Sunday, December 23, 2007

the "true lie"

The more I read and consider, the more I understand how important ontology really is.
I only mean that in the soul, to be false and to be deceived and ignorant about what is real, and to have and keep the falsehood in the soul--no one would ever accept such a thing... But surely this could most rightly be called the true lie, as I called it just now, this ignorance in the soul, the ignorance of one deceived; since the lie in words is an imitation of the state of the soul, and came later, an image, not the pure lie. Is not that so?

The Republic
, 382A-B

Voegelin calls this "true lie" the "'arch-lie', of misconception about the gods." Indeed, Socrates, when speaking these words, is in the midst of an attack on the poets who would speak lies about the gods, bad theology. He then equates it here with the "falsehood in the soul".
Socrates's further-observation of the lie in words as "an imitation of the state of the soul, and came later" brings to mind all sorts of scripture, from the Fall, to "the heart of man reflects the man", to Christ's teachings on sin's actuality in the heart, before it has become physically manifested(Matt 5).

I recall that Wright once complained of Lewis's theology(as expounded in Mere Christianity) having been too Platonic. I will, then, try to be mindful of such a pit-fall--for the Lord Bishop apparently sees it as such--yet I will move forward a bit here, because I am amazed at the conjoints of truth as it is put forth from different quarters. Plato here seems to be confirming many thoughts that I've had in the last several months about truth, sin, and idolatry. [see also my recent post on Charles Williams and Hell]

The "true lie", the lie about the gods, is here described as before and the model for all spoken lies. Now Exodus 20 seems to offer us a definition of sorts for idolatry: bowing down to or serving a carved image, or any likeness, made for yourself, of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Christ seems offer an addendum to this conception when teaching on "serving two masters". While money may not seem, just from the commandment, an obvious idol to avoid, Jesus makes clear that it is indeed, with His talk of "service".
Now in this second commandment there are three actions that the LORD deplores: 1) making the idol; 2) bowing to it; 3) serving it. Why these three? I see one common thread: all three actions offer the idol something that only God should hold: actuality, worship, and service. By making the idol you give being to a 'god' that otherwise has no existence, and you take away from God His place as the only God. Worship and service, likewise, are due only to God, and in offering them to the idol you give to it what rightly belongs only to Him. In other words, consciously or not, you are redefining God's nature to compliment the god you have fashioned. He is no longer the only God; He no longer alone deserves praise and service. Idolatry then can be called, simply, lies about God--the "true lie" that Plato is speaking of, "to be false and to be deceived and ignorant about what is real, and to have and keep the falsehood in the soul".

I see the relationships between all other sins and idolatry as analogous to that Plato sees between the true lie and other lies: "the lie in words is an imitation of the state of the soul, and came later, an image, not the pure lie."
The other sins that are decried throughout scripture seem to be services rendered to something other than God--an imitation of idolatry. Consider the fruit of the Spirit versus the works of the flesh, "sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these." The works of the flesh evidence service to the self, as opposed to the fruit of the Spirit as the natural bounty of service to God. The final six commandments in Exodus, those concerning more directly the actions of man, all seem to fit into this idea that sin is 'lies about God', idolatry, with the idol here being the self, the flesh. Considering that God is Truth(John 14:6), this also adds depth to such statements as Revelation's affirmation that outside the City will be "the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood(Rev 22:15).

In my mind this goes hand in hand with the concept that evil is not a creating force, but rather only ever perverts things, i.e. changes them from their true form in relation to God. As Screwtape admitted, "all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one [pleasure]. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden." But all this I explore more thoroughly in the afore-linked post.

We are brought from here back to ontology when we see that this sort of perversion is precisely what the adversary seeks to cultivate in us. It brings to mind St. Bonaventure's description of Adam, "turning away from the true light to a changeable good, he and all his descendants were by his fault bent over by original sin". Bent over, where all of one's attention is directed at oneself, rather than at the "true light" of God. It is this perversion of human nature, our right ontology, that our LORD began to attend to with Noah, and is now rectifying through His new creation, the redemptive work of Christ.
We must be mindful of the psalmist's warning:
Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do no speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and the do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them'
so do all who trust in them.

Psalm 115:4-8

If we continue on in our perverted nature, paying homage to false gods, then we too become beings who "have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see."

Against all of this we must develop right ideas of ourselves and of God.

Know that the LORD, He is God!
It is He who made us, and we are His;
we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving,
and His courts with praise!
Give thanks to Him; bless His name!


As we come to know God, we can no longer make idols. For the "true lie" about God will be perfectly evident in the light of His presence, and any god we, in our sinfulness, could serve--including ourselves--will be equally well exposed there. As we come to know God, we'll understand that natural relation that we hold to Him, that relation that was lost in Eden and which Christ and the Holy Spirit seek to restore to us all, that we may no longer be "ignorant about what is real" and keeping "the falsehood in the soul".

Friday, December 21, 2007

A nice article on Charles Williams


If one is willing to ride to the White City, wipe away cobwebs and dust to reveal those unknown ancient manuscripts of the highest import, or perhaps just search for Charles Williams on Google, then they'll find this.
It's an older article on Charles Williams from the archives of Touchstone Magazine and it may be a nice intro to the man for those interested.

This Inkling is one of the most fascinating and inspired writers I've ever encountered. Check it out.

Monday, December 17, 2007

recent spotlight on church security

Following the recent shooting at a mega-church in Colorado where four were killed before a security guard shot the gunman dead, there's been a little buzz in the news about church security. [I've heard different information about whether the gunman was killed or shot himself, but I'm writing while assuming the former. Even if this is not the case most of my comments are still pertinent, and, of course, the natural intention in firing at the shooter would be to kill him.]
Christianity Today recently posted an article in this vein.

Here's a quote from the article, from the security head at a Dallas church that draws approximately 8,000 folks to Sunday services:
You can use your hands, you can go tactical, but these days, that's not the way people roll... You have to match force with force.

This chilled me to the bone.

I know that I'll sound crazy here... but the church can't operate this way.
A church security guard killed a man... and Jesus absolutely would not have condoned such a thing. Period.

How can I say this? Pretty simply. Look at the scriptures:
You have heard it said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Matthew 5: 38-39

Everything Christ says of violence in His ministry is in the negative. And when push comes to shove, of course He sticks to it.
Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword."
Matthew 26: 50-52

Now certainly this scenario is different from others that we may imagine: Christ is dying "that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled." But can you honestly see Jesus having condoned the violent reaction in any other circumstance? If it had been the arrest of John the Baptist, perhaps, or someone else? No. We also see this reflected in the martyrdoms of the disciples, none of who offer violent resistance.
So, when the Lord Jesus's physical body was being destroyed by the Romans, He in fact did not call down the legions of angels to His aid. He didn't even so much as let Peter use his sword. Instead, Christ responded by calling down the grace of God: "Forgive them, for they know not what they do." Yet when we, the Body of Christ, see our members being harmed, we strike back in force, efficiently.
This is not what Jesus would have done.

Of course it just makes sense for there to be security at events with lots of people, and it's practiced across the board. Sports, political events, malls, Wal-Mart, where ever and whatever occasion. It's ethically justifiable for these security guards to kill, if they're protecting their charge. We have laws to protect those who kill in self-defense. But Christ is not operating this way.
It's almost like the flip-side of the "teleological suspension of the ethical" that Kierkegaard describes in Fear and Trembling. He is explaining how Abraham, as the man of faith, is absolutely justified in his deceptions leading up to the binding of Isaac, and would have been absolutely justified in killing the boy, because the call of faith supersedes the mandates of the ethical. Here however, the example of Christ is not allowing the Christian to supersede the ethical, but rather drawing a line before it is reached, and saying "this far, no farther. You are released from the ethical command to preserve your life."
This seems preposterous on so many levels. We know that the preservation of life is good. We know that you can't just let a man walk into the church and kill people. We seem to forget, however, that the church is not some other worldly organization. We are the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. We naturally can not think of this in the same terms that the world does, in the terms that we have been raised to think of it in. Our kingdom is "not of this world."

So what's the alternative? I'm not sure. I'm torn between options.

One the one hand, I'm reminded of a story from Jim Cymbala's Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, where a gunman in the Brooklyn Tabernacle repents shortly after intending to murder the Reverend.

On the other hand I recall Columbine. These gunmen didn't repent, and Christians are murdered because they stand there and allow it--they choose it, even.

But then I'm also not sure as to why I'm unsure here. It does seem like this should be a difficult question to answer, or at least it seems this way so long as I ignore the fact that Christ has already answered it.
You seek the Kingdom of God, and, if need be, you let them kill you.

