Monday, October 31, 2016

Reformation Day

From 2012:

Kevin DeYoung reminds us of one of the most important reasons we are Protestants:
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses concerning clerical abuses and indulgences on the church door at Wittenberg. This famous event is often considered the launching point for the Protestant Reformation.

The chief concern for Luther and the other reformers was the doctrine of justification. ....

There are five key concepts every Protestant should grasp if they are to understanding the reformer’s (and the Bible’s) doctrine of justification.

First, the Christian is simul iustus et peccator. This is Martin Luther’s famous Latin phrase which means “At the same time, justified and a sinner.” The Catechism powerfully reminds us that even though we are right with God, we still violate his commands, feel the sting of conscience, and battle against indwelling sin. On this side of the consummation, we will always be sinning saints, righteous wretches, and on occasion even justified jerks. God does not acquit us of our guilt based upon our works, but because we trust “him who justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5).

Second, our right standing with God is based on an alien righteousness. .... I am not right with God because of my righteousness, but because “the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ” has been credited to me. .... We contribute nothing to our salvation. The name by which every Christian must be called is “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6).

Third, the righteousness of Christ is ours by imputation, not by impartation. That is to say, we are not made holy, or infused with goodness as if we possessed it in ourselves, but rather Christ’s righteousness is credited to our account.

Fourth, we are justified by faith alone. The Catholic Church acknowledged that the Christian was saved by faith; it was the alone part they wouldn’t allow. ...[E]vangelical faith has always held that “all I need to do is accept the gift of God with a believing heart.” True, justifying faith must show itself in good works. That’s what James 2 is all about. But these works serve as corroborating evidence, not as the ground of our justification. We are justified by faith without deeds of the law (Rom. 3:28; Titus 3:5). The gospel is “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:30-31), not “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and cooperate with transforming grace and you shall be saved.” There is nothing we contribute to our salvation but our sin, no merit we bring but Christ’s, and nothing necessary for justification except for faith alone.

Finally, with all this talk about the necessity of faith, the Catechism explains that faith is only an instrumental cause in our salvation. .... It is the object of our faith that matters. If you venture out on to a frozen pond, it isn’t your faith that keeps you from crashing into the water. True, it takes faith to step onto the pond, but it’s the object of your faith, the twelve inches of ice, that keeps you safe. Believe in Christ with all your heart, but don’t put your faith in your faith. Your experience of trusting Christ will ebb and flow. So be sure to rest in Jesus Christ and not your faith in him. He alone is the one who died for our sakes and was raised for our justification. Believe this, and you too will be saved. [more]
From Nathan Finn: "Baptists and the Reformation":
...[O]n this Reformation Day, I’m thankful for the Protestant heritage we Baptists enjoy. We stand with Luther and Calvin on justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We stand with the Anabaptists on a believer’s church committed to radical discipleship and confessor’s baptism. We stand with all three of these groups in their commitment to the supreme authority of Scripture. And as good Protestants, we ultimately stand where we stand, not because others stand there as well, but because we believe the Spirit still speaks through His Word to guide Christ’s people on the narrow way.
Five Key Concepts in the Reformation Understanding of Justification – Kevin DeYoung, Baptists and the Reformation

Sunday, October 30, 2016

For all the saints...

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

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

Saturday, October 29, 2016

No fear

I've posted this several times in years past as Halloween has approached. It contradicts the mythology about Druids:

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

The Biblical day begins in the preceding evening, and thus in the Church calendar, the eve of a day is the actual beginning of the festive day. [emphasis added] Christmas Eve is most familiar to us, but there is also the Vigil of Holy Saturday that precedes Easter Morn. Similarly, All Saints’ Eve precedes All Saints’ Day.

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

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

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

Friday, October 28, 2016

Something that never happened before

But it seems that something has happened that has never happened
before: though we know not just when, or why, or how, or where.
Men have left GOD not for other gods, they say, but for no God; and this has never happened before
That men both deny gods and worship gods, professing first Reason,
And then Money, and Power, and what they call Life, or Race, or Dialectic.
The Church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned, what have we to do
But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards
In an age which advances progressively backwards?
T.S. Eliot, Choruses from "The Rock"

Trick or treat

The Internet Monk re-posts Michael Spencer's annual "Halloween Rant." I didn't grow up in a fundamentalist church like he did but otherwise my Halloween church experience was very similar to his — we had costume competition in the church basement involving adults as well as children. There was a dark passageway where you were handed things like skinned grapes and were told they were eyeballs. It wasn't remotely anything but perfectly innocent fun. Spencer:
.... I grew up among Southern Baptist fundamentalist Baptists. The KJV-only, women can’t wear pants, twenty verses of “Just As I Am,” Jerry Falwell, Jack Chick, twice a year revival kind of fundamentalist Baptists.

