Wednesday, January 31, 2024

So you're a Baptist?

I started blogging here shortly after I retired from teaching in 2005, usually posting several times a week. Consequently, there is a lot of material that I at least once thought worth sharing. Every now and then I scroll through the posts identified with one of the tags I appended.  Today it was "Baptism" and one of the posts was a review of books defining "Baptist."

From 2011:

At Books & Culture, Mark Noll, in "So You're a Baptist," reviews two books about Baptist identity, concluding that the most significant thing the diverse groups known as "Baptists" have in common is our history.
.... They agree that Baptists should be considered offshoots of the Puritan movements that insisted on scriptura sola as the sole reliable basis for faithful Christianity and the most effective source of correction for the halfway reforms in the national Church of England. A very high view of biblical authority has remained central to almost all later Baptist movements, but even more distinctly Baptist was how this loyalty to Scripture was practiced. Baptists, that is, pushed the logic of "the priesthood of all believers" beyond where most of their fellows, even most of their Puritan peers, wanted to go. In their view, a properly functioning Christianity required not just diligence in following Scripture, but the personal and intentional commitment of each church member to practice that diligence. For Baptists, common Protestant teaching about the lordship or kingship of Christ was taken to mean that no intermediate authority should stand between God and the gathering of his people to worship and serve him.

.... These earliest Baptists were "General" because they believed in the potential efficacy of Christ's death for all humans. .... Before long, however, they were joined by "Particular" Baptists who maintained the era's standard Calvinist teaching that Christ died particularly for the elect rather than for humanity as a whole.

Within a generation from their founding, both "Generals" and "Particulars" would begin baptizing by immersion, the standard practice that has continued for Baptist churches around the world to this day. In this early period, adult baptism upon personal profession of faith was only partly a conclusion drawn from "the Bible alone." Even more, this approach to baptism represented a protest, as Mennonites and other Anabaptists also protested, against the idea of inherited or bestowed Christian identification symbolized by the traditional practice of infant baptism. To be a follower of Christ meant to commit oneself personally rather than to rely on the mediation of family, church, or a supposedly Christian society. Extensive biblical arguments for both baptism upon profession of faith and baptism by immersion soon appeared within Baptist ranks. But the broad pre-conviction underlying specifically baptismal practice was a positive vision of the self's individual responsibility under God and a negative vision of human institutions or traditions as distorting that personal relationship.

...[B]eyond the common approach to baptism itself, these prominent Baptist principles did not lead to a common theology, common church practices, or common attitudes to social engagement.

Almost inevitably, the very principles that Baptists shared made it difficult for Baptists to agree among themselves. And so within less than a century of organized Baptist existence, differences emerged in response to a number of questions that led to the formation of separate Baptist denominations: Was the atonement universal as Generals claimed or specific as Particulars urged? Should adults who were baptized also receive the laying on of hands? Should the day for public worship be the Sabbath/seventh day (Saturday) or the first day/Resurrection (Sunday)? Should local leaders accept the validity of adult baptism done elsewhere? Should they require the re-baptism of those who had received infant baptism? Should Baptist fellowships have confessions of faith? Should churches follow Christ's command literally to wash one another's feet? Should Baptists take part in politics or hold aloof? Should conferences of Baptist churches or leaders of those conferences be given any authority within local congregations? For each of these questions, and for many more that would come later, sincere believers were able to cite biblical chapter and verse that were completely convincing to themselves but that did not convince other Baptists. .... (more)
"Completely convincing to themselves" but unpersuasive to other Baptists — not a bad summary of Seventh Day Baptist efforts regarding the Sabbath.

So You're a Baptist— | Books and Culture

Sunday, January 28, 2024

The algorithm

I spend a great deal of time online — too much time. But I do curate what I read. I'm pretty ruthless about blocking or not following Facebook posts that may be amusing but are otherwise pointless, and I avoid participating in controversy because I doubt my ability to persuade in this context. I do sometimes find myself following a string of argumentative comments and that is almost always an annoying waste of time. I do have an RSS feed that links me to articles at sites I have chosen that often take me to good stuff. This review of Filterworld: How Algorithms Flattened Culture is a warning about how we can be tempted to "do nothing at all for long periods" online.
In Chayka’s analysis, the end state of an algorithm-driven, competitive media environment is a yearning for oblivion. Burn out the dopamine circuits for long enough and “our natural reaction is to seek out culture that embraces nothingness, that blankets and soothes rather than challenges or surprises, as powerful artwork is meant to do.” This endgame was anticipated by C.S. Lewis more than 80 years ago, when in his Screwtape Letters he had a senior devil instruct a junior tempter to lead his “patient” into something that sounds a lot like doomscrolling:
You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do.... You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return.
In the end, Lewis’s devil says, the patient will realize that “I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.” You don’t have to assume that the internet is operated by literal demons to be worried that its prevailing currents carry us far from our own best intentions. Sometimes, the algorithmic feed coarsens us by interspersing violent images from wars around the world with light jokes for ’90s kids. Other times, we ingrain bad habits when our clicks teach the feed to show us the dumbest, most infuriating thinkers on the other side of a political divide.

