- Ursula Le Guin
First off, I have to apologize and say that you'll be seeing slow posting from me this week, or none at all. I have a major paper to write for my Library Science class, requiring my undivided attention.
Meanwhile, I direct you to our friend Hunter Baker, who posted a very thoughtful piece today on the minimum wage controversy, and Christian compassion in general.
During a recent visit to twitter, I happened across a post from a noted Christian academic. He had composed the kind of pithy remark which is tailor-made to launch a hundred admiring retweets. Paraphrasing slightly, it was something like this: ”Conservatives, don’t talk to me about family values if you doesn’t endorse a minimum wage increase.” I am sure that he thought it was a pretty high-powered zinger.
The problem is that there is no necessary connection between family values and increasing the minimum wage....
The Council of Nicea. I think St. Nicholas is the bald guy with the book on the right. Photo credit: Hispalois.
Our friend Dr. Paul McCain of Cyberbrethren quotes another friend of ours, Dr. Gene Edward Veith today, reprinting his classic account of Saint Nicholas (whose feast day is today) slapping the heretic Arius.
During the Council of Nicea, jolly old St. Nicholas got so fed up with Arius, who taught that Jesus was just a man, that he walked up and slapped him! That unbishoplike behavior got him in trouble. The council almost stripped him of his office, but Nicholas said he was sorry, so he was forgiven.
Dr. Veith goes on to make some constructive suggestions concerning new Christmas slapping customs we might adopt.
"Home to Thanksgiving" by Currier & Ives, 1867
“He who sits by the fire, thankless for the fire, is just as if he had no fire. Nothing is possessed save in appreciation, of which thankfulness is the indispensable ingredient.” (W.J. Cameron)
I’ve used that quotation for Thanksgiving before, but it was a long time ago. On the old web site, I think. Anyway, I like it.
It occurred to me today how closely thankfulness is connected to faith. One of the most common hindrances to faith—at least in my experience—is worry about the future. “Things are all right just now,” I say to myself, “but what about tomorrow? Being thankful feels too much like complacency. I have to keep my eye out for what’s coming down the road.”
This is one reason, I suppose, why Jesus tells us to cast no thought upon the morrow. Worry kills thankfulness, and lack of thankfulness destroys our spiritual perspective.
So have a blessed Thanksgiving. I hope you spend it with people you love. Or, alternatively, that you love the people you’re spending it with.
C. S. Lewis' grave in Holy Trinity churchyard, Headington Quarry, Oxford
Photo credit: jschroe
I’m going to alter my long-established custom of always posting about a days’ commemorations in the evening of that day, which means most of you read it the next day. Tomorrow is the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis (also of a couple obscure characters named John F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley).
I was, of course, around when it happened, in junior high if you must know. What did I think when I heard Lewis was dead? I’m not sure, because I wasn’t aware of his death date until years later, long after I’d become a Lewis enthusiast. I do remember the day though, because of the Kennedy thing.
But I’ve written about that before. I’d like to just recall what Lewis has meant in my life. It occurred to me today that Lewis was himself my Wardrobe, the portal through which I entered a larger world.
I was educated, like most of my friends, in Lutheran colleges which are now under the umbrella of The Very Large Lutheran Church Body Which Shall Remain Nameless. But, unlike a large percentage of my friends from those days, I neither apostatized or became a liberal. It was Lewis who made that possible (with the help at a later stage of Francis Schaeffer). The Lutheran schools I’m speaking of had then, and I assume still have, one single purpose in their religious education curricula, and that is to destroy all Christian faith in their students. But Lewis (though no biblical inerrantist) showed me that embracing orthodox Christianity doesn’t mean giving up reason. I clung to reason, and I clung to the faith of my childhood.
You yourself may approve or disapprove of that course on my part, but as for me, it’s one of the things I’m thankful for as Thanksgiving approaches.
Earlier this year, I was going over Martin Luther's 95 theses, and it occurred to me that many of them apply to the teachings we call the prosperity gospel. The comparison isn't exact, of course. Prosperity teachers may be popular, but they aren't part of the majority church as were the teachers Luther opposed. And if you remember from reading Luther's list, he gives the Pope all due respect, suggesting that he is being misrepresented, not that he is teaching heresy himself. We can't say that for the preachers of the prosperity gospel.
Here's my list, taken from and based on Luther's original--and four theses short. You see today's Wittenberg doors on the right. They're bronze, so we'll have to post new theses with sticky tack. You'll also see that several of the theses here are Luther's own statements, taken from this translation.
