- John Webster, "Vanitas Vanitatum"
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.
I have a column called "The Book We Still Can't Spare" at The American Spectator today. It's about the Bible and democracy.
I’m in a kind of a mood today.
In the last couple days the Minnesota House and the Senate, both with Democrat majorities, have passed a bill legalizing homosexual marriage, and about an hour and a half ago the governor signed it. August 1 it becomes law.
The prospect of being hanged in a fortnight, as Dr. Johnson noted, concentrates the mind wonderfully. And the prospect of my own eventual imprisonment for a hate crime also has the effect of focusing my own thoughts. A Christian ought to be dead to the world, prepared at all times to suffer for his faith. And it looks very much (at least to me) that such a time is coming.
If I’m being paranoid, I’m not the only one. My friend Mitch Berg of Shot In the Dark blog, a libertarian and no Bible thumper, addresses (among other points) the abysmal record of “freedom to marry” advocates in terms of spreading the freedom around in this post.
Chanting “The First Amendment protects religious expression!” is about like saying “the Second Amendment protects your right to keep and bear arms!” or “the Fourth Amendment protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures!” or “The Tenth Amendment reserves unenumerated rights to the States and People!”. All are true – provided you take them seriously enough to beat back ill-advised legal attacks on them.
So I’m contemplating how to prepare for persecution to come – not the metaphorical kind where we complain about people talking to us mean, but the kind where we actually get sent to prison for expressing our beliefs. Do I compose my soul to accept arrest and incarceration? Do I squirrel away portable wealth for a quick run for the border (I understand diamonds aren’t as useful as they once were)?
Or should I take the Lord literally when He says “Cast no thought upon the morrow?”
Things Learned While Looking for Something Else Dept.:
If you belong to one of those increasingly rare churches that still sings hymns occasionally, you’ve probably sung the hymn, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.”
If you look at the bottom of the page, you’ll note that it was written by Joachim Neander (1650-1680), and translated by Catherine Winkworth.
Neander, though born in Germany, somehow managed to be neither Lutheran nor Catholic, but Reformed. He experienced a Christian conversion while studying theology, and became a Latin teacher in Dusseldorf. A lover of nature, he used to preach to large open air meetings in the Dussel river valley. He also wrote more than 60 hymns.
Long after his death, in the early 19th Century, the valley where he used to preach was renamed the Neander Valley in his honor. Or, in German, Neanderthal.
And it was in the Neander Valley, of course, that scientists found the bones of the prehistoric humanoid who became known as Neanderthal Man.
So even when they look back at their evolutionary family tree, biologists must pay tribute to a Christian hymn writer.
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! You cannot escape us! We’re everywhere!
Photo ©2006 Wikimedia Commons user Trounce. Licensed under CC-BY-SA
Today I got personally insulted (by insinuation) on Facebook. And it pleased me no end. Because the insult was based on the kind of prejudice that proves my point better than any argument I could make.
I got enticed, against my inclinations, into a discussion about homosexuality. A woman asked me how I knew that homosexuality was a sin. (An inexact description of my position, as I consider only homosexual actions sinful; the orientation itself is neither here nor there, except as an aspect of the Original Sin we all share).
I told her that I’d read the Bible, rather than just hearing it talked about.
She admitted she hadn’t read the Bible, but said that she was pretty sure I hadn’t either.
Well, I have. More than a dozen times. But I found her assumption fascinating and revelatory.
We Protestants are prone to seeing Biblical ignorance as an aspect of the Dark Ages. Illiterate Christians of those times viewed the book with superstitious awe, even fear. Only the priest, enjoying magical protections, was able to unpuzzle its mysterious symbols and mediate its meaning to the common folk.
We have entered a new Dark Age, in terms Biblical knowledge. Once again the average church member sees the Bible, not as a book to read, study, and discuss, but as a fearsome talisman. It’s so long, and so full of riddles. We dare not approach it. Open that cover, peruse those mysterious words, and a madness is likely to seize us. Soon we may be changed out of recognition. We may no longer be able to live our lives as we are accustomed to.
Which, of course, is true.
John Sigismund of Hungary with Suleiman the Magnificent in 1556.
Today, Grim of Grim’s Hall cited Hailstone Mountain again, pointing out that one of the issues I dramatized in the book has shown up in the New York Times.
I’m getting really sick of being a prophet.
“It is my understanding that the prophet Jeremiah frequently expressed a similar sentiment, sir,” said Jeeves.
