Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"The tree is known by its fruit"

Last week Russell E. Saltzman, formerly a Lutheran, now a Catholic, in "Trashing Luther," objected to certain "hyper-Catholic" criticism of the man, including what Luther once wrote about the book of James:
.... Among the assertions was that Luther referred to the Letter of James as an “epistle of straw.” Yes, he did, once.

In his original preface introducing James in his German translation of the Bible, Luther said exactly that. He complained the book wasn’t Christological and therefore possibly not Apostolic. He had good company.

...[I]n the same preface Luther nonetheless noted it had many good sayings, adding, “I praise it and hold it a good book.” The “straw” remark was removed by Luther in subsequent editions.

The blog post also said that Luther taught that “doing good works was not necessary for salvation.” No, not quite so. Luther taught they were not necessary for “justification” through Christ. There is a difference. Salvation itself is an unmerited gift through the merits of Christ, given exclusively in God’s love. But you might want to say thank you.

There’s good works—tending to your neighbor and family, for instance. Our works then become a thankful response to God’s love received in faith. Good works are the fruit of a justifying faith. .... [more]
Today, in "James Is, You Know, in the Bible," Rick Phillips, a Calvinist, writes:
.... Both initially and finally, faith alone remains the instrumental condition of our justification. But if we ask how a believer occupies himself between conversion and final glory, i.e. how he attains to salvation, James answers that faith is active in and finds its expression through works. So essential is this relationship between faith and works that James famously insisted: "faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (Jas. 2:17). It is in this sense that James concludes not only that our faith is justified by works but that "a person is justified by works and not by faith alone" (Jas. 2:24). Here we see the necessity of works, not only as evidence of true faith but as characteristic of the justified believer, such that a professing Christian without works has no basis to consider himself justified. .... This person remains a sinner, of course, who stands justified before God only in Christ through faith. But being in Christ through faith involves a necessary and organic connection to good works (see also Eph. 2:8-10).

I can think of few messages more urgently needed by our worldly churches today than the necessity of pursuing practical holiness through obedience and good works. I realize that many even of our Reformed brothers would rather ignore James' teaching than work through its challenges, both doctrinally and practically. But as my friend insisted, "James is, you know, in the Bible."  [more]

Monday, September 28, 2015

"Barbarism doesn’t care if we are cultivated"

Clive James re-reads Joseph Conrad and is more impressed than when he first read the books years ago. Selected from the essays:
.... Years of reading in modern history had equipped me to understand retroactively the lethality of the historic events that Conrad seemed to know about in advance, so sensitive was he to the political forces that were already reshaping the world during his own lifetime. In my own lifetime, most of the reshaping actually got done, with a death count of many millions. It’s clear now that Conrad had guessed what might happen. ....

In Switzerland before the First World War, before the tragedy in Europe, and before the chaos of the Russian Revolution, the Russians who gather in Geneva to enjoy democratic freedom—their part of the city is nicknamed La Petite Russie—are already carrying within them all the varieties of doom that will soon engulf their land of origin. The book gives us a preview of the terrors to come. Some of the characters, indeed, are outright terrorists; but the majority of the radicals on view have as yet seen little of the life of action, although they talk a lot of theory. And some of the characters will be victims one day, if they do not have the sense to stay away: they are members of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie, and they tend to think that tsarist despotism is the worst thing that their homeland has to offer.

They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. .... Under Western Eyes is valuable not because it came true but because it rang true even at the time, only now we can better hear the deep, sad note. ....

.... Conrad knew that unarmed goodwill is useless against armed malice. It was to be a lesson that the coming century would teach over and over, and so on into the present century: peace is not a principle, it is only a desirable state of affairs, and can’t be obtained without a capacity for violence at least equal to the violence of the threat. Conrad didn’t want to reach this conclusion any more than we do, but his artistic instincts were proof against the slightest tinge of mystical spiritual solace, and so should ours be. ....

...[H]e tends to reinforce our wishful thought that cultivation—gained, for example, from reading the novels of Conrad—might be enough to ward off barbarism. But barbarism doesn’t care if we are cultivated or not. [more]

The duty to die

.... I met Karner and interacted with her in my work opposing assisted suicide. She said—and I have spoken to many other terminally ill and disabled people who agree—that the assisted suicide movement made it more difficult for her to live with cancer. Here’s how she put it in the Hartford Courant in opposing an assisted suicide legalization proposal:
The out-of-state proponents of the bill regarding physician-assisted suicide suggest having the ability to end your life legally is comforting. But I can tell you from personal experience that it is nearly as troubling as the cancer itself.

You see, I get strength and comfort from the knowledge that nobody is going to give up on me — medically, psychologically or holistically. Right now, I have the firm support of the state and my fellow citizens in my desire to live — no matter the cost or burden.

If that were to change, the tiny knowledge that I might be straining my family, friends, doctors or community resources unnecessarily would be a heavy burden. The constant “option” for suicide would wear at my resolve and I fear, become an unspoken “duty” for me and others.
Sadly, and tellingly, the Maggie Karners of the world, who strive courageously against terminal disease to the end, are mostly ignored in the media’s great rush to boost assisted suicide. ....

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The private eye

Max Allan Collins's The History of Mystery is one of the books I own related to my interest in mysteries. Early in the book he describes origins of the genre including real-life detection. One of the subjects is the Pinkerton Detective Agency, one of the first detective organizations and the source of "private eye" (see above). The Pinkerton's became notorious as a result of employment in breaking strikes including their role in infiltrating and breaking the Molly McGuires and, later, the Homestead Strike. Dashiell Hammett, author of The Maltese Falcon had been a Pinkerton operative and his Continental Op stories were based on that experience.