But, frequently, what I find myself resisting is the way the algorithm tempts me to let a lower good eclipse a higher good. Once you face the infinity of the global content stream, there’s enough low-quality but decent material out there to fill up your whole day. There’s nothing wrong with a Twitter feed of jokes about the cast of Frasier playing D&D, but the supply of quirky humor exceeds my attention budget. I need to aggressively and actively choose the best, not just passively consume the okay.

But the best operates contrary to the way the algorithms monitor our satisfaction. We pause, close the app, contemplate. Something worth our time provokes friction and demands silence. All of that looks like failure to an uncurious app. Algorithmic feeds are risk-averse. It is easier for them to keep recommending more of what you find satisfying enough than to take a chance with a risky suggestion. ....

Friday, January 26, 2024


Tomorrow, January 27, is the "International Day in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust." It is important to remember. Reviewing a new book, The Holocaust: An Unfinished History:
"Survival was the exception, death the norm.” That is how the British historian Dan Stone describes the fate of the Jews in The Holocaust: An Unfinished History. Reading his incisive analysis of the genocidal endgame that unfolded from Nazi antisemitism in the early 20th century, one would be unsettled at any time. But doing so against the backdrop of the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre that killed some 1,200 Israelis, in the largest mass murder of Jews since World War II, will leave the reader numbly groping for answers. ....

At the core of Hitler’s belief system, Mr. Stone writes, was a “genocidal fantasy” of a “world without Jews.” It was a familiar hatred that was neither new nor confined to Germany—Christians had demonized Jews at least since the Middle Ages—and therefore a prejudice easily tapped into and amplified in service to Hitler’s goal of forging an “ethnically pure nation.”

The nationalistic notion of “pure blood” was also not new to nativist political movements and other groups in either Europe or America. For instance, since its introduction in the 1880s, the racist pseudoscience of eugenics had brought increasingly broad acceptance and intellectual currency to the idea that “bad” genes belonging to “inferior” races and “defective” individuals should be eliminated. The Nazi name for this type of program was racial hygiene.

It was the linkage of all these concepts, taken to their extreme and placed in a neo-religious, quasi-mystical framework of redemption and purity, that gave shape to the Nazi worldview. This mindset melded together the grandiose ideals of Aryan superiority and the malignant visions of Jews conspiring to “replace” them into a struggle dictating that only by destroying all Jews could Aryan blood prevail. From this perspective, Mr. Stone observes, World War II was nothing less than “a fight for racial life or death,” a quest to restore a defeated Germany to greatness. ....

The Nazi invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, marked the start of World War II, and the Reich’s commencement of the mass killing of Jews began soon after. Mr. Stone emphasizes that the carnage perpetrated in the first years of the war used a different means of savagery from the “factory-line extermination” of yet-to-be-created death camps like Auschwitz. In this early stage of the Holocaust, mobile killing units made up of police officers and SS commandos would advance, town by town, rounding up local Jews, sometimes thousands in number, whom they typically shot in pits that became their mass graves. Mass-shooting operations like these annihilated approximately two million Jews.

Only after 1940, as each of the major death camps at Chełmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Auschwitz-Birkenau became fully operational, did poison gas become the chief means of murder. Tens of thousands of other Jews succumbed to starvation, privation and disease in hundreds of ghettos and forced-labor camps.

Mr. Stone makes clear that all these killings, on so vast a scale and in so many locations, could not have been accomplished without the help of collaborators. .... (more)

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

“Behold, the dwelling of God is with men..."

I just subscribed to a promising new blog on Substack, The New Jerusalem, authored by father and son, Andrew and Spencer Klavan, "one a storyteller, the other a scholar." The first post, a joint effort, is "Those Who Remain."
There’s a Christian vision of the apocalypse in which God sweeps the faithful up into heavenly rapture, while unbelievers remain forlorn and bereft on the earth below. It’s a powerful image, well known from popular stories like the Left Behind novels and modern hymns like “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” Even outside the Christian tradition, T.V. shows like The Leftovers and the madcap satire This is the End have worked out versions of the same idea: victory and salvation are up there, in airy realms beyond the mire of time and space.

But there’s another interpretation of scripture that portrays the end times differently. What if, when Judgement Day begins, it’s the ones who remain on earth who are blessed? In fact, this scenario may be written into the Greek of the Gospel. Where English translators print “left behind,” Matthew has written aphietai: it means “released,” or even “forgiven.” So maybe the man taken from the field is not a role model but a cautionary tale. Maybe the final drama of salvation will take place not up in the air, but down here on the ground.

“The book of Revelation ends, not with souls going up to heaven, but with the New Jerusalem coming down to earth, so that ‘the dwelling of God is with humans,’” writes theologian N.T. Wright. It may be appealing to imagine slipping free of our bodies and sailing away into a great beyond of pure spirit. But perhaps in the end it will be this world—this flesh, this human life we live—that is redeemed.