Now are we supposed to just stand there like sheep, letting the killer walk up to each completely unhindered? I think not. I think that Christians are called to stop the man, I just don't think we can justify whatsoever killing him. We catch bullets for others. We try our damnedest to get his gun away. But we do not kill him. We love him, all the while, as ourselves.

I realize that in the moment, with the man firing rounds nearby, the security guard's natural reaction will be to shoot him. Probably, it would be mine as well. That's just what we would instinctively do, what is ingrained in us. I'm not criticizing the guard for this. But is this what Jesus would naturally have done? No, I think not. And we are to be like Christ. "Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ." I don't suppose St. Paul would have shot the man either. For Christ(and for Paul), this wouldn't have been the natural reaction. In the moment, His instinct would not be to kill the man. Thus ours should not either. He would simply have loved God, loved the man, and sought the Kingdom. We as a new creation, filled with the Holy Spirit, are to be cultivating these things are our new nature as well.

So should the guard have been put in this situation in the first place? Should we really carry guns in a church? Well, here we must ask ourselves what the point of the gun is--is it to prevent something? How? By killing? I don't think Jesus would have owned a gun.

Is there a difference between the man killing Christians and the murdering robber or psychopath? To say 'yes' and act accordingly, I think, would be to confirm some sort of spiritual/secular rift in regards to our actions: here killing is a spiritual issue and I will not do it; here, on the other hand... can we say that?

There are a lot of questions and there is nit-picking that can be done, but in the end, I can't help but point to one real question, one that surely, and perhaps only, must matter: how much are we REALLY supposed to be like Jesus? Because I simply do not see the Son of Man killing someone in ANY circumstance whatsoever. Ethical justifications, natural, good inclinations, the realities of the deadly potential of our weapons, whatever--these must go out the window, and the hackneyed but important question remains: what would Jesus really do?

For some more reading on all of this, Ben Witherington III also has a long, interesting post on the recent shooting(s) in the news.

Friday, December 14, 2007

oh, Mr. Hitchens...

Earlier in the semester I was reading in Christopher Hitchens's God is Not Great; eventually I threw in the towel because one can only read so much ad hominem until growing tired of it. And honestly, when a man unabashedly shows his disdain for both Mother Teresa and Gandhi, can you really continue to take him seriously?
I had planned on reviewing the book upon finishing, but as you may have surmised by now, that will likely never happen. What I can say of what I read is this: Hitchens has little to say of the dangers of religions qua religions, but has much to say of the evils perpetrated by religious people throughout history. I'm not surprised that he came up with so much the say here, considering the vast majority of people in recorded history have been religious. I also question whether some of the disputes that he focuses on are even religious in nature at all, and may not be instead cultural or rooted in realistic conflict.

Nevertheless, I was struck by one thing in particular early in the book: Hitchens is a fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I suppose everyone is, but then Christopher Hitchens must surely be exempt from all "everyone" statements. But no, he praises Bonhoeffer:
Religion spoke its last intelligible or noble or inspiring words a long time ago: either that or it mutated into an admirable but nebulous humanism, as did, say, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a brave Lutheran pastor hanged by the Nazis for his refusal to collude with them.

Bonhoeffer, the adherent of some "nebulous humanism".
Now that I am actually reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I can't help but wonder if Mr. Hitchens ever actually has.
Beside Jesus nothing has any significance. He alone matters.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

The pastor mentions Christ over 30 times in the book's 4-page introduction. That's just the first four pages.
Somehow, apparently, religion didn't poison Dietrich Bonhoeffer, just everything else.

Monday, December 10, 2007

a real threat to our children

No, no I'm not talking about The Golden Compass. Not directly, at any rate.
Christianity Today recently gave their readers a sampling of the e-mails that they've received concerning the release of the film adaptation from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.
Most of the letters were similar: this man is malicious, purposefully targeting our children. I don't suppose I expected much else. So what that boycotts are good for publicity(for the film, at least)?

But then, the diamond in the ruff jumped out at me:
Am I worried about this new book infiltrating the brains of my three little ones? Not really. What I am more concerned with is the more subtle, soul crushing attacks of materialism in our culture that leads my kids at the ages of 5 and 3 to already tell me almost daily what possessions they want to acquire. I am more concerned with the ease and comfort that we live in that may anesthetize them to a need for the gospel.

Thank you, Mr. Zach Nielsen.

I'm not really concerned about the effects of Compass on our kids either. Especially not the film--which is particularly what the Christians are getting hot about--considering it has notoriously been wiped cleaned of it's anti-Christian message, settling for an attack on 'the Authority'. Kids aren't going to read to much into that. Nicole Kidman sure didn't.

But what about our lifestyles? The fact that the societal norm of luxury in the U.S. especially does not at all model the lives that Christ or the early church led? That we are teaching our children, by example and by exposure to the media, that things are what is most important in life?
THESE are dangers for the kids. Thank you Mr. Nielsen, again, for bringing up the unhappy truth of our situation.

Friday, December 07, 2007

a quote from Cicero


Anyone whose face is immortalized in a bust like so must be authoritative.
If it were possible to constitute right simply by the commands of the people, by the decrees of princes, by the adjudications of magistrates, then all that would be necessary in order to make robbery, adultery, or the falsification of wills right and just would be a vote of the multitude.

Cicero, De Legibus

He continued to say that "the nature of things" is not thus subject to "the opinions and behests of the foolish."*

The more you think about this, the more relevant you'll find it to be. I am personally reminded immediately of abortion.
The concept of "higher law" that Cicero is here referencing, the measuring stick by which human laws may be called "right" or not, is one of the deepest roots in American legal thought ("endowed by their Creator"), and reflects a particular form of that understood, philosophical "good" that I recently explored in another post.

-
*the quotations came to me in the form of Edward S. Corwin's essay The "Higher Law" Background of American Constitutional Law, wherein Corwin culls the brilliance of the classical thinkers concerning this "higher law".

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Creation, ID, Evolution, and some thoughts

It seems that Creationism has been a hot topic lately in LSU's campus paper. I didn't discover this until after I decided to tackle this topic on through the wardrobe, so I suppose the timing is Providential, and I'll avail myself of the ruckus in the paper as a nice springboard into the topic.

So let's paint a quick picture of the hot debate.
Apparently the first word was in the form of an opinion column written on why ID(intelligent design) should not be taught in schools. OK, seems like a common topic. Bring on the responses.
One such response caught my eye in a recent paper(my first glimpse of the paper's discussion) wherein the letter was sighting Lee Strobel in their defense of ID. Now, in all fairness, I admit that I've not read Strobel's The Case for a Creator, and I do not intend to. I'm simply assuming that taking this journalist's opinions on science will not behoove you much more than taking another journalist's, namely, Christopher Hitchens's, opinions on religion.

The one thing that's particularly evident in the discourses in our Daily Reveille, though certainly a common occurence, that I must note is this odd amalgam of Creationism and ID that everyone seems to be talking about: the conservative Christians are trying to defend it and the liberal thinkers are attacking it. For my part, I don't know the thing that they're talking about. While Creationism has its roots in the book of Genesis of the Judeo-Christian scriptures, ID is founded in Evolutionary science, building on a sort of "God-of-the-gaps" theory. These two concepts are not the same. At all.

At any rate, I see this discussion forming, and I fear for the worst, i.e., Christians battling for falsehoods and ending up looking pretty dumb.

I am a Christian and I affirm biology's theories on Evolution.

Why? Simple, I understand them to be true, or at least nearly so.
Bigger question: how do I go about reconciling the two things(evolution and Christianity), considering most seem to see this as a sort of either/or, line in the sand sort of issue? This answer is many-faceted.

reconciling worldviews?

How many aspects of these two concepts--broadly, Christianity and Evolutionary theory--actually must be reconciled? Perhaps fewer than one would at first expect. I think that there are a hand-full of major oversights role-playing in the great, divisive debate amongst the Christian community concerning evolution.