From the Collins book:
.... In a time when literacy was rare, Pinkerton's operatives had to maintain case journals and documentation that became permanent records at the agency. The "Pinks" even created the first rogues' gallery or photographic archive of criminals. They also worked freely in the shadowy domain between the law and the underworld, developing a large network of criminal informants. The result was a skilled agency that delivered when local law enforcement failed. Coverage by The Police Gazette, a national monthly magazine founded in 1845 and dedicated to covering crime stories, fueled the Pinkerton Agency's growth and fame. The exploits of Pinkerton agents frequently made the Gazette, and an even bigger boost came from Pinkerton's abolitionist efforts. The late 1850s was a period of political strife, centering on the issue of slavery, and Illinois was a hotbed of that controversy. The state was torn apart, the northern portion strongly abolitionist, while slaves were kept in many farms in Southern Illinois.

Pinkerton's abolitionist activities brought him into contact with supporters of Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln. After President Lincoln's election, Pinkerton was hired to prevent possible attempts on the President's life. Pinkerton and his men went undercover in Maryland, then a swing state on the slavery issue. On the way to Lincoln's inaugural, Pinkerton and his operatives uncovered a plot to kill the President. Pinkerton's men spirited Lincoln out of the city before the plot could succeed.

After the start of the Civil War, the U.S. government contracted with Pinkerton to organize the Secret Service. Pinkerton's assigned goals were to gather intelligence regarding Confederate war efforts and to ferret out Confederate spies, particularly in Washington, D.C. When the Pinkerton Agency's war exploits made a splash in the press—sparking controversies about the Lincoln assassination attempt in Baltimore, among other issues—Pinkerton published the first short pamphlets on his agency's work.

By the war's end the agency was firmly established and well-known across the country, even prior to its most famous, headline-making cases: the investigation of the Molly Maguires, the smashing of the Jesse James gang, and the capture of notorious early Chicago serial killer H.H. Holmes. Pinkerton's men lived the themes that later became the core of detective fiction. They regularly used disguises and went undercover. They worked Raymond Chandler's mean streets following their own code of honor, but associating with criminals and law enforcement at will in order to fulfill their contract with their employer. Finally, they regularly outperformed the police in a series of high-profile cases. ....

Free to fail

From Psychology Today, Declining Student Resilience: A Serious Problem for Colleges, describing a problem that has been developing for a long time:
.... We have raised a generation of young people who have not been given the opportunity to learn how to solve their own problems. They have not been given the opportunity to get into trouble and find their own way out, to experience failure and realize they can survive it, to be called bad names by others and learn how to respond without adult intervention. So now, here’s what we have. Young people, 18 years and older, going to college still unable or unwilling to take responsibility for themselves, still feeling that if a problem arises they need an adult to solve it. ....

.... [Helicopter] parents are in some ways victims of larger forces in the society—victims of the continuous exhortations from “experts” about the dangers of letting kids be, victims of the increased power of the school system and the schooling mentality that says kids develop best when carefully guided and supervised by adults, and victims of increased legal and social sanctions for allowing kids into public spaces without adult accompaniment. We have become, unfortunately, a “helicopter society.”

If we want to prepare our kids for college—or for anything else in life!—we have to counter all these social forces. We have to give our children the freedom, which children have always enjoyed in the past, to get away from adults so they can practice being adults, that is, practice taking responsibility for themselves. ....
The head of counseling at the author's university:
I have done a considerable amount of reading and research in recent months on the topic of resilience in college students. Our students are no different from what is being reported across the country on the state of late adolescence/early adulthood. There has been an increase in diagnosable mental health problems, but there has also been a decrease in the ability of many young people to manage the everyday bumps in the road of life. Whether we want it or not, these students are bringing their struggles to their teachers and others on campus who deal with students on a day-to-day basis. The lack of resilience is interfering with the academic mission of the University and is thwarting the emotional and personal development of students. ....
A few themes:
  • Less resilient and needy students have shaped the landscape for faculty in that they are expected to do more handholding, lower their academic standards, and not challenge students too much.
  • Students are afraid to fail; they do not take risks; they need to be certain about things. For many of them, failure is seen as catastrophic and unacceptable. External measures of success are more important than learning and autonomous development.
  • Faculty, particularly young faculty members, feel pressured to accede to student wishes lest they get low teacher ratings from their students. Students email about trivial things and expect prompt replies.
  • Failure and struggle need to be normalized. Students are very uncomfortable in not being right. They want to re-do papers to undo their earlier mistakes. We have to normalize being wrong and learning from one’s errors. .... [more]

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

"My whole hope and confidence"

Samuel Johnson died on December 13, 1784. He was given communion a few days before his death. This was his last recorded prayer:
Almighty and most merciful Father, I am now, as to human eyes it seems, about to commemorate for the last time, the death of Thy Son JESUS CHRIST, our Saviour and Redeemer. Grant, O LORD, that my whole hope and confidence may be in His merits, and Thy mercy; enforce and accept my imperfect repentance; make this commemoration available to the confirmation of my faith, the establishment of my hope, and the enlargement of my charity; and make the death of Thy Son JESUS CHRIST effectual to my redemption. Have mercy upon me, and pardon the multitude of my offences. Bless my friends; have mercy upon all men. Support me, by Thy Holy Spirit, in the days of weakness, and at the hour of death; and receive me, at my death, to everlasting happiness, for the sake of JESUS CHRIST. Amen. (Boswell, Life of Johnson)

Finding the way home

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes "Free to Start Again: The Message of Yom Kippur." I'll quote some selected passages below but if you have time the whole is very much worth reading.
.... The Hebrew word teshuvah — usually translated as "penitence" — in fact means something else: returning, retracing our steps, coming home. It belongs to the biblical vision in which sin means dislocation, and punishment is exile: Adam and Eve's exile from Eden, Israel's exile from its land. A sin is an act that does not belong, one that transgresses the moral boundaries of the world. One who acts in ways that do not belong finds eventually that he does not belong. Increasingly he places himself outside the relationships — of family, community and of being at one with history — that make him who he is. The most characteristic sense of sin is less one of guilt than of being lost. Teshuvah means finding your way back home again. ....