Over at National Review’s The Corner, Andrew C. McCarthy links to an article about the Islamic institution of the Jizya tax. Jizya is part of the process of submission in a sharia state. The kuffar (infidel) pays the jizya and suffers various social indignities, in order to be permitted to go on living and to practice his religion (this is the much-vaunted freedom of religion of which Islamic apologists boast).
The argument is that the Egyptian government openly considers U.S. foreign aid to be a payment of jizya. In their view, they are in the process of conquering us, and this is the beginning of our submission.
Will this information cause liberals, most of whom are adamant that our government should pay for nothing that can possibly be regarded as religious, to call for an end to our aid to Egypt?
No, no of course not. When they say “religion” they mean “Christianity.”
Gustav Dore, "Nehemiah Views the Ruins of Jerusalem's Walls" (1866)
I started reading the Book of Nehemiah again the other day, and I got to thinking about walls.
Walls are unfashionable in our time. “Open plan” homes are trendy (or maybe that trend has passed. I’m not exactly up on architectural fashions). For years, businesses have believed – in the absence of any evidence whatever – that productivity and morale can be improved by putting employees in big bullpens instead of giving them offices (management, of course, gets to have offices). When people talk about “tearing down walls,” they generally mean walls of prejudice and misunderstanding. This trend of thought goes back a long way, at least to Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall”: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That wants it down!”
I myself, on a far lower level, wrote a song with the same sort of theme back in my college/musical group days. And no, I won’t tell you the words. You’ll never hear it, and I’m fine with that.
There’s an assumption in a lot of Christianity, too, that walls are uniformly bad. All walls need to go. Joshua knocked down the walls of Jericho. Christ, as we are told in Ephesians 2:14, destroyed “the dividing wall of hostility.” So the reflexive assumption is that Christians are against all walls, at least in the moral and cultural sense.
But it’s not at all that simple in reality. If you actually read the Bible (and one of the problems I’ve faced increasingly, on the rare occasions when I can be lured into an argument, is that I’ve found myself arguing a book I’ve actually read with people who only know it by hearsay) you’ll see that walls in Scripture are just like any other temporal thing. They’re good in the right place, and bad in the wrong place. The whole Book of Nehemiah is about restoring a wall that’s been torn down. The wall itself is a symbol of the religious law that stands between the Jews and their pagan neighbors. This wall is a necessity if the nation is to survive; it has God’s blessing. In the parable of the vineyard in Matthew 21:33-41, Jesus tells of a man who plants a vineyard and builds a wall around it. This land owner represents God, and his wall is a perfectly reasonable barrier to keep unwanted pests, human and animal, out.
There’s a perception about in the world today that Christians have no sense of nuance. Everything is black and white for us. We can’t see shades of gray.
But that’s only true if you’re selective in your observations. In the matter of walls, for instance, Christians see them as either good or bad, depending on who builds them, where, and for what purpose.
Or, as G. K. Chesterton said in Why I Am a Catholic, “There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."
Amanda Thatcher, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's granddaughter, sent many media voices chattering by her reading of Ephesians 6:10-18 at her grandmother's funeral yesterday.
The final figures on our free offer of Hailstone Mountain yesterday show upwards of 1,000 downloads, which strikes me as pretty good. We’ve gotten a fair number of sales in the backwash today as well.
So in a mood of thanksgiving, I offer the video below, the best version I could find of a Christian song that (in my opinion) has never gotten the attention it deserves, Rest Within His Sanctuary.
You can also download the MP3 from Amazon here, which I did. This professional version, also, is not quite up to the original I remember from the radio some years back. I’m pretty sure it was recorded by the Lillenaas Singers (Haldor Lillenaas, by the way, was born in Bergen, Norway. Just thought you’d like to know that).
If you sometimes wonder what makes me smile, well, the answer is that few things do. But this song does. I endorse it even though I strongly suspect its purpose is to promote the schismatic Calvinist doctrine of Eternal Security.
Broad-minded, that’s what I am.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the appalling violence at the Boston Marathon today.
Let us turn now to our Hubris Corner. I’ve decided to make another of my legendary long-term predictions.
As you may recall, I have (or believe I have) a kind of knack for spotting long-term social trends. I’m no good at picking lottery numbers (actually I’ve never tried), and I generally get elections wrong. But over the long haul I seem to be able to sight along the lines of current events and predict what’s coming in a decade or two. I have a good record with that sort of thing. Or so I believe.
