Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent: "Though absent long, your Lord is nigh"


Hills of the North, rejoice;
River and mountain spring,
Hark to the advent voice;
Valley and lowland, sing;
Though absent long, your Lord is nigh;
He judgment brings and victory.

Shores of the utmost West,
Ye that have waited long,
Unvisited, unblest,
Break forth to swelling song;
High raise the note, that Jesus died,
Yet lives and reigns, the Crucified.

Isles of the southern seas,
Deep in your coral caves
Pent be each warring breeze,
Lulled be your restless waves:
He comes to reign with boundless sway,
And makes your wastes His great highway.     

Shout, while ye journey home;
Songs be in every mouth;
Lo, from the North we come,
From East, and West, and South.
City of God, the bond are free,
We come to live and reign in Thee!

Lands of the East, awake,
Soon shall your sons be free;
The sleep of ages break,
And rise to liberty.
On your far hills, long cold and gray,
Has dawned the everlasting day.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

P D James, RIP

From the Telegraph obituary for P D James, perhaps the best mystery novelist of my time and certainly one of my favorites:
  • For most of her writing life P D James was saddled with the sobriquet “Queen (or First Lady) of Crime”, a crown which the media had handed to her following the death of Agatha Christie in 1976. But she was at pains to point out that she differed from Christie (“such a bad writer”) in that she cared about the victim and thought that treating the corpse as simply part of a puzzle “trivialised death”.
  • She was...a committed Anglican: she was horrified when no one seemed to realise that the title of her novel Devices and Desires came from the Book of Common Prayer.
  • Her descriptions of English country churches were both loving and evocative, reflecting her interest in church architecture and her passion for the language of the Authorised Version of the Bible. “Clerics have debased the Authorised Version,” she complained, “presumably on the basis that they are better writers than Cranmer or that God is unable to appreciate the more subtle rhythms of 17th-century prose.”
James was a member of the Church of England's Liturgical Commission and expressed doubts about the modernized Book of Common Prayer, the 16th- and 17th-century Anglican service book famous for the beauty of its language.

"Something vital is lost, surely, when 'Let not your heart be troubled' is translated as 'Do not be worried and upset,'" she said.
  • I believe that political correctness can be a form of linguistic fascism, and it sends shivers down the spine of my generation who went to war against fascism. The only way to react is to get up in the morning and start the day by saying four or five vastly politically incorrect things before breakfast!
  • I like structured fiction, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. I like a novel to have narrative drive, pace, resolution, which a detective novel has.
And from an early post on this site:
.... For many years, now, P D James has been one of the best practitioners of the art of the mystery story. From a review by Ralph C. Wood of P D James's most recent Dalgliesh mystery novel The Lighthouse:
IN HIS CELEBRATED 1948 essay on detective fiction, "The Guilty Vicarage," W.H. Auden argued that the appeal of crime novels lies in their "dialectic of innocence and guilt." A seemingly edenic community is discovered to have a murderer in its midst. Various false clues and secondary murders cast suspicion on nearly everyone and thus reveal the falseness of the community's innocence. With the almost miraculous aid of a detective who possesses superior powers of perception, the true criminal is caught and punished, as the community undergoes a catharsis that cleanses its partial guilt and restores its innocence. Hence Auden's conclusion that the detective story, though a worthy genre, is a peculiarly Protestant form of magic: a "fantasy of escape," built on the Socratic daydream that "sin is ignorance."
Auden rightly describes the pattern that obtains in the huge preponderance of crime novels—though there have always been some that elude the easy escapist comfort. The novels of P.D. James, for instance, mainly because her victims are not entirely innocent nor her villains entirely guilty. A complex admixture of good and evil lies at the moral and religious center of her work....
Either mushiness or hardness of heart prompts nearly all personal sins, James suggests, from the great to the small, from murder to gossip. The only antidote lies in the pity that seeks firm justice while acknowledging that everyone, even the worst, suffers irremediably. What we do with our suffering is what matters. Our sins most often spring not from mere ignorance, James teaches, but from false innocence. Despite Auden’s salutary warning, therefore, such detective fiction as hers enables us to confront our real guilt. ....