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

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

And we were big time into Halloween.

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

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

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

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

And then, things changed.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Leo Strauss on C.S. Lewis

I have on several occasions in the past mentioned that C.S. Lewis’s short and elegant book on moral philosophy, The Abolition of Man, could be read as a preface to Leo Strauss’s much more dense Natural Right and History, and further wondered whether these roughly contemporary thinkers were ever aware of one another, despite being in different academic disciplines and in different countries.

Clifford Angel Bates, a pal of mine at the University of Warsaw, passed along this interesting paragraph, taken from page 143 of the transcript of Leo Strauss’s 1962 class on Rousseau at the University of Chicago:
May I mention one point? We don’t have time to read it here: there is a book, or rather a series of lectures by C.S. Lewis, the English author, The Abolition of Man, which is worth reading from every point of view. It is his criticism of social science positivism.... And he calls these men here, in the first lecture, “men without chests,” meaning they admit bodily desires, and they admit reasoning, in a way: namely, how to get the objects of bodily desires. The other things, the values, as they are called, are merely subjective. In other words, there is a lower part of the body, stomach and below, and there is a brain; but there is nothing in between. There is no heart. This is not a bad description of this view of man. I recommend it to your reading. C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, New York, 1959.
The original publication of the book was in 1943.

The Abolition of Man at Amazon

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Staring down the bullies

.... In their better moods, even scientific fundamentalists will tell you the glory of science lies in the endless empirical testing and revision of theories, the back-and-forth of assertion and rebuttal, the stuttering, incremental advance toward truth, the openness to dissent and new ideas. And most often that’s what science is. Let an uncredentialed outsider sneak into the lab, however, asking rude questions about one theory or another, and—wham!—the back-and-forth is shut down and something called “settled science” rises in its place to keep the amateurs at bay. ....

The Kingdom of Speech is popular intellectual history of the most exhilarating kind. Its closest antecedents came along nearly 40 years ago, both of them also by Wolfe. The Painted Word laid waste the world of abstract art, and From Bauhaus to Our House attacked the absurdities of modernist architecture. In all three of these books, Wolfe lampoons the reigning orthodoxy of our intellectual elites—specialists, critics, experts, publicists, academics, nearly everyone who has an interest, professional or rooting, in the status quo, even as they try to persuade the rest of us of notions that we know are crazy. We’re supposed to think that the buildings of Bauhaus are lovely and functional and humane? That nonrepresentational painting is an aesthetic advance over traditional art? As smart as the smart guys and much more amiable, Wolfe has made himself the popularizer of common sense. ....

Clearing the popularizers from the field, as many specialists would like to do, would cede all scientific argument to scientists, who in many notable cases have not earned the deference they demand. The danger is doubled when scientists use science to draw metaphysical lessons—when, that is, they assert that human beings and primates are in essence the same kind of creature. A flurry of data and polysyllabic detail shouldn’t obscure the fact that such a thesis defies human experience and devalues the noblest human endeavors (including science, by the way).

Wolfe joins a small and hardy band of writers and other high-brows who take joy in staring down the bullies of scientism: Marilynne Robinson, David Berlinski, Wendell Berry, Thomas Nagel, a few others. But Wolfe is the best of them. ....
We’re Only Human | commentary

Monday, October 24, 2016

"Unbridled by morality and religion"

John Adams:
.... While our country remains untainted with the principles and manners which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the world; while she continues sincere, and incapable of insidious and impious policy, we shall have the strongest reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned us by Providence. But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candor, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world; because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. .... (To the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts. 11 October, 1798)
"Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." John Adams

Friday, October 21, 2016

About pronouns

.... The obsession over gendered pronouns is part of a general tendency in recent decades to treat social and political questions as fundamentally about signs and symbols rather than actual men and women. I do not believe that using "he" or "him" to refer to "everyone" or "a writer" or "a physician" in any way implies that men are superior to women, or that the language of power, whatever that is, is somehow intrinsically masculine. I think the whole silly controversy arises from the conflation of reality and signifier.

Those are my views. I don't apologize for them. But I would be willing to put them to one side, or just forget about them, if there were an easy way to avoid generic masculine pronouns and still make my sentences clip along without giving the reader any trouble. And by "trouble" I mean that brief moment when the reader thinks about the way you've written it instead of what you've written. ....