No doubt, the spirit of Luther will pull me out of bed tonight, knock me in the head, and rebuke me until daybreak for pulling this stunt. I hope it doesn't offend you and bore only some of you. Hope you continue to have a good and holy All Saint's Day.
91 New Theses for the Modern Church
- When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
- The word cannot be properly understood as referring to living your best life now, i.e. positive thinking, as taught by some preachers.
- Yet its meaning is not restricted to repentance in one's heart; for such repentance is null unless it produces outward signs in various mortifications of the flesh.
- As long as hatred of sinful self abides (i.e. true inward repentance) the penalty of sin abides, viz., until we enter the kingdom of heaven.
- Preachers of “kingdom prosperity” have neither the will nor the power to remit the penalty of sin.
- They cannot remit guilt, but only ignore or excuse it because original sin and Christ’s atoning work are not in their view.
- God never remits guilt to anyone without, at the same time, making him humbly submissive to Christ.
- The promises of God apply only to followers of Christ Jesus, those who have been raised to life from a spiritual stillbirth.
- Mere fandom for a church or preacher does not qualify anyone to be particularly blessed by the Lord of Hosts.
- It is a wrongful act, due to ignorance, when mere fans of a church claim statements from the Word of God as particular promises for their personal lives.
- When preachers encourage their followers to claim particular promises, instead of repentance, surely it would seem that tares were sown among their congregations. Read the rest of this entry . . .
I've been playing with the kids today and working on theology piece which I hope to post here soon, so while it's still Reformation Day, let me direct you to this recreation of Luther's Reformation acts in !!eye-poppingly realistic!! LEGO form. You will believe you are actually in Germany with these events went down.
Someone posted this on Facebook this morning, and I re-posted it there, because it epitomizes everything I’ve been saying about the course of liberal Christianity. A new archbishop has been elected for the Church of Sweden – its first woman archbishop, Antje Jackelén. At another time I might have had something to say about women’s ordination, but that issue is least of the problems here. Dispatch-International’s story says:
Like kings, all bishops have their own motto and Jackelén chose ”God is greater”. If that sounds familiar, it may be due to the fact that an Arabic translation renders it as ”Allahu akbar”. There are those who believe that her choice is far from random – but very deliberate.
Many have been taken aback by the theological opinions Jackelén revealed during a questioning in Uppsala on October 1. The candidates for the highest position in the Swedish church were asked if they thought Jesus presented a truer picture of God than Muhammed. With her evasive answer Jackelén suddenly emerged as the bishop who couldn’t choose between Jesus and Muhammed. This provoked strong reactions on some editorial pages.
Kyrkans Tidning thought that the bishop’s answer might indicate that Christ is being relegated to the margins of the Church of Sweden and Dagens Nyheter encouraged the candidates to show some theological backbone. The editorial writer at the newspaper Dagen wrote that it is time to accept the idea of a split within the church – between Christians and those who think all religions are equally good.
Now let me say that this article seems just a little sensationalist to me. Its title, "Swedish Archbishop Prefers Allah," for instance, is an exaggeration of the actual content of the text. Judging by this account, Archbishop Jackelén hasn’t said she prefers Allah to Jesus. She just refuses to make the choice.
I am fairly certain that, in the historical Christian church at all times up till the 20th Century, one thing that would always have disqualified any candidate for a bishopric is a refusal to confess Jesus Christ as Lord. That’s just basic, like failing an eye test for an airline pilot.
Which means that, as far as I can see, the Swedish church has apostasized in electing this woman. Anyone who holds to the faith of the creeds ought to leave that church. At a full run.
And don’t think it’s not happening here. I am confident, on the basis of a lifetime working in churches both liberal and conservative, that there are many church leaders and seminary professors in America (Ms. Jackelén in fact taught at the Lutheran seminary at the University of Chicago for a time) who believe – or disbelieve – in pretty much the same way.
At the risk of sounding like somebody from Left Behind, I declare ours the day of the Great Apostasy.
Al Mohler writes:
Indeed, in many churches there is very little reading of the Bible in worship, and sermons are marked by attention to the congregation’s concerns, not by an adequate attention to the biblical text. The exposition of the Bible has given way to the concerns, real or perceived, of the listeners. The authority of the Bible is swallowed up in the imposed authority of congregational concerns.(via Jared C. Wilson)
Today I got an e-mail from super-author Andrew Klavan, directing me to this column on his blog, in which he gives me a nice plug.
Novelist Lars Walker — a friend of this blog and an insightful reviewer of some of my own novels — makes a trenchant comment in the Elizabeth Smart post below. I know it’s trenchant because I was about to make basically the same comment but Lars beat me to it! In the comment, he makes a delightfully concise reference to “the Osteenian view that suffering is always a sign of God’s displeasure.” This, of course, refers to popular preacher Joel Osteen, who has been promoting his new book at the Blaze and other places. He basically preaches that God wants wonderful things for your life and you only have to open yourself to God’s will in order to receive those blessings.