So here’s what happened. I woke up from a dream early Saturday morning filled with a sense of conviction about the future of the liberal churches and their seminaries.
I speculated a while back about why liberal churches even exist anymore, since their theology makes piety unnecessary and their social views turn charity over to the government. I read an article recently – wish I remembered where – which pointed out another aspect of the same situation. That was that, while conservative churches seem to be winning what might be called the “church wars” (in that conservative churches are experiencing growth, at least in some areas, while liberal churches are steadily declining everywhere), the liberal churches are winning – or have won – the culture war. That means that while a majority of the people in churches may believe what conservatives believe, the majority of people not in churches believe what the liberals believe. And there are more people not in churches than in churches.
So will the liberal churches just die, like a salmon that spawns and expires? Read the rest of this entry . . .
Thabiti Anyabwile, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman, has been blogging his critique of Douglas Wilson's 2005 book, Black and Tan: A Collection of Essays and Excursions on Slavery, Culture War, and Scripture in America. Wilson has joined in freely, and the two have charitably and thoroughly argued on the important issues of slavery in the American South, the authority of Scripture, and how the issues of 1860 were handled in relation to issues today.
Anyabwile posted a round-up of links to the whole discussion here. It isn't a simple argument, so I don't think I can adequately summarize it here.
Edith Schaeffer, widow of the apologist Francis Schaeffer, passed away on March 30 at the age of 98. WORLD Magazine reports:
Among Edith Schaeffer’s greatest contributions to the world: her humanity, artistic nature, humility, and hospitality. Sometimes Sunday lunch boasted as many as 36 guests, but she always made more food than she expected to need. She made rolls by hand, forming them individually, sometimes into the shapes of snails, topping them with different kinds of seeds, and turning the leftover dough into cinnamon rolls. She would sometimes stop in the process of roll making to take a phone call, then pray for the caller. “You keep making the rolls,” she’d say to her assistant Mary Jane Grooms. “I’ll pray.”
I was in the same room with her once, a few years back, at L'Abri in Rochester, Minnesota. I didn't introduce myself because, although it would have meant a lot to me, she looked very frail and I didn't feel it was worth tiring her.
Absent from the body, present with the Lord.
Tissot, "The Sorrowful Mother"
It’s a darker than usual Good Friday for me. I just got word that my boss, the dean of our seminary, a gentle and godly man, passed away suddenly today. He just wrote me a recommendation for graduate school. It must have been one of the very last things he did in his office.
He sat across from me in my office about a week ago, and we discussed our ages. I said I was pretty old to start working for a Master's. He said, "I'm a decade older than you, and I'm not planning to go anywhere."
Is it good to die on Good Friday? A complicated question, as is the whole matter of "Good" Friday.
As far as I can tell, there are two major ways of explaining evil in the world (outside of the popular view that “it’s all garbage, so let’s just have a good time until we die”) today. One is what might be called the Buddhist Way, which understands evil to be an illusion, because existence itself is an illusion, so there’s no point getting upset.
The other is what I’ll call the Christian Way (though there are probably non-Christians who hold it in some variety). That way calls for citing the Old Testament statement that “God is a Man of War,” and believing that evil is real, but that He is in the process of defeating it.
Both ways have their problems, and cannot be proved by logic or science. But I know which suits me better. Read the rest of this entry . . .
Hunter Baker has blessed Christians on the Internet by posting this letter, "An Astonishing Message from a Gay Sister in Christ" and his personal response. I feel provoked to share my reflections also.
"She sees herself as a sinner and reaches for the bracing, redemptive, and cleansing blood of Christ rather than the lukewarm saliva of evolving culture." She is like I am, though the labels differ.
Let me come out of the closet. I am an idolater.
I believe I have an idolatrous orientation. At one time in my life, I would have said one cannot be a true follower of Christ and an idolater, but I see that I am one. I was born this way. I have followed Christ since age seven, but as I became an adult, I realized I made and loved idols regularly. I worshiped (never in church--wait, I don't think I can say that) myself, my dreams, the attention of others, my books, my relative grades, and other things over the Lord God who made me and rules heaven and earth. I have confessed of this sin, felt free of it, and returned to it within the course of a week.
Many people like me have tried to change the church to accommodate them and succeeded. Some have changed entire denominations. But I don't want accommodation. I want redemption.
On this day, when we remember the death of the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, I want to take shelter in His bloody side. I can't change myself.
