Friday, October 31, 2014

Modern virtues

...[T]he problem isn’t that we no longer live in an age concerned with virtue. The problem is that we have organized ourselves around the wrong virtues.

Did I say “wrong”? Sorry. That’s so judgmental. So let’s call them, instead, the “modern” virtues. There are, by my count, seven cardinal modern virtues:
  • Freedom
  • Convenience
  • Progress
  • Equality
  • Authenticity
  • Health
  • Nonjudgmentalism
These are the characteristics modern society most prizes and has begun to organize its strictures around. Often with nonsensical results.

For example, the writer Mary Eberstadt notes that we live at a bizarre moment when it is nearly impossible to speak with any moral judgment about sexual practices—but a great deal of moral and philosophical energy is spent on the subject of food. You wouldn’t dare say that someone ought not put this part there with that person. And you wouldn’t say it because (a) your peers would think you a troglodyte and (b) you don’t really think it’s wrong. It’s just a lifestyle choice. Maybe it’s not for you, but who are you to judge? Food, on the other hand, is different. It’s morally elevated to eat organic grains and eggs that come from cage-free hens. You’re a better person if you only eat locally grown produce. A better person still if you don’t eat meat. ....
The essays:
Chapter 1: "The Seven Deadly Virtues and the New York Times" by P.J. O'Rourke
Chapter 2: "Prudence: Long Live the Queen" by Andrew Ferguson
Chapter 3: "Justice: The One Virtue Nobody Really Wants" by Rob Long
Chapter 4: "Courage: The Rise of 'Shelter in Place' America" by Michael Graham
Chapter 5: "Temperance: The Deadliest Virtue" by Andrew Stiles
Chapter 6: "Hope: Chicago is a Place Called Hope" by David Burge
Chapter 7: "Charity: You Can't Give This Stuff Away" by Mollie Hemingway
Chapter 8: "Faith: The Eleventh Commandment" by Larry Miller
Chapter 9: "Chastity: The Final Taboo" by Matt Labash
Chapter 10: "Simplicity or the Many-Splendored Virtues of Hoarding" by James Lileks
Chapter 11: "Thrift: The Un-American Virtue" by Joe Queenan
Chapter 12: "Honesty: It's Absolutely the Best Policy (Sometimes)" by Rita Koganzon
Chapter 13: "Fellowship: Reach Out and Touch Someone" by Christine Rosen
Chapter 14: "Forbearance: Opting Out of the Politicized Life" by Sonny Bunch
Chapter 15: "Integrity: Living by the Code of the Superman" by Jonah Goldberg
Chapter 16: "Curiosity: Maybe the Cat Got What It Had Coming" by Christopher Caldwell

By grace alone

Today is Reformation Day, the anniversary of the day Martin Luther posted his challenge to debate ninety-five theses on the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Robert Rothwell explains why Protestants think that is important:
.... An heir of Bishop Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther is one of the most significant figures God has raised up since that time. This law student turned Augustinian monk became the center of a great controversy after his theses were copied and distributed throughout Europe. Initially protesting the pope’s attempt to sell salvation, Luther’s study of Scripture soon led him to oppose the church of Rome on issues including the primacy of the Bible over church tradition and the means by which we are found righteous in the sight of God.

This last issue is probably Luther’s most significant contribution to Christian theology. Though preached clearly in the New Testament and found in the writings of many of the church fathers, the medieval bishops and priests had largely forgotten the truth that our own good works can by no means merit God’s favor. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, and good works result from our faith, they are not added to it as the grounds for our right standing in the Lord’s eyes (Eph. 2:8-10). Justification, God’s declaration that we are not guilty, forgiven of sin, and righteous in His sight comes because through our faith alone the Father imputes, or reckons to our account, the perfect righteousness of Christ (2 Cor. 5:21).

Martin Luther’s rediscovery of this truth led to a whole host of other church and societal reforms and much of what we take for granted in the West would have likely been impossible had he never graced the scene. .... [more]

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Wishing you a fun Halloween

From 2011.

The Internet Monk re-posts Michael Spencer's annual "Halloween Rant." I didn't grow up in a fundamentalist church like he did but otherwise my Halloween church experience was very similar to his — as was, later, the reaction to supposed pagan or satanic influences in that holiday (and Christmas and Easter, too). Spencer:
.... I grew up among Southern Baptist fundamentalist Baptists. The KJV-only, women can’t wear pants, twenty verses of “Just As I Am,” Jerry Falwell, Jack Chick, twice-a-year revival kind of fundamentalist Baptists.

We were serious about things like beer. By sheer quantity of attention in sermons, drinking beer was the most evil act one could describe. We were serious about movies, cards, and something called “mixed bathing,” which normal people would call “swimming.”

We were serious about the Bible, Sunday School, suits and ties, and walking the aisle to get saved.