C. S. Lewis well deliniated one such point is his probably-most-technical book, Miracles.
Now everyone knows that I am a fan of Jack Lewis, and I could probably trace a lot of my own thinking to roots planted in some work or other of his. Everyone should also know that much of Mr. Lewis's non-fiction work is pretty weak. Fascinating, thought-provoking, but certainly not the end-all that he sometimes felt he was producing. He offers 'absolute' proofs of the existence of God in several of his works. To this, I can best respond in the voice of Austin Farrer(Lewis's confessor, actually): "An ‘inescapable demonstration’ must be a fallacy. For if a proof of this kind could be produced it would have been produced."
That being said, there are several, very good, I think, extraneous points made in Miracles, among which this is numbered.
Among this conjecture or that one in Miracles, one theme in consistently present that we should consider. This is the real divide between "nature" and "supernature"(Lewis's terminology). The essential point for our topic is this: science, biological, physical, natural science, is a systematic study of the natural existence. God is, according to Christian belief at any rate, supernatural, that is, not a part of the natural reality. He is, rather, related to it most basically in two ways, 1, as its Creator, and 2, through the Incarnation. Religion as a schema is talking about all things supernatural, entirely removed from the authority of science. I'm not at all trying to down-play that authority, but, as Voegelin would say, "different objects require different methods", and the supernatural existents of religious value are certainly different objects of study than any physical thing subject to natural being.
In layman's terms, science has no theological implications. It can't say anything about God, simply because it doesn't have the tools to study and thus authority to regard a supernatural existent.
Thus the scientific implications of Evolution say nothing of the supernatural Creator, save perhaps an explication of His methodology. Sadly, I've only ever had one science professor who seemed to understand this.
Some thoughtful Christians have offered different ideas on the theological implications of Evolutionary theory. Lately-blogged-on John Polkinghorne suggests that "from a theological perspective, evolution is simply the way in which creatures are allowed to explore and bring to birth the fruitfulness with which the Creator has endowed creation." This would be an interesting idea to pursue, but for my part I've read little on it and haven't considered the thing enough.

Regardless, I think that obviously the major issues to be taken with Evolutionary thought aren't really a scientific nature at all, but rather are with the supplementary, philosophical aspects of it that have been championed by materialists over the years.

Now some, of course, would hotly disagree with me here, holding that Evolution is still so problematic simply because it is in direct contradiction to scripture. Obviously they'd be primarily referring to the Book of Genesis's creation account(s).
One word on this matter: genre.

Genre is one of the most basic tools in literary criticism, yet it is most often disregarded by conservative Christians in Biblical criticism.
The Bible is a hodgepodge when it comes to the types of works it contains. We have histories, proverbs, poetry(and all sorts of subcategories there), prophecy, epistles, and myths, among other things. What it doesn't contain are scientific treatisies. While "myth" seems to carry a very negative connotation when speaking about the Bible, the account in Genesis does perfectly fit the bill. It has all sorts of mythological elements and is very similar to other creation myths of that area from that time.
That's not to say that Genesis's account lacks truth or meaning, it's just not presuming to carry the sort that literalists demand it have. There's still much to be learned about God and His relationship to man from the tale, but it just wasn't ever intended to convey scientific meaning.

Truth

As for why I think it is so important for Christians to affirm the theory of Evolution, I think Dr. Witherington said it well on his blog:
Christians should be leading the search for the truth. Christians should be committed to finding out the truth, however uncomfortable and however much it makes us adjust our political or even religious views.

Our God is Truth, and so naturally we should affirm, fight for, truth of all kinds.
The scholars and researchers of the biological-scientific community are best suited, I think, for identifying what the truths of biology are... and they are almost unanimously affirming Evolution.
There may be a handful of scientists who dissent, but they're certainly in the minority here. If they're researching unbiasedly and everything that they see truly points them towards, say, Intelligent Design, well great. But when the minds are seeking truth through science with intellectual integrity, as we should think they are, and are with one voice saying "Evolution!"... why argue with them?
There's no heresy in agreeing. There's no apparent falshood with agreeing.
Christians should affirm truth.

If, years down the road, some new theory arises from all sorts of evidence and is supported by the majority of the scientific community, I'll probably support that. This is their area of expertise, not mine.

What we as the Church must keep in mind is Truth, and we need to be more critical of what we do and do not--what we should and should not--label as such.

I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
-
Finally brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are noble, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any worthy--meditate on these things.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Wonderful Life versus Your Best Life

A few weeks ago I had a dream that saw Joel Osteen releasing a new book entitled World Without You. It was basically a rip-off of one of the finest films ever made: It's a Wonderful Life The book went on to show, essentially, how crappy existence would be without you, the reader, because you're so awesome. Considering it now, I'm not quite sure how the book would have related to individual readers; perhaps it was a sort of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure format. One can only speculate.
Regardless, I realized that morning how much this thinking was similar between Capra and Osteen, and began equating the two, where Capra would be the man I went to if I were in the mood for an Osteenian message.

Two nights ago I watched It's a Wonderful Life, for the first time in a year or so.
Frank Capra, I apologize. Jimmy Stewart, I'm so sorry. LORD, forgive me for this falsehood.
In reviewing, I see that the classic film is, in fact, infinitely more Christian in its message than anything of Osteen's I've ever encountered.

If you've not seen the film, you should stop here. Appreciating this movie will be more edifying than reading what I have to say of it. If you have seen the movie, then you can watch it again here, in 30 seconds, performed by bunnies.

Where I erred.
While Wonderful Life does speak volumes about the character and blessings of George Bailey(the late, great Jimmy Stewart), the message is fundatmentally different from that presented by Osteen.

Perhaps an illustration would make this rift most apparent. Let's imagine Joel Osteen having to walk around in George Bailey's shoes.
When his brother Harry returns from school, married, what does Joel do? He recognizes the blessing from God that he can now get out of the little town that's been hindering his dreams his whole life, and he leaves Bedford Falls behind to go grab hold of all the blessings out there for him.
When he and Mary are wed, he thanks God for the huge blessing of the $2000 dollars that they have, and goes on the extravagant honey moon that they'd planned, and that he had always dreamed of. The time had come for him to take hold of that dream, and nothing was going to keep him down.
When Potter offers him the job starting at $20,000 a year(nearly 10 times what George was making before), he would acknowledge the blessing of the good Lord that was before him and then, with a big smile on his face, graciously accept. There would be nothing now to keep this George Bailey from seeing the world, buying his wife and children all the nicest things, and maybe even still being philanthropic with some of his excess. This was his chance.
When Joel's done living his Best Life in Bedford Falls, I'm afraid that we're just left with Pottersville, not unlike the city we find when George is given the chance to see a world where he was never even born.

Instead, of course, the story goes quite differently. George sticks it out with the Building & Loan to let Harry pursue a career. He uses his honey moon cash to help alleviate the financial crisis that strikes. He turns Potter down cold for the good of the little town.

George is still presented as blessed, no doubt, by his family and his position in the town--a position that is characterized by his own personal hardship and sacrifices, as well as by his boundless altruism.
George Bailey is the man he is because he lives for others. If you had to summarize his life in one word, selfless would work as well as any.

This is that basic rift between Osteen and George Bailey. The one wants you to live the best life available to you... best being relative to your own well-being and comfort. The other lives the life that is best in relation to everyone else. Selfless.

And while George Bailey could be a fine icon for anyone with any sense of morality, Atheist or Christian, what can we really say about Osteen's message? It's all about the reader, the hearer. Your best life. It's selfish. Plain and simple. And since when has the gospel message ever been selfish?
Try to tell Paul that God wanted him to live his best life, where he was most comfortable and well-off. That's a lie from Hell. Of course it sounds so good and of course it makes so much sense when you throw around phrases like "God is good" without thinking things through. Regardless, it's simply not true. Jesus did not tell the rich young ruler to go buy that beautiful piece of property that he'd always hoped for. He said sell all that you have, give it to the poor, and follow me. Christians are to be those people who are pouring their lives out in loving service, to God and to their neighbors.
This is the Christian life.
It's best insofar as it is like God, the God who left heaven to be incarnate in human form and die for others. That's the wonderful life that God has before us. It defies our natural inclinations and desires, but is the life of love and selflessness, the life of relativity to God, that we were made for.

So, again, to all those involved with this classic, beauty of a film, I apologize. Even in its most secular moments, this story is more in line with the teachings of Christ than anything from the "ministry" of Mr. Osteen, and perhaps, at least in this season when everyone talks about love and giving, we, despite all that our society says, may live lives that more truly reflect this selfless love and work that Christ has called us to.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

a recommendation: John Polkinghorne

I'm working on a post right now regarding the Creation/Evolution/Intelligent Design/whatever's popular this week debate, but it's still in progress.

What I CAN say now is, if you've the time/resources, check out John Polkinghorne's Exploring Reality: The Intertwining of Science and Religion. Chapter 3--"Human Nature: The Evolutionary Context"--is one of the finest words on the topic(Evolution, I mean) from a Christian(Polkinghorne is both a particle physicist and an Anglican priest) that I've ever read. The rest of the book thusfar is also certainly worthwhile, but his discussion on this topic in particular was outstanding.

