Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Philippians 4:13

A good reminder of the importance of context:
.... If we read Philippians 4:13 in isolation, apart from its context, it’s possible to see why so many take it as a declaration of personal empowerment.

Out of context, the “all things” seems like it could refer to whatever someone might want to accomplish—from winning a football game to losing weight to getting a new job to gaining material wealth. Out of context, it is often treated like a spiritual boost of self-confidence that can be applied to any ambition or aspiration in life.

But in context this verse has a very specific, defined meaning—one that most Americans don’t want to hear about, but one that is very important for us to remember as believers. ....

...[I]n context, it is a verse about contentment. It’s not about your dreams coming true or your goals being met. Rather it’s about being joyful, satisfied, and steadfast even when life is hard and your circumstances seem impossible. ....

This is not a verse about being empowered to change your circumstances; rather, it is a verse about relying on God’s power in order to be content in the midst of circumstances you can’t change.

Consider, for just a moment, the context of Philippians 4:13. Writing to the believers in Philippi, Paul says:
(10) But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.
(11) Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.
(12) I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.
(13) I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
You can see there, that when the apostle says, I can do all things through Him who strengthens me, he is speaking about contentment. In any circumstance, he had learned to be content by depending on Christ who gave him the strength to persevere in any situation. .... [more]

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Grace and more grace

In "Grace, grace, and grace: how to battle Osteenism in our time" a non-Evangelical asserts truths we all need to remember:
.... Oprah fell in love with Osteen’s preaching when she encountered a sermon he gave called “The Power of I Am.”

Students of Scripture, familiar with Exodus 3:14, might assume that such a sermon would be focused on the power of God, but in fact the I Am that Osteen has in mind is not YHWH but us. “When you wake up in the morning, don’t focus on all your flaws,” says Osteen. “Instead, look in the mirror and dare to say “I am beautiful, I am young, I am vibrant, I am confident, I am secure.”” According to Osteen, the words we use to talk about ourselves have power to shape how we actually are. Therefore, rather than focusing on God’s Word, we should focus on our own words, seeking to mold ourselves through the power of positive thinking into the kind of happy, successful people that God wants us to be. ....

What we are preaching and teaching in many of our parishes is not the Good News of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for us. Instead of preaching the power of the great I Am, we point to some inner, mystical power that exists only in our imaginations. ....

...[O]ne of the great insights of the Reformation was that God speaks to us in two ways in Scripture: (1) through law, which is God’s commands for how we are to live, and (2) through Gospel, the proclamation of God’s free gift of his Son on the Cross, which justifies us before God even though we are unable to meet the demands of the law. The law’s main purposes are to expose us to our inability to be good (even if we want to be good) and to restrain us from acting on our worst impulses, but there is also a third use of the law by which it becomes a guide for Christians on how to live moral lives once we have been given new hearts and made holy. The problem is that, this side of the Lord’s return, that kind of living is always aspirational. Our sin continues to infect us even as God is making us holy through the blood of his Son. The law can point us towards how we are to live as Christians, but only the Gospel can actually transform our hearts so that we are able to do it. The solution, in other words, is not to temper our preaching of the Gospel with more law. The solution is more Gospel. ....

The law is good, but the law cannot save us. Christian community is good, but it cannot save us either. Only the Gospel can do that, and far too few faithful, church-going Christians today can even identify what the Gospel is, let alone rest in its promises. Until we learn again to center all that we preach and teach on grace, our calls to live the Christian life will not yield the fruit we hope to see. ....

Until we make grace our first and last word, even our most well-intentioned efforts to proclaim the Kingdom will be absorbed by our listeners as a recipe by which they can make themselves better. We must take the Osteen out of our own eyes before we go looking to remove it from our neighbors. (more)

Monday, April 27, 2015


Calvin and Hobbes, March 14, 1987:

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes


In the late 19th and early 20th centuries when summer vacation arrived quartets of Seventh Day Baptist college students would travel from church to church for evangelistic meetings. The male quartets would usually sing from Towner's Male Choir songbooks. I was given a copy of the 1888 Towner once belonging to the library of the Alfred University School of Theology. Last Sabbath our worship service was blessed with special music performed from that book by a quartet composed of pastors Justin Camenga, Paul Green and Herb Saunders, joined by Brandon Crandall.

click to enlarge

Which Hymns Should We Forget About?

A friend posted a link on Facebook to "Which Hymns Should We Forget About":
I get many comments accusing me of elevating, even worshiping, the hymn tradition itself. “There are bad hymns, too.”

Of course there are bad hymns.

That being said, I think we traditional worshipers do have a distinct advantage over those which only sing contemporary and commercial music. Much of the dross from the hymn tradition has burned away over the years, leaving us with a higher percentage of good, solid texts that have stood the test of time. ....