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Countless gifts of love

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

Mar­tin Rink­art, c. 1636

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Thanksgiving prayer

Via The Wittenberg Door, "George Washington’s Thanksgiving Prayer," based on a proclamation issued in 1789:
May we all unite in rendering unto God our sincere and humble thanks—
  • For His kind care and protection of the people of this country,
  • For the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have enjoyed,
  • For the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness,
  • For the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge, and in general for all the great and various favors which He hath been pleased to confer upon us.
And may we also unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him—
  • To pardon our national and other transgressions,
  • To enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually,
  • To render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed,
  • To protect and guide all nations and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord,
  • To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science,
And generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.
[The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America]
The Wittenberg Door: George Washington’s Thanksgiving Prayer, The First Thanksgiving Proclamation

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


.... You need not believe in God to pursue the virtues (though it certainly helps). Yet if you do believe, then your first instinct in all things must be gratitude: for creation, for love, for mercy. And even if you don’t believe, you must start again from gratitude: That a world grown from randomness could have turned out so fortuitously, with such liberality. That the Hobbesian state of nature has been conquered. At least for a spell. As my friend Yuval Levin explained not long ago, “We value these things not because they are triumphant and invincible but because they are precious and vulnerable, because they weren’t fated to happen, and they’re not certain to survive. They need us—and our gratitude for them should move us to defend them and to build on them.”

Gratitude magnifies the sweet parts of life and diminishes the painful ones. It is the wellspring of humility and ambition, the magnetic pole for prudence, the platform for courage, the inducement to charity and mercy. And in addition to everything else, gratitude is the engine for progress: We build not because we are dissatisfied with the world as it is, but because we are grateful to all those who have built it to this point, and wish to repay them by making our own contributions to their work. .... [more]

Monday, November 24, 2014

Christmas Eve, 1914

Via Acculturated, this ad from a British supermarket chain:

The article quoted this letter from a British rifleman:
On Christmas Eve the Germans entrenched opposite us began calling out to us “Cigarettes,” “Pudding,” “A Happy Christmas” and “English—means good,” so two of our fellows climbed over the parapet of the trench and went towards the German trenches. Half-way they were met by four Germans, who said they would not shoot on Christmas Day if we did not. They gave our fellows cigars and a bottle of wine and were given a cake and cigarettes. When they came back I went out with some more of our fellows and we were met by about 30 Germans, who seemed to be very nice fellows. I got one of them to write his name and address on a postcard as a souvenir. All through the night we sang carols to them and they sang to us and one played “God Save the King” on a mouth organ.

Falling behind

This opinion piece in Baptist News by George Bullard certainly describes what has happened in my small denomination:
It is no longer true that denominations provide a majority of the resources needed by many of their congregations. It has been at least a quarter of a century or longer since many denominations in North America could say they provide the majority of the resources for their churches. I am not sure any denominations could currently make this claim. Resources in this case refer to books, curriculum material, training and continuing education, consulting and coaching services, funding, even seminary or divinity school training for ministers, and many other products and services that could be named.

Generally the more a denomination has congregational autonomy and governance, the fewer resources come from the denomination. The more the denomination has connectional authority and governance the more resources come from the denomination.

The smaller the denomination the fewer resources come from the denomination. ....

...[M]any denominational organizations that generate products and services have severely cut back what they offer, merged with other compatible organizations, found new markets outside their denominations or closed down. Budgets for providing consulting, coaching, mediation and facilitation services to congregations have significantly decreased in many denominations. ....

Denominations also function based on the emotional support for the way things have always been. When economic realities shift, denominations are slower to adjust. Without profit motive they could lose money on ventures that for-profit organizations would long ago have adjusted or abandoned. Often denominations find themselves playing catch-up to what other organizations are doing. .... [more]
And fewer resources from the denomination are often the result of less financial support for the denomination [or perhaps fewer resources lead to less financial support]. Regardless, the adjustments can be painful.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Animal Farm

Standpoint informs us that an animated film of George Orwell's Animal Farm has just been re-released on DVD:
Britain's first animated feature film was released 60 years ago. Surprisingly, it wasn't a story about princesses or princes, magic or dragons. It was far more politically charged than any Disney release has ever been: it was an adaptation of George Orwell's Animal Farm. ....