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The only true resistance

From "After the Fall" by Michael Hanby:
...[O]nce real transcendence is eliminated or suppressed, political order itself becomes the transcendental horizon, assuming sovereignty over nature, truth, and morality—over anything that would precede, exceed, and limit it. Politics then becomes “the matter of ultimate concern,” even for those who strive to prevent the ultimacy of politics. The political order becomes that to which all meaningful (i.e. public) arguments are referred....

“There is nothing like a good shock of pain,” writes C.S. Lewis in The Silver Chair, “for dissolving certain kinds of magic.” If there is hope to be found in this painful political year, it is in the fact that the spell which liberal modernity has long cast over the Christian imagination might finally be starting to dissolve.... The fundamental question in the wake of that not whether we can rebuild conservatism or renew the moral foundations of civil society, but whether we can find our way to the fullness of the transcendent faith with all that this implies, and live in the light of a truly eschatological hope. A terrifying hope, perhaps, but it is the only true resistance to the tyranny of a suffocating immanentism and all we really have to give to a political order that wants nothing from us but capitulation. Such a gift requires a less political and more mystical Christianity, and a Church that is not simply less worldly, but properly other-worldly.  [more]

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Left unsaid and undone

I once paid a visit to one of the most mega of America’s megachurches. .... I went in with as open a mind as I could muster. I left perplexed. I was perplexed not by what was said or done in the service as much as what was left unsaid and undone.

Since that visit I’ve had the opportunity to attend many more churches and, as often as not, they have been similar, missing a lot of the elements that used to be hallmarks of Christian worship. ....
Among the missing elements (he elaborates on each):
  • Prayer
  • Scripture Reading
  • Confession of Sin and Assurance of Pardon
  • Expositional Preaching
  • Congregational Singing
Two of his sections:
Scripture Reading

Another element that has gone missing in modern worship is the scripture reading. There was a time when most services included a couple of lengthy readings, often one from the Old Testament and one from the New. But then it was trimmed to one and then the reading disappeared altogether in favor of mentioning individual verses as they came up in the sermon. But what of Paul’s command to Timothy that he devote himself to the public reading of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13)? In too many churches this element has gone missing. In too many churches the Word of God is almost an afterthought. ....

Confession of Sin and Assurance of Pardon

Traditionally, Protestant worship services included a confession of sin and an assurance of pardon. Sometimes the congregation would confess their sins by reading a text or a liturgy or by silent prayer. Other times the pastor would confess the sins of the congregation on their behalf. It was a solemn moment. But then there would be the assurance of pardon, where the pastor would bring God’s own assurance that those who confess their sins are forgiven. Solemnity was replaced by joy. This pattern of confession and assurance naturally led to thankful worship and a desire to grow in holiness by hearing from God through his Word as it was read and preached. These elements came early and set up the rest of the service. Yet it is rare to encounter them today. ....
Challies concludes:
I am convinced that most of these elements have gone missing for pragmatic reasons—they do not accomplish something the church leaders wish to accomplish in their services. Instead of searching God’s Word to determine what elements should or must be present in a worship service, leaders are judging elements by whether or not they work (according to their own standard of what works). Yet each of these elements represents a significant loss because each in its own way expresses obedience to God and brings encouragement to his people.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The cost of utopianism

The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation has published the results of a survey indicating that a significant segment of those born since the fall of the Berlin Wall have not been served well by their education in the history of the 20th century. 

From the survey:

The error with respect to Hitler and Stalin may be more understandable since Stalin had about ten more years to do his killing. Given time Hitler may well have exceeded Stalin's butchery. That is the generous interpretation.

Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation: Annual Report on U.S. Attitudes towards Socialism (pdf)

Sentiment, emotion, and affections

...[I]t is a staple of evangelical rhetoric that you “can’t trust your feelings.” The basis of our faith is not our feelings, countless sermons have told us, but the Word of God.

That is undoubtedly true, in the sense that our feelings about faith will fluctuate, but the Word does not change. But if feelings are irrelevant, why did Jonathan Edwards tell us that “True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections”? Edwards could be as hard-nosed a preacher as anyone (see “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”). Surely he was not making a case for sentimentalism?

No, he was not. What Edwards meant was that true religion consisted of an emotional response to the whole truth about God, and about us. That truth includes the reality of sin and judgment, and the horrible, unjust death the Savior had to die to bring us salvation. We grieve over our sin, the pain it causes, and over Jesus’s suffering, before we get to the resurrection and heavenly bliss.

