leniency"

Theodore Dalrymple, in "Therapeutists as Teachers of Evil," argues that C.S. Lewis was right to denounce a therapeutic approach to determining the appropriate punishment of criminals, but wrong in predicting the direction that approach would take:
In the year of my birth, which now seems to me a very long time ago, C.S. Lewis wrote a short and incisive essay entitled The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment. In this essay, Lewis drew attention to the potential for tyranny of this seemingly humane theory, according to which people were to be treated not according to their deserts, but according to what would make them ‘better’ on whatever scale of goodness was adopted by the therapists, who of course would also decide whether or not the wrongdoers were ‘cured.’

The horrors that Lewis foresaw as following from the humanitarian theory of punishment were those of cruelty and oppression disguised as benevolence. What he did not foresee was irresponsible and self-indulgent leniency disguised as benevolence. Under this new dispensation, it was not those who had been wronged who would exercise mercy, but those at several removes from the wronged, and who themselves would never suffer the practical consequences of its exercise, if any such there were. They would enjoy the psychological rewards of leniency without experiencing the material effects of recidivism.

It is hardly any secret that no one these days enjoys a reputation for generosity of spirit (at least among intellectuals) by advocating more severe penalties for wrongdoers; or that an easy way to secure a reputation for broad understanding is to forgive everything. Pardonner tout, c’est tout comprendre. The pressure on those who want to bask in the esteem of all right-thinking people to forgive those who have done wrong to others is therefore considerable. ....

The peculiarity of this approach is that it allows every man a rape or many rapes – indeed many crimes of any description – provided only that experts determine that he will now desist, for prognosis is everything and justice nothing, in the sense of retribution for past misdeeds, nothing. Even if prognosis were a science much more accurate than it is or ever likely to be, this would do tremendous violence to our sense of justice. If you believe in the therapeutic theory of response to crime, you would have set Heinrich Himmler free, had he survived, because it was unlikely in the new political circumstances that followed military defeat that he would ever have committed similar crimes again. .... [more]
Therapeutists as Teachers of Evil | Online Library of Law and Liberty

Monday, June 24, 2013

"If it's not in your brain in the first place"

The CNN site provides an interesting article about the growth of the "classical school" movement, influenced by an essay written years ago by Dorothy L. Sayers:
.... The schools don’t just add a few Latin or Greek classes to a modern curriculum. Classical education methods are a revamp of what it means to be educated. Many modern classical schools divide learning into the trivium of medieval institutions: Grammar, logic and rhetoric.

During the “grammar” years of kindergarten through fourth grade, children memorize facts and poetry, learn the rules of phonics and spelling, explore animal and plant kingdoms, music, basic math and the history of civilization beginning with ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.

In the “logic” stage—grades five through eight—children evaluate, analyze, discern and question. They study algebra and how to propose and defend a thesis. They engage in focused discussion, begin to think through arguments and understand cause and effect. ....

The “rhetoric” stage—grades nine through 12—concentrates on applying knowledge and expressing ideas through writing and speaking.

It's different than the typical school, but far from new. The concept of fusing the stages into modern education was popularized by a 1947 essay by British author Dorothy Sayers called “The Lost Tools of Learning.” ....

.... Although the majority of classical schools are Christian and conservative, the ideas transfer to schools of all political leanings, said Jonathan Beeson, a Yale Divinity School graduate and former Protestant minister who converted to Catholicism and became the principal of St. Theresa Catholic School in Sugar Land, Texas.

“There’s nothing in classical education inherently conservative or liberal,” he said. “And we’re not scared of memorization. Kids need content in their brains and they’re wired to absorb it. You can’t reflect on something if it’s not in your brain in the first place.” .... [more]
The essay by Dorothy L. Sayers, "The Lost Tools of Learning," is available online here and from Amazon in a very inexpensive Kindle version.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A consistent sexual ethic

A Christian who is gay responding to the news that Exodus International is closing down:
.... Exodus’s shutting down is a highly symbolic event that will, I hope, allow revisit the merits of the entire “ex-gay” approach. Reparative therapy has never owed much to Christian theology in the first place—its roots lie more in Freud than in the teachings of Jesus or the apostle Paul—so it’s high time that evangelicals became much more familiar with what the Christian tradition itself has to offer those who experience same-sex attraction, namely, a long history of practice and reflection on both celibacy and same-sex friendship. These historic Christian resources haven’t been entirely absent from evangelical discussions, but I think most would agree that they haven’t been prominent. .... [more]
Another Christian sheds "No Tears for Exodus":
...[A]s a Christian who embraces a traditional biblical ethic of sexuality, I rejoice at the closure of Exodus International. I rejoice not in spite of my traditional moral beliefs, but because of them. ....