He was particularly pleased, he said, by my use of the adjective "Osteenian," meaning theological ideas in line with Joel Osteen's preaching. He seems to think I may have coined it, though I find it hard to believe nobody's used it before.
In any case, this counts as a good day.
News item: This story from CBS Dallas-Fort Worth seems to have surprised a lot of people. But I suspect there were a lot of us for whom it was no surprise at all. The story has to do with a study done at the University of Texas, Arlington which indicates that anti-bullying programs in schools don’t seem to do any good, and indeed may do harm.
The student videos used in many campaigns show examples of bullying and how to intervene. But Jeong says they may actually teach students different bullying techniques — and even educate about new ways to bully through social media and texting.
This is what happens in a post-Wisdom world, where experts have replaced sages, grandmothers, and the Scriptures. Experts believe that children are basically good, and desire to learn how to avoid bullying. Those of us who are familiar with actual children know that the true situation is different. You can’t divide kids up into “bullies” and “victims.” The categories are fluid. Every kid has it in him to bully, by the same kind of instinct which causes chickens to single out a member of the flock who’s been wounded, and peck it to death.
I’ve spoken of being bullied here before. I was bullied a lot, both at home and at school. There were few safe places in my world.
But I was also a bully, now and then, when fate chose to make me the alpha dog in some tiny situation. I never even thought about it. It came naturally. Today I’m hotly ashamed of those incidents, but at the time it just seemed like the obvious thing to do.
We won’t make progress until we recognize human nature for what it is. And we won’t do that until we start reading the Bible seriously again.
Bill O'Reilly's new book, Killing Jesus, is surging in sales now. He talked to 60 Minutes last Sunday, saying he felt God inspired him to write a book describing Jesus as “a regular guy, very afraid, scared to die.”
“Jesus of Nazareth was the most famous human being who ever lived on this planet and he had no infrastructure and it’s never been done,” O’Reilly said. “He had no government, no PR guy, no money, no structure. He had nothing, yet he became the most famous human being ever.”
Fox Business has a brief interview with O'Reilly, in which he explains that he trusted other sources of history and his own reasoning more than the gospels on every detail of Jesus' life. For example, he believes it was impossible for Mary and Joseph to flee Herod all the way into Egypt, which is what Matthew's gospel says. I suppose he found no other sources saying it happened, so that was enough to rule it out. And though he has no evidence of Jesus' resurrection, he takes it on faith as a good Catholic.
Apparently, the Bible's historicity is no obstacle or support to his faith, and I wonder if most contemporary church-goers believe as he does. How many of us hold the line because we have been told which line to hold, not because we believe it actually happened? If we do, we fail to understand how much God has given us in His Word which can be verified, details intended to show us that the stories aren't mere imaginary morality tales. They are accurate depictions of what happened.
So did Jesus rise from the dead? Paul tells us if He did not, our faith is useless (1 Corinthians 15:14). I guess that makes Paul is pretty poor Catholic.
Today, just a snippet from an article in the current issue of Intercollegiate Review – "The Subhumanities: The Reductive Violence of Race, Class, and Gender Theory," by Anthony Esolen:
So much of human life, says [Marilynne] Robinson in her new book of essays, When I Was a Child I Read Books, is blessed “nonsense,” not overmuch concerned with survival or whatever else preoccupies the reductivists of our time. It is like the folly of God, as Erasmus reminds us, thinking of the mighty words of Saint Paul, who declares that all the wisdom of the world cannot overcome the foolishness of the Cross, which is of course the foolishness of love.
Our friend Anthony Sacramone is Managing Editor of IC.
Barry Waugh describes what the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin thought about God and the historic religion of her region and how she came to believe "the common man must no longer accept the monarchical rule of God; there is neither a king in New England nor one in heaven."
The man who cannot believe his senses, and the man who cannot believe anything else, are both insane, but their insanity is proved not by any error in their argument, but by the manifest mistake of their whole lives…. It is amusing to notice that many of the moderns, whether sceptics or mystics, have taken as their sign a certain eastern symbol, which is the very symbol of this ultimate nullity. When they wish to represent eternity, they represent it by a serpent with his tail in his mouth. There is a startling sarcasm in the image of that very unsatisfactory meal….
Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal; it breaks out. For the circle is perfect and infinite in its nature; but it is fixed for ever in its size; it can never be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has as its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox at its centre it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travellers.