“Affections” are the human spring of action, in Edwards’s estimation. Why would we strive for holiness, or live sacrificially for Christ, if we are emotionally neutral regarding the truths of the gospel? But if we see ourselves, poignantly, as sinners rescued by his death on the cross, and if we rejoice in his triumph over sin and death in the resurrection, then we are prepared to act. That’s why we need the right kind of emotions, passions, and affections, which are typically stirred under exposure to the truth of the Word.

Prosperity gospel preachers would tell us that the point of the Christian life is to escape pain, suffering, and grief. And we should not deny that God has plans to “wipe every tear” from the eyes of believers. But in this life, realistic grief and sorrow are as much a part of the godly affections as are happiness and contentment.

Sunday, October 16, 2016


I have supported three Kickstarter campaigns. This is the only one of them that, it appears, will actually pan out. The Bibliotheca volumes have been printed and bound and are shipping soon.

Why Bibliotecha?
"The literature of the Bible was experienced by its ancient audiences as pure literary art—written or oral—with none of the encyclopedic conventions we are accustomed to today (chapter divisions, verse numbers, notes, cross references, etc.). Furthermore, the texts were appreciated as individual works of literature, which gradually accumulated into what we recognize as the biblical anthology (Biblia, meaning Books). It wasn't until the middle ages that navigational conventions were added and the many texts were combined into a single volume (The Bible, meaning The Book, singular)
"Today, our contemporary bibles are ubiquitously dense, numerical and encyclopedic in format; very different from how we experience other classic & foundational literature, and completely foreign to how the original authors conceived of their work.

"By separating the text into several volumes, and by applying classic & elegant typography, Bibliotheca is meant to provide a fresh alternative to the reader who wants to enjoy the biblical library anew, as great literary art."
The ESV Reader's Bible I recently acquired is based on a similar philosophy but with a more recent translation. Bibliotecha uses the American Standard Version (1901), updated by contemporary scholars, and includes the Old Testament Apocrapha. The ASV, like the ESV is in the line of translations originating from the King James Version. I like the look of the bindings even better than the ESV effort.

Friday, October 14, 2016

"Good for nothing but reading"

.... In the age of print the Bible would be divided into numbered verses, indexed, cross-referenced, glossed, and annotated. The Protestant ideal held that Scripture was self-interpreting, and to help it along in that regard, a host of study helps and apparatuses were born, encouraging the reader to make parallel connections, to grasp in the literature of generations the grand unity of a single divine author. Most of these features existed before the printing press. Successive print editions simply refined and expanded the apparatuses to the point that the text was rarely experienced without them, rendering the Bible perhaps the most technologically advanced book in the predigital world. From its inception, the print Bible aspired toward what we would now recognize as hypertext.

Is it any wonder, then, how quickly the church embraced Bible software and mobile apps? We have simply traded one kind of hypertext for a better one. ....

.... Pastors and scholars rely heavily on software like BibleWorks and Accordance, and laypeople in church are more likely to open Bible apps on their phones than to carry printed editions. The days are coming and may already be upon us when parishioners look askance at sermons not preached from an iPad. ("But aren't you missional?")

And yet, the printed Bible is not under threat. If anything the advent of e-books has ushered in a renaissance of sorts for the physical form of the Good Book. The fulfillment of the hypertext dream by digital Bibles has cleared the way for printed Bibles to pursue other ends. The most exciting reinvention of the printed Scriptures is the so-called reader's Bible, a print edition designed from the ground up not as a reference work but as a book for deep, immersive reading. ....

Over the centuries a format for such books has emerged, familiar to us all thanks to its near-universal adoption in fiction and nonfiction. Whether you're reading a novel or a work of history, a short story collection or an anthology of theological essays, the book is designed with a single column of text on each page set with a balanced preparation between the column's width and the size of the type. Bibles usually don't look this way. They are designed like dictionaries, or shrunken newspapers, the kind of text you're more likely to dip into than to lose yourself in. A designer who wants to make the Bible reader-friendly simply has to take her cues from the kind of books we read deeply.

Setting the Bible in a single column per page instead of two, removing all the headings and subheadings that have been inserted over time, along with the cross-references, the red letters, the superscript numbers and letters throughout the text, and even the verse numbers, results in a book that's really good for nothing but reading.

Without a bunch of Bible apps on your phone—I have five at the moment—such sacrifices might be difficult to make. .... [more]

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"If all died who warrant punishment..."

The Lord of the Rings was not a self-consciously Christian work in the beginning, Tolkien confessed, but it increasingly became such during his many revisions of it. "It is about God," he added, "and His sole right to divine honour." Life within a cosmos that is the Creator's utter gift should elicit proper praise and worship of God.