Earlier in the same gospel, Jesus insists that “no one knows the day or the hour” when these things will happen—“not the angels in heaven, nor even the son” (emphasis added). As a rule, we find it wise to take Jesus at his word. Nothing we have to say here should suggest that we’re in possession of privileged information about the apocalyptic schedule. All the same, we do sense that humanity is approaching a singular crossroads—a moment in the near future when we will all be forced to choose between two irreconcilable ways forward. .... (more)

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Lenin's legacy

There were Western intellectuals who believed Bolshevik Russia was the future "and it works." Lenin, its founder, allegedly said “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” Today there are "conservatives" (!) who apparently see Putin's Russia as something to be emulated. Here it is argued that Putin's Russia inherited its moral approach from Lenin:
Vladimir Lenin has been gone for a century, but the evil he did lives on. The first leader of the Soviet Union died on Jan. 21, 1924, in Gorki, Russia (now called Nizhny Novgorod), after repeated strokes. His legacy is a world whose moral equilibrium he helped to destroy.

The Soviet Union was based on Marxism, a secular religion, and Lenin was the architect of its system of anti-morality. For Lenin, as he said in his speech to the Komsomol on Oct. 2, 1920, morality was entirely subordinated to the class struggle. An action was right not in light of “extrahuman concepts” but only if it destroyed the old society and helped to build a new communist society. ....

Lenin was born in 1870 in Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk), the son of a senior school inspector. In 1893 he moved to St. Petersburg, where he joined the Marxist party and published a book, “What Is to Be Done?” (1902), in which he described a plan for seizing power by a disciplined “vanguard” party of professional revolutionaries. The unacknowledged model for this party was the Russian People’s Will, which was founded in 1879 and in 1881 carried out the assassination of Alexander II, the “Czar Liberator,” who 20 years earlier had freed the Russian serfs.

In February 1917, Lenin’s party, the Bolsheviks, had 24,000 members. It was able to triumph in a country of more than 100 million because it was a machine of concentrated power that accepted murder and glorified it as a moral obligation. Isaac Steinberg, the non-Bolshevik justice minister in the first revolutionary government, objected to summary executions. He sarcastically asked Lenin: “Why bother with a Commissariat of Justice? Let’s call it the ‘Commissariat for Social Extermination.’” Lenin’s face lit up, and he said: “That’s exactly what it should be, but we can’t say that.” ....

When the Soviet Union fell, Russia dismantled the socialist economy but didn’t restore the moral framework Lenin destroyed. The result was the rise of a criminal state no less dangerous than its predecessor—one that has engaged in assassinations, shot down civilian airliners, and even bombed apartment buildings to bring Mr. Putin to power. ....

One of Lenin’s last writings was a set of recommendations for deceiving “deaf-mutes,” his term for Western capitalists who were ready to ignore Soviet crimes in their pursuit of profit. His plan was to promote the fiction of a legitimate government in the Soviet Union separate from the Communist Party and establish relations with as many countries as possible to create a false impression of normality.

Lenin’s plans were adopted by the Soviet regime and inherited by post-Soviet Russia with its fixed elections, controlled Parliament and “outreach”....

Lenin’s mausoleum is visited annually by an estimated 2.5 million people, but his popularity in Russia has declined compared with Stalin, who is credited with the victory in World War II. The figure of Lenin, however, stands as the symbol of history’s first rejection of universal standards on behalf of a political movement that claimed a monopoly on truth. .... (more)

Friday, January 19, 2024


I grew up next to a college campus. The college had a serious music department and from an early age I was taken to both instrumental and vocal recitals and concerts. All of my closest friends in high school were serious about classical music. They also thought PDQ Bach was hilarious and introduced me to Schickele's albums. This obituary today reminded me of that less serious side of our enjoyment of music.
Peter Schickele who has died aged 88, was better known as the fictional composer PDQ Bach, whose Victor Borge-style parodies delighted and entertained audiences; he was equally inventive with instruments, coming up with a trombone-bassoon combination known as the tromboon and the left-handed sewer flute.

A grizzly-bearded, Brahms-like figure, Schickele looked like a refugee from a psychedelic Sixties rock band. He claimed to be head of musical pathology at the non-existent University of Southern North Dakota in Hoople, where he was engaged in excavating the work of PDQ Bach, “history’s most justifiably neglected composer”.

His creation took on a life of its own, with a back story that cast a wickedly irreverent eye over the more pretentious aspects of musical scholarship. PDQ Bach (born 1807, died 1742) was the “last and least talented” of Johann Sebastian’s 20 sons and credited with composing anything that traditional musicologists loved to unearth in dusty archives: oratorios, cantatas, motets and madrigals. ....

In the course of his “research” Schickele came upon such masterpieces as PDQ Bach’s Missa Hilarious, the dramatic oratorio Oedipus Tex and Eine Kleine Nichtmusik, in which Mozart’s famous serenade is overlaid with snatches from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Stravinsky’s Petrushka.

Schickele fiercely denied having a hand in their creation, insisting that they had all been found in dustbins, attics and the like. ....

Opera made an appearance in the form of The Abduction of Figaro; The Civilian Barber and Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice, described as “an opera in one unnatural act”. The Half-Nelson Mass was not easily forgotten by its victims, nor was the “Canine Cantata” Wachet Arf. ....