Orwell's story of the farm animals rising up against their oppressive owners only to discover that some are "more equal than others" was unlikely to have been made into a film without controversy, given Orwell's struggle to get the original book published. Halas and Batchelor changed the ending. Instead of the animals looking from pig to human, unable to differentiate between the two, the oppressed animals rise up against the pigs. Halas said he wanted to offer viewers a glimmer of hope, although Batchelor had wanted to stick to Orwell's ending. .... [more]
The DVD has been released in the UK. Perhaps it will soon be available here. In the meantime it is available streaming at Amazon - free to those of us who have Amazon Prime. It has been available on YouTube for some time (the Amazon version both looks and sounds better):

Farm Agents | Standpoint

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit,
according to human tradition...and not according to Christ.

Gerald McDermott on why not all Christian traditions are "human traditions":
.... Paul commended the Corinthians for “maintain[ing] the traditions even as I delivered them to you” (1 Cor. 11:2). He urged the Thessalonians to “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thess. 2:15). He told Timothy to pass on the tradition the young leader learned from him, and to teach others to do the same (2 Tim. 2:2). And when Paul quoted Jesus’ saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), he was affirming an oral tradition never recorded in the Gospels. ....

The early church recognized it needed tradition when it faced the heresy of Gnosticism. Gnostic teachers claimed that both the God of the Old Testament and physical matter are evil, and that salvation comes through knowledge, not through the life and death of Jesus Christ. Their picture of God and salvation radically opposed the apostles’ preaching. The early theologian Irenaeus countered that the apostles passed down not only certain writings but also a way of reading those texts. And only by following that way of interpreting biblical texts could one hold to orthodoxy.

In its later battles to understand the Godhead, the early church finally established a Trinitarian tradition: God is one divine being in three persons. The word Trinity and the now-classic phrase “three persons in one God” are not in the Bible. But nearly all Christians, evangelicals included, believe the Holy Spirit guided the early church through those debates to reach this consensus. Leaders in the debate reminded their hearers that Jesus promised there were some things that the apostles were not able to bear at the time, but that would be revealed later, as the Spirit guided them and their successors “into all the truth” (John 16:12–13). This understanding of the Godhead used nonbiblical words to express biblical concepts, and has guided all Christians ever since.

But what about the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura? Didn’t Martin Luther, who taught this doctrine most famously, say that Scripture alone is our authority, that human traditions should never supplant the Bible?

Actually, Luther taught that Christians needed the right tradition in order to interpret the Bible. .... [more]

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"The Robin Hood of modern crime"

Delighted to discover that Leslie Charteris' Saint books, many out of print, are now available for Kindle. I thought them great fun in my early teens. It will be interesting to discover whether they hold up. From Wikipedia
.... Simon Templar is a Robin Hood-like criminal known as The Saint — plausibly from his initials; but the exact reason for his nickname is not known (although we're told that he was given it at the age of nineteen). .... Blessed with boyish humour, he makes humorous and off-putting remarks and leaves a "calling card" at his "crimes", a stick figure of a man with a halo. This is used as the logo of the books, the movies, and the 1960s TV series. He is described as "buccaneer in the suits of Savile Row, amused, cool, debonair, with hell-for-leather blue eyes and a saintly smile..."

His origin remains a mystery; he is explicitly British, but in early books (e.g. Meet the Tiger) there are references that suggest he had spent some time in the U.S. battling prohibition bad guys. ....

Templar's targets include corrupt politicians, warmongers, and other low life. "He claims he's a Robin Hood", bleats one victim, "but to me he's just a robber and a hood". Robin Hood appears one inspiration for the character; Templar stories were often promoted as featuring "The Robin Hood of modern crime", and this phrase to describe Templar appears in several stories. ....

Fundamentalist Catholics

...[A] hundred years ago, the term was taken as a badge of honor by theologically conservative Protestants to distinguish themselves from liberal Protestantism. While liberal Protestants in mainline denominations were denying basic Christian teachings like the authority of the Bible and the bodily resurrection of Jesus, conservative Protestants called for going back to the “fundamentals” of the faith – hence the term.

