Category: Bible and Theology

I am a great fan of “back to basics.” This is because the general population does not know what the educated person of my youth knew. Let’s take college education. The undergraduate university I attended had a heavy core curriculum. In philosophy alone there were five required courses in sequence. I would minoring with 21 credits. In theology there were four, again in sequence. In history there were three—two in sequence and one of the student’s choice. In political science there were two in sequence, same each with math and science. There were five in English, again in sequence. Today it is very rare to find such a core. Nowadays, a typical student is usually required to take an English writing course and then maybe one or two courses in each major area, not in sequence, but of his own choosing. The result is that the student’s knowledge is a hodge-podge, rather than a sequential building from a foundation. So the foundations are missing or shoddy.

I was a critic on panel at a scholarly conference in Texas once. I was assigned a person’s paper to critique, and the jist of my argument was that the whole argument was founded on Nominalism. Since the other person had a doctorate as well as I, I assumed that we would have a fruitful discussion over the very foundation of the professor’s paper and research, where she would have to defend the nominalist basis of the paper. But, instead of addressing my critique, she discussed another person’s paper, which was not her job. After the panel ended, I asked another person on the panel who had been a former student of mine, why this happened. He threw up his hands and said, “Philosophically illiterate?”

This is exactly my point. This person’s knowledge base was very flawed such that she did not know a very basic concept that all students (even those with only a B. A.) in my generation who had attended at least Catholic universities would be familiar with.

So what I am going to do now is discuss in the following series the fundamentals of man’s nature and how it plays out in everyday life.

The big point to remember here is that both society and the market are sui generis: that is to say, self-generating. They come from themselves. No one created society except the people who live in it. And they did it by there multitudinous interactions. They did it by the interactions of a free people, exercising their freedom. Adam Smith correctly called this the system of natural liberty. It is natural because God gave all human beings a free will, just like his. God created the universe absolutely freely, and gave his creatures a free will. He also gave us reason, similar to His, but his reason is so far above ours, it is not that similar. Hence, our free will is more like God’s than our reason. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, September 8, 2008

There’s a pretty entertaining piece on Salon.com by Christopher Noxon, “Is my kid a jerk, or is he just 2?”

There’s mild language, but the gist of the piece revolves around this observation:

As much as it goes against the current mode of progressive, project-management-style parenting, I take it for granted that some kids are trouble right out of the gate. They’re the preschool gangsters and playground terrorists, flicking boogers and insults at those they’ve identified as too weak to fight back. Just as some kids are born sweet-tempered and naturally gentle, others arrive as thuggish as HMO claims adjusters.

If you’re interested in the topic, and how reality flies in the face of “progressive, project-management-style parenting,” read the whole thing. And you can do so in dialogue with St. Augustine, who made this memorable observation about infancy:

For this I have been told about myself and I believe it–though I cannot remember it–for I see the same things in other infants. Then, little by little, I realized where I was and wished to tell my wishes to those who might satisfy them, but I could not! For my wants were inside me, and they were outside, and they could not by any power of theirs come into my soul. And so I would fling my arms and legs about and cry, making the few and feeble gestures that I could, though indeed the signs were not much like what I inwardly desired and when I was not satisfied–either from not being understood or because what I got was not good for me–I grew indignant that my elders were not subject to me and that those on whom I actually had no claim did not wait on me as slaves–and I avenged myself on them by crying. That infants are like this, I have myself been able to learn by watching them; and they, though they knew me not, have shown me better what I was like than my own nurses who knew me.

Nor was it good, even in that time, to strive to get by crying what, if it had been given me, would have been hurtful; or to be bitterly indignant at those who, because they were older–not slaves, either, but free–and wiser than I, would not indulge my capricious desires. Was it a good thing for me to try, by struggling as hard as I could, to harm them for not obeying me, even when it would have done me harm to have been obeyed? Thus, the infant’s innocence lies in the weakness of his body and not in the infant mind. I have myself observed a baby to be jealous, though it could not speak; it was livid as it watched another infant at the breast.

So there you have it. The substance of the doctrine of original sin affirmed indirectly by Salon.com, “For in thy sight there is none free from sin, not even the infant who has lived but a day upon this earth.” Indeed, even the kids whom Noxon believes “are born sweet-tempered and naturally gentle” might be described differently in a moment of true honesty by their parents who know them best.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, July 25, 2008

Last week I attended a lecture on the campus of Calvin College given by Richard Swinburne, Emeritus Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion, University of Oxford. His lecture was titled, “God and Morality,” and was the fourth in a series of lectures for a summer seminar, “Science, Philosophy, and Belief.” The seminar was focused on the development of Chinese professors and posgraduate students, and included lectures by Sir John Polkinghorne, Alvin Plantinga, and Owen Gingerich.