As a thoroughgoing Augustinian, Tolkien held that such homage enables the accomplishment of our fundamental life-task: the setting of our desires and loves in right order, honouring God above all else, and thus loving all other realities according to their relatively subordinate worth. It is just such honour that the rebel vala named Melkor refused to grant Iluvatar, the divine Creator. In an act of proud rebellion akin to Lucifer's own revolt against Yahweh, Melkor sought his own autonomy, thus ruining the cosmic harmony as Iluvatar had orchestrated it. Before he was finally defeated, Melkor (renamed Morgoth, or "the Dark Enemy") recruited a maia named Sauron ("the Abominable") to his cause.

Here we enter the actual setting of The Lord of the Rings, since it is the Dark Lord Sauron who has fashioned a single Ruling Ring by whose coercive power he schemes to dominate the then-known world called Middle-earth. ....

It is clear that Tolkien shares St. Augustine's understanding of evil as privatio boni, the privation or absence of true being, the perversion or deformation of the good. Evil exists only parasitically, leeching off the good, having only the negative power to damage and destroy. Exactly because evil has no proper substance or essence, however, the Devil can feign numerous appearances, embodying himself in all sorts and conditions of deceit. ....

Precisely in the unlikely heroism of the small but doughty does Tolkien's pre-Christian world become most Christian and joyful. Whether in the ancient Nordic and Germanic, or else in the Greek and Roman worlds, only the strong and extraordinary are capable of heroism. The great man stands apart from his mediocre kith. He outdistances them in every way, whether in courage or knowledge.

It is not so in Middle-earth. ....

The animating power of this Company is the much-maligned virtue called pity. It is a word that has come to have malodorous connotations, as if it entailed a certain condescension toward its recipients — as if the one who grants pity stands above them in moral and spiritual superiority. Knowing well that pity was the quality that Nietzsche most despised in Christianity, but also that the word derives from the antique Roman elevation of pietas as a fundamental reverence toward everything to which we owe our lives, Tolkien transforms the term into the epic's chief virtue.

Frodo had learned the meaning of pity from his Uncle Bilbo. When he first obtained the Ring from the vile creature called Gollum, Bilbo had the chance to kill him but did not. Frodo is perplexed by this refusal. 'Tis a pity, he contends, that Bilbo did not slay such an evil one. This phrase angers the wise Gandalf. It prompts him to make the single most important declaration in the entire Ring epic:
"Pity? It was pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that [Bilbo] took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity."

"I am sorry, "said Frodo. "But ... I do not feel any pity for Gollum ... He deserves death."

"Deserves it! I daresay he does," [replies Gandalf]. "Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement ... [T]he pity of Bilbo will rule the fate of many - yours not least."
Gandalf the pre-Christian wizard here announces the unstrained quality of Christian mercy that is completely unknown to the pagan world. Not to grant the wicked their just penalty is, for the ancient Greeks, to commit an even greater injustice. As a creature far more sinning than sinned against, Gollum thus deserves his misery. He has committed Cain's crime of fratricide in acquiring the Ring. Even so, Gandalf insists on pity, despite Frodo's protest that Gollum be given justice. If all died who warrant punishment, none would live, answers Gandalf. Many perish who have earned life, Gandalf declares, and yet who can restore them? Neither hobbits nor humans can live by the stones of merit alone. .... [more]

"Ignoring the seeking"

Benjamin Myers is a poet who teaches poetry to university students. In "The Sentimentality Trap" he explains why sentimentality is a kind of pornography:
.... Sentimentality is emotional satisfaction without emotional connection, an agreement between the artist and the audience to skip straight to the gratification, which, due to the skipping, is not so gratifying after all.... The popular painter Thomas Kinkade’s cozy little cottages, for instance, offer all the warmth of home—something I certainly enjoy—but what is the warmth of home without knowing the coldness of the world? What is homecoming without the hard journey? In Hebrews, we read that “these all died in the faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country” (11:13–14). Kinkade’s error is not in depicting the homecoming; it is in ignoring the seeking. .... Art must be truthful in what it says about the world and our sojourn in it. Lying down in green pastures is a great goal for an artist, but he must not attempt to get there without walking through the valley of the shadow of death. If he does, he is a liar. ....