...[A]bove all, attention needs to be drawn to this error of equating the sexual wholeness in Christ to which all Christians are called with the conscious experience of sexual attraction to the opposite sex. Under the guise of promoting a biblically grounded vision of human sexuality, this attitude has done very little to encourage homosexuals in developing the virtue of chastity. Instead, it simply throws fuel onto the fire of the modern secular obsession with personal sexual fulfillment by its implied acceptance of the claim that asking homosexuals to live without sex really would be to ask them to lead lives of misery and deprivation. ....

The closure of Exodus provides for Christians once again the opportunity to embrace the rigorous austerity of a genuinely gospel-based sexual ethic, which yes, makes it clear that homosexual relations are sinful, but also has plenty to say about divorce, heterosexual pornography, the contraceptive culture, and other aspects of the crisis of virtue within the Western world.

Whether secular therapists should be allowed to promote orientation change is a scientific question to be settled on the sole criteria of whether or not it is beneficial and effective. But the Christian Church has no business promoting a course of action that does nothing to make people holier. Let those who wish to pursue secular therapy do so if they feel it necessary, but let it not be confused with the gospel. The Church’s message must be the same message to both homosexuals and heterosexuals, in season and out of season: “You shall be holy to me; for I the Lord am holy.” [more]
Related: Gay and celibate

After Exodus, What? » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog, No Tears for Exodus | First Things

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The new orignal sin

I rather enjoyed Pascal Bruckner's attack on environmental panic:
.... Ecologism, the sole truly original force of the past half-century, has challenged the goals of progress and raised the question of its limits. It has awakened our sensitivity to nature, emphasized the effects of climate change, pointed out the exhaustion of fossil fuels. Onto this collective credo has been grafted a whole apocalyptic scenography that has already been tried out with communism, and that borrows from Gnosticism as much as from medieval forms of messianism. Cataclysm is part of the basic tool-kit of Green critical analysis, and prophets of decay and decomposition abound. They beat the drums of panic and call upon us to expiate our sins before it is too late. ....

There are at least two ecologies: one rational, the other nonsensical; one that broadens our outlook while the other narrows it; one democratic, the other totalitarian. The first wants to tell us about the damage done by industrial civilization; the second infers from this the human species' guilt. For the latter, nature is only a stick to be used to beat human beings. Just as third-worldism was the shame of colonial history, and repentance was contrition with regard to the present, catastrophism constitutes the anticipated remorse of the future: The meaning of history having evaporated, every change is a potential collapse that augurs nothing good.

Catastrophism's favorite mode of expression is accusation: Revolutionaries wanted to erase the past and start over from zero; now the focus is on condemning past and present wrongs and bringing them before the tribunal of public opinion. No leniency is possible; our crime has been calculated in terms of devastated forests, burned-over lands, and extinct species. ....

For the past half-century we have, in fact, been witnessing a slide from one scapegoat to another: Marxism designated capitalism as responsible for human misery. Third-worldism, upset by the bourgeoisification of the working classes, substituted the West for capitalism as the great criminal in history and the "inventor" of slavery, colonialism, and imperialism.

With ecologism, we move up a notch: The guilty party is humanity itself....

You will need to get rid of your car, take showers instead of baths (and the showers must be limited to four minutes; little hourglasses are sold for the purpose), stop buying imported fruit and vegetables, practice "locavorism" (that is, eat only locally produced food), decrease or even halt your consumption of meat and fish, avoid the elevator and even the refrigerator. ....

Are you cold in the winter? Put on a sweater, for heaven's sake, instead of turning up the heat, and go to bed early. Yves Cochet, a member of the European Parliament, tells us: "We have to manage to live with 50 percent less electricity. ... We have to take maximum advantage of daylight." And our friend of humanity further suggests a surtax on those who make excessive use of electricity and heating systems. Are we going to set up police brigades that are responsible for switching off electricity and enforcing a curfew?