Swinburne, who is a convert from Anglicanism to Orthodoxy, has recently turned his attention to questions of morality, having previously dealt with most every aspect of the philosophy of religion. I will not attempt a summary of his presentation here. The lecture has been digitally archived on the seminar site (downloadable MP3 here), and the comments and critiques I offer below will best be understood after having listened to the presentation yourself.

Swinburne’s list of publications includes a forthcoming article, “What Difference Does God Make to Morality?” in Is Goodness without God Good Enough?: A Debate on Faith, Secularism, and Ethics, ed. R.K. Garcia and N.L. King (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), scheduled for release in October of this year later this month. This article will presumably present a similar case as appeared in Swinburne’s lecture. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Christian socialism.gif

“[Christian Socialist Movement] is a movement of Christians with a radical commitment to social justice, to protecting the environment and to fostering peace and reconciliation. We believe that ‘loving our neighbour’ in the fullest sense involves struggling for a fair and just society, one in which all can enjoy the ‘fullness of life’ Jesus came to announce. And we want to work to make it happen.”

The rise of the Christian neo-socialists has been quite surprising. These Marxists have been using the Sermon of the Mount and Beatitudes and “Jesus’ teaching” to smoke screen the resurgence of a Christian Socialist agenda. It’s amazing.

We see this clearly in socialist redistributionists like Barack Obama, Jim Wallis, Wendell Berry, Shane Claiborne, Tony Campolo, Ron Sider (although he’s moving more toward center), Brian McLaren, and many others I’d love to name.

At least in the U.K. leftist Christians are honest about being socialists. You will see no difference between this agenda and anything you’ll find in Jim Wallace’s neo-socialist organization Sojourners.

Here’s part of the neo-socialist Christian manifesto from the U.K.’s Christian Socialist Movement. At least these folks are honest. It should sound familiar:

Our values

We believe that Christian teaching should be reflected in laws and institutions and that the Kingdom of God finds its political expression in democratic socialist policies.

We believe that all people are created in the image of God. We all have equal worth and deserve equal opportunities to fulfil our God-given potential whilst exercising personal responsibility.

We believe in personal freedom, exercised in community with others and embracing civil, social and economic freedom.

We believe in social justice and that the institutional causes of poverty in, and between, rich and poor countries should be abolished.

We believe all people are called to common stewardship of the Earth, including its natural resources.

Objectives

Christian Socialist Movement members pledge themselves to work in prayer and through political action for the following objectives:

  • A greater understanding between people of different faiths

  • The unity of all Christian people
  • Peace and reconciliation between nations and peoples and cultures together with worldwide nuclear and general disarmament
  • Social justice, equality of opportunity and redistribution economically to close the gap between the rich and the poor, and between rich and poor nations
  • A classless society based on equal worth and without discrimination
  • The sustainable use of the Earth’s resources for the benefit of all people, both current and future generations
  • Co-operation, including the creation of cooperative organisations

If you’re going to be a Wal-mart-boycotting, “fair trade” coffee-protesting, “no more income gaps between CEOs and other employees” ranting, wealth-redistributing, minimum-wage supporting, socialist you are free to do so but please don’t call it “Christian” or “consistent with Jesus’ teaching,” etc. Many of us are honest about being in tradition of Althusius, Wilberforce, Kuyper, Booker T. Washington, J. Gresham Machen, Michael Polanyi, C.S Lewis, and others and continuing to battle the socialism that keeps people in generational poverty and I think the Christian socialists should be more honest to their allegiance to their own tradition of Marx, Lenin, Keynes, FDR, etc.

We live in a country where people are free to be socialists and that’s the beauty of the whole thing but why hide behind “Christian Social Justice” lingo when it’s really socialism proof-texted from the Gospels only. Why don’t the Christian socialists in America confess it like the Marxist Christians in the U.K.?

Any thoughts on why the Wal-Mart-boycotting socialist Christians don’t just to come out and say, “We are socialists, who also love Jesus?” Why the secrecy? Any insights?

In an interview promoting his recent book Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite, D. Michael Lindsay, describes what he sees to be the intellectual sources of evangelicalism:

And the interesting thing is that the Presbyterian tradition, the Reformed tradition, has provided some of the intellectual gravitas for evangelical ascendancy. And it’s being promulgated in lots of creative ways so that you have the idea of Kuyper or a cultural commission of cultural engagement is being promulgated by Chuck Colson, who is a Baptist. So Presbyterians are – if I had to say what are the two main intellectual influences on the evangelical ascendancy – it’s Roman Catholicism, conservative Catholicism, embodied by, let’s say, Richard John Neuhaus in First Things. And it’s going to be Reformed theology coming out of places like the philosophy department at Calvin College.