In PDQ Bach, Schickele created a character that was at once richly comic and brilliantly plausible. ...[M]uch of his humour relied on wrong notes and unusual juxtapositions. By remaining close to the truth, his ingeniously orchestrated hoaxes were both pointed and entertaining, with the music deriving its satirical edge from the creator’s comprehensive knowledge of the appropriate idioms. .... (more)

Thursday, January 18, 2024

But with tolerance and understanding

I recently noticed on Facebook that the church in which I grew up is offering a Sabbath School class titled “Welcoming the LGBT+ Community into our Lives with Grace and Truth.” That's a good topic for our time so long as "Grace" doesn't water down "Truth." I assume, knowing the leadership here, that truth won't be stinted. Someone recently accessed a post from 2012 on this site that quoted from German Lutheran theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg on the subject. He seems to me to strike the correct balance. From "Revelation and Homosexual Experience" (behind the CT subscription wall, but the essay can also be found here):
Can love ever be sinful? The entire tradition of Christian doctrine teaches that there is such a thing as inverted, perverted love. Human beings are created for love, as creatures of the God who is Love. And yet that divine appointment is corrupted whenever people turn away from God or love other things more than God.

Jesus said, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me..." (Matt. 10:37). Love for God must take precedence over love for our parents, even though love for parents is commanded by the fourth commandment.

The will of God [is to] be the guiding star of our identity and self-determination. What this means for sexual behavior can be seen in Jesus' teaching about divorce. In order to answer the Pharisees' question about the admissibility of divorce, Jesus refers to the creation of human beings. Here he sees God expressing his purpose for his creatures: Creation confirms that God has created human beings as male and female. Thus, a man leaves his father and mother to be united with his wife, and the two become one flesh.

Jesus concludes from this that the unbreakable permanence of fellowship between husband and wife is the Creator's will for human beings. The indissoluble fellowship of marriage, therefore, is the goal of our creation as sexual beings (Mark 10:2-9). Since on this principle the Bible is not time bound, Jesus' word is the foundation and criterion for all Christian pronouncement on sexuality, not just marriage in particular, but our entire creaturely identities as sexual beings. According to Jesus' teaching, human sexuality as male and as female is intended for the indissoluble fellowship of marriage. This standard informs Christian teaching about the entire domain of sexual behavior. ....

.... The reality of homophile inclinations...need not be denied and must not be condemned. The question, however, is how to handle such inclinations within the human task of responsibly directing our behavior. This is the real problem; and it is here that we must deal with the conclusion that homosexual activity is a departure from the norm for sexual behavior that has been given to men and women as creatures of God. For the church this is the case not only for homosexual, but for any sexual activity that does not intend the goal of marriage between man and wife, [in] particular, adultery.

The church has to live with the fact that, in this area of life as in others, departures from the norm are not exceptional but rather common and widespread. The church must encounter all those concerned with tolerance and understanding but also call them to repentance. It cannot surrender the distinction between the norm and behavior that departs from that norm.

Here lies the boundary of a Christian church that knows itself to be bound by the authority of Scripture. Those who urge the church to change the norm of its teaching on this matter must know that they are promoting schism. If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical ground but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

"O to grace how great a debtor..."

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, mount of Thy redeeming love.

Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.
On the writer of the hymn:
Born at Swaffham in Norfolk, the son of poor parents, apprenticed as a boy to a London hairdresser, and a somewhat dissolute youth — such was the unpromising beginning to the life of Robert Robinson, the author of this hymn. But then the grace of God intervened. At the age of seventeen he came under the influence of George Whitefield, was converted, and dedicated himself to Christ's service. Six years later (1758) when in charge of a Methodist chapel in Mildenhall, Suffolk, he wrote this hymn, a hymn of providence and grace, as it has well been called.

Clearly it reflects something of the author's own spiritual history and is an outpouring of praise for what God had done for him:
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
    Wandering from the fold of God ...

And so he cries:
Oh, to grace how great a debtor
   Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy grace, Lord, like a fetter,
   Bind my wandering heart to thee.

Frank Colquhoun, A Hymn Companion, 1985.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Reading C.S. Lewis

If, as an adult, you haven't read C.S. Lewis, but might consider doing so, Thomas Howard in Touchstone magazine (1999) had recommendations about where to start:
One more question along this same line: What would you give for a C.S. Lewis reading list? If someone had a year to read five or ten books of Lewis' and wanted to know which ones to start with, what would you tell him, to get an overview of his prose and fiction?

HOWARD: There would be an obvious case for telling someone to start with Mere Christianity. I wouldn't quarrel with that, but I, myself, might say, start with the Narnia Chronicles. Reading the Narnia Chronicles has the advantage of almost inevitably drawing a reader in, head over heels, to a world,—the world, the world of truth, of reality that is Lewis' whole world. So I would say the Narnia Chronicles, The Abolition of Man, The Great Divorce, "The Weight of Glory" and "Transpositions"—which last two appear in a book of essays called The Weight of GloryThe Space Trilogy, Till We Have Faces.

Then, of his apologetic books, Miracles I think in one sense is a special-interest book. I think Mere Christianity does that job well for general readers. Of his scholarly books, the books on Edmund Spenser and his English Literature in the Sixteenth Century from the Oxford History of English Literature—the "OHEL"—are wonderful. They're glorious reading. Other works like Studies in Words and Experiment in Criticism are good, but they're not center stage.