In ancient Israel, there were holy places. The land itself was holy. Holier still was the city of Jerusalem, and in Jerusalem the holiest site was the Temple. Within the Temple was the supremely sacred place known as the Holy of Holies.

There was holy time. There were the festivals. Above them was the Sabbath, the day God himself declared holy. Above even that was the one day in the year known as the Sabbath of Sabbaths, the most holy day of all — the Day of Atonement.

There were holy people. Israel was called "a holy nation." Among them was a tribe of special sanctity, the Levites, and within it were individuals who were holier still, the cohanim or priests. Among them was one person who was supremely holy, the High Priest. In ancient times, the holiest man entered the holiest place on the holiest day of the year and sought atonement for his people.

Then the Temple was destroyed. Jerusalem lay in ruins. Devastated, too, was the spiritual life of Israel. There were no sacrifices and no High Priest. None of the rites of the Day of Atonement, spelled out in the book of Leviticus, could be performed. How then could sins be purged and the people of Israel annually restore their relationship with God? ....

.... When others wept at the destruction of the Temple, Rabbi Akiva preserved a spirit of hope, saying that since it had been prophesied, the rebuilding of Jerusalem, which had also been prophesied, would also come to pass. "Whatever God does is for the best." About the Day of Atonement, he said this:
"Happy are you, O Israel! Before whom are you purified and who purifies you? Your Father in heaven, as it is said, 'And I will sprinkle clean water upon you and you shall be purified' (Ezekiel 36:25)."
Israel did not need a Temple or a High Priest to secure atonement. It had lost its holiest place and person. But it still had the day itself: holy time. On that day every place becomes a holy place and every person a holy individual standing directly before God. By turning to Him in teshuvah it is as if we had brought an offering in the Temple, because God hears every cry that comes from the heart. When there is no High Priest to mediate between Israel and God, we speak to God directly and he accepts our prayer. So it has been for almost two thousand years. ....

In 1798, the great Hassidic leader Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Ladi was imprisoned for spreading religious faith (and thus subversion) among the Jewish population. It is told that while he sat in prison awaiting trial, his warden, conscious of being in the presence of a holy man, asked him a question that had long been troubling him. He said:
"We read in the book of Genesis that when Adam and Eve sinned, they hid themselves amongst the trees of the Garden of Eden, and God called out, 'Where are you?' What I want to know is this. If God knows and sees everything, surely He knew where they were. Why did He need to ask: Where are you?"
The rabbi replied:
"The words of the Bible were not meant for their time alone but for all time. So it is with the question God asked Adam and Eve. It was not addressed to them alone but to each of us in every generation. We do wrong and then we believe that we can hide from the consequences. But always, after we have done wrong, we hear the voice of God in our heart asking: What have you done with your life? Where are you?"
That is the great question of Yom Kippur. God has given us one thing: life itself, this all-too-brief span of years. There may be days, weeks, even months when we lose ourselves in the pace of daily routine, never looking upwards. We can even go through the motions of a religious way of life without the divine presence ever really penetrating to our core of consciousness. We hide. But on the Day of Atonement there is no hiding. ....

Yom Kippur is a day of awe. Yet the Talmud calls it one of the most joyous days of the year. Rightly so, for its message is that as long as we breathe, there is no final verdict on our lives. ....

...[W]e believe that there is always a chance to begin again. For though we may lose faith in God, God never loses faith in us. On this day of days we hear His voice, gently calling us to come home. [more]

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"You need to be protected from your pastor"

"The Lectionary Protects You From Your Pastor" explains a pastor. And as someone in a worship tradition that doesn't usually use the Lectionary I am somewhat envious.
.... The Lectionary is the way the Church protects you from your pastor.

You need to be protected from your pastor. Why? Because he is self-centered. He is egotistical. He is arrogant. He thinks he knows it all and therefore you need to sit down and listen to him tell you it all. You see, I am a pastor. I speak from experience here. I have a lot of things to say. I have a lot of opinions and I am pretty sure they are the right opinions and I am really sure that you ought to have the same opinions as I do. I have some ideas on politics as well and boy, you really need to hear those! I have a couple axes that need grinding and a few hobby horses that need riding. I also have a few other clichés that need to be used...

But you know, the funny thing is, it turns out that you don't come to church to hear my opinions and thoughts on things. I'm a little put out about that because I have a lot of good thoughts—but apparently you come to see Jesus. The Lectionary protects you from me and my brilliant thoughts and opinions and political insights and directs me to preach to you from the Word of God. It also forces me to preach from the entire bible and not just my favourite verses that deal with topics I feel are important. The Lectionary protects you from me. That's a good thing.

Okay, let's have full disclosure here. Sometimes the Lectionary is hard. Sometimes when I look up the texts I am supposed to preach on for the next Sunday I get the cold sweats. I don't like that text! It makes me bring up some uncomfortable topics. The people may not like what the Word of God says. And if they don't like what the Word of God says and I am the one saying those things then...they might not like me. And I like when people like me. A lot. I much prefer it when people are shaking my hand and patting me on my back for being such a swell guy. I don't like it when people are grumpy and angry with me. The Lectionary protects you from me here as well. It protects you from my cowardice. It forces the pastor and people to be confronted with the Word of God—whether it is comfortable or not. That's a good thing. .... [more]


Many of my favorite comedies are British. Among the flms are Cold Comfort Farm, The Ladykillers (the 1955 one with Alec Guinness), The Lavender Hill Mob (also with Alec Guinness), the first Pink Panther film and just about anything else with Peter Sellers. The series include both Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, and, of course, Jeeves & Wooster. Amazon just offered Rumpole of the Bailey, all forty-two episodes (35 hours) for a good price, I bought it, and it just arrived. Many episodes are available on YouTube. The series was shown in the United States on PBS from 1978 to 1992 and starred Leo McKern in the title role.