There are obviously a lot of issues on which Catholics and fundamentalists disagree, but there are a few important issues for which fundamentalists take a lot of heat in our culture that Catholics actually agree with them on – or at least are supposed to. ....
His "five":
  1. The authority of the literal sense of Scripture 
  2. The reality of sin and hell
  3. The absolute unicity of Jesus for salvation 
  4. The future Second Coming of Christ 
  5. A willingness to be fools for Christ 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Millennials at worship

A friend directed me to this from the Barna Group: "Designing Worship Spaces with Millennials in Mind." The research targeted that generation's attitudes about the most appropriate worship settings. The summaries of what they found included:
  • For many, size is a necessary evil rather than a selling point. Participants acknowledged that a successful church would grow and therefore need to increase the size of its services and facilities. But they also expressed a bit of tacit distrust for very large churches. One young man put it starkly: “It seems like a really big business.”
  • ...[M]ost Millennials’ overall preference [is] for a straightforward, overtly Christian style of imagery—as long as it doesn’t look too institutional or corporate. Not only do such settings physically direct one’s attention to the divine, they also provide a rich context of church history as the backdrop for worship.
  • Most Millennials don’t look for a church facility that caters to the whims of pop culture. They want a community that calls them to deeper meaning.”
There is much more in the article describing both differing attitudes among those surveyed and the methodologies used. There is also a link to the full study.

"Do you hear the people sing?"

...[W]hat do you hear when your church worships God in song? What is the defining sound? For some, it will be the old, massive, beautiful organ — a full, enduring, and familiar tone. Others would say it’s the energy of an electric guitar and the deep pounding of a bass drum. Maybe you have one or two vocalists you love. They could sing the encyclopedia on Sunday morning and bring you to God.

I enjoy and appreciate all of the above — I really do — but I believe the defining sound on Sunday morning should be the singing voices of God’s people. ....
The main points:
1. Only one instrument sings.
By no means is God against musical instruments. He loves the sounds of praise that come from a string or horn or drum. Many of the Psalms — the songs of the saints — were written, after all, to be accompanied “with stringed instruments” (Psalms 4, 6, 54, 61, 67, 76). And God explicitly calls for praise to be played on the tambourine, harp, lyre, and trumpet (Psalm 33:2; 71:22; 81:2; 144:9; 150:3). ....
2. Those saved by God sing to God.
.... Throughout the Bible, God’s people — saved by his grace, because of his love — sing. It’s never been exclusive to the talented, or trained, or female. No, it’s part of being human, and it’s part of being Christian. When God rescued you, he became your Song.
Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. (Isaiah 12:2) ....
3. We are all — young and old, male or female, musical or not — commanded by God to sing.
But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. (Psalm 5:11)
Sing to him; sing praises to him, tell of all his wondrous works! Sing to the Lord, all the earth! Tell of his salvation from day to day. (1 Chronicles 16:9, 23)
We need to trust the God worthy of our worship with how we worship. Singing doesn’t always feel natural, and many of us aren’t good at it, but God tells us to sing. ....
4. Heartfelt singing to God is a spectacular miracle.
Not all singing is a miracle. Most of the music we’re exposed to any given day is beautiful in its own right, but it’s not supernatural. What makes a song a miracle is when it is offered with a redeemed and genuine heart of awe and praise to God. It’s not a song that comes from deep within, but from far above. It is an act of sovereign grace.
[God] put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:3)
When God saved us, he retuned our souls to sing. He didn’t train us in music theory or give us vocal lessons, but he opened our eyes and made us alive. Our mouths look and sound like the same old instrument, but they’ve been radically and eternally transformed to declare the glory and goodness of our God. ....
5. Worship leadership calls for worshipers, not spectators.
Worship leadership is about leadership, not performance. Worship leaders have this difficult task of bringing people to God and then getting out of the way. They have to find a way to lead without taking all of the attention. Worship leadership that doesn’t aim for congregational participation in worship often becomes a distraction — a performance that ironically and tragically upstages God. ....
Do you hear the people sing? If not, consider making some changes to encourage and highlight the miracles happening all over your sanctuary. [more]

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The right to be offended

John O’Sullivan explains why the only solution to bad speech should be more speech:
.... Hearing criticisms of your own convictions and learning the beliefs of others are training for life in a multifaith society. Preventing open debate means that all believers, including atheists, remain in the prison of unconsidered opinion. The right to be offended, which is the other side of free speech, is therefore a genuine right. True belief and honest doubt are both impossible without it. ....