I think I would include Preface to Paradise Lost, interestingly enough, even if the reader has never read and will never read Milton. Lewis touches on some very, very fundamental things there.

The Problem of Pain?

HOWARD: Yes, I would certainly include that.

Last night in your lecture you told everyone to drop everything and read The Discarded Image.

HOWARD: Ah! Yes! You see, the list gets longer. That's a glorious book. And he pursued an absolutely faultless course. He never drops into the error of nostalgia for the Middle Ages or of complaining that "Oh, we've gone down the tubes since then." He describes the mind of the Middle Ages, and at the very end of the book he says, "It will be obvious to the reader where my sympathies lie", but he doesn't argue it. Yes, I think one could even make The Discarded Image number one because it will lead you in a sober, classroom way or a Lewis tutorial way into the world that you are going to encounter one fine morning at the Last Trump.
Thomas Howard, The Night is Far Spent, 2007.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

When the angel didn't come

In preparing the previous post I did a search on my blog for "Peter" and came across this:

Our desires may not conform to God's purposes. "Death comes to us all," says Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons: to us, to our loved ones, to everyone. It is usually unwelcome. Jon Bloom at Desiring God writes about "The Night the Angel Didn't Come":
Luke says it so quickly, so matter-of-factly: “[Herod] killed James the brother of John with the sword” (Acts 12:2). In the flow of the story this little phrase sets the stage for Peter’s dramatic prison rescue by the angel. So that’s what we remember. When Peter later wrote, “The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials” (2 Peter 2:9), this is the sort of rescue that easily comes to mind.

But the night that James sat in prison the angel didn’t come. I’m sure he prayed for an angel. He knew God could send one if he wanted to. An angel had already rescued him and the other disciples once before, in chapter 5. But this night there was no bright light, no chains falling off, no sleeping guards. Just desperate prayers and fitful dozing—if he slept at all.

In the morning James was still in jail when the dreaded voice of the captain of the guard shouted, “Bring out the prisoner!” There was an anxiety-filled, prayerful walk to the place of execution. There was a pronouncement of guilt. Possibly there was an offer of pardon in exchange for recanting, followed by a refusal. There was a raised sword. There was a wince of fearful anticipation. No deliverance.

Or was there?

Jesus allowed the sword to fall on James as intentionally as he opened Peter’s prison door. So the death of James is as crucial for us to remember as the rescue of Peter. Why did God let James die?

This question is relevant because at some point most of us will find ourselves facing death, pleading for deliverance, and not receiving what we think we are asking for. And it points to a difficult lesson that all of Jesus’ disciples must learn: Jesus often has different priorities than we do. What may feel desperately urgent to us may not be urgent to him—at least not in the same way. ....

James was not being neglected by Jesus. He was in fact the first of the Twelve to experience what Jesus prayed for in John 17:24: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me from the foundation of the world.” Peter’s deliverance from prison was remarkable. But he lived to die another day. (more)
The Night the Angel Didn’t Come :: Desiring God

Telling the story

C.S. Lewis on Dorothy L. Sayers, mystery author:
Prigs have put it about that Dorothy in later life was ashamed of her "tekkies" and hated to hear them mentioned. A couple of years ago my wife asked her if this was true and was relieved to hear her deny it. She had stopped working in that genre because she felt she had done all she could with it. And indeed, I gather, a full process of development had taken place. I have heard it said that Lord Peter is the only imaginary detective who ever grew up — grew from the Duke's son, the fabulous amorist, the scholar swashbuckler, and connoisseur of wine, into the increasingly human character, not without quirks and flaws, who loves and marries, and is nursed by, Harriet Vane. Reviewers complained that Miss Sayers was falling in love with her hero. On which a better critic remarked to me, "It would be truer to say she was falling out of love with him; and ceased fondling a girl's dream — if she had ever done so — and began inventing a man."

There is in reality no cleavage between the detective stories and her other works. In them, as in it, she is first and foremost the craftsman, the professional. She always saw herself as one who has learned a trade, and respects it, and demands respect for it from others. ...

As the detective stories do not stand quite apart, so neither do the explicitly religious works. She never sank the artist and entertainer in the evangelist. The very astringent (and admirable) preface to The Man Born to Be King, written when she had lately been assailed with a great deal of ignorant and spiteful obloquy, makes the point of view defiantly clear. "It was assumed," she writes, "that my object in writing was 'to do good.' But that was in fact not my object at all, though it was quite properly the object of those who commissioned the plays in the first place. My object was to tell that story to the best of my ability, within the medium at my disposal — in short, to make as good a work of art as I could. For a work of art that is not good and true in art is not true and good in any other respect." ....
C.S. Lewis "A Panegyric for Dorothy L. Sayers," On Stories and Other Essays on Literature, 1966.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Worship traditions