When Should We Forget our Favorites?
  1. They are theologically vapid. ....
  2. They are poor examples of poetry. ....
  3. They have become idols. ....
And he provides examples with which you may or may not agree, but he gives reasons. Good hymns, he argues, are:
  • Songs with substance
  • Songs that clearly tell the Christian story
  • Songs that refocus the lenses through which we view God and the world around us
  • Songs with words we believe
  • Songs that bring the witness of saints from other times and places into our own vocabulary, lest we’re tempted to commit sins of chronological and geographical snobbery
  • Songs that make us uncomfortable with our selfishness and apathy
  • Songs that turn our eyes to Jesus....
If a hymn measures up, great. If it doesn’t, shouldn’t we drop it, no matter how much we like it? .... [more]

Thursday, April 23, 2015

"That’s what happens when you’re 'a sleepless malice'"

JRR Tolkien, WWI
For James Holmes, the Professor of Strategy at the Naval War College, "the chief takeaway from Tolkien has always been: despair not." But he thinks Tolkien also shows significant miscalculations in Sauron's war plan:
.... The alliance of elves, dwarves and men arrayed against Mordor had no incentive to parley. Why would they? The Dark Lord offered nothing except slavery and death. If there’s zero chance your enemy will capitulate, you’d better crush his forces, put your boot on his neck and impose what terms you will. Otherwise you may find yourself in a quagmire—or even suffer defeat.

...[T]he Dark Lord guaranteed that the allies would fight to the finish. They had no other option. His forces’ assault on the fortress at Helm’s Deep—an attempted genocide—built an alliance rather than demolishing one. It proved that Mordor had not just the malice but the power to overcome a Western kingdom. A common, mortal threat unites the threatened against it. ....

If Sauron was guilty of self-defeating behavior, why was he guilty of it? He accepted few interviews after the hobbits flung the One Ring into the Cracks of Doom—and brought about Mordor’s downfall—but we can speculate. The Dark Lord was like the scorpion in the fable of the Scorpion and the Frog: he did what his nature made him do. ....

That’s what happens when you’re “a sleepless malice” stirring in the east. Hubris must’ve also been at work. Like the Napoleons or Hitlers of the world, that is, Sauron believed his own hype. ....

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A failure of historical imagination

I've been enjoying Wolf Hall on PBS. It should not, however, be mistaken for history. Some writers of historical fiction go to considerable lengths to ensure that the known facts are not messed with. Hillary Mantel, on whose books the series is based, doesn't appear to have been particularly scrupulous in that respect. George Weigel:
.... Hillary Mantel is a very talented, very bitter ex-Catholic who’s said that the Church today is “not an institution for respectable people”.... As she freely concedes, Mantel’s aim in her novel was to take down the Thomas More of A Man for All Seasons—the Thomas More the Catholic Church canonized—and her instrument for doing so is More’s rival in the court of Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell.

Hillary Mantel does not lack for chutzpah, for Cromwell has long been considered a loathsome character and More a man of singular nobility. In the novel Wolf Hall, however, the More of Robert Bolt’s play is transformed into a heresy-hunting, scrupulous prig, while Cromwell is the sensible, pragmatic man of affairs who gets things done, even if a few heads get cracked (or detached) in the process. All of which is rubbish, as historians with no Catholic interests at stake have made clear. Thus the president of the U.K.’s National Secular Society, historian David Starkey, finds “not a scrap of evidence” for Mantel’s retelling of the More-Cromwell tale; Mantel’s plot, he claimed, was “total fiction.” And as Gregory Wolfe pointed out in a fine essay on Wolf Hall in the Washington Post, historian Simon Schama has written that the documentary evidence he examined “shouted to high heaven that Thomas Cromwell was, in fact, a detestably self-serving, bullying monster who perfected state terror in England, cooked the evidence, and extracted confessions by torture.” .... (more)
All historical fiction involves anachronism, of course, and depictions of the Tudors often reveal more about contemporary issues than they do about the past. Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons portrayed Thomas More as a liberal dissenter from state ideology, a man committed to individual conscience and the rule of law. (In the 1960s, liberals identified with such people.) ....

Wolf Hall—which, incidentally, has great production values and wonderful performances, especially by Damian Lewis as Henry VIII—inverts the conventional portrayal of the Henrician Reformation. Most past film and television versions, even those sympathetic to Henry, show More as a kind of hero, a noble, if misguided, martyr for freedom of conscience. In Mantel’s version, by contrast, it’s Cromwell, the supporter of state orthodoxy and More’s tormentor, who is the hero. And More, the man who resisted the state from religious conviction, is the unalloyed villain.