In 2002, a conference was held at Calvin College as part of recognition of the hundredth anniversary of Abraham Kuyper’s Stone Lectures at Princeton. The proceedings of the conference, “A Century of Christian Social Teaching: The Legacy of Leo XIII and Abraham Kuyper,” were published in the Journal of Markets & Morality, and included closing comments from Chuck Colson that illuminates a connection between the two sources of evangelical intellectualism that Lindsay identifies.

Since 1992, I have been involved in an organization called Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). (And I have the scars to show for what has often been a controversial undertaking.) Working for accord between people of goodwill from both communities is something I believe in very deeply, and I see this conference advancing that cause.

The thoughts that I want to share with you tonight are inspired by that great Dutch theologian and statesman, Abraham Kuyper, and I do so, noting with particular pride that this is the one-hundredth anniversary of his famous Stone Lectures at Princeton University. Dr. Kuyper’s influence on my life has been profound. I was introduced to him by people here at Calvin. Another influence in my life is that of John Paul II. I suspect that our Catholic brethren here tonight would agree with me that someday he will be known not just as Pope John Paul II but as John Paul the Great—one of the most significant figures of the twentieth century.

And while Kuyper rightly deserves credit for being one of the leading influences on American evangelicalism, so too does his contemporary Herman Bavinck warrant greater appreciation. Two notable publications this year testify to this.

First, the fourth and final volume of the translation of Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics is newly available, Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation. And secondly, a collection of articles and treatises by Bavinck on various topics has been translated in Essays on Religion, Science, and Society. The latter volume includes essays “On Inequality,” “Classical Education,” and “Ethics and Politics” that will be of special interest to PowerBlog readers.

Update: See also, “The Roots of American Evangelicalism,” in five parts.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Last Friday the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its 2008 report, noting eleven nations as “countries of particular concern,” being “those that are are most restrictive of religious freedom”: Burma, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. (HT: The God & Culture Blog)

Howard Friedman relates, “The Commission is postponing its recommendations as to Iraq pending a Commission visit to the country later this month. This compromise was approved after a sharp party-line split among Commissioners over the draft chapter in the report on Iraq.” This amid widespread reports that the situation for Christians in Iraq has deteriorated markedly since the invasion.

I’m becoming more and more convinced as time passes that the recognition of the complex realities of persecution, suffering, and martyrdom around the globe is of fundamental importance for the vitality of the Christian church in North America. We need to come to terms with solidarity, what it means to be one with our fellow Christians in the world, and in what ways all Christians “suffer” in the daily work of sanctification. To keep abreast of these sorts of concerns, be sure to check out Voice of the Martyrs.

With this in mind, I want to pass along a section from the Zurich Reformer Heinrich Bullinger, from a treatise titled, A Brief Exposition of the One and Eternal Testament or Covenant of God (1534). Reformation scholars, under the influence of Heiko Oberman, have long recognized the nature of the Protestant Reformation as a “refugee reformation” (consider the travels and travails of Peter Martyr Vermigli, Jerome Zanchi, and Wolfgang Musculus, for instance). Bullinger is a notable exception, as once he was established in Zurich it was rare for him to travel to even neighboring Swiss cities.

But from that perspective his thoughts on persecution ring out even more clearly for us today. The text of the section follows below. (more…)

The relationship of the Christian church and the broader culture has been a perennial question whose genesis antedates the life of the early Church.

In his Apology, the church father Tertullian defended Christians as citizens of the Roman empire in the truest and best sense. If all the Christians of the empire were to leave, he wrote, “you would be horror-struck at the solitude in which you would find yourselves, at such an all-prevailing silence, and that stupor as of a dead world. You would have to seek subjects to govern. You would have more enemies than citizens remaining. For now it is the immense number of Christians which makes your enemies so few,—almost all the inhabitants of your various cities being followers of Christ.”

In the post-industrial Information age, Christians remain at the forefront of social and cultural formation. In the context of the developments at the dawn of the third millennium, the engagement of church and culture has taken on a new form, focused most especially on new forms of technology and communication. The internet in particular, and related “new” media, have raised important issues for the ways in which Christians communicate with each other and with non-Christians.

The basic question has been raised in different ways arising from various concerns. The 2008 Evangelical Outpost/Wheatstone Symposium puts the question thusly: “If the medium affects the message, how will the Christian message be affected by the new media?” (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A statement of the reformer Heinrich Bullinger, an influential second-generation leader in Zurich, on his preferred form of government:

God had established through Moses in His law the most excellent, the most admirable and convenient form of republic, depending on the wisest, most powerful and most merciful king of all, God, on the best and fairest senators and not at all on extravagant and arrogant ones, and finally on the people; to which He added the judge, whenever it was necessary. They would have maintained it at any cost had they been wise; but rarely is the multitude wise. In general it is changeable and always fickle, ungrateful and eager for new things (trans. J. Wayne Baker, Heinrich Bullinger and the Covenant [Ohio UP, 1980], p. 69).