Radix Magazine, "Where Christian Faith Meets Contemporary Culture," did an interview a while back with the director of Monsters, Inc., Pete Docter. Pete has since directed Pixar's Up and written Wall-E and Monsters University. (via Jeffrey Overstreet)
Here's part of it:
Radix: How would you say that being a Christian affects how you do your work?
Docter: Years ago when I first spoke at church, I was kind of nervous about talking about Christianity and my work. It didn’t really connect. But more and more it seems to be connecting for me. I ask for God’s help, and it’s definitely affected what I’m doing. It’s helped me to calm down and focus. There were times when I got too stressed out with what I was doing, and now I just step back and say, “God, help me through this.” It really helps you keep a perspective on things, not only in work, but in relationships.
At first you hire people based purely on their talent, but what it ends up is that people who really go far are good people. They’re good people to work with, and I think God really helps in those relationships.
Radix: I know you do a lot of praying, and that’s a big part of the artistic part of what you guys do.
Docter: Yes. You could probably work on a live-action movie that takes maybe six months hating everybody else and you’d still have a film. But these animation projects take three or four years, and it’s really difficult to do without having a good relationship with the people you’re working with.
Pete goes on to describe how spelling out the moral of a story, if you have one in mind, undermines your message. "To me art is about expressing something that can’t be said in literal terms. You can say it in words, but it’s always just beyond the reach of actual words."
G. K. Chesterton wrote, in Orthodoxy, "Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved."
As evidence of that contention, I offer this article from CTV News:
Hamlin said the findings suggest that babies feel something like schaudenfreude, a German term describing the pleasure experienced when someone you dislike or consider threatening experiences harm.
Personally I've never trusted babies. Shifty eyes.
David Masciotra says you can find faith in modern literature by reading crime novels. "The case for faith in fiction is to be made by those who deal with cracking cases for a living—the fictional detectives, private investigators, and troubled protagonists who inhabit the scandalous, seductive, and serpentine setting of noir." Take Hit Me by Lawrence Block, for example. Mascoitra notes the main character's desire to kill for money and conviction when confronted by iconography. When the man must pass a crucifix in order to kill someone, he can't do it.
Mascoitra praises James Lee Burke for weaving these spiritual questions and motives better than most crime authors. Burke wrote to him: "Most of my plots come from the Bible or Greek mythology. I believe in the unseen world and believe the cosmos is probably something like the Oversoul that Emerson wrote of. I believe the essential human drama is between the forces of good and evil.”
Something from my devotions today: 1 Corinthinas 12: 4-6: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.”
The devotional I was reading from used the old King James terminology – “diversities of gifts, diversities of working,” etc.
And I got to thinking about word “diversity.”
If there’s any word that’s been abused in our time (and there are plenty) it’s “diversity.” Whenever a contemporary American hears the word diversity, he tenses up, figuring some bureaucrat is about to impose another form of uniformity on him. We’ve made diversity about race, and that’s just stupid.
Snatch up a dozen people from random spots around the world, and set them down together in a room. It’s my certain conviction that the least important thing about any person in that group will be his or her race (their views on race may have significance, though). Gender will matter. Politics and religion will matter, as will cultural tradition. I don’t know for a fact whether general racial traits actually exist in people (apart from physical appearance), but if there are such traits they will have little or no significance, except in terms of how people respond to them.
And yet we talk as if diversity were just about race. A university proudly points to its multi-racial faculty, calling it diverse, even though every single member of that faculty holds ideas and beliefs almost indistinguishable from any of the others.
All this is not what St. Paul is talking about here. The big racial divide in the early church was between Jews and Gentiles, and I’m quite sure the presence of both wasn’t what he meant by diversity.
What he meant was a wonderful truth, a truth Christianity has given as a gift to the world, which the world now takes for granted and thinks it came up with itself.
Paul declared that every human being – however weak, poor, and thickheaded – had a special, precious gift to give the Church, the Body of Christ. However little some individual seemed to have to offer, he did have a gift to share, according to Paul. All members of the Church were like organs in a body. The kidneys might be a little ashamed of their humble function, and the other organs might make jokes about them, but take the kidneys away – put their owner on a transplant waiting list – and it suddenly becomes clear how much those kidneys matter. Everybody matters in the Church.
This truth – in spite of centuries of officious attempts to make the Church an aristocracy where only the elite organs counted – could not be forgotten, and kept (and keeps) pushing through. Everybody matters. The one lost sheep counts. The widow’s mite counts more than the rich man’s endowment.
