Category: Bible and Theology

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
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If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend the Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar (HT: Slashdot).

Simply stunning.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.

There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,

which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is hidden from its heat.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, November 27, 2008
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A General Thanksgiving.

ALMIGHTY God, Father of all mercies, we, thine unworthy servants, do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men; particularly to those who desire now to offer up their praises and thanksgivings for thy late mercies vouchsafed unto them. We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may he unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer (1928).

Blog author: kschmiesing
Monday, November 3, 2008
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The election day sermon was an important institution in colonial New England. It was one delivered by Samuel Danforth in 1670 that furnished the venerable Puritan concept of America as an “errand into the wilderness.” (For more, see Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity.)

One need not share the Massachusetts colony’s view of church-state relations (one of the chief tasks of government was the suppression of heresy) to recognize that the election day sermon served a useful purpose. The sermon was not usually, it must be stressed, an attempt to influence the outcome of elections. Instead, it was a reflection on the relationship between government and God, between the polity and Divine Authority. In New England, it was a reminder that the colonial governments were supposed to be expressions of the covenant between God and His people.

There has been much discussion again this election cycle about the relationship between faith and politics; more specifically, about whether Christian principles imply an obligation to vote for one or another candidate. Whatever else can be said about the controversy, it seems to signify that Christianity remains vibrant enough in the United States to have an impact on public life—and therefore that impact remains worthy of debate. Without dismissing the significance of those questions, it might be worth returning to the approach of the election day sermon as well: reflecting on the role of God in public life; urging repentance for the failings of citizens and leaders; calling down His blessing on the nation; and reflecting on the place of the Christian in the contemporary state.

Andover Newton theologian Mark Burrows, thinking along the same lines, offers some thoughtful guidelines for a revival of the election sermon. I would add that any attempt to address the role of religion or the Church or the Christian in the state today must emphasize the limitations of government, for the aggrandizing state is the great danger of our age. In the present context, the more Christians conceive of politics as the main or even primary expression of their faith, the more dangerous our predicament becomes. (Which is not to say that our religious commitments should have no bearing on our political choices.)

For an example of the content that a genuinely helpful, revived election sermon might contain, one could do worse than Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical on charity:

This is where Catholic social doctrine has its place: it has no intention of giving the Church power over the State. Even less is it an attempt to impose on those who do not share the faith ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to faith. Its aim is simply to help purify reason and to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just.

The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern.

Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies. It is not a means of changing the world ideologically, and it is not at the service of worldly stratagems, but it is a way of making present here and now the love which man always needs.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
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To celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the New International Version (NIV), “the best-selling translation with more than 300 million copies in print,” Grand Rapids-based publisher Zondervan is launching a nationwide RV tour, “Bible Across America.”

The RV will be making stops at various locations across the nation and encouraging people to contribute a verse to a hand-written Bible. New Zondervan CEO Moe Girkins started the tour off yesterday by inscribing Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (The Grand Rapids Press recently published an in-depth profile of Girkins.)


The tour is scheduled to wrap up in San Diego, CA in February at the 2009 National Pastor’s Convention. The tour will cover over 15,000 miles, 90 cities in 44 states. 31,173 Americans will handwrite the entire NIV Bible.

In other Bible news, Zondervan’s parent company, HarperCollins, will soon be releasing The Green Bible in the NRSV translation. As Time magazine reports, The Green Bible is intended to be “a Scripture for the Prius age that calls attention to more than 1,000 verses related to nature by printing them in a pleasant shade of forest green, much as red-letter editions of the Bible encrimson the words of Jesus.”

Perhaps we can look forward to the formation of a new group of “Green Letter Christians,” much like we currently have the “Red Letter Christians.” There’s likely to be a lot of cross-over between the two groups, though, so maybe having two groups would just be redundant. When you mix red and green you get brown…so an even better idea might be to create a group called the “Brown Letter Christians.”

There is an old expression, “Talk is cheap.” Coupled with another old expression, “Actions speak louder than words,” we are introduced to a profound philosophical insight brought by Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) in his The Acting Person. That insight is that people are understood through their actions, not their words. Metaphysically, that is, in the nature of every man, we say that man is a rational animal; he is an animal that can think, know and know that he knows. But in a sense, this truth is much too vague. Even though we all share this nature, each of us is very different in many respects. Wojtyla’s book is a phenomenological reflection on the actual lived experience of real human beings.

In human life we experience not only sense impressions (the British empiricists would agree) but also things and people (so many philosophers from Descartes onward would actually quibble with this.) The things and people make up two different aspects of the world. The very fact that we developed language demonstrates that we are meant to disclose or share our experiences, thoughts and feelings with others. We, i. e., the human person, is the subject of action. We reflect on our own experiences and what we actually do, but also we act as an objective monitor of our own actions, which means that man is the object of his own cognition. This means that we have the ability to judge the rightness, wrongness and even the prudence of our actions, given the amount of understanding we have accumulated during our lives. The implications of this is earth-shaking: we and no one else is responsible for our own actions.

This responsibility comes from that fact that God has given us three qualities that flow from our participation in His likeness:

a) Self-possession—the person’s actions flow from the point of authority over himself;

b) Self-governance—the quality that allow a person to order his actions to fulfill his “existential ends,” that is, to fulfill what he was created to be;

c) Self-determination—the outcome of self-possession and self-governance is that we determine how our personhood develops in the real world, and not in some theoretical construct. (more…)

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…)

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.

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…)

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.