Now, More was a more complicated figure than widely understood. Even saints have failings. He may have been, as Swift famously wrote, “a person of the greatest virtue this kingdom ever produced,” but, as chancellor, he persecuted Protestants and approved burning heretics at the stake. Mantel’s portrayal goes beyond offering a helpful corrective to the conventional wisdom, though. Her More is not deeper or truer to the historical record. He is simply evil, a nasty piece of work—cold, fanatical, and sadistic.

Mantel’s Cromwell, by contrast, is warm, self-effacing, and pragmatic, even wistful—a family man, though with a ruthless edge. Between him and More, Cromwell is easily the more reasonable. Religious enthusiasm is not for him; he is far too insightful and levelheaded. He is also more compassionate. .... (more)
What George Weigel...calls “upmarket anti-Catholicism” is, in my view, simply a failure of historical imagination. Hilary Mantel could only present an admirable Thomas Cromwell by assuming, or pretending, that he’s a lot like people in her social circle: tolerant, skeptical, indulgently affectionate towards children, fond of animals, shy of violence — a typical 21st-century educated Londoner who was inexplicably born half a millennium too early. Having created Cromwell in her own image, Mantel then makes him the proxy for her own inability to make sense of someone like Thomas More.

It doesn't have to be this way. I seriously doubt that Peter Ackroyd’s beliefs are any closer to Thomas More’s than Hilary Mantel’s are, but that didn't stop him from pursuing a deep and sensitive understanding of the man in his brilliant biography. Mantel simply shirked the hard labor of trying to understand people from the distant past, and because her readers, by and large, and the people who made Wolf Hall into a television series, aren't interested in that labor either, we get the cardboard caricature of More that Weigel and Movsesian rightly protest. (more)
I will continue to enjoy this well-done television drama keeping in mind that it isn't history. A restored, Blu-ray, DVD of A Man for All Seasons (1966) will become available later this year and as soon as it is possible I will buy one. It is one of my favorite films. It isn't history either.

Monday, April 20, 2015

"And God saw that it was good"

From an essay by Dorothy L. Sayers titled "Why Work?" composed during World War II:
I have already, on a previous occasion, spoken at some length on the subject of Work and Vocation. What I urged then was a thorough going revolution in our whole attitude to work. I asked that it should be looked upon, not as a necessary drudgery to be undergone for the purpose of making money, but as a way of life in which the nature of man should find its proper exercise and delight and so fulfill itself to the glory of God. That it should, in fact, be thought of as a creative activity undertaken for the love of the work itself; and that man, made in God’s image, should make things, as God makes them, for the sake of doing well a thing that is well worth doing. ....

The habit of thinking about work as something one does to make money is so ingrained in us that we can scarcely imagine what a revolutionary change it would be to think about it instead in terms of the work done. To do so would mean taking the attitude of mind we reserve for our unpaid work – our hobbies, our leisure interests, the things we make and do for pleasure – and making that the standard of all our judgments about things and people. We should ask of an enterprise, not “will it pay?” but “is it good?”; of a man, not “what does he make?” but “what is his work worth?”; of goods, not “Can we induce people to buy them?” but “are they useful things well made?”; of employment, not “how much a week?” but “will it exercise my faculties to the utmost?” And shareholders in – let us say – brewing companies, would astonish the directorate by arising at shareholders’ meeting and demanding to know, not merely where the profits go or what dividends are to be paid, not even merely whether the workers’ wages are sufficient and the conditions of labor satisfactory, but loudly and with a proper sense of personal responsibility: “What goes into the beer?” ....

This is probably not the kind of answer that you will find in any theory of economics. But the professional economist is not really trained to answer, or even to ask himself questions about absolute values. The economist is inside the squirrel cage and turning with it. Any question about absolute values belongs to the sphere, not of economics, but of religion. ....

What is the Christian understanding of work? .... I should like to put before you two or three propositions.... (more (pdf))

Sunday, April 19, 2015


The Complete Calvin and Hobbes in paperback (four volumes, slipcased) is available from Amazon for $59.45. It is complete and the strips are presented almost chronologically. I just got mine yesterday. I don't buy many physical books any more but this had to be in a printed format. I'm only a few pages into the first year — 1985 — and am thoroughly enjoying myself.

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes

Friday, April 17, 2015

Against an established church

Yuval Levin, in "The Church of the Left," argues that the First Amendment guarantee of religious liberty isn't so much the issue in recent controversy as is the violation of the establishment clause by the implicit recognition by the law of a new established church:
James Madison
.... Madison’s case against an established church, perhaps most notably in his 1785 “Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments,” was rooted in a core principle of religious liberty that is particularly important to remember in the kinds of debates we have seen in the last few years: That religious freedom is not a freedom to do what you want, but a freedom to do what you must. It’s not a freedom from constraint, but a recognition of a constraint higher than even the law and therefore prior to it and deserving of some leeway from legal obligations when reasonably possible. .... Madison put the point this way:
It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to Him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society.
It is important to note that Madison was making this case not in the context of arguing for permitting the free exercise of religion but rather in the context of arguing against the establishment of any religion by law. His point was that no one ought to be compelled to affirm as true a religious tenet he took to be false and that no one should be compelled to participate in a religious rite that violated his own understanding of his religious obligations. ....