One thing for which G. K. Chesterton can always be depended on is surprises. Orthodoxy was not the kind of book I expected it to be. I was looking for something along the lines of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, an excellent book in a different way. But Chesterton’s approach to apologetics was quintessentially Chestertonian.
Instead of making a purely logical argument for the Christian religion (and Protestants will be pleased to know that he touches fairly lightly on distinctively Catholic matters), Chesterton outlines the rational and the emotional process by which he came to faith. It’s a little like Lewis’ Surprised by Joy in that way, but less autobiographical in terms of life events.
The narrative, delivered in this way, becomes more than an argument. Chesterton gives a demonstration of his orthodoxy by describing the Word becoming flesh in his own experience. We are not saved in our spirits alone; our bodies and our personalities must also come along. Only a salvation that offers something for all aspects of our natures will meet our needs, and Chesterton describes how he spent his life looking for the things his soul hungered for, only to discover that all of them were waiting already assembled in one place – the church.
I’ve been reading Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. I’ll review it later, as if its reputation depended on me to any extent. But here’s a quote:
It is one of the hundred answers to the fugitive perversion of modern “force” that the promptest and boldest agencies are also the most fragile and full of sensibility. The swiftest things are the softest things. A bird is active, because a bird is soft. A stone is helpless, because a stone is hard. The stone must by its own nature go downwards, because hardness is weakness. The bird can of its nature go upwards, because fragility is force. In perfect force there is a kind of frivolity, an airiness that can maintain itself in the air. Modern investigators of miraculous history have solemnly admitted that a characteristic of the great saints is their power of “levitation.” They might go further; a characteristic of the great saints is their power of levity. Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.
I’m just dipping my toe into the boundless sea that is online graduate study, and I got involved in a discussion the other day that I thought I’d post something about. The instructor wanted us to share our feelings about the Enlightenment.
The Enlightenment, in case you haven’t brushed up your history in a while, was an intellectual movement that flourished in the 18th Century. Thinkers like Rousseau and Voltaire were leading lights. It was a reaction against the religious passions that had caused so much death and suffering through religious wars like the Thirty Years’ War. We religious types had made ourselves look pretty bad, and decent people began to think we’d all be better off if we jettisoned God entirely. But on what would we base our morality, without a God?
Oddly enough, Isaac Newton (himself a devout, if unorthodox, Christian) gave them their answer. Newton discovered what looked like absolute, immutable laws in the universe. Everything could be explained in terms of mathematics. Ultimate truth, for the fervid Newtonian, was mechanical, impersonal. Obviously morality was also a matter of eternal rules. Identify those rules and that was all the revelation you needed. Human nature was ultimately simple too, and soon we would know how it worked. Then we’d be able to establish a rational government which would permit everyone’s natural goodness to blossom like a flower.
The problem with the Enlightenment was that it was over-simple. Human beings just aren’t that neat (neither is the universe, as we’ve learned since). Human beings, and the universe, are like Doctor Who’s Tardis, bigger inside than outside. As you go deeper in, you discover new levels of complexity.
This, I think, explains the horrors of ideology in the centuries since the Enlightenment. Every tyrant thinks he’s found, at last, the simple key to human nature. It’s economics (Marx). It’s frustrated sex (Freud). It’s race (Hitler). Despot after despot tries to impose his simple solution on the people he rules, and the people stubbornly refuse to respond in a scientific way. So he’s forced to kill them, and to try to find some better people.
The difference between post-Enlightenment horrors and pre-Enlightenment horrors, it seems to me, is the industrialization of evil. The religious fanatic may kill you because he considers you evil, a tool of Satan. But the statist kills you without caring who you are. You’re just in the way, like a tree in a building zone.
Michael Coren, at Catholic World Report, comments on the case for G. K. Chesterton as a saint. I as a Protestant don't have a dogma in this fight, but it's a great piece, in particular because Coren, as a man of Jewish ancestry, addresses the issue of antisemitism (which I've written about here, but with less expertise).
He did make some hurtful and thoughtless comments, in particular after his brother’s death, but when the testing time came—the rise of the Nazis—he was as active as he was angry. While many on the left were unsure how to respond to Hitler’s pagan racism, and some even sympathetic, Chesterton demanded that the Jewish people be protected and rescued. He was vehemently anti-Nazi before it was fashionable and before it was safe.
Tip: Daniel Crandall.
By “Th. F.”
I translated the article below from Norwegian for my uncle, who told me about his great-granddaughter, who was named "Sophie" after my grandmother, his mother. He tells me she takes after her namesake in several ways. This reminded me of this article, taken from a Norwegian-language almanac published in Minneapolis. The distant relation who sent it to me told me that the subject of the article was a mutual ancestor, also named "Sofie." Judging the description, my grandmother was one in a line of godly Sophies.