And we were big time into Halloween.

No, that’s not a typo. I said we were big time into Halloween.

From the late sixties into the early seventies, the churches I attended and worked for—all fundamentalist Baptists—were all over Halloween like ants on jam. It was a major social activity time in every youth group I was part of from elementary school through high school graduation in 1974.

We had haunted houses. Haunted hikes. Scary movies. (All the old Vincent Price duds.) As a youth minister in the mid to late seventies and early eighties, I created some haunted houses in church education buildings that would win stagecraft awards.

The kids loved it. The parents loved it. The pastors approved. The church paid for it! ....

And then, things changed.

Mike Warnke convinced evangelicals that participating in Halloween was worshiping the devil. Later, when we learned that Warnke may have been one of the most skillful of evangelical con-artists, lying about his entire Satanic high priest schtick, the faithful still believed his stories.

Evangelical media began to latch onto Halloween as some form of Satanism or witchcraft, and good Christians were warned that nothing made the other team happier than all those kids going door to door collecting M&Ms.

Evangelical parents decided that their own harmless and fun Halloween experiences were a fluke, and if their kid dressed up as a vampire, he’d probably try to become one. If there was a pumpkin on the porch, you were inviting demons into your home, just like it says in Hezekiah.

A general fear of the occult, manifesting itself in Satanic ritual abuse mythology, crept into evangelicalism and took a deep hold on many churches. ....

Today, if you want to split your church, divide your singles group, get a fight started with parents or see the youth minister fired, just find some way to have an old-fashioned Halloween event in your church. .... (more)
The Internet Monk Annual Halloween Rant |

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Yesterday a Christianity Today report about a new LifeWay poll was titled "Poll Finds Evangelicals’ Favorite Heresies." Today Trevin Wax, in "Here’s Where Your Neighbors Are Theologically," comments on some of the poll's findings:
Your neighbor is likely to belong to the 67% of Americans who believe in heaven. If your neighbor identifies as evangelical, the number shoots up to 90%, which explains why books and movies on heaven find such an adoring audience. There’s little debate that heaven is for real.

Similar percentages reveal people believe in hell too, although few seem to be worried about going there. The same number of people who affirm belief in a heavenly afterlife also believe humans are basically good, even if they sin a little. And only 18% of Americans say small sins lead to hell.

In other words, your neighbor is more likely to believe in heaven and hell than not, but they’re not too worried about which destination they’re headed to.

Takeaway: Use the common ground of belief in the afterlife to bring up questions of eternal significance. But don’t forget that most people who are lost won’t recognize themselves as lost. The heaven and hell conversation is likely to be an entry point into deeper spiritual matters. Your evangelism will need to probe deeper than the question, “What happens when you die?”

The findings on salvation are distressing, especially when so many of these responses come from people who identify as evangelical or Catholic. ....
Most Americans (71 percent), and in particular Black Protestants (82 percent) and Catholics (87 percent), say people must contribute some effort toward their own salvation. Two thirds (64 percent) say in order to find peace with God, people have to take the first step, and then God responds to them with grace.
The idea that Christianity teaches that salvation comes through keeping a moral code is prevalent today. Sociologist Christian Smith described America’s religious views as “moralistic therapeutic deism,” a worldview he explains in five statements:
  1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.” That’s the “Deism” part. God created the world, watches things, but doesn’t do much in the way of intervening in human affairs.
  2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.” That’s the Moralistic part. The goal of religion is to be a nice, moral person.
  3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.” That’s the Therapeutic part. The most important thing in life is to be happy and well-balanced.
  4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.” Now, we see the Deistic view of God combine with God’s therapeutic purpose. He exists to make us happy.
  5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.” Salvation is accomplished through morality.
Along these lines, it’s no wonder that so many Americans believe there are more ways than Jesus to get to heaven. The good news is, evangelicals are much more likely to affirm the Christian teaching that Jesus is the only way to God, a sign that despite offering moralistic understandings of salvation, they recognize there is something uniquely powerful about Jesus and His gospel.

Takeaway: Realize that most gospel presentations are going to be interpreted from within a moralistic framework. Terminology like “Get right with God” and “make a decision for Christ” is likely to be heard by lost people as “get your act together” and “ask Jesus for help in being good.” We must always stress our inherent sinfulness and Christ’s gracious rescue in order to counter the moralistic assumptions of our culture.

