Saturday, April 24, 2010

God actually is quite Great: Maria Skobtsova

A year or two ago I tried to read Christopher Hitchens's bestseller God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. I wanted to read it, I really did. I like to hear people out. However after a while I threw in the towel. Hitchens's entire argument in the book is a classic logical fallacy: the ad hominem.
An ad hominem runs something like this: 'you have a big nose, therefore your argument is false'. Or, as the dictionary has it: "attacking an opponent's motives or character rather than the policy or position they maintain." This is an appeal not to logic but to emotions, and this is precisely what Hitchens's book is--one big, yellow, bound, ad hominem argument, that actually has no logical weight (though it is quite popular). 'Religion has a big nose, therefore its argument is false'.
After he had viciously criticized the Dali Lama, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa, I had just had enough.

Now there are two major problems with this sort of attack on religion. The first, that I've already suggested, is that it's illogical.
The second, is that it's strength relies on a thoroughly one-sided account of things. Hitchens admits to admiring two Christians--Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Yet he immediately proceeds to explain why they weren't 'really' Christians. After all, if they were, Hitchens's argument would implode.
While his effort, for example, to turn Bonhoeffer's faith into a "nebulous humanism" is ridiculous, it also must be pointed out that there have been thousands upon thousands of Christians over the millennia to whom even Christopher Hitchens might give some credit, were they acknowledged and their stories told.

That's the point of this new series of posts on wardrobe. I want to tell the stories of some of these relatively unknown believers and--though I admit freely that this has no logical weight in the arguments for or against the existence of God, etc.--let their lights shine in the popularly perceived darkness of Christian history. These people, whatever an angry atheist might suggest to the contrary, hint by their lives that God might actually be quite Great.

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Today I want to introduce an Orthodox missionary and nun named Maria Skobtsova.

Mother Maria began serving Russian refugees in Paris the in 1920s, opening a shelter and soup kitchen. Her efforts there inspired the idea of "Orthodox Action," that seeks to care for needy, displaced peoples.

Of course, Mother Maria's situation changed drastically with the Nazi take-over of Paris in 1940. As persecution of the Jews in Paris began, many Christians felt that this was not a Christian problem and none of their concern. Maria, in contrast contended that "there is no such thing as a Christian problem." During the Nazi occupation, she took part in providing Jews with falsied baptismal certificates so they might avoid registration. When thousands of Jews were arrested in 1942 and held prisoner in a sports stadium awaiting transport to Auschwitz, Maria spent days distributing food and clothing to them. She even managed to smuggle some Jewish children out of stadium by bribing trash-men to take them out in trash-cans and release them. Her hospitality shelter in Paris was overflowing with people, including many Jews, at this time.

In 1943, however, Maria, her son, and their Orthodox companions were arrested by the Nazis as well; all of them were sent to concentration camps, with Maria going to RavensbrΓΌck. Survivors of the camp have spoken of the care that Mother Maria showed for her fellow prisoners and the impression she left on all those she interacted with. On Good Friday 1945 Maria Skobtsova died in the gas chamber after taking the place of a Jewish prisoner who was about to be executed.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

5 poor models of sola scriptura

5. C. S. Lewis (1898-1963). C. S. Lewis might seem harmless on the shelves of your local LifeWay, but you need to stay far away from this fellow. Not only is he willing to call parts of the Bible "truth, not fact," but he claims that we should listen to other voices of the world besides the Word of God. "If every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Lights then all true and edifying writings, whether in Scripture or not, must be in some sense inspired." You can keep your liberal reasoning, Lewis, and you can keep your unChristian propaganda, LifeWay. Those of us fighting for pure, Reformation Christianity are better off pretending that Lewis didn't exist.

4. John Calvin (1509-1564). Considering Calvin's popularity in all the right circles, one might expect him to be a fine model of the central Christian doctrine of sola scriptura. Better think again. Slippery John Calvin parades himself as a Reformer, but he obviously didn't understand Protestant Christianity. In his famous Institutes, Calvin goes so far as to appeal to the 'wisdom' of pagan philosophers, like Plato (Institutes III. XX. 34). The foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, Mr. Calvin. Elsewhere, he openly professes his confused, Roman Catholic conviction: "we give to Councils and Fathers such rank and honor as it is meet for them to hold, under Christ." John Calvin clearly never learned that true Christians aren't going to give any heed to the thoughts and decisions of men.

3. Martin Luther (1483-1546). Martin Luther is supposed to have inaugurated the Protestant Reformation. He's usually even credited with the whole idea of sola scriptura (though of course we know it's much older than Luther, going all the way back to Jesus), but don't be fooled. Luther is hardly an example for the faithful Christian. For instance, in his 'famous treatise' On the Bondage of the Will, Luther appeals to "saints" like Augustine of Hippo and Hilary of Poitiers, and throughout he quotes pagan writers like Virgil, Horace, Cato, and Ovid. More like famous lies.

2. Jude (d. c. AD 65 ). Jude is thoroughly, thoroughly confused. He doesn't even know what's in the Bible. In Jude 9 he starts rambling about Michael and Moses's body. Think that's from the Old Testament? Wrong. It's from an ancient work called The Assumption of Moses. In verses 14-15 he goes at it again. Here he starts quoting Enoch... as if Enoch had any speaking lines in the Bible. No, this isn't from the Old Testament either, but from another ancient text called 1 Enoch. Yet our friend Jude treats this stuff as if it were actually authoritative. I knew there was a good reason that no one pays attention to his epistle.

1. the Apostle Paul (c. AD 2-67). Now you're thinking 'surely Paul, who wrote so much of the New Testament has a handle on proper Christian doctrine!' Not so. In 2 Timothy 3:8, he refers to "Jannes and Jambres," out of an ancient Jewish paraphrase of Exodus 7. Excuse me, Paul, but that's not in the Bible. It gets worse. In 1 Corinthians 15:33, he quotes "bad company corrupts good morals." Paul's quoting an ancient Greek playwright, Menander, here. You want to know something that corrupts good morals, Paul? Listening to words other than the word of God.

No matter what kinds of examples these sorts of men set, Christians, we must stick to true, Biblical teaching. Sola scriptura.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wright on C. S. Lewis

N. T. Wright has recently written a short piece for the C. S. Lewis Blog on 'virtue' and following in the footsteps of Lewis. It's all, I have to point out, tied to the Bishop's latest book, After You Believe.
This is, as I say, a short piece. If you'd like to read something more substantial by Wright on Lewis, he gave a talk about four years ago while promoting Simply Christian that's still available online: "Simply Lewis." Here you get a little more insight into the influence Lewis had on N. T. Wright, as well as some of Wright's criticisms of Lewis.

If your literary tastes are anything like mine, then you will enjoy these two pieces, so check them out.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Michael Spencer, 1956-2010

The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, passed away earlier this week. He had been battling cancer since December. Please be in prayer for his family in their time of mourning.