(From Folke Calender 1932, ed. by D. C. Jordahl, published by Augsburg Publishing House. I have translated the word røkstue as “smoky cottage.” In old times in Norway, it was common for people to live in houses with a fireplace built into a corner, but no chimney. The smoke would simply vent out into the room, and escape through a hole in the roof. lw)
Deep among the many miles of fjords in the southern part of the Bergen diocese, there lies a pretty little farming community. Here there is an inlet on one bank of the fjord, and in the curve of the bay is a ring of beautiful farms on either side of a frothy river that descends from the mighty mountain in the background. Just at the mouth of the river may be seen the white-painted local store building, and a little further up on a terraced hillside stands the church, whose spire points to heaven, speaking silent words to the residents round about, reminding them now and then, amid the business of the day, to turn their thoughts to higher things. But when Sunday comes it seems that it cannot be content with this silent witness – the bells begin “calling the young and old to rest, but above all the soul distressed, longing for rest everlasting.”
It was in my younger days that I first came as a school teacher to this beautiful little community. The schoolhouse stood on a farm called Vika, a farm which, with its many residents, all of whom followed the old custom and usage of building their houses close together, looked almost like a little village. In the midst of this cluster of houses stood a small cottage with a turf roof. Its door was so low that one had to bend to go inside, and its window was so small that the light of day could hardly force its way in. This was a “smoky cottage” (røkstue) in the genuine old style. The ceiling and the wainscotting within were black as coal from smoke and soot, but the upper areas of the walls all around had been coated with a kind of clay or chalk compound, whose gray-white color was intended to make things brighter and more cheerful inside the cottage. On the lower part of the white area a number of decorations had been drawn, consisting of triangular figures, dots, and flourishes, all made of that same chalky compound. It did not look so terribly bad, and was at least a testimony to how the desire for beauty, inborn in every person, must be expressed, even through the most primitive means.
Unprepossessing and small as the cottage was, for me holy and precious memories are bound up with it. It was a little “Bethel,” a house of God, for in it dwelt one of “the quiet in the land,” a widow of more than sixty years of age, a true Anna who “never ceased to serve God night and day.” Sofie was her name, and although in all probability she did not herself know that her name meant “Wisdom,” she nonetheless answered well to it. Indeed, seldom has a name better suited the person who bore it. For God’s wisdom dwelt, in rich measure, in that simple old Christian soul. Read the rest of this entry . . .
Thor as C. S. Lewis fell in love with him. Arthur Rackham illustration from The Rhinegold and the Valkyrie, 1910.
A disagreement arose today, on a Facebook page where I participate, about modern heathenism – particularly the adoption of the old Norse gods by modern people, most of whom were raised Christian. I’m reluctant to argue these things in public, but here – just between you and me – I’ll share my thoughts.
I first encountered Thor in the pages of some kind of anthology in an elementary school classroom. I found a story called “How Thor Lost His Hammer,” read it, and found it a lot of fun. When the teacher called for volunteers to read a story to the class, I volunteered to read that one. But I told my fellow students that Thor was a Greek god, because the Greek ones were the only small “g” gods I’d ever heard of.
Later I discovered that Thor and company were in fact the gods of the Norse, my ancestors. I borrowed Padraic Colum’s The Children of Odin from the library and was fascinated (Willy Pogany’s excellent stylized illustrations didn’t hurt). As the years passed, my interest expanded to include the whole Viking world, and (as C. S. Lewis said) “I reveled in my Nibelungs.”
I’m one of those who believe that Norse mythology beats Classical mythology like a rug. I’ll grant that, simply because of longevity, the Greek and Roman gods informed more – and greater – works of art. But in themselves the Mediterranean gods are kind of second (or third) rate. They start out interestingly enough, with Chronos eating his children and the wars with the Titans, but then the gods just settle down to meddling in mortal affairs and catering dei ex machina.
The Norse gods, on the other hand, have a story arc. Their myths actually improve as they go along, until in the end they achieve the level of the tragic and the epic. Ragnarok, the fall of the gods, is one of the most romantic themes in the world. Richard Wagner, in spite of his many personal sins, recognized this and did it something like justice. Wagner’s music swept the young C. S. Lewis away and inspired his creativity and (eventually) his Christian faith. Read the rest of this entry . . .
You may have noticed (though probably not) that I haven’t had a column published at The American Spectator Online for a while. This doesn’t mean I’ve been banned there, or that I’ve gotten into a dispute with the editor or anything. It’s just that, ever since the last election, I’ve had almost nothing to say, on any subject having to do with culture or politics, that I think is worth asking to be paid for, even at the Spectator’s rates.