That’s what diversity actually means.
I’m feeling a bit better now, thanks for asking, having seen a doctor last week and gotten antibiotics and a steroid for my lungs. But a day at work still wipes me out, and I’ve got stuff I need to get done tonight. So, in lieu of the hard work of thinking out a blog post, I’ll just post another short excerpt from Williams’ Through Norway With a Knapsack, last night’s subject.
In this episode, our hero has gotten lost and spent a long day on the mountains, finally finding a guest house late at night, exhausted.
On awakening, I found a stout gentleman sitting at my bedside. He was the pastor of Lom. A Norwegian pastor is not merely a preacher; he is clergy-man, physician, magistrate, arbitrator, and general friend and father, to whom all his scattered parishioners appeal. In a country where there are none but peasant farmers – no aristocracy, no gentry, no towns and villages, no shopkeepers, no professional class – a highly educated man must be strangely isolated, and, unless endowed with the true spirit of Christian benevolence, must be one of the most miserable of men; but, if suited to his work, he may be one of the happiest, for his opportunities of doing unmistakable good, and of witnessing the full fruits of his good deeds, are almost unlimited. Most of these Norwegian pastors are, I believe, excellent men, and render great services to the people around.
In the present instance, the paternal relations of the good pastor of Lom were illustrated in my case, for he sat at my bedside, where he had evidently been watching for some time, as though he feared that some fever or other ailment might result from the over-exertion, excitement and fasting….
Anthony Bradley talks about the rap song "Precious Puritans" by Propaganda. He explains how the song criticizes puritans for condone slavery (which frankly is news to me and troubling), but goes on to say he, the singer, is no better. We all have flaws and blind spots.
However, by singing about puritans in an unflattering way Propaganda has raised the ire of many reformed writers. Bradley suggests this may be typical tribal thinking.
Strachan considers the Puritans “forefathers” and in a tribalist way, some would argue, seeks to protect their legacy. Had Propaganda dropped a track critiquing Roman Catholics, Jeremiah Wright, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, or preachers of the prosperity gospel, he’d be called a hero. During my seminary years I was rebuked once for mentioning Martin Luther King Jr. in a sermon because of his sins. Why? Because King, like the others, are outside the tribe and are fair game to be critiqued in any form. Since they are not “one of us” there is no expectation of extending grace. Grace is reserved for those with whom we agree.
In warning his readers against divisions, Paul writes, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). The gospel to those of us who are being saved is the power of God. That describes the beauty of a book like Jared Wilson’s Gospel Deeps. It’s an extended meditation on this glorious word of the cross.
“Does love demand freedom?” he asks in chapter one. That’s the idea we get from many stories and some ministers. “What we are asked to believe is that God doing whatever he wants with whomever he wants is a simplistic, fatalistic view of love, and that God letting us do whatever we want is a more compelling vision of his love.” But God, who is the author and giver of life itself, whose character defines love, peace, joy and other virtues, could not be more loving than he is. God is love, though love is not God, as some would have it. “Maybe the reality is a love more multifaceted than we can understand with finite, fallen minds… that the God of the Bible is as transcendent as he is imminent, that his ways are inscrutable, that his love is glorious and astonishing precisely because it is too wonderful for us” (pp. 27-28).
Jared isn’t a mystic on a frozen Vermont hillside. Read the rest of this entry . . .
There’s a good chance you’ve seen this short film already. Paperman is a black-and-white, almost silent production done by Disney animators using only traditional (non-computer) animation techniques. Everybody loves it, and with good reason.
I have to admit that, being me, I had a mixed reaction at first. Then I realized I was wrong. I want to explain why, because it has to do with the nature of Story.
(Spoilers below. Do not read until you’ve watched the film through.)
My initial, self-oriented response was to say, “Life isn’t like that. The Universe does not step in to make your dreams come true.”
Then I saw that I’d missed the point. The point is that when the Universe took a hand in this couple’s story, it was only after the young man had done everything he could from his own end. He’d made his boss mad, and may have sacrificed his job, for the girl. It’s a little like the merchant in Jesus’ parable, who sold all he had in order to purchase the Pearl of Great Price.
If you’re writing a story, you can permit a Deus Ex Machina (I’ve written about this before), but only after you’ve let the character suffer and fail a whole lot. If the audience feels he’s tried his best, and not gotten the reward he deserves, then you can bring the Cosmic Hand in to set things right at the end. If you handle it carefully.