.... The question of the definition of marriage is, for many people, a fundamentally religious question. It is, of course, also a civil question in our country. But some religiously orthodox wedding vendors are finding themselves effectively compelled by the civil authorities to affirm an answer to that question that violates their understanding of their religious obligations. They would like to be relieved of that compulsion, but they are being told they can’t be because the larger society’s understanding of the proper answer to the question should overrule the answer prescribed by their religious convictions, and if they want to participate as business owners in the life of the larger society they must give ground.

They are in this sense more like religious believers under compulsion in a society with an established church than like believers denied the freedom to exercise their religion. ....

.... The florist can be Christian as an individual, but his store can’t be, because institutions, unlike individuals, are creatures of the law and our law already has a religion: progressive liberalism.

We who are appalled by the perverse reaction to the Indiana law are not exactly defending the free exercise right; we are in a sense opposing a violation of the prohibition on religious establishment. The point is not that running a flower shop is a way of practicing one’s religion. The point is that, if reasonably possible, people should not be compelled as the price of entry to the public square to honor as true what their understanding of their religious obligations compels them to judge false. ....  [more]

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Scripture in worship

Originally posted in 2009:

Trevin Wax, a Baptist, has been reporting on his attendance at a Catholic mass. Today, he reflects on what he thought positive and negative about what he experienced. One of the positive aspects:
The Scripture readings formed the high point of the service for me. I am not accustomed to hearing so much Scripture read aloud in church. The first man read a passage from Isaiah which foreshadowed the sufferings of Christ.

The second person to read was an elderly woman. She read from Philippians 2, about Christ humbling himself and then being raised and exalted by God. A woman sang a spine-tingling rendition of Psalm 22, complete with repetitive “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” lines.

Finally, we read the entire Passion narrative from Mark’s Gospel, beginning with Mark 14 and continuing all the way to Christ’s burial at the end of Mark 15. A man to the right of the stage read the narration, the priest said the words of Jesus, the woman to the left of the stage read the other voices in the narrative, and whenever the crowd in the passage spoke, so did the entire audience. This was a creative way to read the Passion narrative. I felt as if I were there, in the crowd, shouting “crucify him” and “come down from the cross.”
And from one of the comments:
It is my impression that we in evangelical circles treat the Word of God as if it cannot stand on it’s own — it must be expounded in order to be useful. We would deny that but we arrange our services as if it’s true. I am thankful for the preached and taught Word, but there is also a vital place for the Word being read and sung. This is one thing that we can and should learn from the Catholics.
It could also be learned from Anglicans, Lutherans, and many others. In my lifetime the use of Scripture in Baptist worship has actually diminished. Responsive and unison readings have disappeared from the service. There is something wrong when we quite properly elevate the importance and authority of Scripture, but at the same time it increasingly disappears from public worship.

Visiting a Catholic Church 2 « Kingdom People

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A qualified pessimism

At Mosaic Yuval Levin responds to Eric Cohen's attempt to articulate "a coherent Jewish conservatism for America and Israel." Debates among those on the right in the '50s and '60s produced an amalgam that its proponents called "fusionism." Levin provides a rather nice summary of the "fusionism" that is mainstream conservatism today although rejected by the purest libertarians and many traditionalists.
.... Their fusionism aimed to combine three elements that, although making for an uneasy fit, seemed to embody the key constituent parts of the modern American right: social traditionalism, a hawkish defense posture, and market economics. Ronald Reagan liked to call this the “three-legged stool” of American conservatism.

.... Traditionalists, defense hawks, and capitalists are not merely allies of convenience, nor are they united only by some common adversaries. They are deeply linked by a common anthropology: an understanding of human nature that qualifies as profoundly contrarian in our liberal age.

What unifies the three strands of modern American conservatism is a qualified pessimism about human perfectibility. Conservatives see the human person as a fallen and imperfect being, given to excess and prone to iniquity yet possessed of fundamental dignity and of inalienable rights that demand to be respected. Given their high standards but low expectations in human affairs, conservatives tend to be deeply skeptical of all utopian ambitions—be those ambitions aimed at socializing the sinfulness out of man, at achieving perpetual peace through sweet reason, or at equalizing wealth without extinguishing its sources. Instead, conservatives’ hopes lie in the potential of the long-evolved institutions of society—traditional families and moral communities, liberal education, free markets, carefully limited government, and more—to counteract our worst excesses, habituate us to the virtuous life, point us toward the deepest truths, and make us worthy of freedom and capable of exercising and defending it.