What is worrisome about ecologism is that it energetically insinuates itself into the most intimate aspects of our lives—our eating habits and our clothing—the better to control them. The project here is authoritarian. On reading its recommendations, we can almost hear the heavy door of a dungeon closing behind us. ....

Save the world, we hear everywhere: Save it from capitalism, from science, from consumerism, from materialism. Above all, we have to save the world from its self-proclaimed saviors, who brandish the threat of great chaos in order to impose their lethal impulses. Behind their clamor we must hear the will to demoralize us the better to enslave us. What is at stake is the pleasure of living together on this planet that will survive us, whatever we do to it. ....

Monday, June 17, 2013

The "walking worried"

The American Psychiatric Association either just has, or is about to, publish a new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM-5], which is what is used to determine insurance reimbursement for mental illness. The definitions have changed over time and now they change again. We tend to medicalize every behavior that is distressing. I watched a psychiatrist on C-SPAN last night explain that he has concluded that the inclination to define every aberration as illness excuses what is sometimes appropriately treated as simply evil. Mental illness is certainly real, but what is it? I found this article, "The Problem With Psychiatry, the 'DSM,' and the Way We Study Mental Illness," illuminating:
.... The resounding lesson of the history of mental illness is that psychiatric theories and diagnostic categories shape the symptoms of patients. “As doctors’ own ideas about what constitutes ‘real’ disease change from time to time,” writes the medical historian Edward Shorter, “the symptoms that patients present will change as well.”

This is not to say that psychiatry wantonly creates sick people where there are none, as many critics fear the new DSM-5 will do. Allen Frances—a psychiatrist who, as it happens, was in charge of compiling the previous DSM, the DSM-IV—predicts in his new book, Saving Normal, that the DSM-5 will “mislabel normal people, promote diagnostic inflation, and encourage inappropriate medication use.” ... “Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder” will turn temper tantrums into a mental illness and encourage a broadened use of antipsychotic drugs; new language describing attention deficit disorder that expands the diagnostic focus to adults will prompt a dramatic rise in the prescription of stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin; the removal of the bereavement exclusion from the diagnosis of major depressive disorder will stigmatize the human process of grieving. The list goes on. ....

...[T]he declarations of the APA don’t have the power to create legions of mentally ill people by fiat, but rather that the number of people who struggle with their own minds stays somewhat constant.

What changes, it seems, is that they get categorized differently depending on the cultural landscape of the moment. Those walking worried who would have accepted the ubiquitous label of “anxiety” in the 1970s would accept the label of depression that rose to prominence in the late 1980s and the 1990s, and many in the same group might today think of themselves as having social anxiety disorder or ADHD.

Viewed over history, mental health symptoms begin to look less like immutable biological facts and more like a kind of language. Someone in need of communicating his or her inchoate psychological pain has a limited vocabulary of symptoms to choose from. From a distance, we can see how the flawed certainties of Victorian-era healers created a sense of inevitability around the symptoms of hysteria. There is no reason to believe that the same isn’t happening today. Healers have theories about how the mind functions and then discover the symptoms that conform to those theories. Because patients usually seek help when they are in need of guidance about the workings of their minds, they are uniquely susceptible to being influenced by the psychiatric certainties of the moment. ....

.... We love to broadcast new mental-health epidemics. The dramatic rise of bulimia in the United Kingdom neatly coincided with the media frenzy surrounding the rumors and subsequent revelation that Princess Di suffered from the condition. Similarly, an American form of anorexia hit Hong Kong in the mid-1990s just after a wave of local media coverage brought attention to the disorder.

.... As things stand, we have little defense against such enthusiasms. “We are always just one blockbuster movie and some weekend therapist’s workshops away from a new fad,” Frances writes. “Look for another epidemic beginning in a decade or two as a new generation of therapists forgets the lessons of the past.” Given all the players stirring these cultural currents, I’d make a sizable bet that we won’t have to wait nearly that long. .... [more]

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A moral society is a religious society

The former Chief Rabbi of England, Jonathan Sacks, on the likelihood that "Only religion can defeat the new barbarians":
...[R]eligion has social, cultural and political consequences, and you cannot expect the foundations of western civilisation to crumble and leave the rest of the building intact. That is what the greatest of all atheists, Nietzsche, understood with terrifying clarity and what his latter-day successors fail to grasp at all.