On fundamental Christian doctrines like the Trinity, the results are abysmal. Almost 60% of self-identifying evangelicals claim the Holy Spirit is a force, not a person. The findings get worse from there, even among the most religious. .... [more]
Mathew Block at First Things, in "Misreading Scripture Alone":
The story goes on to highlight widespread confusion among Evangelicals on core doctrines like the Personhood of the Holy Spirit and the divinity of Christ. A full 51 percent of Evangelicals apparently deny that the Holy Spirit is a Person, instead conceiving of Him as “a force.” An additional 7 percent aren’t sure what to think on the subject. At the same time, 16 percent of Evangelicals think Jesus is a created being (another 11 percent were unsure), while 22 percent further believe He is less divine than the Father (with 9 percent unsure). The survey also suggests a large portion of Evangelicals hold Pelagian thoughts when it comes to the doctrine of salvation.
Also see "Americans Believe in Heaven, Hell, and a Little Bit of Heresy"

No fear!

I've posted this in years past as Halloween has approached.

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

The Biblical day begins in the preceding evening, and thus in the Church calendar, the eve of a day is the actual beginning of the festive day. [emphasis added] ....

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Good news

Will McDavid at Mockingbird offers more precise understandings of "Seven Common Theology Phrases That Should Be Used More Precisely" among which:
Relationship with God – .... First, it’s never used in the Bible; second, it implies an unfortunate comparison with human ‘relationships’; third, it seems to imply something which [is] in flux, and thus something which can improve or deteriorate; and fourth, it obscures the fact that the way we relate to God is different from the way God relates to us. If ‘relationship’ were replaced with a more biblical emphasis on relational identities – e.g., God is like a father, God is the Giver of all good things, God is our shepherd, Christ is our Savior, we are God’s children, we are heirs, we are sheep, we are those saved – if such a substitution occurred, we would no longer have a ‘relationship’ to ‘build’, but we would have a set of accomplished facts to contemplate, internalize, get used to. With more verbal precision comes less conceptual room within which we may maneuver, but given the facts which have been revealed to us, that’s almost certainly Good News. .... [more]

Monday, October 27, 2014


According to Western tradition:
"...the seven Christian virtues or heavenly virtues refers to the union of two sets of virtues. The four cardinal virtues, from ancient Greek philosophy, are prudence, justice, temperance (or restraint), and courage (or fortitude). The three theological virtues, from the letters of St. Paul of Tarsus, are faith, hope, and charity (or love).
Peter Kreeft:
The four cardinal virtues – justice, wisdom (prudence), courage (fortitude), and moderation (self-control, temperance) – come not just from Plato or Greek philosophy. You will find them in Scripture. They are knowable by human nature, which God designed, not Plato. Plato first formulated them, but he did for virtue only what Newton did for motion: he discovered and tabulated its own inherent foundational laws.

These four are called "cardinal" virtues from the Latin word for "hinge." All other virtues hinge on these four. That includes lesser Virtues, which are corollaries of these, and also greater virtues (the three "theological virtues"), which are the flower of these.
Courage may not be the greatest of virtues but it is the necessary one:
Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality.
— C.S. Lewis

Courage is the greatest of all the virtues. Because if you haven't courage, you may not have an opportunity to use any of the others.
— Samuel Johnson

Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.
— Winston Churchill

Contemporary worship music

At the beginning of "The Imminent Decline of Contemporary Worship Music: Eight Reasons" T. David Gordon writes "by imminent decline, I do not mean imminent disappearance." But he does believe it has been in decline for some time for reasons qualitative, sociological, and doctrinal.

Anyone who follows this blog or knows me personally already knows how I feel about arguments like this. I hope he's right, and for the reasons he advances, but I'm not at all sure he is.

His sixth reason for the decline has to do with us "Boomers":
Thankfully, my own generation is beginning to die. While ostensibly created “for the young people,” the driving force behind CWM was always my own Sixties generation of anti-adult, anti-establishment, rebellious Woodstockers and Jesus freaks. Once my generation became elders and deacons (and therefore those who ran the churches), we could not escape our sense of being part of the “My Generation” that The Who’s Pete Townsend had sung about when we were young; so we (not the young people) wanted a brand of Christianity that did not look like our parents’ brand. Fortunately for the human race, we are dying off now, and much of the impetus for CWM will die with us (though the commercial interests will “not go gentle into that good night,” and fulfill Dylan Thomas’s wish).
As one who is also of that generation, but always somewhat at odds with it, I'd be interested to hear the opinions of others, especially younger others.

The really serious concerns are not with modern Christian music in a concert setting but, rather, how CWM affects intentional worship. For instance:
CWM is ordinarily accompanied by Praise Teams, and these have frequently (but by no means always) been problematic. It has been difficult to provide direction to them, due to the inherent confusion between whether they are participants in the congregation or performers for the congregation. In most circumstances, the members of the Praise Team do the kinds of things performers do: they vary the instrumental or harmonious parts between stanzas, they rehearse, etc. In fact, if one were to watch a video of the typical Praise Team without any audio, they ordinarily look like performers; their bodily actions and contrived emotional expressions mimic those of the entertainment industry.