See also: “Our Counter-Majoritarian Constitution.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, April 17, 2008

Late last year controversy arose after the federal Bureau of Prisons had created a list of approved religious and spiritual books that would be allowed into prison chapels. Among those authors who was excluded from the list was the greatly influential twentieth-century theologian Karl Barth.

The potentially incendiary nature of religion was apparently the impetus behind the bureau’s attempt to control access to religious works, which was quickly reversed. As one blogger put it, Karl Barth was “going back to prison!”

But concern about zealous inspiration hasn’t been the only worry that has kept Karl Barth out of prison reading rooms in the past. In writing about his experience in prison ministry and prison abolition activism, Lee Griffith relates that he was prevented from bringing a volume of Barth’s Church Dogmatics into the jail for a visit.

“I was told that one of the books I had brought would not be allowed into the city jail,” he writes. “It so happens that the individual volumes of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics constitute a threat – not, presumably, because of content but because they are of sufficient size and weight to serve as weapons.”

As a whole, Barth’s massive Church Dogmatics is constituted by 14 individual installments or “parts,” comprising four larger “volumes.” In 2004, T&T Clark did a great service to theological study by re-releasing the volumes in paperback. But even so, the sheer amount of material in the Church Dogmatics defies facile apprehension.

Enter Logos Bible Software with one of their latest efforts, the publication of the complete and updated Church Dogmatics produced in cooperation with the Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, April 9, 2008

“How can success make us arrogant or failure lead us astray,
when we participate in the sufferings of God by living in this world?”

A statue memorializing Bonhoeffer as a martyr stands on the West Front of Westminster Abbey.

Born on February 4, 1906, Dietrich Bonhoeffer began his theological education in 1923 to the mild surprise of his upper middle-class family. Following what he would later call a sort of conversion experience, Bonhoeffer intensified his focus on contemporary theological problems facing the church. With the ascendancy of the Nazi party in Germany in the early 1930s, Bonhoeffer was among the first of the German theologians to perceive the pervasiveness and significance of the looming threat.

When the pro-Nazi German Christian party won the church elections in the summer of 1933, Bonhoeffer quickly opposed the anti-Semitism of the Nazis. Bonhoeffer’s consistent and committed resistance to the Nazi regime included his support for and pastoral participation in the Confessing Church along with other prominent Protestant theologians like Karl Barth and Martin Niemöller. His resistance also lent new depths to his intricate association with the broader ecumenical movement.

When the effectiveness of the Confessing Church’s opposition to Hitler was blunted and his efforts to bring the moral authority of the ecumenical movement to bear met with failure, Bonhoeffer became involved with the so-called Abwehr conspiracy, which was intended to assassinate Hitler and end the war.

After imprisonment for his role in the escape of Jews to Switzerland, Bonhoeffer was implicated in the failed assassination attempt of July 20, 1944. At the age of 39, he was hanged by the SS at the Flossenbürg concentration camp on April 9, 1945, just weeks before the liberation of the area under Allied troops.

In the weeks and months before his death, Bonhoeffer meditated at length upon the text of Jeremiah 45, which promises both suffering and deliverance to God’s people. Bonhoeffer understood suffering and persecution to be a mark of true discipleship. In his famous text Nachfolge (ET: The Cost of Discipleship), Bonhoeffer wrote that “the Church knows that the world is still seeking for someone to bear its sufferings, and so, as it follows Christ, suffering becomes the Church’s lot too and bearing it, is borne up by Christ.”

Bonhoeffer’s death has been passed on through the account of the concentration camp’s physician, who said, “I saw pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor, praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer, and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed.” This account is included by Bonhoeffer’s friend and biographer, Eberhard Bethge, reappearing again and again in the literature about Bonhoeffer.

But journalist and theologian Uwe Siemon-Netto writes of an even more chilling truth, “Apparently the doctor made up this tale in order to avoid punishment later in a war crimes trial. Joergen L.F. Mogensen, a Danish diplomat imprisoned in Flossenbürg, denied the existence of a scaffold or gallows in that camp. Mogensen is certain that Bonhoeffer’s life ended in the same ghastly way as his two Abwehr superiors, Adm. Wilhelm Canaris and Maj. Gen. Hans Oster.”

Siemon-Netto continues, “They were slowly strangled to death by a rope snapping up and down from a flexible iron hook that had been sunk into a wall. When they lost consciousness, they were revived so that the procedure could be repeated over and over again. The man who revived them was evidently none other than the camp doctor, Mogensen believes.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and death are a testament to his commitment to the Christian faith and his ardent opposition to the absolutism and idolatry of Nazi Germany.