A fusionist conservatism is therefore coherent and reasonable—it makes sense of those elements of modern liberal societies that are skeptical rather than confident about reason, social rather than technical in their means, and generational rather than messianic in their ends. .... [more]
The rest of Levin's essay articulates what he believes are the difficulties confronting those who would design an American (or Israeli) Jewish conservatism — not so much with respect to the first two legs of Reagan's footstool, but, possibly, the third.

C.S. Lewis’s Wit

From Michael Ward's "C.S. Lewis’s Wit":
...Lewis liked to relate the story of a hapless Bishop of Exeter who was giving prizes at an all-girls’ school. ‘They did a performance,’ said Lewis, ‘of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the Bishop stood up afterwards and announced, quite innocently, that it was the first time in his life he’d seen a female Bottom.’ ....

Over dinner one night at Magdalen College one of the courses was haggis, the national dish of Scotland, which consists mainly of the blood and intestines of sheep. Seated next to Lewis was a visiting Portuguese dignitary who, while eating his haggis, remarked that he felt like a ‘gastronomic Columbus’. ‘Surely you mean a vascular da Gama,’ said Lewis. ....

When he was about nine years old he came downstairs, sat in an armchair, pressed the tips of his fingers together and announced to the world at large, ‘I have a prejudice against the French.’ His father spun round, snorted and said, ‘Why on earth do you have a prejudice against the French?’ ‘If I knew that, it would not be a prejudice,’ said Lewis. ....

Lewis’s holiday of choice was always a walking-tour with friends. At the end of one such tour, unshaven, muddy, smelly and looking distinctly like a vagrant, he boarded a train for his journey back home. A prim-looking, well-dressed passenger opposite him in the carriage leant forward and said, ‘Excuse me: do you have a First Class Ticket?’ ‘Yes, thank you,’ said Lewis, ‘but I need it for myself.’ ....

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

His name will endure

“Whichever way it ends, I have the impression that I shan’t last long after it’s over.” These are the words of Abraham Lincoln, expressed to Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, and published by her in 1864.

How sadly these words have proved prophetic. Within six days after the surrender of Lee’s army, which all hope is virtually the end, Mr. Lincoln dies!

He lived to see the end, to rejoice over the triumph, and is taken to higher joys! He did not “last long after it’s over,” but his name will endure forever.

Generation after generation will rise up and call him blessed. He was raised up for a great purpose, and most nobly has he fulfilled his mission. ...

Putting his whole trust in the Almighty, Mr. Lincoln firmly grasped the responsibilities of his position. He hoped for a speedy close of the scourge of war, yet persisted in its prosecution till the scourge of slavery passed away with it. ...

He has gone hence. His tall form and pleasant countenance will be no more with us on earth, but his great name is left a legacy to the Nation, which will never die!

No man has ever lived in this country, whose name will go down through all time, more highly respected and reverenced by all mankind, than will that of Abraham Lincoln; and none will be cherished with equal respect, save that of the Father of his country, George Washington.

Friday, April 10, 2015

"Never could we have endured it but for the strength given from on high..."

From The New York Times on April 11, 1865:
.... "Glory to the Lord of Hosts, from whom all blessings are." If ever a people under heaven was bound to prostrate itself in gratitude, it is the loyal people of this land. Had it been foretold to them four years ago what trials awaited them, there would have been a universal cry of despairing agony. Human history affords no instance of such a national ordeal. Never could we have endured it but for the strength given from on high, as we had need. .... [W]e had a hidden strength which the world did not understand. It was Faith — a faith that first broke upon us with the first flash of Sumter's guns, and that ever afterward went on widening and deepening. The people came to feel as by an inspiration from heaven, that the moral elements of the national cause made it irresistible. They were penetrated with the feeling, that as sure as there was an Almighty Father, He could not permit the success of a rebellion that was made only for the benefit of human slavery. It was this which carried them through the struggle. Ten times their physical strength would not have kept them up, in the absence of this sovereign faith. The race of Titans could not have maintained this war, if, too, they had been a race of atheists.

That religious faith is fitly followed now by a religious gratitude. It is wonderful to mark the solemn character of the joy that now spreads the land. There are waving flags, ringing bells, booming cannon, and other national tokens of public gladness. But yet it is plain to see that the dominant feeling of the people is no ebullient exhilaration over human achievement, but a profound sense of a Divine blessing. The popular heart relieves itself, not so much in cheers and hurrahs as in doxologies. ....

With this gratitude for deliverance is mingled a fresh assurance that Heaven has reserved our republic for a destiny more glorious than can yet be conceived. Americans now feel that it is less than ever a presumption in them to believe themselves a chosen people, appointed to school the world to new ideas of human capacities and human rights. ....