You can also just check out selections from it right here on Google Books.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Review: Enchanted

As it turns out, Enchanted is the Three Amigos or Galaxy Quest of Disney movies... and those of you who know me personally know that this is high praise.

For those who need a plot synopsis: a very generic Disney princess named Giselle(Amy Adams) is taken from her picture-perfect, fairy-tale world just before she can marry her very generic Disney prince, Edward(James Marsden, and phenomenal), and is deposited into the land where there are "no happily ever-afters", i.e. in reality, more particularly in New York City. There she happens into a different kind of prince charming, Patrick Dempsy(the character's name is... forgettable), while Edward follows after, to rescue his "true love". Susan Saradon and Idina Menzel are also along for the ride, the former as the obligatory wicked witch/step-mother, and the latter, unfortunately, not singing a note.
So what makes this movie so good? Its fore-runners in Disney's filmography, that's what. The innocence and singing and drama and wardrobes and side-kciks of all the Disney princess-flicks, we find out, are not really meant to leave the animated world. And yet, here they do.
While Disney has managed to create this brilliant, over-the-top satire of their own classics--every gag rings of Snow White, Cinderella, or Sleeping Beauty--what separates it from Shrek is that Enchanted still feels like a Disney fairy tale in its own right, whereas the other's story is not so strong as its comic allusions. This is also, I think, just vastly superior to all the live-action Disney flicks that have dominated recent years.

Interestingly, for all the talk in the film about there being no happy endings in reality, it seems that Disney simply can't affirm that sort of concept, perhaps for business reasons. While we do see the world start to have its effect on Gizelle and some of the others, the opposite effect is much more prominent. The princess's mere presence seems enough to prevent some of the sad realities of our world. So while in the film Dempsy is trying to keep his daughter firmly planted in the real world, Gizelle subverts all his strivings on that front with little apparent effort. She's like a Jane Bennet who has the ability to conform everything to her own view of it, and the Disney happily ever afters that Dempsy was trying to put down now find an unlikely home in New York. I suppose if one wanted a movie that actually conveyed the difficulties of life well, they'd have to throw Enchanted into a blinder with some film of Martin Scorsese's.

In closing this short review, all I can say is if you're a fan(I happen to be) of the animated Disney-verse, from the oldies on down to The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast, then you certainly won't regret stepping into this wonderful fairy-tale "reailty" that is Enchanted.
This movie is well-done, fun, smart, and hilarious. Just go see it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

BW3: is God a Narcissist?

I thought this post by Dr. Witherington was very interesting. He's countering the idea that God does things soley for His own glorification, and suggesting rather that God's character is fundamentally self-giving.
It's not a very long post, especially for expounding such a concept--he doesn't even really acknowledge the scriptures that stand in support of the other argument--but it was certainly worth reading and is worth considering.

"For God so loved Himself?" Is God a Narcissist?

Monday, November 12, 2007

FreeRice.com

I was just introduced to this great site. It's one of a plethora of online opportunities to help those across the globe in various ways, but has the added advantage of boosting your SAT score while you help out.

Check out Free Rice.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

a new blog to check out

Apparently it's actually been around for a few months now, but I only stumbled onto it a few weeks ago now: A Mule in the Chapter House

In the very first post, this fellow makes it clear that his posts will often be concerned with Epistemology, and often with the Inklings, and that he is "particularly interested in Williams and Barfield because they are so little known."

Sounds good to me. So far I've really enjoyed some of these posts, so if you're interested in the 'Oxford Christians', be sure to drop in.

Monday, November 05, 2007

the philosophy of a Society

There are, it seems, certain philosophical assumptions underlying the way any modern society–let modern society here mean simply one with some manner of established political order and one whose citizens analyze data in a scientific method–goes about the business of being. There are in particular two assumptions betrayed by the two attributes given to this society which, when expounded to their respective logical conclusions yield interesting assumed philosophical truths, or facts.

In Aristotle’s mind, the ideal constitution of a community(if I may use a very basic and not precisely Aristotelian term for the group of people) exists to serve the common good, i.e. the safety and well-being of the people within the community. This is accomplished, we see in reality, through regulation. Laws are established an enforced by the governing body which presumably will maintain in the community a social environment conducive to this common good for the people. This is outlawed, that is not, all according to what will preserve this good. In the United States, this good is outlined in the nation’s Declaration of Independence as the certain, inalienable rights granted to man: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Each proceeding of these rights is contingent on the existence of the previous rights. Liberty is impossible without Life, and Pursuit is impossible without either; the latter of the three is also well-founded in Aristotelian philosophy in the Ethics.
Such a political establishment is relying on a philosophy of good, which, while certainly influenced by the Greeks, is very basic. There is a common good, as opposed to a common not-good, or bad, which serves as the authority on which the governing body works. The political structure is assuring the Good of the people within it, and it is submitted to, not on account of itself(in the case of the ideal constitution), but on account of the authority of the Good as right or just of itself. This Good is an immaterial idea (thus excluded from existence within a strict Materialistic world-view) and therefore cannot be defined simply by observation within nature. This existence outside of nature makes the Good, by certain classical definitions, supernatural. It is, also, presumably standardized, given that it is authoritative and given that we have written it into law, that any action by a person in the community at any time may be set against it and judged according to its relativity.

We are then left with, whether it is well-founded or not, a practically evident, assumed authoritative, standardized, and supernatural Good.

Now, of course one may argue that this Good is not actually supernatural in origin, but is instead simply taken from the apparent consensus of the people. There are some notable difficulties with this suggestion. Because the scientific acquisition of knowledge has left us wanting several necessary definitions in establishing the Good, man’s notions relieve the Good of its standardization, and thus of its substantial authority. For example, with the controversial topic of abortion, man lacks an adequate, but necessary definition: human. Without an established parameter of humanity inside or outside of which to place the unborn, man is left bifurcated into those who assume the freedom of choice to be paramount, and those who reserve that position for the freedom of existing. On the more individualized level you will find men who oppose convention on all manner of topics, from gender roles, to murder, to truthfulness of tongue, all for their different rational, scientific, self-serving, or common-sensical reasons. Also, this idea that the Good is formed by the opinion of man implies two unscientific assumptions: 1) that the individual’s opinion is authoritative(theoretically eliminating the need, and even the justification, for a political establishment), and 2) that the greater the number of opinions of a topic, the more authoritative it becomes, making "more" better in some sense than "less", therein ultimately appealing to some assumed Good(circular reasoning ensues). On a more practical level, this idea evidently can decrease the efficacy of the political establishment and fuel division within its members.

The scientific method is defined as "principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition of and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses" [Webster’s]. This method stands at the core of all the physical and natural sciences, and of the gathering of any empirical data whatsoever. There is one major unspoken assumption underlying this method, so fundamental to modern thought and ontologically attributed to our Society. This assumption has been termed the Principle of Sufficient Reason, or PSR, and is stated as such: "that there must be an explanation (a) of the existence of any being, and (b) of any positive fact whatever" [Rowe, Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction]. By means of the sciences we seek to identify the individual sufficient reasons acting within nature, always assuming of course that there is one to uncover. The principle is also fundamental in St. Thomas’s Cosmological Argument, where, because every being cannot be a dependent being(as this would imply an infinity of dependent beings, the whole of which itself having no sufficient reason), there must be one self-existent being(the initial sufficient reason), which Thomas identifies as God. This conclusion is the inevitable logical implication of our basic assumption of the PSR, but allow us to term this "self-existent being" the Reason For, instead of the Thomistic term "God", with all of the associations entailed to it.
The Reason For may be material, implementing the first cause of causes within the series of dependent beings which we find ourselves in, though it is likely, as our Good is, immaterial, or supernatural, having no need therefore to account for the material substance of its own form.

Here, whether well-founded or not, we are left with a practically evident, assumed (most probably)supernatural Reason For.

Thus, the Good and the Reason For stand as fundamental assumptions beneath much of the action of our Society. They must either be agreed to, or discarded, with intellectual integrity then demanding a complete restructuring of the Society, at least in how it's members, as individuals, aspire and how they relate to other one another(i.e., be a community) and in how we understand and attain knowledge. If they, being immaterial realities, are agreed to, then we must immediately discount the strict philosophy of Materialism which cannot with them co-exist.