I won’t deny it. The election shook me. It wasn’t primarily the reelection of the president that disheartened me (though that was part of it). It was the results of the referendum on same sex marriage in my own state of Minnesota. Up until that moment I was able to hang on to the believe that “the silent majority” still held to traditional moral values. But the referendum failed, and failed big. Minnesota’s social conservatives got put in our place.
Sometimes I tend to talk like a prophet. I shouldn’t do that. I don’t have a line on God’s plans any more than anybody else who reads the Bible. But I do belief that righteousness exalteth a nation. I do believe that those who turn their backs on the plain words of Scripture will suffer consequences – and because much has been given to those who have access to Scripture, much will be demanded of them.
The other day our friend Gene Edward Veith linked to a Buzzfeed article by McKay Coppins, in which he notes how the “traditional values” fight has shifted ground (which is another way of saying “lost ground”). It used to be that we struggled to teach our neighbors what God’s rules are, and to try to convince them to adopt them, for their own good and that of society. Now we are in a situation where the best we can do is to try to carve out a little cultural reservation where we’ll still be allowed to live the way we choose, without being forced by the government to conform to its morality.
The surging Libertarian movement – and there are an increasing number of Christian libertarians out there – see little problem with this. It doesn’t matter, in their view, how the populace behaves, just as long as taxes are kept low.
But I believe actions have consequences. I believe that redefining the central, organic institution of society (marriage) to the point where it has no objective meaning, will mean inevitable horrific consequences over time. I am not happy to watch my country descend into social chaos and the inevitable expansion of government which must accompany social chaos.
I just don’t know how to make that argument at this moment in history.
“The world will always laugh at the gospel of the cross. . . . The theology that teaches men are sinners before God and need a sacrifice to die and atone for their sins is deemed primitive in our culture," observes John P. Sartelle, a senior minister of Tates Creek Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Kentucky. In his essay in Tabletalk, April 2009, he offers this challenge:
“Many of us evangelicals deny that we know Jesus by taking the emphasis away from the cross as we speak to His disciples and present our gospel to the world: ‘Follow Jesus: He will straighten out your marriage. Follow Jesus: He will make you better parents. Follow Jesus: He will make you financially solvent. Follow Jesus: He will enrich your relationships.’ Now, that is a Jesus who is easy to like and easy to follow. It is easy to stand in the world and be proud of that Jesus. To attract the world we say, ‘Come, drink coffee and hang out with Jesus. Be comfortable with Him. Kick back with Him. He is anti-institutional. He is anti-authority. Living with Him is a cool ride.’We might keep this in mind as we pray for other’s salvation and discipleship in Christ. The gospel is the hope we all stumble over or break ourselves on. May the Lord have mercy on us and those near us.
“Dear reader, if we would recapture the gospel we must return to the ignominious cross. ‘For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured’ (Hebrews 13:11-13).”
Today I was reminded of an incident back when I was attending a Lutheran college in the Midwest (go ahead and guess which one; I went to three). I was in an English Literature class. The teacher was a very pleasant woman. She was openly liberal, and liked to season her lectures with provocative ideas to challenge her students’ beliefs, but she wasn’t a hostile person.
I remember her describing a story she’d read that was “controversial.” But it was a very good story (she said) one that raised important questions. I don’t recall the title or the author. I don’t recall whether it was a short story, a novel, or even a play.
She said the dominant character in this story was a remarkably difficult woman. Other characters tried various methods for coexisting with her, and she frustrated every one of them. “In the end,” my instructor said (and I’m quoting her exact words here) “there was nothing you could do about this woman except rape her.”
I sat there listening to this, and I immediately rejected it. I felt very provincial and callow in doing so, of course, because I knew I lacked my instructor’s sophistication. But I couldn’t think of any circumstance in which rape would be appropriate. I’d just have to accept, as I had many times before, that I was an unsophisticated hick from the farm.
Years have passed, more than 40 of them, and if that instructor is still alive, I suspect she’s changed her opinion of that story. Sophisticated people no longer consider rape an edgy, taboo subject to be explored. Rape is evil, the foul fruit of male social domination.
My point is that I didn’t have to wait for fashionable opinions to change in order to see rape as categorically wrong. My liberal instructor did.
I was following the North Star. She was listening to voices in the dark.
Photo credit: Andy Dingley
I don’t know why I imagine anyone wants to know what I think. And yet I send out these posts, like a man throwing small stones into the ocean. Perhaps it’s just for the sake of the mental discipline it takes to put my thoughts in organized form.