From a good online review of the series:
What can we say about Rumpole that he hasn’t said himself? He’s a member of the criminal Bar, plies his trade at the Old Bailey, and is in constant conflict with judges, his wife and the Head of Chambers (whom he sees in common as authority figures and worthy of his elegant defiance). It is his dry wit that gets him into trouble, together with his vigorous defence (NEVER the prosecution) of less savoury criminals who get up the nose of the Old Bailey judges. He loves a drink with his small cigars, always preferring the cheapest plonk available at Pommeroy's Winebar (where he favours "Chateau Fleet Street" or "Chateau Thames Embankment"), but don’t be fooled by his appearance — he is an awe-inspiring advocate....

Horace came to prominence, as he loves to tell us, in the infamous Penge Bungalow Murders Case. We’re not exactly sure when this case took place, but like a good fishing story it has obviously acquired a certain sheen with the passage of time. One thing we know for sure - it turned on Rumpole’s vast grasp of the forensic significance of blood stains, and thus a facility with bloodstains has remained for Rumpole the hallmark of a barrister’s skill. ....

A motley group of indelibly drawn characters appear in "Rumpole of the Bailey". For the most part these are incompetent lawyers or peevish judges, who challenge Rumpole’s sense of justice like a bull at a red rag. The audience is treated to Rumpole’s magnificent stream of privately whispered ridicule, which range from mimicry to barbed comments on the judicial process. ....
A sample from YouTube:

“Rumpole, you must move with the times."
"If I don't like the way the times are moving, I shall refuse to accompany them.”

Monday, September 21, 2015

Faith-based film

David Oyelowo is the actor who portrayed Martin Luther King in Selma and who stars in Captive about "the insane true story of Brian Nichols’ 2005 prison escape and killing spree, which eventually ended when he took a hostage by the name of Ashley Smith who read him excerpts of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life." Oyelowo is openly Christian. In "Christians Can’t Abandon Hollywood" he evaluates Hollywood films intended to appeal to Christians and finds them wanting, but...
...“Then, on the other side, you have films being made that are basically preaching to the choir,” ....

“Everyone goes. And isn’t that wonderful because we are people of grace and we are people who love the message. So as long as that’s coming through, we’re very forgiving of the fact that it’s not well acted, it’s not well written and really no one outside of this church would be interested in it. ...."

Oyelowo wants to reach a point where people who believe the Gospel, who believe in miracles and believe in the power of salvation are also “fantastically good artistically, creatively and have a vision beyond a core Christian audience.” Then, he says, Christians will start producing great faith-based movies. .... (more)

Sunday, September 20, 2015

"I stand upon His merit, I know no other stand..."

I first posted about this hymn on November 2, 2009. We sang it in church this Sabbath. From that original posting:
Michael Mckinley at The Church Matters blog provides information about a very good hymn new to me set to very good music new to just about everyone:
For the celebration of Mark [Dever's] 15th anniversary at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, his wife Connie wrote a new tune to "The Sands of Time Are Sinking." It's one of Mark's favorite hymns and he's often remarked that he wants it sung at his funeral. There aren't a lot of very good tunes for the words, but Connie has written a beautiful one.
A downloadable pdf of the words and music can be found here.
The sands of time are sinking, The dawn of Heaven breaks; 
The summer morn I’ve sighed for, The fair, sweet morn awakes: 
Dark, dark hath been the midnight, But dayspring is at hand, 
And glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.
The King there in His beauty, Without a veil is seen: 
It were a well spent journey, though seven deaths lay between:
The Lamb with His fair army, Doth on Mount Zion stand,
And glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.
O Christ, He is the fountain, The deep, deep well of love, 
The streams on earth I've tasted, More deep I'll drink above,
There to an ocean fullness, His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel's land.
With mercy and with judgment My web of time He wove, 
And aye the dews of sorrow were lustred with His love,
I'll bless the hand that guided, I'll bless the heart that planned,
When throned where glory dwelleth, in Immanuel's land.
O! I am my Beloved’s And my Beloved’s mine! 
He brings a poor vile sinner Into His “house of wine.”
I stand upon His merit, I know no other stand,
Not even where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.
The Bride eyes not her garments, but her dear Bridegroom’s face;  
I will not gaze at glory but on my King of Grace.
Not at the crown He giveth, But on His pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land.

Church Matters: What to Sing at Mark Devers Funeral

Friday, September 18, 2015

Constitution Day

From the Newseum survey on the First Amendment earlier this year demonstrating one reason the "first freedom" may be in trouble:
Only 10 percent know the First Amendment guarantees the freedom of the press.

And 33 percent of Americans have no idea at all what rights the First Amendment guarantees.

The First Amendment says: “Congress shall make no law resepecting an establishment of religion, or abridging the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The Newseum Institute survey conducted by Dr. Ken Dautrich, president of the Stats Group, interviewed 1,002 American adults from May 14 through 23. The survey had a margin of error of +/- 3.2 percentage points.