It is noteworthy that these two concepts, simply as they are here described, have not historically been strictly denied the title ‘god’. Also of note, it must be recognized that the conceptions of God within the world’s major monotheistic traditions all encompass–among other things, of course–these two fundamental assumptions of our Society’s practical philosophy. These Gods are, by nature, the standards of good and truth, as well as, by nature, the givers of being (Creators, if you will) of all that is, "seen and unseen".
As you probably guessed, I myself do not see these overlaps as coincidence, nor as evidence of man's having a thorough grasp of philiosophy and ardent skill at designing his 'Gods'.

Now I say all of this with humility enough to submit to the logic of the real philosophers, among whom I’m not counted, lest I find myself feigning authority while talking off my own subject, in ignorance(the way Lewis saw Freud as often having spoken). However, in light of what little training in philosophy I have had, these observations do seem to me clear enough, and the inferences rather straight-forward. Clear, straight-forward, and of course, very interesting.
And, unusually enough, just like my last post, all these thoughts I worked our initially while in the shower. Huh.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

thought-provoking experiences from an unexpected quarter

This morning I was hit on by a bottle of shampoo.

I turned to grab the shampoo in the shower and was greeted by the all-to-friendly “Hey there good looking” printed across the top, which apparently I’d never noticed before(who really reads a shampoo bottle?).

In our culture, especially in our advertising, it seems that, if I may take a line from Solomon completely out of context, truly vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

I’m reminded of a recent car commercial–-I want to say it was Cadillac, but it may have been some other brand. The commercial comes in two varieties, both with the same dialogue: one where the driver/narrator is male, and one where the driver/narrator is female, and not just any female, but the illustrious Kate Walsh of Grey’s Anatomy fame. Who knows, the fellow may have been a celebrity as well, but Kate Walsh I know.
On each commercial the respective narrator is talking about why we buy a car. ‘The question is not does the car have X, Y, or Z’, they’ll begin, with those being, say, safety or luxury features, fuel efficiency, etc., but instead they conclude the question is “when you turn your car on, does it return the favor?”
Is your car sexy?
Not ‘is your car safe?’, ‘fuel efficient?’, ‘fast?’ even, but ‘sexy?’.

I’m also reminded of an article [link here] about tanning that I read this summer and very nearly blogged on then. Essentially, it says that we may have found a way to fight tanning: appeal to the tanning-bed-goers’ vanity. Tanning may cause premature wrinkling. This is the best we can do. Skin cancer? Eh. Wrinkles? Not that! Being hoary(or for some, simply less dark) is a preferable fate to that.

And why, one may wonder, do advertisers strike in this manner? Why must the doctors fight death-dealing vanity with the wrinkle-fearing variety? I think the answer to these is fairly simple: our own values. In our culture, sexy is important. Hence the tanning, hence Kate Walsh. This is not a revelation; everyone knows it. The advertisers present things to us in a way that makes them seem valuable, and in this culture, our values are pretty vain.

The importance of the shampoo bottle to the Christian comes to light when we ask ourselves(as we frequently should)how am I to live as a citizen of God's Kingdom while on Earth?
Media not only plays off of these shallow aspirations of our culture in advertising, but it is reinforcing them through the messages it sends. This is good, that's not, this is acceptable or to be desired, that, old-fashioned, which is of course inherently bad, etc.; these messages are frequent, often subtle, and indubitably formative on us all. And so we end up with a people of God, a group of sojourners passing through this land with a vocation as the Body of Christ here, finding themselves emersed in this wave a messages that are, well, simply not true. Sex is not the end all of existence, neither is money. Not even personal gain in general. We know this by revelation, but the world still presses them because they are well-received.

Again, this is not new information... but the attack in the shower from Pert Plus was still unexpected.
I write all this to say only that we as the people of God must be vigilant and exercise discernment. There are a great many good things to be explored in culture. However, more than we realize, the messages of superficiality are being conveyed, and from quarters that we'd naturally leave unchecked. So be mindful. Consider things that you're told by the media and products, and try to put these messages into the proper perspective, a perspective where you and all your desires are subject to our sovereign LORD, and to His callings on us, that we seek first the Kingdom, to love the LORD our God, and to love our neighbors.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Elton John and religion

I think religion has always tried to turn hatred towards gay people. Religion promotes the hatred and spite against gays.

But there are so many people I know who are gay and love their religion. From my point of view I would ban religion completely.

Organised religion doesn't seem to work. It turns people into really hateful lemmings and it's not really compassionate.

The man may have a lovely singing voice, but don't expect "Open the Eyes of my Heart" anytime soon.

These excerpts are from Dick Staub's website(you know, the author of The Culturally Savvy Christian), and are originally taken from an interview with Sir Elton John in the Observer Music Monthly Magazine.

While I don't put much stock in some Sir Elton's other assertions, such as the political ones--I'm reminded of James Caan's words: "Nobody should give a sh*t about an actor's opinion on politics."--his statements about religion I do attend to, as Sir Elton is a person, and even happens to be one of particular influence; his remarks on religion and homosexuality remind me of some of Sir Ian McKellan's, and I can only suppose that there are particular Christians and episodes at the root of these feelings.

It's a common accusation that religion, Christianity in particular(since people find bigger things to rag Islam about), promotes "hatred" towards homosexuals. I have to admit that this is sometimes very much the case... if you don't agree, then aren't familiar with Fred Phelps. The counter-argument is of course that these people are preaching the Christian message, which is true, but they're definitely presenting a religion, even if a disgusting one founded on a depraved perversion of the Word of the Lord.
Almost as frightening as the filth that some people will preach in the name of Christ is that this can be made to seem the norm, so long as people like Sir Elton are willing to make statements such as "religion promotes the hatred and spite against gays." He is not only a well-recognized voice to the whole world, but is an iconic voice to the homosexual populace, and even if they have not experienced such hate themselves(and, sadly, there may be few who have not), they may be prone to trust the words of such a voice.

Now, obviously, the scripture does not encourage ill-will towards anyone on the part of the Christian; those who preach hateful-rhetoric against homosexuals would likely, as a Jew in the 1st Century, have hated the Samaritans as well, despite Christ's revolutionary call to do otherwise. This sort of problem is not new, and Jesus adressed it expressly. Yet people almost expect it of us. They just understand "Christian" as, among other things, one who hates gays.

So what can we do about this? I submit that the church needs to redefine the term "Christian", to the world.
Okay, nice suggestion, but what does that entail? When people think "Christian", they're likely going to call to mind some image from reality as an illustration, a person or people, rather than recall some dictionary definition. Now it may be true that the media will always, true to their sensationalistic roots, focus on the negative news from 'Chrisendom', and we shall always stand at a disadvantage in forming the Christian image there. Nevertheless, the most powerful, the day-to-day encounters that inform this image are always under our control. The worst utterance of one of today's proported representatives of Christianity can be overcome by the simple acts of love that Christ called us all to in our relationships with others. A questionaire developed by Fuller Seminary for converts from Islam shows that the most important influence in the respondents' decisions to follow Christ was the lifestyle of Christians.
Yet it is not always this way. Ghandi famously said that "if it weren't for Christians, I'd be a Christian." Nietzsche said something to the same effect. These things are painful to realize. If we--the Church, down to her last member--would only begin to take seriously the callings of scripture, no longer to "assume the words of Christ to have meant the very least that they could mean", then we won't any longer have to lament the hate that Elton John has seen or received in the name of Christ. It we were to actually be Christians, then what would happen? It's a radical lifestyle, but it's exactly what Christ lived, it's exactly what we see in the book of Acts, and it's exactly what we are still called to.

If anyone thinks he has faith and yet is indifferent towards this possession, is neither cold nor hot, he can be certain that he does not have faith. If anyone thinks he is a Christian and yet is indifferent towards his being a Christian, then he really is not one at all. What would we think of a man who affirmed that he was in love and also that it was a matter of indifference to him?
- Søren Kierkegaard

And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself."
- Luke 10:27

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Apologist's Evening Prayer

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
Of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and the needle's eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

- C.S. Lewis (Poems, p. 129)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Chris Tilling on Evangelicalism

I nice, recent observation from Chrisendom on the study of scripture in Evangelical circles:

The inability of many Evangelicals to think beyond the 'how does this apply to me now' to consider the larger biblical narratives, and their significance, and how these are rethought and reflected in the canon and in church history, is a crippling and tragic weakness in popular Evangelicalism.

Coming from an Evangelical, in case you were wondering. In the post he included a picture of Osteen's Your Best Life Now, but actually said nothing of the book or the man; I'm sure the point goes without saying.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Kamp Krusty on NCAAF

Have I mentioned yet that I like Letters from Kamp Krusty?
If you missed that, I'm saying it again.