Why are so many Christian writers and readers drawn to sentimentality? .... I suspect it has to do with a misguided interpretation of Philippians 4:8, which says, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” This verse is often evoked in admonition to avoid the garbage of popular entertainment, and rightly so. It is, also, alas, taken to mean that we should model our mental and emotional lives on those three monkeys who hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil. Forgetting the direction toward honesty, many Christians seem to believe that what Scripture means by “pure” and by “lovely” is merely the pleasant and the naive, the Hallmark Channel, not the reality of a world in need of redemption.
Yet, looked at through the initially disorienting but ultimately corrective lens of Scripture itself, what is more pure and lovely than the Cross? One might answer, “the Resurrection,” but there is no Resurrection without Crucifixion. The Christian sentimentalist wants the bliss of Easter morning without the pain of Good Friday or the sorrow of Holy Saturday, reducing the great joy of Easter to the pleasantness of a sunrise or spring flowers. The sacrifice of our savior is lovely. His blood is pure. If we can look on these things and know they are good, then we, in a deeply Christian art, should not fear looking at the hard realities of our fallen world. The Christian artist who wraps himself in sunbeams and daffodils fails to be Christian at all, producing a bloodless, lifeless art that pleases a middle-class consumerism, not an authentic Christian encounter with a hurting world. .... [more]

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

And then came the word processor

Alan Jacobs remembers. I was one of those who procrastinated on major writing assignments. The night before an assignment was due tended to be an all-nighter or at least an early hours of the morning night. At least I had thought about what I might write and composed much of it in my head. My salvation was erasable paper. The computer and word-processing didn't come along until I was well into my teaching career. I recall almost losing a lease because the neighbors beneath me objected to the pounding of my typewriter at 2:00 am. Jacobs on the typewriter:
“Each of us remembers our own first time,” Matthew Kirschenbaum writes near the beginning of his literary history of word processing — but he rightly adds, “at least...those of us of a certain age.” ....

The heart of the matter was mistakes. When typing on a typewriter, you made mistakes, and then had to decide what, if anything, to do about them; and woe be unto you if you didn't notice a mistyped word until after you had removed the sheet of paper from the machine. If you caught it immediately after typing, or even a few lines later, then you could roll the platen back to the proper spot and use correcting material — Wite-Out and Liquid Paper were the two dominant brands....

Moreover, if you were writing under any kind of time pressure — and I primarily used a typewriter to compose my research papers in college and graduate school, so time pressure was the norm — you were faced with a different sort of problem. Scanning a page for correctable mistakes, you were also likely to notice that you had phrased a point awkwardly, or left out an important piece of information. What to do? Fix it, or let it be? Often the answer depended on where in the paper the deficiencies appeared, because if they were to be found on, say, the second page of the paper, then any additions would force the retyping of that page but of every subsequent page — something not even to be contemplated when you were doing your final bleary-eyed 2 AM inspection of a paper that had to be turned in when you walked into your 9 AM class. You’d look at your lamentably imprecise or incomplete or just plain fuddled work and think, Ah, forget it. Good enough for government work — and fall into bed and turn out the light.

The advent of “word processing” — what an odd phrase — electronic writing, writing on a computer, whatever you call it, meant a sudden and complete end to these endless deliberations and tests of your fine motor skills. You could change anything! anywhere! right up to the point of printing the thing out.... [more about the advent of word processing on a computer and its effect on writing]

ESV Reader's Bible

This arrived today from Westminster Books (still 50% off, i.e. $99). It was extremely well packaged/protected - wrapped in paper inside a box that was itself in a box covered with a plastic wrap and inside a larger shipping box. Nothing was going to damage the contents.The contents are, as you can see, six volumes of the English Standard Version of the scriptures. It is what Crossway calls a "Reader's Bible." A page:

I'm happy.

Monday, October 10, 2016

"Words we can mean"

Anecdotal Evidence quoted several lines from the poem below and so I went in search for all of it. The issue was whether Parliament should act to "modernize" Cranmer's language in the Book of Common Prayer:
When the C of E was debating the Series 3 liturgy back in the late 1970s, a Canon Brown in Devizes wrote to the Guardian saying that the matter should be left to the Church. The scholarly and multilingual poet Charles Sisson wrote this poem and traveled to Wiltshire and pinned it to the door of Canon Brown's church.

The organist spoiled the Luther-like gesture by taking the paper down....
For Canon Brown, Who Likes Contemporary Speech

Do not imagine, Canon Brown,
That when the chips are really down
It will be folk like you who speak
So plain, while we are sham antique.
Do you know, arrogant old fool,
(That's modern, mate, so keep your cool)
It is you who are antiquarian
And we who think that san ne fairy-ann
Whether the words are old or new
But only, what work can they do?
What work can you do, idle lump?
While you defile the parish pump
Some of us like our water clean
And like to use words we can mean.
And so did Cranmer, who had to cook
For standing by his common book.
Write me a Book of Common Prayer
That is not made up of hot air
With words that are as plain as this
And, oh boy! that will take the piss
Out of those who wrote Series 3
And (I confess it) out of me.
C H Sisson