Anyway, in case you’ve been waiting for my opinion of the recent Supreme Court rulings on same sex marriage, here it is. I hear the sound of a “click.”
That click is the noise of a ratchet. The metaphor of the ratchet, not at all original to me, is a very good one, I think, for understanding social change.
A ratchet does not move smoothly. Sometimes it stops, and every now and then it goes backwards for just a moment. But the main movement of a ratchet is always in one direction.
The Supreme Court decisions on same sex marriage were a ratcheting up of the mechanism. We lost another half inch or so that we’re not likely to get back. Read the rest of this entry . . .
Carl Trueman reviews Candida Moss' book, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom.
Her argument is simple: the myth of the persecution of Christians has fuelled a paranoid victim mentality on the political Right that imperils intelligent civil discourse. Ironically, as she makes this case, she herself engages in precisely the kind of myth making that she rightly decries. On page 252, she recounts her shock at hearing two students at Notre Dame expressing no sympathy for a nine-year old rape victim who had had an abortion. She was right to be shocked; but if her point is that the Christian mythology of persecution polarizes the world around and destroys civil discourse, then she herself here provides a good example of how alternative myths do much the same.
Photo credit: Bowling United Industries
I went to a funeral today, for the mother of an old friend. It was a sad occasion, but not the worst kind of funeral, because it was the kind where the departed was old and full of days, and the event not unexpected. They’d asked me to read the Scripture in the service, something I was happy to do. I enjoy reading in public, and a favor is none the worse for being a pleasure.
As some of us sat in the Catholic sanctuary, waiting for the priest to show up to give us our stage directions, I looked at the little card rack on the back of the pew in front of me. You’ve probably seen such things – small wooden racks just large enough to hold Communion cards (at least that’s what they use them for in my church). It had a little round hole at either end, for those stubby pencils they use, the ones that are too short to be worth anybody walking off with. There were no pencils in the holes.
I peeked down into the card reservoir, which was also empty of cards. But I could discern, in the low light, a pencil lying down at the bottom.
“Hello,” I said to myself. “There’s a pencil, in a space too small for anyone to fish it out with their fingers. If I could get it out, I could put it into one of the holes, and do a favor for the next communicant.”
So I took my pen out of my pocket and fished down in the reservoir with it. After a while I tipped the pencil up and out.
And behold, there was another pencil in there below it.
I did my work once again, and got the second pencil out. And I saw that there was a third.
When all was done, I’d fished fully six little half-pencils out of that reservoir, not only providing pencils for future worshipers, but freeing up enough space in the reservoir for them to put cards in again next Sunday. Which I’m not sure they had room for, before my search and rescue operation.
If anyone wants to nominate me for a papal medal, I am not too stern a Protestant to accept it.
The controversy over Andrew Klavan’s praise for Game of Thrones rumbles on, and I follow it with the fascination of a reality show fan, except for wishing both sides well.
A few days back I linked to Klavan’s column at PJ Media, “Eyes Wide Shut: Christians Against Art.” In the course of an argument – with which I generally agree – that Christians need to produce art that seriously addresses the real world, rather than some PG world we’d like to believe in, he mentions his own fondness for the HBO series, “Game of Thrones,” seeing it, apparently, as the sort of thing we ought to be trying to produce ourselves (though I’m sure he wouldn’t insist on including all the skin). In my own response, I expressed my own deep disillusionment with “Game” author George R. R. Martin’s books, a disillusionment which has prevented me from watching a single episode.
On Monday Dave Swindle, another PJ Media writer, responded to Klavan’s article in a similar vein:
You’ve known me since not long after I started editing full time. I was 25 and was only a defense hawk and fiscal conservative but still “socially liberal.” Since then, for a variety of reasons (particularly my return to belief in God), I’ve come further in my ideological shift. I’m genuinely embarrassed by some of the socially conservative positions I find myself now arguing. Never in a million years did I foresee myself as the type that would ever side with those cautioning against pornography’s downsides and the “shocking” content in art. You’ve talked in the past about how you disagree with our mutual friend Ben Shapiro about his Orthodox Judaism-inspired approach to culture and sex. I used to also — and I still disagree with Ben from time to time on issues and tactics (particularly on gay marriage. This is a theological difference deriving from an interpretation of scripture. He and I will just have to keep arguing about it). But on the fundamental issue, the social conservatism he explicates from his traditional reading of the Torah is correct: sex is sacred. It’s impossible to have “casual sex” with someone — every sexual act is transformative. I came to this understanding differently than him, though, through first-hand experience and painful mistakes.Read the rest of this entry . . .