The respondents were asked: “As you may know, the First Amendment is part of the U.S. Constitution. Can you name any of the specific rights that are guaranteed by the First Amendment?”
Fifty-seven percent were able to say that the First Amendment guarantees the freedom of speech. But only 19 percent were able to say that it guarantees freedom of religion. Only 10 percent were able to say it guarantees freedom of the press. Only 10 percent were able to say it guarantees the right of assembly, and only 2 percent were able to say it guarantees the right to petition.

Thirty-three percent of the Americans surveyed were unable to cite a single right that was guaranteed by the First Amendment.
The survey (pdf)

Baptism and church membership

From an interview with Bobby Jamieson, author of Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required for Church Membership:
Church membership is a public affirmation of someone’s public profession of faith in Christ, and Jesus has appointed baptism as the means by which his followers publicly profess their faith in him. A church can’t affirm the profession of someone who hasn’t yet made that profession.

Baptism is how you publicly identify yourself with Jesus and with his people (Acts 2:38–41). It’s how you visibly signify that you are united to Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:1–4). It’s how you are identified before the church and the world as one who belongs to the Triune God (Matt. 28:19).

Baptism is where faith goes public. It’s how you nail your colors to the mast as Jesus’s disciple. ....

If baptism is where faith goes public, then infant baptism simply is not baptism, and those who have been “baptized” as infants need to be baptized—for the first time—as believers. ....

...[B]aptism isn’t a sufficient criterion by which the church is to recognize Christians, but it is a necessary one. It’s not enough for someone to claim to be a Christian or for everyone in the church to think someone is a Christian; Jesus has bound the church’s judgment to baptism. ....

...[B]aptism actually gives shape and structure, form and order, to the local church. You can’t make “Christians” into “church” without baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism binds one to many and the Lord’s Supper makes many one. Baptism accomplishes something essential for the existence of the local church. ....

.... While I do think baptism is meant to draw the line of church membership, credobaptists and paedobaptists should partner together in all sorts of ways: friendship, mutual encouragement, prayer, evangelistic outreach, developing and promoting biblically faithful resources, and much more. ....

.... What modern, Western evangelicals tend to miss about membership is that it starts with, and is shaped by, the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. ....[T]hose two ordinances exist precisely in order to join a believer to the church, and join the church together as one body. ....

...[I]f baptism is the front door of the church, then churches should, as a rule, only baptize people into church membership. There’s no “I’m with Jesus but not yet with the church” stage. If you go public as Jesus’s disciple, you join his public people. And if a church baptizes people into membership, they say from the beginning that the Christian life is lived in the local church. You explode the myth of the lone-ranger Christian. You help ensure that “body of Christ” and “family of God” aren’t dead metaphors but living truths that help define what it means to follow Jesus for everyone who comes to know him through your ministry. [more]

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A still small voice

Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, makes an attractive case that has made sense to me ever since I read C.S. Lewis on sehnsucht in Surprised by Joy:
.... [C.S. Lewis] insists that our longing for things eternal has real connections to other kinds of longings. Even our most mundane quests for fulfillment, he argues, are in some important sense anticipations of the more lasting kind of joy for which we have been created.

The source of our fulfillment is not simply Joy or the Eternal, in some abstract sense. We are created for a personal relationship with the Living God. Furthermore, that God, the Creator who has fashioned us in his own image and likeness, comes looking for us. And in the deep places, all human beings are aware of that search, even if they cannot identify the One who is seeking them.

No one makes this point more eloquently than Abraham Joshua Heschel did in God in Search of Man. He describes the Genesis scene where Adam and Eve, having eaten of the forbidden fruit, hid themselves from the presence of God. But the Lord comes looking for them, and he cries out, “Where art thou?” That call, Heschel says, is one “that goes out again and again. It is a still small echo of a still small voice.” It may not be “uttered in words” or “conveyed in categories of the mind,” but all human beings, as children of God, regularly hear it in the deep places of their being: “Where art thou?”

This is an important reality—one that Calvin means when he speaks of the sensus divinitatis, the sense of the presence of God. We can be confident that even those who live in open and declared rebellion against the Living God regularly hear that still small voice. It may be when suddenly they awake in the middle of the night with the nagging sense that something is stirring in their deep places. Or it may be in a time of particular worry or fear. They hear the voice calling their name, even though it may not be uttered in audible words.

That divine call promises fulfillment for each person’s quest for joy. But it does not encourage us to take our human longings, even those that seem quite free from the effects of our fallenness, at face value. You will sometimes hear the line (often misattributed to G.K. Chesterton) that the man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God. Obviously the statement should not be taken as meaning that the man hopes that God will be the one who greets him at the door. The message is rather that people who are looking for ultimate fulfillment in the quest for pleasure or wealth or power or any other element or aspect of creation will not find it in these things.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts the point simply: Our chief end as human beings is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. [more]

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"Those who do not want to fight in this world of eternal struggle do not deserve to live.”

In "Hitler’s World" Timothy Snyder (the author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin) describes Hitler's worldview. The dictator thought there was no human alternative to nature "red in tooth and claw," no universal truths except the struggle to survive. The article is considerably longer than the excerpts I've chosen below and very much worth reading. Snyder explains the source of Nazi barbarism more clearly than anyone else I have read.
....Human races, Hitler was convinced, were like species. The highest races were still evolving from the lower, which meant that interbreeding was possible but sinful. Races should behave like species, like mating with like and seeking to kill unlike. This for Hitler was a law, the law of racial struggle, as certain as the law of gravity. The struggle could never end, and it had no certain outcome. A race could triumph and flourish and could also be starved and extinguished.