Theologically and liturgically, however, it is the congregation that is to sing God’s praise, and what we call the Praise Team is merely an accompanist. .... [more]

Sunday, October 26, 2014

"We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord"

The quotation in the heading is, of course, from the speech Theodore Roosevelt delivered accepting the Presidential nomination of the Progressive Party in 1912. It is in the interest of political candidates to persuade us that our votes may have apocalyptic consequences. That is sometimes, but seldom, the case. Usually the losers can count on being able to fight another day and few causes are actually lost causes.

click to enlarge
Russell Saltzman has been reading about the Presidential election in 1800 and is reminded that the aspects of politics from which many of us recoil are far from new:
Everything that makes American politics the best outdoor sport ever shows up in the presidential election of 1800 and has been replicated, to greater or lesser degree, in every election since.

Here we have hyper-partisanship, personal rancor, attack ads, slanted media coverage, over-the-top accusations against one candidate and ferocious counter-attacks from the other. There is backroom political intrigue, shameless machinations, political betrayal, slander, party campaign committees, and prison terms for anti-administration newspaper editors (okay, we don’t do that anymore).

We owe all this to Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Aaron Burr (a cipher in American history). The era of “disinterested” citizen service to the nation, largely a wistful fantasy of George Washington, formally ended with the great man’s death in 1799. ....

Jefferson represented Enlightenment reasoning. This meant, suggested his more extreme opponents (including Abigail Adams), he was a godless Jacobin deist who endorsed the French Terrors. Adams was solidly Protestant, but his “thinking leaned too much toward monarchism for Jefferson to stomach.” The campaign framed itself as a battle for the nation’s religious and political soul.

The question hanging on the election was whether the nation would descend into godlessness and social chaos like France under Republican Jefferson, or reassert the solid Federalist virtues of Adams grounded in God and order. It was all gross caricature, of course. .... [more]

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ellen Harmon White

An interesting review of a book about an interesting person. Because Seventh-day Adventists are a much larger seventh-day Sabbath observing denomination than Seventh Day Baptists and because we are often mistaken for them, Ellen Harmon White: American Prophet, undoubtedly the most important personality in Adventist history, will be interesting to some of us. One of the things that surprised me is that, according to the review, there are more Seventh-day Adventists in the world than there are Mormons. From the review:
With a foreword by Duke University historian Grant Wacker, the book has 18 chapters and 20 authors—"Adventists, ex-Adventists, and non-Adventists"—all of them scholars and most of them university professors. Often such an erudite lineup results in a densely unreadable or, at best, uneven book. Not here. The editorial team has gathered and shaped a group of clear, interesting writers who avoid academic jargon while looking at White under different aspects. ....

If White had stuck to preaching and writing, evangelicals might have accepted Adventists as eccentric fellow travelers. But White claimed to have visions directly from God. This seems odder today than it did in her era. .... The challenge for White and her followers was to distinguish her experiences from those of other seers.... White did not deal with "false prophets" gently....

...[V]isions helped to set directions the SDA church would take. Ronald Numbers and Rennie B. Schoepflin describe White's 1863 vision about health: "God showed the thirty-five-year-old prophetess the evils of medicinal drugs, alcohol, tobacco, tea, coffee, meat, spices, fashionable dress, and sex and the benefits of a twice-a-day vegetarian diet, internal and external use of water, fresh air, exercise, and a generally abstemious life style." Health reform, medical missionary work, hospital building, and education for the health professions all have become hallmarks of SDA practice. .... (more)

Friday, October 24, 2014

A list

The Church Times,"the world's leading Anglican newspaper," provides a selection of the "100 best Christian books."
.... Best is, of course, a value judgement. We have kept it for this project because it is so obviously subjective. “Best” does not just cover a book’s intrinsic worth: it also prompts a consideration of what a book can achieve. Throughout our debate, we found ourselves balancing a title’s historical position with its place in our memories. A different set of judges on a different day — perhaps even the same set of judges — would certainly have come up with a different list. ....

An influential phrase from early on was “enduring value”.... It meant that we were drawn to books that had made an impact, and that this impact had been tested by time. It also meant that, with more modern titles, we had to judge how they would be viewed by future generations. ....

We decided early on to exclude the Bible and liturgy, such as the Book of Common Prayer and Hymns Ancient & Modern: they were judged to be too seminal, too much woven into the Church’s life to be considered as books in themselves. Besides, they would have blocked the top places in the list. .... [more]
The list is interesting and I would judge pretty good even though I know many of the works only by reputation and a few of them are entirely unfamiliar to me. I am somewhat embarrassed that I have read so few and those primarily titles the judges would consider "modern" and thus not yet time-tested.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

"Encroaching on territory not its own"

An essay, "Evolution and Ethics, Revisited," by the always worth reading Gertrude Himmelfarb, sends me to John Henry Newman's Idea of a University, from which:
[N]o science whatever, however comprehensive it may be, but will fall largely into error, if it be constituted the sole exponent of all things in heaven and earth, and that, for the simple reason that it is encroaching on territory not its own, and undertaking problems which it has no instruments to solve. ....