In Challies' "I Feel At Home in Your Church" he argues that denominational diversity is a strength rather than an indictment of Protestantism. "I choose to see each tradition as highlighting different aspects of God’s purpose for the local church. As a prism refracts the light and separates it into its component colors, the differing traditions refract the Bible’s varying commands and emphases." He is referring primarily to differences in worship practice.
  • I feel at home in a Brethren church. I feel at home because of its commitment to simplicity in worship and to the necessity of celebrating the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis. ....
  • I feel at home in an Anglican church. It feels familiar because its worship is so thoroughly steeped in Word and prayer. ....
  • I feel at home in a Presbyterian church because of its commitment to sound doctrine and expositional preaching. ....
  • I feel at home also in those Presbyterian churches that hold to a strict interpretation of the regulative principle. Such churches will only worship in ways the Bible explicitly commands. ....
  • I feel at home in a Dutch Reformed church because it values simple, formal worship followed by warm and charitable hospitality. ....
  • I feel at home in many non-denominational churches as well, though most fit at least one of the descriptions above or below. ....
  • I feel at home in a Baptist church, for I myself am Baptist. As I search the Scriptures for its instructions on what a local church ought to be and how it ought to worship, I see it describing something very much like a church structured around the London Baptist Confession. ....
And while I am confidently and convictionally Baptist, I do love to experience other churches and consider it a blessing to worship among other traditions that teach the same Scriptures and preach the same gospel. .... (more)

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Screwtape on the usefulness of social media

Mere Orthodoxy imagines a recent letter from Screwtape to Wormwood. Gets it right, too:
My dear Wormwood,

I’m pleased to hear that your patient has begun thinking of his Twitter use as a kind of chivalric act, equivalent to taking part in an actual war. Sloth and wrath are powerful weapons on our side, as, of course, is self-righteousness.

Not seeing the face of the man he speaks to will encourage him to give vent to contempt and hatred against another of his kind with a much greater degree of freedom—there’s nothing so frustrating to our efforts in this area as the sense of shame which the Enemy often allows to be kindled in the breast of such a man when he hears himself speak aloud in ways that he has habituated himself to on Twitter. One moment of that shame has been enough to lose us many who were well on their way to being firm adherents of our cause.

As I wrote you earlier, war—actual war—is not nearly as helpful to our purposes as you (somewhat naively, I am sorry to say) seemed to think. In war men may exhibit courage; many soldiers die literally laying down their lives for their friends, and are lost to us.

Culture war, however, is a much more helpful tool. It can promote all the jingoism and hatred of an enemy, all the sense that since one is on the right side, that makes all one’s actions justified, that one gets in a real war, but without the attendant dangers. ....

The crucial thing in these matters is for your patient to never look at his own words in terms of basic courtesy. “But is it discourteous, is it bad manners, to speak in this way?”— that is the one question which he must never raise to himself. He must be encouraged to think of himself as “forceful” or “bold” and never once suspect that he may in fact simply be breathtakingly rude. .... (more)

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Mr. Chips

Goodbye, Mr. Chips is a book I read long ago, long before I decided to be a teacher. I do enjoy the 1939 film with Robert Donat in the title role better than later remakes, much better than the 1969 musical starring Peter O'Toole. The book was reviewed Friday:
...James Hilton hammered out Goodbye, Mr. Chips, his celebrated tale of a beloved teacher in a British boarding school, over four days in November 1933....

Although his ostensible subjects are the venerated languages of antiquity, Mr. Chips offers a much broader lesson to his young charges—namely, the value of what he calls “a sense of proportion.”

Chips underlines his point most vividly in a chapter set in World War I, when the area around Brookfield is being bombed by the Germans. Amid “the reverberating crashes of the guns and the shrill whine of anti-aircraft shells,” the crotchety instructor continues leading his pupils in the conjugation of ancient verbs. As Chips reminds his anxious listeners, they “cannot...judge the importance of the noise they make.”

Chips is obviously dismissing the violence outside his classroom window. But in a larger sense, he’s calling out extremists of all sorts who seek to win arguments by shouting the loudest. ....

Recounting his title character’s long career at Brookfield, the author avoids hagiography, giving us a Mr. Chips who’s all too human. In fact, Chips spends the first part of his career doling out rote instruction, touched by “the creeping dry rot of pedagogy which is the worst and ultimate pitfall of the profession.”

Chips seems destined for dreary mediocrity, but a late-life marriage to the vivacious Katherine Bridges nudges him to learn new things. In spite of Kathie’s early death—or perhaps because of it—Chips appears resolved to continue embracing fresh ideas. In doing so, he becomes a better instructor, affirming the book’s other great truth: The best teachers are also lifelong learners, showing their students by example that curiosity is a calling we’re meant to answer the rest of our days. ....

The book version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips turns 90 this year—older now than the doddering title character when he breathed his last while an imaginary roll call of his former students rang in his ears.

Hilton closes his novel by dismissing as “absurd” a headmaster’s assertion that the departed Chips will never be forgotten. Such immortality is unlikely, the narrator counters, “because all things are forgotten in the end.” ....

Saturday, January 6, 2024


"Since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, 18 times more U.S. teenagers have died from deaths of despair than from COVID-19...." That quotation is from the introduction to a study considering the role parenting plays in the mental health of adolescents. I'm not a parent but I did teach secondary school classes for thirty-five years and don't find these results surprising.  A few excerpts that seem to summarize the studies:
...[O]ver 1000 published studies have tested the relationship between parenting styles and internalizing symptoms of mental illness—such as anxiety and depression—as well as externalizing behavior, such as aggression and delinquency. The results—summarized in meta-analyses—are clear: Authoritative parenting predicts fewer mental health problems and delinquent behavior, both at the time of measurement and in the future. Both harsh and overly permissive parenting predicts higher risk of mental health problems and problematic behaviors, as does neglectful parenting. ....