In Hitler’s world, the law of the jungle was the only law. People were to suppress any inclination to be merciful and were to be as rapacious as they could. Hitler thus broke with the traditions of political thought that presented human beings as distinct from nature in their capacity to imagine and create new forms of association. Beginning from that assumption, political thinkers tried to describe not only the possible but the most just forms of society. For Hitler, however, nature was the singular, brutal, and overwhelming truth, and the whole history of attempting to think otherwise was an illusion. Carl Schmitt, a leading Nazi legal theorist, explained that politics arose not from history or concepts but from our sense of enmity. Our racial enemies were chosen by nature, and our task was to struggle and kill and die.

“Nature,” wrote Hitler, “knows no political boundaries. She places life forms on this globe and then sets them free in a play for power.” Since politics was nature, and nature was struggle, no political thought was possible. ....

Hitler entitled his book Mein KampfMy Struggle. From those two words through two long volumes and two decades of political life, he was endlessly narcissistic, pitilessly consistent, and exuberantly nihilistic where others were not. The ceaseless strife of races was not an element of life, but its essence. ....

To say so was not to build a theory but to observe the universe as it was. Struggle was life, not a means to some other end. It was not justified by the prosperity (capitalism) or justice (socialism) that it supposedly brought. Hitler’s point was not at all that the desirable end justified the bloody means. There was no end, only meanness. Race was real, whereas individuals and classes were fleeting and erroneous constructions. Struggle was not a metaphor or an analogy, but a tangible and total truth. The weak were to be dominated by the strong, since “the world is not there for the cowardly peoples.” And that was all that there was to be known and believed. ....

Hitler’s worldview dismissed religious and secular traditions, and yet relied upon both. Though he was not an original thinker, he brought a certain resolution to a crisis of both thought and faith. Like many before him he sought to bring the two together. What he meant to engineer, however, was not an elevating synthesis that would rescue both soul and mind but a seductive collision that destroyed both. Hitler’s racial struggle was supposedly sanctioned by science, but he called its object “daily bread.” With these words, he was summoning one of the best-known Christian texts, while profoundly altering its meaning. ....

Hitler exploited images and tropes that were familiar to Christians: God, prayers, original sin, commandments, prophets, chosen people, messiahs—even the familiar Christian tripartite structure of time: first paradise, then exodus, and finally redemption. We live in filth, and we must strain to purify ourselves and the world so that we might return to paradise. To see paradise as the battle of the species rather than the concord of creation was to unite Christian longing with the apparent realism of biology. The war of all against all was not terrifyingly purposeless, but instead the only purpose to be had in the universe. Nature’s bounty was for man, as in Genesis, but only for the men who follow nature’s law and fight for nature. As in Genesis, so in My Struggle, nature was a resource for man: but not for all people, only for triumphant races. Eden was not a garden but a trench. ....

Hitler’s basic critique was not the usual one that human beings were good but had been corrupted by an overly Jewish civilization. It was rather that humans were animals and that any exercise of ethical deliberation was in itself a sign of Jewish corruption. The very attempt to set a universal ideal and strain toward it was precisely what was hateful. ....

Any nonracist attitude was Jewish, thought Hitler, and any universal idea a mechanism of Jewish dominion. Both capitalism and communism were Jewish. Their apparent embrace of struggle was simply cover for the Jewish desire for world domination. Any abstract idea of the state was also Jewish. “There is no such thing,” wrote Hitler, “as the state as an end in itself.” As he clarified, “the highest goal of human beings” was not “the preservation of any given state or government, but the preservation of their kind.” .... [more]

Monday, September 14, 2015

"If a man talks of his misfortunes..."

The world’s greatest biography was composed by a depressive, a heavy drinker, an inconstant husband and a neglectful father who suffered at least 17 bouts of gonorrhea. That biography is, of course, James Boswell’s Life of Johnson. Nothing like it came before in form and content, and nothing like it has appeared since. ....

Boswell saw not merely a great subject in Samuel Johnson, but an exemplar, a teacher, a reality instructor, for the two men were vastly different in outlook, stability and, above all, good sense. Johnson came to love Boswell without ever quite treating him as an equal. “You are longer a boy than others,” he told him when Boswell was in his mid-30s. In Johnson’s eyes, he would remain a boy, always in need of straightening out, through their 21-year relationship, which ended with Johnson’s death in 1784 at 75.

A habitual keeper of journals, Boswell wrote down nearly everything he heard Johnson say or that was said about him. ....

At the heart of Boswell’s biography was Johnson’s conversation, both that to which Boswell was privy and that reported by others. .... On nearly every occasion he prodded him into conversation on what he hoped would be propitious topics. Well worth the effort it was, for Johnson’s talk was studded with “genuine vigour and vivacity” and larded with “the exuberant variety of his wit and wisdom.” ....

“Depend upon it,” he tells Boswell, “that if a man talks of his misfortunes, there is something in them that is not disagreeable to him.” ....

Oliver Goldsmith said that “there is no arguing with Johnson; for if his pistol misses fire, he knocks you down with the butt end of it.” Although not said in response to this, Johnson held that “every man has the right to utter what he thinks truth, and every man has a right to knock him down for it. Martyrdom is the test.” ....

Boswell shows us his subject’s gruff table manners, how he walked, his laugh (like that of a rhinoceros), his terror of death, his immense—one can only call it his Christian—generosity to the poor and those defeated by life.

Some have found Boswell slavish in his admiration of Johnson. Macaulay called him “servile and impertinent, shallow and pedantic...always laying himself at the feet of some eminent man, and begging to be spat upon and trampeled.” Boswell’s wife said of the relationship: “I have seen many a bear led by a man; but I never before saw a man led by a bear.” If Johnson put up with Boswell’s sometimes cloying sycophancy—“Sir,” he at one point tells him, “you have but two topicks, yourself and me. I am sick of them both”—his doing so paid off handsomely. .... [more] has made a number of Boswell's works available, free for download for Kindle, etc., including the Life of Johnson. Yale has put the "Works of Samuel Johnson" online.