.... What happens to the ignorant and hotheaded, will take place in the case of every person whose education or pursuits are contracted, whether they be merely professional, merely scientific, or of whatever other peculiar complexion. Men, whose life lies in the cultivation of one science, or the exercise of one method of thought [....] must have something to say on every subject; habit, fashion, the public require it of them: and, if so, they can only give sentence according to their knowledge. .... Hence it is that we have...principles, all of them true to a certain point, yet all degenerating into error and quackery, because they are carried to excess, viz. at the point where they require interpretation and restraint from other quarters, and because they are employed to do what is simply too much for them....

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

And no one cares

From Ray Ortlund today, "How blessed are those who care":

click to enlarge
In Breughel’s everything turns away quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, but for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone as it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on. W.H. Auden
.... If you look closely, in the lower right hand corner of the painting you can see Icarus with melted wings falling into the sea. Ovid’s point was the danger of hubris; Brueghel had another idea.

In Brueghal’s version of the myth, Icarus falls and no one cares. Sailors on their ships, farmers and others are unconcerned, going about their own business, unaware of the calamity unfolding in front of their eyes. All are apathetic in the face of appalling tragedy and heartbreak.

Few of us are aware of the sadness all around us; we go our way inattentive and unmoved, too busy with our own business to respond to human need. Something amazing has happened: “a boy falling out of the sky”—right in front of our eyes—but we have “somewhere to get to and sail calmly by.” .... [more]

Friday, October 17, 2014


There are fine films that I have no need to watch more than once. They are films like Schindler's List that are well made and convey something real, even admirable, but also realistically terrible. Films that I'm glad were made but that are hard to sit through precisely because they are so well made. The reviews are making Fury sound like one very good war movie, comparing it favorably to films like Saving Private Ryan and Blackhawk Down, but few of them discern the message that the reviewer at World magazine finds admirable. I hope I do. I will see this film sooner or later and although I may like it chances are it will fall into the "watch once" category. From the World review:
Perhaps not since Saving Private Ryan has a war film featured such harrowing, realistic scenes of bloodshed as Brad Pitt’s latest, Fury. Yet while the carnage is frequent and unrelenting (along with regular profanity, it earns the film a strong R rating), with the exception of one brief scene, it doesn’t feel gratuitous. ....

The story centers on tank commander Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Pitt) and his embattled crew. They are in the final days of World War II, deep in German territory, in a Sherman tank that is far inferior to the ones they’re up against. They have just lost a long-time brother-in-arms and discover that his replacement is a young typist with no battlefield experience. ....

Introducing a rookie into a group of grizzled, been-everywhere-seen-everything veterans is a common war-film setup, but it’s still gripping to watch the green, erudite Norman (Logan Lerman) learn what service and honor are really about. ....

Throughout the film Collier and his men joke that being a soldier is “the best job I ever had.” .... Though they will bear the physical and psychological scars of their time in the fight for the rest of their lives, the fight is worthy. This is especially evidenced by the character of Boyd “Bible” Swan (played by a phenomenal Shia LaBeouf).

This may go down hard with some readers, but I actually like that the evangelical Boyd drinks, smokes, and swears with the rest of the crew, though he does not join them in soliciting sex or stealing. He is a real, flesh-and-blood proselytizer who sometimes makes light of his Christian persona but never makes light of his Christianity. Yes, at times Boyd’s fleshly fear and grief win out over his reborn spirit (as it would with anyone in his situation), yet his faith is deeper than superficial rule-keeping. When other soldiers are stripping dying German combatants of their valuables, Boyd holds their hands and whispers into their ears, urging them in their last moments to call on the name of Christ and be saved. He offers an affecting image of an unconflicted heart carrying out the duties of country and Creator simultaneously. .... (more)

"Subject to the governing authorities"

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. 
For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 
Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God:
and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
Romans 13:1-2, KJV

Thomas Kidd considers a question every serious American Christian had to consider in Revolutionary times: "Does the Bible Prohibit Revolution?" The issue doesn't disappear in non-revolutionary times. When may a Christian disobey government?
My graduate students and I recently read James Byrd’s terrific Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution. This book is a treasure trove of information about how the Patriots and Loyalists actually used the Bible during the Revolution. The most surprising fact I learned from the book is that Romans 13 – in which Paul commands submission to the “higher powers” – was the most commonly cited biblical text in Revolutionary America. This passage, alongside a similar passage in I Peter 2, are precisely the texts I might have imagined that Patriots would have avoided. How does one “honor the king” while engaging in revolution?