...[F]our distinct factors related to parenting cluster together: responsive regulation, enforcement of rules, and the absence of traumatic experiences— such as parental alcohol abuse, death, or abandonment, and the quality of the overall child-parent relationship. ....

Parents who set boundaries, establish routines, convey warmth and affection, and enforce rules effectively report a less contentious relationship with their adolescent child than parents who do not do these things, and this relationship is recognized by that child to be stronger and more loving. ....

The most powerful parenting practices identified in the survey relate to regulation and enforcement. The percentage that an adolescent is in good mental health is 8 percentage points lower when the parents agree that they “find it difficult to discipline their child." Likewise, the likelihood of having good mental health is 7.3 percentage points higher for adolescents of parents who agree that the child “must complete the priorities I set for them before they are allowed to play or relax.” Additionally, whether the child “follows a regular routine” during a typical school day has a large effect on mental health, and if the parent reports that the child gets his or her way in a conflict with the parent, it has a large deleterious association with mental health.

On the side of warm responsiveness, daily displays of affection and responding quickly to the child’s needs both predict better mental health. These practices increase the probability of good mental health by 7 percentage points each. ....

...[B]asic demographics explain almost none of the variation in parenting style: race, ethnicity, household income, education, and the sex of the parent are mostly unrelated to parenting style. There were no significant differences between Black, Hispanic, and White parents. Married scored higher than other parents, but the differences are only significant in comparison to divorced parents and the gap is small. .... (the pdf)

Friday, January 5, 2024


I think I first saw the Rathbone/Bruce Sherlock Holmes films on my great-aunt's TV on Saturday afternoons while I was still grade school age. There was no television then at our house. Basil Rathbone remains my favorite Holmes and I like Bruce although he is definitely not Arthur Conan Doyle's Watson. The guys at this site decided to rate the fourteen films from worst to best:
.... We decided to head into Doyle-ian territory via old Hollywood and do a Super Draft of the fourteen Sherlock Holmes films made between 1939 and 1946 that starred Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson. Darryl Zanuck over at 20th Century Fox reluctantly got the ball rolling with an adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. He was so unconvinced that a Holmes movie could be successful that he gave top billing to Richard Greene as Sir Henry Baskerville and really pushed the romance in the film with Wendy Barrie’s character.

Zanuck needn’t have worried: the chemistry between Rathbone and Bruce crackled onscreen. The film was a big success, prompting Fox to greenlight a sequel, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. And then – they quit! Fortunately, Universal expressed interest, and Rathbone and Bruce went on to make twelve more pictures as the world-famous detective duo. The only caveat: Universal decided to place our pair in modern-day England and send them off to fight the Nazis!!! Universal sought to explain it all away with a title card at the start of the first film:
“Sherlock Holmes, the immortal character of fiction created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is ageless, invincible, and unchanging. In solving significant problems of the present day, he remains – as ever – the supreme master of deductive reasoning.”
And you know what? For the most part, Holmes and Watson indeed proved themselves to be timeless, especially after the Nazis were set aside in favor of more atmospheric films. Not that the studio didn’t make the most of Holmes as a propaganda tool: at the end of these films, Rathbone as Holmes would deliver a stirring speech to Bruce-as-Watson, using the words of Doyle himself, or Churchill or Shakespeare, to galvanize public support for the war effort. That, and a final shot asking everyone to BUY WAR BONDS, did what it was meant to do! .... (more)
The list, from worst (but not really bad) to best:
14. Sherlock Holmes in Washington
13. The Woman in Green
12. Pursuit to Algiers
11. Dressed to Kill
10. Terror by Night
  9. Sherlock Holmes Faces Death
  8. The House of Fear
  7. Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon
  6. Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror
  5. The Spider Woman
  4. The Pearl of Death
  3. The Hound of the Baskervilles
  2. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
And the #1 Rathbone/Bruce Sherlock Holmes film of all time...
  1. The Scarlet Claw
I have all of them on DVD. They are available from streaming services as well, and, I read, on YouTube. I think I may watch a couple of them this evening.

Brad Friedman, "The Rathbone/Bruce Sherlock Holmes Super Draft," Ah Sweet Mystery!  January 5, 2024.


"The star, which they saw in the east, went before them..."

The term Epiphany is taken from the Greek word for “manifestation” and is a date to celebrate the incarnation of Christ. In some denominations, the day is also known as Three Kings’ Day since it commemorates the “twelfth day of Christmas,” or twelve days after Jesus’ birth, when according to tradition the magi visited Mary, Joseph, and their child. (In the Bible, neither the number of “wise men” nor the date they arrived is specified.) ....
9 Things You Should Know About the Christian Calendar

Thursday, January 4, 2024


On January 1 in the United States copyright ran out on books, films, and a lot of music published in 1928. They are now, after 95 years, in the public domain, meaning "they can legally be shared, without permission or fee." Among the thousands of books: J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, Agatha Christie's The Mystery of the Blue Train, Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall, and A.A. Milne's The House at Pooh Corner.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

"A house divided against itself cannot stand."