Time and again in his later writings he tells us that losing Christian faith will mean abandoning Christian morality. No more ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’; instead the will to power. No more ‘Thou shalt not’; instead people would live by the law of nature, the strong dominating or eliminating the weak. ‘An act of injury, violence, exploitation or destruction cannot be “unjust” as such, because life functions essentially in an injurious, violent, exploitative and destructive manner.’ Nietzsche was not an anti-Semite, but there are passages in his writing that come close to justifying a Holocaust.

This had nothing to do with him personally and everything to do with the logic of Europe losing its Christian ethic. Already in 1843, a year before Nietzsche was born, Heinrich Heine wrote, ‘A drama will be enacted in Germany compared to which the French Revolution will seem like a harmless idyll. Christianity restrained the martial ardour of the Germans for a time but it did not destroy it; once the restraining talisman is shattered, savagery will rise again…  the mad fury of the berserk, of which Nordic poets sing and speak.’ Nietzsche and Heine were making the same point. Lose the Judeo-Christian sanctity of life and there will be nothing to contain the evil men do when given the chance and the provocation. ....

Turn natural selection into a code of conduct and you get disaster. But if asked where we get our morality from, if not from science or religion, the new atheists start to stammer. They tend to argue that ethics is obvious, which it isn’t, or natural, which it manifestly isn’t either, and end up vaguely hinting that this isn’t their problem. Let someone else worry about it. ....

The new barbarians are the fundamentalists who seek to impose a single truth on a plural world. Though many of them claim to be religious, they are actually devotees of the will to power. Defeating them will take the strongest possible defence of freedom, and strong societies are always moral societies. That does not mean that they need be religious. It is just that, in the words of historian Will Durant, ‘There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.’ .... [more]
Chief Rabbi: atheism has failed. Only religion can defeat the new barbarians » The Spectator

"And there is a Name inscribed that no one knows..."

This looks interesting. From an interview with one of those responsible for a new graphic treatment of The Book of Revelation that includes the entire text in a new translation:
The book is really stunning, the images and text both. What has the wider reception to the book been so far?

Very positive, from the publisher, Zondervan, and both the graphic novel community and the community of faith.

The most gratifying thing to hear from Christians is that our graphic novel makes Revelation easier to read. This was our very purpose — to provide a visually immersive narrative to the words of Holy Scripture. As anyone who has read the Book of Revelation in any translation knows, it is at various times quite difficult to follow, as it cuts back between Heaven and Earth, the future and the past. ....
This is intended to be the beginning of a series of graphic presentations of the scriptures:
Your translation work is part of a larger project, a fresh translation of the New Testament. Can you tell us more about that? What can we expect from that work as far as style, approach, and publication?

Zondervan will be inaugurating the graphic novel series, The Last Adam in the Fall of this year, a multivolume harmony of the Four Canonical Gospels. The inaugural volume, Firstborn will begin with John 1.1 and conclude with Luke 3.6 and include at least someone from all Four.

Firstborn will recount in lush visuals the annunciations of both John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus, the nativity of each, the childhood of the Lord, and the beginning of the ministry of John. Each volume will continue the Greatest Story Ever Told with a different artist, but in the same style of visually immersive storytelling. .... [more]

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Charles Williams

Charles Williams joined the Inklings when his offices moved from London to Oxford during World War II. His books are much less familiar to me than those of C.S. Lewis or Tolkien but this may soon change. I've discovered that several of them are available, free, as e-books here, downloadable in pdf, or the formats for either Nook or Kindle.

The Charles Williams titles available there are:

Friday, June 14, 2013

"The flag is passing by!"