These passages would seem, on a plain reading, to have prohibited Christians from participating in the American Revolution. Indeed, some former Patriot leaders such as Savannah pastor John Zubly withdrew when they realized that the protests against British taxes were likely to morph into violent revolution, which Zubly believed was not an option for Christians.

But instead of avoiding Romans 13 and I Peter 2, Patriot pastors (to their credit) took them on frequently and directly. They usually replied to Loyalist critics that the command to submit was never unconditional – just as it is not unconditional in marriage, in church, or in any other social setting. The Bible was replete with stories of resistance against unjust rulers. Even Peter and Paul routinely confronted and flouted the authority of Jewish and Roman officials, saying that they must obey God rather than man. .... [more]
Professor Kidd refers to a sermon preached by New England clergyman Jonathan Mayhew, Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers (1750), a sermon described by John Adams as having “great influence in the commencement of the Revolution.”

“What God says is best, is best, 
though all the men in the world are against it.”
John Bunyan

 Does the Bible Prohibit Revolution?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

In loco parentis

Colleges used to be expected to act in loco parentis, that is "in place of the parent" with respect to the students on that campus, most of them away from direct parental supervision for the first time. Most of that went away in the '60s at about the same time the age of majority came down (along with the drinking age). In "Neo-Victorianism on Campus" Heather MacDonald contends that similar adult supervision is returning in the form of elaborate codes of sexual behavior. And, she argues, that is not a bad thing.
.... To be sure, the new campus sex regime puts boys in danger of trumped-up assault charges heard before kangaroo courts. But the solution is not more complex procedural protections cobbled over a sordid culture, the solution is to reject that culture entirely. Just as girls can avoid the risk of what the feminists call “rape” by not getting drunk and getting into bed with a guy whom they barely know, boys, too, can radically reduce the risk of a rape accusation by themselves not getting drunk and having sex with a girl whom they barely know. Mothers worried that their college-bound sons will be hauled before a biased campus sex tribunal by a vindictive female should tell them: “Wait. Find a girlfriend and smother her with affection and respect. Write her love letters in the middle of the night. Escort her home after a date and then go home yourself.” If one-sided litigation risk results in boys taking a vow of celibacy until graduation, there is simply no loss whatsoever to society and only gain to individual character. Such efforts at self-control were made before, and can be made again.

Unlike the overregulation of natural gas production, say, which results in less of a valuable commodity, there is no cost to an overregulation-induced decrease in campus sex. Society has no interest in preserving the collegiate bacchanal. .... [more]

Monday, October 13, 2014

The wrong discoverer?

On Columbus Day, via Instapundit, from 2002, "Celebrating Wrong Italian?":
.... I do not particularly sympathize with the demonization of Columbus Day by the politically correct, although I do not think the injustices suffered by our Siberian-American fellow immigrants should be glossed over. However, I think Columbus Day should be reconsidered as a U.S. holiday for a different reason. I am fundamentally in agreement with the Hispanosphere nationalists on one point: Columbus's voyage was very specifically the initiation of the contact between Spain and Spanish America. .....

It makes more sense to think of the European encounters with the Americas as three distinct main streams: one was the Spanish movement to the Caribbean, Mexico, Peru, and ultimately other areas, stemming from Columbus's voyage; another was the Portuguese movement to Brazil, which was intimately linked to their explorations of Africa predating Columbus; and the third was the stream of peoples from the British Isles and ultimately elsewhere to North America....

Although Cabot's voyage to Newfoundland was undoubtedly spurred by news of Columbus's voyages, the expanding English maritime enterprise would sooner or later have recapitulated the Viking achievements in the North Atlantic. ....

Whatever the realities of these theories, it is the expansion of the cultures and traditions that form the template on which today's societies in the U.S. and English Canada that we should commemorate. Columbus, whatever his merits and demerits may be, is in this regard beside the point. If Americans of Italian descent wish to point with pride to a predecessor in discovery, perhaps we should look at Giovanni Caboto, another Italian navigator. Moving to England, he adopted the English style of his name and became known to history as the discoverer ... John Cabot.

Not only did Cabot's discoveries spark the great stream of human migration that became the English-speaking New World, he was himself a precursor of the millions of Italians who crossed the Atlantic to North America and became part of the English-speaking world, to its and their own enrichment. ....

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Right brain and left brain

The assumption that "the science is settled" has often been shown wrong. (e.g. Think of Galileo's experience contra the scientific consensus of his day). Describing current thinking about neuroscience, Andrew Ferguson raises doubt about some of the orthodoxies educators of my generation came to take for granted:
.... “Everybody’s interested in the brain and likes to talk about it, because everybody’s got one” said Duncan Astle, a researcher at Cambridge’s Cognition and Brain Science unit. But the popularity of neuroscience, along with the loose talk of journalists and other popularizers, has led to a large number of what Astle called “neuromyths.” ....

