Category: Bible and Theology

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.

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.”

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…)

“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.

Ben Stein’s new movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is creating a few waves in the Evolution vs. Intelligent Design debate. He presents it as, “a controversial, soon-to-be-released documentary that chronicles my confrontation with the widespread suppression and entrenched discrimination that is spreading in our institutions, laboratories and most importantly, in our classrooms, and that is doing irreparable harm to some of the world’s top scientists, educators, and thinkers.”

It is not surprising to find Richard Dawkins interviewed in the film, as he is known for making his voice heard as an atheist who is passionately against the “brainwashing” of religion, especially when it comes to matters of science. Intense debate abounds about whether or not religious beliefs should influence even the scientists who practice their professions.

It is very interesting to note, however, that while these scientists are bent on showing that the element of faith is no match for cold hard facts, they’ve neglected to educate themselves on the official position of the Catholic Church in regards to science. Dawkins and others might do well to become acquainted with initiatives such as the STOQ Project or documents such as Fides et Ratio before they condemn believers as ignorant and unenlightened.

I almost wish that atheists could have their dream, to try and regulate science to the expulsion of religious beliefs. Only then would they discover that science could live on happily without them, and the most they’ve done is to create a condensed group of atheist scientists, which is what they are to begin with.

[Ed. note: See also, "Ben Stein's New Movie Will Clearly Shake the Academic Tree."]

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Sunday, March 23, 2008

If it be all for nought, for nothingness
At last, why does God make the world so fair?
Why spill this golden splendor out across
The western hills, and light the silver lamp
Of eve? Why give me eyes to see, the soul
To love so strong and deep? Then, with a pang
This brightness stabs me through, and wakes within
Rebellious voice to cry against all death?
Why set this hunger for eternity
To gnaw my heartstrings through, if death ends all?
If death ends all, then evil must be good,
Wrong must be right, and beauty ugliness.
God is a Judas who betrays his Son
And, with a kiss, damns all the world to hell–
If Christ rose not again.

–Unknown Soldier, killed in World War I
(From The Life of Christ in Poetry, comp. Hazel Davis Clark)

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Friday, March 21, 2008

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” – Luke 24:5b,6a

The Lord Jesus Christ makes all things new. He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, and his glory knows no end. Isaiah says in his 65th Chapter, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”

Christians understand everything is summed up in Christ. For believers, all of our sins, trials, afflictions, pain, and heartache is made perfect and right through the victory of Christ over death. “The despair of all past history is reversed by the resurrection, and the hope of all future history is enabled by it,” says Thomas C. Oden.

In his horrible affliction and despair, Job cried out long before the incarnate presence of Christ on this earth, “I know my redeemer liveth.” Job had lost everything on earth. He lost his children, his comfort, and his health. His utter despair made him see the need for a mediator and vindicator, one who could reverse the deep despair and suffering that covered his circumstances and his entire body. Job points to the future triumph of the risen Lord.

The testimony and the witness of the Saints finds its meaning in the risen Lord. I know for me the testimony of their life has been decisive in my own belief. The same followers who were known to be in despair and hiding because of the death of Christ, then find super-natural authority and power in the name and reign of Christ. This makes sense, because through the resurrection, Christ raises humanity. The resurrection points to what we are to become. In the hymn “Christ the Lord is Risen Today“, Charles Wesley says it well:

Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Vladimir Solovyov

Towards the end of his life, the 19th century Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov published his “On the Justification of the Good: An Essay on Moral Philosophy” (1897). In this book, wrote historian Paul Valliere, Solovyov abandonded his vision of a “worldwide theocratic order” in favor of the more concrete demands of building a just society. With “Justification of the Good,” Solovyov (1853-1900) presented a general theory of economic and social welfare based on the idea that all human beings have “a right to a dignified existence.”

The following excerpt is from the chapter, “The Economic Question from the Moral Point of View” in Solovyov’s “On the Justification of the Good.” Translated by Nathalie A. Duddington; annotated and edited by Boris Jakim; foreword by David Bentley Hart. Wm. B. Eerdmans (2005). Cross posted from The Observer.

For the true solution of the so-called ‘social question’ it must in the first place be recognized that economic relations contain no special norm of their own, but are subject to the universal moral norm as a special realm in which they find their application. The triple moral principle which determines our due relation towards God, men, and the material nature is wholly and entirely applicable in the domain of economics. The peculiar character of economic relations gives a special importance to the last member of the moral trinity, namely, the relation to the material nature or earth (in the wide sense of the term). This third relation can have a moral character only if it is not isolated from the first two but is conditioned by them in the normal position.

(more…)