The Book of Common Prayer, 1549, The Church of England Book of Common Prayer

God as Author - Google Groups

Strangers and aliens

In an essay responding to Ross Douthat and David Brooks Rod Dreher writes "hope is not the same thing as optimism." Dreher believes that from the Christian perspective we have already entered a Dark Age. Denny Burk didn't let his young children watch the debate last night:
.... It is not easy trying to explain to them why they cannot watch our two presidential candidates debate. Nor is it easy trying to explain to them why our family cannot support either of them. All they know is that we should respect our leaders, no matter their political party. They also know that we usually have a favored candidate who most represents our ideals. But they also know that there is no candidate for us this year from either of the two major political parties. This is a first for us.

This election has made me acutely aware of a weighty burden that I feel for my country and for my children. If evangelicals have felt at ease in Babylon until now, that ease has passed. Our culture is post-Christian, and so are our politics. We are strangers and aliens here (1 Pet. 2:11). That is nothing new. Indeed it has always been the case. But the contrast between the church and the world is becoming increasingly stark in our nation.

The burden I feel is not that Christians have lost the culture or that we need to figure out how to recover some pristine era in the past (no such era ever existed). The burden I feel is for preparing my children and the church that I pastor for the world that we live in now. To be in the world, not of the world, for the sake of the world is what God has called us to (John 17:13-21). To love our neighbors and our enemies and to do so faithfully and joyfully in the face of open opposition and cynical indifference—that is the burden of our time. And that is what we must prepare our children, our churches, and ourselves to face in coming days.

We live in sad times. But the debacle of the 2016 presidential election is not the cause of our times. It is the sign of our times. And we need to have our eyes wide open to the world and our hearts full of gospel joy and our feet swift to our great work. This does not mean a retreat from public life or from our democratic stewardship. It just means that we know where we have pinned our hopes for this life and the next. And believing that, we bear witness to a coming King who will one day make all things new (Rev. 21:5). For here we have no lasting city, but we are seeking a city which is to come (Heb. 13:14). [more]
Last night’s debate and my burden going forward | Denny Burk

Thursday, October 6, 2016

"The evidence poses the limits..."

Richard Evans is a historian who testified as an expert witness in a case involving Holocaust denier David Irving. His book about the experience is Lying About Hitler and is the the subject of a soon to be released film, Denial. Here Evans is interviewed by Justin Taylor. Evans on historians and history:
Taylor: How is is that reputable, professional historians, seeking to be objective and working with the same evidence, can come to varied conclusions?

Evans: A distinction must be made between fact and argument, even if it is not always very clear. The evidence poses the limits within which interpretations are possible.

One of my favorite sections of Lying about Hitler is where you compare historians to figurative painters sitting at various places around a mountain. Could you repeat the comparison here

The figurative painters paint the mountain “in different styles, using different techniques and different materials, they will see it in a different light or from a different distance according to where they are, and they will view it from different angles. They may even disagree about some aspects of its appearance, or some of its features. But they will all be painting the same mountain. If one of them paints a fried egg, or a railway engine, we are entitled to say that she or he is wrong; whatever it is that the artist has painted, it is not the mountain. The possibilities of legitimate disagreement and variation are limited by the evidence in front of their eyes.

“An objective historian is simply one who works within these limits. They are limits that allow a wide latitude for differing interpretations of the same document or source, but they are limits all the same.” .... [more]

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Sola, or solo?

In "Evangelicals, Heresy, and Scripture Alone" Mathew Block discusses why it is that so many Evangelicals hold views the Church has long considered heretical particularly about the person of Christ and the person-hood of the Holy Spirit. A possible answer:
...[M]any Christians seem to think saying Sola Scriptura is the ultimate authority somehow means it is my personal “solo” reading of Scripture that is authoritative. They reject the witness of the Church down through the ages in favor of a personal, private understanding of Scripture (which is not at all what the reformers meant by the term “Scripture alone”). ....

.... In other words, Evangelicals believe the Bible is authoritative; and that authority is mediated by individual believers, rather than the church (even though the Bible explicitly says that authority is to be exercised by the church—e.g., Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5:11-13, Titus 3:10-11, etc.)

If we are going to address the rise of heresy in our churches, then Christians must rededicate themselves to reading the Bible in community—with the local church, yes, but also with the Church throughout history. If the Bible is truly the authority Evangelicals say it is, then we must also recognize that God has exercised that authority over Christians other than ourselves. The history of the Church, in its creeds and confessions, is a witness to other Christians who have been shaped by and wrestled with the Word of God.