One of my favorite Boswell stories about Johnson:
After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it — "I refute it thus." [Boswell: Life of Samuel Johnson]
Johnson on hypocrisy:
"Sir, are you so grossly ignorant of human nature, as not to know that a man may be very sincere in good principles, without having good practice?"
One of the many prayers Johnson composed:
O LORD, my Maker and Protector, who hast graciously sent me into this world, to work out my salvation, enable me to drive from me all such unquiet and perplexing thoughts as may mislead or hinder me in the practice of those duties which Thou hast required.

When I behold the works of Thy hands and consider the course of Thy providence, give me Grace always to remember that Thy thoughts are not my thoughts, nor Thy ways my ways.

And while it shall please Thee to continue me in this world where much is to be done and little to be known, teach me by Thy Holy Spirit to withdraw my mind from unprofitable and dangerous enquiries, from difficulties vainly curious, and doubts impossible to be solved.

Let me rejoice in the light which Thou hast imparted, let me serve Thee with active zeal, and humble confidence, and wait with patient expectation for the time in which the soul which Thou receivest, shall be satisfied with knowledge.

Grant this, O Lord, for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.
A Biography as Great as Its Subject - WSJ

Sunday, September 13, 2015

"Don't be an ignorant jerk"

.... We used to call this "rudeness," "slights" or "ignorant remarks." Mostly, people ignored them. The elevation of microaggressions into a social phenomenon with a specific name and increasingly public redress marks a dramatic social change, and two sociologists, Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, have a fascinating paper exploring what this shift looks like, and what it means. (Jonathan Haidt has provided a very useful CliffsNotes version.)

Western society, they argue, has shifted from an honor culture — in which slights are taken very seriously, and avenged by the one slighted — to a dignity culture, in which personal revenge is discouraged, and justice is outsourced to third parties, primarily the law. The law being a cumbersome beast, people in dignity cultures are encouraged to ignore slights, or negotiate them privately by talking with the offender, rather than seeking some more punitive sanction.

Microagressions mark a transition to a third sort of culture: a victim culture, in which people are once again encouraged to take notice of slights. This sounds a lot like honor culture, doesn't it? Yes, with two important differences. The first is that while victimhood is shameful in an honor culture — and indeed, the purpose of taking vengeance is frequently to avoid this shame — victim status is actively sought in the new culture, because victimhood is a prerequisite for getting redress. The second is that victim culture encourages people to seek help from third parties, either authorities or the public, rather than seeking satisfaction themselves. ....

If you establish a positive right to be free from alienating comments, it's hard to restrict that right only to people who have been victimized in certain ways, or to certain degrees. It's easy to say everyone has a right not to be alienated. .... The result will be proliferation of groups claiming victim status, attempting to trump the victim status of others. ....

Honor cultures frequently developed a lot of rituals to constrain the violence which otherwise would have degenerated into a blood-soaked war of all-against-all. If you look at the Burr-Hamilton duel, you see a tremendously elaborate process for what is basically two men deciding to duke it out over a nasty remark at a dinner. .... Unless victim culture can find similar stopping mechanisms, it will collapse into the bloodless version of the endless blood-feuds that made us seek alternatives to honor cultures in the first place.

Does that mean that majorities should be free to microaggress their little hearts out? Of course not. ...[A] lot of it simply boils down to saying "Don't be an ignorant jerk." This is a laudable injunction. It's a remark that has always been best delivered in private, without a gun in your hand. And if at all possible, with a friendly smile. [more]

Saturday, September 12, 2015

"There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God"

Nick Kennicott is writing about the "Lord's Day" in  "The Best Day of the Week" but what he has to say about Sabbath is good Sabbatarian teaching:
.... The Christian’s true citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 2:20-21), and gathering to worship with God’s people and resting in Jesus Christ one day out of seven is a small but rewarding foretaste of the blessing that is to come when the elect are gathered together from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation for the great wedding feast with the Lamb. Think about the world in all its fallenness, brokenness, suffering, pain, hurt, and destruction, and then consider what the church is in its midst—an outpost for the sojourners of this world to gather and find rest. As God’s people gather for worship, they experience something of the sweet eternal worship that awaits those who are in Christ Jesus. Faithful local churches aren’t perfect, but they are God’s designated means by which we grow, flourish, and experience true peace and joy with His people on His day. So when Christians make the conscious decision to set aside their earthly labors and entertainments for a day each week, and willingly endure whatever consequences may comes as a result, they reveal their abiding hope in a God who protects and provides for His children, and fulfills all that He promises. ....

Saturday, September 5, 2015

"Highly illogical..."

I was never as enthusiastic about Star Trek in any of its iterations as were (are) many of my friends partly, no doubt, because I'm not particularly interested in science fiction generally. Nevertheless I believe I have seen all of the episodes of each of the TV series, as well as all the films, and was usually entertained. I found Timothy Sandefur's "The Politics of Star Trek" interesting. His thesis is that Star Trek's political attitudes changed a great deal over the last fifty years — and not for the better — as American liberalism changed. The essay is at the Claremont Review of Books:
...[T]he key to Star Trek’s longevity and cultural penetration was its seriousness of purpose, originally inspired by creator Gene Roddenberry’s science fiction vision. Modeled on Gulliver’s Travels, the series was meant as an opportunity for social commentary, and it succeeded ingeniously, with episodes scripted by some of the era’s finest science fiction writers. Yet the development of Star Trek’s moral and political tone over 50 years also traces the strange decline of American liberalism since the Kennedy era.