Andrew Klavan posted a thoughtful article today called “Eyes Wide Shut: Christians Against Art” which ought to spark some discussion. Klavan is rare among Christian fiction writers in that he learned his craft first, and then embraced the Faith. That places him in what must be at times an awkward position – he knows what makes for a good story, and sometimes that’s something that his fellow believers don’t like.
An artist’s job — even if he’s a Christian artist — is not to sell Jesus, it’s to depict life truly. A Christian’s faith is that Christ lives in real life, not only in pastel greeting cards with Easter bunnies on them. Thus any honest and good work of art should be capable of strengthening a believer in his belief — even if it strengthens him by challenging him, by making him doubt and then address those doubts.
Art only goes wrong when it lies. Pornography is so deadening (and so addictive to some!) because it depicts human intercourse without humanity — something that never occurs in real life, not ever. Most bad art does something similar — and some good art includes dishonest moments that need to be confronted and rebuked.
But good art can be about absolutely anything and still lift us heavenward….
I can’t, frankly, share his approval of the Game of Thrones series, but I do so with fear and trembling, fully aware that Klavan understands stories at a much deeper level than I do. Still, after reading the first four GOT books, I grew wholly disillusioned with George R. R. Martin’s (to me) cynical and nihilistic approach. If I were to watch the Game of Thrones series (I haven’t), my only motivation would have to be seeing the female nudity, because I can’t work up any other.
Klavan might be comforted somewhat – though the example is an old one – to read the Science Fiction Fantasy Writers of America’s current Bulletin, which includes what may be the last “Resnick & Malzberg Dialogue.” (See my Wednesday post.) Barry Malzberg reminisces, in view of recent attempts to muzzle the two of them: Read the rest of this entry . . .
One of the things my friend Ian Barrs told me, in his capacity as an expatriate Englishman, during our time together a couple weekends ago was, “Don’t link to the Telegraph as an authority for information. It doesn’t have a very good reputation for factuality.”
Still, I think I’ll link to this interesting article, entitled “Bible outpaces Fifty Shades of Grey to become surprise hit in Norway.” (Tip: First Thoughts)
Yet the Bible, printed in a new Norwegian language version, has outpaced Fifty Shades of Grey to become Norway’s most popular book, catching the entire country by surprise.
The sudden burst of interest in God’s word has also spread to the stage, with a six-hour play called “Bibelen,” Norwegian for “the Bible,” drawing 16,000 people in a three-month run that recently ended at one of Oslo’s most prominent theaters.
There’s more information on the new Norwegian Bible translation:
Released in October 2011 by the Norwegian Bible Society, the new translation replaces a 1978 edition, with the goal of improving readability and accuracy.
For example, in the older version, Mary was called a “virgin.” In the new translation she is referred to instead as a “young” woman.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops also made this change in its latest Bible translation from 2011, saying the change did not alter teaching about Mary, but was meant to address the possible different meanings of the Hebrew word “almah” in the text.
Now I’m going to call monkeyshines on that statement. No doubt it’s accurate in reporting the translators’ attitudes, but it’s also highly misleading. The meanings of the Hebrew word “almah” and the Greek word “parthenos” have been broadly debated. You can certainly argue about what Isaiah had in mind. But there’s no question (especially in context) what Matthew meant. It’s impossible to claim that this translation brings us back to Matthew’s intentions in writing. It’s an arbitrary editorial alteration of the Greek gospel text.
A few years back I translated a book for my friend Dr. Norvald Yri, a Norwegian missionary and Bible scholar. In that book he denounced several recent Norwegian Bible translations, and I’m pretty confident this one was one of those, or if not it’s been added to his list since. He himself has been a contributor to a more literal translation.
Still, I won’t condemn the phenomenon altogether. God can use very flawed vehicles.
A pastor friend of mine told a story about a Russian evangelical leader he once met. The man told how he came to be converted. He had a hunger for God, but could not get access to a Bible in the old Soviet Union. At length he went to the library and took The Encyclopedia of Atheism off the shelf. He went through its pages systematically, noting every spot where the Bible was quoted for purposes of ridicule. Out of these bits and pieces he was able to reconstruct enough of the gospel message to call on Jesus for salvation.
"For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep" (1 Thessalonians 4:14).
Tom Nelson wrote on May 8 about the life and death of Dallas Willard. He quoted him, in reflection on this verse, "The difference is simply a matter of what we are conscious of. In fact, at 'physical' death we become conscious and enjoy a richness of experience we have never known before."
Not that this world isn't real, as some say, but it is like an illusionist, distracting us with the inconsequential so that we miss the most important things. At death, we see through it all.