If instead we ignore the ways in which the Church has expressed its beliefs—if we ignore the ways in which God has shaped the faith of the Church historic through His Word—then we are really denying that the Scriptures are authoritative at all. We are in effect saying that we do not trust God’s Word to have acted on any Christians other than ourselves. Instead, we are elevating ourselves—our own hearts—as the ultimate judge, both over Scripture and the God who has shared that Word with the Church down through history. And that is heresy of the highest degree. .... [more]

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Lord of time

Timothy George on "The Eternity of God":
.... The Bible says that the number of God’s years is “unsearchable” (Job 36:26). God is the one “who lives forever” (Isa 57:15). He is therefore utterly distinct from everything that exists outside of himself; he is before and after, above and beneath, incomparable to all creaturely realities, including the heavens and the earth. As the psalmist says, “They will perish, but thou remainest, and they all will become old as a garment, and as a mantel thou wilt roll them up; as a garment they will also be changed. But thou art the same, and thy years will not come to an end” (Ps 102:26, as quoted in Heb 1:11–12). “Before Abraham was,” Jesus said, “I AM” (John 8:58). The eternity of the Son was a major concern in the development of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity in the early church. What Athanasius and the other Nicene theologians (including the Cappadocians) said about the Logos is no less true of the Father and the Holy Spirit: Before he was, there was not.

In books 10 and 11 of the Confessions, Augustine takes up the mystery of time and eternity. .... This is what he said: It makes sense to ask what God was doing before he made the world if, and only if, both God and the world are separate items within the same temporal continuum. But they are not. God’s years, unlike ours, do not come and go. They are succeeded by no yesterday, and they give way to no tomorrow. “It is not in time that you precede all times, O Lord. You precede all past times in the sublimity of an ever-present reality. You have made all times and are before all times.” ....

God’s changelessness does not mean that he is a static being, incapable of being affected by anything outside of himself, a deity locked forever in the prison of his own aseity. Such a concept might describe Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, but it falls far short of the God of biblical revelation, the God who is actively involved with the world he has made and who entered directly into that world as a squirming baby in a messy manger.

God’s immutability refers instead to his constancy and faithfulness. “I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Mal 3:6). “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). The God of the Bible is not only the Creator of time but also the Lord of time. Unlike human beings who are creatures of a day, God is the one whose steadfast love endures forever, whose faithfulness is to all generations: “The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength. Yea, the world is established; it shall never be moved; thy throne is established from of old; thou art from everlasting” (Ps 93:1–2). .... [more]

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Sir Neville Marriner, RIP

Several of my favorite records/CDs are recordings by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Neville Marriner conducting. Marriner died today, age 92. From the Washington Post's obituary:
The ensemble began as a group of 13 friends, playing baroque music for strings in Mr. Marriner’s living room, but quickly grew larger and more ambitious. Its first public concert took place at its namesake church in London’s Trafalgar Square in 1958, and shortly thereafter the group was invited to make its first recording.

It would turn out to be the first of several hundred albums credited to “St. Martin’s,” as it was customarily abbreviated. At least 200 of these were led by Mr. Marriner, initially with nods and gestures as he played the leading violin part and later from the podium. ....

“It’s the sound of the Academy that made it celebrated around the world,” Mr. Marriner reflected in an interview he gave to the London Guardian for his 90th birthday in 2014. “We wanted some clarity in the texture and vitality in the tempi. Early music at that time had been slow, thick, cloudy and taken very seriously, like an ancient relic.”

Indeed, Mr. Marriner and his group were part of a huge revival of scholarly and popular interest in music of the 18th and early 19th centuries that began in the 1960s and has continued to this day.

Washington Post arts critic Philip Kennicott once described the original appeal of the St. Martin’s performances and its interpretation of classics. “The Academy played them like chamber music,” he wrote in 2001, “with reduced forces and an emphasis on clarity; it also played them fast, which produced a broad architectural overview. This was revelatory in an age when conductors often got bogged down milking each phrase for its maximum romantic yield.” ....

For a conductor, Mr. Marriner was unusually self-effacing, a trait that endeared him to his colleagues. Asked once for his proudest claim about the orchestra, he gave a simple answer: “We decided always to have good players and never to go on the platform under-rehearsed.” ....

The decision to name the ensemble the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields was a practical one.

“It was the place where we gave our first ever concert back in 1958, so there’s significance in that,” Mr. Marriner told the London Daily Telegraph in 2014. “But the real reason we took the name was that the vicar let us rehearse there for free so long as we publicized the church. That was the deal. .... [more]

Neville Marriner, who led renowned Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, dies at 92 - The Washington Post