Hats off!
Along the street there comes
A blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums,
A flash of color beneath the sky:
Hats off!
The flag is passing by!
Days of plenty and years of peace,
March of a strong land's swift increase:
Equal justice, right and law,
Stately honor and reverent awe;
Blue and crimson and white it shines,
Over the steel-tipped, ordered lines.
Hats off!
The colors before us fly;
But more than the flag is passing by.
Sign of a nation, great and strong,
To ward her people from foreign wrong;
Pride and glory and honor, all
Live in the colors to stand or fall.
Sea-fights and land-fights, grim and great,
Fought to make and to save the State;
Weary marches and sinking ships;
Cheers of victory on dying lips;
Hats off!
Along the street there comes
A blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums,
And loyal hearts are beating high:
Hats off!
The flag is passing by!
The Flag Goes By, by H.H. Bennett

Flag Day

Today is Flag Day. I just put mine out.

A few years ago I posted this as something of a tutorial for customs which seem in danger of being lost:

Several years ago I was part of an exchange with secondary teachers from Japan. The Japanese teachers spent some time with us in Madison and in our schools and we did the same in Japan. As preparation for the experience, all of us spent some time together in Washington, D.C., learning about each other, getting acquainted, and trying to bridge some of the cultural differences. In one of the sessions a Japanese teacher asked why Americans seemed to place so much emphasis on our flag. Many Japanese are, for understandable historical reasons, very skeptical of anything smacking of nationalism. I explained that in our case we have no national figure—no queen or emperor—who symbolizes the nation. Nor does the flag stand for blood or soil. It stands for our ideals—"the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." It stands for what we believe in and aspire to be as a country. We honor the flag because it represents the Constitutional system that protects our freedoms and our rights.

In my files I just came across a pamphlet, undated, published by the Marine Corps, titled How to Respect and Display Our Flag. A stamp on it indicates that it was distributed by the "Marine Corps Recruiting Sub-Station" in Janesville, Wisconsin. Since the flags in the illustrations have forty-eight stars, it must be from the late 1950s. The rules it specifies seem almost quaint after the events of the last half century. The flag has been burned and trampled by Americans. It is flown night and day in good weather or foul—even by those who intend to honor it. A colleague used to put one on the floor of his classroom, inviting students to decide whether to walk on it. How one treats the symbol became partisan, expressing a political rather than a patriotic allegiance.

Here is the section from that pamphlet titled "How to Display the Flag":

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Scripture in worship

From The Gospel Coalition's new blog, "TGC Worship," Ron Man on "The Primacy of the Word in Worship":
When Christians gather for
 corporate worship, it is logical that 
the Word of God should play a 
central and dominant role. For 
since worship involves focusing our
 thoughts and hearts and voices on 
the praise of God, in response to
 his self-revelation and his gracious
 saving initiative, we of course need
 that view of God which the Word gives us if our worship is to be “in truth” (John 4:23-24). Our worship can only duly honor God if it accurately reflects what he reveals about himself in his Word.

That said, the astounding observation has been made as to how little use is made of Scripture in the worship services of most evangelical churches. The irony of course is that those who claim most strongly to stand on the Bible have so little of it in their worship. While the sermon of course takes a prominent role in our services, even preaching consists mostly of talking about the Scriptures (often after reading just a very few verses). It must be said that liturgical groups (whether on the more liberal or the more conservative end of the spectrum theologically) have probably ten times as much actual Scripture in their services (because it is built into their liturgies) as most evangelical free churches!
He then explains the importance of Scripture in the worship service under these headings:
  • The Word and the Prerequisites for Worship.
  • The Word as the Inviter to Worship.
  • The Word as the Authority for Worship.
  • The Word as the Material for Worship.
  • The Word as the Regulator of Worship.
  • The Word and the Message of Worship.
  • The Word and the End of Worship.
He closes under that final heading:
The Word should rightly be exalted in our worship (because it is the Word of God), but not as an end in itself. For the ultimate goal of worship (as of the church and of our lives as believers) is to display and proclaim and magnify the glory of God. The glory of God will be well served in our worship as the Word speaks of the wonders of his person and his ways through reading, preaching, praying, singing, meditating, and practicing ordinances which are infused with and reflective of scriptural truth. The Word will enable us to obey its own command to “praise him according to his excellent greatness” (Ps 150:2). [more]

Reading and writing

.... Thanks to a steady diet of fantasy, science fiction, vampires, and magic, kids today rarely read the more complex or sophisticated literature they once did. In fact, most kids and teens today read significantly below their grade level....