When Nikki Haley seemed not to know the cause of the American Civil War, that whole argument re-emerged. The answer to the question is simple: slavery caused the Civil War. James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom, explains why Civil War historians don't consider it an open question:
In the 186os, few people in either North or South would have dissented from Abraham Lincoln's statement, in his second inaugural address, that slavery "was, somehow, the cause of the war." After all, had not Jefferson Davis, a large slaveholder, justified secession in 1861 as an act of self-defense against the Lincoln administration, whose policy of excluding slavery from the territories would make "property in slaves so insecure as to be comparatively worthless ... thereby annihilating in effect property worth thousands of millions of dollars"? And had not the new vice president of the Confederate States of America, Alexander H. Stephens, said in a speech at Savannah on March 21, 1861, that slavery was "the immediate cause of the late rupture and the present revolution" of Southern independence? The old confederation known as the United States, said Stephens, had been founded on the false idea that all men are created equal. The Confederacy, by contrast, "is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition. This, our new Government, is the first, in the history of the world, based on this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth." ....

Slaves were the principal form of wealth in the South. The market value of the four million slaves in 1860 was close to $3 billion dollars—more than the value of land, of cotton, or of anything else in the slave states. Slave labor made it possible for the American South to grow three quarters of the world's marketed cotton, which in turn constituted more than half of all American exports in the antebellum era. But slavery was much more than an economic system. It was a means of maintaining racial control and white supremacy. The centrality of slavery to "the Southern way of life" focused the region's politics on defense of the institution. But it was not the existence of slavery that polarized the nation to the breaking point, but the issue of the expansion of slave territory. Most of the crises that threatened the bonds of union arose over this matter. The first one, in 1820, was settled by the Missouri Compromise, which balanced the admission of Missouri as a slave state with the admission of Maine as a free state and banned slavery in the rest of the Louisiana Purchase territory north of 36°30' while permitting it south of that line. Paired admission of slave and free states during the next quarter century kept their numbers equal. But the annexation of Texas as a huge new slave state—with the potential of carving out several more within its boundaries—provoked new tensions. It also provoked war with Mexico in 1846, which resulted in American acquisition of three-quarters of a million square miles of new territory in the Southwest. This opened a Pandora's box of troubles that could not be closed.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

"Any serious and thoughtful Christian..."

Thomas Howard:
Any serious and thoughtful Christian is a dogmatist, not in the sense of being pig-headed or ostrichlike, but in the sense of having a lively awareness that he stands in a defined tradition of received teaching that has been articulated by the holy prophets and apostles and handed down through the centuries. It is spelled out in the Bible and guarded and proclaimed by the Church. The Christian vision is a vision of the eternal, that is, of majestic fixities and mysteries that stand in judgment upon our history and our existence. The Word that was Incarnate in the drama played out on the stage of our history was the Word that articulated order out of chaos in the beginning and that will utter the final summing up at the end. ....

The Christian will be forever asking how this idea or that one fits. Fits what? Fits the pattern, says the Christian, the solemn, blissful, austerely, and magnificently orchestrated pattern of glory that we call creation, or the Dance. The Christian will be forever testing things in the light of the bright fixities that Christian vision perceives and celebrates. This is the reason why Christians are not ordinarily found in the van of contemporaneity. The Palm Sunday mob is the same in every century, forever throwing down their garments and their palms at the feet of the new prophet, hailing and exulting in things simply because they seem new and promising. Innovative and creative and unstructured are their favorite words, but of course by Friday this crowd has gotten bored by the creatively unstructured innovations, so they crucify the prophet and chase after fresh ones. ....

.... You have heard people talking about self-affirmation, and self-discovery, and self-acceptance, and self-identity. The great idea is to discover who you are. Fine. But any Christian will listen to this vocabulary with some wariness, since the vision he is already committed to sees a drastic paradox in this matter of the self. The biblical notion seems to be that...we move toward authentic self-knowledge by abandoning the quest for self-knowledge. Self-knowledge seems to be more or less irrelevant in this vision. Or at least irrelevant while we are en route to where we are going. Then ah, then we get the white stone with our real name engraved on it. This is given to the men who overcome, whatever that means. It does not seem to be promised to those who have sought themselves all along the way. ..... 
Thomas Howard, "The Touchstone of Orthodoxy," collected in The Night is far Spent, Ignatius Press, 2007.

Monday, January 1, 2024

"Strengthen me, O Lord, in good purposes"

Samuel Johnson, New Year's Day, 1772:
ALMIGHTY GOD, who hast permitted me to see the beginning of another year, enable me so to receive Thy mercy, as that it may raise in me stronger desires of pleasing Thee by purity of mind and holiness of Life. Strengthen me, O Lord, in good purposes, and reasonable meditations. Look with pity upon all my disorders of mind, and infirmities of body. Grant that the residue of my life may enjoy such degrees of health as may permit me to be useful, and that I may live to Thy Glory; and O merciful Lord when it shall please Thee to call me from the present state, enable me to die in confidence of Thy mercy, and receive me to everlasting happiness, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.