A stillness at Appomattox

Yesterday Scott Johnson at Power Line noted the 150th anniversary of Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox and made a book recommendation that I strongly endorse:
.... Bruce Catton’s three-volume history of the Army of the Potomac concludes with Catton’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Stillness at Appomattox, published in 1954. It is one of the best histories I have ever read. ....
The book tells the story of Army of the Potomac during the final year of the Civil War. By the time I finished reading it, even though it didn’t take long, I felt as though I had lived and fought alongside the exhausted survivors of the devastating battles of that final year–emotionally spent, grateful to be alive, distraught over the carnage. What an utterly beautiful work of popular history it is.

Monday, April 6, 2015

More about the Shroud

The Sunday before last I posted "The face of Jesus?" about the Shroud of Turin. This past weekend National Review published an online article by Myra Adams about it. She quotes one of those who has spent years studying the cloth: “We can never prove the Shroud to be authentic...However, we can certainly rule out forgery, for it is clearly not the work of an artist.” Much of her post summarizes the discoveries of scientists who have examined the Shroud. Some of the findings:
  • Scientists have determined that the weave of the flax linen cloth dates back to Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. Furthermore, pollen and dust found on the Shroud are native to where, according to the Bible, Jesus lived and walked.
    Negative image of the Shroud
  • Unlike his blood, the man’s crucified image does not penetrate the cloth but rests on top. His image could be scraped away with a razor blade. Since any earthly substance used to create the man’s image would seep into and adhere to the cloth, this lack of penetration continues to baffle modern science.
  • As one would expect, blood of that crucified male penetrates the linen cloth. But here is where science enhances the Shroud’s mystery: Blood on the cloth preceded the image of the crucified man. “Blood first, image second” is a mantra of Shroud researchers.
  • [T]ests on the mysterious substance constituting the image have concluded that it was applied with 100 percent consistency, as it rests on the cloth’s top two microfibers. Such consistency is a feat impossible to achieve with human hands.
  • In plain view are over 100 whip marks on every portion of his body, left by scourging from Roman flagra. Blood stains that formed a circle around the top of his head are consistent with the crown of thorns.
  • Local Jerusalem road dust has been discovered on the cloth over his knees, severely bruised after several falls. Most notable are the holes left by large spikes, the marks of crucifixion, displayed on his wrists and feet. Blood stains can be seen near a large wound that would have been consistent with injury from a spear in his side.
But what about the carbon-14 tests that dated the cloth much later than the time of Christ?
  • The results of that testing, according to which the Shroud was created during the period between 1260 and 1390, reflected tests only to tiny pieces of border additions known to have been used to repair the cloth after it was damaged by a fire in the 16th century.
  • Fanti examined the decay rate of microscopic fibers within the Shroud compared with decay rates of similar linen cloths known to be both older and newer. He concluded, with a 95 percent confidence level, that the Shroud’s creation ranged from 280 b.c. to a.d. 220. .... [more]
Worth continued study...

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Human worth

The Guardian is dissatisfied with David Cameron's version of Christianity and, in the midst of its own partisan argument, makes an observation about a history-changing aspect of the Faith:
.... What Christianity brought into the world wasn’t compassion, kindness, decency, hard work, or any of the other respectable virtues, real and necessary though they are. It was the extraordinary idea that people have worth in themselves, regardless of their usefulness to others, regardless even of their moral qualities. That is what is meant by the Christian talk of being saved by grace rather than works, and by the Christian assertion that God loves everyone, the malformed, the poor, the disabled and even the foreigner.

The idea that humans are valuable just for being human is, many would say, absurd. We assert it in the face of all the facts of history, and arguably even of biology. This idea entered the world with Christianity, and scandalised both Romans and Greeks, but it is now the common currency of western humanism, and of human rights. ....

"A Christian who confidently denies the resurrection is an oxymoron"

Stephen Rankin, University Chaplain at SMU, on "Christian" resurrection deniers:
.... This time every year we get a slew of magazine articles, TV “documentaries” and (now) blog posts and Twitter comments about the believability of Jesus’ resurrection.

Lots of good possibilities for serious give-and-take between believers and non-believers.  I love talking to honest skeptics.

But there’s one group I admit I’ve grown weary of: Christian resurrection-deniers.  Not resurrection deniers in general, but those who claim to follow Jesus, who blithely assert that thinking people simply cannot believe the hocus pocus about Jesus rising bodily from the dead.  If resurrection means anything, so this line of thinking goes, it can only have metaphorical/symbolic significance.