“Last year, almost all of the top 40 books read in grades nine through 12 were well below grade level,” reports NPR. “The most popular books, the three books in 'The Hunger Games' series, were assessed to be at the fifth-grade level."

It’s a trend Stephen King pointed out in a recent interview with Parade Magazine. Remembering his own books-infused childhood, King said reading fails to occupy the same importance for kids today. ....

...[F]or those who might suggest that deep reading habits don't matter as much in an age of spell-check, 140-character tweets, and SMS shorthand, King has a rebuttal. The books you read will teach you to write, King says....

Not just for pastors

Kevin DeYoung gives very good advice, but not just for pastors. Active laymen and women need to know the basics, too.
Like it or not, pastors really need to know some about Robert’s Rules of Order, especially if you want to make a positive contribution at a national convention, synod, or assembly. I often consult the “In Brief” version of Robert’s Rules.

For online help, this is a nice introductory site with a complete text of the 1915 Order. Here are a few other survival tips. And these six pages will be more than enough for most people. Print out the tables, study them for an hour, and learn how to be much more effective in deliberations and assemblies which use parliamentary procedure.

Many denominations, institutions, and boards have veered off course simply because the good guys never bothered to figure out how things get done. ....
As DeYoung indicates, the "six pages" will be enough for most people, but having a copy of Robert's is useful for the index when more obscure procedures occur.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


In "Insiders and Outsiders" Alan Jacobs notes a convergence of attitude by "the real Left" and "tradtionalists" like him concerning the growing power of "the surveillance state."
.... We suspect the vast and ever-increasing powers of the militaristic surveillance state for very similar reasons: we see its infinite voraciousness, its lust either to consume or erase differences, and its willingness to persecute and prosecute anyone who won’t get on board.

This convergence is not new: consider, for instance, the astonishing overlap between the views expressed by the socialist George Orwell in 1984 and those expressed by the Christian conservative C.S. Lewis in That Hideous Strength, right down to the brilliant parodies in both of foully obfuscatory bureaucratic language. Both writers see the rhetorical subtlety by which the pink police state entrenches itself before ultimately revealing its true character. (Orwell didn’t seem to know quite what to make of Lewis’s novel when he reviewed it — he strongly disliked its supernaturalism — but it ended up having a significant influence on the development of 1984. Lewis for his part didn’t especially care for 1984 but thought Animal Farm was “a work of genius.”) .... [more]
I am less concerned and will always reconsider my views if they seem to be converging with "the real Left," a political tendency that doesn't have a very good history of respect for privacy or freedom. But I do like the Orwell/Lewis comparison.

Insiders and Outsiders | The American Conservative

"The thing about light is that it casts shadows"

Kenneth Minogue reviews a new book about how light came into the world quite recently, historically speaking:
Anthony Pagden's The Enlightenment: And Why It Still Matters [is] a political tract for our time. The Enlightenment features here as the moment when the West not only embraced reason but also became cosmopolitan. Mr. Pagden presents these qualities as the source of such political decency as we may claim in dealing with other peoples. It inspires the internationalist passion for peace and progress that are today in confrontation with the kind of person he refers to, at one point, as the "ignorant, unthinking, sentimentalist usually identified as a 'nationalist.'"

We think of ourselves as enlightened, Mr. Pagden tells us, if we are tolerant and forward-thinking and "if stem-cell research does not frighten us but fundamentalist religious beliefs do." His account of the Enlightenment itself follows several themes, ranging from transcending religious dogma to aspiring to include the whole of mankind within a political structure, thus involving us with one another as fellow citizens. Enlightenment is an optimistic attitude, Mr. Pagden says, in which human beings are thought to be linked by mutual sympathy. Forward-thinking, as he calls it, adumbrates a cosmopolitan future that might ultimately remove the scourge of war from the planet.

One problem with this version of the Enlightenment story is the difficulty of deciding who, from the founding period, counts as belonging to the "club" of the enlightened. After all, one of the more dramatic climaxes of the 18th century was Robespierre's reign of terror during the French Revolution. According to the revolution's enlightened theorists and philosophers, society was to be newly based on virtue. The result, as we know, could be a murderous frenzy. Mr. Pagden is of course eager to drum Robespierre's Jacobins out of his club. ....