There is no persuasive evidence...for the popular, and allegedly scientific, belief that “right brain learning” is somehow different from “left brain learning.” “We use both sides of our brain for most tasks,” Astle said. Nor has any experimental basis been found for the theory of the three learning styles—auditory, visual, and tactile—that many educators now accept as dogma. “Everybody pretty much learns the same way,” Astle said. The idea of learning styles, pounded into children from an early age, can even impede learning. If you convince a child over years of schooling that he’s an auditory learner, he won’t learn as well if he thinks you’re teaching him visually—even though the teaching style is the same.

MRIs are commonly brought out when fads like this are questioned. But MRIs, as Astle noted, measure only blood flow: Any activity not associated with blood flow won’t be captured by the image of the brain. In “reading” an MRI, we can only infer brain activity, not observe it. .... [more]

Friday, October 10, 2014


In the current Weekly Standard, Andrew Ferguson on a phenomenon that not only affected "corporate and academic culture" but also Christian institutions. Much that I was happiest to escape when I retired from teaching:
Kingsley Amis, the British novelist, once explained that everything that had gone wrong with his country in the second half of the last century could be summarized in the word “workshop.” His point is sound. No two syllables better conjure up the mandatory “sharing,” the regimented bonhomie and bogus cheerfulness, the mincing and posturing, the smiley-faced Maoism that descended upon corporate and academic culture a generation ago and show no signs of abating. The word alone suggests a string of horrifying cognates: “team work,” “role playing,” “brainstorming,” “trust building,” “leadership” ... Brrrr.

Weekly Standard, Oct. 20, 2014, p. 13

"The mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his church"

Last weekend the North Central Association of Seventh Day Baptists annual sessions were held at the Albion Seventh Day Baptist Church in Albion, Wisconsin. The theme was "Abide in His Love" (John 15:10) and centered about the relationship between Christ and the Church that St. Paul described in Ephesians 5:25-27: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish." I've been thinking about that subject this week.

This morning Kevin DeYoung posts about what the Church has always taught concerning the meaning of marriage and quotes the introductory section of "The Form of the Solemnization of Matrimony" from The Book of Common Prayer as exemplifying that:
Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this Congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honorable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprized, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.

First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy name.

Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.

Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The caring for souls

Most of the churches in my denomination are small. No doubt it can be very discouraging for the pastor of a church small in numbers that doesn't grow. Brian Croft asks "Should a pastor be discouraged about his small church?" and quotes:
...The 19th century Scottish pastor and trainer of pastors, John Brown, [who] wrote a letter to one of his students newly ordained over a small congregation and extended this word to him:
I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small, in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ at his judgment seat, you will think you have had enough.
Pastors, regardless the pressures you face in your congregation to “produce the numbers,” focus on caring for souls. Be faithful to evangelize, preach the gospel every week, pray for conversions, but make sure your primary focus is on caring for souls. When we stand before God to give an account for the souls of our flock, God will not be concerned with our increased numbers, as much as how faithfully we cared for the souls of those that make up that number.

"My music is not Christian—Lecrae is"

I'm not a fan of Lecrae's music but that doesn't mean I disapprove of it. I've never been able to enjoy rap. I do very much approve of the way he thinks about his work as described in "Lecrae: 'Christians Have Prostituted Art to Give Answers'," from which:
"My music is not Christian—Lecrae is," he said. "And you hear evidence of my faith in my music." ....

"We’ve limited Christianity to salvation and sanctification," he said. "Christianity is the truth about everything. If you say you have a Christian worldview, that means you see the world through that lens—not just how people get saved and what to stay away from." ....

"The exploitation of believers just to turn a profit—so you care less about making a quality product, you just want to keep telling the same stories and repackaging them over and over just to exploit people—I have a problem with that," he said. ....

...He doesn't see music as a vocation or calling, so to speak, but that "everyone’s job, everyone’s vocation, is an extension of their faith and how they see the world. Every job is an act of service," he said. "If I was working at a call center collecting debts from people who have credits calls, I would call and try to help them, and try to serve them." .... [more]

Sunday, October 5, 2014

"Yet sometimes in the midst of these dreams..."

Dwight Longenecker on Thomas Traherne (c.1636-1674):
.... A simple country parson and chaplain to a nobleman, Traherne was never known in his lifetime, and his work was discovered in dusty family archives, rescued from smoldering trash heaps, uncovered in archbishop’s libraries and winkled out by curious bibliophiles from second-hand books stalls just before burning. ....

His work glories in the revelation of God within his creation. Traherne sees within the natural world the glory of God burning in every mystical moment. Traherne’s vision is shared by Hopkins who cries out that “the world is charged with the glory of God”....