Brant Hansen recently posted, apparently twice, on college football, and I simply love what he says. He gets at, very succinctly here, what I was hinting at in a late-post on the whole us v.s. them dichotomy. His points here aren't scriptural at all, but hopefully this is an instance where, I mean really, can't we handle this topic with common sense alone?

Thanks for this Mr. Hansen.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Hollywood and "Christianity"

It's good for the marketplace, and good for the Christian community.

Producer Ralph Winter on Fox Faith.

-
Chariots of Fire was released in 1981, a film about Olympic runner/missionary Eric Liddell. It went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture(among others), notably beating out Raiders of the Lost Ark. Chariots is nothing if not a Christian film. Heck, Raiders itself is all about the Ark of the Covenant, and the third Indiana Jones flick(as I recently blogged on) is an inspired exposition of faith. Of course while these may have much to say to the Christian viewer, they win Oscars and audience approval, because they are still very much secular films. Consider classics like Ben-Hur or Becket, and also recent films like the Lord of the Rings Trilogy or The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, or even Mel Gibson's infamous The Passion of the Christ. I'd even say The Exorcism of Emily Rose. These are some beloved--and just good--films; arguably, they are good for the marketplace and good for the Christian community.

Now let's take a look at Fox Faith.
Here are some numbers from the same CT article as the above quote that should go under the "good for the marketplace" category, though I'm not sure good is appropriate.
Their first release, Love's Abiding Joy, earned a paltry $253,000 in October 2006. Four months later, The Last Sin Eater made just $388,000. In between, Thr3e barely earned $1 million. (Their biggest theatrical hits have been One Night With the King [$13 million] and The Ultimate Gift [$3.4 million].)

They do claim to have strong rental and video sales, but there aren't any numbers for the two.

OK, now that we've dismissed "good for the market" pretty well, how about "good for the Christian community"?

the subculture
You may hear the phrase "Christian subculture" tossed around quite a bit, but in relation to American Evangelicalism, I(having grown up in a small, conservative, fundamentalism, SBC church) don't really think we can mention this too much. This topic came up in a recent post of mine, and, alas, here it is again.
American Evangelicals cringe at the words "a wall of separation betwen church and state", but that seems to be the only wall they don't want up. A wall between the faithful and any music not sold be Lifeway would be nice. If we could get a wall between all of our children, content with their Veggie Tales, and Harry Potter, that'd be great. Oh, and let's make sure we get Thomas Kinkade in before we finish building that wall between the church and artwork, ok?
I could go on, as much as this burns me. We're constantly cutting ourselves off, retreating to what we can call, without a doubt, "Christian", and throwing everything else into one "Bad" category. Dick Staub speaks alot about this concerning Christians and culture. N. T. Wright consistently attacks it as an aspect of our worldview. The fact of the matter is "in the world but not of the world" still means in the world; "Thy Kingdom come... on Earth" really means here, on Earth. Yet some Christians seem really opposed to these words of scripture--not acknowledgedly of course, but practically.

And this is what Fox Faith is a symbol of to me. This represents not only Christians running from the culture around us, but the executives noticing this and deciding to make a buck off of it. There are good movies out there, with good messages. They're thought-provoking or exciting, and you may even have to do a little digging before you can see what God's Truth is in it, but it's there, and it's Good. However, it seems we are just too taken with all the New Testament's marathon metaphors; we've taken off, and we're not looking back.

This summer when a few youth girls at the church where I worked as an intern wanted to start a reading club, they consulted me about some books to read. I gave them some off-the-cuff suggestions: The Hobbit, some of the Narnian Chronicles, Father Brown, and Pride and Prejudice(along with a corresponding Bible study by an author I respect), among others. All of these books are avaiable from Christianbook.com. All of these books, save Lewis, were immediately discounted by the youth minister; in their places went the likes of Ted Dekker and Tim LaHaye. J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, and Jane Austen were cut, to be replaced by current popular Christian writers(whose books will never touch these classics). That's just how frightened we are.

I find these two situations analogous(obviously).

The "Christian community" is slowly sinking into this pit of rejecting what is good--compare that to 1 Thessalonians 5:21--in favor of what they view as safe... and just compare that one to Lewis's(or should I say Mr. Beaver's) famous description of Aslan: 'course he isn't safe, but he's good.
Christianity isn't about running from the world or about safety, about hiding God's light under a basket for fear that the darkness will... hell, what are we afraid the darkness will do to light? No, it's about Life, Truth, and Righteousness. We are to glow with God's Life, Truth, and Righteousness in the darkness that's out there. And once--if--we start wading out into the darkness to see God's Kingdom come there, we'll start to see the little divine sparks that are in so many things, things that we in our hurry to hide within our man-made bulwarks of "Christian entertainment" or "Christian product" usually miss. But they're right there, ready to speak to our souls, ready to be the LORD's vessels, Good, and ignored--even feared--by, of all people, the people of God.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Erasmus gets two thumbs up!

Researching for my recent paper on Calvinistic determinism has been a really educational experience, with one major perk being that I find myself reading Luther, Calvin, Erasmus, and even Barth all for the first time.
As a result, I've discovered over the last two weeks that when it comes to Desiderius Erasmus, apparently I'm a fan. I'd even go so far as to add him to the list of 'people whom I'd like to think I'd be friends with', along with G. K. Chesterton, and of course Jack Lewis, among others.

The further into his On the Freedom of the Will I get, the more I realize that my whole paper was apparently just a shorter, less thorough version of his argument. Oh well. The man's theology, I've found, is well-founded in scripture, well-reasoned through, and often presented with a level of sarcasm and cheek that I of all people can very much appreciate.

If you've not read Erasmus, or some of the other big names that are oft-referenced but never read (as Mark Twain might remark), I certainly commend them to you. And for the vast majority of you who already have, just be happy for me, and try to take everything I've said on the blog prior to two weeks ago seriously nonetheless.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

a frightening dichotomy

I was just reading this article on ChristianityToday.com, but had to stop short to reread a bit. The rereading, however, only made the analysis more dire, and I admit I'm a bit disturbed now at what I've read. Perhaps the author, a Mr. Daniel Williams, goes on to say something of great inspiration, but regardless I fear he didn't take the time to really examine what he's spoken in indroduction to his 'real point'.
Here's the paragraph that stopped me cold.

A fundamental part of Christian growth depends on teaching believers not only to do good, but also to distinguish between various goods, and to seek the highest good among them. How should we value temporal goods like family, music, politics, literature, art, and sports? On the one hand, we know the joy they can bring us. On the other hand, they often seem like distractions from spiritual life.

I reread this to make sure he really did just put "sports" (and even "politics")in the same category as family, music, literature, and art. Now I, personally, see a bit of repetition in the latter three, but they are indisputably important, as a part of the image of God exercised through us. If you disagree or don't quite catch my meaning, I can only here recommend to you Dorothy L. Sayers's classic The Mind of the Maker or Dick Staub's recent The Culturally Savvy Christian for a thorough look at what art really has to do with our God. However disturbing his placement of sports here is, I'll let it be for now, for, as I said, that's not what struck me in the second go-around.
Instead, this was:

How should we value temporal goods . . . On the other hand, they often seem like distractions from spiritual life.

Do you see the dichotomy(just saying that feels a bit like Where's Waldo? or the end of an episode of She-Ra)? It's right there, temporal and spiritual.

Why this is a problem.
So what's going on here? Or, at least humor me, what does Nance see going on here?
This fellow is identifying two different spheres, for lack of a better term. A, B, and C go into this category, "temporal", while D, E, and F here are "spiritual". Watch long enough, and you'll see the language change to "secular" and "Christian", and eventually "evil" and "good". . . it's a very slippery slope. It's also why the only video game the Flanders kids are allowed play is Billy Graham's Bible Blaster. It's the foundation of us versus them.

Rob Bell, pastor and creator of the Everything is Spiritual Tour, would certainly be appalled at this sort of language. He once said, in a CT article no less, that "we're rediscovering Christianity as an Eastern religion, as a way of life. Legal metaphors for faith don't deliver a way of life." Bell probably doesn't like the legal lingo because it is foundationally contrasting terminology: legal or illegal. There's no in-between.