.... Before the 1960s, arguments for censorship tended to focus on sexual morality, pornography and obscenity. The censors themselves were usually depicted as benighted moral conservatives—priggish maiden aunts. Freedom of political speech, however, was regarded as sacrosanct by all. As legal restraints on obscenity fell away, however, freedom of political speech began to come under attack from a different kind of censor—college administrators, ethnic-grievance groups, gay and feminist advocates.

The new censors advanced such arguments as that “free speech can never be an excuse for racism.” These arguments are essentially exercises both in begging the question and in confusing it. While the principle of free speech cannot justify racism any more than it can disprove racism, it is the only principle that can allow us to judge whether or not particular speech is racist. Thus the censor’s argument should be reversed: “Accusations of racism can never be an excuse for prohibiting free speech.” ....

Democrats in the Senate are seeking to restrict political speech by restricting the money spent to promote it. And in the private sector, American corporations have blacklisted employees for expressing or financing certain unfashionable opinions. In short, a public culture that used to be liberal is now “progressive”—which is something like liberalism minus its commitment to freedom.

The U.S. and Britain have long thought of themselves as, above all, free countries. If that identity continues to atrophy, free speech will be the first victim. But it will not be the last. (more)

Armistice Day

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Laurence Binyon, 1914

 First World - Prose & Poetry - Laurence Binyon

Monday, November 10, 2014

Moral exhaustion

From Carl Trueman's review of a new book about how the Catholic theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand responded to the rise of Nazism:
If Bonhoeffer enjoys continuing status as the Protestant opponent of Hitler, then the claimant to the Catholic equivalent is surely Dietrich von Hildebrand. Von Hildebrand may not have been martyred but he saw the danger of Hitler well before the N.S.D.A.P. was a serious electoral force. He also identified the centrality of the “Jewish question” much earlier than many other opponents of Nazism did....

Von Hildebrand was disappointed by the many fellow Catholics who failed to see the danger of Nazism and to oppose it. Some used the Hegelian argument that history was on the Nazi’s side. Others seemed simply motivated by anti-Semitism. ....

...[T]he question of the lack of opposition to Nazism cannot be reduced to a confessional one. It is far more complex than that. Many Protestants, Catholics, and atheists failed morally in this context. Only a few acted in a manner which history would ultimately regard as admirable. One hesitates to use sadly outdated and quaint terms, but it seems that such opposition was in part more likely to have been a function of individual, personal moral decency, integrity, and courage than of the wealth of social teaching which one had at one’s ecclesiastical disposal. Do not blame Luther’s writings or the Pope’s concordat for acquiescence to tyranny. Blame those who chose to acquiesce.

In this context, von Hildebrand offered an interesting insight into why opposition to Nazism was so hard. It was not because it was risky, though that was undoubtedly true. It was because it was tedious. To stand in opposition to something takes time and energy and yields little or no results and rarely brings immediate social credit (in fact, it typically brings the opposite). Sooner or later most people become tired of being indignant and simply accommodate themselves to what appears to be an invincible force. They may not privately approve but they publicly acquiesce. .... [more]
"...[N]ot because it was risky [but] because it was tedious. ...."

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Free eBooks

If you have an eBook reader and have not yet taken advantage of the free past-copyright books available at, then you are missing out. Today I found these:
And many, many, more. There is something there for any reader. As it says at the site, "There are more than 29,000 eBooks available for Kindle, Nook, iPad and most other eReaders, and they're all free!"

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Read with care

“A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.”
C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

.... In college I absorbed the prevailing idea that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, was just a historical curiosity, and that science could explain everything. By the time I was in my mid-to-late twenties, I was convinced that there was no God (or any spiritual reality). I did not believe that I had a soul; I thought I was just an intelligent animal, and that when I died, my consciousness would simply blink out. I thought that there was no ultimate meaning in life, and that people who believed in any form of God were seriously self-deluded. It was a bit depressing, but I believed it to be the best explanation of the way the world is, and truth is better than false comfort. If that’s not atheism, I’m not sure what counts…

...[C]lassic Christian literature planted seeds in my imagination as a young girl, something I write about in more detail in my book. Later, Christian authors provided dissenting voices to the naturalistic narrative that I’d accepted—the only possible dissenting voice, since I wasn’t interested in reading anything that directly dealt with the subject of faith or Christianity, and thus wasn’t exposed to serious Christian thought.