That’s a narrative principle only, by the way. It’s not theological, or only partly theological. Christianity does not teach that you gain God’s acceptance through trying your hardest, followed by God’s pleased intervention to finish the job for you. In Christianity it’s all grace from first to last.
Still, from the experiential point of view, the two things are hard to tell apart. The moment of grace is when the merchant falls in love with the Pearl, when the young man falls in love with the girl. All their efforts afterward are not actually their own accomplishments but entirely the work of God’s grace within, doing business as Love.
It’s a mystery.
Derelict Methodist Church, Walsall, England. Source: geograph.org.uk.
The old formula goes, “If a dog bites a man, that’s not news. If a man bites a dog, that’s news!”
So when one of my Facebook friends posted an article about another theologian of the Very Large Church Body Which Shall Remain Nameless denying the virgin birth of Christ, that was hardly surprising. What purposes do mainline churches serve nowadays, if not to be platforms for the proclamation of heresy?
Which led me to a question I’d never thought about before. What purpose, exactly, does a liberal church serve today? What is its mission?
Traditionally, the business of the church has been to follow the two great commandments, as taught by Christ (Matthew 22): “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” So the church has understood its business to be a) worship and evangelism, and b) service to those in need.
But for a liberal, those bases are already covered. For liberals, God’s love is unconditional and given equally to all, so there’s no need (besides, it's sometimes offensive) to proclaim the gospel. Worship as an aesthetic experience may be a function of the church, but honestly, who wants to get up on a Sunday morning when God’s happy with you whatever you do?
And as for service to the poor, well, the last election certainly made it clear that liberals don’t think any assistance is worth a thing unless it goes through government. When conservatives argue for private charity, we’re condemned as uncaring.
So why should liberal churches exist at all? Just to provide sources of income for spiritually-minded intellectuals?
The bottom line for liberals, it seems to me, is “Look to Europe.” You see how the churches are dying over there? It’s coming here, and sooner than you think.
“I’ve always thought that beautiful art was a great apologetic resource,” Myers says. Beauty is the chief attribute of God, said Jonathan (not Bob) Edwards. “Beauty points to a Creator.” Yet the church, Myers says, “capitulates more and more to the culture of entertainment.”This recalls the MHA Journal (#114) interview with Gerald McDermott who said Jonathan Edwards has been marginalized by Modernists (if I remember correctly) who successfully made the sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" Edwards' signature work. By doing so, they hid their students from the beauty and glory of God which Edwards often discussed.
“It’s a way of keeping market share. But they’re digging their own grave. There’s a short-term benefit, but in the long term the kinds of cultural resources they need to be faithful to the Gospel won’t be there.”
Theodore Dalrymple, in my opinion one of the most interesting writers today, writes over at City Journal about two separate books written about famous English serial murderers. Though the authors were born only a decade apart, they write as if from different worlds. Dalrymple contrasts the two accounts in order to highlight how western culture has changed within living memory.
But the woman of lesser education and humbler occupation displays in her book a much higher level of intellectual sophistication and moral intelligence than her more educated junior. Where one is modest, self-effacing, and straightforward, the other is grandiose and egotistical, her capacity to see clearly clouded by a combination of self-importance and obfuscatory pseudo-intellection. I believe that this contrast results not only from individual differences between the two women but from the different cultural environments in which they grew up and subsequently wrote. A week, said Harold Wilson, is a long time in politics; and it seems that ten years is a long time in the history of a culture.I’m not sure I entirely agree with Dalrymple’s analysis of the Christian virtue of forgiveness. But I do agree with him that the concept has been entirely corrupted in modern times. I sometimes think that although western culture proudly regards itself as having cast off the shackles of Christianity, it has in fact only sunk into Christian heresy, with the labels switched to confuse the rubes. The theological act of forgiveness has been transformed into a vague principle that we are all morally obligated to forgive everything – even the most horrific crimes – because in fact they’re not crimes at all and there’s nothing to forgive. Our enemy, our tormenter, our murderer, is not a heinous malefactor but merely a fellow victim, the object of forces over which he had no control.
That’s not what Christian forgiveness means. Christianity grants to the sinner the dignity of responsibility. It has been argued that the doctrine of hell is the greatest compliment Christian theology ever paid to the human race. To say that someone is responsible, and to hold them responsible, is to attribute to them the dignity of free agency, declaring them a person capable of choice, rather than just an object subject to blind manipulation.
As in so many cases, it all comes down to what you think human beings are.