N.T. Wright also speaks on this very topic quite a bit in his little book Judas and the Gospel of Jesus. Don't think you read Judas and missed this: Wright calls it Gnosticism. He also points to this as an evil creeping up in the American Evangelical community. The "us versus them" dichotomy leads to a sort of escapsim mentality, where one's focus is suddenly only on "going home" to Heaven. This is, Wright would assert, behind the popularity of the Left Behind series amongst Evangelicals, and their near-obessive fascination with the Book of Revelation. From this angle, the ideology is indeed very similar in basics to ancient Gnostic thought, where the Earth and its creator were actually evil, and salvation was escaping the evil world to a good heaven and its good god.

With Bell and Wright both, trying to establish the faith as a "way of life" or just calling a spade and spade, I think the hope Christians is integrity. I don't mean this in the sense of keeping your word or anything so pragmatic, but rather more literally: a Christian whose life is integrated.
Instead of dividing our lives up into departments, temporal or spiritual, we must recall Paul's oft-quoted exhortation: And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17). If this is the case, then everything is indeed spiritual; all of life is spiritual life. And apparently this ought to be the case.

I'm think there are probably two roots for this sort of language finding it's way into a popular article on a popular Christian website. First, we're simply not mindful of this sort of slip of the tongue. I'm sure Mr. Williams didn't reexamine his article before publication to double-check for any neo-Gnosticism creeping in. Pity though. Second, I'm afaird is because this sort of thought is creeping into our worldviews, and is beginning to feel a bit natural. Listen to some popular Christian music with your Gnosticism-radar on one day--you'll be surprised what sort of messages we're encouraging about this 'evil world' and our 'real home'. We forget that God declared all that He made "very good" (Gen 1:31) and that our vocation as Christ's body is to see God's "Kingdom come... on Earth"(Matt 6:10).

So please, Christian, be mindful; don't start slipping into this trap. There is certainly a great dichotomy out there--God and evil--but we are able, with the indwelling Spirit of God, to live lives of integrity, where all is done in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Now if only we could show man where exactly sports properly goes in the priorities of life...

Friday, September 28, 2007

Ancient "Skeleton People" of the Nile Delta

I really love being able to use the "serious archaeological stuff" tag on posts, and if this article(which I discovered just now on BW3's blog, thank you Dr. Witherington) does not fall under that category, I don't know what does.
Ancient Race of Skeleton People Discovered!
Note: I do not endorse any of the ads on this site by linking here, only their journalism.

Also, sorry about the dearth of posting of late; I've been spending what little free time(i.e., time where there's not even homework to do... this is scarce) I have writing a paper outlining my objections to Calvinistic determinism for a friend. I'll be done with that very soon, but until I can get back on here, enjoy this article and the rest of the blog-o-sphere.

And any speculation concerning the "skeleton people"'s culture or history is certainly welcome.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

considering Hell

Last week, while pondering all the ideas that have been flying around in my head and that are the crux of this post, I was lamenting that I had no venue through which to present them. For whatever reason I had apparently forgotten that I'm a blogger, and can offer up whatever crazy theories may enter my brain whenever I please. And in turn a few, even, will go so far as to read them.

The title above probably doesn't sound like much of a pick-me-up, but there are many ideas surrounding Hell and damnation that I've been considering for months now, and I can't really think of a more appropriate title. Much of what you'll read here is the off-spring of my first encounter with Inkling Charles Williams, his novel Descent into Hell. If you feel so inclined, then, by all means, turn off your computer this instant and go read this novel. It's no small task(though not a particularly long book), but well worth the time and Wikipedia/dictionary searches that go into it. Humphrey Carpenter's biography The Inklings is also a fine source on Williams, and highly recommended for anyone who's not yet been introduced to the man.

Descent into Hell paints a rather chilling picture of one man slowly following the path to his own damnation, via all manner of self-service, but particularly lust. The truly disturbing aspect of the whole tale is the perversion that Williams makes so evident; not only the perversion of good nature that all sin is(here, sexual desire perverted into lust), but the perversion of all sorts of truth, especially those pertaining to identity. The character seduced(quite literally) by lust is perverting the identity of his object, all the while allowing his own person to be distorted by his passions as well. One line, I thought, captured this distortion very well:
He walked, unknowing, to the window, and stared out. He loomed behind the glass, a heavy bulk of monstrous greed.

The character's own identity was replaced by that of simply "greed"; this is what he had allowed himself to become. This line reminds me of Satan's in Paradise Lost, "I myself am Hell".
Throughout the novel Williams presents this descent, this loss of identity, brilliantly. (Note: I think the references throughout DiH to Shakespeare's The Tempest only butress this, with the whole 'no man was his own' theme already there established)
Behind this whole brilliant imagery also seems to lie another theme, or at least it seems to follow from what is given, and it is this idea of sin being perversion or un-truth. This is certainly at the roots of idolatry, where something is god, other than the LORD. It is a perversion of the truth.

Enter George MacDonald.
After this idea of the perversion of identity as damnation was stored away into my mind, I was introduced to a sermon of MacDonald's concerning the temptation of Christ: "The Temptation in the Wilderness". The fascinating part of this sermon concerns Christ's refusal to turn the stones to bread.
The Father said, "That is a stone". The Son would not say, "That is a loaf."

MacDonald's assertion has to do with proper identity. God the Father had called the stone a stone. Thus, for Christ to call it a loaf, He would have altered the truth of the thing's being as given to it by the Father; the sin was in contradicting the identity of the stone. Again, the supposition is that perversion of true identity is sin.

This theme also resonates, at least to my ears, throughout Plato's dialogues, in case one were looking for a trans-ideological thread. Note especially The Apology, where Socrates begins:
How you felt, gentlemen of Athens, when you heard my accusers, I do not know; but I--well, I nearly forgot who I was, they were so persuasive. Yet as for truth--one might almost say they have spoken not one word of truth.

Now let us add a third element: Romans 1.
The Apostle Paul has much to say about sin in the opening of this letter, particularly in verses 18-32, and really on into chapter 2. Note verses 21-25.
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal men and birds and animals and reptiles.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies amongst themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

There are two important ideas here that are relevant to the discussion.
1) We see the theme of exchange prominently in these verses. This is another prominent idea in Williams's theology that I may blog on more in the future.
2) God is giving these people over to their desires. This is the same image that we see of damnation in DiH: following, unrestrained, your own passions to whatever end they will naturally lead(inevitably, Hell). It's also not unlike the image of the cursed Pirates we see in the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, but that's a different thought for a different audience, I think.

The pattern I see developing is this:

  • God will let you follow what path you will--give you over to your desires.
  • There are, most basically, two paths to choose from: the path of truth and that of un-truth, or perversion.
  • Truth leads you to God through Christ(the Way, the Truth, and the Life). This is accomplished through His restoration of our true identities, which reflect the image of God and have us again in relation to God(a la Genesis 1 and 2).
  • Un-truth/perversion is a path God will allow you to walk, and it ultimately leads to Hell, by means of rejecting your true image.

This sort of thought leads me, finally, to speculation on Hell itself.
Most of you won't be surprised to hear that I don't take the "lake of fire" talk in Revelation literally. So what then is this eternal punishment?

Is it so far-fetched to see it as like the "punishment" described in Romans 1?
If Hell is described as the absence of the presence of God, then such a comparison is fitting. The idolater who substitutes himself for God, following his own path and given over to his sinful desires, will find himself absent from God. To remain in this state--all the while considering oneself 'free'--following your own path to damnation... this seems to me not only in accord with scripture, but in tandem with this theme that has apparently run through man's mind(and his literature) for millenia. It's also more subtle and thus, to me, more terrifying than the popular conceptions of Hell and damnation.

I may delve further into this idea of idolatry and Williams's theology of exchange in the future, but for now I think I've spoken my peace. Even if my rough idea is perfectly wrong, it's certainly something to ponder.

Monday, September 17, 2007

coming soon, and a quote

I'm sorry about the dearth of posts here of late... life's busy! I'm working on a rather long post at the moment, however, and it should be up in a few days. For a teaser(because everyone is indubitably so curious): truth, damnation, and Charles Williams.

In the meantime, enjoy this quote from the introduction of Eric Voegelin's The New Science of Politics:
If the adequacy of a method is not measured by its usefulness to the purpose of science, if on the contrary the use of a method is made the criterion of science, then the meaning of science as a truthful account of the structure of reality, as the theoretical orientation of man in his world, and as the great instrument for man's understanding of his own position in the universe is lost.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

good quote for the week

While Spong famously predicted that “traditional faith is dying,” Bonhoeffer would have pronounced [Spong's] brand of “new Christianity” dead on arrival, a carcass from which the breath of the Spirit and the pulse of Jesus’ mission have long since disappeared.