I found that my favorite authors were men and women of deep Christian faith. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien above all; and then the poets: Gerard Manley Hopkins, George Herbert, John Donne, and others. Their work was unsettling to my atheist convictions, in part because I couldn’t sort their poetry into neat ‘religious’ and ‘non-religious’ categories; their faith infused all their work, and the poems that most moved me, from Hopkins’ “The Windhover” to Donne’s Holy Sonnets, were explicitly Christian. I tried to view their faith as a something I could separate from the aesthetic power of their writing, but that kind of compartmentalization didn’t work well, especially not with a work of literature as rich and complex as The Lord of the Rings.

Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I needed to ask more questions. I needed to find out what a man like Donne meant when he talked about faith in God, because whatever he meant, it didn’t seem to be ‘blind faith, contrary to reason’. ....

I read a lot of books! C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity was one of the most important ones, particularly with regard to his moral argument, but also for the way that he provides vivid images and analogies to illuminate what words like ‘faith’ and ‘repentance’ mean.

For the philosophical and historical questions, I was particularly helped by a book called Does God Exist?, a debate between J.P. Moreland (a Christian) and Kai Nielsen (an atheist), articles by philosopher William Lane Craig, and the book In Defense of Miracles, which includes David Hume’s famous argument against miracles as well as arguments for the possibility of miracles. One of the most important books I read was N.T. Wright’s magisterial scholarly work The Resurrection of the Son of God, which convinced me that the Resurrection was a fact of history.

Literature also helped me along the way. In particular, the Chronicles of Narnia helped me connect my intellect and my imagination, so that I grasped the meaning of the Incarnation and saw its importance not as an abstract idea, but as something that impacted my life. .... [more]


I have no problem with efforts to harmonize seeming contradictions in the biblical accounts, but as a student of history I have always found this approach persuasive:
The Gospels are full of contradictions. There, I said it. Take, for example, the differing accounts of the resurrection. In Matthew, the two Marys – Magdelene and Jesus’ mom – are at the empty tomb, greeted by an earthquake and an angel. In Luke, Joanna and other unnamed females are added to the mix, and they see two angels, rather than one. According to John, it is Mary Magdelene only, and after running to fetch Peter and John (the author), she sees Jesus, although she mistakes him at first for a gardener. Mark ends most strangely, with the two Marys and someone named Salome speaking to an angel and then fleeing the tomb – trembling, astonished, and afraid.

These contradictions, among others, have been used by some in an attempt to undermine the veracity of the Jesus story, but is that fair? ....

.... I have heard it said that no two eyewitnesses will ever tell the same story (and if they do, they have probably been tampered with)....

In this light, the Gospels suddenly seem astoundingly consistent, though never so much as to suggest collusion. The empty tomb was first discovered by women (itself a stunning detail in 1st century Palestine), angels were seen, but Jesus was not. The very fact that the Gospels have not harmonized their contradictions, but have left them bare, seems to me an act of courage – “here are our stories and we’re sticking to them!” – both on the part of the authors and the compilers of what we now call the New Testament. ....

Sunday, November 2, 2014

"Seek and you shall seek"?

A couple of day after the anniversary of Luther's 95 Theses, I was reminded of this from 2011:

Matthew J. Milliner, a professor at Wheaton, offers "9.5 Theses" about postmodernism in the Church. For example:
1. I'll say it again: He who marries the spirit of the age will soon become a widower. Do those who married postmodernity realize their spouse is in a nursing home?

1.5 Christians who cater their theology to accommodate deconstruction are comparable to sub-rate CCM bands who copy Green Day five years after they've ceased being cool. They'll sell, but to a subset of evangelicalism who want to be "relevant" — which is the only group they'll ever be relevant to.

2. Yes Paul said he sees through a glass darkly — but he still saw. Don't forget to keep reading.

2.5 Paul did not end his speech at the Areopagus by saying "the Unknown God" is a great idea, sorry I bothered you. Nice statue. Can I have a copy? ....