Let me narrow my charge a little more.  A Christian struggling intellectually with belief in Jesus’ bodily resurrection, who honestly wants to know the truth and pursues it with transparent intensity and a willingness to learn; for this kind of Christian I have utmost respect. After all, one of the major characteristics of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection is how Jesus’ own followers doubted! But the easy, breezy, smooth-talking, read-the-latest-John Spong-Marcus Borg-Dominic Crossan-and-now-we-know-what-really-happened  Christian, tries my patience mightily. A Christian who confidently denies the resurrection is an oxymoron.

I repeat: it is not argumentation, doubt or critique of the resurrection that bothers me.  It is the facile dismissal – by Christians! – of a central belief of our faith. .... [more]
(First posted two years ago.)

He is risen!

Re-posted from 2011:

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

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

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

Saturday, April 4, 2015

In between


.... Martin Luther said himself that Saturday was the day that God himself lay cold in the grave. Friday was death, Sunday was hope, but Saturday was that seemingly ignored middle day between them when God occupied a dirty grave in a little garden outside Jerusalem. Saturday is about waiting, about uncertainty, about not knowing what’ll happen. ....

So much of Christian faith is Saturday faith. ....

A medieval theologian, Anselm, once described the kind of faith that comes with Saturday—fides quaerens intellectum: “faith seeking understanding.” By that, he meant that faith isn’t something that arises after moments of understanding. Rather, faith is something that you cling to when understanding and reason lay dead. We don’t believe once we understand it—we believe in order to understand it. Saturday’s like that: offering a day of waiting, a day of ambiguity, a day when God is sovereign even if our ideas and theologies and expectations about him are not. It is the day that our ignorance is our witness and our proclamation. Truth is, our intellect will always be one step behind in our love of God. We don’t love God once we understand him; we love God in order to understand him. ....

At times, we are all like the two disciples on their way to Emmaus who were really close to Jesus but didn’t always know it. In Luke 24, two disciples walked away from Jerusalem, where they’d just seen their Lord and Master die on the cross. Leaving, dejected, upset, hopeless, and broken, to find the next stage in their lives and careers. Unbeknownst to them, Jesus had been resurrected and was actually walking alongside them on their way to Emmaus. The hope of Sunday hadn’t dawned on them yet. The Gospels tell us that, on their way to Emmaus, the disciples were “downcast.”

That experience is the kind of experience Saturday is all about. .... [more]
A. J. Swoboda is a pastor in Portland, Oregon. This is from his A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension between Belief and Experience, excerpted in Christianity Today.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday

And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” [Mark 15:22-26, ESV]
Justin Taylor:
Written over 20 years ago and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, this article goes into graphic detail about the physical pain that Jesus would have endured in his beatings and crucifixion....
Here is an excerpt from that article, "On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ" by William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer. The original article is substantially longer and detailed, with diagrams and ample citation. Our Lord's manner of execution was like that suffered by a great many others in the Roman world:
…. It was customary for the condemned man to carry his own cross from the flogging post to the site of crucifixion outside the city walls. He was usually naked, unless this was prohibited by local customs. Since the weight of the entire cross was probably well over 300 lb (136 kg), only the crossbar was carried. The patibulum, weighing 75 to 125 lb. (34 to 57 kg), was placed across the nape of the victim’s neck and balanced along both shoulders. Usually, the outstretched arms then were tied to the crossbar. The processional to the site of crucifixion was led by a complete Roman military guard, headed by a centurion. One of the soldiers carried a sign (titulus) on which the condemned man’s name and crime were displayed. Later, the titulus would be attached to the top of the cross. The Roman guard would not leave the victim until they were sure of his death. Outside the city walls was permanently located the heavy upright wooden stipes, on which the patibulum would be secured. In the case of the Tau cross, this was accomplished by means of a mortise and tenon joint, with or without reinforcement by ropes. To prolong the crucifixion process, a horizontal wooden block or plank, serving as a crude seat (sedile or sedulum), often was attached midway down the stipes. Only very rarely, and probably later than the time of Christ, was an additional block (suppedaneum) employed for transfixion of the feet.

At the site of execution, by law, the victim was given a bitter drink of wine mixed with myrrh (gall) as a mild analgesic. The criminal was then thrown to the ground on his back, with his arms outstretched along the patibulum. The hands could be nailed or tied to the crossbar, but nailing apparently was preferred by the Romans. The archaeological remains of a crucified body, found in an ossuary near Jerusalem and dating from the time of Christ, indicate that the nails were tapered iron spikes approximately 5 to 7 in (13 to 18 cm) long with a square shaft 3/8 in (1 cm) across. Furthermore, ossuary findings and the Shroud of Turin have documented that the nails commonly were driven through the wrists rather than the palms.

After both arms were fixed to the crossbar, the patibulum and the victim, together, were lifted onto the stipes. On the low cross, four soldiers could accomplish this relatively easily. However, on the tall cross, the soldiers used either wooden forks or ladders.