Mr. Pagden's basic take on the Enlightenment is locked into secularist legendry—as if intellectual progress only began when philosophers questioned religious authority. Diderot, d'Alembert, Voltaire and other leading thinkers of the Enlighenment, he says, "effectively discredited the idea that any kind of religious understanding might prove a true source of knowledge." ....

Mr. Pagden thinks that it is the enlightened who have taught us to behave altruistically toward distant people we have never meet. He admits that caritas is a Christian virtue but then solemnly explains to us that Christians merely practiced it so as to increase their credit with God. On the very same page we learn of Diderot's complaint that theatergoing Parisians wept over the fate of Phaedra but, as Mr. Pagden puts it, "never gave a single thought to the plight of African slaves." Mr. Pagden fails to note that William Wilberforce and his Christian supporters got the slave trade eliminated. ....

We do indeed owe some of our tolerant openness to the writers of the Enlightenment, but we also owe to them the nightmarish passion to meddle with human life and to attempt to create utopian societies. One benefit of Christianity was that it construed politics as a rather perilous activity carried on by imperfect people within some larger story about God and creation. The first figure who broke out of these confinements (apart from the monstrous Robespierre) was Napoleon. As we now know all too well, masterful radicals come in shapes more horrible than his, but the fashion for ideological enthusiasms to improve our world keeps on generating surprises. The thing about light is that it casts shadows. [more]

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Does reading make you a better person?

Alan Jacobs on the recent discussion debating whether reading is morally beneficial:
...[I]n studying the effects of people’s reading habits on their moral lives, it’s impossible to control for all sorts of other factors. For instance, children who are read to aren’t just being read to: they are being attended to, loved, cared for. There is a significant body of research demonstrating that people who are read to as children will for their rest of their lives associate reading with affection and security. What reading might do for when extracted from this familial context … we just don’t know and probably can’t know.

Second, if you can “better…understand other people” and acquire a “keener…mental model of other people’s intentions,” that could make you kinder to them. On the other hand, it could also make you a better manipulator of them: the most successful con men understand other people’s motives and intentions very well indeed.

So I’m disinclined to think that reading alone will necessarily do anything for people’s moral character. But I believe reading has a powerful role to play in supporting and strengthening the character of people who are formed by strong families and communities of belief and practice. .... [more]


The producer of a new BBC documentary, The Most Dangerous Man in Tudor England, writing about its subject: "Melvyn Bragg on William Tyndale":
.... Tyndale was burned alive in a small town in Belgium in 1536. His crime was to have translated the Bible into English. He was effectively martyred after fighting against cruel and eventually overwhelming forces, which tried for more than a dozen years to prevent him from putting the Word of God into his native language. He succeeded but he was murdered before he could complete his self-set task of translating the whole of the Old Testament as he had translated the whole of the New Testament.

More than any other man he laid the foundation of our modern language which became by degrees a world language. “He was very frugal and spare of body”, according to a messenger of Thomas Cromwell, but with an unbreakable will. Tyndale, one of the greatest scholars of his age, had a gift for mastering languages, ancient and modern, and a genius for translation. His legacy matches that other pillar of our language – Shakespeare....

For considerable stretches of his short life, Tyndale was hounded across Western Europe by spies and agents from the hypocritical king of England, Henry VIII, the Pope and by the Holy Roman Emperor. It was the Emperor’s net which closed in on him in the end. By then, even to have known Tyndale let alone to have read his New Testament back in England was to make you liable to torture and often death by fire. ....

He has given to literature for centuries a vocabulary and a sense of rhythm and clarity that flows through the work of so many from John Donne to Bob Dylan. (Tyndale, Matthew 20: 16, “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.” Dylan, from The Times They Are a-Changin: “And the first one now will later be last, for the times they are a-changin’.”)

And, almost as an accidental by-product, he loaded our speech with more everyday phrases than any other writer before or since. We still use them, or varieties of them, every day, 500 years on.

Here are just a few: “under the sun”, “signs of the times”, “let there be light”, “my brother’s keeper”, “lick the dust”, “fall flat on his face”, “the land of the living”, “pour out one’s heart”, “the apple of his eye”, “fleshpots”, “go the extra mile”, “the parting of the ways” – on and on they march through our days, phrases, some of which come out of his childhood in the Cotswold countryside, some of which were taken from Anglo-Saxon and Hebrew, all of which he alchemised into our everyday language. ....