4. Yes, God is at work in the world already. That doesn't mean the church needs to be like the world. The best thing the church can do for the world is to be the church, not regurgitate graduate school seminar room talk from 1985.

4.5 Wrestling with the difficult questions of the Christian life (the eternal destiny of non-Christians, the reliability of the Bible, church hypocrisy, etc.) does not constitute a movement. It's called normative Christian maturation. It is risky business, but followed through, opens into holy mystery and stronger, more nuanced faith. Abandoned, this process can lead to faith's termination. Perpetuating those questions indefinitely, however, is another thing entirely: Frozen adolescence.

4.75 POP QUIZ! What is wrong with the following Biblical quotation? "Seek and you shall seek." ....

5.5 Tom Oden is right: "A center without a circumference is just a dot, nothing more. It is the circumference that marks the boundary of the circle. To eliminate the boundary is to eliminate the circle itself. The circle of faith cannot identify its center without recognizing its perimeter." ....

8. Heresy is boring, not exciting because it eviscerates mystery. If you're attracted to heresy because it makes you feel naughty then that's kinda creepy. If you're attracted to it because you don't want to "limit God," then the religion that serves a God who became a particular first-century Palestinian Jew might not be for you. .... [more] 9.5 Theses

Saturday, November 1, 2014

We'll meet again

In "Saying Goodbye for Good" Wesley Hill writes:
In his book A Severe Mercy, a memoir of Christian conversion and student life in Oxford, Sheldon Vanauken tells the story of his last meeting with C.S. Lewis, who had become a friend. The two men ate lunch together, and when they had finished, Lewis said, “At all events, we’ll certainly meet again, here—or there.” Then he added: “I shan’t say goodbye. We’ll meet again.” And with that, they shook hands and parted ways. From across the street, above the din of traffic, Lewis shouted, “Besides, Christians never say goodbye!”
Hill recounts this story to make a different argument. Saying "goodbye" is important because doing so acknowledges the reality and pain of physical separation. Vanauken's book is largely about his separation, because of her death, from his wife. And of course Lewis wrote A Grief Observed after the death of Joy Davidman. They both felt the pain of physical separation in this life. Feeling the grief of separation is important but so is remembering what Lewis is saying here.

A Severe Mercy is still in print and it is very good. My copy dates from the year of its publication and I haven't read it in many years. I should read it again.

This is the somewhat longer account that appears in the book. So, on All Saints' Day, it may be particularly appropriate to remember that we will meet again.
On that last day I met C.S. Lewis at the Eastgate for lunch. We talked, I recall, about death or, rather, awakening after death. Whatever it would be like, we thought, our response to it would be 'Why, of course! Of course it's like this. How else could it have possibly been.' We both chuckled at that. I said it would be a sort of coming home, and he agreed. Lewis said that he hoped Davy and I would be coming back to England soon, for we mustn't get out of touch. 'At all events,' he said with a cheerful grin, 'we'll certainly meet again, here—or there.' Then it was time to go, and we drained our mugs. When we emerged on to the busy High with the traffic streaming past, we shook hands, and he said: 'I shan't say goodbye. We'll meet again.' Then he plunged into the traffic. I stood there watching him. When he reached the pavement on the other side, he turned round as though he knew somehow that I would still be standing there in front of the Eastgate. Then he raised his voice in a great roar that easily overcame the noise of the cars and buses. Heads turned and at least one car swerved. 'Besides,' he bellowed with a great grin, 'Christians NEVER say goodbye!'
A Severe Mercy at Amazon

Alleluia, Alleluia!

Wikipedia notes "Protestants generally regard all true Christian believers as saints and if they observe All Saints Day at all they use it to remember all Christians both past and present"

For all the saints,
who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith
before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus,
be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
The golden evening
brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors
comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of
paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Thou wast their Rock,
their Fortress and their might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain
in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness,
their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
But lo! there breaks a
yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant
rise in bright array;
The King of glory
passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
O blest communion,
fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle,
they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee,
for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
From earth’s wide bounds,
from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl
streams in the countless host,
Singing to God,
the Son, and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!