Next, the feet were fixed to the cross, either by nails or ropes. Ossuary findings and the Shroud of Turin suggest that nailing was the preferred Roman practice. Although the feet could be fixed to the sides of the stipes or to a wooden footrest (suppedaneum), they usually were nailed directly to the front of the stipes. To accomplish this, flexion of the knees may have been quite prominent, and the bent legs may have been rotated laterally.

When the nailing was completed, the titulus was attached to the cross, by nails or cords, just above the victim’s head. The soldiers and the civilian crowd often taunted and jeered the condemned man, and the soldiers customarily divided up his clothes among themselves. The length of survival generally ranged from three or four hours to three or four days and appears to have been inversely related to the severity of the scourging. However, even if the scourging had been relatively mild, the Roman soldiers could hasten death by breaking the legs below the knees (crurifragium or skelokopia). …. [the article pdf]
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. [Luke 23:44-46, ESV]
Dorothy L. Sayers on at least part of the meaning:
For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is — limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death — he had the honesty and courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself. He has himself gone through the whole human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When he was a man, he played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile. (The Man Born to be King, Dorothy L. Sayers)
And suffered far, far move than we do or ever will.

(I have posted this material previously on Good Fridays.)

The Inklings: Good Friday, Between Two Worlds: On the Physical Death of Jesus

Thursday, April 2, 2015

On the third day

In "The Day of Jesus' Resurrection According to Matthew," Paul Manuel takes up the question of the chronology of Easter. His conclusions:
.... Buried on Friday, before the Sabbath had begun, when did Jesus rise from the dead? The most common belief is that he rose early Sunday morning, but that does not seem to agree with his prediction of spending "three days and three nights" (72 hours?) in the grave. An examination of the different statements about the time of the resurrection, though, reveals considerable variation, forcing the reader to view them either as a host of contradictions or as simple approximations referring to parts of a three-day period. ....

How are we to understand such disparate statements about the time of Jesus' resurrection? These are all approximate references and, therefore, not contradictory. Their purpose is to direct attention to the third day, which is when Jesus rose from the dead. If there is any uncertainty which day of the week that momentous event occurred, Luke resolves the matter, for he identifies "the third day" with "the first day of the week" (i.e., Sunday). ....

The chronological markers in the gospel accounts enable modern readers to establish the day of Jesus' crucifixion and the day of his resurrection. According to those markers, Jesus died on Friday, the preparation day for the weekly Sabbath, and he rose on the third day, which was Sunday, the first day of the week. [more]
The argument, with end notes, is here.

Endless Thy grace

Via Brandywine Books:

Even before we call on Thy name To ask Thee, O God,
When we seek for the words to glorify Thee,
Thou hearest our prayer;
Unceasing love, O unceasing love, Surpassing all we know.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, And to the Holy Spirit.
Even with darkness sealing us in, We breathe Thy name,
And through all the days that follow so fast, We trust in Thee;
Endless Thy grace, O endless Thy grace,
Beyond all mortal dream. Both now and forever,
And unto ages and ages,

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

"It's Me O Lord..."

Is Easter pagan?

Re-posted from 2009

In an article at Christian History, Anthony McRoy systematically refutes the idea that "Easter" has any connection to possible pagan antecedents, and concludes:
...The Christian title "Easter" ... reflects its general date in the calendar, rather than the Paschal festival having been re-named in honor of a supposed pagan deity.

Of course, the Christian commemoration of the Paschal festival rests not on the title of the celebration but on its content—namely, the remembrance of Christ's death and resurrection. It is Christ's conquest of sin, death, and Satan that gives us the right to wish everyone "Happy Easter!"
He notes that:
The argument largely rests on the supposed pagan associations of the English and German names for the celebration (Easter in English and Ostern in German). It is important to note, however, that in most other European languages, the name for the Christian celebration is derived from the Greek word Pascha, which comes from pesach, the Hebrew word for Passover. Easter is the Christian Passover festival.
Even if there were some preceding pagan holiday or practice, that wouldn't prove anything — any more than it does for Christmas, or Halloween for that matter. As McRoy points out:
Of course, even if Christians did engage in contextualization—expressing their message and worship in the language or forms of the local people—that in no way implies doctrinal compromise. Christians around the world have sought to redeem the local culture for Christ while purging it of practices antithetical to biblical norms. After all, Christians speak of "Good Friday," but they are in no way honoring the worship of the Norse/Germanic queen of the gods Freya by doing so.

But, in fact, in the case of Easter the evidence suggests otherwise: that neither the commemoration of Christ's death and resurrection nor its name are derived from paganism. .... (more)
Good history and good sense.

Even the bunny and the egg — like Santa Claus and the Christmas tree — are , at worst, relatively harmless distractions.

Was Easter Borrowed from a Pagan Holiday? | Christian History