His major role in what became the King James Bible was erased from the record. ....

His Bible was taken over by a procession of plagiarists during the century after his death, none of whom acknowledged his contribution, all of whom were profoundly indebted to him. Not only was 90 per cent of the New Testament the work of Tyndale, but a similar percentage has been tracked down in the several books of the Old Testament that he was able to translate before his death. The state rejected him in his lifetime and it could be said it conspired to continue that neglect until new scholars in the last century dug up his contribution and brought it to the public. ....

Tyndale deliberately set out to write a Bible which would be accessible to everyone. To make this completely clear, he used monosyllables, frequently, and in such a dynamic way that they became the drumbeat of English prose. “The Word was with God and the Word was God”, “In him was life and the life was the light of men”, and many of his idioms were monosyllabic. The effect of this was immeasurable, not only in England but across the world. .... [more]

Sunday, June 9, 2013


Philip Jenkins has been doing a series of posts about the differing canons of Scripture accepted by Christians in various places and at various times in the history of the Church. All of the entries have been interesting and informative. Today he describes what has happened with respect to what I have always known as the Apocrypha. Excerpts from "The Second Canon":
.... As used in the Roman Catholic Church, these include such texts as Judith, Tobit, Wisdom, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), 1 and 2 Maccabees, Baruch, and some additional passages in Daniel. These works were not formally included in the Hebrew Bible as fully canonical, although they had appeared in the Septuagint.

Different churches had accepted them from the early Christian centuries. Occasionally, some scholars would protest against their inclusion in the Christian canon – Jerome was hostile. But these critics admitted that they were in a small minority, and the church’s overwhelming consensus won out over time.

Even medieval Proto-Protestants like the Waldensians not only accepted and read these books, but seemingly treated them as among their favorite sections of the Bible. They loved stories like Maccabees and Tobit, and venerated the main characters as Christian role-models. ....

Just how Protestants came to lose these books is a curious story. Reformation-era debates over the Bible naturally focused on issues of canon. The Reformers naturally held to the most stringent standards of inclusion, which usually meant accepting the familiar Jewish definition of the Hebrew Bible. ....

But excluding books from the Protestant canon certainly did not mean abandoning them overnight. Most early Bibles did indeed include the “Deuteros,” but segregated in a special section of apocrypha, sandwiched between the Old and New Testaments. This was the solution of Luther (1534) and it was followed by the Geneva Bible, the standard English text for most mainstream Anglicans and Puritans alike for a century after its publication in 1560. (It was many years before the King James overtook it in popularity).

Church authorities were careful to stress that these books should not be taken as fully authoritative. In 1563, for instance, the 39 Articles of the Church of England listed these “other Books (as [Jerome] saith) [that] the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine.” The Westminster Confession of Faith in 1647 was tougher still, declaring that “The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the Canon of Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.” ....

English-speaking Protestants lost the Deuterocanon not through any calculated theological decision, but through publishing accident, and at quite a recent date. Prior to the early nineteenth century, Anglo-American Bibles included the apocryphal section, but this dropped out as printers sought to produce more and cheaper editions. Increasingly too, during the nineteenth century, anti-Catholic sentiment encouraged Protestants to draw a sharp line between the two variant Bibles. If Catholics esteemed books like Maccabees and Wisdom, there must be something terribly wrong with them.

As I have noted elsewhere, the sudden loss of those books had unexpected consequences: “That timing meant that when Protestant missionaries set out for Africa and Asia, the Apocrypha did not feature in the Bibles they carried with them, and those texts never had much impact on emerging churches. ....

For whatever reason, then, Protestants over the past century have tended not to know these works. Not only is the OT apocrypha missing from modern Protestant versions  – above all, the NIV – it is not even a ghostly presence, in the form of an explanatory note. I have one NIV Study Bible that offers a couple of dismissive lines on why these books are missing. Seemingly, they contribute nothing to what we learn from the rest of scripture, and are historically wildly inaccurate – in contrast, say, to the still-canonical (and highly dubious) Esther. .... [more]