.... His work is overflowing with a joyful immanence. God’s joy presses in on us here and now in this world, and he wants us to be happy, child like, free and abundantly alive. So he writes, “Your enjoyment of the world is never right, till every morning you awake in Heaven: see yourself in your Father’s palace; and look upon the skies, the earth, and the air as celestial joys: having such a reverend esteem of all, as if you were among the angels.”

In his philosophical musings Traherne deals with the question of desire, turning away from negative notions that desire brings unhappiness and claiming instead that human desire good at heart and is always a longing for what is beautiful, good and true. .... Rather than being that which drags us down, desire is that which lifts us up, and it is that desire reaching and knowing the beauty of the created order that brings us to a genuine experience of God in and through, and knowable in his creation. .... [more]
Centuries can be purchased at Amazon.

In that collection, one of Traherne's meditations that, it seems to me, anticipates C.S. Lewis' experience as he approached his conversion:
Being swallowed up therefore in the miserable gulf of idle talk and worthless vanities, thenceforth I lived among dreams and shadows, like a prodigal son feeding upon husks with swine. A comfortless wilderness full of thorns and troubles the world was, or worse: a waste place covered with idleness and play, and shops, and markets, and taverns. As for Churches they were things I did not understand, and schools were a burden: so that there was nothing in the world worth the having, or enjoying, but my game and sport, which also was a dream, and being passed wholly forgotten. So that I had utterly forgotten all goodness, bounty, comfort, and glory: which things are the very brightness of the Glory of God: for lack of which therefore He was unknown.

Yet sometimes in the midst of these dreams, I should come a little to myself, so far as to feel I wanted something, secretly to expostulate with God for not giving me riches, to long after an unknown happiness, to grieve that the World was so empty....

Friday, October 3, 2014

Lives not worth living

The UK Parliament is considering a proposal to legalize euthanasia. Consequently there is great interest in the experience of those places that have already done so, including our state of Oregon.
The number of mentally-ill patients killed by euthanasia in Holland has trebled in the space of a year, new figures have revealed.

In 2013, a total of 42 people with ‘severe psychiatric problems’ were killed by lethal injection compared to 14 in 2012 and 13 in 2011.

The latest official figures also revealed a 15 per cent surge in the number of euthanasia deaths from 4,188 cases in 2012 to 4,829 cases last year.

The incremental rise is consistent with a 13 per cent increase in 2012, an 18 per cent rise in 2011, 19 per cent in 2010 and 13 per cent in 2009.

The rise is also likely to confirm the fears of Dutch regulator Theo Boer who told the Daily Mail that he expected to see euthanasia cases smash the 6,000 barrier in 2014.

Overall, deaths by euthanasia, which officially account for three per cent of all deaths in the Netherlands, have increased by 151 per cent in just seven years. ....

Professor Boer, who has reviewed 4,000 cases of euthanasia in his role as a regulator, told Parliament in the summer: ‘Don’t go there.’

Once a firm advocate of euthanasia, he said that he now [believes] the Dutch were ‘terribly wrong’ to think they could control it. ....

He was also gravely concerned at the extension of killing to new classes of people, including the demented and the depressed. ‘Some slopes truly are slippery,’ he said.

Doctors in neighbouring Belgium, which this year legalised euthanasia for children, are now killing an average of five people every day by euthanasia, according to latest figures, with a 27 per cent surge in the number of euthanasia deaths in the last year alone.

In one of the most shocking cases, a Brussels man last week described how he arranged the double euthanasia of his octogenarian parents who wanted to die because they were afraid of loneliness.

It has also emerged that a Dutch woman in her 80s was killed by her doctors just because she did not want to live in a care home. ....

Thursday, October 2, 2014

"As were the days of Noah"

I expect — and very much hope — to be "left behind."
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away ("took them all away" KJV), so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. (Matthew 28:36-42)
Those taken in the days of Noah were not the fortunate ones.

Get off the porch

The headquarters of the Freedom From Religion is only a couple of blocks from where I live. Some years ago, being interviewed by a reporter for a local paper, I wondered why atheists were so angry about something they don't believe exists. Actually I think most non-believers aren't particularly exercised about religion. But this from Chesterton's The Everlasting Man may explain the attitude. Chesterton via Kevin DeYoung:
.... They cannot get out of the penumbra of Christian controversy. They cannot be Christians and they cannot leave off being Anti-Christians. Their whole atmosphere is the atmosphere of a reaction: sulks, perversity, petty criticism. They still live in the shadow of the faith and have lost the light of the faith.

Now the best relation to our spiritual home is to be near enough to love it. But the next best is to be far enough away not to hate it. It is the contention of these pages that while the best judge of Christianity is a Christian, the next best judge would be something more like a Confucian. The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgments; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.... It would be better to walk past a church as if it were a pagoda than to stand permanently in the porch, impotent either to go inside and help or to go outside and forget. ....