Roddenberry and his colleagues were World War II veterans, whose country was now fighting the Cold War against a Communist aggressor they regarded with horror. They considered the Western democracies the only force holding back worldwide totalitarian dictatorship. The best expression of their spirit was John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, with its proud promise to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” ....

In “Errand of Mercy,” the episode that first introduces the show’s most infamous villains, he cannot comprehend why the placid Organians are willing to let themselves be enslaved by the Klingon Empire. Their pacifism disgusts him. Kirk loves peace, but he recognizes that peace without freedom is not truly peace.

This was not just a political point; it rested on a deeper philosophical commitment. In Star Trek’s humanist vision, totalitarianism was only one manifestation of the dehumanizing forces that deprive mankind (and aliens) of the opportunities and challenges in which their existence finds meaning. In “Return of the Archons,” for example, Kirk and company infiltrate a theocratic world monitored and dominated by the god Landru. The natives are placid, but theirs is the mindless placidity of cattle. In the past, one explains, “there was war. Convulsions. The world was destroying itself. Landru…took us back, back to a simple time.” The people now live in ignorant, stagnant bliss. Landru has removed conflict by depriving them of responsibility, and with it their right to govern themselves. When Kirk discovers that Landru is actually an ancient computer left behind by an extinct race, he challenges it to justify its enslavement of the people. “The good,” it answers, is “harmonious continuation…peace, tranquility.” Kirk retorts: “What have you done to do justice to the full potential of every individual? Without freedom of choice, there is no creativity. Without creativity, there is no life.” He persuades Landru that coddling the people has stifled the souls it purported to defend, and the god-machine self-destructs. ....
This clear-headedness had evaporated by December 1991, when the movie sequel Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country appeared, only months after Roddenberry’s death. .... It comments on the waning of the Cold War by portraying the first steps toward peace with the Klingons. Yet the price of peace, it turns out, is not merely to forgive past crimes, but for the innocent peoples of the galaxy to take the guilt upon themselves. ....

This represented an almost complete inversion of Star Trek’s original liberalism, and indeed of any rational scale of moral principles at all. At no point in the show’s history had Kirk or his colleagues treated the Klingons unjustly, whereas audiences for decades have watched the Klingons torment and subjugate the galaxy’s peaceful races. In “Errand of Mercy,” they attempt genocide to enslave the Organians. In “The Trouble with Tribbles,” they try to poison a planet’s entire food supply. The dungeon in which Kirk is imprisoned in this film is on a par with Stalin’s jails. Yet never does the Klingon leader, Gorkon, or any of his people, acknowledge—let alone apologize for—such injustices. Quite the contrary; his daughter tells a galactic conference, “We are a proud race. We are here because we want to go on being proud.” Within the context of the original Star Trek, such pride is morally insane.

Yet in service to Spock’s mission of elevating peace over right, the film portrays the Klingons not as thugs, but as misunderstood casualties of human bigotry. ....

Roddenberry was so bothered by the film’s script that he angrily confronted director Nicholas Meyer at a meeting, futilely demanding changes. He and those who helped him create Star Trek knew that without a coherent moral code—ideas they considered universal, but which the film calls “racist”—one can never have genuine peace. Star Trek VI seemed to nod contentedly at the haunting thought Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn voiced in The Gulag Archipelago: “No, no one would have to answer.” .... [much more]

Friday, September 4, 2015


"I can say that I never knew what joy was like until I gave up pursuing happiness,
or cared to live until I chose to die. For these two discoveries I am beholden to Jesus."

“In the end, coming to faith remains for all a sense of homecoming, 
of picking up the threads of a lost life, of responding to a bell that had long been ringing,
of taking a place at a table that had long been vacant.”
Malcolm Muggeridge

I once long-ago owned the first two volumes of Malcolm Muggeridge's Chronicles of Wasted Time. Somewhere between then and now I discarded or misplaced them. R.R. Reno has been reading a new edition that combines those books and an unfinished third into a single volume. I recall thoroughly enjoying them back in the early seventies — and Reno's comment reinforces that impression — so I have ordered the new edition.

Muggeridge was born into a democratic socialist family and married the niece of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Leftist royalty in early twentieth-century England. But a year as a journalist in Moscow at the outset of Stalin's purges caused him to lose his faith, and Muggeridge's became one of the great skeptics of twentieth century truisms, both Left and Right—a skepticism eventually reinforced and given warmth and humanity by his conversion to Christianity. A gifted writer and acerbic wit, every page of Muggeridge's front row seat to the ideological (and military) conflicts of the last century is a joy to read.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library provides some additional information about the man:
In 1932 Muggeridge became a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian in the Soviet Union. He witnessed the Ukranian famine and wrote vivid accounts of this disaster. ....

On the outbreak of the Second World War, Muggeridge joined the Army Intelligence Corps and served in Mozambique, Italy, and France. He also worked for M15 during this period. After the war Muggeridge became a correspondent for the Daily Telegraph in Washington (1946-52). This was followed by a spell as editor of Punch Magazine (1953-57).
Having professed to being an agnostic for most of his life, he became a Christian, publishing Jesus Rediscovered in 1969, a collection of essays, articles and sermons on faith. It became a best seller. Jesus: The Man Who Lives followed in 1976, a more substantial work describing the gospel in his own words. In A Third Testament, he profiles seven spiritual thinkers, or God's Spies as he called them, who influenced his life: Augustine of Hippo, William Blake, Blaise Pascal, Leo Tolstoy, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Soren Kierkegaard and Fyodor Dostoevsky. In this period he also produced several important BBC documentaries with a religious theme, including In the Footsteps of St. Paul. ....
Muggeridge was interviewed more than once by William F. Buckley on Firing Line on PBS. This is "How Does One Find Faith?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015