This is from a post on Faith and Theology by guest blogger Scott Stephens entitled Bonhoeffer versus John Shelby Spong. It's a good read--check it out.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Indiana Jones and faith

I recently watched again the brilliant Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, a film which proves that George Lucas didn't lose his mind until the early 90s.
Last Crusade is arguably the best of the Indiana Jones trilogy(soon to be quadrilogy), but I'm not hear to simply sing the film's praise, though it would be an easy course to pursue. Rather, I want to reflect on the spiritual themes of the film, particularly on its portrayal of faith.

There are all sorts of beautiful images in the film, but of course the parts that we all remembers so well, and the parts that I want to explore here, come from the film's climax. [Warning: if for some reason you do not know how Last Crusade ends, then you may want to stop here]
The story can be summarized as such: Indiana is forced to retrieve the Holy Grail from its resting place for the Nazis because it is the only hope of saving his father who has been shot. The arrogant Nazi stooge, having shot Henry Jones exclaims: "The healing power of the Grail is the only thing that can save your father now. It's time to ask yourself what you believe." Indy then faces three tests that lie between himself and the Grail: the Breath of God, the Word of God, and the Path of God. The first two he manages to pass by using his head, his education, and a keen sense for when it is appropriate to roll. The third task, however, is different. Indy comes to a cliff face, facing an abyss at least thirty feet wide between himself and the end of the path, with the instruction to leap. He mutters, resignedly, (after "no one could jump this!") that it is a leap of faith.

And so Indiana Jones has an interesting choice before him. His wits, his experience, and his knowledge can no longer help him. He has instead a hole too wide to jump, a determination to save his father (a father who has dedicated his life to the search for the grail), and an illustration of the worthy Grail-quester simply walking across this gorge on thin air. And Indy has to act.

So what is Indiana Jones teaching us about faith?
1) The decision based on faith simply cannot be made to stand on anything else. A good vocabulary or a mastery of Latin will aid him little here. He is given an act that seems impossible by all practical measures, and an assurance that it can be done.

2) Faith doesn't make sense. Apparently impossible, yet assuredly possible. This fits well with Kierkegaard's definition of faith in Fear and Trembling (which is, appropriately, an examination of the Binding of Isaac): faith is a complete resolution to something, while completely trusting that it is not so. In other words, it is a paradox. When something is given to you on authority (here, the authority of the Grail legend and the research of his father), yet seems wholly contrary your experience, it can only be accepted (if this is truly acceptance, and not merely some kind of passive acquiescence) by means of faith.

3) Faith is, nevertheless, still to be trusted (at least at times). It is not trustworthy in the sense of "see? there really is good evidence for this!", but simply leads--and is the only thing that would lead--to the correct conclusion. Indy didn't discover the solid ground across the chasm until he had already trusted in it and committed to it.

So Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, in a nutshell, leaves us with this description of faith: unavoidable (for certain decisions to be made), paradoxical, and reliable.
These are attributes that I'm willing to concede for faith in reality. This is going to be what you get at times with faith. When all evidencial means are exhausted, some conclusions can only be made on faith. Having faith in things doesn't quite make sense, epistemically. Faith, however, oftentimes will lead to good decisions. For example: any appeal to authority is an action of faith; while you have not done the research out in the trenches yourself, you trust the expert to know the facts unseen by you, and present them to you untampered-with. This will sometimes be a poor decision, but often enough(in most non-fiction books we read and most classes we take) be safe.

Yet these lessons, brought to us so well by Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg, highlight exactly the problems that so many seem to have with faith.
St. Thomas summed this up well in an Objection in his Summa Theologica(I, Q. 2):
It seems that the existence of God cannot be demonstrated. For it is an article of faith that God exists. But what is of faith cannot be demonstrated, because a demonstration produces scientific knowledge, whereas faith is of the unseen, as is clear from the Apostle (Heb. xi. 1). Therefore it cannot be demonstrated that God exists.

Italics added. Of course Aquinas goes on to reply to this objection, but that is not here my concern. He has highlighted the problem that LC brings to light also: "faith" insinuates a thing that cannot be known by scientific knowledge. Our culture today sees scientific knowledge as the highest (or perhaps the only) way to know things. Obviously, in this context, faith will be problematic.
Regardless of how well-founded one's faith may be, faith as defined in scripture ("Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen", Heb. 11:1) will always come back to this difficulty.

So what is to be done? Much.
We have to decide how we'll perceive reality, strictly by means of scientific observation, or utilizing other modes as well (Eric Voegelin's idea of equivalences sounds like an interesting consideration here)? Will we accept that Christian arguements are only truly forceful when approached by the believer, as I'm told Pascal himself said of his own works? Will we trust probabilities when the intellectual standard of the day insists (perhaps unreasonably) on certainty?

For a short conclusion I would make one suggestion. I do not believe that impirical data from observation is the only kind of knowledge to be had. I do believe that faith can be reasonable, with the right foundation. So, what I feel one must do is examine the evidence that Christianity purports, from both philosophy and history. After that, it may simply be as Charles Williams put it, that "no one can possibly do more than decide what to believe." Meanwhile, we who are believers must continue to trust our Lord to give all the grace to take that leap from the lion's head and believe.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Brant Hansen, Vision Coach

I just wanted to point everyone to Brant Hansen's(Letters from Kamp Krusty) series of blog posts highlighting his new book: The 417 Rules of Awesomely Bold Leadership.
Brant has been gracious enough to offer excerpts from several portions of his book on his blog over the last few weeks, and for anyone aspiring to awesomely bold leadership, well, this is a resource that is simply invaluable.

The 417 Rules of Awesomely Bold Leadership
More Sneak Peeks
Yet More Sneak Peeks

Thanks for everything, Brant.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

on membership

My church in Baton Rouge, Sojourn, apparently decided recently that they(I was not present when this call was made) should like to be know now not as members of Sojourn, but rather as missionaries.

Alas, I'm not going to go with this.

I can understand where they're coming from of course. It's not so much from a desire to be trendy or distinctive. Rather, this fits well enough in with the church's design, from the beginning, to focus on service and meeting needs. Also, there's a bit of a taboo amongst the more disenchanted of the former conservative-Christian crowd surrounding the idea of 'church membership', given the over emphasis on it by various groups, even though, as Lewis points out, "the very word membership is of Christian origin." I understand, but I'm still not going with it.

So I though I'd take this chance to explain(partly, at least) why the concept of membership is so important to me personally, and of course, I believe, so important for all believers, though perhaps unbeknownst to them.

Membership is indeed a Christian term, at least in origin, having taken on a broader, secular meaning today. It comes from, among other places, Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth in chapter 12, amdist a discussion on spiritual gifts. The apostle concludes there: Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (:27) The Greek word here translated "members" is melos, translated into Latin as membra, which literally means 'limbs' and is, of course, where we get the English word member from. Paul is not talking here about 'members' as we think of them today, names on a roll or something to that effect, but of parts of a body; he is trying to explain to the Corinthians that they are somehow the actual body of Christ.

Now the idea of two things(here, Christ and the Church) having one and the same body is not new to the scriptures. We first see it in Genesis 2, most noteably in verse 24: Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. The language in 1 Corinthians 12, as well as that in Ephesians and the imagery of the end of Revelation, all point towards this idea of marriage between Christ and the Church, the two becoming one flesh. This also reflects the Old Testament idea of the marriage of Yahweh and Israel, probably seen best in Hosea.

So the title of member serves both
1) to identify one with Christ, being a member of His body. And
2) to remind of our relation to Christ: we are "the Bride, the wife of the Lamb"(Rev. 21:9).

I think the problem that we have with the idea of membership today grows from two roots.

First, again, because of the emphasis often placed on 'church membership' in evangelicalism today, especially well seen in the SBC. The constant counting of heads and even aiming simply to bring people to events rather than make disciples of folks are leaving many younger Christians jaded.
But this is only a branch root off of the second, deeper issue: we have forgotten what it is we are members of.
The church is the Body of Christ, and it is this body that we are members of. This is forgotten, I'm afraid, by some at every level. The point of being a church member is not that you are now apart of First United Methodist or First West or Sojourn, or anything so silly. You are a member of the Body of Christ, a citizen of the Kingdom of God. This is what membership entails.

So we must put the issue to rest both as ministers and as church-goers(a stranger term itself). As ministers we must focus on the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, on God's will done, and on making disciples. Likewise as the members we must recall what it is we are a part of, and lay aside every weight of association and angst that will hinder God's Kingdom here on earth.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.